The Trump administration’s long-awaited decision to delist aluminum giant RUSAL finally became public on December 19. The deal that RUSAL’s holding company EN+ has struck with the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is sure to draw the ire of those who want to see RUSAL continue under sanctions as a means to punish the Russian economy. The deeper view, however, is that sanctions targeting RUSAL’s founder and now indirect minority shareholder, Oleg Deripaska, worked exactly the way they are supposed to and that Deripaska’s fate should frighten other Russian oligarchs who cooperate with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s misadventures abroad or are part of his corrupt circle. OFAC was also smart to pair the delisting with additional designations to demonstrate a continued stance against the Kremlin’s aggressions.

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If true, reports that US President Donald J. Trump is ordering the prompt withdrawal of US military forces from eastern Syria could upend his administration’s Syria strategy and hand a thoroughly unearned victory to Iran, Russia, and the Assad regime. The White House has just released the following statement:

“Five years ago, ISIS was a very powerful and dangerous force in the Middle East, and now the United States has defeated the territorial caliphate. These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign. We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign. The United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary, and we will continue to work together to deny radical Islamist terrorists territory, funding, support, and any means of infiltrating our borders.”

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Media reports suggest that the Trump administration has begun planning the removal US armed forces from northeastern Syria, as US President Donald Trump believes “we have defeated ISIS in Syria.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on December 19, "five years ago today, ISIS was very powerful and dangerous force in the Middle East, and now the United States has defeated the territorial caliphate...We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign. The United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary." According to Department of Defense sources, the United States has already informed some of its partners of its intention to remove its troops.

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Days after finishing a fresh round of peace talks in Sweden earlier in December, UN Yemen Special Envoy Martin Griffiths remained optimistic, but also expressed caution saying “our collective achievements this week were indeed a significant step forward. But what is in front of us is a daunting task.  As ever the hard work starts now.”

To be sure, there are plenty of daunting issues that need to be addressed in order to achieve a lasting peace in Yemen. These issues were not addressed in the talks in Sweden. While negotiators failed to reach agreement on the economic and political issues fueling the war in Yemen, the talks deliberately prioritized humanitarian issues, starting with the main access point for international aid: the port city of Hodeidah.

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‘We do not have permanent relationships with substate entities,’ says James Jeffrey

The eventual goal of the mainly-Kurdish Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) should be “to become part of the fabric of a changed Syrian society,” US Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey said at the Atlantic Council in Washington on December 17. Distancing the United States from the prospect of supporting SDF or other Kurdish groups as autonomous from a future Syrian government, Jeffrey said “we do not have permanent relationships with substate entities. That is not the policy of this administration and has not been the policy of other administrations.”

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Britain’s North American friends could be forgiven if they are finding it hard to keep up with the twists and turns of the Brexit saga, and to work out where it will all end. Most of us here in Britain are in the same boat. Extraordinary to say, we are now three months away from the date set in law for Britain to leave the European Union, and there is no sign of a majority in Parliament either for the deal the prime minister has negotiated with Brussels, or for crashing out with no deal on March 29, 2019, or for anything else.

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on October 26 marked the first time in seven years that a serving Japanese prime minister has traveled to China for official bilateral meetings with his counterparts. Lost in the headlines of this historic summit was the fact that the two leaders discussed North Korea and recommitted their nations to close cooperation on denuclearization and the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions aimed at Pyongyang.

Many experts are cynical about Chinese cooperation on North Korea. They tend to focus on the unique aspects of the China-North Korea relationship, such as shared communist ties and geographical proximity, and view China’s proactive diplomacy with North Korea, starting with the first summit between Xi and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un summit in March, as an attempt to maximize its own interests, which do not coincide with those of the United States and its allies.

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This much is clear as 2018 screeches toward a close:

President Trump’s foreign policy has shredded the status quo on a range of issues, from global trade and transatlantic relations to Iran and North Korea.

Yet it is the Trump administration’s tough turn on China, captured dramatically by Vice President Mike Pence’s landmark speech at the Hudson Institute in October , that will have the most lasting global consequence, altering the terms of the epochal contest of our times.

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Two US lawmakers—one serving and another incoming—listed their top national security concerns at the Atlantic Council’s Annual Forum in Washington on December 14.

US Rep. John Delaney, a Maryland Democratic and 2020 presidential candidate, said he worries about nuclear proliferation, especially in the context of a future leadership transition in Russia and efforts by nonstate and state actors to obtain nuclear weapons; China’s ability to repel the United States militarily from the Asia-Pacific region; and cyber security.

US Rep.-elect Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), a former CIA operative, said the US Congress first needs to put an updated Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) in place. Second, she said, Congress must take action to ensure that the United States is “doing the right thing” in terms of trade policy and specifically when it comes to tariffs, on which she said the United States is “antagonizing our friends and allies throughout the world with our aggressive tactics.”

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Despite US President Donald J. Trump’s threat to pull the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), it will be much harder to kill NAFTA if the US Congress does not approve a revised trade deal, said Jesús Seade, who served as then Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s chief NAFTA negotiator in recently concluded, and often contentious, negotiations.

Trump has threatened action as a way to force members of Congress—Democrats as well as Republicans—to ratify the recently concluded US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

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