Former Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan is expected to be named prime minister on Saturday, the culmination of a political transition meant to extend Sargsyan’s time in power despite his having been term limited out of the presidency. Over the past several months, Sargsyan has engineered a constitutional change that makes Armenia’s premiership more powerful than its presidency, ensuring that he will remain in control of Armenian affairs. And boy are people thrilled about that. Thousands of them angrily protested in Yerevan on Friday against Sargsyan’s expected appointment.
A Taliban attack in Herat province on Thursday killed 10 Afghan police officers.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan says that there were 763 civilians killed and 1495 injured in conflict-related incidents in the first three months of 2018. That puts this year in line with the past two years, which have seen record levels of civilian carnage.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is barred from holding public office for life. The court removed Sharif from office last year over corruption allegations, but at the time its decision didn’t necessarily involve a lifetime ban from politics.
The Hankyoreh, a South Korean newspaper, reported on Friday that North Korean representatives engaged in preliminary talks with US representatives in advance of a potential Trump-Kim Jong-un summit have made a “specific proposal” for North Korean denuclearization:
On Apr. 11, multiple sources in Washington, D.C. who are familiar with the current state of North Korea and the US discussion about the summit said that during a recent meeting with the US, North Korea asked the US to remove its nuclear and strategic assets from South Korea, stop the deployment of nuclear and strategic assets during joint military exercises with the South, guarantee that it will not make a conventional or nuclear attack, convert the armistice agreement into a peace treaty and normalize diplomatic relations.
During this meeting, North Korea reportedly did not ask for the withdrawal of American troops from the Korean Peninsula and indicated that it would not do so in the future either if the security of its regime was guaranteed. The prediction has been made in some quarters that the North would ask for the removal of American troops as a way to guarantee the regime’s security.
If true this is an interesting offer to say the least. There are elements at which Trump might balk–normalizing relations, for example–but it’s definitely a basis for negotiations.
Donald Trump may want back into the TPP, but the countries negotiating its terms without the United States don’t necessarily seem inclined to welcome him back:
Officials in Japan, Australia and New Zealand reacted coolly on Friday to Mr. Trump’s remarks that he would be interested in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership after rejecting it so publicly just a year ago. While the United States would significantly bolster the pact if it signed up, its entry would require intense negotiations — and current members will expect significant concessions from the American side.
Comparing the multicountry trade agreement to “a glasswork,” Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, cautioned against any efforts to change it to accommodate Mr. Trump.
“It’s difficult to bring part of the pact and renegotiate it,” he said, calling it a “well-balanced pact” that carefully addressed the needs of the current 11 member nations.
The US commander of special forces in Africa, Major General Marcus Hicks, says that the US is shifting its counterterrorism approach in Africa toward a more strategic role. The goal is to counter a long-term al-Qaeda threat that the US now sees as a bigger concern than the shorter-term threat from ISIS.
Several sources of somewhat questionable reliability have been reporting that Khalifa Haftar is either dead or brain dead in a Paris hospital:
— The Libya Observer (@Lyobserver) April 13, 2018
Al-Masdar, the pro-Assad site with sketchy affiliations and a propensity for publishing straight Syrian government propaganda, is also reporting that Haftar is no longer among us. They’re less likely to make up a story about Khalifa Haftar, but the point is that I haven’t seen any outlet I would call indisputably “reputable” reporting this yet. And there’s also this to consider:
— UNSMIL (@UNSMILibya) April 13, 2018
“Communicated today via phone” is a very awkward construct and maybe that’s intentional. It’s certainly not proof that Haftar is still alive, though it would seem to suggest that he is and also that he’s able to somehow engage in some form of human interaction involving a phone. If Haftar is well enough to do that, then he could certainly end all the speculation about his alleged demise pretty definitively at any time. So far, at least, he hasn’t done that.
Haftar’s demise would throw Libyan politics into an even greater degree of disarray and would represent a major blow to the interests of outside actors like Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia, all of whom put their Libyan eggs very clearly in Haftar’s basket. The Trump administration has been moving in Haftar’s direction for several months, thanks in part to the DC lobbyists Haftar hired in December, but things hadn’t gotten so far that his death would put Washington in a similarly difficult position. The Libyan National Army no doubt has a succession plan in place, but the next man up probably isn’t going to carry the same weight Haftar did.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is now blaming his failure to negotiate the release of some 100 girls who were abducted from Chibok back in 2014 to a “lack of agreement” among their Boko Haram abductors. Which is entirely possible, but it’s…interesting that he’s talking about this just days after announcing that he plans on running for reelection next year.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
The DRC government is boycotting its own United Nations donor conference in Geneva. The UN wants to raise $1.7 billion to pay for humanitarian aid for some 13 million Congolese it says are in need. The Congolese government insists the problem isn’t that bad and the UN is hurting its reputation it by saying otherwise.
A new poll shows public support for Poland’s liberal opposition parties Civic Platform and Nowoczesna jointly overtaking support for the ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, 32 percent to 29 percent, suggesting the parties could defeat PiS if they formed a coalition. To be fair, Poland isn’t due for a national election until next year, so this is all pretty preliminary. But still interesting. PiS has been shooting itself in the foot on the regular lately, with its controversial Holocaust denial bill, a report that the cabinet secretly gave itself a pay bonus, and other scandals.
A Guardian investigation sheds light on how Hungarian media has been deliberately aiding Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party:
The Guardian spoke to several employees of the taxpayer-funded MTVA network to hear the inside story of how its channels pumped out government messaging, and at times false stories, with the goal of winning support for the prime minister’s anti-immigration message.
The journalists recalled how the network would focus on negative stories about refugees and migrants, linking them to crime and terrorism. Even on the eve of polling, there was no letup, as the M1 channel incorrectly reported a van driving into a crowd of people in Münster, Germany, as an Islamist terrorist attack.
“I’d never experienced anything like that, even at MTVA: it was a clear lie,” said one of the journalists, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Summit of the Americas got started on Friday in Lima. The attendees have a full agenda, including the corruption scandals that are taking down prominent politicians throughout Latin America, the deteriorating situation in Venezuela, and whatever nuttiness Donald Trump manages to cause over the next few days.
Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno had to cut his stay in Lima short due to reports that three Ecuadoreans–two journalists and their driver–who were abducted last month along the Ecuador-Colombia border by a group of former FARC rebels, had been killed. Moreno gave their abductors 12 hours to provide proof of life before he and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos take some sort of action.
Trump isn’t attending the Summit of the Americas in case he decides to start bombing Syria. Vice President Mike Pence, sent in his stead, came bearing $16 million in new US aid for Venezuelan refugees.
Mike Pompeo’s Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday didn’t go quite as smoothly as he might have hoped:
CIA Director Mike Pompeo, the nominee for secretary of state, faced a barrage of criticism from Democrats during his Senate hearing today over his hawkish rhetoric on Iran and political Islamist groups. With Trump threatening to bomb Syria and pull out of the nuclear deal with Iran, lawmakers raised concerns that this week’s arrival of the equally hawkish national security adviser John Bolton could precipitate US military action in the Middle East and other hot spots.
“A lot of people are paying attention to Syria and they’re asking the fundamental question, are we assembling a war Cabinet of John Bolton, Mike Pompeo?” asked Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. “People want to know whether or not your views are close enough to Bolton’s in his advocacy of force in virtually every situation.”
There is a reasonable chance that Pompeo’s nomination will be voted down by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as Republican Rand Paul has said he will vote “no” and so far no Democrats have indicated that they’ll vote “yes.” Pompeo’s nomination, however, will still be reported to the full Senate. There, Paul’s vote could also be decisive since the Republican majority is so slim. But Pompeo’s chances of finding some center-right Democratic chud to back him (not that I’m thinking of anybody specifically, like Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp) are much higher in the full Senate than they are on the SFRC.
To Pompeo’s credit, he stuck to his guns and refused to sell out his rancid Islamophobia industry pals:
During his confirmation hearings in the Senate today, CIA Director and Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo declined to distance himself from anti-Muslim advocates Frank Gaffney and Brigitte Gabriel. He also refused to explicitly reverse his stated position that gay sex is a “perversion.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) grilled Pompeo about his ties to hate group leaders who target Muslims, including Frank Gaffney, whose radio show Pompeo has appeared on more than 20 times between 2013 and 2016 and heads up the Center for Security Policy (CSP). Pompeo also figured prominently among the speakers at the CSP’s 2015 “Defeat Jihad Summit.”
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