It may be a spare couple of days around here as I fulfill some freelance obligations, so please bear with me. Also I wanted to get this update out before the Singapore meeting starts, so that’s why it’s a little early tonight.
[Donald] Trump’s Twitter tantrum en route to Singapore, in which he lashed out at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and said he’d instructed U.S. representatives not to endorse the G7’s final statement, exposed the already existing cracks between Trump and other Western leaders. The summit’s most iconic photo — with Trump seated, arms crossed, and Angela Merkel standing across a table from him — has been alternatively interpreted. To his critics, Trump appears petulant and to his supporters, he appears defiant. National Security Advisor John Bolton tweeted the photo with this captions: “Just another #G7 where other countries expect America will always be their bank. The President made it clear today. No more.”
Meanwhile, as the Financial Times described it, the SCO summit proceeded “smoothly” with much media attention on the bonhomie between China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. As the FT notes, also, Chinese media in particular “portrayed the SCO summit as emphasizing the gap in global leadership that has opened” between the United States under Trump and China under Xi, “who used every opportunity to skewer Washington over trade tensions and unilateral behavior.”
A suicide bomber on Monday killed at least 13 people outside the offices of Afghanistan’s rural development ministry in Kabul. ISIS claimed responsibility.
Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are both in Singapore–don’t worry, Dennis Rodman is there too–and while Trump met with Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, for lunch on Monday, Kim apparently took Monday evening as an opportunity to do a little sightseeing. The two men apparently plan on meeting one-on-one (with interpreters, of course) to open Tuesday’s summit–make of that what you will, but if they get into a battle of wits Trump is going in unarmed–and both are planning to leave Singapore Tuesday afternoon. This suggests that neither is planning on making a great diplomatic breakthrough in their first encounter.
As to what they will talk about, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that Trump is prepared to offer Kim “security assurances that are different, [more] unique than, what America has been willing to provide previously.” It’s completely unclear what he means, of course. As for its demands, the Trump administration has been sticking with the acronym CVID, but it’s been inconsistent about what the acronym means. When the Bush administration coined that acronym it meant “Complete Verifiable Irreversible Disarmament,” which is pretty straightforward–North Korea gives up its nukes. But Trump’s team often–though not always–substitutes “denuclearization” for “disarmament,” and “denuclearization” is a murkier concept.
Because I am a pessimist by nature I tend to focus on the worst case scenarios in situations like this. In my view there are two: a meeting that leaves either or both of the two principals angry and sets diplomacy back, or a meeting in which Trump cuts a bad deal or puts everybody on the road to a bad deal. A bad deal here, to me, is something that achieves US national security aims while essentially telling South Korea and/or Japan to get bent. North Korea’s nuclear weapons are a legitimate threat, as all nuclear weapons are, but they’re a threat that looms far more heavily over Tokyo and Seoul than over Washington. And any US-North Korea agreement related to those weapons has to acknowledge that fact.
If there’s one person who has made this summit happen it’s South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and that’s mostly because he needed desperately to pull Trump and Kim back from the escalating path they were on just a few months ago. A US-North Korean war is an existential threat for South Korea. But Moon also wants to see a nuclear weapons-free North Korea at the end of this, and if Trump does something like agreeing to North Korea retaining nukes in return for Pyongyang destroying any missiles capable of reaching the US, then Moon will have lost, big league. Because he very much wants to avoid either worse case scenario, Moon has been downplaying Tuesday’s summit a bit and insisting that tangible progress can only come out of a long-term negotiating process that involves all the key regional actors.
The Libyan National Army says that its conquest of the city of Derna is in its “final stages.” The LNA has been besieging Derna, which had been controlled by local forces opposed to LNA big boss Khalifa Haftar, for two years, and began a push into the city last month. Haftar and his people insist that Derna is overrun with Islamists with al-Qaeda links, but the Derna forces deny these accusations.
The United Nations Security Council on Monday voted to authorize European Union ships to interdict suspected weapons smugglers off the Libyan coast. The UN has had an arms embargo in place on Libya for almost a year.
Residents of the town of Badme, on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border, are deeply angry at news that the new Ethiopian government is prepared to turn Badme over to Eritrea as called for under the treaty that ended the two countries’ 1998-2000 war. Many of Badme’s current population fought in that war on the Ethiopian side, so as you might imagine they’re feeling a little bit like their service was in vain. Where this could become an issue is if they resist an Eritrean takeover, or if their anger spreads to the rest of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, as it already seems to be doing. The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front is part of the country’s ruling coalition–indeed, until fairly recently it was the dominant faction in that coalition–but it says it wants no part of a deal that gives Badme to Eritrea.
The Eritrean government has yet to officially respond to Ethiopia’s peace offer, perhaps because authoritarian President Isaias Afwerki was surprised and even a little displeased to receive it:
The Eritrean government blames Ethiopia and the international community for all its problems and refused to take any responsibility for the grave situation the country is currently in. In their 2017 report submitted to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the Eritrean government once again tried to blame all its wrongdoings and failures on “the border war with Ethiopia that erupted in May 1998 and the subsequent ongoing existential external threats and belligerencies against Eritrea”.
But today, the Eritrean government appears to be caught off guard by Ethiopia’s unexpected readiness to resolve the long-standing bone of contention between the two countries. The Eritrean regime seems confused, unprepared and clueless about how it should respond to Ethiopia’s peace offer.
Ethiopia’s call for normalisation and peace put President Afwerki in a very difficult position, as it undermines his current strategy of blaming Ethiopia for his repressive rule. Afwerki kept the country under tight control for two decades by using the “Ethiopia threat” as an excuse. Even if not fully convinced, many Eritreans were coerced to accept those fears as “legitimate” and stoically withstand years of economic hardship, political repression, and military obligations that are akin to modern slavery.
If he loses his bogeyman, Afwerki may find himself struggling to justify his authoritarianism.
President Paul Biya’s government is badly mishandling the crisis gripping Cameroon’s anglophone region, so much so that it might even be deliberate:
The Biya government’s denial to acknowledge the complicated history that reunited both Cameroons, which is at the root of today’s conflict has already cost the lives of scores of civilians, insurgents and soldiers and further weakened his hold on the nation he has ruled for the past thirty-six years.
According to a recent UNHCR report on the growing conflict, an estimated 20,000 people have fled to neighboring Nigeria. Meanwhile local NGOs and human rights groups estimate that almost 160,000 people have been displaced internally.
So far the violence is only escalating, which makes one wonder if that was the central government’s agenda all along.
This being an election year, it is hard not to surmise that perhaps the discord, psychosis and uncertainty that has taken hold in the English speaking regions was the regime’s agenda all along.
The wave of violence in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, perpetrated by Islamist gangs collectively known as “al-Shabab” (no relation to the Somali group at least as far as anyone can tell), has left at least 24 people dead over the past month. It’s not clear what Mozambique’s al-Shabab wants, but its rise comes at a time when Western energy companies are moving into Cabo Delgado in preparation to exploit large offshore natural gas deposits there.
The US Treasury Department imposed new sanctions against three Russian nationals and five Russian companies on Monday over alleged ties to the Russian government’s cyber operations.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov headed to Berlin on Monday for talks with their German and French counterparts on implementing the 2015 Minsk Accord to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The parties all once again agreed in principle on allowing UN observers to deploy in eastern Ukraine, but that’s the same agreement they’ve made multiple times in the past. The sticking point is that Russia wants those observers only deployed on the front line of the conflict, which Kiev believes would help formalize the division of the country, while Ukraine wants observers deployed throughout all rebel-held territory.
Now that Italy has a government, I think it’s OK for us to acknowledge that it’s largely made up of reactionary assholes:
— Matteo Salvini (@matteosalvinimi) June 11, 2018
That’s Italy’s Minister of Keeping Brown People Out Matteo Salvini, celebrating on Twitter because the new Socialist-led Spanish government agreed to act humanely and accept a rescue vessel, the Aquarius, that had picked up 629 migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean in rubber rafts over the weekend. The vessel had attempted to dock in Italy but the asshole-led Italian government denied it permission. Which is probably a violation of international law, but I think by now we all understand that international law is essentially meaningless. Spain’s decision to step in averted an international incident.
Italy has been screwed over by the European Union’s failure to figure out an equitable way to deal with migrants, but that doesn’t change the fact that Salvini would rather have let these 629 flesh and blood human beings drown at sea than allow a single one of them to come ashore in his country. That’s called being an asshole. Anyway, Salvini’s coalition is off to a great start, and I hope he gets the chance to personally sail out into the Mediterranean and hold some migrants’ heads under water or whatever would make him happy.
Sometimes this country, and particularly this administration, is so pointlessly cruel that I just find myself at a loss for words. This is one of those times:
In a sweeping decision that reverses years of US immigration policy, Attorney General Jeff Sessions told immigration judges on Monday to stop granting asylum to many victims of domestic abuse and gang violence.
Overruling an immigration appeals court decision that had granted asylum to a woman who was abused by her husband, Sessions said victims of private crimes such as domestic abuse are not eligible for asylum.
“Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum,” Sessions wrote in his opinion. “The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes — such as domestic violence or gang violence — or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim.”
If there is a “special place in hell” for Justin Trudeau, I can only assume, despite my atheism, that it’s because Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump are planning to reserve one for him after they get there.
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