Morning Brief

Pompeo Goes to Russia

Mike Pompeo meets his counterpart in Russia, violence flares as the military and protesters hash out a transitional government in Sudan, and the U.S.-China trade war rumbles on.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boards a plane before departing London Stansted Airport on May 9, 2019.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boards a plane before departing London Stansted Airport on May 9, 2019. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

How to Read Pompeo’s Trip to Russia

From FP’s Amy Mackinnon:

After a quick detour to Brussels on Monday to discuss Iranian saber rattling, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip is back on course today as he makes his first trip to Russia to meet with his counterpart Sergei Lavrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi.

Relations between the United States and Russia remain frosty, but there are plenty of areas where the interests of the two countries intersect (and collide): Venezuela, Syria, and Iran—to name a few. For the sake of all involved, productive dialogue will be better than deterioration.

On the agenda. In a call with reporters last week, a senior U.S. State Department official said that arms control would be high on the agenda at Sochi, along with other areas of mutual interest. The official said that Pompeo would be “candid” about Russia’s violation of arms control agreements, as well as Kremlin-backed election meddling in the United States and elsewhere.

High wire diplomacy. Negotiating with Russia is never easy. But Mike Pompeo, an ex-CIA director and a Russia hawk, walks an especially fine line as he tries to maintain a tough policy stance on Russia and represent a boss who has publicly fawned over Putin. Trump has claimed that no U.S. president has been tougher on Russia, but that hard line is largely the product of an assertive Congress, a chaotic transition period, and experienced staffers in the State Department and on the National Security Council.

An enduring mystery of the Trump presidency has been the disconnect between what the president says about Russia and what his administration actually does. In providing weapons to Ukraine, slapping sanctions on Russia, and expelling dozens of diplomats, the Trump administration has doubled down on the policies of his predecessor. Trump may like Putin, but his administration doesn’t.

Looking ahead. On Monday, Trump told reporters that he will next meet with Putin at the G-20 summit in Japan at the end of June. With the Mueller report out of the way, watch this space to see if Trump feels emboldened to pursue the rapprochement with Russia that he promised on the campaign trail and what—if anything—he might ask from Russia in return.


What We’re Following Today

Sudan’s transition. Sudan’s ruling military council and opposition groups have reached some agreement on a transitional government after the ouster of ex-President Omar al-Bashir. But violence flared overnight despite their deal in Khartoum, where four demonstrators and one soldier were killed. The transitional military council insisted it would never fire on peaceful protesters and attributed the violence to rogue elements; protesters blamed the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, a group whose commander is now the country’s interim vice president.

Today, military and opposition leaders are expected to address ongoing sticking points: the military-civilian balance of power and the length of the transition. Protesters remain camped outside the military’s headquarters as they continue to demand a complete handover of power to civilians. Meanwhile, Sudan’s public prosecutor has charged Bashir with involvement in the killing of protesters in January. He has not appeared in court, and his fate remains uncertain.

Trade war rumbles on. U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping next month, as the trade war between the two countries escalates. In response to U.S. tariff hikes on Chinese goods, China said Monday that it would enact higher tariffs on U.S. goods. Amid the dispute stocks have fallen, as has China’s currency.

Despite the failed negotiations last week, China is still playing it safe in state media, Lauren Teixeira argues for FP. “If China starts to adopt fully antagonistic language, it’s a sign it has really abandoned the prospect of a deal and is looking to unleash nationalistic sentiment to cover up its failure,” she writes.

Saudi tankers attacked. Saudi Arabia said that two of its oil tankers were among the ships attacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates just outside the Strait of Hormuz, and described the move as an attempt to undermine its oil supply as tensions heat up between Iran and the United States. On Monday, Trump warned it would be a “mistake” for Iran to target U.S. interests.


Keep an Eye On

Sweden investigates Assange. Sweden will seek to extradite the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from Britain after reopening an investigation into a rape allegation against him. The case could pose an obstacle to the U.S. extradition request to put him on trial for conspiracy. Assange remains in prison in London, and the final call lies with the British courts.

Power cuts in Zimbabwe. On Monday, Zimbabwe’s state power company began rolling blackouts—the worst to hit the country in three years. The power cuts could foment public discontent with the country’s government, which is grappling with shortages of currency, fuel, and food—and struggling to rebuild the economy after the 37-year rule of ex-President Robert Mugabe.

Eurovision. Israel hosts this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, which holds semifinals today. Political tensions between Europe and Israel have run high in the lead-up to the program, which draws millions of viewers from around the world. While no participating country boycotted the event, Haaretz reported protests at the opening ceremony and low ticket sales.

Cameroonian separatists. The conflict in Cameroon has pitted the country’s Anglophone areas against its Francophone-dominated government and displaced more than half a million people. The separatist movement is now seeking support from the Cameroonian diaspora in Nigeria—where many refugees have been pushed, Gareth Browne reports for FP.

U.S. military slashes language training. The U.S. Department of Defense has cut funding for foreign-language immersion programs that prepared students for active duty overseas, Lara Seligman reports. The decision comes as military resources have been diverted toward U.S. President Donald Trump’s long-promised wall on the border with Mexico.

For behind-the-scenes analysis on stories like this, subscribe to Security Brief Plus, delivered on Thursdays.


Odds and Ends

Amid deadlock over Brexit, Britain’s current parliamentary session is now the longest in more than 350 years—since the English Civil War. As of today it has lasted for 300 sitting days, making it the second longest session in history. The House of Commons would have to remain in session for quite a while to set the record; the longest sitting lasted from 1640 to 1653.

The American undersea explorer Victor Vescovo completed a dive to the ocean floor in the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean—claimed to be the deepest sea dive on record. He says he found plastic waste at the bottom.


That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is the newsletter editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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