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U.S. and Turkey Spar Over Syria Safe Zone

Plus: Spain’s parliament at odds, Mexico’s troops at the border, and the other stories we’re following today.

By , an associate editor at Foreign Policy.
A convoy of Turkish armoured vehicles drive towards a crossing point between Syria and Turkey on a highway in the northern countryside of the Syrian province of Idlib on June 20.
A convoy of Turkish armoured vehicles drive towards a crossing point between Syria and Turkey on a highway in the northern countryside of the Syrian province of Idlib on June 20. AAREF WATAD/AFP/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Turkey could launch another cross-border operation in Syria, Spain’s parliament goes down to the wire on key vote, and Trump says Mexico will send more troops to its border with the United States.

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Turkey could launch another cross-border operation in Syria, Spain’s parliament goes down to the wire on key vote, and Trump says Mexico will send more troops to its border with the United States.

We welcome your feedback at

Ankara and Washington Spar Over Safe Zone

After talks held in Ankara this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that the United States and Turkey had not reached a deal over proposals for a safe zone in northern Syria controlled by Turkish forces—rather than the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, better known as the YPG, a key U.S. ally. “We have no patience left,” Cavusoglu said at a press conference.

The official U.S. line differs—the Ankara embassy released a statement calling the talks “productive”—but Turkey is firm. If it doesn’t reach an agreement with the United States over a safe zone, it has threatened to launch a military offensive in northern Syria against the YPG, which would be its third cross-border operation since 2016.

What’s the problem? Turkey and the United States disagree sharply over the YPG’s role in Syria. The U.S. military has worked closely with the militia in its fight against the Islamic State in Syria. Turkey, which has spent decades fighting Kurdish militant groups within its borders and beyond, considers the YPG to be a terrorist organization and has condemned the U.S. support.

Decades of misunderstanding. The new spat over a safe zone in Syria is just the latest development in a long-running disagreement between the countries: Turkey has been skeptical of U.S. support for Kurdish militias since the 1990-1991 Gulf War, Keith Johnson and Robbie Gramer report.

“It was a paranoia that, to Turkish eyes, would in decades come to be amply borne out as Washington boosted its support for Kurdish forces, even as it stopped short of advocating full Kurdish independence,” they write.

What We’re Following Today

Tensions rise in Spanish parliament ahead of key vote. Spain’s acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialists and the far-left Podemos party do not appear to have reached a coalition deal ahead of today’s second vote to confirm Sánchez as prime minister. The parties disagree over how much influence—and how many cabinet posts—the Socialists will give to Podemos. If Sánchez doesn’t gain the support (or abstentions) he needs to win a simple majority, the parliament will hold another vote in September. And if there’s no coalition by September, a new election will be held in November.

More Mexican troops headed to the border? U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that Mexico could station more troops at its border with the United States as it faces increased pressure to slow migration flows. The announcement came hours after a district judge in Washington upheld Trump’s new rule that restricts almost all applications for asylum at the southern border. (Later in the day, a district judge in California issued an injunction blocking the administration’s asylum policy and superseding the earlier decision.) Trump’s latest efforts against asylum seekers appear to take a page out of Australia’s playbook, Elaine Pearson argues in FP.

Israeli Arabs could form joint political party. Lawmakers say that three Israeli Arab political parties will agree to once again form a joint list for the country’s September elections after winning just 10 seats in parliament in April. (The parties ran separately in April but have in the past run as a joint list.) Politicians hope the single ticket could boost turnout among Arabs, who make up one-fifth of Israel’s electorate. Arab participation reached a historic low in April, as Joshua Mitnick reported for FP.

First, Boris Johnson must tackle tanker crisis. After sacking half of Theresa May’s cabinet yesterday—and replacing the country’s foreign and defense ministers—Johnson must now confront his first foreign-policy crisis. One of the first problems the new British prime minister faces is the Iranian seizure of a British oil tanker—a situation Iran has indicated it wants to de-escalate. Meanwhile, the outgoing government has proposed a European naval coalition in the Strait of Hormuz, but it’s not yet clear whether Johnson will call off the mission now that he’s in office, Lara Seligman and Keith Johnson report.

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

Keep an Eye On

Uganda’s singer-turned-politician. The Ugandan pop star Bobi Wine has officially declared his candidacy in the country’s next presidential election in 2021. In his songs—and recently, speeches—Wine has criticized incumbent President Yoweri Museveni, who is seeking a sixth term. The musician faces charges of treason as well as restrictions on his concerts before the elections. (Bobi Wine was one of Foreign Policy’s 2018 Global Thinkers.)

The plan to repatriate the Rohingya. The Myanmar government has promised to safely repatriate the 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled to Bangladesh after a military crackdown in 2017. But new analysis of satellite images by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute indicates that there has been “minimal” preparation for the refugees’ return. Instead, the images show that the military has been building transit camps.

Macron’s IVF bill. French President Emmanuel Macron’s government has submitted a bioethics bill to Parliament, fulfilling a campaign promise. The draft law is Macron’s first big social reform: It would allow in-vitro fertilization for gay couples and single women. While the bill is expected to pass—a sign of France’s leftward shift on social issues—Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party is already calling for a referendum.

The Easter bombings investigation in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan police said Wednesday that they don’t have enough evidence to prove the Islamic State’s direct links to the deadly Easter Sunday bombings, despite the groups claims. Investigators have blamed two local Islamist groups. This week the country’s president extended a state of emergency for the fourth month.

Climate Check

Europe is facing another severe heat wave, with temperatures in both Belgium and the Netherlands hitting record highs. The event, while short, could worsen droughts and increase the risk of wildfires—which ravaged Portugal this week. Paris is expected to break its heat record by reaching 107 degrees Fahrenheit (42°C) today while temperatures in London are expected to exceed 100 degrees (38°C).

As U.N. lawmakers meet to lay out a fifth Geneva convention aimed at protecting the environment, a group of scientists has appealed for environmental destruction in conflict zones to be identified as a war crime.

Odds and Ends

The U.S. aircraft maker Boeing says lost $2.9 billion last quarter as sales fell following the grounding of its top-selling 737 Max jet after two deadly crashes. Boeing expects to have the plane back in the air by the end of the year under a new name: the 737 8200.

Among cautious congratulations from European leaders, and despite numerous accusations of Islamophobia, the new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been hailed by politicians in Turkey for his family heritage: Johnson’s great-grandfather, Ali Kemal, was the last interior minister of the Ottoman Empire.

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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