U.N. Security Council Calls Emergency Meeting After Turkey Attacks Syria
Plus: Uncertain U.S.-China trade talks, an anti-Semitic attack in Germany, and the other stories we’re following today.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The U.N. Security Council meets as Turkey continues its assault on Kurdish forces, U.S.-China trade talks resume amid very low expectations, and Germany reels from an anti-Semitic attack on Yom Kippur.
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U.N. Security Council Calls Emergency Meeting
The U.N. Security Council holds a closed-door meeting on Syria today, after Turkey launched a military offensive against Kurdish fighters in the country’s northeast. The meeting—called by the Security Council’s European members—comes days after U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly announced a drawdown of U.S. troops in the region.
On Wednesday, Turkey launched a ground and air attack against towns held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), causing thousands of people to flee. At least five civilians and three fighters were killed. Trump has seemed dismissive of the threat to the Kurds, even as members of Congress—including some of his staunchest Republican allies—have criticized the president’s decisions. He doubled down on Wednesday, declaring that the Kurds were not such essential allies and telling an audience at a White House ceremony, “they didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us in Normandy.”
A fight on both fronts. As expected, the Turkish assault has led the SDF to pause its fight against the Islamic State, as Kurdish fighters move north toward the border. And the Pentagon is particularly concerned that the SDF will leave its prisons holding Islamic State fighters insufficiently guarded, FP’s Lara Seligman and Robbie Gramer report. The U.S. military is acting to remove the most dangerous detainees from those prisons, according to the New York Times. Trump confirmed the move, saying “We are taking some of the most dangerous ISIS fighters out.”
What comes next? The withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria has prompted discussion about how Syria’s remaining international players will fill the gap. It’s likely that deeper divisions will emerge between Russia, Iran, and Turkey, Bilal Baloch argues in FP. “The U.S. withdrawal creates further strategic and moral chaos in Syria’s eight-year-long conflict, but it remains unclear who will gain full advantage,” he writes.
What We’re Following Today
Synagogue attack shakes Germany. On Wednesday, a gunman opened fire outside a synagogue in Halle, Germany, killing two people in the surrounding area. The attack took place on Yom Kippur—the holiest day of the Jewish year. The shooter tried to force his way into the synagogue which was bolted shut and the worshippers inside all reportedly escaped unharmed. Frustrated that he could not enter, the gunman then shot at people outside a nearby Jewish cemetery and in a nearby kebab shop. He denounced Jews and denied the Holocaust as he livestreamed the attack on the Amazon-owned platform Twitch, which quickly removed the video.
The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany was outraged by the lack of protection for the building at the time of the attack and that it took police 10 minutes to respond to calls from inside. “It is scandalous that police were not protecting the synagogue in Halle on a holiday like Yom Kippur,” he said.
German media identified the gunman as a 27-year-old German neo-Nazi, who has now been detained by police. The attack has rattled Germany and raised fears of further anti-Semitic violence, particularly in areas dominated by the far-right like the state of Saxony-Anhalt where the attack took place. (The far-right AfD party won 24 percent of votes in 2016 regional election there).
U.S.-China trade talks resume amid tense relations. U.S. and Chinese officials resume trade talks today in Washington, but both parties come to the table with low expectations. The atmosphere is tense: This week, the United States announced sanctions against Chinese officials and firms over abuses against minorities in Xinjiang. On Wednesday, an unconfirmed report that China’s lead negotiator would leave a day early caused the yuan and U.S. stock futures to fall. The talks aren’t likely to produce any agreement because both sides have hardened their stances, FP’s Keith Johnson reports.
White House cuts millions in foreign aid. Tens of millions of dollars earmarked for human rights programs in China, Iraq, and elsewhere are in jeopardy after the Trump administration used bureaucratic tactics to hold up the funding, FP’s Robbie Gramer reports. The move comes two months after the administration proposed to cut nearly $4 billion in foreign aid, and current and former officials see the move as a way to slash funding after proposals to do so drew public and congressional backlash.
Keep an Eye On
Poland’s next Parliament. A coalition led by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has a large lead in the polls over its opponents in Sunday’s parliamentary elections. In staunchly Catholic Poland, PiS has demonized the LGBT community to get ahead. But there are already signs the party might not win the broader cultural fight, Dariusz Kalan reports for FP.
There’s another reason the populists are winning: They have transformed the lives of provincial voters through direct welfare benefits, explains Slawomir Sierakowski. Those voters might not like everything about the ruling party but they want a welfare state, whether it’s liberal or illiberal. If the opposition wants to defeat PiS, they will have to offer an alternative social policy model that can compete by appealing to voters outside the major cities, he argues.
Terrorism in France. The motive for the knife attack that killed four people at Paris police headquarters last week was initially viewed as personal or professional. Now, French police say it was a premeditated terrorist attack by an employee who had been radicalized. The warning signs were there, the New York Times reports: after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015 the would-be killer told a colleague “serves them right.” But warnings were allegedly dismissed and no action was taken.
Alexei Navalny’s new designation. Russia’s Justice Ministry has classified the opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s organization as a “foreign agent”—a label used frequently for groups critical of the government. The new designation will allow authorities to conduct audits and inspections of the organization. Navalny has been repeatedly jailed for organizing illegal protests.
An election boycott in Kashmir. India’s main opposition party has said it will boycott local elections scheduled for later this month in Kashmir, as dozens of politicians have been detained since New Delhi’s decision in August to revoke the state’s autonomy. The Congress party joins two others in the boycott—a blow to government efforts to resume political activity in Kashmir.
This week, Copenhagen hosts mayors from global megacities for a conference on local solutions to reduce carbon emissions and address the climate crisis. The summit is hosted by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and will be attended by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.
In the Pacific Ocean, Super Typhoon Hagibis has reached Category 5 intensity as it approaches Japan’s main island of Honshu but will likely weaken before it reaches Tokyo on Saturday. Scientists say global warming is making rapidly intensifying cyclones like Hagibis more common.
Odds and Ends
Foreigners over 50 years old seeking long-term, non-immigrant visas to Thailand will soon be required to present proof of health insurance when they apply. A Thai official told Reuters that aging Westerners skipping their hospital bills were “burdensome for the public health ministry.”
That’s it for today.
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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson