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Morning Brief

U.N. Syria Envoy Prepares for Talks in Geneva

The first meeting between the Syrian government and the opposition in years comes after a dramatic shift on the ground.

Turkish soldiers and Turkey-backed Syrian fighters walk during a raid in a village in northeastern Syria, on Oct. 28.
Turkish soldiers and Turkey-backed Syrian fighters walk during a raid in a village in northeastern Syria, on Oct. 28. Nazeer al-Khatib/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Stakeholders prepare for a new round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva, an EU delegation visits Indian-administered Kashmir, and Britain’s Parliament rejects Boris Johnson’s third bid for a snap election.

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U.N. Syria Envoy Meets Stakeholders in Geneva

The U.N. special envoy on Syria is meeting with the foreign ministers of Turkey, Iran, and Russia today in Geneva, a day before Syria’s constitutional committee convenes for the first time. The talks later this week are seen as the first step under the U.N. Security Council mandate for a nationwide cease-fire. The envoy, Geir Pedersen doesn’t have high expectations: He sees any potential reform to Syria’s Constitution as “a door opener to a political process.”

But the talks will take place after dramatic changes on the ground, particularly in Syria’s northeast—where Russia, Turkey, and the government of President Bashar al-Assad now command significantly more influence than they did just a month ago. The group of foreign ministers that convenes today could play a more significant role as the talks move forward.

Uncertainty. The meetings this week are characterized by a degree of uncertainty: The United Nations has not provided a timeline for the negotiations—not even for the 150 Syrian delegates in attendance. The constitutional committee includes delegations from the government, the opposition, and civil society. What is clear is that the situation on the ground has shifted the political process in Assad’s favor.

On the border. Meanwhile, the deadline for Kurdish forces to withdraw from along the Syrian border—part of an agreement between Russia and Turkey—is set to expire today. Turkey’s foreign minister said Monday that the Kurds had not fully withdrawn and threatened to “clear these terrorists from here.” Russian-Turkish joint patrols of the border could begin today.

In FP, Chris Miller argues that the deal between Russia and Turkey can’t last, as it will only hold if the other players in Syria’s conflict act accordingly. “Turkey and Russia may be committed, but it is unlikely that the other combatants will abide by the deal,” he writes.

What We’re Following Today

EU delegation visits Kashmir. A group of 27 EU lawmakers—many of them from far-right parties—are meeting officials and residents in Indian-administered Kashmir today to assess the situation on the ground. It is the first trip to the disputed region by a foreign delegation since its special status was revoked in August, followed by a media and communications blackout. India maintains the situation is returning to normal, but the government has weighed retaliation against countries that have criticized its Kashmir policy, including Malaysia and Turkey. Ahead of the EU trip, a grenade attack—the second in three days—injured 17 people in a town in northern Kashmir.

Parliament rejects Johnson’s election bid. The British Parliament has rejected Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s third attempt to call a snap election, forcing him to seek another method—one that doesn’t require a two-thirds majority. That means bypassing the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act and will require the support of opposition parties like the Liberal Democrats, who have pushed for a Dec. 9 election—three days earlier than Johnson wanted, on the grounds that university students will have gone home by Dec. 12. A compromise for a Dec. 11 election appears to be in the works.

Johnson is also facing opposition from within his own party because he appears to have abandoned his Brexit deal just after the EU granted him an extension. Johnson’s proposed deal passed on an initial reading but Parliament rejected his accelerated timetable and he now seems ready to pull the bill in order to pursue an election. One member of Parliament told the BBC Johnson was “being churlish, and taking his bat and ball home.” Former Conservative Chancellor Philip Hammond, who was recently expelled from the party, argued that “the government is trying to create a narrative that parliament is blocking Brexit and therefore we need an election. But that is simply untrue. Parliament signalled very clearly last week that it was prepared to press on with the Brexit bill, provided it had a reasonable timetable to do so.”

Boeing CEO testifies before U.S. Congress. Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg will answer questions before the U.S. Senate committee that oversees airline safety today, a year after one of its 737 Max jets crashed in Indonesia—the first of two deadly disasters involving the top-selling plane. This is the first time a Boeing executive has testified in Congress since the crashes and the controversy that followed, and it could test Boeing’s standing in Washington, where it has long held favor. On Wednesday, Muilenberg will speak before the House.

Keep an Eye On

Hong Kong’s economy. Hong Kong’s financial secretary said on Monday that the city has officially fallen into recession after nearly five months of anti-government protests—with growth not expected to recover before the end of the year. The government is expected to announce its estimate for third-quarter growth on Thursday.

Argentina-Brazil relations. The election of leftist Alberto Fernández in Argentina could strain relations with Brazil—the other largest member of the Mercosur trade bloc, which recently struck a free-trade deal with the European Union. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Monday he had no plans to congratulate Fernández on his win.

Angela Merkel’s chosen successor. The head of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, is facing criticism from her own party after an election loss in the eastern state of Thuringia. Kramp-Karrenbaeur now faces doubts she’ll be able to lead the party to victory in the next federal election in 2021.

Essay Contest—Foreign Policy has partnered with the Carnegie Corporation to launch an essay contest. Do you know how U.S. engagement with Russia should change in order to best improve global security? We want to hear from you. Applications close Nov. 1. Learn more:

Odds and Ends

With a Brexit extension made official, Britain will have to melt down thousands of 50-pence coins created to commemorate Brexit on Oct. 31, Bloomberg reports. Millions of coins were planned, but production was halted last week once the delay became apparent.

That’s it for today.

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

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