Morning Brief

The First Steps Toward an Afghan Peace Deal

With a seven-day reduction in violence agreed, the United States and the Taliban are paving the way to an end to the war in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani takes part in a panel discussion during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, on Feb. 15.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani takes part in a panel discussion during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, on Feb. 15. CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The United States and the Taliban take preliminary steps toward an Afghan peace deal, Turkey and Russia hold talks over the situation in northwest Syria, what to watch in the world this week.

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U.S., Taliban Move Toward Deal

The United States and the Taliban again appear to be taking steps toward peace in Afghanistan after U.S. officials announced a seven-day reduction of violence on Friday at the Munich Security Conference. The temporary truce is “very specific,” applying nationwide and including Afghan government forces. If successful, it will mark the first steps toward a deal to bring an end to the 18-year war in Afghanistan, where around 13,000 U.S. troops remain.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and U.S. Afghanistan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad are in Pakistan today for a conference addressing the future of Afghan refugees after decades of war. The possibility of a peace deal raises questions about reintegration and international support for host countries. Around 3 million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan and more in Iran—which has increased deportations over the last year, as Ruchi Kumar and Hikmat Noori reported for FP in January.

Will the truce hold? If the reduction of violence lasts, it will be a shift after a violent year in Afghanistan. In September, the United States and Taliban leaders were close to a deal but U.S. President Donald Trump called off secret negotiations after a Taliban attack killed a U.S. service member in Kabul. The signing of a U.S.-Taliban peace agreement has been scheduled tentatively for Feb. 29, according to an Afghan official.

What’s in the deal? The agreement between the United States and the Taliban would create a 135-day timetable for a U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan and call for a complete withdrawal within three to five years. It would also kickstart negotiations including the Taliban and the Afghan government next month.

What We’re Following Today

U.S. citizens evacuated from quarantined cruise ship. U.S. passengers on a cruise ship quarantined off the coast of Japan for two weeks due to the coronavirus have been evacuated to the United States, with 40 people remaining in Japan for treatment. (Those returning home will be quarantined on U.S. air force bases.) Officials have confirmed 355 cases on board the cruise ship—the largest cluster outside of China. Canada, Italy, South Korea, and Hong Kong are expected to repatriate their passengers in the coming days.

Another cruise, another coronavirus case. Meanwhile, hundreds of passengers on another cruise ship that was barred from docking in several countries have now disembarked in Cambodia. Although the cruise company and Cambodian officials insisted there was no risk on the ship, one passenger who left Holland America’s Westerdam later tested positive in Malaysia, raising fears that she may have infected others who have now flown home to various countries, allowing the virus to spread.

The coronavirus remains an epidemic, meaning it hasn’t spread significantly beyond China. Even if containment limits the spread of the disease, pandemics—when diseases spread rapidly across continents—remain the world’s single biggest threat, Annie Sparrow writes for FP.

Turkey, Russia hold talks over Syria. Turkish officials are in Russia today for talks on the escalating situation in Syria’s northwest Idlib province, where Syrian government forces—backed by Russia—are waging a campaign to take back the country’s last rebel stronghold that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Turkey supports some rebel groups, who have launched their own operations in Idlib. Meanwhile, Syrian forces have seized most of Aleppo province, which borders Idlib, after making significant gains on Sunday.

Macron picks new candidate for Paris mayor. French President Emmanuel Macron tapped his health minister, Agnès Buzyn, to represent the ruling La République En Marche party in the Paris mayoral election next month. The party’s initial candidate, Benjamin Greveaux, dropped out of the race on Friday amid a sex scandal. Macron’s party sees the Paris municipal elections as an opportunity to build a local base, even though it’s not likely to win. The incumbent Socialist mayor, Anne Hidalgo, is leading in the polls.

The World This Week

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Africa this week, making a stop in Angola today before heading to Ethiopia for talks with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year. Pompeo visited Senegal over the weekend. The trip comes amid rising tensions over U.S. visa restrictions on four African countries, but Pompeo’s meetings have so far focused on deepening business ties—a counter to Chinese economic influence in the region.

Another U.S. Democratic presidential debate is set for Wednesday in Las Vegas, with at least five candidates expected to take the stage. Due to a rule change, late entrant and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg could join them if he qualifies through polling. Bloomberg does not appear on the ballot in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday, where volunteers are concerned about the possibility of technological glitches—which plagued the caucuses in Iowa earlier this month.

Check out our coverage of foreign policy and the 2020 election campaign here.

Iran holds parliamentary elections on Friday, with thousands of moderate or conservative candidates barred from running. Though the vote won’t affect Iran’s foreign policy or nuclear program, which are determined by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the disqualifications mean the next parliament will likely be stacked with hardliners. The election comes at a moment of extreme tension between Tehran and Washington.

Saudi Arabia hosts a G-20 summit on Saturday and Sunday, with the world’s finance officials meeting to discuss the state of the global economy and threats to growth—in particular the coronavirus outbreak. China, Hong Kong, and Singapore have already committed to stimulus packages in response to the unexpected economic hit.

Keep an Eye On

Taiwan’s military. As China’s military poses an increasing threat to Taiwan, it needs its own deterrent more than ever. But the Taiwanese military is in crisis: The transition to an all-volunteer military has led to the hollowing out of front-line troops—a development that has been downplayed by Taiwan’s political leadership, Paul Huang writes for FP.

A drug shortage in Mexico. Due to a government effort to revamp the public health system, Mexico is experiencing a shortage of cancer medications, the Wall Street Journal reports. The shortages have caused families of cancer patients to protest—something that could damage President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his campaign against corruption.

Odds and Ends

A French ski resort in the Pyrenees has airlifted snow onto its slopes after losing business due to a lack of snow during a period of unusually mild weather. The decision enabled the resort to stay open during school holidays. Officials said the operation was “exceptional,” but it has angered French ecologists. “It is the world upside down,” one told French television.

That’s it for today. 

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

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