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Morning Brief

OPEC and Russia Talk Oil Price Truce

In the first of two meetings, Saudi Arabia and Russia will decide on oil production cuts as global demand plunges.

An aerial view shows the deserted main highway connecting the Saudi cities of Mecca and Jeddah with a monument representing an open Koran, on April 8, 2020, during the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis. (Photo by BANDAR ALDANDANI / AFP) (Photo by BANDAR ALDANDANI/AFP via Getty Images)
An aerial view shows the deserted main highway connecting the Saudi cities of Mecca and Jeddah with a monument representing an open Koran, on April 8, 2020, during the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis. (Photo by BANDAR ALDANDANI / AFP) (Photo by BANDAR ALDANDANI/AFP via Getty Images)

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: OPEC nations and Russia meet today on oil prices, Saudi Arabia declares a cease-fire in Yemen, and the U.S. weekly jobless claims report looms.

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OPEC and Russia Meet Over Oil Price War

OPEC nations and Russia will gather today via videoconference for an emergency meeting to discuss a possible end to the oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia that has tanked oil prices since March.

Ahead of the meeting, Algeria’s energy minister Mohamed Arkab said he expected the talks to be “fruitful,” prompting oil prices to surge before markets closed.

It’s the first of two make or break meetings for Saudi Arabia—where members of the royal family are reportedly stricken with the coronavirus—as it convenes energy ministers of the G-20 nations on Friday to further discuss cutting production following the dramatic drop in demand due to coronavirus lockdowns worldwide.

When asked whether the reduction in U.S. shale oil output due to high production costs could count toward any proposed U.S. cuts, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was unmoved, “These are completely different reductions … It’s like comparing length and breadth,” he said.

Will the agreement work? Jason Bordoff, a former senior director on the U.S. National Security Council under President Obama, doesn’t think so. Writing in FP, he outlines five reasons why any global oil price deal won’t work—from the technical to the diplomatic. “The G-20 meeting on Friday might declare historic cooperation between Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States. But it will be theatrics. Right now, Washington’s best option remains to phone Riyadh (and Moscow) while letting market forces do the work of downsizing the industry at home,” he writes.

What We’re Following Today

UN group accuses Syria of chemical weapons use. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the United Nations group responsible for tracking chemical weapons use globally, concluded that Syrian forces dropped chlorine and sarin gas on a Syrian village three times over the course of a week in 2017. “There are reasonable grounds to believe that the perpetrators … were individuals belonging to the Syrian Arab Air Force,” OPCW team leader Santiago Onate-Laborde said.

Officials in both the Syrian and Russian government have denied the use of chemical weapons over the course of the war. The OPCW said it will be up to the U.N. secretary-general and international community to “take any further action they deem appropriate and necessary.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo concurred with the group’s findings in a statement. “No amount of disinformation from Assad’s enablers in Russia and Iran can hide the fact that the Assad regime is responsible for numerous chemical weapons attacks,” he said.

Saudi coalition declares Yemen cease-fire. The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has declared a cease-fire, starting today, as it heeds a United Nations call to stop conflicts worldwide for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. The cease-fire will last two weeks and could be extended, coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki said. The Houthis, who control the Yemeni capital Sanaa, have not yet responded in kind, but a proposal has been sent to the United Nations outlining a vision for the country that includes a cease-fire. Saudi state media reported a Houthi ballistic missile attack on the Yemeni city of Marib following the cease-fire announcement.

U.S. jobless claims release. The United States Department of Labor will release its weekly jobless claims report at 8:30 a.m. today in Washington. The number is likely to be higher than the 6.6 million reported last week, as many states may still be processing applications after being overwhelmed in previous weeks. The last two reports have registered consecutive record unemployment claims. 

Sanders out of Democratic race. Sen. Bernie Sanders announced his departure from the race for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, clearing the way for former Vice President Joe Biden. In a campaign obituary, FP’s Michael Hirsh writes that Sanders’s exit “puts a finish to one of the most remarkable political ascents in modern U.S. history.”

Keep an Eye On

Boris Johnson “improving.” British Chancellor Rishi Sunak said Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s condition is “improving” following another night in intensive care for persistent coronavirus symptoms. The United Kingdom endured its worst daily death toll of the outbreak so far, with 938 deaths reported.

App shows U.K. lockdown is working. Data gathered from 2 million people via a coronavirus tracking app is showing early signs that lockdown measures are working in the United Kingdom. The number of people reporting symptoms has dropped from 1.9 million to 1.4 million in the past week, according to researchers at King’s College London, suggesting hospitals should start see a drop in admissions. Tim Spector, the scientist who led the analysis, called the results encouraging. “Even though hospital admissions and deaths are still on the rise, we hope that these figures offer a much needed light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Wuhan reopens. Residents of the city of Wuhan, the original epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, returned to the streets yesterday after a 76-day lockdown. Although residents are now free to travel again without restrictions, schools are still closed and temperature checks are still taken upon entering buildings. Authorities reported no new cases in Wuhan yesterday, but reported 62 new cases elsewhere in the country.

Odds and Ends

Two truck drivers escaped relatively unscathed after a bridge collapsed underneath them near the town of Caprigliola, in northern Italy. Coronavirus lockdown measures mean the usually busy bridge was only carrying the two drivers at the time—one was able to climb out of his vehicle, while the other was airlifted to hospital with minor injuries. The bridge had been repaired earlier in the year after a crack appeared due to cold weather. “It’s a sheer stroke of luck that a collapse hasn’t turned into a tragedy—because of a lack of traffic caused by the coronavirus emergency,” Michele de Pascale, head of the Italian provinces union UPI, told the BBC.

That’s it for today.

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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