Morning Brief

Pompeo Holds Surprise Talks With Taliban

As fighting broke out in eastern Afghanistan, the U.S. Secretary of State held a surprise video conference with a top Taliban official.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a briefing at the State Department on February 5.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a briefing at the State Department on February 5. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds surprise video conference with top Taliban official, Lebanon’s foreign minister resigns, and Trump wants the U.S. Treasury to take a cut of TikTok sale.

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Pompeo Holds Talks With Taliban’s Baradar

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held surprise talks with Taliban chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the group’s Doha-based deputy leader. According to Reuters, the talks covered the issue of Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government.

What the Taliban wants. The Taliban insist that they should be freed before they join negotiations with government officials and other Afghans on a political settlement. The State Department has yet to issue a readout of the call but the Taliban was quick to post evidence of the meeting.

What’s the disagreement? Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is hesitant to release the remaining 400 prisoners named on the Taliban’s list. He contends that they were involved in serious crimes, including a 2017 bombing of the German embassy and other deadly attacks. Ghani has offered to release 500 other prisoners who are not on the list instead.

Prison break. The meeting occurred just as Afghan security forces were attempting to end the siege of a prison in eastern Afghanistan by Islamic State militants.

Afghan soldiers killed at least 10 Islamic State fighters who had taken control of the prison in Jalalabad, ending a siege in which hundreds of prisoners escaped. At least 29 people died during the militants’ assault on the prison on Sunday evening and in later clashes with security forces, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province said.

What We’re Following Today

British trade hack. Classified U.S.-U.K. trade documents that were leaked ahead of the December 2019 U.K. general election were obtained by suspected Russian hackers who had compromised the personal e-mail account of former Trade Minister Liam Fox, Reuters reported on Monday. The news comes after a parliamentary report found that the British government had failed to follow up on Russian attempts to influence the 2016 Brexit vote. Fox is currently Britain’s candidate for secretary-general of the World Trade Organization.

North Korean warheads. A confidential report submitted to the U.N. Security Council concludes that several unnamed countries believe North Korea has “probably developed miniaturized nuclear devices to fit into the warheads of its ballistic missiles.” The report also states that North Korea is violating sanctions by conducting an illicit trade in coal and generating funds by cyberattacks on banks and cryptocurrency exchanges.

Resignation in Lebanon. Lebanese Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti has resigned from his post, citing “the absence of an effective will to achieve structural, comprehensive reform.” President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab have appointed Charbel Wehbe, Aoun’s diplomatic adviser as Hitti’s replacement. Lebanon’s talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) remain stalled.

Keep an Eye On

Member of U.K. Parliament charged with rape. A former Conservative Party minister was arrested in London on July 31 after a female parliamentary staffer accused him of rape, sexual assault, and coercive control.

London’s Metropolitan police confirmed they had launched an investigation into four alleged incidents between July 2019 and January 2020. They said “a man in his 50s” was taken into custody in east London. He has not been identified.

The arrested MP has not yet been suspended from the Conservative Party pending the police investigation. The accuser repeatedly raised the issue with top party officials and has called the party leadership’s inaction “insulting.” The Tory Chief Whip, Mark Spencer, claims the party is taking the matter “very seriously.”

Another curfew in Kashmir. The Indian government has imposed a curfew in many parts of Indian-controlled Kashmir, in advance of the one-year anniversary of New Delhi’s decision to revoke the disputed region’s special status. Indian officials said the security lockdown in Srinagar, the region’s largest city, was necessary because they had information about protests planned to mark the August 5 anniversary as a “black day.” Police and paramilitaries drove through the city’s streets and warned residents to stay indoors while laying barbed wire on roads and bridges. 

Trump wants a cut from TikTok sale. After threatening to ban the app TikTok, U.S. President Donald Trump now says he approves of Microsoft’s bid to acquire the app, which is currently owned by the Chinese firm ByteDance. However, Trump is now insisting that the U.S. government get a cut from the sale if an American firm buys it. “The United States should get a very large percentage of that price, because we’re making it possible,” Trump said. The MIT Technology Review called Trump’s approach “Mafia-like behavior.”

Odds and Ends

Juan Carlos, the former king of Spain, has entered self-exile in an as yet undisclosed country as a corruption investigation into his involvement in the winning of a Saudi Arabian rail contract gathers steam. Spanish prosecutors allege Juan Carlos, who abdicated in 2014, received a $100 million “donation” from the king of Saudi Arabia that was then hidden in an offshore bank account. In a letter, Juan Carlos said he was leaving Spain in order to allow his son, King Felipe VI, to carry out his role with “tranquility.” A spokesperson said the former monarch would still make himself available for questioning from prosecutors.

That’s it for today.

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

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