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Pompeo Travels to the Middle East to Boost Regional Efforts Against Iran

Iran looms large in the wake of the Israeli-UAE deal, and protests escalate in Belarus as military threatens to use force.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Dec. 4, 2019, in Lisbon, Portugal.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Dec. 4, 2019, in Lisbon, Portugal.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Dec. 4, 2019, in Lisbon, Portugal. Kobi Gideon/GPO/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Pompeo travels to the Middle East to push anti-Iran measures, protesters in Belarus defy an implied threat of military force, and the Libyan National Army rejects a nationwide ceasefire.

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Pompeo Begins Tour of the Middle East Today 

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Pompeo travels to the Middle East to push anti-Iran measures, protesters in Belarus defy an implied threat of military force, and the Libyan National Army rejects a nationwide ceasefire.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Pompeo Begins Tour of the Middle East Today 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will begin a tour of the Middle East today to boost the Trump administration’s recent raft of diplomatic activity aimed at deterring Iran. The visit will begin with a meeting between U.S. and Israeli officials today, before Pompeo heads to the United Arab Emirates tomorrow. The meetings will focus on the implementation of the recently signed Israeli-UAE deal that normalized relations between the two countries, as well as the security threat posed by China and Iran.

Countering Iran. The deal has formalized a longstanding trend as an increasing number of Arab states shift their geopolitical priorities away from confrontation with Israel toward cooperation against Iran. Brokered by the United States, the deal also reflects Washington’s wider efforts to coordinate a multilateral bulwark against Iran.

The bigger picture. On Sunday, White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner said that the deal should increase the probability of the United States selling F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, ostensibly to bolster the country’s military capabilities against Iran. Kushner is expected to make his own trip to the Middle East beginning later this week. These events are occurring against the backdrop of the Trump administration’s attempt to extend the arms embargo against Iran at the U.N. Security Council, a move that was supported by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council but failed to gain support from other key U.S. allies at the U.N.

Scanning the region. Pompeo is also expected to visit Bahrain and Sudan as part of this trip, both countries rumored to be in talks with the Israeli government to follow the UAE and normalize their own relations with Israel. In Sudan, Pompeo will meet with Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and other top officials “to discuss continued U.S. support for the civilian-led transitional government and express support for deepening the Sudan-Israel relationship,” according to the State Department.

Sudan was initially thought to be on the verge of normalizing its ties with Israel after a foreign ministry spokesman hinted that a deal was imminent. But the foreign minister denied holding discussions with Israel, rejecting rumors that an agreement was forthcoming. Talks between the two sides are still believed to be ongoing, however, and Pompeo’s trip could provide a critical boost to that process.


The World This Week

August 24. Mike Pompeo will lead a conversation at the Atlantic Council covering his recent trip to Europe and increasing tensions with China.

August 24-27. Sentencing of the perpetrator of the Christchurch mosque shooting in New Zealand takes place this week.

August 24-27. The Republican National Convention takes place this week. Trump will be formally nominated as the Republican Party’s candidate for president.

August 24-28. Talks between the United Kingdom and the European Union over their post-Brexit economic relationship are set to resume.

August 26. Germany hosts an informal meeting of the EU’s defense ministers.

August 27. The United States is due to lift sanctions on the Taliban as part of its February peace deal with the group.

August 30. Montenegro will hold parliamentary elections.


What We’re Following Today

Military threatens protesters in Belarus. Tensions in Belarus escalated on Sunday after tens of thousands of people defied warnings from the military against protesting, flooding into the capital city of Minsk and briefly demonstrating near the residence of President Aleksandr Lukashenko. Before the protests started, the defense ministry issued an unequivocal threat of force: “We categorically warn: any violation of peace and order in such places,” it said in a statement, referring to World War II monuments, “you will have the army to deal with now, not the police.”

Sunday marked the 15th consecutive day of protests against Lukashenko, which began after the longtime president claimed a landslide victory in elections on Aug. 9 despite facing his fiercest opposition in his 26 years in office.

Pressure on Mali. Mediators from across West Africa met with Mali’s newly-formed military junta on Sunday to discuss a way out of the current crisis and a return to civilian rule. In response to the Aug. 19 military coup that deposed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and the rest of the government, the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed a series of sanctions on Mali; barring Malian representatives from participating in its institutions, halting financial flows in and out of the country, and sealing off its borders. The ECOWAS sanctions were also discussed on Sunday.

While mediators have been unable to reach a resolution, sources told Reuters that reinstating Keita is not an option. But a long-term solution will have to do more than just address the political crisis. As Philip Obaji Jr. wrote in Foreign Policy last week, ECOWAS needs to move beyond its past recommendations and offer a workable plan. “Insisting that the Keita government be replaced by other politicians will only mean bringing in another group of people who will likely use power for their personal benefit, thereby maintaining the status quo and leaving much of the country discontented,” he wrote.

The protesters may also need to adjust their demands, even if it means letting Keita play a role. Keeping Keita out of government “would not end Mali’s problems,” Obaji argued. “The mutinying soldiers and the opposition have to be more clever and more patient. For the stability of the country, it will be better to let him serve his legitimate term but check his powers through a new and robust parliament.”

There will also have to be financial support. As former U.S. diplomats Vicki J. Huddleston and Witney Schneidman argued in FP last week, what Mali needs is a comprehensive economic plan similar to the post-World War II Marshall Plan to truly address the country’s deep social and economic problems.


Keep an Eye On 

Challenging the ceasefire in Libya. The eastern Libya-based Libyan National Army (LNA) dismissed a ceasefire announcement by the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) on Sunday, claiming it was little more than a stunt giving it political cover while it continues to build up its military presence in conflict zones. Fighting had been underway in the coastal city of Sirte despite the failure of the LNA’s brutal 14-month campaign to take the capital city of Tripoli in June. As Jason Pack wrote in FP last week, the recently signed Israel-UAE deal could embolden the UAE-backed LNA and its leader Khalifa Haftar—deepening regional rivalries and prolonging the war in Libya rather than bringing peace.

The GNA announced a nationwide ceasefire on Friday in an attempt to breathe life into the stalled peace negotiations and bring an end to the country’s years-long civil war. But political options are running out. As Anas El Gomati recently wrote for Foreign Policy,  the LNA’s international backers have been persistent in seeking to retain a footprint in the country despite the LNA’s recent military setbacks. That means partition is becoming an increasingly likely long-term scenario.

More U.S. troops pull out of Iraq. U.S.-led coalition troops withdrew from Iraq’s Taji base located north of Baghdad on Sunday and transferred control of the facility to the Iraqi security forces, part of a larger drawdown of U.S. troops in the country. The base has held up to 2,000 troops in the past, but most of those stationed there have departed this summer. The final troops are due to leave in the coming days.

Sunday’s withdrawal comes as the Trump administration has been working with the Iraqi government to coordinate the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country. On Friday, after a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Trump reiterated his desire to pull out of Iraq. “Frankly, I didn’t think (the Iraq War) was a good idea,” he said. “Now we’re getting out, we’ll be leaving shortly.” The handover of Camp Taji is the eighth such transfer of an Iraqi base to Iraqi security forces.


Odds and Ends 

Add one more shocking news event to what has already been a turbulent 2020. According to the Center for Near Earth Objects Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a small asteroid is hurtling toward Earth and is projected to come close to our planet on November 2—the day before the U.S. presidential election.

Luckily, NASA said the object only has a 0.41 percent chance of actually hitting Earth, and even if it does, the likelihood that it does any damage is infinitesimal. “Asteroid 2018VP1 is very small, approximately 6.5 feet, and poses no threat to Earth. If it were to enter our planet’s atmosphere, it would disintegrate due to its extremely small size,” NASA said in a statement.


That’s it for today. 

For more from FP, visit foreignpolicy.com, subscribe here, or sign up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or corrections to morningbrief@foreignpolicy.com.

Dan Haverty is a former editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @dan_haverty

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