Morning Brief

EU Leaders Meet as Eastern Mediterranean Crisis Deepens

Foreign ministers hope to avert a military confrontation, but the dispute will likely fester.

The Turkish drilling ship Yavuz, scheduled to search for oil and gas off Cyprus, next to a warship at the port of Dilovasi outside Istanbul, Turkey, on June 20, 2019.
The Turkish drilling ship Yavuz, scheduled to search for oil and gas off Cyprus, next to a warship at the port of Dilovasi outside Istanbul, Turkey, on June 20, 2019. Bulent Kilic/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: EU officials meet to discuss the crisis in the eastern Mediterranean, Bahrain says it is committed to Palestinian statehood, and the United Nations rejects U.S. efforts to reimpose sanctions on Iran. 

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EU Leaders Look for a Way Out of the Crisis 

EU foreign ministers will meet in Berlin today to begin a two-day round of informal talks aimed at resolving the ongoing dispute between Greece and Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, which observers warn could erupt into full-scale military confrontation between the NATO allies.

Disputed waters. Turkey and Greece have long butted heads in the region, but the latest dispute erupted after huge gas and oil reserves were discovered in the eastern Mediterranean, where both countries have overlapping maritime claims. Greece’s claims are based on the so-called Seville map, which was commissioned by the European Union in the early 2000s and gives maximal maritime boundaries to every Greek island in the region, no matter how close to Turkey’s borders.

Turkey has dismissed the Seville map, claiming it unfairly and unjustly encroaches on its exclusive economic zone. As Michaël Tanchum recently wrote for Foreign Policy, under the U.N. Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS), “Turkey is likely entitled to a larger maritime zone,” but because it isn’t a UNCLOS signatory, it cannot lean on this legal recourse.

Tensions rising. There is growing concern that tensions between Greece and Turkey could spark a wider military confrontation in the region that could drag international actors into the mix. Both countries are NATO allies, but Turkey has been drifting away from the West in recent years as it seeks to cultivate a deeper relationship with Russia. On Sunday, the Interfax news agency reported that Russia is likely to sign a deal with Turkey to sell it an additional batch of its S-400 missile systems. Another sale would be seen as a sharp rebuke of the Trump administration.

On Tuesday, Greece sent naval vessels to the eastern Mediterranean to conduct a joint military exercise with France in response to Turkey’s decision to extend a maritime research trip in the area that was accompanied by Turkish naval vessels.

Resolving the crisis. Today’s meeting is likely to conclude without a resolution, but the main task for the EU’s foreign ministers will be to propose a series of options for national leaders to deliberate at the next EU summit in late September. The EU has already said “all options are on the table,” which includes possible sanctions against Turkey, as well as withdrawing its EU membership bid.

What We’re Following Today

Pompeo and Haley eyeing the top job. In a highly unusual mix of public service and partisan politics, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley spoke in support of President Donald Trump’s candidacy during the second night of the Republican National Convention on Tuesday.

But some observers were struck by the nature of their speeches, which seemed to reveal that both leaderswho have already developed their own national profile while serving under Trumpare vying for the leadership of the Republican Party after Trump leaves. As Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer reported, “Republican insiders say Haley and Pompeo both stand a credible chance of leading the party mantle after Trump leaves the scene, but they are likely to face competition from other aspirants.”

Bahrain rejects normalization with Israel. U.S. efforts to boost normalization between Arab states and Israel was hit with a harsh rebuke on Wednesday after Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa told Pompeo during his visit to the country that he remained committed to the Arab Peace Initiative, a 2002 proposal calling for normalization only in exchange for Israel’s full withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories. 

Bahrain was considered one of the countries most likely to follow the United Arab Emirates in normalizing its relations with Israel in the wake of the historic deal between the two countries, but Wednesday’s meeting coupled with Sudan’s own rebuff of normalization talks suggest that the cascade of diplomatic breakthroughs predicted by some Israeli officials might not be imminent.

Pressure on Mali. The European Union suspended military training exercises with Mali on Wednesday in response to last week’s military coup, ramping up pressure on the newly-formed junta to revert to civilian rule. German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer acknowledged that some of the coup leaders were trained in Europe, but other EU officials said this was inadvertent and they did not instigate the military’s actions. The European Union has strongly condemned the coup, saying it would reject any unconstitutional change to the country’s government.

Violence in Kenosha. Two people were killed by a gunman after the third consecutive night of protests against police violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin. A 17-year-old has been charged with first-degree murder in relation to the two deaths.

The unrest began after a police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, seven times in front of his children on Sunday. Blake’s father later told reporters that he survived the shooting but has been paralyzed from the waist down.

The events in Kenosha are part of the nationwide protest movement against police brutality and anti-Black racism that has come in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in May. Floyd’s death led to a wave of unrest across the United States, including demonstrations in Washington that saw Trump threaten military action against protesters.

Keep an Eye On

U.N. rejects Iran snapback. The U.N. Security Council has blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to trigger the “snapback” mechanism of the Iran nuclear deal, a provision which allows any one of the original signatories to reimpose all pre-2015 sanctions on Iran if it is found to be in violation of the deal. U.S. officials have been advocating for the snapback since failing to push through a resolution that would have extended the arms embargo on Iran indefinitely, but have faced significant pushback from other members of the Security Council.

Washington will likely apply renewed pressure on the council when its rotating presidency passes from Indonesia to Niger next week, but the battle will probably drag on until the U.N. General Assembly meets in September.

Contested U.S. election? Hillary Clinton, the former U.S. secretary of state and the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential nominee, said in an interview that Democratic nominee Joe Biden “should not concede [the election] under any circumstances,” suggesting that Republicans are going to “[mess] up absentee balloting” as a way of gaining a “narrow advantage in the Electoral College on Election Day.”

Clinton’s remarks come as Trump has increasingly tried to cast doubt over the legitimacy of the election in recent weeks, claiming in his speech at the RNC on Monday that Democrats were preparing to use the coronavirus pandemic and mail-in voting to rob him of the election.

Brian Kalt recently detailed for Foreign Policy how the United States’ constitutional system is ill-equipped to deal with a disputed election result, and how this could lead to a post-election doomsday scenario.

Odds and Ends 

Scots Wikipedia scandal. An online storm erupted after it emerged that almost half of all of Wikipedia’s articles in Scots—a language spoken in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland that’s similar to English—had been written by a single person (an American teenager) who is neither Scottish nor an actual Scots speaker. Wikipedia entries in Scots were known to be of poor quality, and it was discovered that most of them were little more than Scots words substituted into English grammatical constructions. While some Scots speakers have called for the entire Scots Wikipedia to be taken down, others have proposed a massive editing project by native speakers.

The episode inflamed an already fierce debate over the status of Scots. Speakers and enthusiasts say it is a language in its own right, but detractors contend that its significant commonalities with English make it a dialect. While the particular label used may seem trivial, it does have implications for whether speakers have access to certain rights and funding schemes.

That’s it for today.

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

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