Morning Brief

U.S. Officials Tour the Middle East to Promote Israeli-UAE Peace Deal

Trump officials have their eyes on November, but efforts to promote normalization with Israel in other Gulf states appear unlikely.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Presidential Senior Adviser Jared Kushner make joint statements to the press after their meeting.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Presidential Senior Adviser Jared Kushner make joint statements to the press after their meeting in Jerusalem, Israel, on Aug. 30. Debbie Hill/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. delegation led by Jared Kushner tours the Middle East, a new prime minister is designated in Lebanon, and Turkish mayors accuse the national government of covering up coronavirus data.

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Normalizing Ties With Israel the Focus of U.S. Tour

White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner and other top U.S. government officials are visiting the Middle East this week to encourage more Gulf states to normalize ties with Israel in the wake of the historic peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates earlier this month. The U.S. delegation arrived in Israel on Sunday and will join an Israeli delegation on a visit to the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi today.

This is the second time in as many weeks that a delegation of senior U.S. officials will tour the Middle East to promote President Donald Trump’s diplomatic strategy. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Israel, Sudan, Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates last week with the same objective as Kushner. “The stage is now set for even more [peace agreements],” Kushner said on Sunday during a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Hope dwindling. The U.S. delegation still has a wide gulf to cross before successfully pushing other Arab states to normalize ties with Israel. There was initial speculation that Bahrain and Sudan could soon follow the United Arab Emirates, but both countries have since dismissed claims they are exploring similar agreements. Pompeo left the Middle East having failed to convince the leadership of any of the countries he visited to change tack, and Kushner appears unlikely to make more progress.

Eyeing November. But the visit serves a second purpose. It is also part of an effort by the Trump administration to convince select Gulf states to attend a signing ceremony in Washington between Israeli and UAE officials, which Trump officials hope will serve to promote the administration’s diplomatic achievements in the Middle East as it touts its record before the November presidential election. Kushner will reportedly visit Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, and Oman, some of whom are considering attending the event.

The World This Week

August 31-September 4. Talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are expected to begin this week, according to Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the Afghan government’s High Council for National Reconciliation.

August 31-September 1. French President Emmanuel Macron will travel to Lebanon to discuss ongoing efforts at political reform.

August 31-September 4. Talks between representatives of the United Kingdom and the European Union continue this week ahead of the resumption of negotiations on Sep. 7.

September 1. Members of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) will meet with Iran to discuss the nuclear deal.

September 2. Kosovar and Serbian leaders will meet with U.S. representatives in Washington.

September 4. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hosts a virtual meeting with the foreign ministers of the other BRICS countries.

September 6. New Zealand is expected to dissolve its parliament to trigger its general election due to be held in October.

What We’re Following Today 

Tight race in Montenegro. Preliminary results from Montenegro’s parliamentary elections on Sunday suggest that the pro-Western Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) of President Milo Djukanovic is set to notch a slight victory over the pro-Serbian, pro-Russian For the Future of Montenegro alliance. The DPS will fall well short of a majority, however, but a strong enough performance from the pro-Western Peace of Our Nation could be enough to give it a governing majority.

Djukanovic has been a strong proponent of deepening the country’s ties to the West, and he spearheaded Montenegro’s accession to NATO in 2017 and its current efforts to join the European Union. But protests against his government have gripped the country in recent months, underscoring a widespread feeling of opposition to his leadership.

Backing the monarchy in Thailand. Protesters gathered in a stadium in the Thai capital of Bangkok on Sunday to rally in support of the monarchy following massive student-led anti-government demonstrations in recent weeks. The event, which attracted around 1,200 people, was organized by the newly-formed pro-monarchy group Loyal Thai. “We insist that the country’s conflicts stem from politicians,” said Warong Dechgitvigrom, a prominent right-wing politician who founded the group. “The monarchy institution has no part in governing the country. The institution is the morale support that connects the people together.”

Anti-government protesters have defied draconian laws against criticizing the monarchy in recent weeks to take to the streets to demand the ouster of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, fresh elections, and a new constitution that would limit the powers of the monarchy.

New prime minister in Lebanon. Mustapha Adib, Lebanon’s current ambassador to Germany, is set to become the country’s next prime minister as it continues to grapple with one of its worst crises since the end of the civil war in 1990. Adib won support from all of the major parties on Sunday, as well as from former prime ministers including Saad al-Hariri. He will be designated prime minister today just before a crucial visit from French President Emmanuel Macron.

The government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned earlier this month amid mounting pressure after a pair of explosions rocked the capital of Beirut on Aug. 4, killing almost 200 people and injuring several thousand more. The revelation that the government’s negligence helped cause the accident sparked public outrage that reignited protests against the country’s sectarian governing system.

Keep an Eye On

Turkey’s coronavirus coverup. The mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, the two largest cities in Turkey, have accused the national government of covering up the severity of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, claiming that official figures don’t match up with their local data. Ekrem Imamoglu and Mansur Yavas, the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, respectively, both said that the total numbers of deaths in their cities almost matched the figure the government is claiming as the national total.

Urban centers like Ankara and Istanbul have long been hotbeds of opposition to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and after local elections last year brought Imamoglu and Yavas to power, the two mayors have used their positions to expose government corruption and mismanagement.

Protests in Portland turn deadly. One person was killed in Portland, Oregon, on Saturday during clashes between Black Lives Matters protesters and pro-Trump counterprotesters. Although neither the identity nor the affiliation of the shooter are known, the victim appears to have been a supporter of the pro-Trump Patriot Prayer group. Protests have taken place in Portland since the police killing of George Floyd in May.

The event follows a similar clash last week in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during which two people were shot and killed by an armed pro-Trump gunman amid protests against the police shooting of Jacob Blake in the city.

Odds and Ends 

The latest casualty of the coronavirus pandemic is the long-time slogan of popular U.S. fast food company Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). The slogan, “it’s finger lickin’ good,” has been used by the company on-and-off for 64 years, but KFC announced last week that it is suspending the slogan because it is no longer appropriate in the current health-conscious environment. Health experts discourage people from touching their faces in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and users on social media criticized KFC for implicitly promoting unhealthy habits in its marketing campaigns.

The company rolled out an advertisement in the United Kingdom and Ireland that ended with the tagline: “That thing we always say? Ignore it. For now.” The suspension will go into effect today.

That’s it for today.

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

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