Macron Hosts Eastern Med Summit as Russian Involvement Deepens
As the threat of an international military confrontation increases, Mediterranean leaders meet to discuss a resolution to the tense standoff.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: France chairs a meeting with Mediterranean leaders on the Greece-Turkey standoff, the British government faces a barrage of criticism over its efforts to override the Brexit deal, and the Afghan vice president narrowly survives an assassination attempt as intra-Afghan talks await.
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Eastern Mediterranean Crisis Looms Over Med7 Summit
French President Emmanuel Macron will host a summit of the European Union’s informal Med7 group—consisting of the bloc’s seven Mediterranean countries—to try to form a consensus on several regional challenges, including Libya and Syria. The main item of discussion, however, will be the ongoing standoff between Greece and Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean. In addition to Macron, the leaders of Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Cyprus, and Malta are expected to attend the summit on the French island of Corsica.
Greece and Turkey, both NATO members but longtime regional rivals, have overlapping maritime claims in the region, where a large deposit of oil and gas was recently discovered. The dispute boiled into a crisis last month after both countries sent naval vessels to the area to flex their military muscle. Writing for Foreign Policy recently, Michaël Tanchum explained the origins of the crisis.
Interest from abroad. International actors are now playing a growing role in the dispute. On Aug. 14, EU foreign ministers held an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis, and although they did not hammer out a long-term resolution, EU leaders are expected to announce more comprehensive action against Turkey after the EU summit later this month. Measures against Turkey could include sanctions and suspending its application to join the bloc.
In the meantime, France is working to support Greece militarily. French troops have participated in military exercises with Greece in recent weeks, and in the days leading up to today’s summit, it was reported that Greece is in talks with France over purchasing fighter jets to boost its defense capabilities.
Russia taking on a greater role. Russia has also shown an interest in the dispute. Last week, Turkey announced that Russian troops would be participating in several live-fire military exercises this month, and in a meeting with his Cypriot counterpart on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow was prepared to step in and help “resolve differences through dialogue and within a legal framework” if the main actors requested its direct involvement.
Where is the United States? Although the U.S. State Department has expressed deep concern “about Turkey’s continued activities in the region” and supports dialogue between Ankara and Athens, Washington has been notably absent as a mediator in the dispute, largely leaving it to EU and other regional policymakers.
What We’re Following Today
More U.S. troops pulling out of Iraq. The U.S. military announced on Wednesday that it is reducing its troop presence in Iraq from 5,200 personnel to 3,000, formalizing a larger withdrawal process that has been underway for several months now. “We are continuing to expand on our partner capacity programs that enable Iraqi forces and allow us to reduce our footprint in Iraq,” said General Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command.
The United States and Iraq both affirmed their commitment to the reduction of U.S. troops in June, and this year saw several U.S.-controlled bases in the country handed over to Iraqi forces.
Britain under heavy criticism. On Wednesday, the British government published its controversial internal market bill, which aims to override key parts of last year’s Brexit withdrawal agreement, including the highly contentious Northern Ireland protocol. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament that the bill would “ensure the integrity of the UK internal market,” a nod to Northern Ireland’s fiercely pro-Britain unionist parties.
The bill has brought a torrent of criticism on the government. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the bill “would break international law and [undermine] trust,” echoing a widely-held belief among critics of the bill. But as Garvan Walshe wrote in Foreign Policy yesterday, the move shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise. London’s attempt to renege on its commitments “is entirely in line with the transactional diplomacy and imperial-era sovereignty spirit of the Brexiteers.”
Violence continues in Afghanistan. Afghan First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, a prominent Taliban critic, survived an assassination attempt on Wednesday in the capital of Kabul, underscoring a growing body of dissent toward the ongoing Afghan peace process. The interior ministry confirmed that 10 people were killed in the attack and at least 15 were wounded. The Taliban, whose negotiating team is currently in Doha, Qatar, awaiting the start of peace talks with the Afghan government, has denied all responsibility.
The attack is part of a wave of violence that has hit Afghanistan in recent weeks. Last week, the United Nations’ top official in Afghanistan warned that a “near-record” level of violence was threatening to derail the entire peace process.
Keep an Eye On
Dissent in Ethiopia grows. Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region held local elections on Wednesday, defying the national government as pressure on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed continues to mount. Elections were originally scheduled to take place in August, but Abiy’s government postponed the vote due to coronavirus concerns. Tigrayan officials warned that a government intervention to prevent the vote would be tantamount a “declaration of war.” Although the upper house of the country’s parliament called the elections unconstitutional, Abiy has so far ruled out military intervention.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the region’s ruling party and the country’s dominant party before the realignment of Ethiopian politics in 2019 after Abiy’s takeover, is expected to top the poll.
Saudi Arabia doubles down on Palestine. In a statement following a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers on Wednesday, Saudi Arabia said that it supports all efforts to achieve a lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that it continues to support the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders.
Members of the Arab League met on Wednesday to discuss a range of social, economic, and political issues, but paid special attention to Palestinian statehood in the wake of the UAE-Israel deal, which has rankled Palestinians and caused some strain in the Arab world over the issue of Palestinian statehood. The Saudi statement did not comment on the deal.
Odds and Ends
No more President Xi? U.S. lawmakers have proposed a bill that would strip Chinese President Xi Jinping of the title of president—at least in U.S. government and diplomatic circles. Republican Rep. Scott Perry introduced the bill last month, which would prohibit the federal government from using any term other than General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Chinese Community Party (or simply General Secretary) to refer to Xi, in order to remove the notion that Xi commands the same legitimacy as democratically-elected presidents in Western democracies.
Although “president” isn’t used to refer to Xi in China (where the confluence of his many titles is notoriously complicated), it is the preferred honorific across U.S. government, media, and business.
That’s it for today.
Photo credit: Ian Langsdon/Pool/AFP via Getty Images