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Trump Still Calls the Shots on U.S. Foreign Policy

Trump is still president for the next 71 days. And he has begun making it harder for a President Biden to undo his Iran policies.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Elliott Abrams, U.S. special envoy for Iran and Venezuela, arrives to testify at a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing on US Policy in the Middle East on Capitol Hill on September 24, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Elliott Abrams, U.S. special envoy for Iran and Venezuela, arrives to testify at a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing on US Policy in the Middle East on Capitol Hill on September 24, 2020 in Washington, DC. Susan Walsh/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: the Trump administration has last-minute Iran plans, Azerbaijan claims it has taken a strategic town in Nagorno-Karabakh, and Myanmar’s election results trickle in.

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The Trump Administration Still Has Iran on Its Bucket List

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: the Trump administration has last-minute Iran plans, Azerbaijan claims it has taken a strategic town in Nagorno-Karabakh, and Myanmar’s election results trickle in.

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


The Trump Administration Still Has Iran on Its Bucket List

U.S President Donald Trump’s public schedule today is empty, but with 71 days of his presidency still to go, his administration’s drive to shape U.S. foreign policy remains as active as ever.

Elliott Abrams, U.S. Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela, has been dispatched on a whirlwind tour of Trump’s most favored nations: Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia “for consultations on Iran,” according to a State Department press release.

Abrams’s travel coincides with an Axios report that the Trump administration aims to put the incoming Biden administration in a bind when it comes to Iran policy. According to the report, the Trump administration is seeking support for a plan to place new sanctions on Iran every week until Biden’s inauguration. The sanctions will be targeted toward Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for overseas groups like Hezbollah, with the strategy in mind that sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program would be too simple for a President Biden to lift.

In Iran, President Hassan Rouhani has cautiously welcomed the coming transition. “The next U.S. administration should use the opportunity to make up for past mistakes,” Rouhani said, adding that Iran “favors constructive interaction with the world.”

Israel’s options. Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered his congratulations to President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, figures in his government have already voiced their disapproval for Biden’s goal of returning the United States to the Iran nuclear deal. Israeli Settlements Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said last week that such a move would “lead to a confrontation between Israel and Iran.”

With a less willing partner in Joe Biden, Netanyahu’s political future could also be at stake, Shalom Lipner writes in Foreign Policy. “A depreciation in the value of Netanyahu’s stock on the world stage could make Israelis more amenable to considering an alternative investment,” Lipner writes.

No matter which direction Biden’s policy goes, the trend of normalization between Arab states and Israel is expected to continue unabated, Jonathan H. Ferziger writes in FP.

When the sword dancing stops. While a transition from Trump to Biden may be relatively easy for Israel, the same can’t be said for Saudi Arabia, the country Trump chose for his first official visit as president: Biden has promised to “reassess” the U.S.-Saudi relationship and end U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Sara Khorshid explains in Foreign Policy why authoritarian Saudi leaders—and Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi—are so worried.

Writing in FP, Aaron David Miller looks at why a Biden “mostly interested in not getting sucked back into the Middle East” may not be “prepared to invest all that much time or attention to Saudi Arabia.”


The World This Week

On Monday, Nov. 9, Former Kosovo President Hashim Thaci makes an initial appearance before the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague. He is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Evo Morales is scheduled to make his return to Bolivia roughly one year after fleeing Bolivia’s presidency under military pressure.

Lawmakers in Peru gather to consider whether to impeach and remove President Richard Cisneros.

On Tuesday, Nov. 10, Jordan holds legislative elections.

On Wednesday, Nov. 11, Belize holds a general election.

At the United Nations General Assembly, members discuss the annual report of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

On Friday, Nov. 13, Vietnam hosts the 37th ASEAN summit and East Asia summit.

Saudi Arabia hosts an extraordinary meeting of G-20 finance ministers and central bankers. The meeting is likely to focus on debt forgiveness amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Saturday, Nov. 14, European Union sanctions against Venezuela, in place since 2017, are due to expire.

On Sunday, Nov. 15, Moldova holds its presidential election runoff between pro-Russian incumbent Igor Dodon and pro-European challenger Maia Sandu.

Brazil holds municipal elections.


What We’re Following Today

Ethiopia shake-up. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed replaced his army chief, head of intelligence, and foreign minister in a shake-up that appears to be designed to promote supporters of his government’s offensive against the Tigray region and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen will take up the post of foreign minister and deputy army chief Birhanu Jula is the new army chief of staff. The shuffle comes as the United Nations warned of a major humanitarian crisis if military actions against Tigray continue. Speaking to Reuters, the Tigray region’s president, Debretsion Gebremichael, said Tigray would keep defending itself until federal authorities agree to negotiate.

Azerbaijan claims key town.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev claimed on Sunday that his military had captured a strategic town overlooking Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, in a sign of growing dominance of Azerbaijani forces in the conflict. Ethnic Armenian officials in Nagorno-Karabakh denied Aliyev’s claim, saying that fighting continues in the town of Shushi (Shusha in Azerbaijani) while acknowledging that “there is a lot of destruction in the city.” Speaking on state television, Aliyev appeared to belittle ongoing peace talks. “We have won this victory on the battlefield, not at the negotiating table,” Aliyev said. “I have said many times that, despite all the statements, there are military solutions to this conflict.”

After victory, Democrats begin infighting. As the dust settles on Election 2020, exactly how Biden won—and whether his campaign met expectations—are the driving questions within the Democratic Party. Moderates are adamant that their measured tone is what carried the day, while progressives point to the increased turnout of marginalized groups spurred by activist organizing as key to the victory. FP’s Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer report on the battle that will define the policy platform of the new administration.


Keep an Eye On

Unrest in Georgia. Thousands protested outside the Georgian Central Election Commission in Tbilisi on Sunday to demand a new vote amid opposition claims that the election—in which ruling party Georgian Dream won 48.15 percent of the vote—was rigged. Despite opposition claims, international election observers say the Oct. 31 election was competitive and that “overall, fundamental freedoms were respected.”

Turkey’s economic reshuffle.
Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak has resigned and Turkey’s central bank governor has been fired in a tumultuous weekend for stewardship of the country’s ailing economy. Albayrak, who stepped down via an Instagram post, may yet keep his job if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refuses to accept his resignation. Albayrak, who is Erdogan’s son-in-law, said he was stepping down for health reasons. He was known as a go-between for Erdogan and the White House through his connection to Trump advisor Jared Kushner.

Myanmar’s election. Votes continue to be counted in Myanmar’s general election after millions turned out to vote on Sunday. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is expected to win with ease, although the size of her victory will determine her governing mandate. With the majority of Rohingya and Rakhine minorities excluded from Sunday’s vote, Human Rights Watch has declared the election “fundamentally flawed.”


Odds and Ends

Passengers traveled via hyperloop for the first time on Sunday, completing their 500 meter journey on a test track in 15 seconds, reaching speeds of 107 miles per hour. The technology, involving pods moving in vacuum tubes, had yet to be tested with human passengers. Virgin Hyperloop, the company behind the test, eventually wants passengers to reach speeds of over 600 miles per hour.

A couple has discovered a 100-year-old capsule belonging to a long-dead carrier pigeon in a field in France. Contained within is a message from a German infantry soldier during World War I, describing troop movements and casualties. Dominique Jardy, curator of the Linge Museum at Orbey, has declared the find “super rare” and has added the message to the museum’s permanent display.


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

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

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