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Kushner Heads to Middle East as Iran Reels from Killing

Kushner is to meet with the Saudi and Qatari leaders in the Trump administration's latest lame duck foreign-policy tour.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Senior Advisor Jared Kushner listens while US President Donald Trump speaks during a Make America Great Again rally at Phoenix Goodyear Airport October 28, 2020, in Goodyear, Arizona.
Senior Advisor Jared Kushner listens while US President Donald Trump speaks during a Make America Great Again rally at Phoenix Goodyear Airport October 28, 2020, in Goodyear, Arizona. Brendan Smialowski / AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Trump adviser Jared Kushner travels to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, France arrests police officers involved in the beating of a Black man, and Serbia backtracks on the expulsion of Montenegro’s ambassador. 

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Trump adviser Jared Kushner travels to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, France arrests police officers involved in the beating of a Black man, and Serbia backtracks on the expulsion of Montenegro’s ambassador. 

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

Kushner Heads to Riyadh and Doha as Iran Weighs Response 

Jared Kushner, the senior advisor to U.S. President Donald Trump, is headed to the Middle East this week as tensions in the region have increased after the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh by suspected Israeli agents.

It’s the second visit to the region by a member of the Trump administration since Joe Biden became President-elect. And like Mike Pompeo’s visit—which, according to Israeli media, included a trilateral meeting between the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Israel—what will be discussed behind closed doors is unknown.

Kushner is to meet with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman as well as Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani. Kushner is reported to be eager to finalize more normalization agreements between Israel and Arab countries before leaving office, and Saudi Arabia would represent the biggest prize.

More than a hit. Beyond the perceived threat of Iran restarting its nuclear weapons program, the assassination of Fakhrizadeh serves multiple purposes for those that would seek to keep the United States and Iran far away from the negotiating table.

The provocation puts pressure on President Hassan Rouhani to retaliate immediately, giving Iran’s enemies a chance to escalate in turn. It also gives further ammunition to hardliners, who say dealing diplomatically with the West is futile. And for President-elect Joe Biden, it creates a much more difficult negotiating environment with a country that—following Trump’s swift rejection of U.S. involvement in the 2015 nuclear deal—already had very little incentive to trust the word of the United States to begin with.

What can Biden do next? Writing in Foreign Affairs on Nov. 10, Trita Parsi recommended a novel approach to help Biden back out of the corner the Trump administration and Israel seem determined to put him in. “Instead of asking himself what degree of sanctions relief he is willing to fight for in Congress to revive the nuclear agreement,” Parsi writes, “he should ask himself what kind of relationship the United States would like to have with Iran in this century.” A bigger picture answer? Normalize ties with Iran.

Writing in Foreign Policy on Nov. 25, Benjamin H. Friedman and Stephen Wertheim propose an elegant solution: Do less. As part of an argument for removing U.S. troops from the region, the authors show why the U.S. stepping away from the region may not be as damaging as others predict. “Because the Middle East is experiencing a competition for influence among multiple midsized powers—Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel—no one state credibly threatens to dominate the region and its oil supply,” Friedman and Wertheim write. “The United States will obtain more security by doing less.”

The World This Week

On Monday, Nov. 30, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee will receive a closed briefing on the Trump administration’s plans for a $23 billion arms sale to the United Arab Emirates.

The countries of OPEC+ begin virtual meetings to discuss plans to increase oil output.

On Tuesday, Dec. 1, NATO foreign ministers gather virtually for a two-day meeting.

Italy assumes the rotating presidency of the G-20, taking over from Saudi Arabia.

World AIDS day is observed worldwide.

On Wednesday, Dec. 2, the United Nations General Assembly will discuss the question of Palestine following the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, observed on Sunday.

On Friday, Dec. 4, a Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) order banning Tiktok from operating in the United States is due to take effect.

On Saturday, Dec. 5, Kuwaitis go to the polls to elect 50 members to its National Assembly for four-year terms.

On Sunday, Dec. 6, Venezuela holds an election for its National Assembly; opposition parties plan to boycott the vote.

Romania holds legislative elections for both its Parliament and Senate.

Cameroon holds regional elections in an attempt to address demands for decentralization. Critics argue it’s too little too late.

What We’re Following Today 

French police charged. Four French police officers involved in the beating of Michel Zecler, a Black music producer, have been charged with racial abuse and intentional violence as France reels from street protests ignited by the video of Zecler’s beating and a draft security law that would have prevented its release. Under the draft law, currently awaiting Senate approval, recordings of police that would damage their “physical or psychological integrity” would be prohibited. Reacting to the assault, French President Emmanuel Macron condemned it as unacceptable. The images “shame us,” Macron wrote on Twitter. 

Abiy declares victory. After declaring the three-week offensive against the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front over following the capture of the Tigrayan capital Mekele, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has turned his sights on capturing Tigrayan officials who appear to have gone into hiding. TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael, when asked by Reuters whether his group would continue fighting, was unequivocal in his reply. “Certainly. This is about defending our right to self-determination,” he said. The TPLF have a history of guerilla warfare, although those tactics may be less effective than in the past now that Eritrea—which borders Tigray—is allied with Abiy’s government.

Massacre in Nigeria. At least 110 people were killed in northeast Nigeria after attackers targeted a village in Borno state. Nigerian authorities have blamed Boko Haram for the attack, which took place on the same day Borno state held local elections. Edward Kallon, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Nigeria described the incident as “the most violent direct attack against innocent civilians this year.” Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said that the country had been “wounded” by the killings.

Keep an Eye On

Serbia and Montenegro tensions. Serbia has rescinded a decision to expel the Montenegrin ambassador Tarzan Milosevic after it had original called for his removal following a tit-for-tat exchange with Montenegro. Montenegro expelled the Serbian ambassador Vladimir Bozovic on Saturday for “interfering in Montenegro’s internal affairs.” In reversing the expulsion, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said she wanted to extend “the hand of cooperation and friendship” to Montenegro. Montenegro’s new Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic takes office this week.

Brexit talks back on. In-person negotiations resumed between British and European Union over the weekend following their brief halt after one of the EU negotiating team was diagnosed with COVID-19. Both sides have little more than a month to conclude an agreement on their future relationship before a Dec. 31 deadline. The Times of London reports that a call between British Prime Minister and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen would be the first indication that talks are moving forward, although Reuters reports that no such call has been scheduled.

Intra-Afghan talks. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is holding up an agreement on talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, even as the Taliban claim the two sides are close to resolving their issues. According to a report in the New York Times, among Ghani’s concerns is the omission of the country’s official name—the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan—from guiding documents, which he argues undermines his government’s legitimacy.

Odds and Ends 

Pigs flew in Taiwan’s parliament on Friday as opposition politicians adopted unorthodox methods to protest a deal that would allow U.S. pork imports that contain the additive ractopamine. Lawmakers threw various pig organs on the floor of parliament, and eventually at each other, as chaos descended and some members engaged in fistfights and shoving. The additive ractopamine is used by farmers to promote leanness in pigs, and is banned in the European Union and China. Taiwan’s president, Tsai-ing Wen, lifted the ban on ractopamine in September, and hopes to conclude a trade deal with the United States under a Biden administration.

That’s it for today.

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

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