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Western Powers Face Russia in Syrian Aid Clash

The U.N. Security Council discusses a draft resolution today ahead of a key deadline on aid access.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Workers call for humanitarian aid to Syria.
A human chain is formed by workers from the civil society, humanitarian aid, and medical and rescue services in a vigil calling for maintaining a U.N. resolution authorizing the passage of humanitarian aid into Syria’s rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey on July 2. Omar HAJ KADOUR/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The U.N. Security Council discusses a resolution on expanding cross-border aid to Syria, 110 people are still missing after Japan’s mudslides, and the world this week. 

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U.N. Security Council Faces Syria Aid Deadline

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The U.N. Security Council discusses a resolution on expanding cross-border aid to Syria, 110 people are still missing after Japan’s mudslides, and the world this week. 

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

U.N. Security Council Faces Syria Aid Deadline

Today, the 15-member United Nations Security Council takes up the issue of humanitarian aid to Syria, just days before a crucial July 10 deadline.

Western powers on the council support a resolution calling for the border crossing between Turkey and rebel-held northwest Syria to remain open while Russia—Syria’s key backer—has vowed to veto the resolution and maintains Syria’s government can be trusted to allow aid to cross battle lines within the country.

Since external humanitarian supply lines to Syria were opened in 2014, Russia has successfully wielded its veto power on the council to whittle the number of humanitarian border crossings from four to one. Bab al-Hawa, the remaining open crossing, was itself the subject of a 12-month extension following a similar showdown last year.

Up for discussion today is a resolution drafted by council members Ireland and Norway that calls for keeping Bab al-Hawa open as well as reopening an additional border crossing—al-Yaarubiyah on the Iraqi border—to help aid efforts in the Kurdish-held northeast.

The discussions come as Syria’s humanitarian situation has worsened over the past year. The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) estimates 12.4 million Syrians are food insecure today—almost 60 percent of the population—an increase of 4.5 million people over the course of a year. Cross-border assistance, the WFP said, fulfills the basic needs of 2.4 million people in Syria—the majority women and children.

Bargaining or blackmail? As negotiations approach a July 10 deadline when U.N. authorization of aid through Bab al-Hawa expires, French U.N. Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière suggested Western aid to Syria would be held back if Russia continued its veto threat, adding that sending aid across lines of conflict (cross-line) was not possible. “As I said repeatedly, 92 percent of humanitarian relief to Syria is provided by European Union, U.S., Canada, Japan basically,” de Rivière said. “This is Western money, and nobody should expect this money to be reallocated through cross-line, which does not work.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the aid threat “blackmailing.”

A strategic test. As Charles Thépaut and Jomana Qaddour wrote in Foreign Policy last week, the negotiations are a “strategic test of Russia’s appetite for compromise” with the United States following high-level talks between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva in June. Worth watching for, Thépaut and Qaddour write, are what kinds of concessions the Biden administration is willing to offer to Russia to keep Bab al-Hawa open.

The World This Week

On Wednesday, July 7, Isaac Herzog is sworn in as Israel’s 11th president, succeeding Reuven Rivlin.

On Thursday, July 8, EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hold virtual talks.

On Friday, July 9, G-20 finance ministers meet for a two-day summit in Italy.

On Sunday, July 11, Bulgaria holds early parliamentary elections.

Moldova holds parliamentary elections.

Either England or Denmark take on either Italy or Spain in the final 2020 UEFA European Football Championship in London.

What We’re Following Today

KBS in Washington. Prince Khalid bin Salman Al Saud—Saudi Arabia’s deputy defense minister, son of King Salman, and brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—visits Washington this week, the Wall Street Journal reported. Prince Khalid, a former ambassador to Washington, is the highest profile member of the Saudi royal family to visit since Biden took office in January. A declassified U.S. intelligence report released in February found that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing; however, Biden avoided placing direct sanctions on the de facto Saudi leader.

According to the Wall Street Journal’s report, Prince Khalid will meet with senior White House, U.S. State Department, and U.S. Defense Department officials (but not Biden himself) to discuss the war in Yemen; the situation in the Middle East, including in Israel and the Palestinian territories; and Saudi concerns over talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Neither government has disclosed the exact timing of the prince’s visit.

Strange bedfellows strike down law in Israel. In a blow to Israels new governing coalition, a vote to extend the controversial Palestinian family reunification law ended in a 59-59 tie with two abstentions, meaning the law—which is widely regarded as discriminatory for barring the automatic granting of citizenship and residency to West Bank and Gaza Palestinians married to an Israeli citizen—will expire. The law has led to countless hardships for such couples and their children, restricting access to everything from driving licenses to mortgages, medical care, public housing, and higher education for children.

The surprise was who supported the law and who opposed it. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his new coalition allies on the left backed it—after some compromises. Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahus Likud party and his right-wing allies framed the vote as a confidence motion and banded together with their nemesis—the Israeli-Arab Joint List—along with a renegade member of Bennetts own party to oppose it while two coalition legislators abstained. Netanyahus opposition was based more on opportunism than moral outrage, however. As the Times of Israel noted, “While the right-wing Likud and Religious Zionism opposition parties support the law in principle, they voted against extending it, along with the ultra-Orthodox parties and the Joint List, to embarrass the government.”

Japans mudslides. More than 110 people are still missing after a mudslide hit the city of Atami, in Shizuoka prefecture southwest of Tokyo, on Saturday. Japanese authorities have attributed four deaths to the disaster so far. Heita Kawakatsu, the governor of Shizuoka, said on Sunday that officials would investigate whether the mudslide was caused by deforestation in the area. Although Japan traditionally experiences landslides, the phenomenon has increased 50 percent over the last decade compared to the previous one, according to government figures.

England opens up. England plans to lift all pandemic-related social distancing, mask wearing, and working restrictions on July 19, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday, a move that will likely make the country a test case for vaccine efficacy in the face of the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. (Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales have separate COVID-19 guidelines).

Although the number of new cases across the United Kingdom has averaged roughly 25,000 cases in the past week, the number of hospitalizations is a fraction of those seen when daily cases were as high in late 2020 and January of this year. British Health Minister Sajid Javid said he expected the number of daily cases would be “far higher” on July 19 than they currently are.

Keep an Eye On

Taliban peace plans. The Taliban will present a written peace plan to the Afghan government as soon as next month, the group’s spokesperson told Reuters on Monday, even as the Islamist insurgents continue to make territorial gains across Afghanistan. Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said intra-Afghan peace talks will be “accelerated in the coming days.”

“Although we have the upper hand on the battlefield, we are very serious about talks and dialogue,” Mujahid said. The scale of the task ahead of the Afghan government in reaching a truce with the Taliban was made apparent on Sunday, when more than 1,000 members of the Afghan security forces fled into neighboring Tajikistan in the face of a Taliban advance.

Tusk returns. Former European Council President Donald Tusk returned to domestic politics on Saturday as he was elected the head of Poland’s opposition Civic Platform party. Speaking after his election, Tusk, who served as prime minister from 2007 to 2014, said he was ready to “fight against this evil” of the ruling Law and Justice party. Tusk faces an uphill task, as Law and Justice currently hold a comfortable lead in opinion polls.

Odds and Ends

France’s champagne industry has denounced a new Russian law forcing foreign importers to describe their products as “sparkling wine” to ensure the term “shampanskoye” refers to Russian producers only.

The Champagne Committee, the group representing the French champagne industry, urged its members to halt Russian shipments in protest and said it “deplores the fact that this legislation does not ensure that Russian consumers have clear and transparent information about the origins and characteristics of wine.” Although French bottles won’t have to change their front label with the new law, the back label must include the sparkling wine description.

Russia’s new law adds another headache to France’s champagne industry as it hopes to bounce back following a pandemic-induced sales slump, which saw exports fall 18 percent in 2020.

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

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