[This is a monthly roundup of news articles and other materials related to other countries` foreign policies toward the Middle East. It does not reflect the views of the Foreign Policies Roundup Editors of Jadaliyya. You may send recommendations for inclusion in the Foreign Policies Media Roundup to email@example.com, mentioning "Foreign Policies Roundup" in the subject line.]
Pompeo says cooperation with Israel over Syria and Iran to continue (1 January 2019) US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States would continue to cooperate with Israel over Syria and in countering Iran in the Middle East, even as President Donald Trump plans to withdraw US troops from Syria.
Trump gives no timetable for Syria exit; wants to protect Kurds (2 January 2019) US President Donald Trump announced that the United States would get out of Syria slowly “over a period of time” and would protect the US-backed Kurdish fighters in the country as Washington draws down troops.
Syrian Kurds seek Damascus deal regardless of U.S. moves (4 January 2019) Syrian Kurdish leaders announced that they aim to secure a Russian-mediated political deal with President Bashar al-Assad’s government regardless of US plans to withdraw from the region.
U.S. says they have yet to see credible version of Khashoggi’s killing from Saudis (4 January 2019) A senior State Department official stated that the United States does not believe the Saudi version of the October killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has “hit the threshold of credibility.”
U.S. says no timeline for Syria withdrawal as fighting continues (4 January 2019) A senior State Department official announced that the United States has no timeline to withdraw troops from Syria but does not plan to stay indefinitely.
Bolton says Turkey must not attack Kurdish fighters once U.S. leaves Syria (6 January 2019) White House National Security Advisor John Bolton added a new condition to the US withdrawal from Syria, stating that Turkey must agree to protect the United States’ Kurdish allies.
White House says Trump position unchanged as Syria withdrawal plans slow (7 January 2019) The White House asserted that President Donald Trump had not changed his position on withdrawing US troops from Syria, a day after his national security advisor outlined conditions for a withdrawal that could take months.
Afghan Taliban cancel peace talks with U.S. citing “agenda disagreement” (8 January 2019) The Afghan Taliban announced that they had called off peace talks with US officials in Qatar due to an “agenda disagreement,” especially over the involvement of Afghan officials as well as a possible ceasefire and prisoner exchange.
Turkey’s Erdogan rebukes Trump’s top security advisor over Kurds in Syria (8 January 2019) Turkey’s President Erdogan rebuked Washington’s National Security Advisor John Bolton for demanding that his country not attack Kurdish fighters in Syria, accusing him of complicating President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw US troops.
Pompeo: Erdogan threats against Kurds will not stop Syria withdrawal (9 January 2019) The US troop withdrawal from Syria will not be thwarted despite Turkish threats against Washington’s Kurdish allies there, promising to ensure that the Kurds would still be protected.
Turkey says military operation in Syria not dependent on U.S. pull-out (10 January 2019) Ankara announced that Turkey’s planned military operation against the Kurds does not depend on an American withdrawal from the region, signaling Turkey remained undeterred by US efforts to protect its local partners.
Israel says U.S. blocks its sale of fighter jets to Croatia (10 January 2019) Israel will not be able to deliver to Croatia a dozen used F-16 fighter jets which Croatia decided to buy last year to modernize its force, due to Israel’s inability to get approval from the United States for the delivery.
In Cairo, Pompeo blasts Obama’s Middle East policies (10 January 2019) US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Barack Obama of sowing chaos by abandoning the Middle East to Islamist militants and Iranian influence in a blistering critique of the former president’s policies.
U.S. to host Iran-focused global meeting In Poland February 13-14 (11 January 2019) The United states plans to jointly host a global conference focused on the Middle East, particularly Iran, next month in Poland, according to the US State Department.
U.S.-led coalition says it has started Syria withdrawal (11 January 2019) The U.S.-led coalition against the “Islamic State” has begun the process of withdrawing from Syria, indicating the start of a US pullout that has been clouded by mixed messages from Washington.
Urging Gulf States to heal rift, Pompeo lands in Riyadh (13 January 2019) US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that a rift between Qatar and its Gulf Arab neighbors had gone too far for too long and was threatening regional unity needed to counter Iran.
Squabble over venue latest hurdle in Taliban-U.S. peace talks (14 January 2019) Efforts to negotiate a peace deal to end the seventeen-year war in Afghanistan, already beset by disagreements about the agenda, are facing a new hurdle over the venue for the talks.
Taliban threatens to pull out of peace talks with U.S. (15 January 2019) The Taliban threatened to stall peace talks with the United States if they deflect from the issue of foreign force withdrawal from Afghanistan, a key demand of the Taliban to end the seventeen-year war.
Hours after U.S. troops killed in Syria, Pence says “Islamic State” defeated (16 January 2019) US Vice President Mike Pence stated that the “Islamic State” had been defeated, hours after Americans were killed in a northern Syria bomb attack claimed by the militant group.
NBA’s Kanter urges Trump to act on Turkey’s human rights record (17 January 2019) New York Knicks player Enes Kanter urged US President Donald Trump to be more vocal about human rights abuses in Turkey, after prosecutors in Istanbul requested the basketball player’s arrest and extradition over his alleged ties to a US-based cleric.
Afghan Taliban reject talks with U.S. in Pakistan (19 January 2019) The Afghan Taliban rejected reports in the Pakistani media that they were prepared to resume meetings with US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad and repeated their refusal to deal directly with the Afghan government.
U.S. sanctions hit Iran-backed airlines, fighters in Syria (24 January 2019) The United States targeted two Iran-backed foreign fighter militias in Syria and two airlines that help send weapons to Syria in fresh sanctions as Washington prepares for a military withdrawal from the war-torn country.
Taliban: Foreign troops to quit Afghanistan in 18 months under draft deal (26 January 2019) Taliban officials said US negotiators agreed on a draft peace pact setting out the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan within eighteen months, potentially ending the United States’ longest war.
U.S.: “Islamic State” to lose last bits of Syria territory “within weeks” (29 January 2019) Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan stated that the “Islamic State” is expected to lose its final bits of territory in Syria to US-backed forces within a couple of weeks, even as US intelligence assessed that the militant group would still pose a threat to the United States.
U.S. intelligence chief contradicts Trump on ISIS defeat (29 January 2019) Despite repeated claims by the Trump administration that ISIS has been defeated, US intelligence assesses that the terror group “very likely will continue to pursue external attacks from Iraq and Syria against regional and Western adversaries, including the United States,” according to the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment.
U.S. will act if Turkish trade violates Venezuela sanctions, official says (31 January 2019) A senior US official announced that the United States is monitoring trade between its NATO ally Turkey and Venezuela and will take action if it judges any sanctions have been violated.
Iran minister says E.U. trade arrangement moving slowly, talking to India, China (8 January 2019) Iran’s foreign minister announced that the European Union was moving slower than expected in facilitating non-dollar trade with Tehran to circumvent US sanctions, forcing it to explore avenues with other nations such as India and China.
Iran says it will reciprocate after E.U. sanctions Iran (9 January 2019) Iran announced that it would reciprocate after the European Union added two Iranian individuals and an Iranian intelligence unit to the bloc’s terrorist list.
Germany arrests Afghan dual national on suspicion of spying for Iran (15 January 2019) A fifty-year old Afghan-German dual national who worked for the German military was detained on suspicion of passing data to an Iranian intelligence agency, according to Germany’s federal prosecutor’s office.
France condemns failed Iran satellite launch, urges halt to ballistics tests (16 January 2019) France condemned a failed Iranian satellite launch that the country said used technology applicable to long-range missiles and urged Tehran to stop all ballistic tests which are not in line with UN resolutions.
Iran “shooting itself in the foot” with spying, German diplomat warns (17 January 2019) German Diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger stated that Iran is harming Europe’s efforts to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with actions such as the case of suspected espionage involving a member of the German military.
Rheinmetall plans to sue Germany over Saudi arms embargo (20 January 2019) German weapons maker Rheinmetall plans to sue the government over its decision to stop all arms exports to Saudi Arabia after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Germany bans Iranian airline from its airspace after U.S. pressure (21 January 2019) Germany has revoked the license of an Iranian airline because it has been transporting military equipment and personnel to Syria and other Middle East war zones, after heavy US pressure on Berlin to act.
Assad blocks access to Damascus for E.U. envoys (22 January 2019) Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has revoked special visas for European Union diplomats and officials traveling regularly between Beirut and Damascus, complicating efforts to distribute aid to civil war victims.
Italy’s Salvini bashes France over Libya role in new diplomatic spat (22 January 2019) Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, stoking a war of words between Rome and Paris, stated that France did not want to bring calm to Libya because its energy interests there clashed with those of Italy.
Germany approves export of weapons systems to Qatar (24 January 2019) The German government has approved the export to Qatar four RAM missile systems developed by Germany and the United States.
E.U. adds Saudi Arabia to draft terrorism financing list (25 January 2019) The European Commission has reportedly added Saudi Arabia to an EU draft list of countries that pose a threat to the bloc because of lax controls against terrorism financing and money laundering.
Britain: Iraq must move away from economic reliance on Iran (27 January 2019) Britain’s foreign office minister for the Middle East announced that Iraq must wean itself off economic reliance on Iran and become more energy self-sufficient.
Macron: Egypt’s current rights record seen as worse than under Mubarak (27 January 2019) French President Emmanuel Macron stated that human rights in Egypt are perceived as worse now than under former strongman Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled by protests in 2011.
E.U. agency says Iran likely to step up cyber espionage (28 January 2019) The European Union digital security agency announced that Iran is likely to expand its cyber espionage activities as its relations with Western powers worsen.
Skirting U.S. sanctions, Europeans open new trade channel to Iran (31 January 2019) France, Germany, and Britain have opened a new channel for non-dollar trade with Iran to avert US sanctions, although diplomats say it is unlikely to allow for the big transactions that Tehran says it needs to keep a nuclear deal afloat.
Israel pledges no election meddling as speculation swirls over Russia (9 January 2019) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged that there would be no meddling in Israel’s April election after state censors suppressed a speech by his domestic intelligence chief accusing a foreign power of planning to hack the vote. Israeli newspaper commentators speculated that he had pointed the finger at Russia, which Netanyahu’s own intelligence minister, Israel Katz, told local media last month could potentially want to replicate in Israel an alleged online influence campaign and email hacking to help Donald Trump win the US ballot in 2016.
Hamas leader’s January 15 trip to Moscow canceled (10 January 2019) A planned trip to Moscow by the leader of Hamas was canceled amid new friction between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank.
Russia says “arbitrary” Israeli air strikes on Syria must stop (23 January 2019) Russia announced that Israel should stop carrying out what Moscow called arbitrary air strikes on Syria, days after the Israeli air force targeted what Israel said were Iranian forces there.
New Documents link Huawei to suspected front companies in Iran, Syria (8 January 2019) The US case against the chief financial officer of China’s Huawei Technologies, who was arrested in Canada last month, centers on the company’s suspected ties to two obscure companies. One is a telecom equipment seller that operated in Tehran; the other is that firm’s owner, a holding company registered in Mauritius.
U.S. official cautions Israel over Chinese investments (16 January 2019) A US official cautioned Israel over investments from China, citing cyber-security concerns and the prospect of Israel’s allies limiting intelligence-sharing with the country.
Huawei calls for swift end to case of executive arrested in Canada (22 January 2019) China’s Huawei Technologies wants a quick resolution of the case of its former finance chief Meng Wanzhou, who is accused of violating US sanctions on Iran and has been detained in Canada.
China calls for harmony as it welcomes Qatar emir amid Gulf dispute (31 January 2019) Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a return to “unity and harmony” as he welcomed gas-rich Qatar’s emir to Beijing, amid a dispute that has seen some Arab states led by Saudi Arabia severing relations with Doha.
Other Countries/Middle East
Honduras to talk with Israel, U.S. on Jerusalem embassy (1 January 2019) Honduras will hold talks with Israel, joined by the United States, aimed at opening up an embassy in Jerusalem, as the small Central American nation looks to follow US President Donald Trump’s much-criticized move.
Philippine Airlines seeks Saudi overfly permit for direct route to Israel (2 January 2019) The Philippines has requested permission for its flag carrier to overfly Saudi Arabia en route to Israel, seeking to become the second airline to win such rights after a decades-long ban by Riyadh.
Netflix pulls comedy show episode in Saudi Arabia (2 January 2019) Netflix withdrew an episode of the comedy show “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj” from its internet streaming service in Saudi Arabia after officials of the kingdom complained.
Saudi prosecutor seeks death penalties in Khashoggi case (3 January 2019) Saudi Arabian prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for five of the eleven suspects detained over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as a Saudi court held a first hearing on the case.
Iran to send warships to the Atlantic, closer to U.S. waters (4 January 2019) The Iranian Navy announced that it will send warships to deploy in the Atlantic as the Islamic Republic seeks to increase the operating range of its naval forces to the backyard of the United States.
Syrian opposition urges countries not to reconcile with Assad (6 January 2019) Syria’s chief opposition negotiator, Nasr al-Hariri, stated that he was surprised by countries rebuilding ties with the Syrian government and urged them to reverse their decision.
Egypt’s Sisi acknowledges close coordination with Israel in Sinai (6 January 2019) Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi offered a rare acknowledgement of his close security cooperation with Israel in the Sinai Peninsula during a US television interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
Near Syrian border, Turkish defense minister vows operation when time is right (11 January 2019) Turkey’s defense minister pledged to wage a campaign against a US-backed Syrian Kurdish group, sharpening focus on a potential conflict the United States has sought to prevent.
Turkey’s military reinforces on border with Syria’s Idlib (12 January 2019) Turkish troops and tanks carried out military exercises on the border with Syria, while a monitoring group said a Turkish convoy had crossed the frontier into northern Syria.
Israel claims Syria air strike, says hunt for Hezbollah tunnels over (13 January 2019) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged Israel’s attack on what he called an Iranian arms cache in Syria, and said it had also completed a hunt for cross-border tunnels dug by Tehran-allied Lebanese Hizballah fighters.
Qatar sees no need to re-open embassy in Syria (14 January 2019) Qatar’s foreign minister stated that he saw no need to re-open an embassy in Damascus, nor any reason for a normalization of ties with the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Iran vows to keep military forces in Syria despite Israeli threats (16 January 2019) Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the top commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), announced that Iran will keep its military forces in Syria, defying Israeli threats that they might be targeted if they do not leave the country.
Booming Qatar-Turkey trade to hit $2 billion for 2018 as Gulf rift drags on (17 January 2019) Trade between Qatar and Turkey is expected to have hit two billion dollars in 2018, up fifty-four percent from the previous year and underscoring Ankara’s solidified role as a top ally of Qatar amid a political rift in the Gulf region.
Divisions overshadow Lebanon’s Arab summit as few leaders come to Beirut (18 January 2019) Divisions among Arab states over Syria, and internal Lebanese disputes, have overshadowed a summit to be held in Beirut, with several leaders who had planned to come now staying away.
Israel and Chad revive diplomatic relations, call for closer security ties (20 January 2019) Israel confirmed a diplomatic rapprochement with Muslim-majority Chad as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used a visit to the Chadian capital to stress their mutual interests in confronting Islamist insurgencies.
Saudi-led coalition’s planes pound Yemen’s capital (20 January 2019) Saudi-led forces launched overnight air strikes on Yemen’s capital, described by one resident as the worst in a year, as the United Nations struggles to implement a peace deal.
Morocco foreign minister backs dialogue on Syria’s return to Arab league (23 January 2019) Morocco softened its rhetoric on Syria, with its foreign minister signaling support for calls among some Arab states for a return of Damascus to the Arab League.
Saudis to Davos: Move on from Khashoggi, let’s do business (24 January 2019) Saudi Arabia has attempted to put the affair regarding killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi aside at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Turkey’s Erdogan wants Syria “safe zone” in place within months (25 January 2019) Turkey expects its allies to help set up a “safe zone” in Syria along the Turkish border within a few months, otherwise it will establish the zone alone, according to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
Israel’s Netanyahu to eject foreign observers in flashpoint Hebron (28 January 2019) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that he would eject a foreign force set up to help safeguard Palestinians in a flashpoint city in the occupied West Bank, accusing observers of anti-Israeli activity.
UAE used cyber “super-weapon” to spy on iPhones of foes (30 January 2019) A team of former US government intelligence operatives working for the United Arab Emirates allegedly hacked into the iPhones of activists, diplomats, and rival foreign leaders with the help of a sophisticated spying tool called Karma.
UAE: Saudi-led coalition ready to use “calibrated force” to push Yemen port deal (30 January 2019) A senior United Arab Emirates official stated that the Saudi-led coalition is prepared to use “calibrated force” to push the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement to withdraw from Yemen’s Hodeidah port city under a UN-sponsored deal.
Venezuela plans to fly central bank gold reserves to UAE (31 January 2019) A senior Venezuelan official stated that the country will sell five tons of gold from the central bank vaults to the United Arab Emirates in coming days in return for euros in cash as the crisis-stricken country seeks to stay solvent.
Treaties, Agreements, United Nations, and Statistics
U.N. calls on UAE to release rights activist Mansoor (4 January 2019) The UN human rights office announced that the United Arab Emirates must release pro-democracy campaigner Ahmed Mansoor, whose ten-year jail sentence for criticizing the government on social media was upheld this week.
U.N. watchdog seeks release of three relatives of Bahraini activist (9 January 2019) A United Nations human rights watchdog has called on Bahrain to release three relatives of a prominent exiled activist, describing their detention as an unlawful act of reprisal over their family connection.
U.N. struggles to implement deal over disputed Yemeni port city (9 January 2019) The guns have mostly fallen silent around the Yemeni port of Hodeidah, but a UN-sponsored deal for the warring armies to quit the city has stalled, risking efforts to end a conflict that has pushed the country to the brink of famine.
Human Rights Watch calls for sanctions against new Afghan defense minister (13 January 2019) International Rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged major donors to impose sanctions on Afghanistan’s newly appointed acting defense minister over alleged war crimes and human rights abuses.
Jordan agrees to host a U.N. sponsored Yemen meeting on prisoner swap (15 January 2019) Jordan agreed to a UN request to host a meeting between the Yemeni government and the Houthis to discuss a prisoner swap deal that would allow thousands of families to be reunited.
U.N. delivers food for 9.5 million in Yemen last month, shy of target (15 January 2019) The UN food agency delivered emergency food and vouchers for over 9.5 million people in Yemen in December 2018, just shy of its ten million monthly target in the famine-threatened country.
U.N. Security Council approves up to 75 Yemen truce monitors (16 January 2019) The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved the deployment of up to seventy-five observers to Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah for six months to monitor a ceasefire and redeployment of forces by the warring parties.
U.N. expert to lead international inquiry into Khashoggi murder (24 January 2019) The United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions stated that she will travel to Turkey to head an “independent international inquiry” into the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Rights groups, British MPs call for access to Saudi detainees (24 January 2019) Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on Saudi Arabia to allow independent monitors to meet detainees, including women’s rights activists who were allegedly tortured, along with prominent figures held in an anti-corruption campaign.
U.N.: Fire damages vital wheat silos in Yemen’s Hodeidah (26 January 2019) The United Nations stated that wheat silos in Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah have been damaged by a fire caused by a suspected mortar shelling, threatening food supplies for millions of hungry people.
U.N. may push back Libya election conference (31 January 2019) The United Nations is likely to delay a conference intended to prepare Libya for elections this year until there is more support from rival leaders.