[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 firstname.lastname@example.org, mentioning "Foreign Policies Roundup" in the subject line.]
Esper: U.S. troop drawdowns in Afghanistan ‘not necessarily’ tied to Taliban deal (2 December 2019) U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that any future troop drawdowns in Afghanistan were “not necessarily” linked to a deal with Taliban insurgents, suggesting some lowering of force levels may happen irrespective of the ongoing peace push.
Trump administration lifts hold on Lebanon security aid (2 December 2019) U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has lifted a mysterious “hold” on more than $100 million in security aid for Lebanon, congressional and State Department officials said, more than a month after lawmakers learned the funds were being blocked.
U.S. senators want Turkey sanctioned over Russia missile system (2 December 2019) U.S. lawmakers pressed the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of a Russian missile defense system, saying the failure to do so sends a “terrible signal,” and a key Senate committee set a vote on additional legislation to punish Ankara.
U.S. peace envoy in Kabul for revival of talks (4 December 2019) U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul in a bid to breathe new life into efforts to end the war in Afghanistan, discussing with President Ashraf Ghani steps that could lead to a ceasefire and a peace deal, Washington and Kabul said.
U.S. warship in Gulf seizes missile parts of suspected Iranian origin (4 December 2019) A U.S. Navy warship seized advanced missile parts believed to be linked to Iran from a boat it had stopped in the Arabian Sea, U.S. officials announced, as Trump’s administration pressures Tehran to curb its activities in the region.
Esper: U.S. military completes pullback from northeast Syria (5 December 2019) The United States has completed its military pullback in northeastern Syria, settling into a more stable posture of about 600 troops in the rest of the country after repositioning and reducing forces, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced.
U.S. military could add troops to Middle East, but struggles to explain plans (5 December 2019) The United States military struggled to explain its plans for potential increases in U.S. forces in the Middle East amid concerns Iran could carry out further aggressive actions in the region.
Washington blacklists Iran-backed Iraqi militia leaders over protests (6 December 2019) The United States blacklisted three Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary leaders over their alleged role in killings of anti-government protesters in Iraq and threatened future sanctions if violence against demonstrators continued.
U.S. House passes resolution breaking with Trump on Israel policy(6 December 2019) The U.S. House of Representatives passed a symbolic resolution backing a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, following initiatives from President Donald Trump seen as heavily favoring the Jewish state.
U.S. defense policy bill requires nuclear power inspections for Saudi Arabia (9 December 2019) Saudi Arabia and other countries seeking to use U.S. technology to develop nuclear power plants must agree to comprehensive U.N. inspections under legislation to be included in the defense policy bill expected to be announced as soon as early this week, two Democratic congressional aides announced.
U.S. grounds Saudi pilots, halts military training after base shooting (10 December 2019) The Pentagon announced it was halting operational training of all Saudi Arabian military personnel in the United States until further notice after a Saudi Air Force lieutenant shot and killed three people last week at a base in Florida.
U.S. official: Iran-backed attacks in Iraq risks uncontrollable escalation (11 December 2019) A senior U.S. military official said attacks by Iranian-backed groups on bases hosting U.S. forces in Iraq were gathering pace and becoming more sophisticated, pushing all sides closer to an uncontrollable escalation.
Pompeo says U.S. wants to work with Russia on Libya, reminded Lavrov of arms embargo(11 December 2019) The United States wants to work with Russia to end the conflict in Libya, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated, but he added that he reminded Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov a day ago of the arms embargo that is in place on the North African country.
U.S. Senate committee approves Turkey sanctions bill (11 December 2019) A U.S. Senate committee backed legislation to impose sanctions on Turkey after its offensive in Syria and purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system, the latest move in the chamber to push Republican President Donald Trump to take a harder line against Ankara.
U.S. Senate passes resolution recognizing Armenian genocide, angering Turkey(12 December 2019) The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution that recognizes as a genocide the mass killings of Armenians a century ago, a historic move that infuriated Turkey and dealt a blow to the already problematic ties between Ankara and Washington.
State Department: U.S. to resume military training program for Pakistan (19 December 2019) The Trump administration has approved a resumption of Pakistan’s participation in a coveted U.S. military training and educational program more than a year after it was suspended, the State Department announced.
U.S. probe of Saudi oil attack shows it came from north (19 December 2019) The United States said new evidence and analysis of weapons debris recovered from an attack on Saudi oil facilities on Sept. 14 indicates the strike likely came from the north, reinforcing its earlier assessment that Iran was behind the offensive.
U.S. says concerned as Libyan conflict turning bloodier with Russian mercenaries (21 December 2019) The United States is “very concerned” about the intensification of the conflict in Libya, with a rising number of reported Russian mercenaries supporting Khalifa Haftar’s forces on the ground turning the conflict into a bloodier one, a senior State Department official announced.
Trump aides call U.S. strikes on Iraq and Syria ‘successful,’ warn of potential further action (29 December 2019) U.S. officials announced that air strikes in Iraq and Syria against an Iran-backed militia group were successful, but warned that “additional actions” may still be taken in the region to defend U.S. interests.
Trump blames Iran as protests erupt outside U.S. embassy in Iraq (31 December 2019) Militiamen and their supporters protesting against deadly U.S. air strikes on Iraq hurled stones and torched a security post at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad in an attack on an American diplomatic mission in the country.
Macron says time for Turkey to clarify ambiguous stance on Islamic state (3 December 2019) French President Emmanuel Macron accused Turkey of working with Islamic State proxies and said Ankara’s ambiguity toward the group was detrimental to its NATO allies fighting in Syria and Iraq.
Israel prosecutors announces charges over submarine deal with Germany (5 December 2019) Israel’s Justice Ministry announced criminal charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyer, a former top aide and an ex-navy chief over a $2 billion purchase of submarines from Germany.
Iran vows to continue missile work, dismisses E.U. powers’ U.N. letter (5 December 2019) Iran rejected pressure to shelve its ballistic missile program after a European letter to the U.N. Security Council accused Tehran of developing missiles capable of delivering nuclear bombs.
Iran deal limps on as Europeans delay sanctions blow (5 December 2019) European powers demanded at talks that Iran stop violating their nuclear deal, but stopped short of triggering a mechanism that could renew U.N. sanctions and kill the 2015 accord, officials said.
E.U. leaders to reject Turkey-Libya deal (11 December 2019) An accord between Libya and Turkey mapping out maritime boundaries is a violation of international law, European Union leaders will say in support of Greece, which objects to the deal, according to a draft statement seen by Reuters.
German parliament passes motion urging total ban on Hezbollah (19 December 2019) The German parliament approved a motion urging Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to ban all activities by the Iran-backed Hezbollah group on German soil, citing its “terrorist activities” especially in Syria.
Erdogan says Turkey cannot handle new migrant wave from Syria, warns Europe (22 December 2019) Turkey cannot handle a fresh wave of migrants from Syria, President Tayyip Erdogan announced, warning that European countries will feel the impact of such an influx if violence in Syria’s northwest is not stopped.
OPEC, Russia debate deeper oil cuts as new glut looms (3 December 2019) OPEC and its allies led by Russia are gearing up to approve deeper oil production cuts this week to prevent a new glut and a collapse on oil prices with OPEC member Iraq saying the move was supported by key members.
U.S. says drone shot down by Russian air defenses near Libyan capital (7 December 2019) The U.S. military believes that an unarmed American drone reported lost near Libya’s capital last month was in fact shot down by Russian air defenses and it is demanding the return of the aircraft’s wreckage, U.S. Africa Command says.
Turkey, Russia ‘very close’ to second missile defense deal (13 December 2019) Turkey could finalize terms for delivery of a second consignment of S-400 advanced missile defenses from Russia by April when the first batch will be ready to operate, Ankara’s defense industry chief announced.
Russia and Turkey to discuss Libya military support in January (17 December 2019) Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will discuss Ankara’s offer to provide military support to Libya’s internationally recognized government during talks in Turkey next month, the Kremlin announced.
Russia, backed by China, casts 14th U.S. veto on Syria to block cross-border aid (20 December 2019) Russia, backed by China, cast its 14th U.N. Security Council veto since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011 to block cross-border aid deliveries from Turkey and Iraq to millions of Syrian civilians.
Russian-backed forces gain ground in rebel-held northwest Syria (22 December 2019) Russian-backed Syrian forces have gained ground after a week-long renewed assault against the last opposition enclave in Syria’s northwest, the biggest such push in more than three months that has prompted a large civilian exodus, witnesses and residents claimed.
China, Russia, Iran start joint naval drills in Indian Ocean (27 December 2019) China, Russia, and Iran began joint naval drills in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman, in what Moscow said was an unprecedented exercise in naval cooperation and training.
Other Countries/Middle East
Pope condemns Iraq’s harsh crackdown on protestors (1 December 2019) Pope Francis criticized Iraq’s crackdown on anti-government protests, which have led to the deaths of more than 400 people since they erupted in Baghdad and other cities in October.
Government in Libya’s capital condemns deadly air strikes (2 December 2019) Libya’s internationally recognized government condemned air strikes in the capital Tripoli and the southern desert which it said had caused civilian casualties, most of them women and children.
Erdogan: Turkey to oppose NATO plan if it fails to ‘recognize terrorism threats’ (3 December 2019) Turkey will oppose NATO’s plan for the defense of Baltic countries if the alliance does not recognize groups that Turkey deems terrorists, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan announced ahead of a NATO alliance summit in London.
Greece hopes talks with Turkey’s Erdogan will ease maritime frictions (3 December 2019) Greece’s prime minister will meet Turkey’s president in an attempt to ease frictions over energy exploration and Ankara’s deal with Libya on Mediterranean maritime zones, a government spokesman said.
UAE praises Syria’s Assad for ‘wise leadership,’ cementing ties (3 December 2019) The United Arab Emirates’ top diplomat in Syria has praised President Bashar al-Assad for his “wise leadership”, in one of the strongest expressions of support yet from a country that once backed Damascus’ enemies in the civil war.
Lebanon appeals for import aid; France to hold meeting (6 December 2019) Lebanon appealed to friendly states to help it import essential goods as it grapples with an acute economic crisis, and official sources said France would convene an international meeting next week to mobilize support for the country.
Turkey says it did not fully approve NATO’s Baltic defense plan (6 December 2019) Turkey will block final publication of a NATO defense plan for the Baltics and Poland until allies agree to designate the Syrian Kurdish YPG a terrorist group, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced.
Sudan says it has reduced troops in Yemen to 5,000 (8 December 2019) Sudan’s prime minister said Khartoum had reduced the number of troops it has in Yemen from a peak of 15,000 to 5,000, confirming a drawdown in a conflict which he said could not be solved militarily.
Erdogan says Turkey aims to settle 1 million refugees in Syrian offensive area (9 December 2019) Turkey aims to settle one million Syrian war refugees in the area of northern Syria where it carried out a military incursion in October, President Tayyip Erdogan announced.
Erdogan: Turkey and Libya can conduct joint explorations in eastern Med (9 December 2019) Turkey and Libya can carry out joint exploration operations in the eastern Mediterranean after the two sides signed a deal on maritime boundaries, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan announced after the move sharpened disputes over the area.
Qatari PM attends Gulf summit but no mention of 2-1/2-year row (10 December 2019) Qatar’s premier attended an annual Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Saudi Arabia, its highest representation since 2017, but there was no public mention of a 2-1/2 year boycott by its neighbors despite hints of a thaw.
Head of Libya parliament says Turkey-Libyan deal invalid(12 December 2019) The head of Libya’s eastern-based parliament said he disagreed with an accord between Libya and Turkey establishing maritime boundaries which has infuriated Athens.
Israel bars Gaza’s Christians from visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem at Christmas (12 December 2019) Christians in the Gaza Strip will not be allowed to visit holy cities such as Bethlehem and Jerusalem to celebrate Christmas this year, Israeli authorities announced.
Qatar sees ‘small progress’ in resolving Gulf dispute, still believes in GCC (14 December 2019) There has been small progress in resolving a bitter dispute between Qatar and some of its neighbors, the Gulf state’s foreign minister stated, just days after its premier visited Saudi Arabia.
Turkey to sign off on military pledge to Libya (15 December 2019) Turkey moved closer to military support for Libya’s internationally recognized government when a bilateral deal that provides for a quick reaction force if requested by Tripoli was sent to parliament.
Qatar says its Gaza aid to continue through March 2020 at least (18 December 2019) Qatar will continue providing humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip into next year, the gas-rich Gulf state’s envoy to the Palestinian enclave announced, a pledge that may help stave off conflict between Hamas and Israel.
Twitter suspends accounts linked to Saudi spying case (20 December 2019) Weeks after U.S. authorities brought a spying case against three Saudi nationals for digging up dissidents’ personal data at Twitter, the company suspended tens of thousands of accounts that appear to be linked to one suspect’s company.
Turkey’s parliament ratifies security accord with Libya (21 December 2019) Turkey’s parliament approved a security and military cooperation deal signed with Libya’s internationally recognized government last month, state media reported, an agreement that could pave the way for military help from Ankara.
Iran’s Rouhani welcomes Japan opt-out of U.S.-led naval mission in Gulf (21 December 2019) Iranian President Hassan Rouhani welcomed Japan’s decision not to join a U.S.-led naval mission in the Gulf and said he had discussions on ways of “breaking” U.S. sanctions on a trip to Tokyo.
Netanyahu accuses ICC of anti-Semitism in pursuit of war crimes probe (22 December 2019) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the International Criminal Court of anti-Semitism over its chief prosecutor’s plan to pursue a war crimes probe in the Palestinian Territories.
Israel opposes Turkey-Libya maritime border accord (23 December 2019) Israel opposes an accord signed last month between Libya and Turkey mapping out maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean, but the deal was unlikely to lead to a conflict with Turkey, Israel’s foreign minister announced.
Turkish parliament readying bill to allow sending troops to Libya (24 December 2019) Turkey may need to draft a bill to allow for troop deployment to Libya and its parliament is working on the issue, Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin announced, after Ankara signed a military cooperation agreement with Tripoli last month.
Turkey may send allied Syrian fighters to Libya (30 December 2019) Turkey is considering sending allied Syrian fighters to Libya as part of planned military support for the besieged government in Tripoli, senior Turkish sources stated, potentially bringing more foreign influence into the complex conflict.
Iraq condemns U.S. air strikes as unacceptable and dangerous(30 December 2019) Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi condemned U.S. air strikes on bases of Iranian-backed Iraqi militia, a move that could plunge Iraq further into the heart of a proxy conflict between the United States and Iran.
Treaties, Agreements, United Nations, and Statistics
After Libya arms embargo breaches, U.N. Security Council warns countries to stop (2 December 2019) The United Nations Security Council called on all countries to implement an arms embargo on Libya and to stay out of the conflict after U.N. sanctions monitors accused Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey of repeated violations.
U.N. human rights chief denounces Iran security forces for using severe violence against protestors (6 December 2019) Iranian security forces have shot at protesters from helicopters and a rooftop and have aimed at peoples’ heads in using “severe violence” to quell anti-government unrest last month, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet announced.
Amnesty says 304 killed in Iran unrest, thousands arrested including children (16 December 2019) At least 304 people have been killed in Iran during anti-government unrest that broke out last month, Amnesty International announced.
Saudi Arabia sentences five to death over Khashoggi murder, U.N. official decries ‘mockery’ (23 December 2019) Saudi Arabia has sentenced five people to death and three to jail over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but a U.N. investigator accused it of making a “mockery” of justice by allowing the masterminds of last year’s killing to go free.
Aid agencies stop work in Yemen town after attacks U.S. calls ‘alarming escalation’ (24 December 2019) Twelve aid agencies in the Yemeni town of al-Dhalea have stopped work after attacks on their buildings that the United Nations called an “alarming escalation” amid media campaigns against aid organizations.
U.N.: over 230,000 people flee Idlib in two-week Russian-backed offensive (27 December 2019) The United Nations said 235,000 civilians had fled their homes in rebel-held northwestern Syria during a Russian-backed campaign of air strikes and shelling this month.