[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.]
Rock-throwing Iraqi militias quit U.S. Embassy after protests (1 January 2020) Supporters of Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitary groups who stormed the U.S. Embassy’s perimeter and hurled rocks in two days of protests withdrew after Washington dispatched extra troops and threatened reprisals against Tehran.
White House: Trump, Erdogan agree on need for de-escalation in Idlib, Syria (2 January 2020) U.S. President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan agreed on the need to de-escalate tensions in Idlib, Syria, the White House announced, a day after eight people were killed in a Syrian missile strike in the province.
Pentagon Chief: U.S. sees signs Iran or proxies may be planning more attacks (2 January 2020) U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said there were indications Iran or forces it backs may be planning additional attacks, warning that the “game has changed” and it was possible the United States might have to take preemptive action to protect American lives.
Pompeo says U.S. killed Iranian commander to prevent ‘imminent attack’ (3 January 2020) U.S. air strike in Baghdad that killed a top Iranian commander aimed to disrupt an “imminent attack” that would have endangered Americans in the Middle East, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced.
Pentagon to deploy thousands of additional troops to Middle East (3 January 2020) The United States is sending nearly 3,000 additional troops to the Middle East from the 82nd Airborne Division as a precaution amid rising threats to American forces in the region, the Pentagon announced.
U.S. to designate Iran-backed Iraqi militia as foreign terrorist organization (3 January 2020) The United States plans to designate an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia as a foreign terrorist organization, the State Department announced, accusing the Asaib Ahl al-Haq group of being a violent proxy of Tehran.
U.S. Democratic contenders condemn Iran strike, warn of war (3 January 2020) Democratic presidential contenders condemned the air strike that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, saying President Donald Trump’s decision was reckless and could lead the United States to another war in the Middle East.
American strike in Iraq prompts anti-war protests in U.S. cities(4 January 2020) Groups of protesters took to the streets in Washington and other U.S. cities to condemn the air strike in Iraq ordered by President Donald Trump that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and Trump’s decision to send about 3,000 more troops to the Middle East.
Trump vows to hit 52 Iranian targets if Iran retaliates after drone strike (4 January 2020) U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to hit 52 Iranian sites “very hard” if Iran attacks Americans or U.S. assets after a drone strike that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani and an Iraqi militia leader, as tens of thousands of people marched in Iraq to mourn their deaths.
Pentagon chief denies U.S. is leaving Iraq (6 January 2020) The United States has no plans to pull its troops out of Iraq, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced, following reports by Reuters and other media of an American military letter informing Iraqi officials about repositioning troops in preparation for leaving the country.
Iran launches large attack on U.S.-led forces in Iraq, Pentagon says (7 January 2020) Iran has launched a major ballistic missile attack on U.S.-led forces in Iraq, the U.S. military announced, potentially triggering a new round of escalation in the confrontation between the United States and Tehran.
Pompeo says U.S. support for Israeli settlements advances peace with Palestinians (8 January 2020) U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that Washington’s backing for Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank will advance Israeli-Palestinian peace, angering Palestinian leaders who seek the territory for a state.
At U.N., U.S. justifies killing Iranian commander as self-defense(8 January 2020) The United States told the United Nations that the killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani last week was self-defense and vowed to take additional action “as necessary” in the Middle East to protect U.S. personnel and interests.
U.S. senators back bill to provide $3.3 billion for Israel(9 January 2020) Republican and Democratic U.S. senators introduced legislation to provide $3.3 billion in annual aid to Israel, seeking to put into law an aid agreement between the two countries reached in 2016 amid concern over rising Middle East tensions.
Trump cites plot to “blow up” U.S. embassy as element in decision to kill Soleimani (9 January 2020) U.S. President Donald Trump said the United States killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani shortly after he landed in Iraq last week in part because “they were looking to blow up our embassy.”
Pentagon chief says no specific evidence Iran was plotting to attack four U.S. embassies (12 January 2020) U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he did not see specific evidence from intelligence officials that Iran was planning to attack four U.S. embassies, an assertion made by President Donald Trump in justifying the killing of Iran’s top general.
Trump: Timing of threat from Soleimani “doesn’t really matter” (13 January 2020) President Donald Trump fueled controversy on Monday over his decision to kill Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani by saying “it doesn’t really matter” whether Soleimani posed an imminent threat to the United States.
U.S. threatened Europe with auto tariffs over Iran nuclear program(15 January 2020) The Trump administration has threatened to impose a 25% tariff on European automobile imports if Britain, France and Germany do not formally accuse Iran of breaking the 2015 nuclear deal, the Washington Post reported, citing unnamed European officials.
Pentagon to soon resume Saudi training halted after base shooting (16 January 2020) The Pentagon stated it would soon announce a resumption in operational training of Saudi military officers in the United States, suspended after a Saudi officer’s fatal shooting of three Americans at a Florida naval base last month.
Eleven U.S. troops injured in Jan. 8 Iran missile attack in Iraq (16 January 2020) The United States treated 11 of its troops for symptoms of concussion after an Iranian missile attack on an Iraqi base where U.S. forces were stationed, the U.S. military said, after initially saying no service members were hurt.
U.S. imposes fresh Iran-related sanctions on two people, six companies (23 January 2020) The United States said it blacklisted two companies based in Hong Kong, one in Shanghai and one in Dubai for helping Iran’s state-owned National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) export millions of dollars of goods in violation of U.S. sanctions.
Trump: U.S. will not lift sanctions to negotiate with Iran(26 January 2020) The United States will not lift sanctions on Iran in order to negotiate, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted, seemingly in response to a Der Spiegel interview with Iran’s foreign minister.
“Slap of the century”: Palestinians reject Trump Mideast plan (28 January 2020) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan the “slap of the century” as thousands of Palestinians held protests in Gaza and the West Bank.
U.S. envoy: International crisis looms as 700,000 flee Syria’s Idlib(30 January 2020) An assault on rebel-held northwest Syria by government forces has pushed some 700,000 people to flee toward the Turkish border and raised the specter of an international crisis, U.S. Special Envoy for Syria James Jeffrey stated.
France’s Macron discusses Middle East crisis with Iraqi, UAE leaders (4 January 2020) French President Emmanuel Macron agreed with his Iraqi counterpart to make efforts to dampen tensions in the Middle East after Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. air strike.
German foreign minister will seek direct talks with Iran (4 January 2020) German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas will seek direct talks with Iran to try to de-escalate tensions after a U.S. air strike in Iraq killed Iran’s military commander Qassem Soleimani, a newspaper quoted him as saying.
Between U.S. and Iran, EU powers try mediation and pressure to ease crisis (6 January 2020) Germany, Britain and France are scrambling to keep talks with Iran over its 2015 nuclear agreement alive despite Tehran having all but torn up the deal after the United States killed its top military commander.
European powers condemn Turkish plans to send troops to Libya (7 January 2020) The European Union’s top diplomat and the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany and Italy condemned Turkey’s plans to send military experts and trainers to Libya, saying foreign interference there was exacerbating instability.
EU pushes Libya’s PM Serraj for ceasefire, warns on turkey deal (8 January 2020) European leaders warned Libya’s internationally recognized prime minister against allowing Turkish troops on Libyan soil or agreeing to a natural gas deal with Turkey to avoid worsening the latest turmoil in the country.
German chancellor Merkel says Berlin will host Libya peace talks (11 January 2020) German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Libyan peace talks will be held in Berlin, as Turkey and Russia appealed to the north African nation’s warring factions to enter a ceasefire.
Britain, France, Germany formally accuse Iran of breaking nuclear deal (14 January 2020) Britain, France and Germany formally accused Iran of violating the terms of its 2015 agreement to curb its nuclear program, which eventually could lead to the re-imposing of U.N. sanctions lifted under the deal.
France deploys radar system in Saudi Arabia to “reassure” kingdom (17 January 2020) France has deployed a radar system on the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia to beef up its ally’s defenses after missile attacks on the kingdom’s oil infrastructure in September, French officials said.
Macron, meeting Netanyahu, says Iran must not acquire nuclear weapons (21 January 2020) President Emmanuel Macron said France was determined Iran would never gain a nuclear weapon but it wanted to avoid any military escalation in the Middle East, after he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Russia’s Putin makes rare visit to Syria, meets Assad (7 January 2020) Vladimir Putin met Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, the Russian leader’s second trip to Syria since Moscow intervened decisively on the Syrian president’s behalf in the country’s civil war.
Turkey, Russia seek Libya ceasefire on Jan. 12 as rivals clash (8 January 2020) Turkey and Russia urged Libya’s warring parties to declare a ceasefire on Sunday as warring factions clashed and carried out air strikes in a conflict drawing increasing foreign involvement and concern.
Libyan peace talks in Moscow fall short of ceasefire deal (13 January 2020) Libya’s warring leaders made some progress at indirect peace talks in Moscow but failed to agree on an open-ended ceasefire to end a nine-month war over the capital Tripoli.
Turkey and Russia discuss secure zone in Syria’s Idlib (15 January 2020) Turkey and Russia are discussing the establishment of a secure zone within Syria’s northwestern Idlib region where Syrians displaced by fighting can shelter during the winter, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar announced.
Putin proposes 2020 summit with leaders of Russia, France, China, U.S., and U.K. (23 January 2020) Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed holding a summit between the leaders of Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain in 2020 to discuss the conflict in Libya and other global problems.
Other Countries/Middle East
Erdogan says up to 250,000 Syrians flee toward Turkey as crisis worsens (2 January 2020) President Tayyip Erdogan announced that up to 250,000 migrants were fleeing toward Turkey from Syria’s northwest Idlib region after weeks of renewed bombardment by Russian and Syrian government forces.
Israel defends U.S. killing of Iranian commander, puts military on alert (3 January 2020) Israel’s prime minister defended a U.S. decision to launch an air strike that killed powerful Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani and the Israeli military was put on high alert, after Iran threatened revenge.
Rival Shi’ite leaders in Iraq call for U.S. troop expulsion in rare show of unity (3 January 2020) Rival Shi’ite political leaders called for American troops to be expelled from Iraq after a U.S. air strike in Baghdad killed a senior Iranian general, in an unusual show of unity among factions that have squabbled for months.
Turkish military units moving to Libya, Erdogan says (5 January 2020) President Tayyip Erdogan stated that Turkish military units had started moving to Libya to support Fayez al-Serraj’s internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli.
Iraqi parliament backs government push to expel foreign troops (5 January 2020) Iraq’s parliament backed a recommendation by the prime minister that all foreign troops should be ordered out after the U.S. killing of a top Iranian military commander and an Iraqi militia leader in Baghdad.
Turkey says it will send military experts, advisers to Libya (6 January 2020) Turkey will send military experts and technical teams to support Libya’s internationally recognized government, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced, a day after President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish military units were moving to Tripoli.
Iran says no limits on enrichment, stepping further from 2015 deal (6 January 2020) Iran announced it would abandon limitations on enriching uranium, taking a further step back from commitments to a 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers, but it would continue to cooperate with the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
Tripoli-aligned forces say they quit Libya’s Sirte to avoid bloodshed (7 January 2020) Forces aligned with Libya’s internationally recognized Government of National Accord said they had withdrawn from the strategic coastal city of Sirte to avoid bloodshed, after their eastern rivals rapidly entered it and took control.
Iran crash is first fatal incident for Ukrainian airline (8 January 2020) A plane crash In Iran that killed 176 people was the first fatal incident involving Ukraine International Airlines (UIA), and the Boeing 737-800, one of the best in its fleet, was flown by experienced pilots, UIA officials said.
Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan deadlocked over giant Nile dam, look to Washington talks (10 January 2020) Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan remained deadlocked after two days of talks in their disputes over a giant hydropower dam on the Nile though Cairo said it hoped the issues would be resolved by Jan. 15 in line with a deadline agreed with Washington.
Libyan force loyal to Haftar announce ceasefire, GNA agrees to truce (11 January 2020) Libyan eastern forces loyal to commander Khalifa Haftar announced a ceasefire in the western region, which includes the capital Tripoli, starting 00:01 a.m. on Sunday (22:01 GMT) and the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) agreed to the truce.
“Disastrous mistake”: Iran acknowledges shooting down Ukrainian airliner (10 January 2020) Iran announced its military had shot down a Ukrainian plane killing all 176 aboard in a “disastrous mistake”, saying air defenses were fired in error while on alert after Iranian missile strikes on U.S. targets in Iraq.
Japan pursues regional diplomacy to defuse Gulf tensions(13 January 2020) Japan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates should work together to de-escalate the tense situation in the Gulf, a Japanese foreign ministry official stated, relaying comments by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Turkish, Syrian top spies meet in first official contact in years (13 January 2020) Turkish and Syrian heads of intelligence met in Moscow in the first official contact in years despite Ankara’s long-standing hostility to President Bashar al-Assad, a senior Turkish official and Syrian news agency SANA said.
Influential Iraqi cleric Sadr calls for anti-U.S. demonstrations (14 January 2020) Populist Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called for a million Iraqis to march against the U.S. “presence and violations” in Iraq after Washington’s killing of an Iranian commander in Baghdad.
Syrian army says Israeli jets attack air base in Homs (14 January 2020) The Syrian army said Israeli jets attacked the main T4 air base in Homs province, saying its air defenses downed several missiles in strikes that caused only material damage.
Turkey says Egyptian security forces raid news agency in Cairo(15 January 2020) Turkey summoned a senior Egyptian diplomat to protest what it said was a raid by Egyptian security forces on the Cairo office of Turkey’s state-run news agency, in which four people were detained.
Erdogan says Turkey starting troop deployment to Libya(16 January 2020) Turkey is beginning to send troops into Libya in support of the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, President Tayyip Erdogan claimed, days before a summit in Berlin which will address the Libyan conflict.
Erdogan says Somalia has invited Turkey to explore for oil in its seas (20 January 2020) Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan announced that Somalia had invited Turkey to explore for oil in its seas, after Ankara signed a maritime agreement with Libya last year, broadcaster NTV reported.
Oil rises as Libya declares force majeure in oilfields (20 January 2020) Oil prices rose to their highest in more than a week after two large crude production bases in Libya began shutting down amid a military blockade, risking reducing crude flows from the OPEC member to a trickle.
Facing economic crisis, Lebanon’s government weighs options (22 January 2020) Lebanon’s Hezbollah-backed government will be walking a political tightrope as it looks to secure urgent foreign funding to ward off financial collapse, and it may look to the International Monetary Fund for assistance.
“No, No America”: Iraq protestors demand expulsion of U.S. troops (24 January 2020) Tens of thousands of Iraqis rallied in central Baghdad on Friday calling for the expulsion of U.S. troops, but the protest mostly dissipated after a few hours despite a cleric’s call for a “million strong” turnout.
Syrian government forces capture towns in advance on rebel-held Idlib(26 January 2020) Syrian government forces have taken control of several towns in northwestern Idlib province, a war monitor and Syrian state media reported, amid a renewed push by President Bashar al-Assad to recapture the last rebel stronghold.
Israel approves travel to Saudi under limited circumstances (26 January 2020) Israel announced that it would permit Israeli citizens to travel to Saudi Arabia for the first time, under certain conditions that include Israeli entrepreneurs seeking investments, in a signal of warming ties.
Hackers acting in Turkey’s interests believed to be behind recent cyberattacks (27 January 2020) Sweeping cyberattacks targeting governments and other organizations in Europe and the Middle East are believed to be the work of hackers acting in the interests of the Turkish government, three senior Western security officials said.
Syrian government forces enter town south of Idlib city (28 January 2020) Syrian government forces entered a town south of Idlib city in a significant advance for President Bashar al-Assad as he seeks to recapture rebel-held territory in the country’s northwest, a war monitor and state media said.
Israeli defense minister pushes to extend sovereignty in West Bank(29 January 2020) Israel’s hawkish defense minister said that U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace plan created a window for applying Israeli sovereignty on nearly a third of the occupied West Bank.
Arabs prioritize key ties with U.S. against Iran in reacting to Trump peace plan(29 January 2020) Arab powers appear to be prioritizing close ties with the United States that are vital to countering Iran over traditional unswerving support for the Palestinians in their reaction to President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan.
Turkey’s Erdogan criticizes Arab silence over U.S. Middle East plan(31 January 2020) Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan criticized Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab nations for not speaking out against the U.S. Middle East plan which he said endorsed the Israeli annexation of Palestinian lands.
Erdogan says Turkey may launch Syria offensive if Idlib attacks continue (31 January 2020) Turkey may launch a military operation in Syria’s northwestern Idlib region unless fighting there is quickly halted, President Tayyip Erdogan announced as attacks by Syrian government forces risked a new wave of refugees.
Treaties, Agreements, United Nations, and Statistics
Yemen’s southern separatists pull out of Riyadh agreement committees (1 January 2020) Southern separatists in Yemen have pulled out of committees implementing a November agreement to end a power struggle in the south that had opened a new front in the country’s multifaceted war.
Allow cross-border aid into Syria, U.N. pleads as millions “trapped” (7 January 2020) More than 3 million Syrian civilians are trapped in a war zone in the northwest of the country and utterly dependent on cross-border aid, the United Nations announced, as it urged states to extend the mandate for that aid which expires in days.
In rebuke to Lebanese leaders, U.N. says “irresponsible” to leave country without government(8 January 2020) Keeping Lebanon without a government is “increasingly irresponsible”, a senior U.N. official claimed, in tough criticism of Lebanese leaders as their country sinks deeper into crisis without a rescue plan.
U.N. investigators find Yemen’s Houthis did not carry out Saudi oil attack (8 January 2020) Yemen’s Houthi group did not launch an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities in September, according to a confidential report by U.N. sanctions monitors seen by Reuters, bolstering a U.S. accusation that Iran was responsible.
U.N. says reports of violence against Iran protestors “worrying”(13 January 2020) Accusations of lethal force against protesters in Iran should be fully investigated, a spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced, saying reports of violence against those protesting the downing of a civilian airliner were “worrying.”
U.N. says around 350,000 Syrians have fled Russian-led assault in Idlib (16 January 2020) Around 350,000 Syrians, mostly women and children, have fled a renewed Russian-backed offensive in the opposition-held Idlib province since early December, and have sought shelter in border areas near Turkey, the United Nations announced.
Israeli surveillance software lawsuit goes behind closed doors (16 January 2020) An Israeli court ordered closed-door hearings in Amnesty International’s legal bid to stop NSO Group exporting surveillance software, which rights groups say is used to spy on journalists and dissidents worldwide.
Amnesty says new Qatar law “curbs freedom of expression” (20 January 2020) A new Qatari law criminalizing the publishing of “false or biased” statements could “significantly restrict freedom of expression”, rights group Amnesty International claimed.
U.N. experts demand probe into alleged Saudi hack on Amazon boss Bezos (21 January 2020) U.N. experts have demanded an immediate investigation by U.S. and other authorities into allegations that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince was involved in a plot to hack the phone of Amazon boss and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos.
U.N.: Several countries have breached arms embargo agreed at Libya summit (25 January 2020) Several countries backing rival factions in Libya have violated an arms embargo which they had agreed to uphold a week ago at a summit in Berlin, the United Nations announced.
U.N. criticizes Iraq trials of ISIS “members,” including human shields(28 January 2020) The United Nations raised “serious concerns” about the trials of hundreds of alleged Islamic State members in Iraq, some of whom merely prepared meals, offered medical services or even acted as human shields for the group.
After Russia, China veto, U.N. says medical aid for Syria stuck in Iraq (29 January 2020) Truckloads of medical aid for civilians in Syria’s northeast is stuck in Iraq, the United Nations aid chief stated, after Russia and China prevented the U.N. Security Council from renewing authorization for the cross-border deliveries.