LOVE THY NEIGHBOR Improving relationship between Riyadh and Baghdad Today, flights between Saudi Arabia and Iraq will resume. Air travel between the two countries was halted 27 years ago in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Earlier this summer, Baghdad and Riyadh set up a council to “upgrade strategic ties,” which met last week
LOVE THY NEIGHBOR
Improving relationship between Riyadh and Baghdad
Today, flights between Saudi Arabia and Iraq will resume. Air travel between the two countries was halted 27 years ago in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
The improved relationship has been pushed by Riyadh, with heavy encouragement coming from Washington. The US views closer alignment between Iraq and Saudi Arabia as beneficial on because it serves to counter an increasingly influential Iran in the Persian Gulf.
Shi’a dominated Iran has been helping Baghdad combat ISIS by backing powerful Shi’a militants in the country. With Iraqi elections coming up in May, expect Saudi Arabia to increase funding and investment in its northern neighbour to ensure its interests are maintained by the new government.
DOWN BUT NOT OUT
Japan hosts talks amid renewed push for TPP-11
A new round of negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership will begin today in Chiba prefecture. Led by Japan, the pact’s 11 Pacific Rim countries are attempting to salvage the agreement after the US withdrew in January.
The talks are expected to focus on some 50 provisions that Washington requested. For one, Vietnam wishes to lift restrictions on fabric production it accepted for access to the US market. But, Japan wants some provisions kept to entice a future US return to the pact.
But American withdrawal will not be the only issue. New Zealand’s new government is expected to advocate banning foreign property speculation; annual house price growth in the Pacific nation sits above 10%, the second-highest in the OECD. Wellington has said it won’t withdraw from the agreement.
Japan hopes to lead the remaining TPP nations into signing an agreement by next month’s APEC leaders summit in Vietnam. Combined with a pact with the EU, Tokyo could earn recognition as a champion of free trade if it pulls off the TPP’s comeback—though many competing interests make that no sure thing.
BREAKDOWN IN BELFAST
Deadline for Northern Irish parties to reach agreement
Northern Ireland’s political parties have until today to forge a power-sharing agreement or risk a budget being imposed on the devolved region by London.
Belfast has been without a government since January when the left-leaning nationalists Sinn Fein quit a grand coalition with the unionist DUP over a bungled renewable energy scheme.
The main sticking point between the two powerful parties is passing a new Irish language law—the republicans wish to expand the official use of the language in areas like public signage and education, while the DUP has refused to give ground. As such, the two parties are deadlocked and are unlikely to reach a deal by today.
Without an agreement, Westminster is likely to impose a budget on Belfast to keep the region running, stoking fears of direct rule from London. On its own, that prospect would inflame tensions in Northern Ireland—worse still, the DUP’s propping up the minority Conservative government tarnishes London’s claim to neutrality. Republican outrage could then jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement and worsen hostilities with unionists, making a restoration of the fragile peace a more and more distant prospect.
Syrian talks, ‘Jamaica’ challenges, US pushback on Sahel force
The seventh round of intra-Syrian peace talks gets underway in Astana. Discussions are expected to focus on prisoner exchanges—a sign that the conflict may be entering its latter stages.
Three-party coalition talks continue in Germany today after an 11-hour session on Thursday failed to break a deadlock on crucial issues—particularly immigration and climate. Greens leader Simone Peter has insisted that the pro-business FDP “accept unconditionally” a 2007 commitment to reduce carbon emissions. But the FDP and other conservatives from Angela Merkel’s Bavarian sister party have demanded the Greens temper their position.
The UN Security Council will discuss the future of a North African counter-terrorism force—the G5 Sahel, which operates in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Despite pressure from France, the US has been reluctant to commit to establishing the force under a UN mandate.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on authorising the use of military force.