Thursday, February 16

Thursday, February 16

After a rough start, can the new US administration get its NATO allies on side and on task?

NATO: THE ‘OBSOLETE’ ALLIANCE IN VOGUE

Photo: Photoshot/A Wei

Photo: Photoshot/A Wei

In a week that will bear witness to a flurry of multilateral activity, US Defence Secretary James Mattis will wrap up his first NATO meeting.

Mattis has had his work cut out for him. President Trump led a far-from-reassuring transition for his NATO allies, labelling the alliance “obsolete”. Recent allegations that members of the Trump team had multiple conversations with Russian intelligence officials will also prove disconcerting.

Regardless, the defence chief will attempt to redouble efforts and refocus headlines. On Wednesday, General Mattis reassured NATO members of Washington’s commitment, calling the alliance “a fundamental bedrock” and speaking of Mr Trump’s “strong support” for the organisation.

Mattis will push NATO members to implement the agreed-on target of spending 2% of GDP on defence by 2024 – a target many members have dragged their feet on.

The new US administration also wants NATO to take a leading role in combatting and preventing terrorism and instability. Defence Secretary Mattis is expected to ask his counterparts to commit to a more muscular deployment of advisers in northern Iraq to train local security forces and reinforce the campaign against ISIS.

With Donald Trump planning on visiting NATO headquarters in late May, all involved will be hoping to put nagging uncertainties to bed. But with allegations of Trump’s ties with Russia swirling, questions will remain.

SAMSUNG’S WOES CONTINUE

Photo: Reuters

Photo: Reuters

Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker, is in trouble – and not just because arch-nemesis Apple posted back-to-back record profits last week.

On Thursday, a South Korean court will decide whether to grant an arrest warrant for Samsung Group Chief Jay Y. Lee. Prosecutors allege Mr Lee promised $38 million to organisations owned by the now-impeached president’s confidant – Choi Soon-sil – in return for political favours. The allegations are part of a far-reaching political scandal that has rocked South Korea.

An initial petition for an arrest warrant was made in January but denied. Now prosecutors say they’ve “secured additional evidence” that they’re “sure about” and have added charges of perjury and hiding proceeds of crime to the list.

An arrest warrant is also being sought for Samsung Electronics President Park Sang-jin for bribery and embezzlement.

The two senior executives are key to the electronic giant’s strategic decision-making; any time spent away from the boardroom will hamper Samsung’s ability to close the profitability gap with its rivals and navigate an increasingly crowded market. With prosecutors saying another three Samsung executives are also under investigation, the firm faces a rocky few months.

Go deeper: Park’s rollercoaster: divining the fate of South Korea’s president

TOP DIPLOMATS MEET AT G20

Photo: AP/Evan Vucci, File

Photo: AP/Evan Vucci, File

G20 foreign ministers will meet in Germany on Thursday, putting Trump’s diplomatic team and the Ukraine ceasefire to the test.

Thursday’s summit will mark the first meeting of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Tillerson will be wary of being perceived as overly friendly with his Russian counterpart, particularly after the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn on Monday over ‘trust issues’ related to Flynn’s contact with Russian officials. However, any cloud cast over the American-Russian relationship in the short term is unlikely to change Trump’s intent to normalise American relations with Russia.

A major sticking point in Tillerson and Lavrov’s meeting will be Crimea – Trump stated on Tuesday that he expects violence to be de-escalated and the region returned to the Ukraine, which Russia rejects. Recent speculation that elections could be held in conflict-gripped Donbass before pro-Russian forces are removed – which Ukraine believes is a violation of the ceasefire agreement in Crimea – sparked a spate of Ukrainian-nationalist protests. With tensions in Ukraine high, Tillerson must balance the Trump administration’s competing goals of befriending Russia while not alienating European allies.

 

HAPPENING ELSEWHERE…

After being delayed due to “technical reasons”, the Syrian peace talks brokered by Russia, Iran and Turkey will finally get underway.

Republican members of Congress will meet to discuss their strategy for repealing Obamacare. Party members appear to be increasingly divided over the issue, with the conservative wing pushing for a speedy and full rollback and more moderate members wanting to secure a replacement first.