The Daily Brief: Tuesday, Apr. 11

The Daily Brief: Tuesday, Apr. 11

Understand the world. One brief at a time.

TENSION MANAGEMENT: TILLERSON IN MOSCOW

Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson travels to Russia on Tuesday for talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after last Thursday’s strikes against a Syrian government airbase.

On Friday, reports emerged that Russia had threatened to cease coordination with the US-led coalition on air movements in Syrian airspace, which are key to avoiding any potentially catastrophic accidents. Such a threat suggests that Moscow’s support for the Syrian government hasn’t been weakened by its use of chemical weapons against civilians last week. On Sunday Tillerson derided Russia as “incompetent” for allowing Assad to hold on to chemical weapons.

This comment comes as many White House security advisors are publicly taking a harder line on Russia, despite the president’s continued calls for better bilateral relations. This has produced conflicting signals. Despite Mr Trump’s earlier comments disavowing regime change, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster implied on Sunday that the administration opposed “the continuation of the Assad regime”.

The two-day talks between the Russian and American diplomats could provide an opportunity to ease tensions following last week, but both countries remain fundamentally at odds over Syria’s future.

Dig deeper: Trump flexes muscles, strikes Assad. What next?

ISLAND POLITICS: CYPRUS NEGOTIATIONS

Photo: AP

Photo: AP

After a row over a controversial law passed by the Greek Cypriot parliament, talks on unifying the divided Mediterranean island will resume on Tuesday.

Cyprus split after a Turkish invasion in 1974, dividing the island into a Greek-dominated state in the south and a Turkish one occupying the northern third of the island. The two sides have been engaged in protracted UN-backed negotiations since May 2015, which have recently become bogged down in a number of sticky issues, including power sharing arrangements, territory swaps and property rights. However, the key to unification is an agreement on the withdrawal of the 30,000 Turkish troops stationed in the north – a withdrawal Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has resisted in a bid to maintain a recent surge in nationalist sentiment.

But with polls suggesting Mr Erdogan will consolidate his grip on domestic power after the weekend and an estimated $50 billion of gas lying beneath Cypriot waters, factors appear to be converging in favour of a deal.

Much of the progress that has been made over the past two years has been based on the good personal relations between Presidents Akinici and Anastasiades – who will face re-election next February. If a deal isn’t hammered out by then, both sides run a risk of missing a golden opportunity to put the four-decade-old dispute to bed.

DAM RIVERS: INDO-PAKISTANI WATER TENSIONS

Photo: ICIMOD

Photo: ICIMOD

There’s no love lost between India and Pakistan – the two nuclear-armed countries have been in a tense standoff since 1947. But on Tuesday, delegations from both sides will sit down to discuss water management issues in Washington.

Prompting the talks is the construction of two Indian hydropower dams on two rivers – the Kishanganga and Chenab, both of which are located in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir regions and both of which flow into Pakistan.

Pakistan is concerned that these dams will limit the downstream supply of water, harming the ecosystem and irrigation efforts. Perhaps more concerning is the potential use of the dams as weapons in the case of conflict, either to cause droughts or floods.

The management of the two rivers of concern is governed by the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, which will form the core of Tuesday’s discussions. After unsuccessfully attempting to leverage the treaty by taking India to the Permanent Court of Arbitration to halt construction, Pakistan will be hoping to reach an amicable agreement to reduce the size of these dams in face-to-face talks.

Dig deeper: India, China and Pakistan: a troubled trilateral

 

HAPPENING ELSEWHERE…

North Korea’s parliament will convene for the first time in nine months. Expect bellicose rhetoric.

Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines will commence joint anti-piracy and counter-terrorism patrols in the Sulu Sea.

Registrations for Iran’s presidential election will be open and remain open for five days.