Connecting the Dots: US Diplomacy, Tough Talk

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• US efforts to reduce tensions in the Middle East intensified this week against the backdrop of a third round of indirect nuclear talks with Iran (related). State Department officials Brett McGurk and Derek Chollet's tour of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt is seemingly aimed at easing regional resistance to those talks, among other issues. In a separate mission, US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking traveled to Saudi Arabia and Oman on Thursday to promote a lasting cease-fire in Yemen and transition to a political process. Both sets of talks come amid sky-high regional tensions, with Israel and Iran conducting an apparent shadow shipping war, and Yemen's Iran-backed Houthis continually targeting Saudi oil and other infrastructure (IOD Apr.27'21; EC Apr.23'21). • But underlining how the once special US-Turkey relationship has been consigned to history, President Joe Biden on Apr. 24 became the first US president to formally recognize the mass killings of Ottoman Armenians in 1915, on their 106th anniversary, as “a genocide." Predictably, the move sparked fury in Ankara, but little else beyond a vague threat of unspecified consequences. A few days later, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighted how things could get worse still, by threatening further sanctions against Turkey if it purchases additional Russian weaponry (EC Feb.5'21). • Elsewhere, Libya's fragile cease-fire continues to hang by a thread. Gunmen loyal to renegade Libyan Gen. Khalifa Haftar this week prevented a delegation from the new UN-backed national unity government from entering Benghazi to hold a cabinet meeting (EC Mar.26'21). The incident suggests conditions on the ground may lag the apparent rapprochement among the key external players in the country's civil war. Turkey and Qatar, who support Tripoli, and Egypt and the UAE, who back Haftar, have each indicated support for the new government (EC Apr.9'21). • Meanwhile, for Biden, ratcheting up the China threat looks increasingly critical to mustering bipartisan or popular support for his big spending plans at home (related). In his first address to Congress and marking nearly 100 days in office, Biden framed his “once-in-a-generation investment” plans as allowing the US to win the “competition for the future” with China, whose president, Biden claimed, thinks democracies can’t compete autocracies (EC Mar.26'21). The clean energy race will be a big part of that competition, with Biden saying there is “no reason why the blades for wind turbines can’t be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing” (EC Feb.5'21).

Security Risk , Sanctions, Low-Carbon Policy
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