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Melkulangara Bhadrakumar

Trump foreign policy enters lame duck period

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There was a time when President Trump’s personalised diplomacy seemed a hydra-headed phenomenon with tentacles reaching far and wide. He engaged such diverse politicians — from Shinzo Abe and Kim Jong-Un to Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi, from Mohammed bin Salman and Recep Erdogan to Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel. But as time passed, the circle began shrinking and the scope for personalised diplomacy altogether diminished as coronavirus epidemic spread and countries turned inward, including the US. 

Today, Trump is left largely with Putin’s company – although they have had only one formal summit in Helsinki on July 16, 2018 – to whom he keeps going back with an extraordinary frequency. Trump and Putin have held at least seven calls since March 30, amid the coronavirus pandemic. On July 23, Trump again spoke with Putin. He hasn’t spoken to any other foreign politician so frequently this year. And the paradox is that while Trump is famous for his pursuit of transactional relationships, there is very little transaction taking place between the US and Russia. 

The Kremlin often describes these Putin-Trump phone conversations as “constructive and substantive,” although we hardly see any concrete results. The two leaders strove to create and atmospherics but failed to create content in the relationship — foreplay without consummation. The leading think tanker at Moscow Carnegie and author, Dmitry Trenin tweeted after yesterday’s Putin-Trump conversation that they “appear as a parallel universe with no connection to real Russia-US relations. Weird.”
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Trump Fine-Tunes Peace Deal With Taliban

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The US President Donald Trump’s remarks at the Oval Office in the White House on August 20 regarding the Afghan peace talks and related issues exuded an overall sense of satisfaction that the “endless war” is finally ending —although issues still remain to be sorted out before the deal is closed.

This was also Trump’s first public assessment of the meeting he took last week with top officials, including the secretaries of state and defence, CIA director and US special representative on Afghanistan Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad who leads the American team of negotiators at the Doha talks with the Taliban.

Trump said more than once during his remarks to the media on Tuesday that the talks with the Taliban are going well, and he made it a point to acknowledge publicly that the Taliban genuinely want to stop fighting with the US troops. As he put it,
I will say this: The Taliban would like to stop fighting us.  They would like to stop fighting us.  They’ve lost a lot.
Trump threw light on what to expect.
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A Sino-Russian Firewall Against US Interference

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China has explicitly accused the United States and Britain for fomenting the “pro-democracy” protests in Hong Kong. Beijing has taken up the matter via the diplomatic channel demanding that the US intelligence should stop inciting and abetting the Hong Kong protestors. Last week photographic evidence appeared in the media showing the political counsellor in the US consulate in Hong Kong Julie Eadeh confabulating in the lobby of a local luxury hotel with the student leaders involved in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. 

Washington has taken umbrage that Julie’s cover has been blown. She is apparently an expert who organised “colour revolutions” in other countries and it has been disclosed that she was involved in plotting “subversive acts” in the Middle East region. The Global Times wrote a blistering editorial. It said: 

“The US administration has played a disgraceful role in the Hong Kong riots. Washington publicly supports the protests and never condemns violence that targets police. The US consulate general in Hong Kong is stepping up its direct interference in Hong Kong’s situation. The US administration is instigating turmoil in Hong Kong the way it stoked “colour revolutions” in other places worldwide.”
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Iran’s Zarif drives Trump to insanity

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At a time when the Trump administration has no problem negotiating with the secretary of the Russian national security council Nikolai Patrushev, who is technically under US sanctions since April 2018, the cut and thrust of Washington’s move to sanction Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif needs to be understood properly. 

How did US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo try to explain the dispatch of Zarif to perdition? Pompeo’s statement on Wednesdayattributed to Zarif a singular sin: a) Zarif “acted on behalf of the Supreme Leader”; b) Zarif took “direction from the Supreme Leader and his office”; c) Zarif was “a key enabler of Ayatollah Khamenei’s policies throughout the region and around the world”; d) and, Zarif has been “a senior regime official and apologist” of Iranian government and has “for years now been complicit in these (Iran’s) malign activities”. 

Basically, Pompeo’s grouse narrows down to this: Zarif is a disciplined dutiful, loyal Iranian public servant who abided by the Iranian system of government founded in the concept of velāyat-e faqīh (‘guardianship of the Islamic jurist’.)
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Ukraine Remains the Signpost of World Politics

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The ice in the frozen lake shifting is one of the coolest sounds you can hear. The air is cold but not freezing, and the woods are silent. The frozen lake looks like it’s been stopped in time, but beneath the placid surface it keeps shifting and moaning. The phenomenon produces amazing sci-fi sound — like a cracking whip. 

The phone conversation between the presidents of Ukraine and Russia — Volodymyr Zelensky and Vladimir Putin — last Friday brings to mind the frozen lake acoustics. It lasted for 20 minutes, long enough for two Russian-speaking statesmen to exchange opinions. Zelensky took the initiative, but most certainly, there was some advance planning. 

The Kremlin readout was taciturn but acknowledged that the two leaders discussed “issues of a settlement in the southeast of Ukraine” and “opportunities to continue contacts in the Normandy format.” The Kremlin took care to play down the phone call. 

Earlier last week, Zelensky had publicly suggested that he and Putin meet in Minsk, Belarus, to discuss the conflict in Ukraine’s east and Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. He added that he would like the leaders of the United States, Britain, France, and Germany to join the talks. Putin reacted to the idea saying he’s open for talks with Zelensky, but negotiations would be unlikely before Ukraine’s parliamentary elections due on July 21 and after a new Ukrainian Cabinet is formed. Evidently, back channels have been working.
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Iran can be Trump’s Nemesis

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What a coincidence that a leaked document from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) just exposed that the chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria in April, 2018 was most likely staged. In security parlance, it was a false flag operation — stage-managed cunningly to create the alibi for a ‘humanitarian intervention’ by the West in Syria.
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