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Melkulangara Bhadrakumar

Trump and Putin Begin Work on US-Russia Reset

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The Russian President Vladimir Putin made the long-expected phone call to the US president-elect Donald Trump on Monday.

It stands to reason that the presidential spokesman in the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov, one of Putin’s closest aides, travelled to New York last week ostensibly to attend a world chess event, but principally to prepare the ground for the phone conversation on Monday.

The agenda of such Russian-American conversations is usually agreed upon beforehand. The Kremlin readout (and the brief statement by Trump’s transition team in New York) gave a positive account of the phone conversation.

From available details, it was a substantive conversation, which focused on reviving the Russian-American relationship, and, most important, also took up the Syrian conflict in some detail, including “issues related to solving the crisis”.
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Turkey Prepares to Intervene in Mosul

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The battle of Mosul has been joined, finally, as Iraqi Special Forces entered the city limits earlier today from the east. (BBC) The early reports suggest that the Islamic State fighters responded with guided anti-tank missiles and small arms to block the Iraqi advance. Al Jazeera reported that the battle is “intense” and IS fighters are putting up “stiff resistance” against the approaching forces.

The IS has set the oil wells on fire to obscure their positions from possible air attacks. Nonetheless, US air strikes are continuing. Another Iraqi column from the south is still 35 kms away from Mosul city. 

To the north, Kurdish forces and Iraqi army units are approaching the city, while the Shi’ite militias are covering the western flank to cut off any escape route for the IS fighters in the direction of Syria. There is a tacit understanding that the Iran-backed Shi’ite militia known as the Popular Mobilisation Force will not enter the Sunni-dominated Mosul city.
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Turkey Harmonises With Russia, Iran on Syria

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The reported remarks Monday by Turkish Prime Minister Binaldi Yildirim regarding a 3-step road map for ending the Syrian conflict would be the latest indication that Ankara is tiptoeing toward restoring Turkish-Syrian relations at the diplomatic and political level.

Yildirim’s road map envisages future Syria to be a unitary state that has an inclusive political system with constitutional safeguards that prevent domination by any sectarian, ethnic or regional groups. Its constructive ambiguity over the core issue of the fate of President Bashar Al-Assad is absolutely delightful. It abandons the pre-condition that President Assad should step down in any transition.

Yildirim instead leaves it to the Syrian electorate’s majority will to decide on Assad’s political future. He thinks Assad may not get a popular mandate, but then, he won’t deny Assad the right to seek one, either. Now, isn’t that a leap of faith? (Hurriyet)

To be sure, with the Turkish-Russian rapprochement in hand and a new-found rapport with Iran in the air, President Recep Erdogan is preparing to address the Syrian question, which is the root cause of the instability in Turkey. See my recent articles in Asia Times Putin, Erdogan have a deal on Syria and Iran taps into Turkish-Russian reset.)
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Strategic Shift? Putin to Receive Erdogan in Hometown

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The developments in Turkey are taking a dramatic turn. All Indications are that the Turkish government is in possession of definite information that the attempted military coup was orchestrated by the United States. (Anadolu)

The Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag made an open allegation in a television interview:
The US knows that Fethullah Gülen (the cleric who lives in Pennsylvania) carried out this coup. Mr. Obama knows this just as well as he knows his own name. I am convinced that American intelligence knows it too.
Bozdag is known to be one of the closest and trusted political associates of President Recep Erdogan. The well-informed Turkish political commentator Semih Idiz wrote that “This belief (Bozdag’s allegation) goes all the way to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It implies that Washington knew what was coming and did nothing to warn Ankara. The pro-government Islamist media has even claimed that the U.S. tried to kill Erdoğan with this coup attempt.”

The government has taken into confidence Turkey’s two main opposition parties – the Kemalist party CHP (Republican Party) and the nationalist party MHP (Nationalist Movement Party). The ruling AKP (Justice & Development Party) and the CHP and MHP have set aside their political differences and have voiced support for Ankara’s demand to Washington for the extradition of the Islamist cleric Fetullah Gulen. No doubt, this grand reconciliation could have implications in the downstream for the fractured Turkish political landscape. (VOA)
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US Unleashes the Dogs of War in Afghanistan

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A statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday pointedly called on the ‘international community’ to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It commended Pakistan’s contribution to the war against terrorism and stressed that the Afghan reconciliation process within the framework of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group should not be jeopardised. (MFA)

The statement can be seen as a rebuke to Washington over the drone killing of the Taliban chief. It took 17 days for Beijing to break its silence.

The statement came even as a delegation of senior US officials was heading for Islamabad – Richard Olson, US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Peter Lavoy, Senior Advisor and Director for South Asian Affairs in the National Security Council, and Gen. John Nicholson, commander of the US forces in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani accounts convey the impression that the US officials heard from their leadership in Islamabad and Rawalpindi during meetings today strong denunciation of the US drone strikes on Pakistani territory and trenchant criticism about the tilt in the American policies toward India. (A full-spectrum Pakistani reaction also sails into view over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the US.) Clearly, US-Pakistan relations are nosediving. (A report in the Pakistani newspaper Express Tribune, here, gives the sense of it.)
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US Asia 'Rebalance' Threatened With Meltdown

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Elections in the Philippines can be very funny. The candidates often try to connect with their electorate by taking recourse to singing and dancing. Cutting bawdy jokes and making funny faces or dressing outrageously comes very readily to politicians in their eagerness to get through to voters. There are no sacred cows on the campaign trail in the Philippines.

Yet, the front-runner who got elected Monday as the next president, Rodrigo Duterte, also known as the "Donald Trump of the Philippines," may have crossed all limits when he branded the Pope a “son of a whore,” told the American and Australian ambassadors to “shut their mouths,” recounted how he had personally killed inmates during a prison riot in Davao in 1989 where he used to be Mayor, or boasted about his mistresses and sexual prowess.

The nadir was reached when he said in the aftermath of the prison riot, that he came to know that an Australian missionary had been raped and murdered. Duterte joked, “I was mad she was raped. But she was so beautiful. I thought, ‘The Mayor should have been the first.’ ” That was when the US and Australian envoys took serious exception, whereupon Duterte raised the prospect of cutting diplomatic relations with the countries they represented.
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Turkey’s Erdogan Gives Europe the Middle Finger

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The impact of Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s move Wednesday to replace Prime Minister Ahmet Dautoglu is already being felt in the western chancelleries with the signs that the scenario now is one of an acrimonious divorce between Ankara and the European Union. The EU-Turkey deal on stopping the flow of refugees to Europe in lieu of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the Shenghen area has hit the skids. (Financial Times)

Of course, the refugee problem is an existential issue for the EU — and for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in particular, whose political prestige is at stake, since she was the architect of the deal with Turkey which she got a reluctant EU to accept. The Chancellery in Berlin warned Erdogan yesterday: “The Chancellor has worked very well until now with Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu… and we assume that this good and constructive cooperation will continue with the new Turkish prime minister”. (Bloomberg)

But Erdogan is defiant, even plainly contemptuous. He retorted, “We will go our way; you go yours” – hinting that he is slamming the door shut on the democratic reforms that EU is demanding from Turkey. He added, “The EU is telling us to change our law on combatting terrorism. [They] are allowing terrorists to raise tents and then [they] come with requirements.”
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Aleppo – Syria’s Stalingrad?

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In a message on Thursday addressed to Vladimir Putin felicitating Russia on its Victory Day, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad compared the fighting around the city of Aleppo to Stalingrad, which turned the tide of World War II. It’s a powerful metaphor for the Russian psyche, driving home that winning the Syrian war in Aleppo’s battle fields is a must and there is no scope for compromise.

Assad sent his message on the same day the US-Russia agreement extending the Syrian truce to the Aleppo theatre came into effect. Damascus insists this is only a 48-hour cease fire. Indeed, the Iranian reports on Thursday highlighted that the Syrian army and Hezbollah fighters “backed up by the country’s fighter jets and Russian artillery units” continue their operations in western Aleppo, pushing back the extremist fighters.

On the other hand, Washington is anxious to interpret that the agreement with Moscow means that Aleppo falls within the purview of the ceasefire across the country. But is the ceasefire possible in a situation where the extremist groups (who have been excluded from the ceasefire) freely intermingle with the so-called moderate opposition groups?
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US-Saudi Relations: Yesteryear Days are Gone Forever

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President Barack Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday has boomeranged. His good intentions were never in doubt – mend fences between the two countries. But what emerges is that it will need much more than one visit – maybe, even one full presidency cannot fulfill such a mission. According to Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi intelligence chief, all the King’s horses and all the King’s men cannot put Humpty Dumpty together again.

Turki told CNN’s Christian Amanpour that there is going to have to be “a recalibration of our (Saudi) relationship with America. How far we can go with our dependence on America, how much can we rely on steadfastness from American leadership, what is it that makes for our joint benefits to come together. These are things that we have to recalibrate.”

He then added, “I don’t think that we should expect any new president in America to go back to, as I said, the yesteryear days when things were different.”

When a close longstanding relationship unravels, it is always a painful sight to watch, leave alone experience. Obama experienced a humiliation in Riyadh that has probably no parallel in recent international diplomacy. He was received on arrival in Riyadh on Wednesday by a relatively less important Saudi functionary – the governor of Riyadh.
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In India, Defense Secretary Carter to Push Anti-China Alliance

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US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has outlined in some detail the purpose of his mission to India next week. Principally he hopes to discuss arms deals and explore the parameters of co-production of weapons feasible under American laws prohibiting technology transfer. His focus is on the “potential production of fighter aircraft.”

American diplomacy makes it a point to envelop arms deals with rhetoric couched in the idiom of "shared values" – even when the US wraps up highly lucrative multi-billion dollar deals with countries such as Saudi Arabia. Thus, it comes as no surprise that in an address at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York on Friday, entitled "America’s Growing Security Network in the Asia-Pacific," Carter endeavoured to habitate the upcoming “exciting new projects” with India within an proposed regional security architecture under US leadership.

From the US perspective, the growing “interoperability” involving the two militaries serves the purpose of anchoring India as a key non-NATO ally, which of course demands a fundamental shift by India away from its non-aligned policies and its aversion to military blocs.
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