Morning Brief

U.K. and EU Seek Trade Deal as Critical Deadline Nears

From fish to Northern Ireland, major disagreements remain as Brexit negotiations enter their final week.

U.K Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a peace summit on Libya.
U.K Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a peace summit on Libya in Berlin, Germany, on Jan. 19. Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Brexit talks continue as EU leaders prepare for a key summit, North Korea unveils new weapons, and several reported violations of a cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakh.

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Fishing for a Deal

The last round of informal negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom before a critical EU summit on Thursday begin today as both sides try to hammer out a post-Brexit trade deal. Last month, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said London would stop participating in trade talks on Oct. 15 if a deal wasn’t in place or didn’t appear to be in sight.

Long way to go. On Sunday, Johnson met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the state of the negotiations. Johnson told Merkel that significant gaps between their positions still remained, especially over the issue of fisheries.

The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy gave European boats access to British fisheries, but critics of the policy claimed it caused severe damage to the U.K.’s fishing industry. As Laurence Blair wrote in Foreign Policy, the British government is seeking to regain exclusive control of the U.K.’s fisheries, and this could “derail the painstaking negotiations to determine what relationship Britain … will have with the EU once it becomes fully independent.”

Northern Ireland won’t go away. The other major issue at stake is the ongoing wrangling over the British government’s internal market bill, which is designed to override the Northern Ireland protocol in last year’s Brexit withdrawal agreement. According to the protocol, Northern Ireland will remained aligned with the EU’s regulatory framework after Brexit in order to safeguard key parts of the Good Friday peace agreement. Johnson faced withering criticism for trying to override the protocol, and the EU recently took legal action against the U.K. government over the bill.

Domestic pressure. Despite his personal ambivalence toward the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, Johnson is under increasing public pressure to ensure that the United Kingdom leaves the EU with a trade deal in place. A recent poll found that 64 percent of the British public believes that a no-deal Brexit would be a bad outcome, and Johnson’s Conservative Party has seen its poll numbers dip in recent months. Last month, Johnson insisted that a no-deal Brexit would be a good outcome for the country.

The World This Week

Oct. 12. The confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett begin.

Oct. 13-14. The World Trade Organization’s top decision-making council meets.

Oct. 13. A U.S. ban on private charter flights to Cuba goes into effect.

Oct. 14-15. An Israeli body is expected to approve a series of new settlements in the West Bank.

Oct. 15. The British government is expected to end its participation in Brexit talks by this date.

Oct. 15-16. EU leaders convene to discuss the state of the negotiations with the United Kingdom.

Oct. 17. General election in New Zealand takes place.

Oct. 18. Bolivian presidential election takes place.

Oct. 18. Guinean presidential election takes place.

What We’re Following Today

New weapons for North Korea. North Korea has drawn international attention after unveiling what appeared to be a new range of weapons, including a large intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), during a military parade celebrating the 75th anniversary of the founding of the country’s ruling Workers’ Party on Saturday. The ICBM is larger than any of the country’s known missiles, and even surprised many experts on North Korean weapons.

The weapons display caused immediate concern in South Korea. Officials convened an emergency National Security Council meeting on Sunday at which they agreed to continue to analyze the development of North Korea’s weapons systems and to review South Korea’s own defense capabilities. South Korea’s foreign ministry urged Pyongyang to return to talks aimed at reducing tensions on the peninsula. As Morten Soendergaard Larsen wrote in Foreign Policy, the weapons served as “a signal to Washington that the regime is committed to advancing its long-range strike capabilities despite years of on-again, off-again diplomatic outreach with the United States.”

Iran-backed militias demand U.S. withdrawal in Iraq. On Sunday, the Iraqi Resistance Coordination Commission, an umbrella organization consisting of several Iran-backed militias in Iraq, agreed to a ceasefire against U.S. personnel on the condition that Washington fully withdraw its troops from Iraq. Since the assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani in January, the United States has come under heavy pressure to reduce its presence in the country. U.S. forces have since transferred several bases to Iraqi personnel, and promised to reduce the U.S. troop presence in the country to 3,000.

The move comes amid heightened tension between the United States and the Iraqi government after?U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to close the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad last month in response to attacks on U.S. personnel. The threat caused concern among Iraqi officials that a U.S. diplomatic withdrawal from the country could spark a military confrontation between U.S. forces and Iran-backed militias.?

Elections in Lithuania. Lithuanian voters went to the polls for parliamentary elections on Sunday against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing unrest in neighboring Belarus. The ruling centrist Farmers and Greens party is battling the center-right Homeland Union for the top spot in the country’s legislature, but with the two parties projected to take around 15 percent of the vote each in the latest opinion polls, a coalition government is the most likely outcome. Voters will elect half of the parliament’s 141 seats on Sunday, with the remaining seats to be determined in constituency elections at a later date.

The election is considered a referendum on Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis’s handling of the pandemic. The Farmers and Greens party was swept to power in 2016 as part of the populist wave that hit much of the Western world around that time. The pandemic is the party’s first major crisis since coming to power.

Keep an Eye On?

Violence continues in Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijani and Armenian officials have reported several violations of the Moscow-brokered cease-fire which went into effect on Saturday, although major military operations between the two former Soviet republics are still on hold. Azerbaijan said seven civilians were killed and 33 others wounded in what it claimed were attacks conducted by Armenian forces from the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian defense ministry accused Azerbaijani forces of bombing a settlement in Armenia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with the Azerbaijani and Armenian foreign ministers on Friday and Saturday to hammer out cease-fire terms, allowing them to recover bodies and discuss prisoner exchanges. Officials from both sides, however, have accused the other of being unprepared to agree to a compromised settlement, meaning a longer-term solution to the worst outbreak of violence between the two states in years will likely remain elusive.

But the situation isn’t hopeless. As Lara Setrakian wrote in Foreign Policy, “the swiftest way to end the fighting may be through a Russian-Turkish agreement, possibly in exchange for interests in Syria and Libya, where the two powers both have a strong hand.”

Controversial Nigerian police unit abolished. The Nigerian government succumbed to public pressure on Sunday and dissolved a controversial police unit. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars) has been accused of carrying out a range of illegal acts, including extrajudicial killings, kidnapping, and torture. Amnesty International claims that the unit acts with complete impunity. “The dissolution of Sars is in response to the yearnings of the Nigerian people,” Nigeria’s head of police said in a statement.

Sars was the target of major protests in recent days, with thousands of people taking to the streets of the capital of Lagos over the weekend to protest against police brutality in the country. The hashtag #EndSARS made the rounds on social media as Nigerians shared their own personal experiences with police brutality.

Odds and Ends?

A Canadian tourist returned a series of artifacts stolen from the site of the ancient city of Pompeii near Naples, Italy after claiming they were cursed and were responsible for a long period of misfortune in her life. In a letter confessing to the act and stating the reason for returning the stolen items, she wrote that since stealing two mosaic tiles, parts of an amphora, and a piece of ceramics in 2005, she had suffered breast cancer twice and experienced financial difficulty. “I don’t want to pass this curse on to my family or children,” she wrote.

That’s it for today.

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Dan Haverty is an editorial fellow at?Foreign Policy. Twitter: @dan_haverty

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