Welcome to While You Weren’t Looking, Foreign Policy’s weekly newsletter focused on non-coronavirus news.
Here’s what we’re watching this week: Northern Cyprus stokes tensions just ahead of potential U.N.-backed peace talks, a new report warns of a worsening situation for Colombian civil society activists, and China may have its sights on a Cambodian naval base.
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Northern Cyprus Beach Reopening Stokes Regional Tensions
Authorities in Northern Cyprus have reopened a beach that until Thursday had been closed to the public since 1974, when the island was partitioned after Turkey’s invasion. The move to reopen part of the beachfront in Varosha, which was supported by Turkey, the unrecognized territory’s patron, will likely fuel tensions in the eastern Mediterranean. It also threatens to derail efforts to restart peace talks between the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus and the breakaway northern territory.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and European Union foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell have both expressed concern about the move. “For sure, this is not going to help. On the contrary, it’s going to make it more difficult to reach an agreement on an especially difficult situation for all of us on the Eastern Mediterranean,” Borrell said. The U.N. Security Council is set to discuss the issue during a closed session on Friday at the request of Cyprus.
Peace talks hosted by the United Nations are expected shortly after presidential elections in Northern Cyprus on Sunday. Tensions have flared in the region in recent months over competing claims to gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea. Last week, the EU threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey—a NATO ally—if it didn’t halt drilling and energy exploration efforts in waters claimed by Cyprus and Greece.
After years of ethnic tensions between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Turkey invaded the island in 1974 following a coup by Greek army officers who sought to unite Cyprus with Greece. Turkish troops eventually seized 36 percent of the island. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus unilaterally declared its independence in 1983, but it is only recognized by Ankara. More than 35,000 Turkish troops are based there.
Once considered the “French Riviera of Cyprus,” Varosha attracted the likes of Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, and Brigitte Bardot. But the resort’s Greek Cypriot residents fled when Turkish troops approached 46 years ago, with once-thriving hotels and restaurants left to fall into disrepair. A 1984 U.N. Security Council resolution prohibited resettlement in the area.
On Thursday, Turkey said that only the beach would reopen and the rest of the town would remain out of bounds to the public for now.
Growing danger for Colombian activists. Human rights and environmental activists in Colombia have warned that they are being “massacred,” with at least 223 civil society leaders killed so far this year because of their work, according to the watchdog Indepaz. Colombia has been described as the most dangerous country in the world for human rights defenders, and a new report released by Amnesty International on Thursday accused the government of a “lack of political will” to ensure their safety.
The report found that the coronavirus pandemic leaves civil society leaders more exposed to danger. In some cases, the authorities have reduced protection arrangements while stepping up activities that put their communities at greater risk, such as natural resource extraction and forced eradication of the illicit crops that many have come to depend on.
Indictment exposes more shady lobbying. Elliott Broidy, a former fundraiser for U.S. President Donald Trump, has been indicted on charges that he sought to lobby the Trump administration to drop a federal investigation into the theft of over $4.5 billion from a Malaysian state investment fund known as 1MDB. Broidy allegedly asked Trump to play golf with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak during the leader’s visit to the United States in 2017, seeking an opportunity for Razak to make his case to Trump.
The pair never did play golf, and Razak was handed a 12-year prison sentence by a court in Malaysia for his role in the scandal—one of the largest known financial frauds in history. Broidy is also accused of seeking to get the Chinese dissident businessman Guo Wengui deported from the United States.
According to the indictment released on Thursday, Broidy was recruited to lobby U.S. officials in 2017, while serving as the national deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. The indictment is just the latest example of foreign nationals seeking to use people within the Trump orbit to surreptitiously advance their interests.
Nagorno-Karabakh talks. The leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan are set to meet in Moscow on Friday for talks in the first diplomatic breakthrough since renewed fighting broke out in the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh last month. The Kremlin announced late Thursday that the foreign ministers of the warring countries were invited to the Russian capital for talks on prisoner exchanges and recovering the bodies of those killed in the fighting.
“We are moving toward a truce tonight or tomorrow, but it’s still fragile,” French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said in a statement to Agence France-Presse. France is working alongside Russia and the United States to mediate an end to the conflict. Some 400 people have been killed over the past two weeks in the worst flare-up in the region since the 1994 cease-fire.
China’s naval ambitions in Cambodia. The State Department voiced concern this week over Cambodia’s decision to tear down a U.S.-funded facility used for a maritime security program at one of its naval bases last month. As the United States and China vie for influence in Southeast Asia, Cambodia’s decision prompted speculation that it was tied to plans for China to use the Ream Naval Base on the Gulf of Thailand.
“Such a military presence would negatively impact the U.S.-Cambodia bilateral relationship and be disruptive and destabilizing to the Indo-Pacific region,” said a Wednesday statement from the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who, with Beijing’s backing, has cracked down on opposition in recent years, said in June that China, one of the country’s closest allies, had not been given exclusive rights to use the base.
More sanctions for Moscow. The foreign ministers of France and Germany issued a joint statement on Wednesday proposing sanctions on individuals believed to be involved in the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, as well as an entity involved in the Novichok nerve agent program. The proposed sanctions will be circulated among France and Germany’s European partners, according to the statement.
This week, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed earlier conclusions by other European labs that samples taken from Navalny contained traces of a nerve agent from the Novichok family.
Fishy idea. As the United Kingdom tries to beat a path out of the European Union, demanding a significant increase in fishing rights as it leaves the bloc’s common fisheries policy, Belgium’s Ambassador to the European Union Willem van de Voorde made an unlikely invocation on Wednesday: a charter signed in 1666 by King Charles II granting 50 fishermen from Bruges “eternal rights” to fish in England’s waters.
It’s not unprecedented for centuries-old documents to play a role in British diplomacy today; the Anglo-Portuguese alliance of 1373 still stands and was invoked during the Falklands War. Although unlikely to sway the negotiations, the ambassador’s intervention underscores how fraught discussions over fishing rights have become.
Laurence Blair reported for Foreign Policy this week on how diplomatic wrangling over fishing stocks could scupper Britain’s Brexit trade deal with Europe altogether.
Foreign Policy Recommends
If former Vice President Joe Biden wins the presidency next month, his first major foreign-policy battle may be at home: The left wing of the Democratic Party could see an opening to push for a more progressive approach that puts economic issues and diplomacy over military might.
In some ways, they’ve already succeeded, as Politico’s Nahal Toosi writes in this essential preelection read.
That’s it for this week.
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