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US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Itay Ben On/GPO/dpa

What We’re Watching: Blinken’s Middle East chats, Erdogan’s bid to split Nordics, Peru’s early election, China offers baby incentives

Blinken meets with Middle East leaders

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken picked a volatile time to visit the region. After first stopping in Egypt to meet with President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, the US’ top diplomat touched down in Israel on Monday, where he took part in a press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. But Blinken’s visit comes amid a violent flareup in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last week, Israel carried out an operation in Jenin in the West Bank, targeting members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in an operation that killed nine people, including civilians. Meanwhile, on Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire on Jews praying at a synagogue in East Jerusalem, killing seven. Then on Saturday, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy shot a father and son in Jerusalem’s Old City. What’s more, Israel is currently in the throes of a constitutional crisis as Netanyahu’s right-wing government seeks to dilute the power of the independent judiciary. But analysts say that the top agenda item is undoubtedly Iran. Over the weekend, Israel reportedly struck a compound in the Iranian city of Isfahan used to manufacture long-range missiles. (For more on the Isfahan attack and why Iran is feeling increasing pressure at home and abroad, watch Ian Bremmer’s Quick Take here.) It’s unclear whether the US was informed in advance about the strike, but Israeli leadership has in the past clashed with Washington over Jerusalem’s go-at-it-alone approach to dealing with Iran. As things become increasingly volatile in the Iran-Israel shadow war, Blinken presumably wants to make sure that the US is kept in the loop. On Tuesday, Blinken will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel's opposition leader Yair Lapid.

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- YouTube

Should Ukraine be offered NATO membership?

Finnish leaders know how to have a good time, which is probably why Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto recently sat down with Ian Bremmer to discuss Finland’s NATO accession.Threats from the Kremlin had kept Finland (and Sweden) from joining the alliance for 75 years. But the invasion of Ukraine changed all that. In May, Finland’s long-serving President Sauli Niinistö rang his old friend, Vladimir Putin. “It’s not me, it’s you,” Niinistö intimated to the Russian leader.

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Finland's President Sauli Niinisto and Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson pose after signing a document during a NATO summit in Madrid, Spain.

REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura

What We're Watching: Turkey backs off, Texas migrant tragedy, bombshell Jan. 6 testimony, Iran woos BRICS

Turkey opens NATO door to Finland and Sweden

The first day of the NATO Summit in Madrid brought concrete results. Turkey, Finland, and Sweden came to an agreement that addresses Ankara’s security concerns and paves the path to Finland and Sweden joining NATO. The Nordics’ joint bid for membership, inspired by Russian aggression in Ukraine, was at the center of the summit’s agenda. Accession demands consensus, and Turkey had raised objections, making security-centric demands from Stockholm and Helsinki that threatened to slow the process. In response, Sweden and Finland have suspended a 2019 arms embargo against Ankara and agreed to cut assistance to the People’s Protection Units, an armed group affiliated with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, Turkey’s enemy. Some of Ankara’s requests still need to be discussed, but Turkey is walking away from its veto option, swinging the doors open to Finland and Sweden’s membership in NATO. Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, has said the expansion doesn’t threaten Russia but warned that Moscow would respond to any extension of military infrastructure into that region.

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Paige Fusco

What is Turkey thinking?

It’s been over a month since Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO. But despite expectations of a speedy process, the joint bid has been met by an unexpected and troublesome obstacle: Turkey.

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Voting in Australia's federal election.

Annie Gugliotta.

What We’re Watching: Aussies vote, Turkey threatens Nordic states, elections loom in Israel

What will voters decide Down Under?

Aussie voters head to the polls on Saturday to decide whether to keep Prime Minister Scott Morrison (ScoMo) of the right-leaning Liberal-National Coalition in power, or to pass the baton to the Labor Party’s Anthony Albanese. Speak to any Aussie, and they’ll tell you that neither bespeckled, middle-aged candidate inspires much excitement. Still, someone has to win! After nearly two years under some of the tightest COVID lockdown restrictions in the world, Aussies appear ready for change: Albanese, a left-leaning centrist, is leading in national polls by 2%. That’s encouraging for ScoMo, who just two weeks ago was trailing by 8 percentage points. The election cycle has been dominated by the cost-of-living crisis currently plaguing many advanced economies. Though unemployment in Australia has hit record lows, inflation is outpacing wage growth. Albanese, a long-time politician with little cabinet experience, has made a series of gaffes recently about the economy that likely contributed to the narrowing margin. According to ABC, some 5-8% of Aussie voters are still undecided. That could be the difference between whether Labor comes out on top after nearly a decade in opposition government. As Signal’s resident Aussie (Gabrielle), I am off to vote!

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Finland & Sweden Joining NATO Will Strengthen NATO As Western Alliance | Europe In :60 | GZERO Media

Finland and Sweden NATO bid faces problems with Turkey’s Erdogan

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on European politics from Nuuk, Greenland.

Will Sweden and Finland join NATO?

Well, they have decided, Finland is in the process of a parliamentary process. Sweden took the government decision today to apply for membership of NATO. That means that they will hand in their applications within a day or two, that’s dependent upon some technical details. And then it is up to the NATO members to decide whether they will be accepted or not. It’s welcomed by most countries. The Russian reaction, so far, has been perhaps somewhat more subdued than you could expect; they have other issues to deal with at the moment. There are some problems with Mr. Erdogan in Turkey who wants to extract some concessions on completely unrelated issues. But I would hope, and I would guess, that this would be sorted out. And this will no doubt strengthen NATO as a Western alliance, a cohesive alliance, determined to do its contribution to the stability of Europe with the support also of the administration in Washington.

Swedish and Finnish tanks during NATO's "Cold Response 2022" military exercise in Norway.

REUTERS/Yves Herma

As Russia balks, NATO might gain two strong Nordic recruits

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a boon for NATO.

The alliance that former President Donald Trump wanted to pull out of and continues to call a “paper tiger” is more relevant and united than it has been in years. Its members are poised to wean themselves off Russian oil and gas, expand their defense spending, and are now also accepting — and expecting — new members.

Enter Finland and Sweden, two Nordic countries with a history of neutrality now moving closer to official NATO membership. While they insist they will be making their decisions on whether to join the defense pact independently, both Helsinki and Stockholm are expected to announce their bids by May.

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