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What We're Watching: Afghanistan's progress, Venezuela's opposition boycotts, EU vs "illiberals"

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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What We're Watching: Iran's nuclear tug-of-war, Hong Kong's doomed democracy, Hungarian politician's "misstep"

Iran's nuclear tug-of-war: Hardliners in Iran's parliament passed a bill Tuesday suspending UN inspections of its nuclear sites and giving the go-ahead to massively increase uranium enrichment unless the US lifts its sanctions by February. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani opposes the measure, saying it would be "harmful" to diplomatic efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with the incoming Biden administration in the US. But Iran's parliament doesn't actually need Rouhani's approval to pass the law, and regardless, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will have the final say on policy – as always! If the law is passed, it will immediately raise the stakes for Biden, who takes office on January 20. Both he and Rouhani say they are keen to resume dialogue in hopes of reviving the nuclear deal, which President Trump walked out of in 2018. But just days after the architect of Iran's nuclear program was assassinated (likely by Israel with the US' blessing) the hurdles to even beginning those talks are rising fast.

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What We’re Watching: No US election winner yet, Myanmar’s election, EU rule-of-law deal

US presidential race is (still) on: Three days later, the US presidential contest remains undecided. We're keeping an eye on four battleground states — Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania — that'll decide who gets the 270 electoral college votes needed to become the next occupant of the White House. Still-emerging results from these states and the math make Biden the favorite to win because despite razor-thin margins, the vast majority of outstanding ballots are mail-in votes in blue urban areas. Meanwhile, the Trump campaign is crying foul about the entire process, demanding that the count stop where he is ahead... yet continue in Arizona, where the president is trailing Biden. Team Trump has already filed lawsuits in all these states as well as in Michigan and Wisconsin — which have already been called for his rival — but most experts agree that the legal basis for electoral fraud is flimsy, and that Trump will ultimately fail in his crusade for the Supreme Court to rule on disputed state results. Will it all finally end on Friday?

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What we’re watching: US presidential debate, Yemeni prisoner swap, “illiberal” rule of law watchdog

The US debate, round #1: US President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden will clash tonight in Cleveland in the first presidential debate of the 2020 cycle. The debate will, as always, provide a first opportunity to see the two candidates speak directly to (or over) one another, and Trump's line of attack will be interesting to watch. Will he hammer away at Biden's career as a DC insider in order to hurt the former vice president's support among working-class folks? Or will he try to knock Biden off balance with shots at his mental acuity? And Biden will need to come prepared to parry Trump if the president distorts facts or tells lies about his record. Surely the most anticipated moment will be Trump's response to the New York Times' bombshell weekend report on his tax returns. Will Biden use those revelations to attack Trump as a failed businessman, a tax cheat, or simply as a person with privileges that few voters enjoy? The event will certainly be a big spectacle, but barring a big surprise, its impact on the race itself might be smaller than you'd think: there appear to be few undecided voters this year, and neither man is a mystery at this point. According to a recent poll, less than 30 percent of Americans say the debates have mattered to them when casting their vote over the past twenty years.

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Viktor Orban's authority in Hungary; uptake of contact-tracing apps

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, with the view from Europe:

Will Hungary's move to end "rule by decree" minimize Viktor Orban's authority?

Well, the answer to that one is no. They have evidently felt the need for some facelift on the nature of what is going on in Hungary. They've done that. But it doesn't change anything of the substance. He's ruling in an increasingly authoritarian manner in his country.

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