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What We're Watching: India-Pakistan talk water, Saudis float Yemen ceasefire, Polish writer in peril

India and Pakistan break bread over... water? Representatives from India and Pakistan are meeting this week to discuss water-sharing in the Indus River for the first time since the two countries severed relations following India's suspension of autonomy for Kashmir almost three years ago. It's a big deal — especially for the Pakistanis, whose farmers get 80 percent of the water they need to irrigate their crops from the Indus. Even more importantly, the meeting is also the latest sign of an apparent thaw in Indo-Pakistani ties, starting with last month's ceasefire agreement on Kashmir. A recently released readout of the secret talks that preceded that truce shows unusual impetus by both sides to make progress, and was followed up by rare conciliatory messages between Delhi and Islamabad. Given the long history of animosity between the two nuclear-armed nations -- they have gone to war three times since 1948 -- it's hard to be optimistic, but let's see if these water talks can move things along further.

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“Recalibrating” US priorities in the Middle East and the US-Saudi Arabia relationship

The famed "pivot to Asia" that President Obama promised when he took office in 2009 never came to pass, but President Biden is ready to make it a reality. Already, his administration's public statements on the Middle East have made clear that the region will no longer be the foreign policy priority that it once was. That message has been clearest, says Johns Hopkins Middle East scholar Vali Nasr, in how President Biden has approached Saudi Arabia. "The recalibration of policy with Saudi Arabia is a very powerful signal to the Kingdom that 'you need to play ball with your adversaries in the region… We're going treat you like every other country. No more special access to the Oval Office. And you need to finish the war in Yemen. And we're not going to keep funding, or supporting, the continuation of that war.'" Nasr's conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of a new episode of GZERO World.

Watch the episode: Is the US Misjudging the Middle East's Power Shifts? Vali Nasr's View

Is the US misjudging the Middle East’s power shifts? Vali Nasr's view

"Pivot to Asia." It was the catchphrase floating around Washington DC's foreign policy circles in 2009 when President Obama first took office. And yet twelve years later, the Middle East continues to consume the attention of the United States' military and diplomatic efforts. Now President Biden is determined to change that, and to turn Washington's attention to Asia once and for all as he moves to confront a growing China. But according to Johns Hopkins University Middle East scholar Vali Nasr, President Biden's approach to the Middle East will have to adapt to the once-in-a-generation power grab occurring between Iran, Israel, and Turkey while Arab nations in the region increasingly lose influence.

Podcast: Is the US misjudging the Middle East’s power shifts? Vali Nasr's view

Listen: "Pivot to Asia." It was the catchphrase floating around Washington DC's foreign policy circles in 2009 when President Obama first took office. And yet twelve years later, the Middle East continues to consume the attention of the United States' military and diplomatic efforts. Now President Biden is determined to change that, and to turn Washington's attention to Asia once and for all as he moves to confront a growing China. But according to Johns Hopkins University Middle East Scholar Vali Nasr, President Biden's approach to the Middle East will have to adapt to the once-in-a-generation power grab occurring between Iran, Israel, and Turkey while Arab nations in the region increasingly lose influence.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

What We're Watching: Hajj passports, AfD vs German intelligence, Turkey's human rights plan

Passport to the Hajj — Saudi Arabia announced that it will require pilgrims to have vaccine passports in order to enter the country for the annual Hajj later this year. Each year, millions of Muslims from dozens of countries travel to the holy sites of Mecca and Medina to fulfill a religious obligation, in an annual event that brings in billions of dollars for the Saudi economy. The vaccine passport requirement may mean that people without means or access to vaccines in their home countries will be shut out of the Hajj this year, but Riyadh is relying on the scheme to help them pull off the event — after last year's event was mainly cancelled amid the pandemic— without fomenting a COVID outbreak.

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What We're Watching: Saudis brace for Khashoggi report, Sri Lanka blasts UN, political unrest in Niger

US to release Khashoggi report: The Biden administration's intel chief is expected to release on Thursday a report on the murder of Saudi dissident journalist — and US resident — Jamal Khashoggi. In line with previously reported findings, the assessment will say that Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman was involved in the plot to kill and dismember Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Aside from a sprinkling of new details, we don't expect much from the report itself, but we are keen to see how it shapes US-Saudi relations under Joe Biden, who has promised to take a harder line with Riyadh over human rights and security issues than his predecessor did. Part of that new approach is that the US president will no longer speak directly to the Crown Prince himself as Trump did — from now on, only his dad, King Salman, gets calls from the White House.

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What We're Watching: Saudi olive branch for Biden, US-China call, Ecuador's runoff in limbo

Saudi women's rights advocate set free: After three years behind bars, Loujain al-Hathloul — locked up for lobbying for women's right to drive in Saudi Arabia — has been released from jail. The move is broadly seen as a low-stakes overture to President Biden by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who knows that the new US administration will not be as friendly as Trump's. Since coming into office, Biden has said the US will halt support for the Saudi military campaign in Yemen, and drop the Houthi militant group — Riyadh's rival in Yemen — from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism (a move that's caused a big stir in the foreign policy world). In contrast to Trump, who employed a maximum-pressure campaign on Iran much to the Saudis' delight, Biden says reengaging with Tehran (and rejoining the Iran nuclear deal) is a foreign policy priority. Indeed, the Saudis got comfortable with a US that sold it limitless weapons and ignored its human rights abuses — and prioritized relations with the kingdom to the extent that Trump made his first trip abroad to Riyadh (remember that weird orb moment). Biden has made clear that things will change under his watch, and the Saudis are slowly testing the waters.

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What We're Watching: Biden's move in Yemen, Twitter's reversal in India, Arab world's grim economic prospects

Biden on Yemen: In 2015, the Saudi military began an offensive and air campaign against Houthi rebels who had plunged Yemen into civil war and were launching missiles into Saudi Arabia. US President Barack Obama supported the move, though some in his administration came to regret that decision as evidence mounted that Saudi bombs (many of them made in America) were killing large numbers of Yemeni civilians and exacerbating what the UN has dubbed the world's worst humanitarian crisis. President Donald Trump then went all-in with the Saudis, and in 2019, he vetoed a bid by Congress to end US support for Saudi bombing. Now, President Joe Biden fulfilled a campaign promise to halt US support and will send an envoy to Yemen to broker talks aimed at ending the conflict. For now, Yemen remains plagued with hunger, poverty, and atrocities on all sides.

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