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What We're Watching: Afghan peace talks, Israel-Bahrain normalize ties, Peruvian president impeached

Taliban delegates shake hands during talks between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents in Doha, Qatar

Afghanistan peace talks kick off: Months of political wrangling and impasse dashed hopes of reconciliation in Afghanistan, but now expectations have risen again after historic intra-Afghan peace talks kicked off Saturday in Doha, the Qatari capital. These direct negotiations — the parameters of which were set out by the Taliban and the US government earlier this year — symbolize the first time the Afghan government and the Taliban are sitting down face-to-face since the US invasion two decades ago, in the hopes of establishing a power-sharing arrangement to end decades of violence. The Taliban, which subscribe to an extreme Islamic political ideology, have long deemed the US-bolstered Afghan government as illegitimate. But now, in showing a willingness to engage directly, the Taliban are offering the Afghan people — 90 percent of whom live below the poverty line — a (small) glimmer of home regarding the prospect of reconciliation. Still, divisions persist between the two sides on major issues including the role of religion in society, women and minority rights, and ongoing insurgent violence. Complicating matters further, this all comes as the Trump administration says it will withdraw thousands of US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan by November.


Israel, Bahrain establish diplomatic ties: After weeks of speculation following the historic peace deal signed between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain has followed suit in normalizing ties with the Jewish state. The Israel-Bahrain deal, also brokered by the Trump administration, formalizes relations between the two sides that have been warming behind closed doors for decades over mutual enmity towards Iran as well as a desire to deepen trade ties and security cooperation. It's also a sign, analysts say, of Bahrain's attempt to increasingly endear itself to Washington amid intensifying regional tumult. (Bahrain was one of only a few countries that expressed support for the Trump administration's Middle East peace proposal earlier this year, which most international players rejected as being overly deferential to Israel, giving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a "green light" to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.) It's widely believed that neither the UAE nor Bahrain would have gone ahead with normalization without the go-ahead from the "mother hen" Saudi Arabia — yet another sign, they say, that compromise on the Palestinian issue is no longer a precondition for the Arab world embracing Israel.

Peruvian president impeached: Perú's parliament has approved impeachment proceedings against President Martín Vizcarra for allegedly trying to block an investigation into misuse of public funds. The centrist Vizcarra — who swept into power in 2018 on an anti-corruption agenda — denies the accusation of "moral incapacity" despite leaked audio recordings in which he appears to suggest lying about his hiring of an obscure singer for $49,500 to deliver "pro-government motivational talks." The (bizarre) bombshell revelation has provoked a public outcry in pandemic-stricken Perú, the country now with the highest COVID-19 death rate per capita in the world. Perú's economy is also struggling to recover from the three-month shutdown of the mining sector due to the coronavirus, which saw its quarterly GDP plummet by more than 40 percent in June. Will the Peruvian leader survive impeachment? Sixty-five out of 130 lawmakers voted in favor on Friday, but the opposition parties altogether hold 95 seats — more than the 87 votes needed to remove Vizcarra.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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