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What We're Watching: EU braces for no-deal Brexit, Trump's U-turn on Western Sahara, Lebanese PM charged over Beirut blast

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson adjusts his face mask as he meets European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels, Belgium December 9, 2020.

Is the EU playing it safe or prolonging the agony? With Brexit talks still deadlocked in the 11th hour (and in the 11th month, at that) the European Union is taking no chances. Brussels on Thursday unveiled an emergency plan that aims to keep UK-EU trade and travel moving even in the event of the dreaded "no deal" scenario in which there's no agreement at all governing nearly $1 trillion in cross-Channel annual trade. The EU's contingency plan would require UK consent, and cover travel by air and road, shipping, and fishing for six months. Talks between London and Brussels are still stuck on a few key points — including regulatory rules and fishing rights — and technically the two sides need to reach a deal in the next few days or the clock runs out. But does the EU's plan, which would provide cover into early next year, now undercut the urgency of reaching a deal? Having a safety net is obviously a smart idea, but listen, Boris and Ursula, we can't take any more of this. We really, really can't.


Western Sahara shake-up: President Trump announced Thursday that the US had successfully brokered another détente between Israel and a former Arab foe as part of the Abraham Accords, this time with the Kingdom of Morocco. The two states once enjoyed solid diplomatic relations; however, ties were severed in 2000 amid the bloody Second Intifada between Israelis and Palestinians. So, what does each camp gain from this normalization deal? For the Israelis, it's yet another success in gaining formal recognition from prominent players in the Arab world, helping to boost its security and economic prospects in the region. It also helps Israel create a united bulwark against Iran, a mutual foe. For the Trump administration, the deal presents an opportunity to boast of another foreign policy triumph on its way out the door. But the biggest winner is Morocco: in exchange for agreeing to establish ties with Israel, the US reversed decades of foreign policy by ignoring a long-standing UN resolution and formally recognizing Moroccan control over the contested Western Sahara, where violence recently flared between Moroccan forces and Sahrawi nomads from the Polisario Front liberation movement who have long been fighting for independence on territory claimed by Rabat. This shake-up comes as the Western Sahara is already plagued by instability and violence.

Lebanon's PM charged with negligence: Lebanon's former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, along with three veteran ministers, has been charged with negligence over the Beirut port explosion back in August that killed over 200 people, injured 6,000, and caused far-reaching damage to the capital. Diab, whose government resigned after the disaster but has served in a caretaker capacity in recent months, says that his "conscious is clean:" The former PM says that he was made aware of the explosives (nearly 3,000 tons of material) at the port in June, but that his response was hampered by inconsistent and poor warnings from relevant government agencies. Diab's camp has made clear that it will not cooperate with the courts, saying that the matter should have been handled by parliament, which has a specialized court system for trialing top government officials. To date, 37 people are being prosecuted for the devastating blast that worsened Lebanon's longtime economic and political crises.

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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"There needs to be a dramatic and deep reduction in the amount of debt on the poorest countries. That's clear." As the world's poorest nations struggle to recover from a devastating pandemic, World Bank President David Malpass argues that freeing them of much of their debt will be key. His conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Listen: Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that social media companies bear responsibility for the January 6th pro-Trump riots at the Capitol and will likely be complicit in the civil unrest that may continue well into Biden's presidency. It's no surprise, she argues, that the online rage that platforms like Facebook and Twitter intentionally foment translated into real-life violence. But if Silicon Valley's current role in our national discourse is untenable, how can the US government rein it in? That, it turns out, is a bit more complicated. Swisher joins Ian Bremmer on our podcast.

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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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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