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What We're Watching: Greek border wall, China’s economic rebound, US overtures to… Syria?

Migrants wait on at Turkey's Pazarkule border crossing with Greece's Kastanies. Reuters

Build that wall... in Greece: The Greek government has finalized plans to build a wall along part of its eastern border with Turkey to prevent migrants from staging mass crossings to reach European Union territory. The move follows a March standoff between Athens and Ankara when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared he was "opening" the border because Turkey could no longer cope with so many migrants fleeing Syria. Since then, migrant flows via Turkey to the EU have declined dramatically due to the coronavirus pandemic and tougher policing, but Greeks and Turks (as always) remain at odds over what to do with the migrants: Greece wants Turkey to do more to stop migrants crossing, while Turkey says Greece is sending back migrants who arrive at Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. As the two sides continue to bicker over this issue — and over energy rights in the Eastern Mediterranean — the only thing that's clear is that Greece won't demand that Turkey pay for the wall.


China's economic recovery: As most of the rest of the world grapples with a pandemic-fueled recession, the country where COVID-19 began is doing quite well. China's GDP grew 4.9 percent in the third quarter compared with the same period in 2019. That's slightly less than expected but still an impressive feat for a country whose economy contracted by a whopping 6.8 percent during the first quarter as China shut down the entire city of Wuhan and halted most economic activity to contain the coronavirus. Can Chinese consumers sustain the economic recovery — until now largely driven by a massive government stimulus program for state-controlled firms and online shopping — by spending more on brick-and-mortar retail and services? In the longer term, we're watching to see how the world's second largest economy will deal with long-term declining demand for its products in many of its major export markets.

A secret meeting in Damascus: The Wall Street Journal has reported that Kash Patel, the Trump administration's top counterterrorism official, recently traveled to Syria for secret talks with an unidentified official representing the Bashar al-Assad government. If true, it's the first known meeting between a senior US official and the Assad regime since the start of Syria's civil war a decade ago. The US halted diplomatic relations with Syria in 2012 in response to Assad's brutal crackdown on Syrian protesters and civilians. Patel's reported goal in Damascus was to win the release of some or all of (at least) six Americans held hostage by Assad's government. Trump's supporters will say this effort is a reminder that the president will talk with anyone to advance US interests, while his critics will call it a cynical last-minute attempt to boost his re-election chances. But we're watching this story, not to judge its political motivations or implications, but to see whether these talks can reunite hostages with their families.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on US politics:

Is Trump out of options now that William Barr said the DOJ found no election interference?

Trump's problem isn't William Barr not finding election interference, it's that he lost the election and he lost it by millions of votes, and he lost it in the most important key states by tens of thousands of votes. Now, this was a very close election. The three closest states, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona, Trump only lost by 44,000 votes so far, and if he'd ended up winning those three, we'd have an Electoral College tie. But the election was not close enough that Trump's strategy of trying to kick this to the courts and then getting it to go all the way to the Congress, with an alternate slate of electors, it just wasn't possible. Had the election been a little closer, he might've had a shot. But as it is, his chances are over. Joe Biden's going to be inaugurated on January 20th.

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Listen: Benjamin Franklin famously called on American business leaders more than two centuries ago to "Do well by doing good." To him, that meant creating companies that were not just about the bottom line, but also that helped foster happier and healthier communities. Now, as 2021 approaches and the world recovers from the greatest crisis of our lifetimes, sustainable investing is a bigger discussion than ever. What does it mean, and how does it not only help the environment and societies but also build your bottom line? That's the topic of the latest episode of Living Beyond Borders.

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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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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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