Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Trump promises “orderly” transition in video message, Indian farmers begin fresh round of government talks, and U.S. COVID-19 deaths hit record high.
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Trump Appears to Acknowledge Biden Victory
In a video posted on Thursday evening, U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to publicly concede the election to President-elect Joe Biden for the first time.
Without mentioning Biden by name, Trump acknowledged the vote certification had been finalized by Congress, and said his focus was now on “ensuring a smooth, orderly, and seamless transition of power.”
“This moment calls for healing and reconciliation,” he added before telling his supporters that “our incredible journey is only just beginning.”
The move comes as Trump faced backlash from some in his own Republican Party for inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol building on Wednesday. The Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for Trump to be impeached for a second time, but only if his cabinet is not up to the task of removing him via the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Trump’s speech can be seen as an attempt to recast himself as a sober defender of U.S. institutions in order to escape prosecution under an incoming Biden administration. Or it simply could have been because the president was seeking to have bans on his Twitter and Facebook accounts lifted so that he can maintain his media influence upon leaving office.
Et tu, Mike? In order for Trump to be removed under the 25th Amendment as Pelosi has suggested, Vice President Mike Pence must convince a majority of the president’s cabinet to support removal. Outgoing Education Secretary Betsy Devos will not have to make that choice; she announced her resignation on Thursday, citing Wednesday’s violence. Nor will Elaine Chao, the outgoing Labor Secretary, who also handed in her resignation on Thursday.
Below cabinet level, a string of other Trump staffers are now jumping ship. FP’s Allison Meakem, Audrey Wilson, and Cailey Griffin have compiled a running list.
Writing in Foreign Policy, John R. Allen, a retired U.S. general and the president of the Brookings Institution, makes the case for invoking the 25th amendment immediately.
Impeachment? If Pence stands by the president, another impeachment is possible. Such a move may be newly attractive for the ambitious Senate Republicans wishing to challenge Joe Biden in 2024, especially if they can disqualify Trump from seeking office ever again.
Jonathan Tepperman, Foreign Policy’s editor-at-large, spoke with Pablo de Greiff, the first U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence to understand how attempts to prosecute other heads of state have fared around the world.
The fallout. The Atlantic Council’s Emma Ashford wrote a piece on misplaced U.S. foreign policy priorities and excessive ambition in the wake of Wednesday’s attack. Ashford argues that a domestic focus must come first: “Washington’s foreign-policy elites remain committed to the preservation of a three-decade foreign policy aimed at reshaping the world in America’s image. They are far too blasé about what that image has become in 2020.”
What We’re Following Today
Indian agriculture talks continue. Indian Farmers union representatives meet with the Indian government today for the eighth round of talks following weeks of protests over proposed deregulation of the Indian agriculture sector.
The talks come under the watchful eye of tens of thousands of farmers who clogged an expressway in New Delhi on Thursday in a show of force ahead of the talks. Speaking on Thursday, farmer union leader Rakesh Tikait warned that more disruptive protests are on the way. “The tractor march today was a trailer, the full movie will be shown on January 26.”
Parliament fight mars Akufo-Addo swearing-in. Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo called for unity as he was sworn in following a close election victory in December. Akufo-Addo’s remarks came after a fight broke out in parliament over the election of the new House speaker, as police and soldiers entered the chamber to quell proceedings. The party of the loser in the Dec. 7 election, former President John Mahama, has pledged to contest the results of the ballot in court, claiming voting irregularities.
Amid the current turmoil, U.S. leaders could learn from the West African nation. Writing in Foreign Policy, Kehinde A. Togun discusses why Ghana is better at handling disputed elections than the United States.
Record COVID deaths. Amid the chaos at the U.S. Capitol, it’s easy to miss the other crisis facing the United States. On Thursday, the country reported more than 4,000 deaths from COVID-19, a new one-day record. The milestone comes as Anthony Fauci, the U.S. chief infectious disease specialist, warned that “things will get worse as we get into January,” in an interview with NPR.
Water talks. Trilateral talks between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance and access to Nile waters are scheduled for this Sunday, although whether they will go ahead is uncertain. Last Monday, Sudan skipped preliminary meetings between the three sides in protest due to “not receiving a response to its request to grant experts participating in the negotiations a greater role.”
Kyrgyzstan votes. Voters in Kyrgyzstan go to the polls on Sunday to vote for a new president and decide a referendum on constitutional reforms. Acting Prime Minister Sadyr Japarov has been touted as the likely winner, if he can pass the 50 percent threshold necessary to avoid a runoff. Victory would cap an unlikely rise for Japarov after he was sprung from jail in October during unrest over disputed legislative elections. Japarov had been serving an 11-year sentence for kidnapping.
Kazakhstan’s “new” dawn. Kazakhstan will hold its first parliamentary elections since the resignation of long-time President Nursultan Nazarbayev on Sunday, although a break from the past is not expected. All five of the parties registered to run are pro-government. The country’s electoral commission has changed monitoring rules in the run-up to the vote, forcing observers to obtain permission to film or take photos of polling stations on election day. Following Nazarbayev’s resignation in 2019, Reid Standish reported for Foreign Policy on why the change in president did not necessarily mean a change in who wields power in the oil-rich nation.
Crypto-keepers. Dithering by Finnish authorities has led to an unexpected windfall as the price of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin touches $40,000. Finland’s customs office currently sits on a stash of 1,981 Bitcoin, worth roughly $850,000 when most of it was seized during a drug bust in 2016. With prices surging, the horde is now worth around $70 million.
Authorities have gone back and forth on how best to dispose of the assets, with fears that the cryptocurrency could go back into criminal hands stopping a sale for years. As the currency matures into an investment product, the Finnish financial authority even began regulating the crypto sector last year.
Now the time is ripe, Pekka Pylkkänen, the chief financial officer of Finland’s customs agency says they will sell the Bitcoin in the coming months. If successful, it would follow a similar auction of crypto assets by British authorities that netted $294,000 in 2019.
That’s it for today.
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Photo credit: Alex Wong/ Getty
Trump Promises “Orderly” Transition As Calls For His Removal Grow The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Foreign Policy.