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It's complicated

Balance of Power

The Saudi-led attempt to ostracize Qatar might now yield a foreign policy win for a U.S. president looking to embellish his legacy while maintaining he didn't lose an election.

But as talks brokered by the Trump administration edge closer toward a deal, the healing of the Saudi-Qatar rift has exposed strains in another relationship between Gulf neighbors that could have more lasting implications.

Conspicuous by its absence from the expected rapprochement with Qatar is the United Arab Emirates, which had moved in tandem for years with Saudi Arabia on everything from oil policy to international relations.

The Saudis and their Emirati allies have diverged over the war in Yemen, with the U.A.E effectively withdrawing from the conflict a year ago. The U.A.E also asserted itself with its landmark deal with Israel in September.

The leadership in Abu Dhabi has been more eager to continue the isolation of Qatar. There's also room for discord over how to approach Iran, with expectations that President-elect Joe Biden will seek to rejoin the nuclear deal that Donald Trump ditched.

Then there's the matter of oil, as this week has shown. OPEC members led by Saudi Arabia are trying to reach an accord on extending production cuts, with the U.A.E chafing.

Much of the divergence might come down to personalities. The friendship between Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E isn't as tight as in the early years of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's rise to power in the kingdom. Back then, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed cultivated close ties as an older mentor.

Now the two seem to be competing over who in the region really has the influence. — Rodney Jefferson

The Burj Khalifa skyscraper in the Dubai city skyline on Sept. 6.

Photographer: Christopher Pike/Bloomberg

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Global Headlines

Deadliest day | The U.S. recorded the highest Covid-19 fatalities in a single day, reaching more than 2,700 to surpass the previous peak in April and taking the total to 273,000, the most of any nation. Hospitalizations surpassed 100,000 for the first time, while Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued stay-at-home orders as he warned the city is approaching a "devastating tipping point."

  • The European Union is forecast to trail Britain and the U.S. in immunizing tens of millions of people as vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca near the finish line.

Stimulus scaleback | U.S. Democratic congressional leaders are prepared to accept a smaller pandemic relief bill in a bid to break a standoff with Republicans. They're calling a $908 billion proposal a baseline for discussions on a new spending package, as Biden urged Congress to find a bipartisan deal.

Turning sour | Tensions between China and the U.K. over Hong Kong — a sharp deterioration from Xi Jinping's friendly beer with then-premier David Cameron in 2015 — have ramifications for Britain as it nears the exit from the EU's trading rules. As Rosalind Mathieson writes, Australia and Canada have seen firsthand what happens when Beijing is publicly criticized, and it will be a challenge for the U.K. to separate economics from politics in any trade talks.

  • The Trump administration banned cotton imports from a military-linked Chinese firm it accuses of relying on "slave labor."
  • The U.S. also issued new rules to limit travel visas for Chinese Communist Party members.

Xi and Cameron share a pint in a pub northwest of London on Oct. 22, 2015.

Photographer: Getty Images

Rallying cry | Thailand's taboo-breaking demonstrations are about more than the right to criticize the monarchy without fear of going to prison: Protesters want taxpayers to control investments and real estate worth tens of billions of dollars. As Randy Thanthong-Knight and Daniel Ten Kate explain, student groups are upset about legal changes in 2017 and 2018 that gave King Maha Vajiralongkorn the power to put his name on the assets of the Crown Property Bureau — an agency that managed them for the palace no matter who sat on the throne.

Climate clash | EU leaders face a brewing spat over climate goals at their Dec. 10-11 summit that's dividing the bloc along east-west lines. A proposal to raise the emissions-reduction target to at least 55% by 2030 from the prior goal of 40% now would need an extra $424 billion per year, a burden Poland and other poorer, coal-dependent eastern members fear could fall disproportionately on their shoulders, Ewa Krukowska and Nikos Chrysoloras report.

  • With disputes roiling diplomatic relations across the globe, there's one issue on which almost all countries agree: Technology companies are too big, too powerful, and too profitable.

What to Watch

  • France has warned it could veto a trade deal between the U.K. and the EU, piling pressure on the bloc's negotiating team not to make further concessions to London as talks near a climax.
  • Chancellor Angela Merkel announced an extension of Germany's partial lockdown until Jan. 10 as the country struggles to regain control of the coronavirus.
  • Peruvian President Francisco Sagasti's bid to bring stability to a nation that had three presidents last month is under strain as his cabinet faces a confidence vote tomorrow.

And finally .. Cleaning up the Vatican's sprawling finances has been a priority for Pope Francis since his inauguration in 2013. He quickly set up a task force to scrutinize the Institute for Religious Works, which is frequently known as the Vatican bank and has been called "the most secret bank in the world." But, as John Follain explains, the push for transparency is meeting an immovable object: the Roman Curia, the bureaucracy that runs the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in the crypt of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, on Oct. 3.

Photo Credit: Vatican Media via AP 



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