Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today’s Headlines and Commentary

By Ajay Sarma, Christiana Wayne
Monday, August 2, 2021, 4:31 PM

A bipartisan group of senators finalized the text of an infrastructure deal on Sunday, reports Politico. The draft bill designates around $550 billion for spending on infrastructure including highways, broadband and water infrastructure. The senators, led by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Rob Portman, had come to an agreement with the White House in June, but compromise over the text of the bill took an additional several weeks. Republicans in the Senate are split over the bill, with some waiting for the final text of the bill and the input of the Congressional Budget Office. Sen. Mitt Romney, one of the negotiating senators, sought to establish the bipartisan infrastructure compromise as separate from a $3.5 trillion spending package being pushed by congressional Democrats, saying that “our Democrat friends are going to push for that monstrosity with or without this bill.”

The White House will grant priority refugee access to Afghans who worked with the U.S., writes the Washington Post. The government has already begun relocating interpreters under the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) initiative. There are around 20,000 Afghans currently moving through the SIV process, but it is unclear how many would be eligible for priority refugee status under the Biden administration’s new rules. Unlike many SIV applicants, Afghans seeking refugee status will not be evacuated from their country and will have to find a way to exit Afghanistan before their case is processed. 

A forensic test revealed that human rights activist David Haigh’s cellphone was among those infected by Pegasus spyware by Israeli firm NSO Group, according to the Washington Post. Haigh was using the phone to communicate with Dubai Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, who was detained after an attempted escape in 2018. The two had communicated for more than a year and a half before the princess stopped responding in July 2020. The analysis could not conclude what information, if any, had been taken from the phone. 

Belarusian sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya has been granted asylum by Poland after she sought protection at a Tokyo airport from her government’s demand she return home, according to the New York Times. The foreign ministry of Poland said Timanovskaya received a humanitarian visa and is traveling to Warsaw from the Poland embassy in Tokyo. Timanovskaya said she feared for her safety after she criticized her coaches and a Belarusian Olympic committee for registering her for an Olympic event for which she had not trained. The head of the committee is the eldest son of Belarus authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko, who has led a recent crackdown on dissent in the nation. 

Over 300 cases of the coronavirus have been reported in China over the past ten days, according to the BBC. The latest cases have been met with concern by disease specialists within the country. Cases in 12 provinces are connected to an outbreak in Nanjing, which was met with a new wave of lockdowns, travel restrictions and tests.

The U.S. and the United Kingdom alleged that the Taliban “massacred” civilians in the Afghan town of Spin Boldak, in Kandahar, reports Al Jazeera. Amid the exit of U.S. and NATO forces, the Afghan government’s forces have indicated provinces and southern and western Afghanistan are experiencing “critical” security situations as fighting with the Taliban intensifies. President Ashraf Ghani has presented a strategy to combat the Taliban, which has made recent territorial gains, to the Afghan parliament, though its details have not been publicly revealed.

The European Union sanctioned eight Nicaraguan officials, including Rosario Murillo, the vice president and wife of President Daniel Ortega, over human rights violations and undermining the democratic system. This brings the total number of sanctioned Nicaraguans to 14, according to Al Jazeera. A statement highlighted “The political use of the judicial system, the exclusion of candidates from the elections and the arbitrary delisting of opposition parties.” Authorities have detained a number of opposition figures, including many presidential hopefuls, ahead of Nicaragua’s November elections in which Ortega will seek a fourth term. 

The U.S. and Chinese coast guards are seeking to revive a shiprider agreement that would facilitate joint law enforcement operations, reports the South China Morning Post. Adm. Karl Schultz of the U.S. Coast Guard said the agreement allowing cooperation in preventing illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing had not been active for “over a year now.” A shiprider agreement would allow the two coast guards to board each other’s vessels during patrols and authorize action on their behalf. 

ICYMI: Yesterday on Lawfare

Jonathan Schroden discussed the difficulties in mapping the Taliban’s territorial gains in Afghanistan in this week’s Foreign Policy Essay. 

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