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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

President Trump is on the hunt for foreign policy wins he can showcase ahead of November's election — even if that means getting creative.

Why it matters: Trump's aides are working to recast him as "a true peacemaker," as national security adviser Robert O'Brien put it on Friday. “It’s happened in the Balkans, it’s happened in the Middle East, and we have more to come.”

Be smart: The grand bargains Trump has sought with North Korea, Iran and China remain far out of reach.

  • More events like Friday's Oval Office ceremony could be in store between now and Nov. 3.

Setting the scene: Trump was flanked by the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo to sign what he heralded as “a truly historic commitment” to "economic normalization."

  • In a surprise twist, Serbia also said it would move its embassy to Jerusalem, while Kosovo agreed to recognize Israel (Trump described that as a "great day for peace with Middle East," though Kosovo is in Europe and has never fought with Israel).
  • The Serbia-Kosovo deal addressed some sticking points in relations, but a long-sought breakthrough proved elusive after Serbia made clear it would not recognize Kosovo's independence.

Between the lines: “There is substance in this agreement, but it didn’t deserve an Oval Office signing with President Trump,” emails Ryan Scherba, editor of Balkan Insider. “Even after reading through it multiple times, it really seems all over the place.”

What’s next: “It’s time for the president to start harvesting some of the accomplishments that he spent years building the foundation in order to achieve,” Jared Kushner said on Friday.

  • Leaders from Israel and the UAE are expected to gather at the White House the week of Sept. 13 to sign another normalization deal, Axios’ Barak Ravid reports.
  • Kushner and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo both recently visited several Arab capitals and hope to be able to announce another deal on recognition of Israel soon, perhaps with Bahrain or Sudan.
  • It's unclear if those efforts will bear fruit before the ceremony, but in any case, the White House plans to invite Arab ambassadors to attend as a signal of support, Barak reports.
  • Israel-UAE talks are ongoing, and the rush is on to get as much agreed to as possible before heading to the White House.

What we're watching: Nuclear proliferation is "the most important thing” facing the world, Trump declared on Friday.

  • He's had a string of calls with Vladimir Putin on arms control, and his administration recently dropped its insistence that China take part in any nuclear talks in order to pursue a framework agreement with Russia.
  • The impetus for talks is the expiration in February of the Obama-era New START. But Trump clearly wants a separate agreement before then, and perhaps before November.
  • In a recent interview with Axios, arms control envoy Marshall Billingslea expressed caution about the prospects of a deal. If one is reached, it could involve a summit between Trump and Putin.

Go deeper

Dec 4, 2020 - World

Saudi Arabia and Qatar near deal to end standoff, sources say

Qatar's prime minister (R) attends the 2019 Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Saudi Arabia. Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are close to a deal to end the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf following U.S.-mediated reconciliation talks this week, sources familiar with the talks tell me.

Why it matters: Restoring relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar would bring a sense of stability back to the Gulf after a 3.5 year standoff. It could also notch a last-minute achievement for the Trump administration before Jan. 20.

Philanthropy Deep Dive

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A look at how philanthropy is evolving (and why Dolly Parton deserves a Medal of Freedom).

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Fauci says he accepted Biden's offer to be chief medical adviser "on the spot" — The recovery needs rocket fuel.
  2. Economy: U.S. economy adds 245,000 jobs in November as recovery slows — America's hidden depression: K-shaped recovery threatens Biden administration.
  3. Education: Devos extends federal student loan relief to Jan. 31
  4. States: New Mexico to allow hospitals to ration coronavirus medical care
  5. Vaccine: What vaccine trials still need to do.
  6. World: UN warns "2021 is literally going to be catastrophic"
  7. 🎧 Podcast: Former FDA chief Rob Califf on the vaccine approval process.