Wednesday's world stories

Feb 24, 2021 - World

Blinken says U.S. will seek seat on UN Human Rights Council

Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Photo: Pete Marovich/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Wednesday the U.S. will seek election to the United Nations Human Rights Council next year after the country left the body during the Trump administration.

Why it matters: The council is a body of 47 countries and is responsible for promoting and protecting human rights around the globe.

The risks and rewards of charging state-backed hackers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Last week’s stunning indictment of three North Korean hackers laid bare both the advantages and drawbacks of the U.S. government’s evolving strategy of using high-profile prosecutions to publicize hostile nation-state cyber activities.

Why it matters: Criminal charges can help the U.S. establish clear norms in a murky and rapidly changing environment, but they may not deter future bad behavior and could even invite retaliation against U.S. intelligence officials.

Feb 24, 2021 - World

Scoop: Netanyahu asked Biden to keep Trump's sanctions on International Criminal Court

ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. Photo: Bas Czerwinski/ANP/AFP via Getty

Netanyahu asked Biden in their first phone call last week to keep sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on the International Criminal Court (ICC) in place, Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: Israeli officials are concerned that removing the sanctions would hamper Israel's efforts to stop a potential war crimes investigation into Israel, and that the court's prosecutor could see it as a signal that the U.S. isn't firmly opposed to that investigation.

Feb 24, 2021 - World

Biden in no rush to reverse Trump's move on Western Sahara

A Moroccan flag waves in Western Sahara. Photo: Fadel Senna/AFP via Getty

There are no signs that the Biden administration intends to roll back the Trump administration’s recognition of Western Sahara as part of Morocco anytime soon.

Why it matters: Trump’s move on Western Sahara was a dramatic shift in U.S. policy. Undoing it would damage relations with Morocco and could cause Rabat to reverse its promise to resume diplomatic relations with Israel, made as part of the deal with Trump.

Feb 24, 2021 - World

U.S. puts Jerusalem consulate issue off until after Israel's election

The former U.S. Consulate. Photo: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

The State Department is putting plans to reopen the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem on hold until after Israel's March 23 elections, sources familiar with the matter tell me.

Why it matters: Biden committed during the campaign to reopening the consulate, which will be a major step toward normalizing U.S.-Palestinian ties. But it also requires Israeli approval.

Feb 24, 2021 - World

Barbara Leaf to shift from National Security Council to State Department

Leaf with then-Secretary of State Kerry in the UAE in 2015. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AFP via Getty

The newly minted senior director for the Middle East at the National Security Council, Barbara Leaf, is now expected to be nominated as assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, four sources familiar with the issue tell me.

Behind the scenes: The reasons for the swift job switch aren't clear, but both the White House and Blinken support her appointment in the new role.

Feb 24, 2021 - World

Scoop: U.S. and Israel to convene strategic forum on Iran

Biden and Netanyahu in Jerusalem in 2016. Photo: Debbie Hill/AFP via Getty

The United States and Israel have elected to reconvene a strategic working group on Iran, with the first round of talks on intelligence surrounding the Iranian nuclear program expected in the coming days, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have sharply contrasting views of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, but the resumption of the working group is a signal that their governments are starting with a serious and professional dialogue rather than a political fight.

Updated Feb 24, 2021 - Health

First COVID-19 vaccines distributed by COVAX arrive in West Africa

Photo: STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The first COVID-19 vaccine doses distributed by the World Health Organization’s global sharing scheme COVAX arrived in Ghana, West Africa, on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The shipments represent the "beginning of what should be the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history," per a joint statement from the WHO and UNICEF hailing the arrival as a "momentous occasion."

Biden and Trudeau announce partnership roadmap after first virtual meeting

President Biden speaks during a virtual joint press conference with Justin Trudeau, Canada's prime minister, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday. Photo: Pete Marovich/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled a "U.S.-Canada Partnership roadmap," as the pandemic forced their meeting to go virtual on Tuesday.

Why it matters: Biden said he chose to have his first bilateral meeting with Trudeau because the U.S. "has no closer friend" than Canada. Trudeau made clear he was keen on strengthening relations, which had become strained under former President Trump and his "America First" policy.

Feb 24, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden will call Saudi king ahead of damning report

King Salman speaks during the 2020 U.N. General Assembly. Photo: Tiffany Hagler-Geard/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden plans to call Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Wednesday, ahead of the public release of a potentially damning intelligence report about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a source briefed on the call told Axios.

Why it matters: The call, if it happens as scheduled, will be Biden’s first conversation as president with the Saudi king. While they are likely to discuss a range of issues, the conversation will be colored by the imminent release of the explosive report expected to involve one of the monarch's sons.