Balance of Power: Putin Reaches for Prize with Syrian Victory

(Bloomberg) -- The last time Bashar al-Assad went to Russia, U.S.-backed rebels had the Syrian president on the run. Fast forward two years and it was a confident, smiling Assad who made a surprise visit yesterday to thank President Vladimir Putin for the air campaign that saved him. 

With Islamic State's forces largely routed, Putin is now in the driver's seat to set the terms of the peace.

The leaders of Iran and Turkey -- two of the main players on the ground in Syria -- fly to Sochi tomorrow to map out the next steps for a political settlement with Putin.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who only had time for a short chat with the Russian leader during an Asian summit earlier this month, appears something of a spectator in Putin's latest power play. The Kremlin said Trump will get a call from Putin today.

If Putin manages to make his deal stick -- a big "if," given all the competing parties in the Syrian civil war -- it will be a dramatic show that a country President Barack Obama dismissed as a “regional power” is back in the Middle East, just as the U.S. tries to push its own peace efforts there.

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Global Headlines

Merkel's move | German Chancellor Angela Merkel came out fighting after the collapse of coalition talks on Sunday threw her plans for a fourth term into doubt. Merkel ruled out a minority government, challenging her rivals to sign up to a deal or face the voters again.

China's Zimbabwe play | While Beijing’s influence rose during President Robert Mugabe's tenure, it might gain more if he goes. Former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, in position to replace Mugabe, received military training in China decades ago and has backed the idea of using the yuan as legal tender. Mugabe may be impeached as soon as this week, ending his 37-year rule in ignominy.

North Korea the “terror state” | Trump is putting North Korea on a list of state sponsors of terrorism, alongside Iran and Syria, with further sanctions expected to be announced today. The question now is whether the mostly symbolic move -- which analysts warn could escalate the already tense standoff -- will prompt Kim to launch another provocation. 

Haitian quake survivors | The Trump administration is ending protected status for almost 60,000 Haitians who relocated to the U.S. after the 2010 earthquake. The move follows Trump's decision earlier this year to thwart an Obama-era program benefiting certain young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Affected Haitians will have 18 months to prepare for their return to the island or achieve lawful immigration status.

Brexit bill | Prime Minister Theresa May's Cabinet seems to have agreed to pay more in the divorce settlement with the European Union (40 billion euros according to some media) but the amount remains unknown and the U.K. wants a guarantee of trade talks in return. The business exodus, though, has already begun -- yesterday London lost the EU’s banking authority to Paris and the medicines regulator to Amsterdam.

And finally... Trump used his pardon powers once already -- former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio was granted a reprieve just seven months after he took office -- and the president is said to be considering the same for aides who might be ensnared in the Russia election probe. Yet today it's turkeys that will benefit from the president's mercy. As part of a 70-year-old tradition, two lucky birds will avoid becoming a Thanksgiving dinner.

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