Sweden’s NATO Bid Is Approved

Happy Monday! Great news for all you office workers to kick off the work week: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday ended their official recommendation to quarantine for five days after testing positive for COVID-19.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Talks aimed at reaching a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan—which is set to begin March 10—seemed to falter on Sunday after the Palestinian terrorist group rejected demands to release a list of remaining living hostages, prompting Israel to boycott the U.S.- and Qatari-mediated negotiations in Cairo. The U.S. military, meanwhile, began airdropping humanitarian aid into Gaza on Saturday, delivering roughly 38,000 ready-to-eat meals to the war-torn enclave. Speaking at an event in Selma, Alabama, on Sunday, Vice President Kamala Harris urged Israel to facilitate more aid shipments into the Strip and called for a ceasefire “for at least the next six weeks,” blaming Hamas for the lack of progress. “Given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate ceasefire,” she said. “There is a deal on the table, and as we have said, Hamas needs to agree to that deal. Let’s get a ceasefire.”
  • A Belize-flagged cargo ship that was struck by a Houthi missile on February 18 while traversing the Bab el-Mandeb Strait sank on Saturday after days of taking on water, officials reported. The Rubymar, which was transporting fertilizer and had been leaking fuel, was the first vessel to be destroyed in the Red Sea since the Iranian-backed militants in Yemen first began their attacks on international merchant vessels in November. 
  • Thousands of supporters turned out to honor Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny—who mysteriously died in an Arctic prison in February—at a funeral service in Moscow on Friday. The ceremony was conducted under heavy police security, and while officials detained some mourners before the event began, protesters shouted chants against Russian President Vladimir Putin outside the church and cemetery in one of the largest recent displays of mass public dissent.
  • German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius accused Russia on Sunday of waging an “information war” against Germany following the reported interception and leak of sensitive conversations about the Ukraine war between high-ranking military officers. The 38-minute-long audio recording, posted online Friday by Russia’s state-backed RT media, included discussions about potential strikes on Crimea and the possible use of German-made Taurus missiles by Ukrainian forces. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Saturday called the leak “a very serious matter,” and said German intelligence was working to investigate the matter “very carefully, very intensively, and very quickly.”
  • Former Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was elected prime minister by his nation’s parliament on Sunday, after a coalition government was established following fractious elections in February that produced no clear winner. Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, partnered with the Pakistan People’s Party to form a governing majority after independent candidates aligned with jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan won a majority of seats in the national contest. Khan’s allies, who jeered Sharif as he gave remarks after his confirmation, have alleged that the February election was rigged.
  • President Joe Biden on Friday signed a short-term spending deal that will keep government agencies operating through March 8 and March 22, staving off a shutdown for a few more weeks. On Sunday, Congress released six bills that would fund federal agencies—including the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration—for the rest of the fiscal year, which began on October 1, 2023. The package will be voted on by the House this week before moving to the Senate.
  • New Jersey businessman Jose Uribe, a co-defendant in the criminal corruption case against Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, pleaded guilty to six charges on Friday, including conspiracy to bribe the senator with a Mercedes-Benz convertible. Uribe has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors against the senator, who, along with his wife, has been accused of accepting more than $500,000 in cash and 13 gold bars in bribes. Menendez, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stepped down from his leadership role in September but remains in the Senate.
  • Former President Donald Trump won three state primary contests on Saturday, adding more than 130 delegates to his count. Trump commanded large victories in the Idaho and Missouri caucuses, and secured all remaining delegates in Michigan’s party convention after winning the state primary earlier this week. Former Ambassador Nikki Haley won the Washington, D.C., Republican primary on Sunday, her first victory so far. The win marked the first time a woman has won a Republican primary contest in U.S. history. Trump leads Haley in the delegate count 244-43 ahead of contests in North Dakota on Monday and 15 more states on Tuesday.

Swede Victory

After 19 months of slow-walking the measure, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán finally relented last week and allowed his parliament to ratify Sweden’s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), paving the way for a 32nd member of the alliance. A trip by Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson to Budapest late last month and a resulting agreement for Hungary to buy Swedish fighter jets overcame the lingering opposition—although we’re pretty sure a lifetime supply of Swedish Fish would have been an equally effective deal sweetener.

The Scandinavian nation will soon become part of the military alliance following a formal flag-raising ceremony at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Sweden joins neighboring Finland as the second new entrant into the body since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. The accession of both historically neutral countries to the transatlantic security pact reflects how dramatically Europe’s security posture has changed over the last two years.

The weight of the decision—and the increased tension on the European continent—were on full display as Sweden was informally welcomed into the alliance. “Sweden stands ready to shoulder its responsibility for Euro-Atlantic security,” Kristersson tweeted last week. NATO Sec. Gen. Jens Stoltenberg pointed to the immediate benefits of Sweden’s accession, arguing, “It makes NATO stronger, Sweden safer, and all of us more secure.” But the journey to membership wasn’t without bumps along the way.

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