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The fall of ISIS in Syria could spell more trouble for the US

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Fears of Turkey abandoning its NATO membership and allies may be premature in the current environment, Aliriza told CNBC.

“It’s not a question of Turkey sacrificing its NATO membership to fight its war against the YPG. Rather, Turkey is using NATO to remind the U.S. of its obligation as an ally,” he said, adding that this alone would make it “unlikely that Turkey would leave the organization.”

There has been plenty of hot rhetoric coming out of Ankara recently, but the U.S. has moved to calm the situation by sending top White House aides, including president Donald Trump’s national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, to meet with Turkey to open a dialogue.

Sending officials like McMaster “to meet with Turkey officials shows the importance that the U.S. places on its relationship with Turkey,” Sloat said.

But first, the U.S. administration must solve its own internal differences before it can work on a more concrete solution in Syria. When the U.S.-led coalition made the announcement for plans of a border security force, Tillerson retracted the statement, telling reporters “that entire situation has been mis-portrayed, mis-described, some people misspoke. We are not creating a border security force at all.”

Commanders on the ground have also said definitively that they want to continue the partnership with the YPG, and will not leave the northern Syrian city of Manbij, even after Turkey’s demands that the U.S. pull out.

“The U.S. needs a coherent internal plan to solve their differences, and then come up with a regional plan for Syria,” Sloat said, adding that the “resumption of a ceasefire and peace talks between Turkey and the [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] are important to resolve the situation.”

Erdogan is under no illusion that he needs to make any concessions, however, especially with Turkish elections coming up in 2019. The military operations in Afrin have garnered huge public support back in Ankara.

Aliriza acknowledged that an agreement has to be made between all parties involved in the region for a deescalation of the situation, even leaving room for the Syrian Kurds to achieve some part of their goal of autonomy.

On paper, the situation can still be managed, according to him: “The tensions between Turkey and the U.S. has not been solved, but it is put on hold as long as Turkey does not expand their operations to Manbij.”

“Until then, there is no direct confrontation between the NATO allies, and the situation can still be managed,” Aliriza pointed out.

Although the YPG are the U.S. allies on the ground in Syria, the U.S. is not present in Afrin where the Kurdish enclaves have experienced Turkish assaults for the past month. Manbij, however, holds hundreds of American soldiers.

During a Tillerson visit to Turkey, Erdogan proposed a plan to expel the YPG contingent from Manbij, with Turkish forces taking over its place with the U.S. Tillerson has agreed to consider the proposal. There are no signs that the Kurdish militia would accede to the request peacefully, however, and any movement by Ankara into the region could complicate matters further.

“If Turkey enters Manbij, the situation will become even more difficult,” Aliriza said.

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Last-mile delivery problems hampering pace of Covid vaccine rollout, distributors say

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North Korean hackers targeting security researchers Twitter, LinkedIn

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Google believes that hackers in North Korea are pretending to be cybersecurity bloggers and targeting researchers in the field on social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn.

The search giant announced that its Threat Analysis Group has “identified an ongoing campaign targeting security researchers working on vulnerability research and development at different companies and organizations.”

It attributed the campaign to a government-backed entity based in North Korea. The nation’s cooperation office with South Korea did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment..

Google said the actors have targeted specific security researchers with a “novel social engineering” technique, although it didn’t specify which researchers have been targeted.

Google’s Adam Weidemann said in a blog on Monday that the hackers set up a research blog and created multiple Twitter profiles to engage with security researchers.

The hackers used these accounts to post links to the blog and share videos of software exploits that they claimed to have found, Google said. 

They also used LinkedIn, Telegram, Discord, Keybase and email to engage with security researchers, Google said.

“After establishing initial communications, the actors would ask the targeted researcher if they wanted to collaborate on vulnerability research together,” wrote Weidemann.

The actors then shared a group of files with the researchers that contained malware — software that is intentionally designed to cause damage to a computer, server, client, or computer network.

Google listed several accounts and websites that it believes are controlled by the hackers. The list includes 10 Twitter profiles and five LinkedIn profiles.

Google said it also observed instances of security researchers being compromised after visiting the actors’ blog.

“In each of these cases, the researchers have followed a link on Twitter to a write-up hosted on blog.br0vvnn[.]io, and shortly thereafter, a malicious service was installed on the researcher’s system and an in-memory backdoor would begin beaconing to an actor-owned command and control server,” wrote Weidemann.

Google said the victims were running fully patched and up-to-date versions of Windows 10 and its own Chrome browser.

“At this time we’re unable to confirm the mechanism of compromise, but we welcome any information others might have,” Weidemann wrote.

“Chrome vulnerabilities, including those being exploited in the wild, are eligible for reward payout under Chrome’s Vulnerability Reward Program. We encourage anyone who discovers a Chrome vulnerability to report that activity.”

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covid variants are a risk

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Gita Gopinath, the Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund.

ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON — The International Monetary Fund has become more upbeat about the global economy, as coronavirus vaccinations are administered across the world. It is, however, worried about the risk new Covid variants pose to the post-pandemic recovery.

According to its latest World Economic Outlook, published Tuesday, the institution now expects the global economy to grow 5.5% this year — a 0.3 percentage point increase from October’s forecasts. It sees global GDP (gross domestic product) expanding by 4.2% in 2022.

“Much now depends on the outcome of this race between a mutating virus and vaccines to end the pandemic, and on the ability of policies to provide effective support until that happens,” the IMF’s Chief Economist Gita Gopinath said in a blog post.

“There remains tremendous uncertainty and prospects vary greatly across countries.”

The world has seen surging numbers of Covid-19 infections and deaths over the past few months, as new variants of the coronavirus have spread rapidly. These have been described as more infectious and are potentially deadlier than the original strain.

As a result, many countries have stepped up their social restrictions, which has inflicted further economic pain.

In fact, the IMF cut its GDP forecasts for the euro zone this year by 1 percentage point. The 19-member region, which has been severely hit by the pandemic, is now expected to grow by 4.2% this year.

Germany, France, Italy and Spain — the four largest economies in the euro zone — also saw their growth expectations cut for 2021.

Economic activity in the region slowed in the final quarter of 2020 and this is expected to continue into the first part of 2021. The IMF does not expect the euro area economy to return to end-of-2019 levels before the end of 2022.

U.S. growth revised up

On the other hand, the United States is set to grow more than expected this year, according to the IMF.

The Fund revised its GDP forecast upward by 2 percentage points on the back of a strong momentum in the second part of 2020 and additional fiscal support. GDP is now seen at 5.1% this year.

The U.S. Congress approved almost $900 billion in a stimulus package in December and President Joe Biden has suggested that more relief packages could come soon.

Looking at emerging markets, China is set to grow above 8% this year, the IMF said.

“China returned to its pre-pandemic projected level in the fourth quarter of 2020, ahead of all large economies. The United States is projected to surpass its pre-Covid levels this year, well ahead of the euro area,” Gopinath said on Tuesday.

The IMF reiterated that governments will need to keep supporting their economies via fiscal stimulus in order to bolster economic recovery.

“Policy actions should ensure effective support until the recovery is firmly underway, with an emphasis on advancing key imperatives of raising potential output, ensuring participatory growth that benefits all, and accelerating the transition to lower carbon dependence,” Gopinath added.

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