Chemical weapons in Syria. The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday that the Syrian government may be using chemical weapons in its offensive in northwestern Idlib province. The U.S. has generally avoided getting involved in Idlib, but it did warn President Bashar Assad against launching an offensive on the region last September, when Turkey and Russia signed a cease-fire deal. Since then, Turkey has failed to eradicate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, arguably the most powerful jihadist group in the region and one that doesn’t take orders from Turkey. The offensive on Idlib has been limited, and purposefully so; pro-Assad fighters have said a full-scale operation couldn’t take place without some sort of understanding between Turkey and Russia. The U.S. launched airstrikes in Syria in April 2017 and April 2018 in response to the use of chemical weapons. Airstrikes would help stunt some of Assad’s momentum in the region and also help protect Turkish positions there.
Failure to launch. The British government’s latest bid to secure an orderly departure from the European Union appears to be dead before voting on the deal even began. Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his side could not support the deal. Support is not forthcoming from Prime Minister Theresa May’s own Conservative Party either; in fact, The Sun reported Tuesday that a wing of the party will try again on Wednesday to force a confidence vote. (A previous effort in late April failed.) There is a chance – albeit a slim one – that the picture will become clearer on Sunday once the results of European Parliament elections in the U.K. are in. A poor showing by the two mainstream parties could finally spur them to action.
More trade pain. U.K. microchip designer ARM has decided to suspend business with Chinese tech firm Huawei, according to an internal memo leaked to the BBC. ARM licenses its designs and chip architecture to other companies, which use it to build their own products or systems, meaning that companies like Qualcomm, Apple or Huawei depend heavily on ARM technology. It’s unclear whether the directive was spurred by U.S. warnings about Huawei, but the leaked memo said that ARM designs contain “U.S. origin technology.” The news comes a day after the U.S. granted a 90-day reprieve on its Huawei ban to allow U.S. tech companies time to make other arrangements. In other trade news, U.S. farmers feeling the effects of the U.S.-China trade war might be getting a reprieve, as Washington is set to release an aid package that, according to Bloomberg, may exceed $15 billion in subsidies for soybean, wheat and corn growers.
Rouhani’s request denied. Iran’s Guardian Council, an unelected body responsible for squaring laws passed by Iran’s parliament with Islamic law, has reportedly rejected President Hassan Rouhani’s request for additional powers for his government. In his request, Rouhani compared the country’s current economic woes to those experienced during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, when extra powers were granted to the government. It’s unclear if Rouhani was asking for expanded powers for the president’s office or for the formation of a special council that would wield such authority. Either way, this could be a sign of competition within Iran – as different actors seek greater power to deal with mounting U.S. pressure. It could also be a sign of how dire the situation in Iran is right now. We’ll be watching for any further developments on this story and any others coming out of Iran.
- On Monday, four U.S. F-22 fighter jets intercepted four Russian long-range bombers and two Su-35 fighter jets off the coast of Alaska. On Tuesday, two F-22 fighters intercepted Russian bombers, also near Alaska. It’s unclear how close the bombers came to U.S. shores.
- The United Kingdom’s second-largest steelmaker went into liquidation after the government declined its request for 75 million pounds ($95 million) in emergency funding to cope with “Brexit-related issues.”
- Germany’s Cabinet approved a draft law that would offer 1.25 billion euros ($1.4 billion) per year for corporate research and development. The influential Federation of German Industry union welcomed the decision but said the sums needed to be larger.
- Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said during a meeting with agricultural workers that he opposes the sale of land to foreigners.
- Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service denied that it claimed the Hezbollah Brigades were responsible for the rocket attack on its Green Zone, as reported in the Daily Beast and The Washington Times.
- The U.S. introduced sanctions on two Russian arms makers for ties to North Korea, Iran and Syria. Instrument Design Bureau, a designer of precision weapons, and Moscow Machine Building Plant Avangard, which builds missiles for Russia’s S-400s and S-300s, will face sanctions for two years.
- Saudi Aramco signed a 20-year liquid natural gas purchase agreement with U.S.-based Sempra Energy. The U.S. wants to increase its LNG exports to reduce its deficit and decrease its allies’ dependence on other natural gas-producing countries.
- On Wednesday, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini called on the EU to remove restrictions on member states’ budgets, arguing that individual governments should be allowed to incur as much debt as they want. This comes after a standoff late last year between Italy and the EU over the size of Italy’s budget deficit.
- China has uncovered armyworm, a pest that feeds on leaves and stems of a number of different plants, in 14 provinces.