Dissonance between the U.S. and South Korea. The United States is opposing plans made by Seoul and Pyongyang to set up a no-fly zone over the demilitarized zone, Reuters reported, citing unnamed sources. On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department expressed concern over how quickly the two Koreas are moving to develop a cross-border railway. Meanwhile, bilateral talks on sharing the cost of stationing U.S. troops in South Korea apparently have stalled. (The current arrangement expires at the end of 2018.) These reports come a week after a minor tiff broke out between the U.S. and South Korea over North Korean sanctions. The short version: Washington objected to deliberations Seoul held for lifting sanctions it imposed on Pyongyang in 2010. U.S. and South Korean interests in denuclearizing North Korea were never going to fully align, but the differences between them are becoming more apparent now that Seoul is getting much of what it wants. Watch for efforts by Pyongyang and Beijing to try to exploit these divides.
Unintended consequences. In a somewhat unexpected turn of events, Russia is benefitting from U.S. sanctions. As many predicted, the upcoming sanctions on Iran have driven up the price of oil and so have given Russia a bigger return on its biggest source of revenue. At the same time, sanctions imposed on Russia for allegedly interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election have depressed the value of the ruble. As The Wall Street Journal points out, “just as the price of dollar-denominated oil rises, those greenbacks are worth more when translated back into a weaker ruble.” In other words, selling a barrel of oil will net a lot more rubles than it once did. By design, sanctions are not permanent solutions, so there’s no reason to think of this as anything more than a temporary reprieve. But Moscow will take economic relief wherever it can get it, even if the economy is performing as well as President Vladimir Putin says it is. (It isn’t, or else he wouldn’t have enacted almost universally reviled pension reform.)
More Iran sanctions. The United States recently levied yet another round of sanctions against Iran, this time targeting a financial network accused of funding the Basij force, a paramilitary unit within the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The idea is to deny money to the IRGC, which has extensive interests in virtually all sectors of the Iranian economy. But there may be an ulterior motive. The Trump administration is concurrently developing a new plan to dislodge Iranian forces from Syria. If Iran doesn’t have the money to support foreign intervention, then that would save the U.S. the trouble of violating its own terms for using force in Syria, or so the thinking goes. How this will assist the fight against jihadists or remove longtime Iranian ally Bashar Assad from power is anyone’s guess. Still, it’s a low-cost, mostly consequence-free and politically anodyne policy to pursue ahead of midterm elections.
- The U.S. plans to withdraw from the Universal Postal Union treaty, which sets international shipping rates. Washington accused the union of unfairly benefitting countries like China.
- The U.S. Treasury Department says Beijing is not intentionally devaluing its currency. Also, the department is considering removing India from its currency monitoring list.
- Two U.S. B-52 bombers flew over disputed parts of the South China Sea, according to the Pentagon.
- U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis met with his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe, in Singapore. Wei is scheduled to meet with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Friday.
- Beijing is protesting a visit by a U.S. naval research ship to Taiwan.
- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are expected to finalize a base sharing agreement at their upcoming summit, unnamed officials told The Diplomat.
- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. may lift sanctions on Turkey imposed during the dispute over the detention of a U.S. pastor.
- Some rebels have pulled out of the demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib province, two days after the deadline to do so, according to U.S. officials.
- British Prime Minister Theresa May told European leaders that she is willing to consider an extended Brexit transition period beyond 2020, despite pressure from hardline Brexiters at home.