Daily Memo: Friction in Iran, Nuclear Aspirations in North Korea, Energy Disputes in Europe

All the news worth knowing today.


Iran’s reformers sidelined. As tensions between Iran and the U.S. continue to mount, Iran is also seeing growing internal friction between two camps that have been competing for power in the country for years: reformers and hard-liners. In an interview with a state-run broadcaster over the weekend, Iranian lawmaker and member of the reformer camp Ali Motahari said three laws have been implemented in recent years without parliamentary approval. One of these laws gave members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Intelligence Organization the role of judicial bailiffs, which hold substantial powers including investigating crimes and interrogating suspects. Whether or not his claims are true, that a lawmaker is publicly criticizing the IRGC, which is arguably the strongest single power broker in Iran, is a sign that reformers are increasingly concerned about the IRGC’s influence. Earlier this month, another reformer, Mostafa Tajzadeh, suggested that politicians should be willing to boycott the 2020 election if reformist candidates are not allowed to run. The failure of the nuclear deal appears to have emboldened the hard-liners, creating an opportunity for the IRGC and others to claim that the reformers have led the country down the wrong path.

Speaking of nuclear aspirants. Three months before the Hanoi summit in February, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un informed the senior military brass in Pyongyang of his plans to meet again with U.S. President Donald Trump, saying that the overriding goal of the talks would be to obtain recognition of the North as a nuclear power, according to a document obtained by the U.S. government-funded Voice of America. The validity of the document can’t be confirmed, and an unnamed White House official told Yonhap Monday that the U.S. demand remains “final, fully verified denuclearization of the DPRK as agreed to by Chairman Kim.” But it comports with our view that North Korea has never had any intention of fully doing so, and that eventually, the U.S. will quietly start dealing with the North as a nuclear state. Either way, there’s certainly no reason to think the denuclearization process has started. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s annual yearbook, released Monday, estimated that North Korea added as many as 10 nukes to its arsenal over the past year.

Ukraine and Russia and European gas. The government in Kiev has warned the rest of Europe to prepare for a gas crisis unless Russia and Ukraine agree to extend their natural gas transit agreement, which expires at the end of 2019. In an interview with Bloomberg, Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister said she doubts they will. Ukraine and Russia regularly haggle over prices between each other, but they usually spare the gas bound for European markets the same fate. Ukrainian authorities believe they can offer Europe alternatives to Russian supplies. Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, said Ukraine’s gas transportation infrastructure could compete with Russia’s so long as it attracts more investment. Authorities have also proposed the construction of liquefied natural gas terminals in the ports of Odessa and Nikolayev, just in case the investment doesn’t come through. With enough time, money and requisite approvals, these terminals could be a viable alternative, but they take years to construct, and Ukraine has only six months before the current transit agreement ends. Negotiators from Russia, Ukraine and the European Union will meet in September to hammer out a new contract. In the meantime, Ukraine is encouraging European countries to start collecting their reserves.

Honorable Mentions