Greece vs. Turkey. As the U.S. government contemplates its response to the delivery of Russian air defense systems to NATO ally Turkey, Greece has put its diplomatic outreach to the U.S. into overdrive, with high-level meetings taking place this week on political, economic and military affairs. With Turkey’s relationship with the West in flux, and Turkish warships and aircraft hovering around Turkish drillships in contested waters off the coast of Cyprus, it only makes sense for Greece’s new government led by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to try to continue the deepening of ties with the U.S. that his predecessor started.
Iran vs. the Western Hemisphere. The head of Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court ruled that state-run oil company Petrobras must provide fuel for two Iranian ships docked in Paranagua, Brazil. For nearly two months, they have been stuck in Paranagua after Petrobras refused to refuel them for fear of running afoul of U.S. sanctions. The Brazilian company responsible for the ships was not on the list of entities subject to U.S. sanctions, according to the ruling, and thus the ships should have been refueled. Before the court issued its ruling, Iran had threatened to suspend the $2 billion worth of goods – mostly food – that it imports from Brazil. It’s possible Iran feared Brazil was aligned with the U.S. against it. After all, reports this week suggest that President Jair Bolsonaro said as much. His announced trip to the Middle East in late October, which includes stops in noted Iran adversaries Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, reflects this sentiment. As we expected, the U.S. has been trying to form an alliance in the Western Hemisphere to counter Iran, and while the fruits of its labor in Brazil remain to be seen, it appears to have at least partially achieved its goals in Argentina already, having supported the government’s renewed efforts to prosecute Iranian and Hezbollah agents allegedly responsible for attacking a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in the 1990s.
Suspense at the ECB. The European Central Bank’s Governing Council met on Thursday and all but promised that it would implement significant monetary easing – just not yet. At its September meeting, the ECB will likely shave a bit more off its already negative deposit rate, which has sat at -0.4 percent since early 2016. The efficacy of such a cut is unclear, to say the least, and could require the ECB to introduce a multitier deposit rate to take some pressure off of banks. That’s why the ECB also signaled that it may resume its 2.6 trillion-euro ($2.9 trillion) bond-buying program. The trouble there is the self-imposed cap on how many government bonds the ECB can purchase (it could raise the limit or ignore it altogether, but either decision would draw the ire of the Germans especially), and the bank is very reluctant to wade into riskier assets like corporate bonds or equities. The ECB is not entirely out of options, but it’s pretty much out of good ones. The bank’s president, Mario Draghi, whose term ends Oct. 31, again signaled that the solution to Europe’s problems must come from a more expansionary fiscal policy, which is out of the central bank’s and Brussels’ hands. The German government reacted unenthusiastically to that suggestion: Finance Minister Olaf Scholz denied that Germany’s economy was in crisis and – pointing to admittedly strong German employment figures, labor shortages and existing public investment – said higher spending would lead only to inflation and not growth.
- On Aug. 2, Japan is expected to remove South Korea from its list of countries allowed preferential access to Japanese exports that could be diverted for military use, Kyodo reported.
- North Korean state media said Thursday’s missile launches were a warning to South Korea. The government in Pyongyang has also reportedly called off a meeting between Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that had been expected to take place in Bangkok next month.
- In 2018, the North Korean economy contracted more than it had in 21 years, according to South Korea’s central bank.
- Vietnam is extending operations of a Rosneft-operated oil rig at the center of the latest maritime spat with China.
- The U.S. unveiled another $16 billion in federal aid for farmers hurt by the trade war.
- The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to vote next week on whether to sanction companies and individuals connected to the construction of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.
- British Royal Navy warships are now escorting all British-flagged vessels through the Strait of Hormuz, a government spokesman said. The U.K. is still waiting for other European governments to officially respond to its plan to jointly protect regional shipping from Iran. (Denmark publicly welcomed the project on Friday.)
- U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi repeated her warning that the House of Representatives would not approve any trade deal with the United Kingdom in the event of a no-deal Brexit, which would recreate a hard border in Northern Ireland.
- The first ministers of Scotland and Wales sent a joint letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for a “significant shift” in their governments’ relationships with Westminster and expressing their support for a second referendum on leaving the European Union.
- The Argentine economy grew 2.6 percent in May compared with the previous year. It had contracted every month for the previous 12 months.