Iran sanctions are here. The United States has officially reimposed all sanctions against Iran that were lifted under the terms of the Iran nuclear deal. Yet it has granted temporary waivers that will allow eight countries – China, India, Italy, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey – to continue to import Iranian oil. That’s seven of Iran’s top 10 buyers. (Taiwan ranks 12th.) Iran and the U.S. are trying to shape the media narrative to their advantage. U.S. President Donald Trump said he was open to a more comprehensive arrangement, and Iran’s foreign minister said Iran was amenable to talks so long as the U.S. “changes its approach.” But what this all comes down to is pretty simple. Washington has identified Iran as the biggest threat to its interests in the Middle East and so is attempting to change its behavior without raising oil prices. Iran is in the throes of economic crisis and the political infighting that comes with it, so it wants to hold out as long as it can, though it doesn’t have a lot of options. It’ll be a test of endurance.
Fort Putin? Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko made a revealing comment during an address in the village of Bolbasovo. According to the state-run Belarusian Telegraph Agency, Lukashenko said the West finally understood the importance of Belarus to security and stability in all of Europe and was treating the country with long-overdue respect. But Lukashenko also revealed that he recently told the Polish foreign minister that Poland’s desire to secure a permanent military base – once jokingly referred to as Fort Trump by the Polish president – in Poland would be read by Belarus as a provocative act. If Poland moves forward, Lukashenko said, “we and the Russians will have to respond. We will have to set up bases in a counter-move.” In other words, Belarus remains Russia’s most reliable and dependable ally in Eastern Europe, despite Belarus’ moves that appear designed to secure greater independence from its patron in Moscow.
Middle East intrigue. It was a busy weekend in the region. Egyptian intelligence officials are back in the Gaza Strip today after being there Friday. They are reportedly negotiating a three-year truce between Israel and Hamas, and, based on the increased electricity supply to Gaza and Qatar’s commitment to pay the salaries of civil servants there, local media are speculating that this time will be different from the last 10. That Israel is increasingly looking at Lebanon as its most serious threat could also lend more momentum to talks with Hamas. In Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, a nephew of King Salman and brother of a billionaire prince was freed after an almost yearlong detainment. Lest observers construe his release as another sign of a power struggle in the kingdom, the billionaire in question told the media he was positive an investigation would clear Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of all wrongdoing. At least for now, the incident looks more like it will shore up support for the royal family than challenge it. And finally, in Yemen, the death toll of the Saudi- and Emirati-backed effort to seize the port of Hodeida from Houthi insurgents has passed 150. An unnamed Saudi official told Agence France-Presse today that Riyadh was committed to de-escalating hostilities in Yemen, while the Houthis denied that the Yemeni government had seized the port city. All these developments are linked: The regional coalition against Iran is working to do its share now that U.S. sanctions on the Islamic republic are back in place.
Xi Jinping, politely defiant. Even as China attempts to find ways to compromise and build trust with the United States, the Chinese president is attempting to project calm and resilience. In a speech at the first China International Import Expo in Shanghai, Xi laid out his plan to open up the Chinese economy. He claimed that in the next 15 years, China would import more than $30 trillion of goods and $10 trillion of services and, in doing so, would become an engine of global economic growth contra the United States. Xi was honest about China’s economic struggles too. Indeed, the Chinese government’s willingness to allow reporting on these problems has been among the more unusual aspects of the trade war. At one point, Xi said that “the Chinese economy is not a pond, but an ocean … Big winds and storms may upset a pond, but never an ocean.” And yet, over the weekend, the Shanghai municipal government announced a plan to appropriate roughly $4.35 billion to help support and increase credit to private companies.
- Turkish inflation hit 25.2 percent last month – a 15-year high.
- India said its first domestically produced nuclear-powered submarine completed a “deterrence patrol.”
- The Australian military has arrived in Papua New Guinea to provide security for the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
- A statement from the North Korean Foreign Ministry said Pyongyang would resume building up its nuclear arsenal if the U.S. did not lift sanctions against it. Meanwhile, the U.S. resumed combined maritime drills today for the first time since they were suspended in June.
- Chinese officials in Shaanxi province are facing disciplinary action after ignoring directives from Beijing and building villas in a nature reserve in the Qinling mountains.
- Kronen Zeitung, a major Austrian newspaper, claims there are some 20,000 migrants who plan to break through the border between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. Though it’s impossible to verify the numbers, over the past week there have been increased clashes between migrants and police in the area.
- Israel has officially requested consultations with Jordan over Amman’s decision to end a lease to Israel for Baqura and Ghamr.