The U.S. and Iran on the cusp? The head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, said Tehran is “on the cusp of a full-scale confrontation” with the U.S. and that the current situation is more sensitive than previous ones. It marks a shift from remarks by Salami, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over the weekend indicating that Iran wanted to avoid a war and that a war was unlikely. Iraq’s National Security Council, meanwhile, has been trying to extricate itself from the rising U.S.-Iran tensions. The council warned Iran-backed militias in Iraq against provocations and implied that groups that fail to comply will face consequences. The USS Abraham Lincoln has not yet entered the Persian Gulf – it’s currently in the Arabian Sea, according to an Iranian media outlet, which cited an anonymous Iranian military source.
Paying for collusion. The European Commission has levied $1.2 billion in fines on five major banks – Barclays, RBS, Citigroup, JPMorgan and MUFG – over their participation in currency cartel collusion from 2007 to 2013. The collusion included transactions in the spot exchange market involving 11 currencies, including the euro, the British pound and the Japanese yen. The commission’s investigation revealed that some individual traders, on behalf of banks, also exchanged confidential information and trading plans to coordinate their trading strategies through various professional online chat platforms. The commission added that such behavior by banks undermines the integrity of the sector and negatively affects the European economy.
A national tech emergency. The Trump administration has declared a national emergency over threats posed by information and communications technology and services. The measure allows the U.S. to restrict sales to and purchases from select companies, including Chinese technology giants Huawei and ZTE, and could severely disrupt these companies’ supply chains. Huawei has already reached out to the U.S. government, offering to discuss ways to ensure product security. Beijing criticized the measure, cautioning against abuse of the concept of national security and vowing to safeguard the interests of Chinese companies. At the same time, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he planned to continue trade talks with Beijing during a visit to China that will occur “soon.”
Still searching for a solution in Venezuela. Multiple parties have renewed efforts to reach a negotiated settlement to Venezuela’s political crisis. Venezuelan government and opposition officials have confirmed that representatives will be in Oslo to meet separately with Norwegian officials who have offered to help mediate a solution. At the same time, members of the International Contact Group will arrive in Caracas to present to President Nicolas Maduro and opposition representatives their proposal for a negotiated settlement and a political transition. Seemingly absent from the mix is the U.S., which is maintaining pressure on the Maduro regime, including by banning all air travel between the U.S. and Venezuela and denying Maduro’s request that Turkey serve as the protecting power for Venezuela’s embassy in Washington.
Russia and Belarus, brothers in arms. Say what you will about the periodic drama between Russia and Belarus, their defense relationship is still going strong. Speaking at the MILEX-2019 arms exhibition, Belarusian State Military Committee head Roman Golovchenko said military trade between the two totaled $500 million-$600 million. Russia and Belarus confirmed that Moscow had begun supplying Minsk with Su-30SM fighter aircraft and will soon upgrade its T-72 tanks. In return, Minsk has started production of the Vepr, a rifle modeled after the Kalashnikov. Belarus and Russia also confirmed their plans to sign an updated interstate program of military-technical cooperation in June.
- Turkey has reportedly supplied Free Syrian Army and National Liberation Front fighters in Idlib with anti-tank missiles to counter the Assad regime’s recent offensive in the province.
- Saudi Arabia is granting Hajj visas to Crimean Muslims at the Saudi embassy in Moscow, which Russia says it believes amounts to a de facto recognition of Crimea as Russian.
- U.S. President Donald Trump may allow up to six months to negotiate auto tariff settlements with the European Union and Japan before potentially moving forward with an executive order restricting imports of automobiles and parts.
- Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland will meet with her Cuban counterpart, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, in Havana today to discuss issues around Venezuela and U.S.-Cuba relations, including the Helms-Burton Act.
- The Greek government approved a series of tax breaks and handouts that include the payment of tax debt in 120 installments, a reduction of the food and restaurant tax by 11 percent, and a bonus payment to retirees.
- The Philippine government recalled its ambassador and consuls to Canada over a garbage dump that occurred in 2013 and 2014. Manila conditioned the return of diplomats on Canada retrieving its garbage.
- Brazil’s Economic Activity Index, produced by the Central Bank, registered a 0.68 percent decline in the first quarter of 2019 compared to the same period last year. Economists view this as an indicator that gross domestic product likely contracted during this time.
- Uzbekistan’s Termez garrison, located along Uzbekistan’s southern border with Afghanistan, conducted emergency drills and was put on the highest level of combat readiness. The drills will continue for several days.