Iran and the U.S. headed for talks? According to Iranian media reports, the top security adviser to Iran’s supreme leader said U.S. officials approached him during a trip to Afghanistan about talks with Tehran. Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters that Iran is feeling the heat of sanctions and wants to talk, a claim Iranian officials have denied. It’s hard to confirm either report, but that they came out around the same time suggests there may be growing interest in talks. Both countries have also been in touch with Indian and Taliban officials recently. Tomorrow, the U.S. will reportedly hold talks with the Afghan Taliban, which also held negotiations with Tehran late last month. Trump spoke to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi by phone yesterday, just one day before Iran’s foreign minister arrived in India to attend a business forum.
Lebanon prepares for an Israeli assault. Lebanon’s general security director, seen as a pro-Hezbollah figure, has said that his country doesn’t want a war with Israel but is prepared for one if it happens. He also claimed that Israel might want a war with Lebanon, but it isn’t ready for one. In reality, Israel has the military capability to launch a war, but it would come at a very high cost to the government. Meanwhile, in an interview with Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, a Hezbollah spokesperson stressed the importance of ties to Russia to safeguard the region from the U.S. He also noted that Russia’s relations with Israel do not prevent Hezbollah from having a close relationship with Moscow.
Strain in German-Russian relations. Last week, we noted possible signs of strain in relations between Berlin and Moscow. This week, more signs are already appearing. Germany’s foreign minister said Russia has violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and blamed Moscow for its demise. He called on Moscow to disarm its cruise missiles if it wants to preserve the treaty. The minister added that the treaty, which NATO wants renegotiated by next month, plays a key role in Europe’s security and “still has special importance” for Germany. In addition, senior German lawmakers who previously supported the Nord Stream 2 pipeline are reportedly now having second thoughts, insisting on further consideration of the geopolitical significance of the pipeline and its potential impacts on Ukraine’s economy.
Fuel shortages in Mexico. At least nine Mexican states have reported fuel shortages and gas station closures. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has blamed the shortages on distribution problems resulting from the government’s recent crackdown on fuel theft. Nearly 5,000 Mexican troops are now guarding gasoline infrastructure sites. According to the government, in just over a week, the number of illegal taps drilled into pipelines has dropped from more than 1,000 per day to between 70 and 100. Fuel taps are a large source of funding for organized crime in Mexico and a major problem for state-owned energy firm Pemex. Between January and October 2018, fuel thieves drilled 12,581 illegal taps into pipelines that cost the company an estimated $3.3 billion. The government is cracking down on fuel theft to limit a key source of funding for drug cartels and to try to reduce Mexico’s dependence on U.S. energy.
- France plans to introduce legislation to punish people who participate in unauthorized protests and ban people who have instigated violence in the past from taking part in demonstrations.
- The Chinese military has provided its troops stationed in Tibet with vehicle-mounted howitzers. The new equipment aims to improve high-altitude combat capability along China’s borders.
- China moved forward with plans to reform state-owned asset investment companies by identifying the first 11 companies that will experiment with mixed-ownership, restructuring and initial public offerings.
- The EU and U.K. may extend the Brexit deadline beyond March 29, according to unnamed sources who spoke to the Daily Telegraph.
- Italy approved a measure to guarantee bonds issued by ailing Carige bank and funds it might borrow from Italy’s central bank.