Iran remains defiant. After the U.S. designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, the Iranian army released a statement condemning the move in a show of support for the IRGC. Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called on the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia to follow through on their commitments under the Iran nuclear deal and warned that Tehran’s patience may run out if they don’t. Iranian media also published an extensive list of Iran’s missile developments over the past year, including long-range ground-based cruise missiles – a not-so-subtle public reminder of Iran’s military capabilities. A spokesperson for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization also announced that Iran has started installation of 20 IR6 centrifuges.
Derailing an Afghan deal? The Afghan peace process appears to be advancing, with unofficial talks to be held between the Taliban and the Afghan government. But it seems some regional actors with a stake in the outcome may be interfering in the process. According to Afghan broadcaster Noor TV, members of Ghazni province’s Provincial Council said Russian advisers have been providing training and weapons to Taliban militants in the province’s Ajristan district. One member of the council suggested it was an attempt to derail the Afghan peace process, though the province’s governor said there was no evidence of Russian presence there. There have also been reports that Iran-backed Afghan fighters are returning home from Syria and that Afghan officials have asked Iran not to allow them to come back to Afghanistan. It’s rumored, however, that Iran has been supporting the Taliban, so it’s doubtful Iran would comply with the government’s request.
The U.S.-Philippine alliance remains strong. On Monday, the Philippine foreign secretary said the U.S. would remain Manila’s “only military ally,” and on Tuesday, the USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship carrying 10 F-35B fighter jets, reportedly conducted exercises near the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Philippine fishermen reported seeing planes land and take off from the ship near the reef, which was seized by China in 2012 after a monthslong standoff with the Philippine navy. In 2016, the U.S. reportedly told Beijing that it considered any Chinese attempt to place military assets on the shoal a red line. The Pentagon has not confirmed the exercises but said that the Wasp has been conducting training with the Philippine navy in Subic Bay and in international waters in the South China Sea for several days as part of the annual U.S.-Philippine Balikatan exercises. U.S. freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea typically have little strategic value, but joint exercises and more pointed signals of a willingness to intervene on Manila’s behalf matter more.
Ukrainian arms. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who is about to enter a runoff election, said the military has developed high-precision cruise missiles with a range of over 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) that can carry a 150-kilogram (330-pound) combat load. In theory, the missiles are a direct threat to Russia and its interests in eastern Ukraine. In practice, they won’t immediately change the balance of power. Poroshenko failed to mention how many missiles Ukraine had developed, but the country doesn’t have the wherewithal to produce them en masse, nor have the armed forces had them long enough to know how to properly use them.
Updates on the Brexit. Statements made earlier today by members of the British Cabinet suggested that Germany is willing to negotiate the Irish backstop. A spokesperson from the German government, however, quickly put the speculation to rest. These kinds of rumors have plagued the Brexit process, but they’ve always been difficult to believe since they undermine the solidarity the European Union needs for the Brexit negotiations. Those negotiations, of course, continue apace. Later today, EU ministers will discuss the conditions of the Brexit delay, the deadline for which could be as late as March 2020, according to unnamed EU officials. Meanwhile, British lawmakers passed a measure that will force Cabinet ministers to consult with Parliament on any changes to the Brexit deadline. Prime Minister Theresa May is also said to be contemplating letting lawmakers vote on whether or not to hold a second Brexit referendum.
- China’s primary macroeconomic planning agency said it will require cities with populations of 1 million to 3 million to fully liberalize household registration restrictions, cities with populations of 3 million to 5 million to ease restrictions, and megacities to substantially increase registration allotments for migrant workers. This is a profound shift in Chinese urbanization policy driven by intensifying competition for migrant workers among major cities.
- China’s National Audit Office published a rare report showing a surge in nonperforming loans at small commercial banks in late 2018. NPL ratios at nearly half of banks in Henan province surpassed the 5 percent threshold set by regulators. Several other banks had NPL ratios higher than 40 percent. This surge was inevitable as Beijing pushes banks to bring shadow lending back onto their balance sheets.
- Chinese non-financial direct investment abroad dropped 6.9 percent in January and February compared to the same period a year earlier.
- Iran plans to open trade offices in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria to increase exports to these markets.
- A small contingent of U.S. Africa Command forces will withdraw from Libya, as a result of the growing instability there.
- India’s Cabinet Committee on Security approved the $1.93 billion purchase of 464 T-90 tanks from Russia.
- Algeria’s parliament confirmed that Senate President Abdelkader Bensalah will serve as the country’s interim leader for the next three months.
- French troops have begun to pull out of Iraq, where they were deployed as part of the international coalition against the Islamic State. A spokesman for the French General Staff said the deployment had “completed its mission.”
- Japan extended its sanctions against North Korea for two years.
- France’s National Assembly voted 55-4 in favor of introducing a new tax on major digital firms like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple. The U.S. opposes the tax.