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Daily Memo: Iran’s New Sanctions, China’s Broken Traditions, Afghanistan’s Definitions

All the news worth knowing today.

GPF Staff |August 7, 2018

As expected, the U.S. reimposed sanctions on Iran on Tuesday morning, putting the U.S. in direct violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran nuclear deal. The revived sanctions cover Iran’s purchases of U.S. dollars, metals, coal and industrial software as well as the Iranian auto sector. (The second round of expanded sanctions targeting Iranian energy exports won’t kick in until November.) This puts the U.S. and the European Union on something of a collision course. On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that anyone doing business with Iran will be barred from doing business with the United States. But now that the sanctions have kicked in, the EU is using an obscure law from the 1990s to shield it from any repercussions. (In theory, anyway. The law will prove difficult to enforce.) As for Iran, the sanctions come at a bad time. Demonstrations in cities across the country entered into their seventh day on Tuesday. The hardline-dominated Assembly of Experts called on Iranian President Hasan Rouhani to be held to account for the country’s economic woes and demanded a sweeping overhaul of his Cabinet. Rouhani said Tehran will not negotiate with Washington while under sanctions.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, ever the iconoclast, has broken with tradition yet again – this time by declining to name new generals on the eve of the army’s anniversary on Aug. 1, according to the South China Morning Post. Situations like these can be difficult to parse: They could be seen as a sign of strength or as a sign of weakness, and the answer will have profound consequences for the country. Despite recent protests by veterans seeking better benefits, there’s little evidence of military discontent. By most accounts, Xi’s sweeping military modernization drive has been popular with the rank and file and the senior brass alike, and the army’s command structure is already stacked with Xi loyalists. If military leaders were going to resist Xi, they probably would have done so in Xi’s first term, when he was just beginning to consolidate his power. Still, given the amount of pressure Xi is under, if any disaffected factions have been waiting to smell blood before moving against the president, new windows of opportunity may be opening.

Russia claims to have made a breakthrough in submarine technology. According to Russian state media, state energy company Rosatom has developed a nuclear fuel core that can power nuclear submarines for their entire expected service life. The purpose of military nuclear propulsion is logistical – it eliminates the need for constant refueling, thus removing some of the constraints on patrols and combat. This is uniquely beneficial to Russia, which has to pass through various maritime chokepoints to reach any of its ports. If true, this is an important development, but as always the devil is in the details.

Afghanistan is now being redefined. The U.S. is in talks with the Taliban. The Taliban and the Afghan government have both refused to occupy certain areas. For years, the U.S. has wanted to disengage from its commitments in the Middle East and Afghanistan. But can it? Pakistan, Iran and Russia, all of which have interests there, must surely be asking themselves the same question. If the bulk of U.S. forces withdraw (some soldiers would surely remain, likely to access key facilities like Bagram Airfield), it’ll be unclear whether Afghanistan is the united buffer state it once was, or whether it will be a flashpoint in a coming conflict with Russia, Iran and Pakistan.

Honorable Mentions

  • Turkey and the United States struck a preliminary deal over the detainment of a U.S.  pastor and subsequent U.S. sanctions on Turkey, Hurriyet reported, citing diplomatic sources.
  • Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaci, has ruled out partition with Serbia along ethnic lines, while supporting a border adjustment. He said as much in a tweet, which tend to make things sound simpler than they really are.
  • U.S. Sen. Rand Paul has said a delegation of Russian lawmakers will soon visit Washington for the first time in three years.
  • A new report from China’s Urban Finance Research Institute said the pace of closures among online peer-to-peer lenders – which prompted a failed protest in the heart of the capital on Monday – has accelerated, with 118 lenders going belly up in July alone.
  • Russian wheat prices reached their highest levels since 2014.
  • European natural gas transport operators are reportedly scratching their heads after Gazprom reduced natural gas flows through Ukraine and Belarus earlier than expected.
  • New Colombian President Ivan Duque was sworn in. He’s expected to be a strong supporter of U.S. policies in the region.
  • Saudi Arabia’s state airline suspended flights to Toronto amid its spat with the Canadian government, which is calling for the release of detained human rights activists in the kingdom.