Will Iran finally violate the nuclear deal? At some point this weekend, Iran will probably be, for the first time, in open violation of the 2015 nuclear deal. Two weeks ago, Tehran announced that it would accelerate production of low-enriched uranium at a pace that by June 27 would give it stockpiles in excess of the limits set by the agreement. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran has not yet crossed that threshold, but likely will the next few days. This assumes that a last-ditch meeting today in Vienna with the remaining signatories of the agreement — the U.K., France, Germany, Russia and China — fails to persuade Iran to reverse course. Yet failure seems likely. The European powers are expected to announce Friday that the Instex payments channel, which is intended to give Tehran a way around U.S. sanctions, has become operational. But the channel won’t give Iran all that much economic relief, and there’s not much else Europe can do to give Tehran sufficient incentives to remain in full compliance.
So what happens next? Stockpiling low-enriched uranium isn’t nearly as provocative and risky as resuming production of weapons-grade fissile material — something that would raise the likelihood of U.S. and allied military action. But it would further alienate the European signatories, any one of which can launch a dispute resolution process that could trigger international sanctions in as little as 65 days. Tehran has every reason to want to avoid such an outcome, but it also needs to demonstrate that U.S. withdrawal from the deal and imposition of unilateral sanctions comes at a cost.
Shifting allegiances in northwestern Syria? Late Thursday, during an assault on Free Syrian Army-backed rebels in Idlib province, Syrian forces shelled a Turkish observation outpost, killing one Turkish soldier and injuring three others. (Turkey then traded blows with the Syrian armed forces on Friday.) This is believed to be the 10th attack of its kind in Syria since April. Once or twice could be dismissed as an accident in the fog of war. Ten attacks suggests outside powers with an interest in Syria are finding it harder to keep the fighting contained to proxy groups. The incident comes amid reports that earlier this week Syrian forces clashed in Deir ez-Zor with a group consisting of both Iranian-backed rebels and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members. Iran and Syria, of course, have been staunch allies. But as Russian and Iranian interests in Syria have begun to diverge, and as internal and international pressure on Tehran has increased more broadly, the future of Iran’s role in Syria has become much less certain.
Canadian fakin’? Earlier this week, China suspended all meat imports from Canada following the alleged discovery of counterfeit health certificates attached to a shipment of Canadian pork. On Friday, Canada responded by dispatching the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to investigate whether the cargo had come from somewhere else and been disguised as Canadian. It’s pretty obvious what China is up to here. A day after the suspension, Beijing renewed its call for the immediate release of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who was detained by Canadian authorities in December at the request of the U.S. over allegations of fraud and her role in helping her company violate U.S. sanctions on Iran. And just in case it wasn’t clear enough: Also on Thursday, the Canadian military said two of its naval vessels were buzzed by Chinese fighter planes while traversing the East China Sea, and a Canadian helicopter was targeted with a laser from a nearby fishing boat (presumably part of China’s maritime militia). Whether it’s wise to play hardball against a relatively weaker power at a time when Beijing is facing a real reputation problem is open to debate. But Beijing evidently feels the need to warn smaller powers against siding with the U.S.
- The United Arab Emirates is scaling back its presence in Yemen.
- The Indian navy has deployed marine commandos aboard Indian oil tankers passing through the Strait of Hormuz.
- The leaders of India, Japan and the U.S. held a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G-20.
- U.S. President Donald Trump also met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and reportedly asked him to not meddle in the next U.S. election. Putin reportedly asked Trump to not blow up the World Trade Organization.
- As a result of U.S. sanctions, trade between Iran and Germany fell by 49 percent in the first four months of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018, German Chamber of Commerce data shows.
- Italy may be nearing an agreement with the European Union to delay until September or October a decision on disciplinary measures related to its public spending.
- Mexico’s new National Guard police force will be deployed to Mexico City amid a deteriorating security situation, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said.
- A report by the French Senate’s Economic Affairs Committee warned that in the second half of the year there will be a wave of small-business defaults and closures, as sales have not fully recovered from the disruption caused by the yellow vest protests.
- The U.S. and Japan have agreed to accelerate working-level trade talks beginning early in July.
- Germany’s Deutsche Bank passed an annual U.S. stress test on Thursday, after having failed in three of the past four years.
- Cyprus’ government issued a navigational telex saying its navy will conduct live-fire exercises July 1-10 amid a standoff with Turkey over offshore drilling.