The future of North Korea’s economy. Often lost in the coverage of the denuclearization talks is the potential windfall they may portend. Kim Jong Un has fashioned himself as a champion of the North Korean economy, and as negotiations drag on, we are starting to see how he sees its future. To that end, the government in Pyongyang recently teased its vision by launching a website meant to spur economic growth by facilitating external trade and investment. The site includes information on trade policy, trade law, a list of North Korean trading firms, 14 distinct investment targets, economic development zones and goods for export. The problem is that the economy is still in disrepair, and it may not be able to withstand continued sanctions, according to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is lobbying Europe for sanctions relief. This, of course, is something much of the rest of the world opposes. Japan and New Zealand just reaffirmed their commitment to maritime patrols meant to stop the ship-to-ship transfers North Korea uses to circumvent sanctions. The United States is determined to keep sanctions in place until North Korea denuclearizes completely.
No relief for Iran. The domestic unrest that has plagued the government in Tehran appears to be getting worse. Over the weekend, teachers from at least 21 cities across the country announced they would go on strike to protest low salaries and poor living conditions. Meanwhile, in western Iran, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps continues to clash with Kurdish rebels. But perhaps more concerning are the reports that the IRGC was connected to the Sept. 22 attack in Ahvaz. (The Islamic State and Arab separatists have both claimed responsibility for the attack.) Given all the domestic pressures already on the regime, any cracks in the military are extremely problematic and pose a high risk of the government’s downfall.
Israel keeps its options open with Palestine. Israeli security forces greeted the nearly 15,000 Palestinians who protested over the weekend along the Gaza-Israel border with crowd control methods, including live fire. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu then issued a stern warning to Hamas to stop the violence or face painful consequences. Similarly, when Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman suspended fuel deliveries to Gaza, explaining the measure as the last resort before going to war, he suggested a full-blown attack was on the table. The Israeli air force is slated to carry out offensive exercises using live explosives today. But not all members of the Israeli government are on board with an attack. During a security Cabinet meeting Sunday, defense officials advised against a broad operation in Gaza. One minister, a former commander in the Israel Defense Forces, even advocated a long-term cease-fire with Hamas instead of war, which, he pointed out, would not settle the issue of Hamas’ and Gaza’s status. Reports are also circulating that Egypt’s intelligence chief will visit Jerusalem, Gaza and Ramallah to try again to broker a truce. So while Israel seems to be deferring all-out war for now, an offensive is still near the top of its list of follow-up actions.
Syria after Idlib. Forestalling a major conflict in Idlib was a big win for the government in Damascus, but Bashar Assad, never one to rest on his laurels, is setting his sights on the rest of his country’s frontiers. The government opened two border crossings today, one with the Israel-controlled Golan Heights and one with Jordan, that had been closed for three years. Syrian officials said the Abu Kamal border crossing with Iraq will also be reopened. Syria’s foreign minister said the government’s next major campaign will be to recapture areas to the east of the Euphrates River. To the north lies an even more contentious battle with the Kurds, with whom Damascus vowed it would never share power.
What does the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi mean for the Middle East? It’s been almost two weeks since Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi administration who had lived in the U.S., went missing after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The situation is confusing, to say the least. It’s hard to imagine Khashoggi was unaware of the danger that might befall him. The consulate is, after all, Saudi territory. Turkey has blamed the Saudis for his disappearance, but Riyadh has denied any responsibility. The United States hasn’t directly blamed anyone but has suggested there will be consequences if the Saudis were involved. Washington has been working hard to build an anti-Iran coalition that includes Saudi Arabia and Turkey, so it’s unclear whether it put this coalition at risk by going against Riyadh.
- Moscow accused Washington of trying to derail its proposed Ukraine deal that calls for U.N. observers to be stationed along the line of contact in Donbass.
- U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis is on an official visit to Vietnam for the second time this year.
- The China Securities Regulatory Commission met with investors to discuss market reforms and stabilization. It promised to protect investors’ interests and pursue a fair and transparent capital market.
- India’s navy and the coast guard have reportedly been put on alert for possible attacks by Pakistani terrorist groups on ports, cargo ships and oil tankers.
- Japan ruled out including measures to prevent competitive currency devaluations in its trade talks with the U.S.
- India and China will jointly train a small group of Afghan diplomats as part of a trilateral framework.