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Daily Memo: More on Protests in Iran, More on Mattis in China, More on Migration

All the news worth knowing today.

|June 26, 2018

By GPF Staff

Protests continued in Iran despite government efforts to shut them down. Iranian President Hasan Rouhani has blamed the West for starting them. Things are starting to look a lot like they did in December, which was the beginning of weeks of public unrest. Media coverage has all but disappeared, but here are anomalies we have observed in the past 24 hours, in order of ascending weirdness: The deputy speaker of the parliament said Iranian security forces needed to “nip the issue in the bud”; the Iranian Student News Agency, which is friendly to the government, reported that large numbers of “instigators” had been arrested; the head of Iran’s Chamber of Guilds blamed “hidden hands” for disrupting the Grand Bazaar – which may or may not be closed for a second day, depending on which reports you read; Fars News, which is basically a government mouthpiece, reported that a former Revolutionary Guard commander and current adviser to the supreme leader said that Iran could “be better managed without a government.” The report has since been taken down.

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is in China on a three-day visit. On the eve of his arrival, NBC released a report stating that U.S. President Donald Trump is increasingly making decisions without consulting or even informing his secretary of defense. Chinese media are portraying Mattis’ visit as something of a peace sign. Whatever the case may be, the release of a report undermining Mattis’ authority on the eve of an important visit to a U.S. rival with which tensions are high may neuter Mattis’ efforts. Mattis has two more days in country. It’s unclear what he will accomplish.

Speaking of China, President Xi Jinping told all Chinese officials involved in diplomacy to “toe the Communist Party line,” according to the South China Morning Post. The report noted that the involvement of so many departments, not to mention so many local governments, in foreign affairs necessitated centralization. The bigger story here, of course, is what this says about Xi’s power. De facto dictators shouldn’t need to worry so much about foreign policy, over which they, in theory, have firm control. This could all just be for show, but it’s peculiar nonetheless.

While China takes a moment to look inward, India is making a play for a new naval base in the Indian Ocean. India and the Seychelles agreed on the construction of a new base on Assumption Island, north of Madagascar. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also announced a $100 million line of credit to the Seychelles to augment its defense capabilities. China’s naval base in Djibouti is often touted as evidence of China’s expansionist maritime ambitions, but India is playing this game too, and its moves shouldn’t be ignored just because it has been slightly less pushy about maritime territorial claims on the world stage.

Moldova’s Supreme Court upheld a ruling to void the results of the capital’s mayoral election. The original ruling, issued against the pro-West candidate who won, set off protests on June 3 that have not ended. This story by itself would not be worth highlighting if it weren’t for a surprise visit by Moldova’s prime minister to the United States. According to the State Department readout, the prime minister and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the importance of “free and fair elections” among other bilateral issues. Russia is no doubt watching these developments closely.

The Czech Republic is skeptical of recent Polish foreign policy moves, at least according to Polish media. Countries are often skeptical of other countries, but here is some food for thought. The Czech Republic and Poland are members of the Visegrad Group, and both in their own ways have struggled with how to reduce their economic and political dependence on Germany. Poland is unabashedly against the status quo in the EU, which it believes excludes Eastern Europe from important decision-making. The Czech Republic has been politically gridlocked since January, when the minority government in Prague resigned after a vote of no-confidence. (Another vote will take place in July.) That same government has fended off the country’s euroskeptics by being ambiguous about its position to the EU. The point is: If there is some kind of disagreement brewing between these two oft-overlooked EU member states, it could have broader implications for the Continent.

Migrants continue to put political pressure on regimes throughout the Western world. In Central America, an Organization of American States official told a Nicaraguan newspaper that the situation in the country was headed toward “a generalized loss of control.” Of course, Nicaragua has been in chaos for months, and the OAS is not a body with an especially high degree of power or control. But a serious degradation in an already unstable situation might send still more refugees streaming north into Mexico or to the U.S., where immigration has become an even more contentious topic than usual. Meanwhile, in Europe, a migrant lifeboat with 247 people on board has been turned away from Italy, Malta and now Spain. Italy’s prime minister has said he convinced Malta to let the ship dock, but the Maltese government will only say that discussions are ongoing.

Honorable Mention

  • Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has a new commander. It’s unclear whether this is routine, but with Russia still engaged in Syria and with deployments in the Mediterranean, the timing is strange.
  • The U.S. has asked Japan to stop importing Iranian oil, a big ask of a country that depends so much on energy imports.
  • An Eritrean delegation has left for Ethiopia. It’s unclear whether this latest effort can end decades of conflict.
  • Every week seems to bring with it a new purge in Uzbekistan. This time it was the Education Ministry.
  • Papua New Guinea’s prime minister has returned from what he described as a productive visit to China. It will be important going forward to assess whether the country is simply taking advantage of Chinese largesse or whether PNG is leaning toward China more broadly.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel isn’t out of the woods yet. Discussions continue between the Christian Social Union and Christian Democratic Union, and her political fate potentially hangs in the balance.
  • The U.S. has a new plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace. The plan is reportedly backed by Egypt, the UAE, Jordan and Saudi Arabia but not by the Palestinian Authority. This should be interesting.