Trump wades into Golan sovereignty. U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday a call for the U.S. to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in 1967. Unsurprisingly, the move was roundly condemned by European governments, Russia and most of the Middle East. Moscow and Paris said it would be a violation of international law and United Nations Security Council decisions. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is in a tough re-election fight and has been pushing for such a statement since early 2017, called Trump to thank him. Tweets are just tweets, of course, even when coming from the Oval Office. And whether or not the U.S. moves forward with the change, it won’t change much on the ground. Israel already controls the Golan Heights, it needs the territory for strategic depth (especially considering the increasing threat from Iran-backed forces in Syria), and no one is going to take it from them. And while this may complicate the White House’s latest push for peace in the Middle East, those talks weren’t going anywhere quickly. Perhaps more important, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday warned that Israeli port and telecommunications concessions to Chinese firms might jeopardize intelligence sharing and security cooperation with the U.S.
Backsliding on the Korean Peninsula. On Thursday, North Korea withdrew officials from an inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong, located on the border with the South. This comes two days after Pyongyang ripped into Seoul for planning new military exercises – even though they won’t involve U.S. troops, and even though the U.S. and South Korea are scaling back annual joint drills to keep the North at the negotiating table. The U.S., meanwhile, imposed its first North Korea-related sanctions in nearly a year, blacklisting two Chinese shipping companies for smuggling refined petroleum to North Korea in violation of U.N. and U.S. sanctions. The peace process with the North isn’t about to collapse altogether; Pyongyang is unlikely to push U.S. red lines by testing an intercontinental ballistic missile, and it has an interest in trying to persuade the international community to abandon the United States’ “maximum pressure campaign.” But it needs to drive a wedge between the U.S. and the South, and it needs to make it clear that it can’t just be ignored altogether. Don’t be surprised by additional moves intended to force Seoul to get off the fence, nor even by “provocations” such as shorter-range missile tests in the coming months.
An unstoppable force approaches a deadline. The European Union agreed to extend Brexit past March 29 during a Thursday summit with British Prime Minister Theresa May, but it’s still trying to keep the process from dragging out forever. If May can get her embattled Brexit deal approved by the British Parliament next week, then the extension will last until May 22, the day before European Parliament elections begin. If the British Parliament, as expected, shoots May’s deal down yet again, the extension will last only until April 12. That’s not exactly a hard deadline; Brussels will be open to an even longer extension if it thinks doing so would realistically avoid a “no deal” withdrawal by the U.K – or if it thinks it puts the U.K. on a path toward giving up on Brexit altogether. But a longer delay would require the U.K. to agree to participate in European Parliament elections, a prospect May called “absurd” today. If the U.K. declines, according to Brussels, it will be out of the bloc on April 12. The EU is unlikely to budge on this point, since it would mean having a member state without elected representation at the parliament, in violation of EU treaties. In other words, to concede would undermine EU law and institutional integrity, without which Brussels couldn’t exert any power.
- Three-month yields on U.S. treasuries briefly rose higher than those of 10-year treasuries on Friday – the first such inversion of the yield curve (a historically reliable predictor of a recession) since 2007.
- The U.S. threatened to boycott the annual meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank in China next week if Beijing refuses to allow a representative of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to participate.
- Iranian oil exports have dropped to roughly 1 million barrels per day in March, according to Refinitiv Eikon data, down from 1.3 million bpd in February and around 2.5 million bpd a year ago.
- China announced a new $2.1 billion loan to help ease Pakistan’s balance of payments crisis.
- Germany’s manufacturing sector has continued to contract in March, with IHS Markit’s flash composite purchasing managers’ index falling to its lowest level since June 2013.
- Russia agreed to supply natural gas to Hungary beginning in 2020, even if Moscow and Kiev fail to reach a new agreement on gas transit through Ukraine.
- A blast at a Chinese chemical plant killed at least 47 people and injured nearly 650 others. Similar incidents have caused social upheaval in China in the past.
- The Philippines and Russia are expected to sign a naval cooperation agreement in July, according to Manila.
- Trump will meet with the leaders of five Caribbean countries today to discuss the Venezuelan crisis and China’s growing presence in the region.