Here are some updates on the situation in Venezuela from the week:
- Two people are claiming to be Venezuela’s president, and neither seems ready to back down. Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who recently proclaimed himself acting president, says that President Nicolas Maduro must that amnesty may be an option if he cooperates. Maduro, meanwhile, has remained defiant, even saying in a live broadcast that he was willing to talk directly with U.S. President Donald Trump and to travel to the U.N. Security Council meeting in New York to argue his case. He also told military commanders to prepare to defend the country and announced nationwide military exercises to take place Feb.10-25.
- The Wall Street Journal reported late yesterday morning that, according to a senior official in the Trump administration, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence spoke with Guaido on Tuesday evening, the night before Guaido declared himself acting president. Pence reportedly called to assure him of the United States’ support if he seized control of the government. If the account is true – and considering what has happened, it seems probable – the U.S. played an active role in orchestrating the current opposition to Maduro.
- Russia continues to support Maduro and to criticize the United States’ posture toward Venezuela. The Russian foreign minister described U.S. policy as “destructive,” and a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry accused Washington of repeating its interventionist policies. In addition, Russia’s ambassador to Mexico told a Mexican newspaper that Russia “appreciated very much” Mexico’s noninterference in Venezuelan political affairs and its continued recognition of Maduro’s administration, a position that puts Mexico City at odds with Washington. Finally, Reuters reports that private Russian military contractors have arrived in Venezuela to protect Maduro’s personal safety. The Russian and Venezuelan governments deny having any information about the story, and the contracting company in question, the Wagner Group, has not made a statement about it.
- The Trump administration has named Elliott Abrams as special envoy to oversee U.S. policy toward Venezuela. Abrams is best known for pleading guilty in 1991 to two misdemeanor charges for withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra affair. (President George H.W. Bush pardoned him in 1992.) Back in 2002, the Guardian reported that Abrams had approved a Venezuelan coup attempt against Hugo Chavez under President George W. Bush. This isn’t the place to adjudicate Abrams’ past, nor is the man himself consequential. But his appointment, and U.S. statements on and policy toward Venezuela, suggests Washington increasingly using moral and ideological justifications in its foreign policy.
Iran anomalies. No, that’s not a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film in this year’s Academy Awards. It’s the best way to describe two strange reports out of Iran that have thrown us for a loop. The first is a statement from by a hard-line cleric that the country’s Assembly of Experts was not considering candidates to succeed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. That the cleric felt the need to issue the denial at all piques our interest. The second is a report from Tasnim news agency, a generally hard-line news source, that the Basij militia will help Iranian police maintain security in residential neighborhoods starting in March. We have not been able to corroborate the report, but, if true, it means the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – of which the Basij is a paramilitary branch – is taking a direct role in policing Iran’s streets. Considering the competition between the IRGC and President Hassan Rouhani’s government, that’s no small development.
Iraqi Kurds attack a Turkish military camp. Kurdish outlet NRT News’ reports yesterday of Iraqi Kurdish protesters attacking a Turkish military camp in northern Iraq appear to be true. NRT said the attack on the camp in Shiladze, roughly 43 miles (70 kilometers) north of Mosul, was meant to protest a recent Turkish airstrike that killed four people in northern Iraq. Turkey’s Defense Ministry has condemned the attack, blaming it on a Kurdistan Workers’ Party provocation, and said it damaged at least two tanks. Local Kurdish news sources report as many as three dead and 10 wounded in the incident, which appears to have ended, as well as increased Turkish air activity in the region. Turkey’s presence in northern Iraq is nothing new, but this attack illustrates greater Iraqi Kurdish hostility to it.
Headwinds for Huawei. Just a month after saying Chinese tech giant Huawei was “welcome” in France, France’s Finance Ministry unveiled new proposals to increase government controls on French telecommunications infrastructure. The announcement comes just two days after the French foreign minister said Huawei posed a significant potential threat to France. China’s foreign minister, in turn, said Huawei was facing “unfair and immoral” treatment from governments abroad. We dealt briefly with this issue in a recent piece and will follow up next week with a deeper look at why Huawei and fifth-generation wireless technology more broadly have become such a point of contention between China and Western powers.
- The Qatar Committee for the Reconstruction of the Gaza Strip began distributing funds to families in Gaza after Israel approved the disbursal and Hamas refused to receive it directly. At least one Qatari news source also said the Gulf state was considering a $20 million arrangement with the United Nations to provide aid to Gaza over the next six months.
- Responding to a French threat to enact new sanctions against Iran over its ballistic missile program, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said Tehran might “reconsider” its ties with Europe.
- Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon Bloc proposed legislation calling for all foreign military personnel to leave Iraq within a year of formal notification.
- Germany approved the export of four rolling airframe naval missile systems to Qatar, along with the sale of 85 dual-mode radar infrared seekers to enhance missile accuracy.