Reading the Trump leaves on China. After a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday, and with a summit with Xi coming up Dec. 1, U.S. President Donald Trump seems optimistic about a trade deal with Beijing. Speaking to reporters yesterday, Trump said he thought “a very good deal will be made with China,” in part because China is very eager to make a deal. There have been some signs that this is true: The Bank of Kunlun has decided to stop doing business with Iran starting tomorrow, and China’s largest oil refiners, one of which owns the bank, have opted not to buy Iranian crude after U.S. sanctions against Iran enter effect Monday. There have also been signs that China’s economy is struggling – most notably an increase in stimulus and support for the economy at the expense of Xi’s ambitious reforms. The real question here is whether the U.S. is willing to cede enough ground to make an economic arrangement with China worth Beijing’s while. As of now, we see little basis for optimism on that front, the president’s comments notwithstanding.
Iran is closer to making an indigenously built fighter jet. At least, that’s what it wants everyone to believe. The Islamic Republic of Iran News Network broadcast a ceremony today inaugurating the production line for the Kowsar-88 fighter jet in Isfahan. Iran first announced it was building the Kowsar in 2012, and on Aug. 21, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani unveiled the jet and sat in the cockpit for good measure. The only problem was that the plane used in the photo op appeared to be a recently painted Northrop F-5F Tiger, not an indigenously built, fourth-generation fighter jet. (Iran has several F-5s left over from the 1960s and 1970s.) As always, the propaganda does contain a kernel of truth: According to the European Defense Review, Iran plans to build 16 Kowsar-88 jets in the next 10 years – the plane just wasn’t ready for unveiling in August, so an F-5F was used in its place. Even so, the Kowsar-88 is not completely indigenously built. At least one expert said only 70 percent of it will be made in Iran, and the EDR notes that Iran plans to recycle engine parts from older aircraft to keep the new planes functional. Furthermore, while Iran has updated the Kowsar-88’s avionics system, the notion that the new jet – assuming it is actually ready for production – is advanced compared with what other countries are fielding is simply false. Iran’s air force is one of its biggest military weaknesses. But the IRINN’s broadcast does suggest the country has made a small step forward in what will be a much longer process.
Israel has warned Lebanon that it is considering military action against Hezbollah. According to Israel’s Channel 2 news, the Israeli deputy national security adviser delivered the message to an adviser to French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country has close ties with Lebanon. Israel reportedly said that if Hezbollah’s production of rockets and missiles in Lebanese factories isn’t stopped through diplomatic means, then “Israel will act on its own.” Israel also reportedly indicated it would give Lebanon a chance to curb the construction of these factories, in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed Hezbollah is making precision-guided missiles with Iran’s help. The slow, steady drumbeat of war continues. Though conflict does not appear to be imminent, Lebanon won’t be able to stop Hezbollah and Iran from making the missiles, and Israel won’t tolerate their existence.
- Turkey and the U.S. lifted tit-for-tat sanctions on each other related to the detention of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson, who was released in October.
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after a meeting with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki that she wanted an “orderly Brexit procedure” to serve as the basis for strong relations between the U.K. and Europe.
- Ukraine’s president signed a cooperation agreement with the patriarch of Constantinople to create a united Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
- New Caledonia will hold a referendum tomorrow on whether to break away from France; preliminary polls suggest the vote will fail.
- Russia’s foreign minister said the next meeting of the so-called Moscow format, a mechanism for talks on Afghanistan, will take place Nov. 9 and include Afghanistan, India, Iran, China, Pakistan and the U.S.
- Russia’s president is hosting Cuba’s president in Moscow today to discuss bilateral ties.