Trade and national security. In a landmark ruling, the World Trade Organization said countries can impose trade restrictions to protect their national security interests. However, the WTO reserved the right to judge whether a certain national security threat qualifies. The ruling could have consequences for the steel and aluminum tariffs the U.S. said it was putting in place to safeguard its national security. It’s the first time the WTO has ruled on national security issues, and a day before the ruling the organization’s director-general, Roberto Azevedo, said that while sensitive questions like national security should be handled at the political level and not through a technical trade dispute mechanism, he acknowledged that the WTO had no choice but to address the case filed before it.
The U.S., Iran and Iraq. The Trump administration is reportedly planning to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. It would be the first time the U.S. has designated a state entity as such. The head of Iran’s parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee suggested Tehran could respond by designating U.S. forces as terrorists. Iran is also trying to undermine the U.S. by bringing Iraq further into its orbit. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for Iran and Iraq to increase their gas and electricity trade – and perhaps their oil trade, too. He also said the two should adopt stronger joint measures to fight terrorism in the region. Energy and combating terrorism are two key pillars of the U.S.-Iraq relationship; Washington has been trying to support non-Iranian energy sources for Iraq, and just this week Iraq’s prime minister said the presence of U.S. troops in his country is justified by their contribution to counterterrorism efforts. The bottom line: Washington seems to be showing its hand for its next offensive against Iran.
NATO fissures. The diverging interests of NATO’s eastern and western members marred the organization’s 70th anniversary this week. On April 4, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence warned that the U.S. “cannot ensure the defense of the West” if the West continues to depend on Russian energy. Poland, meanwhile, hosted the Bucharest Nine, an Eastern European group of former Soviet states that are now NATO members, to discuss the strengthening of NATO’s eastern flank. In an address to the group, Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak proclaimed, “we are NATO.” On the sidelines, Poland and Lithuania committed to closer ties and to reinforce the troops along their shared border. Elsewhere, Hungary and the U.S. signed a joint defense agreement, and Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid said she will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss Ukraine, Georgia and bilateral relations. In the Black Sea, NATO ships will join Ukraine and Georgia for naval exercises, which Russia described as “another step toward the escalation of tensions in the region,” warning that it would respond to any provocations. All in all, not the most auspicious of birthday weeks for NATO.
Protests in Venezuela. Marches will take place across Venezuela today as the country’s crisis continues. The opposition is trying to keep pressure on President Nicolas Maduro with the hopes of toppling the regime – an unlikely prospect without the backing of security forces. Maduro’s government has called for counterprotests. In support of the opposition, Washington is moving to restrict the flow of Venezuelan oil to Cuba, given Havana’s role in propping up Maduro. The U.S. is also putting new sanctions on two shipping companies. The U.S. and Switzerland have signed an agreement that puts the representation of U.S. interests in Venezuela (primarily consular services for U.S. citizens) under Swiss authority.
- North Korea is building a new 3,000-ton submarine capable of launching ballistic missiles, according to a South Korean military spokesman.
- Moldova’s president said his country “seeks to restore strategic partnership with the Russian Federation.”
- Argentina will get its next installment of its International Monetary Fund standby loan, worth $10.8 billion, after successfully completing its third review by the IMF Executive Board.
- Russia and the Republic of Congo signed a deal that allows for the delivery of Russian arms, military technology, personnel training and other military products to Congo.
- Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced a seven-point program for managing immigration. It calls for national governments (not Brussels) to manage immigration, a country’s right to deny immigrants entry and enforced entry requirements, among others.
- Greece’s Migration Ministry announced its borders will remain closed after Greek police clashed with migrants and refugees near the border with North Macedonia. False rumors that the border would be opened spurred immigrants to gather in a field by the border beginning on Thursday.