World update: March 6 2018



At least two people were killed in Nangarhar province on Tuesday by a sticky bomb attached to a fuel truck. At least three people were wounded, and a number of buildings seem to have been damaged. There’s been no claim of responsibility.


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited India a couple of weeks ago to try to jump-start the India-Iran relationship, but the uncertainty around the Iran nuclear deal is complicating things:

At first glance, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s recent visit to India made news for all the right reasons. The three-day tour Feb 15-17, his first state visit to India, revolved around furthering economic engagement between the two countries. The optics were great, and the announcements following his “substantive talks” with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi received praise. Close observers would have noted, however, that the visit did not break new ground. Rather, it laid bare the reality that both sides are hedging their bets based on the potential exit of the United States from the major powers’ nuclear deal with Iran.


Indeed, Iran is once again wooing its Asian customers and partners as European investments continue to be held hostage to President Donald Trump’s rhetoric against the nuclear deal and, more broadly, Iran. India, though keen on the potential gains from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), now anticipates the fallout of a US exit and has recalibrated its investments and expectations accordingly. New Delhi has repurposed its to-do list on Iran, culling it to the absolute essentials key to New Delhi’s primary strategic interest in its neighborhood — namely, connectivity.


The Sri Lankan government has imposed a nationwide state of emergency in response to mob violence directed against Muslims in the city of Kandy. At least one person was killed on Sunday when Sinhalese mobs attacked Muslim homes, businesses, and places of worship. That violence came a week after similar mob attacks in the eastern part of the country. As has been the case with the Rohingya in Myanmar, these attacks seem to be fueled by Buddhist extremist preachers who whip their followers into an anti-Muslim nationalist froth. If the communal violence continues then it’s going to start dredging up bad memories of the Sri Lankan civil war.


Based on interviews with Rohingya who have recently fled into Bangladesh, UN assistant secretary-general for human rights Andrew Gilmour has concluded that Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing campaign is ongoing:

“It appears that widespread and systematic violence against the Rohingya persists,” Gilmour said.


“The nature of the violence has changed from the frenzied blood-letting and mass rape of last year to a lower intensity campaign of terror and forced starvation that seems to be designed to drive the remaining Rohingya from their homes and into Bangladesh.”


Despite Myanmar saying it was ready to accept back refugees under an pact signed with Bangladesh in November, he added, “Safe, dignified and sustainable returns are, of course, impossible under current conditions”.


China finally unveiled its new military budget on Monday, and it turns out that it’s increasing said budget by 8.1 percent this year to around $173 billion. The quickest response to that news came from Taiwan, whose government says it has no intention of trying to get into an arms race with Beijing but that it will look to boost its domestic arms industry to prepare for any threat from the mainland. Taiwan has a hard time buying weapons on the foreign market, even sometimes from the United States, because Beijing makes it hard. So a local weapons market is particularly important in their case.


It appears that Kim Jong-un may have decided to call Washington’s bluff:

North Korea has vowed not to test missiles or nuclear weapons during proposed talks with the United States and South Korea, officials from South Korea said Tuesday after returning from surprisingly productive meetings in Pyongyang.


North Korea said it was prepared to hold “candid talks” with the United States about denuclearization and normalizing relations and “made it clear” that it would not resume provocations while engaged in dialogue, the officials said upon returning to Seoul.

Nobody in Pyongyang has been willing to confirm what the South Korean envoys are saying, but if the North Koreans really did put “denuclearization” on the table then that’s huge. Not because they’re actually prepared to go through with it. Based on previous experience that’s pretty unlikely, and even if they are willing to discuss it there’s another shoe that has to drop–i.e., they’re going to want something pretty big in return. But what they have done is laid the responsibility for negotiations squarely in Donald Trump’s lap. Now he’s got to pursue diplomacy, and in the meantime he’ll need to at least hold off on imposing any new sanctions against North Korea (though his State Department did levy new sanctions on Tuesday over the Kim Jong-nam assassination). Trump seems to be pretty optimistic about this new development, and why not? If he gets North Korea to come to the table with denuclearization at least a possibility, he can claim it was all because of the pressure he put on them (and, hey, he’s probably not entirely wrong about that).

You know, it sure would be nice if the Trump administration had a fully staffed State Department with a complete East Asian team to handle this delicate situation. Oh well.


One person who isn’t taking North Korea’s overtures at face value is South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Though he’s pushed hard to reopen diplomacy with North Korea and (hopefully) between North Korea and the US, Moon made it clear on Tuesday that he wants to bolster South Korea’s defensive capabilities just in case.


Before he left for his first African tour as Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson delivered a speech on Tuesday at George Mason University in which he criticized China’s outreach to Africa for being exploitative, for being corrupt, and for “encouraging dependency.”

Then he unveiled a brand new $533 million humanitarian aid package for African countries threatened by famine.

Call me crazy, but maybe African countries would be less amenable to China’s message if the United States were offering more aid than whatever spare change it was able to dig out of the couch cushions at the Pentagon.


With the Sudanese economy in shambles and the prospects for full diplomatic (and financial) reengagement with the United States waning, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been trying to cobble together international support. He threw in, for example, with Saudi Arabia in the hopes that the Saudis would reward him for it. That gambit doesn’t seem to have paid off, literally:

Nowhere is this strategy more evident than in Sudan’s relations with the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar. Enticed by promises of money for infrastructure and agriculture development, as well as deposits in the Sudanese Central Bank, Sudan – a close ally of Iran during the 1990s and early 2000s – switched its allegiance to the Arab Gulf bloc in 2014. The biggest consequence of this realignment was Khartoum’s dispatch of thousands of troops to Yemen to join the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Huthi rebels.


Khartoum is disappointed, however, with the financial rewards it has received in return, despite also benefitting from Saudi lobbying of the U.S. over sanctions repeal. In mid-2017, when tensions escalated between Qatar and the Saudi-UAE axis, Khartoum chose not to break with its longstanding ally in Doha, preferring to keep its options open.

This helps to explain why Sudan has been so keen on developing its ties with Turkey, though that’s exacerbated tensions between Sudan and Egypt and Sudan and Eritrea. Khartoum is also concerned about Darfuri militias getting involved in the Libyan civil war and what that might eventually mean in terms of foreign support for them.


With Djibouti having nationalized the Doraleh Container Terminal after a dispute with DP World, there is a fair amount of consternation in the Pentagon over the possibility that China might take over that port. Djibouti is of course home to AFRICOM and the site of the only permanent US military base in Africa, which could be threatened if China were to take over the port. It’s also in an extremely strategic position with respect to control of Red Sea shipping lanes. At this point, I feel it’s important to note that there’s no actual evidence that China is going to get control of the port. That’s certainly a possibility but so far this seems to be a scenario dreamed up in Washington.



Alternative for Germany has apparently started sending people to Syria on “fact-finding missions” to build a case that the country (yes, that Syria) is safe for refugees to return. Hopefully they’ll get stuck there, in the active fucking war zone, and the refugees can stay in Germany in their stead.


AFD’s “fuck you” approach to refugees is likely to become a lot more mainstream in the European Union after the wake-up call that was Sunday’s Italian election. Given the choice between actually applying its own rules to distribute refugees evenly around the EU and just deporting them, you can be sure EU leaders will go for deportation every time. I mean, the anti-migrant (or, if you prefer, racist) message in that vote was kind of hard to miss.

In terms of Italian politics, things are going to be unsettled for some time to come but new battle lines are already being drawn. The Italian Democratic Party may be falling apart, a victim of the collective faceplant that milquetoast center-left parties have been making all over the Western world. Having been thoroughly chastened by Italian voters on Sunday, there is a significant faction within the party that wants to participate in a coalition led by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement. There’s another significant faction, led by party boss Matteo Renzi, that is resisting such a move. Five Star and the Democrats might together be able to form a majority, but if Renzi and even a small bloc of Democrats refuse to join that coalition then the math no longer works. Renzi is supposed to be resigning, as one does when one leads one’s party to an electoral thrashing, but it looks like he may stay on just long enough to make sure the party, or at least some part of it, stays out of a coalition with Five Star.

The other main contender to form the new government is the center-right coalition that includes the right-wing League and Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia party. That coalition wound up with about 37 percent of the vote compared to Five Star’s 32 percent, so if it holds together it does have a slightly stronger claim on leading the next government. The problem is that it also looks like its falling apart. League party boss Matteo Salvini, who is so far right (or, if you prefer, so racist) as to be toxic to any potential allies, insists that he’s the only justifiable candidate to serve as prime minister out of the coalition, since he leads its largest party. But Berlusconi, who can’t hold office due to a 2013 tax fraud conviction, says that he’s going to be the “coordinator” for the coalition, which sure sounds like he thinks he should get to pick its PM candidate. And I thought these two kids were going to stay together, I really did.

Basically the ball is in Italian President Sergio Mattarella’s court. He’s the one who needs to anoint a prospective prime minister and give that person first crack at putting together a government. It’s not clear at this point what he’s inclined to do.



Former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and 11 other government officials are going to stand trial for allegedly covering up Iran’s alleged role in the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association center in Buenos Aires.


Oh, OK:

I hope they had a nice time.

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