Morning Brief

United States Sticks to Iran Deterrence

Plus: Theresa May's "new deal," Sudan's protesters on strike, and the other stories we're following today.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefed lawmakers on the Iran threat, May 21, 2019.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefed lawmakers on the Iran threat, May 21, 2019. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. administration officials emphasize deterrence on Iran, British Prime Minister Theresa May sets out a Brexit deal with concessions, and Sudan’s protesters call a strike amid political deadlock.

We welcome your feedback at morningbrief@foreignpolicy.com.


Will the United States Stand Down on Iran?

The U.S. administration officials who spoke to Congress about Iran on Tuesday in closed-door sessions tried to give the impression that U.S. President Donald Trump wants only to deter Iran as tensions and rhetoric escalate. Earlier, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said that the Pentagon had “put on hold” the potential of attacks on American citizens, but provided scant details.

Lawmakers emerged from the meetings largely divided in opinion along party lines. Some Democrats said they were not convinced of increased threats from Iran based on the evidence presented to Congress, while Republicans viewed the threats as credible.

Little engagement. Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has rejected the idea of negotiations with the United States. “Today’s situation is not suitable for talks and our choice is resistance only,” he said to state media. Earlier this week Iran quadrupled its production of enriched uranium in breach of the 2015 nuclear deal. Fearing a confrontation, neighboring Iraq has sent representatives to the United States and Iran to ease tensions.

Not convinced? The public may not be so easily convinced that the U.S. administration will scale back its rhetoric. A poll released Tuesday found that nearly half of Americans think the United States will go to war with Iran “within the next few years,” while few would support a pre-emptive attack. The bigger risk—especially in the case of a divided White House—is an accidental war, Steven Simon and Richard Sokolsky argue for FP.

“[T]he administration’s actions are increasing rather than lowering the risks that the two countries will stumble into a conflict as a result of miscalculation, misunderstanding, or miscommunication,” they write.

Market effects. Expect crude oil prices to remain steady, as the supply squeeze caused by U.S. sanctions on Iran appears to be offset by the effects of the U.S.-China trade war on global demand for oil.


What We’re Following Today

Britain’s May made concessions on second referendum. British Prime Minister Theresa May put forth a “new deal” on Brexit, hoping to break a parliamentary logjam. The proposed deal offers the possibility of a second referendum on the agreement as well as a customs union with the European Union, angering Brexit hardliners. But the Labor Party and many in May’s own Conservative Party have already said they won’t support it, potentially dooming her premiership.

Protests in Indonesia. Violent demonstrations rocked Jakarta and left at least six dead, after the national election commission confirmed that President Joko Widodo had beaten his challenger amidst allegations of vote fraud and electoral irregularities.

Sudan protest group calls a strike. The Sudanese Professionals Association, which organized the protests that helped bring down ex-President Omar al-Bashir, has called a general strike after two days of meetings between the country’s opposition and its Transitional Military Council failed to reach a deal. The deadlock has dashed any remaining hopes for a smooth transition.

Bishops meet in Poland to tackle abuse. Polish bishops will meet today to discuss how to handle pedophilia cases within the country’s Catholic Church after a recent documentary alleged it had covered up abuse. While sexual abuse scandals have shaken the Catholic Church globally, there has been no consensus on how to address the issue in devoutly Catholic Poland. The scandal poses a challenge to the country’s conservative ruling party ahead of European elections.

Canada sends delegation to China. Canada has sent representatives to China to push for the release of two of its citizens arrested for espionage last week. The Canadians, a businessman and a former diplomat, were detained last December after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, the Chief Financial Officer of Chinese telecoms firm Huawei, who faces extradition to the United States.


Keep an Eye On

Chinese rare-earth minerals. China supplies around 80 percent of the rare-earth minerals imported to the United States that are used across industries: oil refining, cars, consumer electronics, and defense. As the U.S.-China trade war escalates, China seems to be floating the idea of banning the imports—a move that would hit every corner of the U.S. economy, Keith Johnson and Elias Groll report.

Global tension on abortion. The U.N. human rights office has weighed in on recent abortion laws in several U.S. states, concerned that women could lose access to safe abortions. Last week, the Trump administration again watered down language on reproductive health—which it equates with abortion—on the international stage. The strategy has put the United States at odds with allies.

The trial of Argentina’s ex-president. The corruption trial of Argentina’s former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner started on Tuesday, days after she announced she would run for vice president later this year. It is one of 12 cases facing Kirchner, who is polling well amid the country’s economic crisis. She decried the trial as a “smokescreen” to harm her campaign.

The effects of U.S. pardons on credibility. The report that U.S. President Donald Trump is preparing to pardon accused and convicted U.S. servicemen for war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq has sparked outrage. The pardons will likely undermine U.S. credibility beyond the Middle East, James Palmer writes.

Chlorine attacks in Syria? The United States suspects the Assad regime may have used chemical weapons again, and warned that if reports are confirmed, it will “respond quickly.”


Ballot Box

Results are expected as early as today in Malawi’s presidential election, which observers say is one of the most unpredictable since the country returned to multi-party democracy in 1994. President Peter Mutharika is running against his own vice president for a second term.

With its new parliament was sworn in Tuesday, Spain now has the largest proportion of female lawmakers in Europe: 47 percent. The number of women in parliament has risen since 2007, when Spain passed a law requiring election lists to have 40 percent female representation.

Poll officials in India denied opposition allegations of fraud in the country’s general election, which concluded Sunday. The results of the six-week contest are expected on Thursday.


Odds and Ends

The foreign minister of Japan requested that foreign media refer to the country’s prime minister as Abe Shinzo rather than Shinzo Abe, in line with Japanese-language convention. It is unclear whether the U.S. government will comply when U.S. President Donald Trump visits Japan this weekend.

There is a burgeoning market for dummy smartphones in Mexico City, where armed robberies on buses have become commonplace. Cautious commuters carry the fakes to hand over to thieves.


That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is the newsletter editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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