Morning Brief

Mixed Messages on Iran

Plus: Stocks fall again amid trade war, Netanyahu misses his government deadline, and the other stories we're following today.

People chat in front of a mural depicting Iran's flag of Iran, in Tehran, Iran on May 22.
People chat in front of a mural depicting Iran's flag of Iran, in Tehran, Iran on May 22. Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Iran responds to the Trump administration’s mixed messages, global markets slump as China threatens to curtail its rare-earth exports to the United States, and Netanyahu misses the deadline to form a coalition government in Israel.

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U.S. Sends Iran Mixed Messages

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that Iran would not negotiate with the United States, despite President Hassan Rouhani suggesting the potential for talks if the United States lifts its sanctions.

The announcement comes amid mixed messages from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump said on Monday that he hoped Iran would meet with the United States to reach a new nuclear deal. (Trump’s appeal to Iran—“call me”—has become a meme in Iran.) Meanwhile, his National Security Advisor John Bolton has amped up his rhetoric, saying Iran is seeking nuclear weapons and that it “almost certainly” attacked oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

A rift on North Korea? U.S. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan began a weeklong trip in Asia this week. Shanahan appeared to break with his boss and side with Bolton on the issue of North Korean missiles, when he told reporters traveling with him that Pyongyang’s launches of short-range ballistic missiles constituted a violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution. In Japan last weekend, Trump had declared “North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me.”

A strategic alliance. Russian officials think empty U.S. threats could discredit Trump’s policy on Iran while pushing Tehran further into Moscow’s embrace, Reese Erlich reports for FP. “[S]o long as the United States continues its aggressive and erratic policies in the region, Iran and Russia will remain allies with an easily defined common enemy,” he writes.

Regional crisis summit. Saudi Arabia hosts an emergency summit in Mecca today to discuss regional tensions with Iran. Qatar’s prime minister is expected to attend, the highest-ranking Qatari official to visit Saudi Arabia since a regional diplomatic rift began in 2017.

What We’re Following Today

Markets slump as China prepares to retaliate. Global stocks have fallen after Chinese state media indicated that Beijing would cut exports of rare-earth elements to the United States amid the countries’ trade war. The Dow Jones reached its lowest level in nearly four months. China supplies around 80 percent of rare-earths to the United States, and a ban would affect every part of the economy.

Israel headed for new election. Israeli lawmakers have voted to dissolve the Knesset, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu missed the deadline to form a coalition government. The crisis, centered on a bill that would increase the number of ultra-Orthodox men serving in the military, came as a blow to Netanyahu, who had emerged victorious in April elections despite facing ongoing corruption investigations. The new vote is expected in September, two weeks before Netanyahu is scheduled to appear in a pre-indictment hearing on corruption charges.

Turkey’s EU bid frozen. The European Commission said Wednesday that Turkey’s bid for EU membership is on hold due to democratic “backsliding,” including a crackdown following the failed coup in 2016. This week, the United Nations asked Turkey to free two men detained over links to the cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has been blamed for the coup attempt.

Myanmar’s military accused of war crimes. Amnesty International alleges that Myanmar’s army is committing war crimes against civilians in Rakhine state, the site of the crackdown against Rohingya Muslims in 2017. Myanmar’s military—which has recently gone on an arms spending spree—is engaged in conflict there with a Rakhine guerrilla force, the Arakan Army.

Keep an Eye On

Opposition strikes in Sudan. Protest and opposition groups in Sudan held a second day of strikes on Wednesday, shutting down banks across the capital Khartoum. The strikes come amid a pause in talks between the opposition and the ruling military council, and the organizers plan to escalate the action if the two sides do not come to an agreement.

Hopes for Scottish independence. Scotland’s government has presented new referendum rules as it hopes to hold another vote on Scottish independence from Britain in 2020. Scotland voted against independence in 2014, but polls suggest that Brexit—which Scottish voters opposed—has shifted opinions.

Swine fever in China. A British institute and Belgian biotechnology firm are working to develop a treatment for African swine fever, which has spread throughout China’s pig stock—the world’s largest. There is currently no vaccine, and the disease could wipe out a third of China’s herd this year, driving up the price of pork worldwide.

Pakistani airspace. Pakistan will keep the airspace along its eastern border with India closed until June 14, the latest extension in a months-long standoff with India. The closure has forced foreign carriers flying over India to take costly detours, affecting hundreds of flights daily.

Pence goes to Canada. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will meet Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa today to discuss trade. Trudeau is also expected to raise his concerns about the recent restrictive abortion laws passed in the United States.

Ballot Box

Thailand’s main opposition party is asking others not to partner with the pro-military party, as the junta struggles to form a coalition and keep Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in power. Negotiations have been ongoing since the March election, the first since the 2014 military coup.

As Spanish President Pedro Sánchez forms a new government, it could be a test for Socialism in Europe. Sánchez’s party won national elections in April, and while Socialist and Social Democratic parties suffered losses in the European Parliament elections last week, Spain was a significant exception.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari began his second term on Wednesday without an inauguration speech. He faces high unemployment, an entrenched Islamic insurgency, and growing apathy: Only one-third of registered voters cast ballots in Nigeria’s February election.

Odds and Ends

The opposition in New Zealand has denied participating in hacks of government networks to steal data related to the country’s budget after the party leaked some details on Tuesday. The full budget—called the “wellbeing” budget for its shift in priorities—will be unveiled today.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a smaller cabinet in which 50 percent of the ministers are women, making it one of just a few in the world with gender balance. Ethiopia and Rwanda made similar moves last year.

That’s it for today.

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

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