U.S. Blames Iran for Tanker Attacks
Plus: Expert committee convenes on Ebola, Boris Johnson inches closer to the prime minister's office, and the other stories we're following today.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Tanker attack heightens U.S.-Iran tensions, experts convene to discuss the Ebola outbreak in Congo, and Boris Johnson leads the contest for Britain’s next prime minister.
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Tensions Run High After Tanker Attack
The United States blamed Iran for the attack on two oil tankers on Thursday in the Gulf of Oman. Blasts hit the vessels—Norwegian and Japanese—and forced their crews to abandon ship near the entrance to the strategic Strait of Hormuz, which Iran has threatened to block in the face of U.S. oil sanctions. The incident comes a month after an attack on four tankers in the same area. This time, the United States says it has video evidence to implicate Iran.
The ongoing dispute has rattled U.S. Democratic lawmakers who fear full-scale conflict with Iran, and the latest strikes could raise their concern, FP reports: “The May bombings, some analysts say, appeared to be a low-intensity, carefully planned message that Iran can interfere with one of the world’s most important chokepoints at will. The latest attacks ratchet up the volume of that defiance.”
Tehran denies the allegations. Iran pushed back against the U.S. claims, saying that Washington had not a “shred” of evidence for Iranian involvement in the attacks.
What about diplomacy? The incident came toward the end of a state visit to Iran by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who seeks to ease U.S.-Iran tensions. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei told Abe that U.S. President Donald Trump wasn’t “worthy of any message.” Other countries are worried about the message the attack sends. Security officials in Europe and the United States have warned against jumping to conclusions.
China vows deeper ties with Iran. Chinese President Xi Jinping met his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani at a summit Friday and vowed to strengthen ties with Iran as tensions with the United States escalate.
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What We’re Following Today
Experts meet to discuss Ebola crisis. A World Health Organization committee meets today to decide whether to declare the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a public health emergency, which would increase aid funding. This week the first cross-border cases were confirmed in Uganda, which has a track record of treating the virus. Nearly 1,400 people have died since the start of the outbreak.
Treatment centers in Congo are plagued by armed militias and have grappled with community distrust. An emergency declaration could make the situation more dangerous, Stat News reports: Some militia groups finance themselves by holding aid workers for ransom.
Boris Johnson inches closer to Number 10. After the first round of voting, Boris Johnson has the most support to replace Prime Minister Theresa May—with 114 of 313 Conservative lawmakers backing him. Johnson campaigned for Brexit during the 2016 referendum and would be prepared to leave the European Union without a deal, making Ireland uneasy. Johnson illustrates the internal divisions that have damaged U.K. politics, James Bloodworth argues for FP.
U.N. official travels to Xinjiang. The United Nations’ top counterterrorism official will travel to China’s Xinjiang province this week—a move that has riled human rights activists and some Western governments, FP’s Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer report. The trip threatens to overshadow a planned trip by the U.N. high commissioner for human rights to draw attention to conditions in China’s “re-education” camps, where it has detained an estimated one million Uighurs in the province.
British court rules on Assange extradition. A London court will rule today on whether the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be extradited to the United States, where he faces 18 charges including counts of espionage. Assange is expected to appear. British Home Secretary Sajid Javid signed the U.S. extradition request on Thursday.
Keep an Eye On
Swiss women on strike. Women in Switzerland plan to take part in a nationwide strike today meant to underscore that the country remains behind other developed economies when it comes to workplace gender equality. Swiss women earn around 20 percent less than Swiss men, and pay discrimination has worsened since 2000, according to government statistics.
China’s trade bluff. Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump will probably meet during the G20 summit later this month as their trade war escalates. But Chinese leaders are bluffing when they say they can effectively retaliate, argues Salvatore Babones in FP.
Modi’s foreign policy. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image has changed dramatically since he came to power in 2014, and he remains popular among world leaders. But Modi’s muscular stance when it comes to regional diplomacy—especially toward Pakistan—threatens to tarnish his brand if he can’t balance it with a softer touch, Michael Kugelman argues for FP.
Another landmark ruling in Ecuador. Ecuador’s Constitutional Court legalized same-sex marriage on Thursday, a landmark ruling in the majority Catholic country. The decision comes as other countries in Latin America consider changing their laws. Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Uruguay have already legalized gay marriage.
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Ahead of general elections on Sunday in Guatemala, the country’s election crimes prosecutor has taken a leave of absence, citing threats. Guatemala is plagued by illegal campaign financing, and President Jimmy Morales—barred from running again—has contributed to the backlash against anti-corruption efforts. The U.N.-backed Commission against Impunity, seen as a regional model, will conclude its work in September despite public support.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen defeated a surprise challenger in her primary on Thursday, suggesting support for her China policies: She rejects Beijing’s push for unification in a “one country, two systems” model like Hong Kong. She will likely face two opponents in January, including the populist Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu—who seeks friendlier ties with China.
Local elections in Albania—planned for June 30—are in chaos. President Ilir Meta canceled them this week due to the opposition-led protests against the government ongoing since February. But Prime Minister Edi Rama insists that the vote will go ahead: He says the president’s move is unconstitutional and that the protests are harming Albania’s EU membership bid.
Odds and Ends
Technical problems have further delayed the opening of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin. The high-profile museum, planned in a rebuilt palace, has drawn criticism for not doing enough to address its collection’s colonial provenance. The Forum is now scheduled to open in 2020.
Later today on FP’s podcast, First Person: We take a look back at the history of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests. Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Langfitt puts the huge demonstrations this week in recent context, from the 1997 British handover to the 2014 Umbrella Movement pushing for greater electoral freedom.
That’s it for today.