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Morning Brief

Iran Faces New U.S. Sanctions Threat

Plus: A chemical weapons investigation in Syria, pension reform in Brazil, and the other stories we’re following today.

Iran's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Kazem Gharib Abadi give a press conference after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors meeting in Vienna on July 10.
Iran's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Kazem Gharib Abadi give a press conference after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors meeting in Vienna on July 10. ALEX HALADA/AFP/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Trump threatens Iran with further sanctions as tensions flare in the Strait of Hormuz, a new chemical weapons team plans a Syria investigation, and a key pension reform is passed in Brazil.

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Trump Threatens More Sanctions on Iran

U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to “substantially” increase U.S. sanctions on Iran as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) held an emergency meeting on Wednesday. Iran has continued enriching uranium beyond the limits set by the 2015 nuclear deal, which the United States backed out of last year. While Trump has accused Iran of secretly enriching uranium before, the United States remains open to talks.

What can Iran do? The IAEA confirmed that Iran is enriching its uranium to 4.5 percent purity—still very far from the 90 percent that would make it weapons-grade. (The limit set by the deal is 3.67 percent.) Iran insists is actions are in response to U.S. sanctions, and that it does not intend to make a nuclear weapon. It could respond to Trump’s threats with further escalation.

Pushback. While the IAEA convened the emergency meeting at Washington’s request, U.S. representatives faced some pushback from the remaining signatories to the deal: Russia, China, and Europe. They blame the Trump administration for the ongoing crisis. Britain, France, and Germany are struggling—but still hoping—to resolve it through diplomacy.

What We’re Following Today

Chemical weapons investigations to begin in Syria. A new chemical weapons team could soon begin investigations to attribute blame for nine alleged attacks during the course of the country’s civil war, Reuters reports. While Syria pledged to destroy its chemical weapons, attacks using chemical agents during the war have been common. It joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013, opening itself up to inspections by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, but has refused to offer visas to the newly created team.

Meanwhile, President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are struggling to defeat rebels in the country’s northwest, where the insurgents enjoy Turkish support. Observers say government forces have stalled and could have trouble retaking the area by force.

Brazil passes pension reform. Brazil’s lower house has passed a landmark reform to the pension system by a wide margin—a big victory for President Jair Bolsonaro’s government. The current pension system has created a huge budget gap that Bolsonaro has pledged to close. The vote came after months of political disagreement, with the bill’s supporters accusing Bolsonaro of slowing the process down. It faces a final vote on Friday or Saturday.

Von der Leyen faces challenge from EU Greens. Ursula von der Leyen, who comes from Europe’s center-right, may face a challenge in the EU Parliament to secure her appointment as the next Commission head. Despite her climate promises, she won’t have the support of the Greens. To get an absolute majority, she will need the center-left.

Trump hosts social media summit—without big tech. U.S. President Donald Trump hosts a social media summit today at the White House, but representatives for the big platforms—Facebook, Twitter, and Google—haven’t been invited. Trump has accused the platforms of political bias, and could use the meeting to signal future action against the big companies.

Keep an Eye On

The Strait of Hormuz. Three Iranian ships attempted to block a British oil tanker as it attempted to pass through the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran. A British warship, the HMS Montrose, intervened and pointed its guns at the Iranian vessels, which then turned away, according to reports. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards denied involvement but the move could be a retaliation for Britain’s seizure of an Iranian vessel off the coast of Gibraltar last week. The British government issued a statement urging Iran “to de-escalate the situation in the region.”

Russia’s expanding influence in Africa. Last week, two employees of an infamous Russian media manager were detained in Libya and accused of trying to influence the country’s elections. The incident offer a glimpse into the diffuse and evolving nature of Russia’s influence operations around the world—and its expansion into Africa, Amy Mackinnon reports.

Solidarity with Xinjiang’s Uighurs. Twenty-two countries have submitted a joint letter to the president of the U.N. Human Rights Council rebuking China for the mass detention of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region. The group includes Australia, Britain, Canada, and Japan. (The United States backed out of the forum last year.) Muslim leaders have not been so quick to condemn China, Azeem Ibrahim writes for FP.

Dubai’s royal family. Last week, news broke that Princess Haya bint al-Hussein—one of the six wives of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum—had fled the royal family. Her departure lends legitimacy to previous allegations of abuse within the family and could harm the UAE’s image, Ola Salem writes for FP.

Airbus vs. Boeing. Europe’s Airbus is now projected to surpass Boeing as the world’s top plane manufacturer this year after the U.S. company reported a 37 percent decrease in deliveries. Boeing’s output has taken a hit since regulators grounded its popular 737 Max jet after deadly disasters involving Ethiopian Airlines and Indonesia’s Lion Air.

Taiwan’s 2020 election. Taiwan’s opposition party is currently holding a primary by phone poll to decide who will face off against President Tsai Ing-wen next year. Tsai, who visits the United States this week, has received a reelection boost from increasing Chinese aggression, Hilton Yip writes for FP.

Odds and Ends

Interpol and customs officials in 109 countries have announced that in June they conducted the largest anti-wildlife trafficking operation in history, seizing thousands of live endangered animals: turtles and tortoises, cats, apes, and reptiles. The crackdown led to 582 arrests.

A bishop in Colombia will perform an exorcism by helicopter this weekend, sprinkling holy water over the entire city of Buenaventura from above. The bishop seeks to combat high rates of drug crime and violence. “We have to drive the devil out of Buenaventura,” he said.

An energy company in Russia is warning tourists to stay away from a turquoise lake—known on Instagram as the “Siberian Maldives”—because it’s filled with dangerous metal oxides from a coal ash dump site. The warnings appear only to have attracted more visitors.

A neighbor of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confessed publicly to (unintentionally) killing her cat more than a year after the first feline, Paddles, was found run over by a car near Ardern’s Auckland home. The neighbor reportedly apologized and sent a condolence card.

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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