Morning Brief

Why Did Gibraltar Release an Iranian Tanker?

Plus: Trump tries to add Greenland to his real estate portfolio, a U.N. Security Council meeting on Kashmir, and the other stories we’re following today.

Crew members of Iranian supertanker Grace 1 walk on board off the coast of Gibraltar on August 15.
Crew members of Iranian supertanker Grace 1 walk on board off the coast of Gibraltar on August 15. JORGE GUERRERO/AFP/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Gibraltar’s release of an Iranian tanker aims to ease tensions, Donald Trump wants to buy Greenland from Denmark, and the U.N. Security Council holds a closed-door meeting on Kashmir.

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Gibraltar Releases Iranian Oil Tanker

On Thursday, a court in Gibraltar cleared the way for the release of an Iranian oil tanker and its crew held by authorities in the British territory for six weeks. The ship will head for Greece, where it will be officially released. It is unclear who will purchase its oil—subject to U.S. sanctions. Iran still holds a seized British-flagged tanker. The move appears to indicate that Britain seeks to de-escalate the situation—and the growing tension between Iran and the West.

The United States, meanwhile, made a last-minute bid to seize the Iranian tanker, a request that will be rendered moot once the ship leaves Gibraltar. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was quick to bite back, labeling the U.S. move a “piracy attempt.” Iranian officials have maintained that the initial seizure—on suspicion that the tanker was headed for Syria—was illegal, and captured the British ship in retaliation.

Will Iran release the British-flagged tanker? Iran has not yet made an announcement about the British ship, though it has previously hinted at an exchange. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said that a swap would legitimize Iran’s action. “We are not going to barter a ship that was detained legally with a ship that was detained illegally,” he told Sky News.

What’s next for the U.S.? Gibraltar’s chief minister said that the U.S. request would be considered by another legal body. Despite Zarif’s comments, it’s still unclear if the move will further raise tensions in the Persian Gulf. Britain will still join the U.S.-led maritime mission to protect tankers traveling through the Strait of Hormuz.

What We’re Following Today

Hong Kong braces for weekend protests amid Chinese threats. More anti-government protests are expected in Hong Kong this weekend after a week of violent clashes. A large rally organized by the Civil Human Rights Front—which previously called million-strong marches—is set for Sunday. This time, mainland China has already issued a stern warning, with the Chinese ambassador in London saying Thursday that China would “not sit on its hands and watch” if the protests get out of hand.

Now in its tenth week, the protest movement has presented the largest challenge to President Xi Jinping since he took power and there are fears that China could intervene. Ahead of the weekend, hundreds of paramilitary People’s Armed Police ran drills in Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong.

U.N. Security Council meets on Kashmir. The U.N. Security Council will hold a closed-door meeting today over India’s move last week to revoke Article 370, which had provided Indian-administered Kashmir with a special status. The meeting comes at the request of China and Pakistan, but it is unlikely the council will take action: The United States tends to back India, and China supports Pakistan. Conflict along the contested border between the countries intensified on Thursday, with five Indian soldiers and three Pakistani soldiers killed.

Zimbabwe’s opposition goes ahead with Friday protest. Zimbabwe’s main opposition party will hold a nationwide protest today against the government’s economic policy as the country suffers its worst crisis in a decade. The demonstration goes ahead despite threats: Earlier this week, six activists were kidnapped and beaten by armed men. There is likely to be heavy security during the protests: Zimbabwe’s police have said they expect the demonstrations to turn violent and have instructed authorities to intervene if necessary.

U.S. diplomats losing out on top appointments. Former U.S. diplomats are growing concerned about what they see as a deluge of political appointees at the State Department—a trend that has developed under successive administrations but seems to be accelerating under President Donald Trump. The practice is largely unique to the United States, and erodes the State Department’s ability carry out foreign policy, Robbie Gramer reports.

Keep an Eye On

Is Greenland for sale? U.S. President Donald Trump has asked aides whether the United States can purchase Greenland, a Danish territory, from Denmark. It’s not the first time the U.S. government has expressed interest. President Harry Truman tried to buy the island for $100 million in 1946. Former Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen likened the proposal to an out-of-season April Fool’s joke while Soren Espersen of the far-right Danish People’s Party called the idea “completely insane.” Aaja Chemnitz Larsen, a member of the Danish parliament representing Greenland says the answer from up north is “no, thanks.”

Another Rohingya repatriation attempt. Next week Myanmar and Bangladesh will begin a new attempt to repatriate Rohingya refugees, Reuters reports. While 3,540 refugees have been approved to return, it’s not likely many will agree to go back: The last repatriation attempt, in November, was met with opposition in the camps. The United Nations has said conditions in Myanmar’s Rakhine state are not fit for the refugees to return.

Israel’s decision to bar U.S. congresswomen. Israel announced on Thursday that it would bar U.S. Democratic lawmakers Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from a planned visit to the West Bank after President Donald Trump said they should not be allowed to enter. Both politicians have supported the Palestinian-led boycott movement. The unprecedented move has drawn criticism from fellow Democrats and others—including the pro-Israel group AIPAC.

Argentina’s youth vote. This week, the Argentine peso plummeted after a surprise result in the country’s presidential primary. As the October election approaches, Argentina’s youth vote will be important. But what many young people care about isn’t the economy—it’s legalizing abortion. Abortion is also the issue that has been almost entirely absent from the major presidential candidates’ agendas, Ana Ionova reports for FP.

Sex-selective abortion in India. It has been illegal for doctors in India to disclose the sex of a fetus since 1994, but the internet has made it easier to get cheap ultrasound machines—keeping the practice of sex-selective abortions alive. Beyond the human rights implications, sex-selective abortion tends to create a self-reinforcing cycle of patriarchy, Ira Trivedi writes for FP.

Ex-child soldiers in Nigeria. As many as 2,000 children—mostly boys—have been detained in Nigeria for suspected ties to Boko Haram. Nigeria’s rehabilitation and deradicalization programs for former soldiers still conflate children with adults. It’s time for that to change, Audu Bulama Bukarti argues in FP.

Climate Check

While Trump eyes Greenland as the next addition to his real-estate portfolio, scientists are tracking melting ice there. The Danish territory recorded two of the largest melts on record (since 2012) this summer. While its clear the melt is caused by global warming, the scientists will measure whether warmer air or warmer water is the bigger cause.

Meanwhile, scientists have confirmed that July was the world’s hottest month on record—a result expected after Belgium, France, and Germany each set heat records. July also saw a record high north of the Arctic Circle.

Odds and Ends

A court in Venice has fined the award-winning Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava 78,000 euros for alleged construction errors on the city’s Constitution Bridge, completed in 2008. The court ruled the issues caused the project to go over budget. The bridge over the Grand Canal was the first to be built in Venice’s historical center in 125 years.

Graphic: China’s Basket of Problems

Food prices continue to soar in China, where agriculture is a massive political concern—an unnerving sign for the Communist Party leadership. While the inflation has occurred alongside the U.S.-China trade war—two weeks ago, China imposed a total ban on U.S. agricultural imports—the main factor in China’s rising food prices is the Asian swine fever outbreak. Pork prices have jumped by 27 percent, and China claims 1 million pigs have been slaughtered. (Experts say the real figure may be closer to one-third or one-half of the country’s herd.)

For more news and analysis on stories like this, subscribe to China Brief, delivered on Wednesdays.

Tune In

Later today on FP’s podcast, First Person: Australian troops have fought alongside coalition forces in Afghanistan for 18 years. A new Australian feature film, Jirga, explores the trauma of the battlefield through the story of an Australian soldier who returns to Afghanistan in an act of remorse. Deputy Editor Sarah Wildman speaks with Benjamin Gilmour, the film’s director.

That’s it for today.

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

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