Morning Brief

Iran Retaliates for Suleimani Strike

The White House is weighing action after Iran attacks U.S. military targets in Iraq.

Protesters demonstrate outside the White House after Iran fired nearly two dozen missiles at bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops, Jan. 7, 2020.
Protesters demonstrate outside the White House after Iran fired nearly two dozen missiles at bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops, Jan. 7, 2020. Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Iran launches an attack against military bases hosting U.S. troops in Iraq, Venezuela’s legislature is in the midst of a leadership crisis, and British and EU leaders meet ahead of negotiations over a post-Brexit trade deal.I

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Will the U.S. Respond to Iran?

Iran carried out an attack against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq at 1:30am local time, launching more than twenty missiles against two military bases. Iran immediately claimed responsibility for the strike, which it said was retaliation for the U.S. assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani on Friday. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps issued a statement warning of more attacks if the United States responded.

No U.S. or Iraqi casualties were immediately reported, though a Pentagon assessment was ongoing. Late Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump was monitoring the situation with his national security team at the White House. Trump did not deliver an address to the country on Tuesday night in Washington, but tweeted “All is well!” and said he would speak on Wednesday. Earlier in the day, administration officials said the United States would be prepared to respond to retaliation.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif seemed to signal that the missile attack “concluded” Iran’s response for Suleimani’s killing. “Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense,” he tweeted.

Oil prices initially jumped on the news of the attacks, before settling as the limited nature of the Iranian strike seemed to calm markets. But stock markets in Asia dropped sharply—with investors predicting a bad day for the U.S. market.

Widening fallout. U.S. officials again sought to justify the assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani earlier on Tuesday, with Defense Secretary Mark Esper saying that the Quds Force chief was planning an attack on U.S. interests within “days.” Now, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other senior officials are being asked to testify about that intelligence before Congress.

Back in Baghdad. The fallout of Suleimani’s death could preserve Iran’s power in Iraq, Pesha Magid reports for FP. Though the mass anti-government protests that began in October posed a major challenge to Iran’s influence, the targeted strike has shifted their demands.

“Protesters find their demands for a new government have been sidelined into a desperate push against foreign interference from the United States as well as Iran,” she writes.

What We’re Following Today

Who is running Venezuela’s  legislature? Chaos briefly reigned in Venezuela’s National Assembly on Tuesday after troops at first stopped opposition leader Juan Guaidó and his supporters from entering for the first day of the new legislative session. The military blocked lawmakers from reelecting Guaidó as congress chief on Sunday, and Luis Parra was installed instead—setting up the showdown on Tuesday, when the opposition stormed through the doors of the National Assembly to allow Guaidó to open the legislative session.

Still, it’s not clear Guaidó is in control: He was forced to flee the building via the basement. Venezuela now has two politicians claiming to lead the National Assembly (Parra and Guaidó), as well as two politicians claiming to lead the country itself (Maduro and Guaidó). Guaidó relied on his position as congress chief to court international support for his claim to the presidency of Venezuela. Now, the U.S. is considering sanctions against the pro-government lawmakers, Reuters reports.

Johnson meets EU chief in London. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets European Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen in London today for the first time since she took office. The meeting comes ahead of Johnson’s promise to take Britain out of the bloc by Jan. 31. He will relay that Britain will not extend negotiations over a future trade deal with the European Union beyond December. Von der Leyen has previously suggested that to strike a deal before then will be difficult. The trade negotiations are set to begin in March.

Australia skips climate action amid bushfires. Amid a drought and devastating bushfires across Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the country’s energy minister are sticking to the country’s current carbon emissions limits, Reuters reports. The position comes despite growing calls for action from the public and warnings from climate scientists. Leaders argue that cutting emissions further will harm Australia’s economy. But the fires could hit the economy, too: Local businesses are already suffering from the effects on tourism.

Keep an Eye On

Putin’s meeting with Erdogan. Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey today amid turmoil in the Middle East. Putin paid a surprise visit to Damascus on Tuesday—his first since 2017—meeting there with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad about Russia’s military support and Turkish operations in northern Syria.

Seismic activity in Puerto Rico. Amid a week of seismic activity, Puerto Rico declared a state of emergency on Tuesday after the island’s strongest earthquake in 102 years. The declaration will open up federal aid funding for the U.S. territory. The 6.4 magnitude quake led to a power outage across the island and raised fears of further damage.

China’s reach in the Pacific. A battle of diplomatic and economic statecraft is playing out in the remote islands of the Pacific, as China strives to become the regional leader there. In order to counter this influence, Australia and the United States will need to cooperate to support island states’ democracies, Philip Citowicki argues in FP.

Odds and Ends

Finland’s government has clarified that it does not plan to institute a four-day work week and abbreviated working hours nationwide, after dozens of media reports to the contrary. Sanna Marin, who became prime minister last month, did casually float the idea at a panel discussion in August. “Why couldn’t it be the next step?” she said, according to the Helsinki Times. “Is eight hours really the ultimate truth?”

That’s it for today. 

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

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