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Iran Eases Up on Inspections Threat

Although the details of the IAEA deal are not yet known, it appears to give the United States and its allies more time to pursue diplomacy.

By Colm Quinn, the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi addresses the media after his arrival at Vienna International Airport on February 21, 2021.
Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi addresses the media after his arrival at Vienna International Airport on February 21, 2021. ALEX HALADA/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Iran and nuclear watchdog agree to an inspections deal, Myanmar’s protests surge for day of “Five Twos,” and Niger counts the votes from Sunday’s presidential election.

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IAEA Buys Time on Nuclear Inspections

Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency appear to have defused an impending crisis over the country’s nuclear program, just days before a new law restricting international inspectors was due to take effect.

Under a law set to come into force on Tuesday, the IAEA will no longer be allowed to conduct snap inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities or suspected sites—a move designed to increase pressure on the United States to lift sanctions before coming to the negotiating table.

After a weekend of talks in Tehran, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said that unannounced inspections would still be suspended, but he had secured a temporary agreement that he nonetheless deemed an acceptable outcome.  “There is less access, let’s face it. But still we were able to retain the necessary degree of monitoring and verification work,” Grossi said.

Although the full details of the agreement are not yet public, the move allows Iran to have it both ways: Appearing both reasonable and resolute at the same time. It also gives more time for diplomacy to develop, especially after last week’s U.S. announcement that it was ready for talks—possibly brokered by the European Union.

Biden’s next move. Writing in Foreign Policy last Thursday, Michael Hirsh outlined the challenges facing the Biden administration in returning to the Iran nuclear deal, and why they “are still playing a game of chicken with Tehran.”

U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken “are especially wary of alienating Republicans on Capitol Hill, whose votes are needed for more urgent priorities, including Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package and his ambitious plans for infrastructure investment and curtailing climate change,” Hirsh writes.

Extending an olive branch to Iran by less overt means is also being considered, Hirsh reports, from International Monetary Fund loans to other quick cash infusions.

Can Malley make a deal? If diplomacy does gain momentum, Robert Malley, Biden’s special envoy to Iran and the former head of the International Crisis Group, will likely be at the heart of it. Writing in Foreign Policy, James Traub observes that “there is nothing accidental about appointing a figure who so plainly favors diplomacy over military force for the one portfolio where that question has been most fiercely debated.”


The World This Week

On Tuesday, Feb. 23, a court hearing begins in the case of former South African President Jacob Zuma, who faces fraud and corruption charges. A start date for his trial may be announced at the hearing.

On Thursday, Feb. 25, the U.N. Security Council meets to receive a briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria. North Korea will also be discussed.

On Friday, Feb. 26, G-20 finance ministers and central bank governors convene for a two-day meeting hosted virtually by Italy.

On Sunday, Feb. 28, former U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to address the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, his first public appearance since leaving office.


What We’re Following Today

Myanmar’s protests. Protest organizers in Myanmar have called for a general strike and a “Spring Revolution” today as demonstrations persist three weeks after the military seized power in a coup on Feb. 1. On Sunday, military-run television chastised protesters for inciting people, especially the nation’s youth, “to a path of confrontation where they will suffer loss of life.” The warning followed a rare instance of deadly violence in Mandalay on Sunday, when security forces shot and killed two protesters.

Myanmar’s loosely coordinated Civil Disobedience Movement has labelled today the day of the Five Twos (after today’s date) in an attempt to echo anti-military demonstrations on Aug. 8, 1988.

Niger’s election. In Niger, at least 7 people were killed in the southwest of the country on Sunday when a vehicle owned by the country’s electoral commission struck a landmine. The incident marred what was an otherwise largely peaceful presidential runoff election between the ruling party favorite Mohamed Bazoum and former President Mahamane Ousmane.

Bazoum is widely expected to triumph, although official results are not expected until later in the week. Regardless of the victor, the election marks the first time in Niger’s history that one democratically-elected president will be succeeded by another.

The global vaccine race. Australia began its mass coronavirus vaccination drive today as wealthy countries increase their lead in the vaccine race. The United Kingdom plans to offer a vaccine to all adults by the end of July, bringing forward a previous target by a month. Israel still leads the way, with 50 percent of its population having received at least one vaccine dose. Bloomberg estimates that, at current rates, it will take roughly five years to vaccinate 75 percent of the world’s population with a two-dose vaccine.


Keep an Eye On

Tanzania’s COVID-19 crisis. World Health Organization Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called on Tanzania to take “robust action” to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, encouraging President John Magufuli to face up to a crisis he has downplayed for months. The East African nation has not reported case numbers to the WHO since April, but the recent deaths of high-profile figures has increased pressure on the country’s leadership to take action. In last week’s FP Africa Brief Lynsey Chutel examined Tanzania’s dubious data and Magufuli’s focus on religious deliverance from the coronavirus.

Ecuador’s election. Ecuador’s electoral body named Guillermo Lasso as the second-place finisher in the Feb. 7 presidential election first round, seeing off indigenous leader Yaku Perez in an extremely tight race. Perez alleges fraud kept him from entering the next round and he was further stymied when a requested recount was suspended last week. Lasso, a conservative, now faces Andrés Arauz—a protégé of left-wing former President Rafael Correa—in a runoff vote scheduled for April 11.

Another vaccine scandal. Argentina’s health ministerm Ginés González García has resigned after reports emerged of individuals being given preferential access to coronavirus vaccines out of turn. The scandal broke after a veteran journalist admitted to receiving a vaccine after he spoke directly with the minister. García’s decision means Argentina joins Peru as the latest Latin American country to lose its health minister over a vaccine controversy.


Odds and Ends

New research published in a British scientific journal found that ideological rigidity was correlated with cognitive decision-making and that those with more extremist views tended to struggle with complex tasks assigned during a Cambridge University study.

The study’s lead author, Leor Zmigrod, told the Guardian that the variance was likely due to the black-and-white nature of how these individuals saw the world, making elaborate thought processes that much more difficult to execute. “Individuals or brains that struggle to process and plan complex action sequences may be more drawn to extreme ideologies, or authoritarian ideologies that simplify the world,” she said. 


That’s it for today. 

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Correction, Feb. 24, 2021: A previous version of this newsletter did not accurately describe the findings of a study on cognitive decision-making and its relationship to political ideology. Researchers from the University of Cambridge found that extremist ideological worldviews may be “reflective of low-level perceptual and cognitive functions.”

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn