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About That Trump-Rouhani Meeting...

About That Trump-Rouhani Meeting...

Well, we still don't know who exactly launched the spectacular aerial attack on Saudi Arabia's main oil processing facility over the weekend, which knocked 5% of the world's oil offline and sent crude prices into their biggest one day jump in decades.


Houthi rebels fighting Saudi-backed government forces next door in Yemen continue to take credit for the attack, along with a string of earlier strikes deep into Saudi territory in recent months. But the precision and sophistication of this weekend's strike makes it likely that Iran, which backs the Houthis and despises Saudi Arabia, was involved. The US has blamed Tehran directly – and reportedly believes the attacks were launched from Iranian territory.

Meanwhile, oil prices are still up as traders wonder how long it'll take Saudi Arabia to get things back online, and whether we might see an escalation that imperils even more of the world's oil supply. Oil markets were already on edge over Iran's alleged attacks on oil tankers earlier this summer. And the fact that the Saudis, with the world's third largest military budget, weren't able to protect their vital energy infrastructure doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Big choices loom for all involved.

President Trump is famously averse to military action abroad, and he knows that escalating with Iran would push oil prices higher, dealing a blow to the US economy right as he revs up his re-election campaign. But after declaring the US "locked and loaded," doing nothing could send a signal that the Iranians, or their proxies in Yemen and elsewhere, are free to continue raising the military temperature around the world's most sensitive oil chokepoints without pushback from the US.

The Saudis have hinted they will respond, but so far they're letting Washington do most of the talking about who was responsible. If the Saudis do pull the trigger themselves, they'd have to decide whether to hit Iranian territory directly, risking a major regional war, or to hit Iranian proxies in Yemen, a far lower-stakes move (for everyone except the Yemenis.)

The Iranians are doubtless pleased that the attack sent shockwaves through global energy markets, foreshadowing what would be at stake if the US or Saudi were to launch a broader regional war against Iran. They also will be delighted to have learned the limitations of Saudi Arabia's US-built air defenses. But Tehran's strategy here is still a gamble: ratcheting up tensions in the Gulf is meant to either scare the US into reentering the nuclear deal that it abandoned in 2017, or else convince the Europeans to provide real help to Iran's moribund economy. So far, neither of those things has happened.

A Big Apple Wildcard: For weeks there have been rumors that President Trump and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani could meet on the sidelines of the upcoming UN General Assembly in New York, in what would be the first encounter of US and Iranian leaders since before 1979. Tehran says no meeting can happen while US sanctions on Iranian oil are still in effect. And the Trump administration is all over the place on whether there would be "preconditions "for a meeting or not. But if the Iranians can spin an encounter as a concession following this stunning hit on Saudi Arabia, and if Trump can frame it as a decent photo-op exploration of a huge "deal," it just might happen.

Yes, that horrific screeching and wailing sound you hear right now is John Bolton tearing out his own mustache just thinking about it.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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