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.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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