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.

Building on more than 15 years of sustainability leadership, Walmart is doubling down on addressing the growing climate crisis by targeting zero emissions across the company's global operations by 2040. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are also committing to help protect, manage or restore at least 50 million acres of land and one million square miles of ocean by 2030 to help combat the cascading loss of nature threatening the planet.

One of the world's most famous political dissidents may die in a Russian prison this week.

Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31 over the authorities' refusal to let his own medical team examine him after he developed signs of tuberculosis. Now, one of his aides says Navalny is "close to death."

The fate of Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic — who was poisoned last summer, allegedly by state officials, treated in Germany, and then jailed upon his return to Russia — is being closely watched both inside and outside the country.

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How bad is the climate crisis? Every year, the UN's Emissions Gap Report shows a large gap between the trajectory we're on and the trajectory we ought to be on, explains climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert. "Every decade now is warmer than the decade before. And we're seeing the damage pile up," says Kolbert, whose latest book is Under A White Sky: The Nature of the Future. "We saw the tremendous wildfire season in California last fall. The hurricane season in the Gulf. These are all connected to climate change, and we're just going to keep seeing more of that." She spoke with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 16. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

Ian Bremmer and Bill Maher discussed the global leadership of the United States compared to that of China on a recent episode of Real Time. "The level of corruption in China, the level of corruption in China, even the buildings and the rails you talk about - the average building the Chinese build lasts for 20, 25 years. In the United States, it lasts for 40 to 50. There's a reason why we are still the world's most powerful country," Ian argued. "I'm just saying China's not eating our lunch - that's all."

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As the price of Bitcoin has skyrocketed in recent months, so has the amount of energy that procuring it hogs. Research shows that Bitcoin "mining" now uses 80 percent more energy than at the start of 2020. Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates recently sounded the alarm on crypto, saying that he would not invest in Bitcoin because mining for the digital currency requires huge amounts of energy, much of which is powered by fossil fuels that harm the environment. So where does Bitcoin rank in electricity consumption compared to nations?

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody, Ian Bremmer here, kicking off your beautiful spring week from New York City. A little Quick Take. I thought I'd talk today about Russia, going to be in the news this week. Putin doesn't like it when they're out of the news for too long, certainly plenty going on between the US and Russia right now.

I'd say, first of all, to start off, the relationship is in the toilet. We know this. It is the worst it's been since the early '80s. That was true even under Trump. Trump and Putin personally had a pretty good relationship, but Trump wasn't able to get anything really done for the Russians, because both the Republicans in Congress, key members of cabinet under Trump, massive amount of constraints on what Trump could actually do, whether it's trying to bring Russia back into the G7 or recognize Crimea as a part of Russia, or remove or reduce sanctions. None of that actually got done. In fact, the relationship deteriorated over the four years.

But now we've got Biden and the focus is of course, more on human rights. The focus is more on climate change, which means that Russia as a massive energy exporter and particularly in terms of their influence on Eastern Europe and Western Europe on the downstream for gas delivery, for example, something that Biden is much more focused on. So a lot more pressure on the Russians, and the Russians don't care. Their willingness to hit back and show that the Americans are not willing to take any significant risks to constrain the Russians is also fairly significant. And this is playing out in a number of ways.

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Pakistani radicals vs French cartoons: It's been a tumultuous week in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city. After widespread protests broke out across the Muslim world late last year after Paris defended French publications' rights to publish satirical images of the Prophet Mohammad, the radical Pakistani Islamist group Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), gave Pakistan's government until April 20 to expel the French ambassador, when it had planned nationwide demonstrations. When Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to meet their demands, more violence erupted across the country and authorities arrested the TLP leader — prompting TLP supporters to hit back by kidnapping six state security personnel in Lahore this past weekend. Authorities have now banned the TLP outright and are bracing for more violence in the coming days. France, meanwhile, has urged all of its citizens to leave Pakistan.

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