UNGA DRAMA: IRAN

UNGA DRAMA: IRAN

he annual UN General Assembly is now underway, and while the event rarely offers much in the way of high drama –few leaders, after all, bang their shoes on podiums, sniff the “sulfur” left behind by a US president, or whip out Looney Tunes-inspired illustrations of nuclear weapons – there is one big story to watch this week: Trump and Iran.


Later today, we’ll hear speeches from the US President and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani, while tomorrow Mr. Trump will chair a session of the UN Security Council that is ostensibly about stopping the spread of nuclear weapons generally, but which Trump evidently wants to focus on Iran in particular. In these two days we’ll learn a lot about the fate of the Iran nuclear deal and US policy towards the Islamic Republic.

For background: Earlier this year, the Trump Administration pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal because the president said the accord hadn’t done enough to limit Tehran’s nuclear program or regional ambitions. Washington has already put some sanctions back on Iran, but the most severe measures – on Iran’s vital oil industry -- will take effect in November. Ahead of that, Iran’s currency has slumped to historic lows while oil exports have fallen more than 30% since the spring.

The other signatories to the deal -- the UK, France, Germany, China, Russia and, of course, Iran -- have so far stuck to the terms of the deal, because they fear a complete collapse would push Iran to ramp up its nuclear program, fomenting a perilous regional arms race and raising the risk of a conflict that brings in the US.

Over the next few days, Trump and his national security team will press those governments to consider forcing Tehran to accept a new, broader deal with much more stringent terms. Fat chance, given that international observers had repeatedly said the existing deal that all agreed to was working just fine.

The Iranians, meanwhile, will be working the room not only to keep the other signatories in the deal – which Tehran has continued to adhere to – but also to seek fresh economic support to cushion the blow of US sanctions.

The trouble for the Iranians: While the other signatories will almost certainly remain in the nuclear deal, there’s not much any of them can do for Iran’s economy. Despite pledges by Brussels to shield European companies from new US sanctions, many of them are scrapping investment plans in the Islamic Republic anyway.

And with those oil sanctions set to take effect in just six weeks, Iran’s economic position is getting dicier by the day. As it happens, that is actually helping the hardliners within Iran who never wanted a deal in the first place, and who see a credible nuclear deterrent as something infinitely more valuable than any benefits that may come from an economic opening to the West (see: Kim Jong-un).

The wildcard: Trump says he’s open to meeting Rouhani on the sidelines of the UNGA, in what would be the first-ever meeting of presidents of the United States and the Islamic Republic. Hard to see it happening – for one thing, Iran’s Supreme leader back in August put the kibosh on any such meeting. For another, the blood is as bad as ever, with Tehran suggesting that the US was responsible for a terrorist attack on a memorial parade in Iran over the weekend.

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The European Union is, for better or worse, the most ambitious experiment in human history in institutionalized multinational cooperation. Its success depends on the willingness of its members to abide by its rules.

In recent years, the populist-nationalist governments of former Communist bloc members Hungary and Poland have flouted some of those rules in order to boost their own popularity with citizens suspicious of the EU's liberal values on issues like immigration and minority rights. In response, the EU has scolded these "illiberal" governments and threatened forceful action – so far without much effect.

The fight between EU institutions and Poland and Hungary has escalated.

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Ian Bremmer is joined on GZERO World by artificial intelligence scientists Kai-fu Lee, who recently wrote about how AI will change the world over the next two decades, precisely to talk about AI's future. After this week's Facebook debacle, how can we align interest to regulate AI-driven algorithms? Will AI steal all our jobs? And what should we do to learn from AI to improve our lives before it gets smarter than us?

Watch this episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer: Is a robot coming for your job? Kai-fu Lee explains AI

US elections officials have always persuaded losing candidates that they've, ahem, lost. Now it's worse because there's a new paradigm, according to former DHS and Election Assistance Commission official Matt Masterson, policy fellow with the Stanford Internet Observatory. Candidates that won't accept defeat regardless of the margin or evidence of fraud, he says, are undermining trust in the system — and election officials are ill-equipped to deal with this problem.

Matt Masterson made these remarks during a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Who's most responsible for spreading misinformation online? For Ginny Badanes, senior director for Democracy Forward at Microsoft, the problem starts with those who create it, yet ultimately governments, companies and individuals all share the burden. And she's more interested in what we can do to respond.

Ginny Badanes spoke at a live Global Stage event, Infodemic: defending democracy from disinformation. Watch the full event here: https://www.gzeromedia.com/global-stage/virtual-events/disinformation-is-a-big-problem-what-can-we-do-about-it

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. In this video, watch Ian Bremmer's conversation with Lebanese journalist and author Kim Ghattas on GZW talking about the future of Lebanese politics and sectarianism in the county after the after the blast. It was originally published on August 19, 2020.

In Lebanon, "a majority (are) united in wanting a different future, a future that is non-sectarian, that is non-corrupt, that provides prosperity, justice, dignity for people," journalist Kim Ghattas told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

In this interview, Ghattas discusses the opportunity that could arise from the tragedy of the Beirut explosion which killed 200 and injured thousands more. The Lebanese are "fed up" with the militant group Hezbollah, she tells Bremmer, and want to strive for a government that better resembles the diversity and cosmopolitan nature of its citizens.

Watch the GZERO World episode: Lebanon Post-Blast: Rage in the Streets of Beirut.

Some of the worst sectarian clashes since Lebanon's 15-year civil war (1975-1990) broke out in Beirut this week between supporters of Hezbollah and Amal, both Shiite political parties, and Christian, far-right Lebanese Forces. Shiite protesters were rallying against the state probe into the Beirut port blast, which occurred last year. They say authorities were singling out Shiite politicians for questioning and blame. Below is our original piece on the Beirut port explosions published on August 5, 2020.


The twin explosions at Beirut's port on Tuesday were so powerful that the aftershocks reverberated as far as the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, 150 miles away. The specter of fire and smoke was such that many suggested on social media that Beirut had experienced a nuclear blast.

In the days ahead, more details will come to light about why a deadly cache of materials was haphazardly stashed at a port warehouse, and why Lebanon's government failed to secure the site. So, what comes next for crisis-ridden Lebanon?

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Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares insights on US politics:

What does it actually mean to cut $1 trillion from the Democrats' $3.5 trillion social spending bill?

President Biden has proposed one of the most ambitious expansions of federal spending in recent memory. If he gets everything he wants, it would probably be the largest expansion of government since the Great Society, but he's not going to get everything he wants. Democrats have basically said they cannot do all $3.5 trillion in spending. They're probably going to end up around $2 trillion. So what gets cut? Well, we don't know yet. There's kind of two ways to go about this. They could either cut the number of programs that have been proposed, doing fewer things with more money on a permanent basis, or they could try to do more things, each program getting less money and potentially doing them on a temporary basis. So, a future Congress would have to extend it. What does this mean for you? Well, a lot of the money in here is designed to go directly to families, either in the form of cash payments, through the tax code, the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, or subsidies for things like child care, early childhood education, and community college. And if you cut these things back, it means less money is going to go out the door to the American people. It also means less tax increases to finance it. So the implications of what's being proposed could actually end up being a big deal for a lot of Americans who would qualify for benefits under these new programs.

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