Hackers (again) target US election: Hackers affiliated with the Russian government have reportedly tried to break into the servers of a US strategy and communications firm that is advising Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's campaign. Microsoft evidently detected the suspicious activity and informed the company, SKDKnickerbocker, before any data were compromised. Moscow denies any involvement, but the attempt is consistent with US intelligence community findings that Russian hackers (and others) have tried, are trying, and will continue to try to influence the outcome of the US election. Microsoft says the attacks are affecting hundreds of firms on both sides of the political divide. The extent to which Russian meddling can affect the final result is debatable (and almost certainly minimal, in the grand scheme of things) — but that's not really the point: From the Kremlin's perspective in particular, sowing doubt about the legitimacy of the result is at least as big a prize as actually altering it. Only 53 days until Election Day!
Negar Mortazavi is a Washington DC-based journalist covering Iran and the Middle East. She is a columnist for the Independent in the UK and a frequent guest for the BBC. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Gabrielle Debinski: How much does the result of the US election in November matter to the Iranian people and the Iranian government?
NG: It matters very much. I would argue that US foreign policy impacts certain populations and countries in the world even more than Americans themselves. Regarding Iran, under Barack Obama, there was a policy of diplomacy and engagement and it was successful. They reached out to Iran and were able to negotiate and cut a historic nuclear deal and open the door for more engagement and diplomacy.
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For Iran, 2020 opened with two loud bangs. On January 2, a US airstrike ordered by President Donald Trump killed General Qassem Soleimani, leader of an elite unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and, some say, the second most powerful man in Iran. Fearing a broader US attack, Iran's air defenses went on high alert, and someone with an itchy trigger finger accidently brought down a commercial airliner near Tehran's airport, killing all 176 people on board, most of them Iranian nationals.
Then COVID hit. In February, Iran became the world's first COVID hotspot outside China. The unwillingness of Iran's leaders to admit they had a problem and take aggressive action to contain the virus made matters worse. A second wave of the virus began in June, and a third wave may now be under way. State officials say that some 21,000 Iranians have died. The true number is probably much higher. In August, state television admitted that COVID kills one person every seven minutes in Iran.
In light of the historic announcement between Israel and the UAE, Ian Bremmer asks President Trump's senior advisor Jared Kushner what it means for US relations with Iran moving forward. Kushner describes Iran as "significantly weakened" under Trump's policies, and suggests the administration is waiting to "make the right deal" with the Gulf nation.
Watch the episode: Jared Kushner on Middle East peace & pandemic in the US
Listen as President Trump's top advisor—and son-in-law—Jared Kushner joins the GZERO World Podcast for an in-depth conversation with Ian Bremmer.