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US-Iran tensions complicate Biden's Middle East strategy
US-Iran tensions complicate Biden's Middle East strategy | Ian Bremmer | Quick Take

US-Iran tensions complicate Biden's Middle East strategy

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here and a Quick Take to kick off your week. We are still very much focused on the Middle East. That is the top priority. Tony Blinken, Secretary of State, for his fifth trip to the Gulf since October 7th, those horrible terrorist attacks, Ukraine very far down the priority list compared to the engagement the Middle East is presently getting. It certainly feels that way. But that's what we're focusing on.

And the big issue is the American military response to that nightmare scenario that came to pass when US servicemen and women, dozens injured, three killed in Iranian proxy attacks on the Jordan-Syria border. The United States had to respond militarily, did respond militarily, but they also did not want to precipitate an Iranian war with the United States. So they tried to have their way on both sides of the equation and probably end up getting nothing that they want. What do I mean by that? Well, the United States did attack direct Iranian military assets, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps military capabilities on the ground in Syria and Iraq, but also telegraphed that very clearly, very publicly, for about five days before they started the attacks, which meant that proxy leaders and most importantly, Iranian leaders were able to get out of Dodge and potentially protect the most sensitive equipment information from those US strikes.

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US-Iran tensions escalate after deadly drone attack
How will the US respond to Iranian proxy attacks? | Ian Bremmer | Quick Take

US-Iran tensions escalate after deadly drone attack

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody, Ian Bremmer here and a Quick Take to kick off your week right in midtown Manhattan, New York City. And the Middle East war continuing to expand as we have been convinced it would. This was this weekend, really the nightmare scenario for the Americans that given all of the Iranian proxy attacks against shipping and against US troops in the region, but eventually they would get through and kill some.

And that is exactly what happened. Three American servicemen killed, dozens injured, and now the Americans have to respond. That response will almost certainly be against Iranian forces to some degree directly. Whether or not that means hitting Iranian territory, that's an open question. But even though the Iranian government denied it, the United States has been very clear, “these are Iran supported attacks.”And while I'm fairly comfortable saying that the Iranians didn't likely order these attacks directly, they're certainly comfortable with the fact that they're going on. They're providing real time intelligence to the groups. They're providing real time weapons to the groups. So it's not like they had nothing to do with it.

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Americans released in a swap deal between the U.S. and Iran arrive in Doha.

Reuters

US-Iran prisoner swap comes through

The US and Iran on Monday traded prisoners in a high stakes swap that’s causing problems for President Biden at home.

After months of negotiations, the two foes traded 10 prisoners: five US citizens locked up in Iran, and five Iranians detained in the US, some of whom were charged but hadn’t been convicted.

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Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and US President Joe Biden.

Reuters

A US-Iran (prisoner) deal moves forward

On Monday, the Biden administration informed Congress that it had issued a waiver that will allow South Korean banks to transfer $6 billion in Iranian funds frozen by sanctions to Qatar’s Central Bank. (South Korea is one of the biggest purchasers of Iranian oil.) Qatar will then make the funds available to Iran for what the White House insists are humanitarian purposes like the purchase of food and medicine. Iran will free five detained US citizens, and Washington will release five Iranians detained in the US.

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A new hypersonic ballistic missile called "Fattah" with a range of 1400 km, unveiled by Iran, is seen in Tehran.

Reuters

Iran unveils hypersonic missile

The Islamic Republic of Iran claims to have developed its first hypersonic missile. At a showy military ceremony usually reserved for North Korean and Russian despots, President Ebrahim Raisi said that the new weapon proved that Iran’s “deterrent power has been formed.”

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A demonstrator wears elaborate face paint during a march for Mahsa (Zhina) Amini and those protesting her death in Iran.

Reuters

Is the West doing enough to help Iranians?

The actions of Iranian protesters over the past two months – particularly women – have been awe-inspiring. Despite the prospect of incarceration, and worse, they’ve refused to kowtow to the bushy-eyebrowed mullahs calling the shots in the Islamic Republic. Fear of execution looms large, but Iranian women continue to abandon their headscarves and chant in the streets for regime change.

Things are only getting more dangerous after Iran’s parliament recently voted in favor of the death penalty for protesters. The first such sentences were handed down in recent days. Indeed, the stakes could not be higher, and yet hopeful Iranians continue to risk their lives.

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Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks during a news conference in Bangkok, Thailand.

REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

What We're Watching: Thai PM suspended, US strikes Iran in Syria, Macron woos Algeria

Thai PM in limbo

On Wednesday, Thailand's top court suspended PM Prayuth Chan-ocha while it decides whether his term in office started when he took over in a 2014 coup or when he was “elected” five years later. If the court decides the former, Prayuth would be removed for exceeding the constitutional limit of eight years in power. Such a verdict would likely fire up the youth-led protests demanding his resignation, which started with a bang in 2020 but soon ended with a whimper following a crackdown on their leaders for questioning the role of the monarchy. The ruling drops in two weeks, and until then Prayuth's deputy — who also took part in the 2014 power grab — is in charge. Fun fact: the eight-year limit was put in place by the military to target deposed former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, whose sister Yingluck was ousted by Prayuth. Guess who's likely running for PM in the next election? Thaksin's millenial daughter, Paetongtarn.

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What We're Watching: Angela Merkel's punk rock farewell, Iran nuclear talks resume

Angela Merkel's punk rock farewell. Although she doesn't officially step down as German Chancellor until next week, Angela Merkel's sendoff took place on Thursday night in Berlin, with the traditional Grosser Zapfenstreich — a musical aufweidersehen, replete with torches and a military band. By custom, the honoree gets to choose three songs for the band to play. Among Merkel's otherwise staid choices was a total curveball: You Forgot the Colour Film, a 1974 rock hit by fellow East German Nina Hagen, a renowned punk rocker. The song, a parody bit about a man who takes the singer on vacation but has only black-and-white film in his camera, was understood as a dig at the drabness of life in the East. We're listening to the tune, and... digging it, kind of — but we still prefer Merkel's own Kraftwerk-inspired farewell song from Puppet Regime. Eins, zwei, drei, it's time to say goodbye...

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