Tense Times for Iran

Fresh tensions with Israel. Threats to accelerate the pursuit of nuclear weapons. A surprise showing at the G7 last week in France. Iran is in the global limelight again, and the question of whether the 2015 nuclear deal can survive is coming to a head.


Here are three big Iran stories we're following in the coming days:

Iran's nuclear ultimatum put to the test — Ever since the US walked out of the 2015 Iran deal and slapped crippling sanctions on that country, Iran has pressured the Europeans (who are still in the deal) with an ultimatum: unless you provide us with economic help, we'll ditch the deal and pursue nuclear weapons again. This week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani raised the stakes, warning that Tehran could accelerate its enrichment of uranium to 20 percent fissile purity by Friday unless the Europeans come to the rescue. Twenty percent is a major milestone on the way to reaching weapons-grade enrichment. For perspective, the nuclear deal caps enrichment at just 3.67 percent.

Rising regional tensions — For months, Iran has been at the center of a string of regional flare ups. In response to US sanctions, Iran has allegedly attacked international oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil chokepoint, and has engaged in maritime brinkmanship with the US on the high seas. Elsewhere in the region, Iran has allegedly tried to launch "killer drones" at Israeli targets, while tensions have also soared between Israel and the Iran-backed Lebanese proxy Hezbollah. While Iran does not want a full-blown war with Israel, a tactical miscalculation – or moves by overzealous proxies – could lead to a major escalation of hostilities.

Can the French save the day? — Against this tumultuous backdrop France's President Emmanuel Macron has been trying to salvage the Iranian nuclear deal in order to defuse these tensions. Macron on Tuesday offered the Iranians a $15 billion credit line, a move meant to compensate Tehran's loss of crude oil revenues. Taken together with Macron's G7 diplomacy, the French are trying to send a clear message to Tehran: we are committed to the nuclear deal if you are. But the diplomatic overtures already appear to be falling flat, as Iranian President Rouhani backtracks on a mooted meeting with Trump. And on the financial front, unless the US supports Macron's overture, European banks are unlikely to risk running afoul of US sanctions by issuing fresh credit to Tehran.

The Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace launched in 2018 with the commitment of signatories to stand up to cyber threats like election interference, attacks on critical infrastructure, and supply chain vulnerabilities. Last week, on the first anniversary of the call, the number of signatories has nearly tripled to more than 1,000 and now includes 74 nations; more than 350 international, civil society and public sector organizations; and more than 600 private sector entities. These commitments to the Paris Call from around the world demonstrate a widespread, global, multi-stakeholder consensus about acceptable behavior in cyberspace.

Read More at Microsoft On The Issues.

In recent years, Republicans have come to dominate most of the state legislatures in the US. Ironically, it was during the Obama-era that the GOP made major headway in states that had long been considered safely blue. State legislatures are now redder than they've been in nearly a century, and in most parts of the country, one party holds all the levers of power. For the first time since 1914, there's only one split legislature in the entire country: Minnesota. To be sure, some state races are bucking the trend: Kentucky and Louisiana, both deep-red states, recently elected Democratic governors. Here's a look at how Democratic and Republican control of state legislatures has evolved over the past four decades.

Forty years ago, Islamic extremists angry at the Saudi government's experiments with social liberalization laid siege to the Grand Mosque of Mecca, the holiest site in Islam.

The attack came on the heels of the Iranian revolution across the Gulf, putting the House of Saud and its American backers in a precarious spot. Tehran had challenged Saudi Arabia's Islamic legitimacy from without, while jihadists were now doing the same from within. For a few days it seemed as though the world's most important oil producer – and the custodian of Islam's holiest places – might be in danger of collapse.

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Forty years ago today, dozens of bearded gunmen stormed the holiest site in Islam, the Grand Mosque at Mecca, in Saudi Arabia.

They held the complex for two weeks before a French-trained Saudi force rooted them out, but the fallout from the attack went on to shape the modern Middle East in ways that are still with us today: in the scourge of transnational jihadism and the deepening rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

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What changes now that the U.S. softened its position on Israeli settlements?

Well, I mean, not a lot. I mean, keep in mind that this is also the administration that moved the embassy to Jerusalem, from Tel Aviv. Everyone said that was going to be a massive problem. Ultimately, not many people cared. Same thing with recognition of Golan Heights for Israel. This is just one more give from the Americans to the Israelis in the context of a region that doesn't care as much as they used to about Israel - Palestine.

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