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.

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Donald Trump can still win re-election in November, but foreign governments read the same polls we do. They know that Joe Biden heads into the homestretch with a sizeable polling lead — both nationally and in the states most likely to decide the outcome. Naturally, they're thinking ahead to what a Biden foreign policy might look like.

They're probably glad that Biden gives them a half-century track record to study. (He was first elected to local office in 1970 and to the US Senate in 1972.) The six years he spent as ranking member, then chairman, of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, his term as co-chairman of the Senate's NATO Observer Group, and his eight years as Barack Obama's vice president tell them that he's essentially a "liberal internationalist," a person who believes that America must lead a global advance of democracy and freedom — and that close cooperation with allies is essential for success.

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On the GZERO World Podcast, Ian Bremmer explores the escalating tension between the world's two biggest geopolitical and economic players—the US and China. With guest Zanny Minton Beddoes, Editor-in-Chief of The Economist, Bremmer discusses the modern history of China after the fall of the Soviet Union and why another Cold War might be inevitable.

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On the latest episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer, Zanny Minton Beddoes, Editor-in-Chief of The Economist, explains why, in her view, Cold War analogies fall short as tensions between the US and China rise. Unlike the former Soviet Union, China is an economic powerhouse and a trade partner and technology provider to nations around the world. Simply cutting off ties with China seems untenable, but, as she asks, "How can you safely continue that integration, continue that interaction, with a country whose ideology you absolutely don't share, and that you fundamentally don't trust." The full episode of GZERO World begins airing on US public television on Friday, July 31, 2020. Check local listings.