What We're Watching: A big German debate, rare Israeli-Palestinian meeting, North Korea restarts a reactor

hairwoman of Buendnis 90/Die Gruenen Annalena Baerbock is greeted by Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Armin Laschet as German Finance Minister and Social Democratic Party candidate Olaf Scholz looks on before the start of a televised debate of the candidates to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor in Berlin, Germany, August 29, 2021

German elections heat up: Less than a month from Germany's general elections, the three contenders vying to replace longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel went head-to-head in the first major prime-time TV debate. The three chancellor wannabes — the Green Party's Annalena Baerbock, Olaf Scholz, Germany's finance minister from the left-leaning Social Democratic Party, and Merkel's handpicked successor Armin Laschet of the CDU/CSU coalition — debated climate change policy, taxes and COVID recovery, as well as Germany's place in the world. A post-debate survey showed that 36 percent of viewers said Scholz had the best performance, but polls suggest that the election remains anyone's to win. After soaring in the polls in the spring, Baerbock has fallen behind thanks to claims that she embellished her credentials. Laschet, premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, is extremely unpopular, particularly after a series of gaffes as the country dealt with devastating floods in July. Whatever the outcome, next month's winner will probably have to form an ideologically broad coalition government.


Israel and the Palestinian Authority hold rare talks: Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas Sunday in Ramallah, the first time that senior officials from the two sides have met for high-level talks in more than a decade. This interaction comes as the PA faces both a fiscal crunch and a crisis of legitimacy amid dwindling popular approval. In a rare move aimed at propping up Abbas' ailing government, Gantz used a loophole to offer the PA a 500 million shekel loan ($155 million) to prevent a PA collapse that would boost Hamas, which currently rules in the Gaza Strip and is deemed a terrorist group by the US and EU. Last month, Israel increased the number of work permits available for Palestinians living in the West Bank to ease economic pressure on the PA, but analysts warn that more drastic measures are needed. The budget of the PA, which has long been accused of graft and cronyism, has taken a serious hit because of a drop off in international aid over the past few years.

Not now, North Korea: Life is coming fast at Joe Biden. The Afghanistan withdrawal has been a fiasco. The worst hurricane in at least a decade is currently pummeling the state of Louisiana. And now, according to a report by the UN's Atomic Energy Agency, North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-un is restarting the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, crown jewel of his controversial nuclear program. The UN says North Korea, which is under strict UN and US sanctions for its nuclear program, has been operating the plant again for the past several months after shutting it down in 2018 as part of negotiations with the Trump administration. The basic challenge remains: the US wants North Korea to verifiably relinquish its nuclear program and weapons, while Pyongyang wants US forces off the Korean Peninsula. Who goes first? Ball's in your court now, Joe.

The key for small business growth? More digital support.

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Iran’s nuclear program runs hotter

Talks between Iran’s government and world powers over the future of Iran’s nuclear program continue. The US and Iran are still not communicating directly; Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia are shuttling between them.

The good news is that they’re all still talking. The bad news is that, after eight rounds of negotiations, the main players haven’t agreed on anything that would constitute a breakthrough.

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January 6 laid bare "the deep divisions, the partisan infighting, the polarization within our society," says Fiona Hill, the former US senior director of the National Security Council. In a GZERO World interview, she spoke with Ian Bremmer about her concerns about the state of democracy in the United States.

Hill famously testified against her impeached boss, Donald Trump, who stayed in power after being acquitted by the Senate of abuse of power and obstructing Congress. She also notes that divisions actually make America look weaker on the global stage — particularly to someone like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

Watch this episode of GZERO World: American strife: Will US democracy survive? Fiona Hill explains post-Jan 6 stakes

Kevin Allison, director of geotech at Eurasia Group, is concerned about the rise of very powerful tech companies disrupting centuries of geopolitics led by the nation-state.

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The problem with China’s Zero COVID strategy: GZERO World with Ian Bremmer - the podcast

Listen: Xi Jinping's zero-COVID approach faces its toughest test to date with omicron. Why? Because China lacks mRNA jabs, and so few Chinese people have gotten COVID that overall protection is very low. A wave of lockdowns could disrupt the world's second-largest economy — just a month out from the Beijing Winter Olympics.

That could spell disaster for Beijing, Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, tells Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. If things get really bad, though, Huang believes China will pivot to living with the virus, especially as the cost of keeping zero COVID in the age of omicron becomes too high.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Kiev, Ukraine

First question, how is the crisis in this part of Europe developing?

Not good. There's been a week of intense diplomacy with talks in Geneva, and Brussels, and Vienna that produced virtually nothing. The Russian, sort of key demands are outrageously unrealistic. They know that is the case. The US is trying to engage them on somewhat different issues. We'll see if there's any prospect there, but it doesn't look too good. I think the likelihood is that we gradually will move into the phase of what the Russians call military technical measures, whatever that is.

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For Angela Hofmann, practice head for Industrial & Consumer at Eurasia Group, the world's most visible brands are in for a very rocky year.

Navigating culture wars will be very tricky, as well as fighting with competing demands from consumers, employees, and regulators on issues like China, diversity, and voting rights.

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Political polarization in the US isn’t just a problem within the country, points out former US national security official Fiona Hill. Deep divisions, she says, actually make America look weaker on the global stage — particularly to someone like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

“Putin loves our disunity," Russian expert Hill tells Ian Bremmer. "It's incredibly useful as a tool to exploit in that toolkit that he has.”

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An emboldened Putin thrives on American disunity

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