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What We're Watching: West gets tough(er) on Russia, protests rock Ecuador, Qatar pushes Iran nuclear talks

What We're Watching: West gets tough(er) on Russia, protests rock Ecuador, Qatar pushes Iran nuclear talks

G7 and EU leaders gather for a group shot at Schloss Elmau castle in Germany.

REUTERS/Lukas Barth

Western leaders up the ante

Leaders of the G7 — the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Canada — have ended their gathering in the Bavarian Alps, and all of them, including non-NATO member Japan’s prime minister, have arrived in Madrid for a NATO summit set for June 28-30. The agendas for both gatherings have included a range of topics, but none more urgent than collective responses to Russia’s war in Ukraine. There will be more announcements this week on how best to impose heavy near- and longer-term costs on Russia by banning the import of Russian oil and possibly imposing a price cap on the small volumes of Russian oil Western countries still buy. But Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky will continue to warn that Ukraine can’t afford a protracted war and that his military needs powerful weapons ASAP to beat back slow-but-steady Russian advances in the Donbas region. The US has promised to deliver an advanced air defense system. Russia has responded to these gatherings by renewing long-range artillery strikes on Kyiv and other cities, including a missile strike on Monday that hit a shopping mall with more than 1,000 civilians inside.

Protests imperil Ecuador's oil exports

Ecuador, the fifth-largest oil producer in South America, was pumping about 500,000 barrels a day before recent protests began to wreak havoc nationwide. For more than two weeks, Indigenous groups have led protests demanding that the government take action to lower soaring prices for food and fuel, increase investment in health care and education, and cut back on mining activities. Clashes between protesters and police have left several dead. Over the weekend, President Guillermo Lasso lifted a recent state of emergency and agreed to a modest fuel price cut of 10 cents per gallon as part of an agreement to open direct talks with Indigenous leaders. But with no comprehensive deal in place, the demonstrations continue, and the Andean oil exporter says it could stop producing crude entirely this week as ongoing violence and vandalism make wells and transport infrastructure impossible to use.

The (im)possible future of the US-Iran nuclear deal

The US and Iran are resuming efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal that has been on life-support since negotiations stalled back in March. On Tuesday, both sides will hold indirect talks — mediated by the Europeans and hosted by Qatar — in a push to revive the deal, ditched by Donald Trump in 2018, that sought to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program. Still, several sticking points remain, including Tehran’s demand that the US lift crippling economic sanctions as well as that Washington remove Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps from the US Foreign Terrorist Organization list (though there have been reports that Iran is willing to let the latter go — at least for now). Timing is critical: for months, US officials have warned that Iran is close to having enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon. Fears of Iran’s increasingly bellicose actions have many of its neighbors on edge and have led to the formation of new regional alliances. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the US held a secret meeting in March between US, Israeli, and Arab military officers (notably including the Saudis, who don’t have diplomatic ties with Israel) to discuss how to counter Tehran’s missile and drone capabilities. Tensions are also bubbling in Tehran over Biden’s upcoming visits to both Israel and Saudi Arabia. While news of resumed talks will boost hopes for a resolution, the White House is taking a measured approach, saying that “we are keeping our expectations very much in check.”


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