What we’re watching: Iran takes a bigger step towards a bomb

What we’re watching: Iran takes a bigger step towards a bomb

Iran steps further from the nuclear deal — Iran will restart uranium enrichment at its underground nuclear facility at Fordow, President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday, pulling Tehran further away from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal that restricted the country's use of centrifuges. Iran will now begin injecting uranium gas into more than 1,000 centrifuges. While Tehran has steadily been violating more aspects of the agreement since President Trump withdrew from it last year and imposed crippling sanctions on Iran's economy, this is a serious step because it reduces the "breakout time" that Iran needs in order to build a working bomb. That poses a serious dilemma for the deal's other five signatories — Germany, France, the UK, Russia and China — which have tried to safeguard the agreement: they must now decide when Tehran's breaches become "critical," and how to react when they do.


India pulls out of a big trade deal – In the end, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi walked away from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the massive China-backed Asian trade deal that we flagged last week. RCEP would have freed up the flow of goods between 16 different countries accounting for one third of global economic output, including India and China. It'll now soldier on with 15 members, including China, but with India on the outside. Some commentators immediately drew parallels with President Trump's decision in 2017 to abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal that Trump said was bad for American jobs despite its supporters' argument that it was important for US power in the Pacific. Like Trump, the benefits for Modi of walking out are mainly domestic - India's politically important farmers and manufacturers who feared a flood of cheap Chinese imports welcomed the move – while the downsides are mainly geopolitical: reduced influence and credibility in Asia.

A new prime minister in Romania – Romania's parliament narrowly approved a transitional government on Monday, making Ludovic Orban, a member of Romania's center-right National Liberal Party, the country's fourth prime minister since 2016. Orban replaces Social Democrat Viorica Dancila, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote last month, one of a string of setbacks that have hit the increasingly unpopular Social Democrats since they took charge of the government in 2016. With Orban (no relation to the Hungarian Prime Minister of the same name) now in charge of a minority government, Romania has an opportunity – albeit a fragile one – to hit reset on years of political dysfunction. Top of the agenda: decide on a new nominee for the European Commission, whose appointment has been held up after Romania's earlier appointee to the European Union's main executive body was rejected due to potential conflicts of interest.

What We're Ignoring:

Attempts to reassure us about Polish nuclear cannibal ants – There's good news and bad news here. First, the bad news: millions of wood ants that resorted to cannibalism after they fell into a pitch-black abandoned Soviet nuclear bunker in Poland years ago have escaped after scientists studying the colony built a wooden bridge that allowed them to get back to the surface. The good news, according to the scientists, is that even though this sounds the setup for a B-grade horror-action flick, the ants stopped eating each other after they rejoined their old nest above ground. We're ignoring these reassurances and will be steering clear of the nuclear cannibal ants for the foreseeable future.

Microsoft announced earlier this year the launch of a new United Nations representation office to deepen their support for the UN's mission and work. Many of the big challenges facing society can only be addressed effectively through multi-stakeholder action. Whether it's public health, environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, terrorist content online or the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, Microsoft has found that progress requires two elements - international cooperation among governments and inclusive initiatives that bring in civil society and private sector organizations to collaborate on solutions. Microsoft provided an update on their mission, activities for the 75th UN General Assembly, and the team. To read the announcement from Microsoft's Vice President of UN Affairs, John Frank, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

News broke across the United States on Friday evening that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, ending her long and distinguished career as a jurist. Tributes poured in quickly from men and women on both sides of the political spectrum. But just as quickly, her death has sharply raised the stakes for the upcoming US elections for president and the Senate, as well as the longer-term ideological balance of the nation's top court.

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Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares his insights on the biggest development in US politics this week:

So, the scriptwriters for 2020 have thrown as a real curveball, introducing the most explosive element in US politics, just six weeks before the election. The tragic death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who will be remembered as a trailblazing jurist, but also a reliably liberal vote on a court that was divided along ideological lines with a five-four conservative majority. This has the potential to upend the presidential election. And likely will motivate turnout on both sides. But also, importantly for president, Trump could remind some Romney voting ex-Republicans who were leaning towards Biden why they were Republicans in the first place. Which means that it has the potential to push some persuadable voters back towards the president.

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(Some) Thais fed up with royals: In their largest show of force to date, around 18,000 young Thai activists took to the streets of Bangkok on Saturday to rally against the government and demand sweeping changes to the country's powerful monarchy. The protesters installed a gold plaque declaring that Thailand belongs to the Thai people, not the king — a brazen act of defiance in a country where many view the sovereign as a god and offenses against the royal family are punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Activists also got the royal guards to accept a letter addressed to King Vajiralongkorn with their proposed reforms. We're watching to see if the Thai government — made up mostly of the same generals who took over in a 2014 coup and then stage-managed last year's election to stay in power — continues to exercise restraint against the activists. So far, some protest leaders have been detained but they are growing bolder in their defiance of the military and the royal family, the two institutions that have dominated Thai politics for decades. Prime Minister and former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha is in a tough spot: many young and liberal Thais will hate him if he cracks down hard on the peaceful protesters, but not doing so would make him look weak in the eyes of his power base of older, more conservative Thais who still venerate the monarchy and are fine with the military calling the shots in politics.

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32: Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra survived an impeachment vote on Friday after only 32 out of 130 lawmakers supported his removal for allegedly trying to block an investigation into misuse of public funds. Vizcarra was in peril just a week ago, but the case for impeachment lost steam after the president was backed by the military and influential opposition leaders who insist the country needs stability to fight COVID-19.

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