What We’re Watching: Iranian cat cornered on nukes, Italy’s political maneuvers, Asian Americans targeted
Art by Annie Gugliotta

Iran says "fine, we'll just get nukes then, are you happy?" Iran has threatened to openly pursue the development of nuclear weapons unless the United States removes the sanctions that it has placed on the Islamic Republic. The threat, which came from Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi, raises the stakes as Tehran and Washington explore ways to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which the Trump administration left in 2018. Since then, the US has piled on more sanctions while Iran has breached limits on uranium enrichment. Now both sides are deadlocked over who should climb down first: Iran says the US has to drop sanctions, while Washington insists Tehran resume compliance with the original deal again before that can happen. Iran has for years officially, if not totally convincingly, denied that its nuclear program is for military use — but "if a cat is cornered," Alavi warned, "it may show a kind of behavior that a free cat would not." We were disappointed to learn that Mr Alavi passed up the opportunity to make this statement while using a cat filter on Zoom.


Italy's two Matteos: As former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi continues talks to form a new Italian coalition government, two powerful politicians named Matteo are jockeying for his attention. The first is former prime minister Matteo Renzi, who is taking credit for forcing the collapse of the previous cabinet headed by Giuseppe Conte and ushering in Draghi's appointment to avoid a fresh election in the middle of the pandemic. The second is Matteo Salvini, a former interior minister under Conte's first coalition cabinet and leader of the far-right Lega party, who is now embracing Draghi to please his wealthy northern voters after years of railing against the same Brussels bureaucracy that Draghi espoused when he led the ECB. At this point it's unclear if either Matteo, or even both, will join Draghi's government. But having a host of forces willing to offer you their support from the get-go is a rare feat in Italy, which traditionally churns through PMs at rapid pace amid a deeply fragmented and dysfunctional political system. Maybe the widely popular "Super Mario" really can save Italy — as he did with the Eurozone — after all.

Hate crimes against Asian Americans: In recent weeks, Asian Americans — particularly the elderly — have been targeted in a wave of violent attacks. The issue gained nationwide attention following the death of an 84-year-old Thai man violently pushed in San Francisco. US celebrities of Asian origin are now leading calls for justice on social media, and activists worry that it's going to get worse this weekend due to the Lunar New Year celebrations in Chinatowns across America. The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans told us that the spike in hate crimes is "the result of the hostile, xenophobic climate created by scapegoating Asian communities for the pandemic," and stressed that seniors are particularly vulnerable and isolated due to COVID mobility restrictions. We're watching to see if the Biden administration follows through on its promise to tackle racist violence against Asian Americans, and whether a successful vaccine rollout contributes to more safety for members of these communities in the US.
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