What We’re Watching: Iran’s uranium enrichment gambit, Indian vaccine woes

Art by Gabriella Turrisi

Iran ups uranium enrichment: In its most flagrant violation to date of the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran confirmed that it had started enriching uranium to 20 percent purity at its Fordo facility. Under the deal, which the Trump administration abandoned in 2018, Tehran was only allowed to enrich uranium up to 3.67 percent purity (not enough to build a nuclear weapon) and was required to stop enrichment at its underground facility at Fordo altogether. Washington — and the Israelis — say this recent development reflects Iran's mendaciousness, but Tehran argues it's merely a response to the US going back on its word and imposing crippling economic sanctions in recent years that have squeezed the Iranian economy. Meanwhile, the Iranians have also engaged in bellicose activities in the volatile Strait of Hormuz, seizing a South Korean tanker that it says breached its maritime sovereignty. This week also marks one year since the US slaying of Iranian general Qassim Suleimani, an event that ratcheted up US-Iranian tensions — and one that Tehran has vowed to avenge in due time.


India's vaccine concerns: India on Sunday approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, as well as a vaccine developed locally by Bharat Biotech, a massive development for one of the hardest-hit countries in the world. While the government is hoping that this will mark the beginning of the country's pandemic recovery, there are still several (massive) hurdles to overcome. First, there is widespread doubt among the public about the local vaccine's efficacy and safety after the government gave the green light without releasing comprehensive data. Second, distributing vaccines to India's 1.3 billion people, many of whom live in rural areas with little access to public health facilities, will be a mammoth task. This is further complicated by the fact that both approved vaccines require two doses. Third, the rollout process has implications beyond the country's borders: India has pledged to provide 200 million doses to COVAX facility to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, but now Delhi days it will do so only after it has inoculated a critical mass of its own citizens, which means other developing nations may not get the drugs for months. We're watching how this all plays out, and whether India leverages its power as the world's top manufacturer to hoard vaccines that scores of developing countries — including many of India's neighbors — are waiting for.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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