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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.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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Now that Joe Biden is officially US president, leaders from around the world would like a word with him — but where will he make his first international trip?

After a tumultuous four years, many countries are now clamoring for a face-to-face with President Biden. That includes allies who felt abandoned by Trump's "America First" presidency, as well as adversaries with thorny issues on the agenda. We check in on who's pitching him hardest on a near-term state visit.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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