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What We're Watching: Putin's pasta concerns, Iran's mixed signals on nuclear deal, US-UK try for mini trade deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Putin's pasta woes: In his annual press conference on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin tackled a wide range of issues of interest to his country — and the world. As expected, Putin denied that his government meddled in the recent US election or poisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Putin also demurred on whether he'll run again for president in 2024, called on the US to extend the New START treaty on nuclear arms reduction, confirmed he hasn't taken the Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19, and said that US President Donald Trump won't seek asylum in Russia because over 70 million Americans voted for him. Interestingly, throughout the four-hour live Q&A session the Russian leader seemed more upset about the rising prices of certain food items like pasta, which Putin had been ranting about all week (possibly to deflect attention away from a damning news report claiming that he has a 17-year-old daughter from an extramarital affair with a former cleaner who now has $102 million in assets). In the months to come, we'll be keeping a close eye on the price of spaghetti as a window into Putin's state of mind.

Iran's mixed signals on the nuclear deal: In a rare sign of unity between two leaders who often disagree on tone and policy, both Iran's President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei expressed willingness this week to reenter the Iran nuclear deal should the US agree to remove crippling economic sanctions. It's the first indication that Khamenei, who calls the shots in Iranian politics, would be willing to resume direct negotiations with the West. Still, there are several domestic factors that might complicate efforts to return to the nuclear accord, abandoned by the Trump administration in 2018. First, hardliners in Iran's parliament recently passed a bill suspending UN inspections of its nuclear sites and giving the go-ahead to massively increase uranium enrichment unless the US lifts its sanctions by February. If this goes ahead, it's unlikely to inspire much goodwill from the incoming Biden administration, which will reenter the agreement, it says, only if the Iranians are fully transparent and cooperative. Additionally, Iranians head to the polls in June, which could give rise to a much more extreme executive body that rejects dialogue with the US entirely. The Supreme Leader, who has issued conflicting messages on the prospects of reentering the nuclear deal in recent months, clearly wants to keep his options open.

US-UK "mini" trade deal? As the UK and the EU continue to run out the clock on a Brexit trade deal, another agreement — albeit a somewhat pared-down version — could be in the works for Great Britain with its top trading partner: the United States. Both sides are now negotiating a compromise that involves reforms to the way the NHS pays for US medications, as well as other conditions. The move comes after the Brits last week broke with the EU on subsidies for European aerospace giant Airbus — a symbolic gesture since the UK is no longer part of the EU and therefore cannot put retaliatory tariffs of its own on the US for its assistance to its aerospace company, Boeing. Either way, the UK and its "cousins" on the other side of the Atlantic seem to be making progress on cutting mutual tariffs just weeks before the Trump administration gives way to President-elect Joe Biden. But that progress is no indication that a future US-UK trade agreement will be any easier under Biden, who's not eager to cut a quick deal and has four years to negotiate with London.

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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