North Korea The nation threatened to cut off all communication lines with South Korea, including the hot line between the two nations’ leaders. The North said this was the first in a series of actions against the “enemy”. The two nations are officially at war. But the current move is seen as North’s attempt to get more concessions from the South.
Libya Turkey-US relations may enter a “new era” after an agreement on Libya was reached between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Donald Trump. The two spoke on the phone recently. Turkish support for the UN-backed regime in Tripoli managed to marginalise renegade general Khalifa Haftar’s force, backed by Russia. Moscow says it will work for peace in Libya with Erdogan.
Spain A probe has been launched against former Spanish King Juan Carlos by the Supreme Court for alleged kick-backs for a high-speed rail project in Saudi Arabia. Carlos abdicated in 2014…and lost immunity from the probe. Spanish firms had won a contract worth 6.7 billion euros for the rail link between Mecca to Medina. The probe also involved Swiss banks.
Iran and Venezuela, two adversaries of the US, both subject to American sanctions, came together in an act of defiance to violate the terms being set by the Donald Trump administration. The Islamic Republic leadership in Tehran undertook a risky mission when it decided to send five tankers carrying oil through some of the world’s most crucial maritime gateways to cash-strapped Venezuela, which suffers from acute shortage of refined oil, despite having the world’s largest oil reserves.
Through its action Iran wanted to send a message to the US that Tehran was determined to challenge American policies aggressively. The mission was accomplished last weekend when the last of the five tankers reached their destination. Despite its large military presence in the Caribbean waters, the US did not intervene; the revolutionary socialist government of Nicolas Maduro got its much-needed cargo. As motorists lined up to fill their tanks, Maduro declared that he would soon visit Tehran to sign more agreements and thank the people of Iran. US sanctions on Iran’s oil sales have throttled its crude exports. Anyone buying Iranian goods risks punitive measures from Washington. Venezuela is also under US sanctions.
“Our policy towards the US has changed from a defensive to an offensive approach,” an Iranian regime insider told Financial Times. “The US sent us messages through two regional states that ‘we will hit your tankers if you proceed’. Our answer was clear: If you hit us, we’ll hit back.” In the last stage of their journey, Venezuela, which had warned that any US efforts to stop the convoy would be an act of war, sent jets and the navy to escort the tankers.
For Iranian leaders, given the risks and transport costs, the transaction made little economic sense. In total, they earned at most $50m, probably paid in gold to bypass sanctions. The five tankers carried 1.5m barrels. But, for the regime, the show of strength justified the risks. Iran has stood firm in its encounters with the US and Britain. When British marines seized an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar, Iran impounded a British-flagged ship in the Strait of Hormuz. The Iranian tanker was later released. It also shot down a US drone last year. After the US killed Iran’s revered military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in Iraq in January, Iran launched missiles against a US base in Iraq.
A western diplomat observed that despite a huge rise in inflation and unemployment, the republic was showing no desire to change course. “The US knows its sanctions will not pay off,” said the diplomat.