The World Today for July 16, 2018

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Friends and Foes

Before he left for Europe, President Donald Trump reflected on his busy agenda for the upcoming week: meeting British politicians amid the Brexit crisis, NATO leaders whom he berated for paying too little for their defense and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Frankly, Putin might be the easiest of them all – who would think,” said Trump, according to Radio Free Europe. Notably, the US president also described the European Union as a trade “foe” on the eve of meeting his Russian counterpart, the New York Times reported.

The Financial Times, however, disagreed Putin won’t pose a challenge, saying Trump’s meeting with the Kremlin’s head honcho on Monday was by far his most perilous rendezvous on the continent.

The British newspaper wrote that American policy toward Russia under Trump has been “contradictory and at times incoherent” because Trump appears to like Putin personally, while many administration officials and Republican leaders in Congress are suspicious of the Russian leader.

The tension between the two perspectives prompted many publications to issue Cassandra-like predictions for Trump’s sit-down with Putin.

“Putin is about to con Trump in Helsinki,” read the headline of a Washington Post opinion piece by David Kramer, a senior fellow in diplomacy at Florida International University and a former assistant secretary of state under ex-President George W. Bush.

Kramer argued that Putin, a former KGB agent, will flatter and manipulate Trump into doing his bidding: dismantling NATO, giving the Russian military free reign in Syria and easing sanctions imposed on Moscow after the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Trump appears to be undercutting NATO regardless of Russian desires. “How Trump and Putin could kill NATO,” wrote Politico Europe, noting how Trump has said for decades that America’s foreign alliances are a burden rather than a strength.

Because of the special investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election that resulted in Trump’s victory, the American president is somewhat constrained in changing American policy except in the case of Syria, wrote Middle East expert Joe Macaron in Al Jazeera.

“Trump will give up Syria to Putin the way Gorbachev left Iraq to Bush in 1990,” Macaron forecast, in return for Putin’s help in isolating Iran – a concession Putin could make and then ignore because he has little influence over the mullahs of Tehran.

That scenario led Russian maven Anna Arutunyan to declare that “Putin has already won” even before the summit took place. Putin is interested in optics, wrote Arutunyan. Sitting down with Trump makes him look good, especially if Trump badmouths NATO or suggests Crimea belongs to Russia.

That’s a lot of speculation, for sure. But for now, it’s the best the world can do.



Enemy of My Enemy…

Just after US President Donald Trump declared the European Union a trade “foe,” European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker are visiting Beijing – where China is expected to push for an anti-US alliance to counter US tariffs.

A strong message was unlikely, Reuters reported.

As expected, the two sides agreed to defend the multilateral trading system and rejected unilateral measures imposed by the US – a pushback against Trump’s tariffs, India’s Business Standard newspaper reported.

According to an editorial penned by China’s ambassador to the European Union in the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper on Sunday, Beijing’s goal is making China-EU relations a “standard of stability” amid the “din of unilateralism and protectionism,” the agency said.

However, the EU is hesitant to take a strong stance against Trump, at least in part due to deep skepticism about how serious China really is about opening its own markets further.


Jobs, Water and Votes

Two protesters were killed in clashes with police and several others were injured by water cannon and tear gas in Iraq Saturday, as protests demanding jobs and better public services continued across the southern part of the country.

Police fired into the air to disperse demonstrators seeking to enter the main provincial government building in Basra city, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported. Two demonstrators were killed in clashes with Iraqi security forces in the town of Samawa when protesters sought to storm a courthouse, according to a police official cited by the news network.

Seeking to prevent any disruption to oil exports, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that his government would release funds to Basra for water, electricity and health services, Reuters quoted state television as saying. However, the demonstrations had already spread to the cities of Amara, Nasiriya and the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf.

The unrest comes as politicians struggle to form a government following the May 12 parliamentary election, which failed to produce a clear winner and was marred by allegations of fraud.


No Deal

The US rejected European Union overtures asking for exemptions for European companies from its sanctions against Iran to keep up “maximum pressure” on Tehran, just as Israel released new evidence of the scope of the Iranian nuclear program from a trove of documents stolen by its spies earlier this year.

“We will seek to provide unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a letter to European leaders cited by the BBC. Pompeo said exemptions would only be made if they benefited US national security.

The sanctions could impact billions of dollars worth of EU trade, as some of Europe’s biggest firms rushed to resume business with Iran following the signing of the nuclear deal in 2015.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post said the stolen documents show Iran was on the verge of mastering key bomb-making technologies when the research was ordered halted 15 years ago. Memos also indicate that Iran’s senior scientists were making plans to continue the work in secret. However, Israel produced no evidence that Iran has violated the 2015 nuclear accord.


A Thousand Feet Under

Despite rapid technological advancement in the clean energy industry, engineers still have a long way to go when it comes to reducing the CO2 emissions associated with powering homes, cars and factories.

According to the International Energy Agency, “carbon capture and storage” (CCS) technology is still lagging when considering global environmental goals. Existing facilities can only handle 7.5 percent of the emissions the earth needs to be eliminated every year by 2025 to meet the goal of keeping any increase in global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), Bloomberg reported.

That’s where oceans come in, or so Chinese scientists hope.

In a new study, researchers considered burying CO2 in “unconsolidated marine sediment” – loose silt, clay and other permeable material under the sea floor – which would trap the gas by turning it into an ice substance called hydrate.

The enormous pressure and low temperatures would hold the gas in place, similar to how the fossil fuel methane hydrate stays locked in permafrost in Siberia and elsewhere.

The commercialization of the process is in its early stages, and there’s still uncertainty if the gas would remain trapped underwater.

But the scientists want to try. “In our assumption, the unconsolidated marine sediment is intact,” researchers wrote.

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