The World Today for November 20, 2018

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NEED TO KNOW

IRAN

Fingers in Ears

The United States reimposed sanctions on Iranian oil and shipping in early November.

The sanctions had been suspended under the nuclear disarmament agreement that President Barack Obama struck with Iranian leaders in 2015.

President Donald Trump pulled out of that deal, saying he didn’t want the US to help prop up the mullahs in Tehran or give them foreign revenue that would help them extend their influence in Syria and throughout the Middle East.

But the Iranians don’t seem very concerned.

“The Americans thought they could completely cut Iran’s oil exports, but they realized themselves in the days (ahead of the re-imposition of the sanctions) that this is neither practical nor possible,” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said recently, according to PRESS TV, a state-owned news service.

Indeed, after the sanctions went back into effect, Trump granted China, Japan, India and five other countries waivers allowing them to keep buying oil from Iran without penalty, OilPrice.com reported. Those eight nations buy around 75 percent of Iranian oil exports.

The idea was to give those countries time to find other sources of oil to ensure “a well-supplied oil market,” said US Special Envoy for Iran Brian Hook. The US could rescind the waivers next year when Saudi Arabia and Russia pump more oil to stabilize prices.

But maybe those waivers were designed to save face.

France and Germany are creating a special “clearing house” to allow European companies to bypass the US sanctions. The mechanism is Europe’s way of showing that it intends to make good on the 2015 deal, the Guardian reported.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to ignore the American sanctions. “These are steps aimed at unbalancing the world,” Erdogan told Reuters. “We don’t want to live in an imperialist world.”

Russia, too, considers the sanctions “illegal” and will continue trading Iranian crude oil, Energy Minister Alexander Novak told the Financial Times.

Such developments led Iran’s ambassador to Britain, Hamid Baeidinejad, to declare to CNN that Trump’s sanctions were a “failure.”

Gregory Brew, a postdoctoral fellow at Southern Methodist University, agreeing, argued in the Conversation that the sanctions could trigger a spike in the cost of oil for American consumers and hurt ordinary Iranians, but they won’t undermine Rouhani’s government.

Yet the price of oil has been dropping, noted the Economist, in part because the US has become the world’s top producer of crude – a revolution that is transforming energy markets. At the same time, though, the British financial magazine warned that future instability in oil-producing Iraq, Libya, Nigeria and Venezuela could trigger shortages, causing prices to jump.

The chaos is providing the Iranians with cover while exposing the limitations of US power.

WANT TO KNOW

YEMEN

Tough Tango

It might take two to tango. But to end the war in Yemen, it will even more.

On Monday, the Saudi Arabia-backed government of Yemen confirmed it would join the Iran-backed Houthi rebels for peace talks in Sweden, following a rebel announcement that they would stop military operations to facilitate negotiations, CNN reported.

The government of exiled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s announcement came just before the United Kingdom introduced a draft resolution at the UN Security Council calling for a ceasefire and a two-week break in fighting to allow aid into Yemen. A vote is not expected until after Thanksgiving, the news channel said.

Quoting unnamed sources as saying Saudi Crown Prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman “threw a fit” when UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt showed him a draft of the resolution, CNN said the document eventually submitted to the Security Council did not directly criticize actions by the Saudi-led coalition.

After at least 10,000 casualties and potential war crimes, the talks could be the first glimmer of hope that potentially the worst famine in 100 years can be averted.

VENEZUELA

A Very Bad List

After imposing a raft of economic sanctions, Washington is preparing to add the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to its list of state sponsors of terrorism – which now includes only Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.

Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and other Republican legislators are pushing for the move, arguing that Venezuela supports the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and other groups that the US considers terrorists, the Washington Post reported.

Analysts have downplayed those connections and argued that adding Venezuela to the list would undermine the significance of the designation. But the move could be expedient in garnering support for a US boycott of Venezuelan oil – eliminating its largest buyer, said Adam Isacson, a Latin America analyst. Meanwhile, David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, expressed fears that the label could be used as a pretext for military intervention.

It’s hardly a done deal. But the Post said the State Department has been asking for feedback from various agencies including the US Agency for International Development (USAID), suggesting it’s under serious consideration.

JAPAN

Ghosting Nissan

The term for ending a relationship by severing all contact and disappearing is “ghosting.” But more than a few investors are taking the same approach to Nissan Motor Corp. following the arrest of erstwhile Chairman Carlos Ghosn this week.

Ghosn was dismissed and arrested after a whistleblower triggered an internal investigation that revealed he allegedly used the company war chest like it was his personal wallet and underreported his income for years, Reuters reported.

Early Tuesday, the company had plunged 5.5 percent to its lowest value since July 2016, sparking a sympathetic selloff of Japanese tech shares that trimmed 0.6 percent off the Nikkei, the agency said.

Mitsubishi Motors, which is also part of the Renault-Nissan alliance Ghosn forged to create what is effectively the world’s largest carmaker, also dropped 6 percent. Mitsubishi will also dump Ghosn as chairman.

Prior to the news of his arrest, Ghosn – credited with saving Nissan and reviving Renault, the New York Times reported – was arguably the biggest thing in the car business.

DISCOVERIES

Doodling in Borneo

Humans practiced art earlier than previously thought.

Archaeologists from Australia and Indonesia have discovered the world’s earliest-known cave painting of an animal in Borneo, Indonesia, USA Today reported.

In their study, they stated that the 5-foot-wide artwork dates back at least 40,000 years and is older than the famous drawings found in caves in France and Spain.

“The oldest cave art image we dated is a large painting of an unidentified animal, probably a species of wild cattle still found in the jungles of Borneo,” said lead author Maxime Aubert. “It is now the earliest known figurative artwork.”

Researchers also noted red and purple-colored hand stencils and paintings of human scenes, but remain unclear at the meaning of the animals.

“We think it wasn’t just food for them,” Aubert added. “It meant something special.”

Humans began to create art during the Ice Age. Scientists remained perplexed as to what led to the trend’s proliferation.

The new finding provides more evidence that cave art didn’t originate in Europe and that ancient painters from Southeast Asia helped advance one of humanity’s most important innovations.

 

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