World update: November 8 2018



Journalist David O’Byrne looks at what US sanctions on Iran might mean for the Caucasus. Georgia seems minimally affected, and Azerbaijan as a net energy exporter will probably be OK, but Armenia could be in a difficult situation:

The bulk of Armenia’s gas is imported from Russia (via Georgia), but Yerevan also imported about 400 million cubic meters of gas from Iran in 2017, and sends Iran power in exchange. In late 2017 an agreement was announced for Armenia to boost Iran gas imports by up to 25 percent, and to increase power exports by a similar amount.

The status of that agreement and of existing Iranian gas exports to Armenia is currently unclear.


Taliban attacks on police outposts in Ghazni and Wardak provinces on Thursday morning killed at least 13 police officers between them. Meanwhile, more clashes between the Taliban and Hazara, this time in Ghazni province, are again raising concerns that the Hazara might adopt a more militant position to defend themselves from Taliban and ISIS attacks, and thereby create another front in the Afghan war.


Maoist Naxalite rebels killed four civilians and one paramilitary soldier in Chhattisgarh state on Thursday when they blew up a bus. The Naxalites have stepped up their activity in an effort to disrupt state elections scheduled for next week.

India’s ruling far right Bharatiya Janata Party is trying to stamp out references to the country’s Muslim past in the form of city and district names. On Tuesday it changed the name of Uttar Pradesh state’s Faizabad district to Ayodhya, one month after changing the name of the city of Allahabad to Prayagraj. Both were named by the Muslim rulers in India’s past. Next up for a name change appears to be the city of Ahmedabad, in Gujarat province.


The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that it was North Korea, not the US, that canceled planned talks between Mike Pompeo and representatives from Pyongyang in New York that had been scheduled for Thursday. The Trump administration was apparently caught off guard by the cancelation, which could affect planning for the next Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un summit sometime next year (that was supposed to be one of the items on Pompeo’s agenda). It’s unclear why they canceled the meeting. It may have been a little gamesmanship from North Korea. The results of Tuesday’s midterm elections might have given the North Koreans pause. Alternatively, UN ambassador Nikki Haley said on Thursday that it’s because they “weren’t ready” to hold it, implying that they haven’t done enough to implement the agreement Trump and Kim reached at their first summit in June. Or maybe it’s something like this:

I know this is where we’re supposed to roll our eyes and say “oh Trump” while fretting that he’s going to give away the store, but look at North Korea’s alternatives. If we’re all trying to avoid a nuclear confrontation, then frankly we might be better off with the North Koreans dealing directly with Trump than with any of the warmongers he’s got working for him.



Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday announced a $2.18 billion infrastructure grant and loan program for the South Pacific that’s intended to counter Chinese efforts to expand its footprint in the region. Meanwhile, his foreign minister, Marise Payne, met in Beijing with Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi in an effort to improve ties between the two countries. China has become the second-largest donor in the Pacific, threatening Australian hegemony.



The Sudanese government revealed on Thursday that it will soon begin a second round of talks with Washington aimed at removing Khartoum from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Sudan wants desperately to get off of the list so that it can obtain financial assistance from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.


United Nations Libya envoy Ghassan Salame unveiled his plan for Libya’s political future to the Security Council on Thursday. In lieu of the now discarded idea to hold national elections next month in a country that clearly isn’t ready for them, Salame now wants to hold a national conference early next year leading to the beginnings of a political process in the spring. Presumably the conference would focus on getting rival militias to stop fighting one another and channel their efforts into politics instead.


Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi has done an about face and accepted the cabinet shakeup that Prime Minister Youssef Chahed announced earlier this week. Essebsi, who is mired in a serious political conflict with Chahed, had initially refused to sign off on the ten new ministers Chahed appointed, and while he doesn’t have the power to block those appointments he could have delayed them by forcing the issue to go to parliament.


Moroccan King Mohammed VI expressed on Tuesday a desire for “frank and open dialogue” with Algeria. Morocco and Algeria share a good deal of history going all the way back to the days of the Arab conquests and running through their shared colonial experiences, but relations have been frayed for decades over Algeria’s support for the Sahrawi independence movement in Western Sahara and Morocco’s concerns about Algerian-based terrorism (i.e., al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb).


Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has said he will not try to wrangle himself a third term in next year’s presidential election (he’s finishing his second and constitutionally final term now), but he may be trying to put his stamp on the race anyway. Ould Abdel Aziz recently appointed his close friend and army chief of staff, Mohamed Ould el Ghazouani, as his new defense minister, in a move that seems clearly intended to have ramifications in the presidential vote. The thing is, nobody can seem to agree on what those ramifications are. Is Ould Abdel Aziz setting his buddy up in a prominent government job to position him as the prohibitive favorite? Or is he burying his buddy in a bureaucratic gig in order to kill his presidential hopes? If Ould Abdel Aziz is hoping to be able to influence the next president, then it’s likely the latter. Ould el Ghazouani has his own base of support and likely would not resign himself to serving as Ould Abdel Aziz’s puppet.


The Tanzanian government has released Committee to Protect Journalists staff members Angela Quintal and Muthoki Mumo, after having detained them suddenly on Wednesday. Authorities say the two violated the terms of their visas by speaking with local journalists.


So far, the vote count in Madagascar has former presidents Andry Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana running ahead of the pack with 45 percent and 40 percent of the vote, respectively. That would put them on track for a runoff next month if it holds. It also leaves functional incumbent Hery Rajaonarimampianina well out of the running at only 3 percent of the vote, and he doesn’t seem to be taking it well. Rajaonarimampianina issued a statement on Thursday complaining of multiple “irregularities” and alleging that the vote was being “stolen.” You may recall that back in April, Rajaonarimampianina tried to push through changes to the country’s electoral law that opponents said would give him an unfair advantage over his potential opponents. That effort kicked off nationwide protests and it seems the president’s popularity hasn’t recovered.



The US Treasury Department on Thursday imposed sanctions on nine Russian entities along with one Russian individual and two Ukrainian individuals, over the Russian “annexation” of Crimea. This round of sanctions particularly targeted entities that have since profited from the annexation.


The Italian government is not backing down from its 2019 budget and says that European Union projections that Italy’s budget deficit will exceed its 2.4 percent of GDP target “absolutely implausible.” If Italy refuses to change the budget despite the EU’s rejection it could trigger penalties in the form of fines levied against Rome, though that would be a fairly big step for Brussels to take.



The United Nations now says that three million Venezuelans have fled their country since 2015, putting Venezuela’s migrant crisis on par with Afghanistan and South Sudan, two mostly active war zones over that period. Syria’s 6.3 million refugees is by far the largest refugee crisis in the world over the past three years. Venezuelan migrants may be considered refugees under international law despite the fact that they’re not fleeing a combat zone. Several intra-Latin America agreements on refugees have over the past couple of decades contended that people fleeing a general breakdown in social order can be considered refugees even if there’s no war involved.


Migrants in the Central American caravan have reached Mexico City but say that they need buses to take them further north due to colder weather and the dangers involved in marching through northern Mexico with its several violent drug cartels. Most of the migrants have apparently refused to either remain in Mexico or return to their home countries. Curiously the caravan, which was banner front page news and led cable broadcasts prior to the midterms, has merited barely a peep in the US media over the past couple of days. Almost as if the Trump administration’s hair-on-fire rhetoric about the caravan was just a cheap political stunt, and the news media obtusely went along with it because Donald Trump is effectively America’s Managing Editor now.


Finally, John Feffer explains why the administration’s approach toward the caravan has been entirely a cheap political stunt, as has Trump’s obsession with immigration more broadly:

Trump’s attacks on the caravan are part of a larger effort to use immigration as the defining issue of his presidency. It’s his version of the Communist threat, which was not just about Soviet nukes but also the presumed infiltration of American society.

Immigrants serve that same dual purpose of mobilizing Americans against alleged threats both inside and outside America’s borders. In Trump’s distorted worldview, immigrants are not just massing on the other side of the Rio Grande but they’re already on the inside killing innocent civilians, taking jobs away from American workers, and creating dangerous gangs to destroy the fabric of society. For a president fixated on portraying politics in apocalyptic terms, the immigration issue is the perfect weapon.


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