The World this Week

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The World this Week
Gaza Violence, China-US Trade Negotiations, North Korean Missile Tests, Iran’s Partial Withdrawal and Mueller Report

  GP Team

This edition of “The World This Week” discusses five issues. The return of violence and a ceasefire in Gaza, it ongoing careful negotiations between China and the United States, the ‘trade talks’ seem to have ended with no deals or outcome, North Korea tests two short-range ballistic missiles, which was confirmed by the United States and South Korea official sources, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran would partially withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal that it signed with global powers and the difference of opinion  between the Congress-White House on Mueller Report

Lakshmi Menon, Sourina Bej, Harini Madhusudan, Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer


The return of violence and a ceasefire in Gaza

What happened?

Gaza’s civil society is trickling back to normalcy after a cease-fire agreement brokered by Egypt and the United Nations was achieved between Gaza and Israel and came into effect on May 7. No Israeli air raids have been reported since the cease-fire on Palestinian territory. However, Israeli fire killed a Gazan in the Friday protests on 10 May.

What is the background?

The three-day escalation, the deadliest fighting between Israel and Palestinian factions since 2014 commenced on the May 4. The besieged enclave saw at least four Israelis and 25 Palestinians killed during the escalation. The escalation began when Gaza’s armed factions, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, fired hundreds of rockets at southern Israel’s settlements and civilian population following two separate incidents on May 3 that killed four Palestinians. Israel retaliated by pounding Gaza Strip with gunboat shooting, artillery-shelling, about 150 air raids and by targeting 200 civilian landmarks.

The Friday protests aka the weekly Great March of Return protests, which began on 30 March 2018, with the demand of right to return of Palestinian refugees to pre-1948 homes and full lifting of the 12-year Israeli blockade of Gaza had increased the tensions since it commences.

What does it mean?

As per officials, the truce agreement has to do with the easing of the Israeli blockade of Gaza Strip that has been under a deteriorating Egyptian-Israeli siege since 2008. Extending of fishing zone to 12 nautical miles off the Gaza coast, and improvements in the region’s energy, fuel and electricity situation have also said to be part of the cease-fire agreement.

However, the fragile truce was tested by the Friday protests on 11 May which resulted in the death of a Gazan. Israel’s arm-twisting is proof that Israel wants a cease-fire or peace deal on its own terms of peace or ‘calm’, and not with provisions for the Palestinians or on Gaza’s terms.

There is a call for a massive march on May 15 to mark the 71st anniversary of Nakba or “catastrophe”, the day in 1948, when Palestinians were forced to flee their homes in hundreds of thousands for the purpose of establishing the state of Israel. This in the current volatile situation may completely rupture the already fragile cease-fire between Palestinian factions and Israel.

Nevertheless, the absence of the United States from this cease-fire agreement is noteworthy. Is the US going to shelf Trump’s Middle East plan or is Washington giving up its mediator role? Time will tell.

US-China Trade Talks

What happened?

For what has been months of careful negotiations between China and the United States, the ‘trade talks’ seem to have ended with no deals or outcome on 11 May 2019. During this week there was a lot of commotion when Trump threatened to raise tariffs by 10 May, this because the US accuses China of backtracking on the previously agreed commitments. This came when the Chinese delegation was preparing itself to visit the US for negotiations, they chose to go nevertheless. The Chinese delegation, including Vice Premier Liu He, was greeted by US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The optimism remained during the negotiations, and despite the absence of a deal, there seems to be an agreement that the two parties would meet again in Beijing soon.

What is the background?

Since last year, the two sides have imposed tariffs on more than $360 billion in two-way trade. The visible impacts have been on US agricultural exports to China and have been weighing on both countries' manufacturing sectors. In April, Trump bragged that the US and China were on the verge of an “epic” deal. On 9 May, The International Monetary Fund repeated its warning that the trade battle between the world's top economies was a "threat" to global growth, and called for a rapid resolution. However, an additional 25 per cent of tariffs have been imposed on 250 billion dollars’ worth of China’s goods on 10 May 2019.

What does it mean?

Trump’s additional tariffs will raise prices for consumers and may hurt manufacturers and others in the US who rely on parts made in China. Apple was the first to report an impact on its manufacturing and announced their loses. China’s retaliatory tariffs have already squeezed US exporters and Beijing will introduce countermeasures. Domestic politics will play a major role now, especially for Trump because he seems to want to use US-China Trade Dispute as his successes, Xi Jinping’s letter to Trump has eased the markets for now. Negotiations may resume in the forthcoming months, but there is no clarity from both the parties.


North Korea tests ballistic missiles: A warning in disguise?

What happened?

On 9 May two short-range ballistic missiles were launched by North Korea, confirmed the United States and South Korea official sources. The missile launched is identical to the one that North Korea had launched on 4 May which appeared to be a solid-fuel missile modelled after Russia’s Iskander short-range ballistic missile system that Moscow has often deployed in Syria and has been trying to sell. In addition, South Korea’s military said the Friday’s two missiles were launched from the town of Kusong in North Pyongan province, where North Korea conducted its first successful flight tests of its Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missile and Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile, both in 2017. At the time of the second launch, the US for the first time seized a North Korean shipping vessel carrying coal on the ground that it was violating American law and international sanctions. This move is certain to escalate tensions already on the brink.

What is the background?

The recent launch by North Korea marks the second time the country fired off a short-range missile in just under a week with the first launch breaking a moratorium agreed after the Hanoi summit in February. These latest launches came after two important meetings. Firstly, the US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun visit to the South Korea and second North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s visit to Moscow in the last week of April. With the similarity with Russian short-range missile, the current launch by Kim cannot ignore the help from Moscow. 

The launches are seen as a possible North Korean warning toward Washington over the deadlocked nuclear negotiations as the two sides continue to disagree on the terms of sanction reliefs and disarmament. The launch assumes significance in the backdrop of the meeting in February when Trump and Kim met in Hanoi trying to make a deal on dismantling North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. Even though the summit ended early after both sides made demands the other side couldn’t accept, North Korea had maintained a long month of no test with frequent news on reconstructing of nuclear sites. This missile tests could now result in more sanctions keeping in mind that North Korea’s so far unsuccessful push for large-scale sanctions relief is at the heart of the current diplomatic impasse with Washington.

What does it mean? 

North Korea has historically used weapons tests for two purposes: firstly, to gain military strength and second to use this acquired military strength for sending tactical message to the US and its allies like South Korea and Japan in the Korean peninsula. The current test is no exception to this strategy adopted by Kim. However, the reactions from the targeted countries have been varied. While the US and South Korea has downplayed the tests, Japan had been strong in its criticisms. Trump has stated that these short-range tests don’t essentially mean “a breach of trust at all," But this also means no one including the institutions in Washington is happy about the test. After the second test, Trump at the White House said, “I don’t think they’re ready to negotiate.” More than a message to the US, the tests were a consorted signal to South Korea highlighting Moon’s failure in securing the sanctions, moving out of the US umbrella and still proceeding with the joint economic projects that the inter-Korean summit had agreed on. The short-range missiles directly threaten South Korea but not the U.S. mainland or it's Pacific territories. This indicated Kim’s dual intention of signalling Moon and also testing how far Washington will tolerate its bellicosity without actually hampering the nuclear negotiations in the letter. Japan’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kotaro Nogami on 10 May has said that the tests were in violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions which bar North Korea from testing any ballistic missiles.

Neither of the recent tests jeopardises the country’s self-imposed moratorium on testing longer-range weapons that could target the continental US but it does warn that the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s patience with nuclear diplomacy and lifting of sanctions is slowly wearing thin.

Iran's partial withdrawal from the Nuclear Deal

What happened?

On 8 May 2019, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran would partially withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal that it signed with global powers (P5+1) a year after Trump withdrew from the deal. The decision came after the United States dispatched an aircraft carrier strike group to the Middle East. Iran said that it would stop limiting its stocks of enriched uranium and heavy water needed by certain types of reactor. Tehran went on to inform the governments of Germany, Britain, France, China and Russia about its plans by letters. Rouhani also said that he would start resuming high-level uranium enrichment in 60 days if the signatory states failed to protect Iran's oil and banking sectors from sanctions. He further added that Iran would stay within the terms of the 2015 nuclear treaty, but will revive some nuclear activity that was paused.

What is the background?

Due to escalating pressure over Iran’s alleged efforts to develop a nuclear programme in 2015, Iran agreed to sign a deal on its nuclear programme. Iran stated that the programme was initiated for peaceful purposes but they faced resistance from the international community who did not accept their statement. For this reason, an agreement was signed, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal under which Iran agreed to eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, cut its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98%, and reduce by about two-thirds the number of its gas centrifuges for 13 years. For the next 15 years, Iran would only enrich uranium up to 3.67%. Iran also agreed not to build new heavy-water facilities. To monitor and verify Iran's agreement with the deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would have regular access to all Iranian nuclear facilities. The agreement provides that in return for abiding by its commitments, Iran will receive relief from U.S, European Union, and United Nations Security Council sanctions, which they received under the Obama administration.

However, with the U.S unilaterally leaving the deal in 2018 under Trump’s administration where he restoring heavy sanction on Iran raised tensions again. The other signatories said that they would do their best to keep the deal alive, however, with the increased sanctions imposed by the U.S that seemed doubtful. While the allies of the US in the region Israel and Saudi Arabia welcomed Trump’s decision, other countries like Russia were deeply disappointed by the decision.

There has been immense domestic political pressure on Rouhani to produce some kind of counter-measure following the US withdrawal. Tehran has also been dismayed by Europe’s efforts to create a new practical financial mechanism that would allow European firms to continue trading items such as medicines and humanitarian goods with Iran and avoid U.S sanctions.

What does it mean?

This withdrawal from the deal is no surprise because Iran has been for almost two years says that they would partially withdraw which is also provided in the framework of the deal if other signatories do not cooperate. For Iran, this could mean that they could face heavy sanctions from the U.S thus putting their economy at stake. Further, there could be an escalation of security issue in the region due to this.

However, Iran's decision to partially withdraw from the nuclear deal is not anticipated to undo the pact anytime soon, the remaining parties will likely remain committed to bringing up the agreement. However, this could strain relations between the U.S and its European allies as Washington moves military firepower into the region and Iran prepares to make changes to the deal. While it remains to be seen how things might play out.


Congress-White House Face-off over Mueller Report

What happened?

 On May 08 2019, in what could be the latest clatter with the Congress, the White House formally asserted its executive authority over Robert Mueller’s report. This is supposedly President Trump’s first use of executive power in his continued collision with the legislators. This move terminates the debate over what materials legislators would be allowed to view from the report submitted by Mueller.

What is the background?

On April 18 2019, Special Counsel Robert Mueller had released a 448-page report that established no conspiracy over the Russian interference in Trump’s 2016 election campaign. In addition, the report had identified and stated around 10 instances of probable obstructions of justice by Trump.

The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee had demanded the complete version of the report which the Justice Department had rejected due to federal regulations. The lawmakers argue that they have a duty to oversight the administration especially when there are many questions still lingering about the president. Amidst widespread uproar from Democrats over Trump’s impeachment, the White House move came at a time when the House Judiciary Committee was planning to reprimand the Attorney-General William Barr in contempt for ignoring the possibilities of getting the full Mueller report.

What does it mean?

Tensions between Congress and the executive branch have been a regular affair even when the sides belong to the same party. But, the assertion of privilege by the President is broad and shields the entirety of the summoned materials. There is a high possibility that the dispute could take to a court battle especially when it involves big constitutional questions about the powers of equal branches of government. This will only prolong the situation and put it in impasse. The White House move could imply that the President is trying to buy time in order to make a final decision after reviewing the materials at a personal level.

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