The Morning Dispatch: Iran Deal on the Ropes?
Iran's increased aggression and Russia's attempt to use a revived deal to skirt new sanctions have stalled talks in Vienna.
Happy Monday! Our thoughts go out to the person who spent $518,000 on the ball Tom Brady threw for his “final” touchdown pass, only for Tom Brady to unretire less than 24 hours later. Should’ve bought 345 lifetime memberships to The Dispatch instead.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
The United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights reported Sunday the number of confirmed civilian casualties in Ukraine has risen to 1,663, including 596 dead and 1,067 injured. Most of the casualties thus far have been caused by missile strikes and shelling from heavy artillery, and the agency continues to believe the true figures are “considerably higher.” More than 2.5 million Ukrainians have reportedly fled the country as refugees, and an additional 2 million are believed to be displaced within Ukraine.
Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) countries issued a joint statement on Friday pledging to revoke Russia’s most-favored nation status for the purposes of international trade, cut Russia off from International Monetary Fund and World Bank financing, and more. President Joe Biden also signed an executive order Friday banning imports of Russian seafood, alcohol, and diamonds and banning exports of luxury goods to Russia. Congress is set to vote on revoking normal trade relations with Russia later this week. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Russia was the U.S.’s 23rd-largest trading partner in 2021, with two-way trade between the countries totaling just $36.1 billion.
The United Kingdom on Friday sanctioned 386 members of the Russian Duma for their support of the Kremlin’s plan to recognize the independence of the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. The Treasury Department issued a new round of sanctions on Kremlin officials and oligarchs on Friday as well. Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told state TV on Sunday that about $300 billion of Russia’s $640 billion in reserves is unusable right now due to Western sanctions.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Saturday President Biden had approved an additional $200 million in military aid for Ukraine “to help [it] meet the armored, airborne, and other threats it is facing.” Hours later—one day after Russian diplomats warned the U.S. they viewed weapons deliveries to Ukraine as “legitimate targets”—Russian airstrikes reportedly killed 35 people at a Ukrainian military training facility just 10 miles from the Polish border.
Despite record-high border crossings last year, the number of undocumented immigrants arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) fell dramatically in fiscal year 2021—from 159,000 in 2018 to 143,000 in 2019 to 104,000 in 2020 to 74,000 in 2021—according to the agency’s annual report. The report outlines ICE’s “operational changes” under President Biden, including its focus on “the most pressing threats to national security, public safety, and border security” while allowing enforcement officials to “make discretionary decisions about which noncitizens to arrest, detain, and remove.”
Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry announced Saturday it had put to death 81 people convicted of various crimes in an effort to “deter anyone who threatens security or disrupts public life.” The Kingdom did not disclose how the executions were carried out, but it is believed to be the largest mass execution in Saudi Arabia’s history.
The European Commission and UK’s Competition and Markets Authority announced Friday they were opening an antitrust investigation into Meta (Facebook) and Alphabet (Google), probing whether the two tech companies illegally cooperated to stifle competition in digital advertising.
Russia’s Roskomnadzor communications regulator banned Instagram in the country over the weekend in response to Meta’s decision to temporarily permit users in some countries to call for violence against Russian invaders in posts on its various platforms. “We have temporarily made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules like violent speech such as ‘death to the Russian invaders,’” Meta spokesman Andy Stone said. “We still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians.”
Is the Iran Deal On the Ropes?
A little more than a month ago—according to a New York Times headline—the Biden administration seemed poised to make good on one of the president’s key campaign promises: “U.S. and Allies Close to Reviving Nuclear Deal With Iran, Officials Say.”
They’re not very close anymore. The White House’s optimism about a deal has been dealt repeated blows in the intervening six weeks, with two of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’s (JCPOA) key participants—Russia and Iran—reminding the world of the risks inherent in diplomacy with rogue states. Russia launched an unprovoked and brutal attack on Ukraine and is seeking to use any deal as a way to circumvent the devastating sanctions imposed for its aggression. Iran, meanwhile, refuses to account for the secret nuclear work it conducted in the past and, over the weekend, fired a dozen missiles into neighboring Iraq that landed near a U.S. base.
Stateside, there is growing, bipartisan trepidation in Congress about the direction of the talks. “I am deeply concerned that the latest iteration of the failed JCPOA being negotiated by the Biden Administration will empower Iran, endanger Israel, and continue to threaten global security,” said Rep. Elaine Luria, a Democrat from Virginia who serves as vice chair of the House Armed Services Committee. “Any deal that would give Iran a path to a nuclear weapon or allow them to invest in terror proxies is unacceptable.”
Luria was one of 21 lawmakers who wrote to the White House on Thursday to express concerns about a deal. “Without adequately addressing Iran’s role as the world’s leading state-sponsor of terror—which was noticeably absent from the 2015 JCPOA—and simultaneously providing billions of dollars in sanctions relief, the United States would be providing a clear path for Iranian proxies to continue fueling terrorism,” they said.
Worth Your Time
In a Politico piece, Stephen Kinzer looks back at the United States’ previous attempts to assassinate foreign leaders amid rising calls to take out Putin. “Americans are impatient by nature. We want quick solutions, even to complex problems. That makes killing a foreign leader seem like a good way to end a war,” he writes. “Every time we have tried it, though, we’ve failed—whether or not the target falls. Morality and legality aside, it doesn’t work. Castro thrived on his ability to survive American plots. In the Congo, almost everything that has happened since Lumumba’s murder has been awful. Our record in carrying out regime change short of murder is hardly better. The CIA-directed overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 cast Iran into a political whirlwind from which it still has not escaped. A year later, the CIA coup against President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala aborted a ten-year democratic experiment and set that country on a path toward civil war and genocide.”
When it comes to inflation, Mercatus Center fellow Bruce Yandle argues lawmakers can’t begin to address the problem until they accept their own role in stoking it. “For too long now, our political leaders have been unwilling to accept the notion that their policies are the major source of inflation, that the inflation embedded in our economy is not transitory, that inflation is not just associated with sudden supply chain problems, and that inflation is not caused by business leaders suddenly becoming unusually greedy,” he writes for Reason. “Many analysts (and even Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers) now recognize that, fed by trillions of stimulus dollars distributed in 2020–21, surging consumer demand placed extraordinary pressures on the straining supply of home appliances, automobiles, residential structures, gasoline, paint, and even cat food. With money flooding and consumers shopping, prices had to sail higher.”
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Toeing the Company Line
In Friday’s Uphill (🔒), Haley takes a look at how Congress has in recent weeks pushed the Biden administration into taking a more aggressive stance against Russia. “The White House wants to remain in lockstep with allied countries,” she notes, “even as members of Congress from both parties have sometimes been quicker to embrace ideas the administration or foreign partners have been wary of.”
To kick off Friday’s Dispatch Podcast, Steve is joined by Taras Byk, a Ukrainian and former journalist working with the Territorial Defense Forces in Kyiv. Once that wraps, Sarah and Jonah join in for a conversation about the state of the war, and its ramifications for our domestic politics.
David’s Sunday French Press this week focuses on two competing views of Christianity: The version being exploited for Russia’s geopolitical aims, and the version that’s inspiring hundreds of millions of people to rally to Ukraine’s defense. “In one stark moment,” he writes, “we are seeing the extremes of what Christians can do, for evil and for good.”
David and Curtis Chang were joined by NBA writer Jonathan Tjarks on the latest episode of Good Faith for a conversation about Tjarks’ battle with cancer, and what it has taught him about faith, family, and the power of community.