🌍 Traces of highly enriched uranium found in Iran
Plus: The US and Philippines mull a join Coast Guard patrol
Hi there Intriguer. We’ve all felt 3:30-itis before. You’ve been at your desk all day, cranking out that advice. Balancing those accounts. Avoiding eye contact with Barry from HR. You’ve earnt yourself a little pick-me-up. Maybe a cup of tea. An iced vovo if you’re feeling devilish. Or if you’re this bloke in Worcester England, you hop into your Hyundai Getz and steal more than 200,000 Cadbury Crème Eggs. He probably thought he had a few twix up his sleeve, but something tells us he’ll be locked up behind (chocolate) bars.
Today’s edition is a 5 min read:
- 🇮🇷 Nuclear watchdog finds near-weapons-grade uranium in Iran.
- 🇵🇭 The Philippines looks to welcome the US coast guard.
- ➕ Plus: Putin’s State of the Nation address, how the papers are covering a deadly insurgent attack in Burkina Faso, and saying sorry… the Pacific way.
– VC & EP
🗺️ AROUND THE WORLD
- 🇻🇺 Vanuatu: The Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu has tabled an historic UN resolution asking the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to issue a ruling on climate change. The ICJ needs a simple majority in the UN before it can take on the (non-binding) case.
- 🇸🇷 Suriname: A demonstration against Suriname’s cost of living crisis turned violent on Friday (17 February) as protesters attempted to storm parliament. The government still plans to proceed with its controversial spending cuts in line with IMF loan requirements.
- 🇬🇧 UK: The UK and 30 other countries have stated they support a ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes competing in international sporting events. The move is aimed at pressuring the Olympic Committee into taking a stand before the 2024 Paris Olympics.
- 🇧🇩 Bangladesh: Authorities shut down the opposition’s leading paper on Monday (20 February) after banning 191 websites for “anti-state news”. Many accuse Prime Minister Hasina (now the longest serving female world leader) of creeping authoritarianism.
- 🇹🇷 Turkey: A new 6.3 magnitude earthquake has hit the Turkish-Syrian border region, two weeks after a devastating earthquake killed over 47,000 people in the two countries.
🇮🇷 IRAN | NUCLEAR
IAEA detects near weapons-grade uranium in Iran
Briefly: The International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) has raised the alarm after it found traces of 84% enriched uranium in Iran. This is the highest level of enrichment ever found by the nuclear watchdog in Iran, and is only 6% below what’s needed to produce nuclear weapons.
Iranian authorities have denied the accusations and insist their centrifuges aren’t programmed to enrich uranium beyond 60%. The IAEA is now investigating whether this 84% enriched material was intentional, or an inadvertent accumulation in the centrifuge network.
Intrigue’s take: The US Special Representative for Iran stated recently that there’s no evidence Iran is actively building nuclear weapons. But we’re weeks away from Tehran having enough material to do so (if we’re not there already).
And the thing about capability and intent is that once you can do something… there’s a greater chance you will. Like that friend with a mic who just couldn’t help themselves and launched a podcast.
Either way, as Iran’s uranium stash grows, so does the risk of something going very wrong.
Also worth noting:
- Robert Malley, the US Special Representative to Iran, has stated that the military option is on the table to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
- Just last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to increase efforts to revive the Iran Nuclear Deal during a meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
📰 GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES
How different newspapers covered: A deadly attack by insurgent groups in Burkina Faso.
Links: Reuters, L’Observateur Paalga, France24.
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🇵🇭 PHILIPPINES | DEFENCE
US will join Filipino coast guard on South China Sea patrol
Briefly: The US and the Philippines are expected to start conducting joint coast guard patrols in the South China Sea. This comes after the Philippines accused a Chinese ship of aiming a military-grade laser at a Filipino vessel, temporarily blinding the crew.
And lasers are only the half of it. The Philippines says both its civilian and military ships have consistently been harassed in the South China Sea, including a November incident when a Chinese ship “forcefully retrieved” a piece of debris a Filipino vessel was hauling.
Intrigue’s take: China’s “aggressive activities” (the Philippines’ words, not ours) have prompted Filipino President Marcos Jr. to double-down on his country’s security ties with the US. On 1 February, he granted the US access to four key bases across the Philippines, just three years after his predecessor sought to scrap a key US defence treaty altogether.
Many Filipinos will be comforted by a greater US presence. But there’ll also be more friction between US and Chinese military movements in the region. And friction often makes fire.
Also worth noting:
- The US military is set to have its largest troop presence in the Philippines since American forces ended a 94-year mission there in 1992.
- Marcos Jr. signed a deal with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida last week that experts say is a prelude to a mutual defence agreement.
📸 PHOTO OF THE DAY
Putin’s State of the Nation…
On Tuesday (21 February), Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his annual address to Russia’s Federal Assembly (the equivalent of the US State of the Union address). Most of the speech was devoted to familiar themes: Western futility, Ukrainian fascism, and Russian determination.
But Putin made headlines in one big way by announcing Russia would suspend its participation in the last remaining US-Russia nuclear arms control agreement.
Known as New START, the 2010 treaty allows each side 1,550 nuclear warheads. This is enough to destroy the world a dozen times, so a few extra nukes may not seem like much. But crucially, the treaty also provided for joint monitoring of each side’s arsenals, so it helped maintain some stability and trust between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.
It was less a blanket and more a series of threads. And the world doesn’t have many threads to spare right now.
👀 EXTRA INTRIGUE
Pacific Island leaders will meet in Fiji on Friday (24 February), as China and the West vie for influence in this strategic (and remarkable) part of the world.
The summit will officially welcome the tiny but crucial island nation of Kiribati back into the fold, after a regional dust-up last year.
And the above pic, tweeted by Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka, reveals how he managed to heal the regional rift after months of failed attempts by others: he flew to Kiribati and performed traditional ‘boka’ and ‘sevusevu’ ceremonies, presenting a tabua (whale’s tooth) and yaqona (ceremonial drink) to apologise.
But this ‘Pacific way’ of diplomacy can also go wrong. Just ask Australia’s former Deputy PM, who was recently rushed to hospital and slept for 14 hours after going a bit too hard on the ceremonial drink (it’s non-alcoholic but verrrrry relaxing).
🗳️ POLL TIME!
Is there any hope of reviving the US-Russia New START nukes treaty?
Yesterday’s poll: Were you expecting US President Joe Biden to visit Kyiv to mark the war’s one year anniversary?
🟨🟨🟨🟨⬜️⬜️ 🔮 Yep, it aligns with US policy towards Ukraine (45%)
🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 🤔 No, it was a surprising (and risky) move (55%)
Your two cents:
- 🔮 J.M: “Would have probably preferred a third option, but I don’t see how it was risky. If Russia chose to attack a sitting (or arguably a former) U.S. president it would be an unqualified declaration of war”