An explosive start to the year. In Iran the anti-government protests continued. More than 20 people are thought to have died in the unrest. After starting in the second city, Mashaad, they swept across the country including the capital Tehran. The Government will have noted that whereas in 2009 demonstrations only about 9 million Iranians had mobile phones, now more than 40 million do, and they increasingly use social media apps, some of which are difficult to monitor.
The geographic spread alarmed the authorities, and so did their nature. What began as an economic protest, quickly became demonstrations against the regime and even against the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. That crossed a red line. Iran’s foreign adventures were also criticized, one chant was ‘Leave Syria’! another – ‘Not Gaza, not Lebanon –My life (only) for Iran’.
The authorities quickly organized fairly large pro government demonstrations, even as they cracked down, and they appear to have a handle on the situation – however, they will have been shaken, the social contract between the Islamic Republic and its people is clearly under strain.
Somewhere in a building on the South Korean/North Korean border a phone rang… It was North Korea. The South calls twice a day – no answer. Now the North had rung the South for the first time in 2 years! A 20-minute conversation ensued. This might be the beginnings of a breakthrough, then again, it might be the North playing nice ahead of the pressure about to be brought to bear on them by the USA. The phone call wasn’t a talk about talks, but it was a talk that could lead to talks about talks. It’s good to talk.
But it’s not always good to tweet. North Korea’s Kim Jong Un had made a speech in which he claimed to a have a nuclear button on his desk. U.S. President Donald Trump immediately pressed his keyboard and tweeted that his nuclear button was bigger than Kims. And it worked! This was criticized as childish… but then again…. Kim did start it.
Another day-another tweet. This time that he said that if the Palestinians don’t come to peace talks with the Israelis he’ll cut off aid payments Palestinian officials responded that this was an attempt to blackmail them. It’s worth noting policies bearing some semblance to his tweets do often emerge from what sometimes resembles incoherence.
The Palestinian refusal to negotiate, in response to the USA’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was ‘nuanced’ this week. Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Abbas, said the government is not opposed to re-entering peace talks, as long as ‘they are on the basis of creating a Palestinian state along the border that existed before Israel captured land in the 1967 war.” That still leaves the door open for East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Excerpts from a book on Mr Trump claimed he never wanted to win the Presidential race. No, he just wanted to be better known and ‘befuddled’ when he became president, so was Mrs Trump. She cried! . Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff is a great story, not all of which is backed by evidence. He says it’s based on more than 200 interviews including one with former White House advisor Steve Bannon, but whole private conversations are quoted verbatim. The White House said the book was full of “false and misleading accounts” and over the weekend there was some push back against the book in the news media, although at the same time few outlets could resist covering what is a cracking yarn including intricate details of the Presidential comb over. Some analysts said the most damaging ‘revelations’ are about Trump’s involvement with the Russians. This may turn out to be true, but it’s something we’ve heard many times over the past year.
Trump thinks he’s got problems? What about Mrs Merkel? The German Chancellor spent the week preparing for make or break coalition talks. The election was in September – but still no government. She won’t work with the far right AFD, but hopes to make compromises with the centre left SDP. Those compromises will have to come on immigration, health insurance, defence spending and EU policy. Failure means another election, which could mean the end of Frau Merkel. Even if she can form a government – she’s weakened.