Stories by Robert Malley

Expert Voices

Europe gambles on a way around Iran sanctions, risking U.S. blowback

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) precedes British Prime Minister Theresa May after greeting her at the Chancellery in Berlin, on December 11, 2018, prior bilateral talks.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images

The decision by key European countries to set up a special purpose vehicle (SPV) called INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges), announced on Thursday, marks Europe’s most substantial step to save the Iran nuclear deal in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal. The SPV provides for a new financial mechanism that would circumvent U.S. sanctions, making it easier for some European companies to do business with Iran.

Why it matters: Whether the EU succeeds won't be determined by the SPV alone. But for now, the move sends 2 messages: Europe remains determined to preserve the agreement, and it's prepared to defy the U.S. administration to do so.

Expert Voices

Trump's Syria decision leaves Kurdish allies in the lurch

A Syrian Democratic Forces'(SDF) fighter holds a sniper rifle on his shoulder as he attends the funeral of a slain Kurdish commander in the northeastern city of Qamishli on December 6, 2018.
A Syrian Democratic Forces fighter attending the funeral of a slain Kurdish commander in the northeastern city of Qamishli, Syria, on Dec. 6, 2018. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images

The problem with President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria lies not so much with the decision itself as with the hasty manner in which it was made.

Why it matters: Trump first shared the news in a phone call with President Erdogan, leaving the State Department stunned, the Pentagon unprepared and the U.S.’ Kurdish allies in Syria alarmed and betrayed. By failing to prepare the ground, Trump risks weakening the Kurds’ hand, exposing them to attack, and reviving ISIS.

Expert Voices

Yemeni port under threat as peace talks begin in Sweden

Houthi representative outside site of Sweden talks
Saelem Mohammed Noman al-Mughalles, a member of the Houthi delegation, outside Johannesberg Castle in Rimbo, Sweden, on December 5, 2018. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/AFP/Getty Images

Yemen’s Houthi rebels and its internationally recognized government arrived in Sweden Wednesday for talks that the UN hopes will restart the peace process that has been stalled for more than two years. But the talks could prove a sideshow if UAE–backed forces launch an offensive to seize the Red Sea port of Hodeidah from the Houthis, potentially precipitating a long and destructive battle and a humanitarian catastrophe.

Why it matters: Per the UN, some 14 million Yemenis, half the country’s population, are in “pre-famine” conditions, one economic shock away from starvation. A fight for the Hodeidah port — the entry point for around 70% of the food, fuel, and medicine shipped into Yemen — could tip the country into widespread famine.

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