Welcome to Axios World, where two evenings a week we break down what you need to know about the big stories from around the globe.
I'm filing from the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, also known as #NUKEFEST. So let's start with some nuclear news ...
Biegun (R) with Secretary of State Pompeo (C) and North Korean Vice Chairman Kim Yong-chol. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
The man tasked with laying the groundwork for a nuclear deal with North Korea says the U.S. is committed to an all-or-nothing approach in which sanctions relief would only follow complete denuclearization — a demand North Korea has said it will never meet, and one that could put a deal beyond reach.
Between the lines: In the lead-up to the Hanoi summit, U.S. officials seemed to hint at openness to a step-by-step process in which some economic carrots would be available before North Korea gave up its full nuclear stockpiles.
Biegun was also asked about the recent activity at North Korean launch sites:
“I don’t know what message they are trying to send. We have certainly sent our message loudly and clearly from the president of the United States, that it would not be a productive step to test a rocket or missile.”
Biegun acknowledged that the results, after 6 months on the job, have fallen short of his hopes. However, he said “diplomacy is still very much alive.”
Kelsey Davenport of the Arms Control Association said on another panel that Kim realizes his “window of opportunity with Trump” could close in a year or so, and wants to capitalize on “the benefits of engaging in the process."
What to watch: Even if the U.S. and North Korea can agree in principle to a denuclearization deal, several experts noted, there’s a massive risk it could will be undercut by rivals like Russia and China, who have different objectives, and allies like Japan and South Korea, who have different priorities.
In other news: One of the women accused of murdering Kim's half-brother in a Malaysian airport in 2017 by smearing a nerve agent on his face has been freed. She and another suspect, who is still in custody, say they thought they were taking part in a TV prank.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images
Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, said today at the Carnegie conference that Moscow would reject a last-minute extension to the New START arms control treaty under a new U.S. administration. The treaty expires in February 2021.
Why it matters: President Trump is withdrawing the U.S. from the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and there’s a real chance that New START — a far more significant treaty that limits nuclear warheads and delivery systems — could be next. President Trump has called it a “bad deal,” and national security adviser John Bolton was among the treaty’s chief critics when it was being negotiated by Barack Obama.
Antonov was the lead Russian negotiator on New START. He noted the opposition of some “prominent political figures in Washington” and said Russia was still “looking for a final decision about whether Washington needs this treaty or not.”
Worth noting: Antonov put on a bit of a show. The temperature rose a bit in the room (filled with nuclear security experts) when he claimed Russia did “everything in our power” to save the INF treaty.
Indian Prime Minister Modi celebrates the 50th Raising Day of the Central Industrial Security Force. Photo: Sakib Ali/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Vipin Narang of MIT said on another panel that his takeaway from the recent India-Pakistan standoff was: “A couple wrong turns, and this could have escalated very quickly.”
Why it matters: The countries have massive nuclear arsenals and a bitter rivalry. Narang said that while "this wasn’t a nuclear crisis in and of itself," he worries that if another attack happens, the response will begin one rung up on the ladder.
The bottom line: "This time, India’s achieved some way of deterrence, and Pakistan has achieved a level of pride and parity," said Aparna Pande of the Hudson Institute. Next time might be different.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker say they’ve agreed to some last-minute tweaks to the Brexit deal May will attempt to pass through Parliament tomorrow. It's unclear whether anything has really changed.
Between the lines: May is desperate to convince the Brexiteer wing of her party that the so-called “Irish backstop” won’t keep the U.K. in a kind of permanent limbo after it officially leaves the EU, which is set to happen on March 29. She’s also desperate to avoid a repeat of the humiliating defeat she suffered in January, when her (almost identical) plan failed by the largest margin in modern parliamentary history.
What’s next: If May's plan fails again, as expected, then barring any scheduling changes...
The bottom line: “We’re in the middle of something at the moment that I think I’d have to call a political crisis,” Westmacott said. He was speaking diplomatically.
Caracas streets during a power outage on March 9, 2019. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images
Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro is struggling to restore power to the country’s electricity grid after a devastating 96-hour nationwide blackout knocked out cellular, internet and water services and resulted in at least 21 preventable deaths at hospitals, American University's Michael McCarthy writes for Axios Expert Voices:
The big picture: Tottering from crisis to crisis has taken a heavy toll on Maduro. His regime hasn't yet reached a burnout point, but with social unrest erupting into lootings as the crisis-stricken country gradually regains power, he will likely face a reckoning for his failure to protect the grid.
1. Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is ending his bid for a 5th term in office and will postpone the presidential elections scheduled for next month in light of massive street protests.
2. The Trump administration informed the German government on Friday that it would curtail intelligence-sharing if Berlin allowed Chinese companies to participate in building the country's 5G network, WSJ reports.
Rescue and recovery personnel at work yesterday in a wheat field just outside the town of Bishoftu, where Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed. Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images
"Why has the Trump Administration continued to discuss pulling the U.S. out of NATO, which would be a massive victory for Putin?"— Nancy Pelosi in a January tweet. Pelosi is inviting NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to address a joint session of Congress next month.
Thanks for stopping by — see you Thursday evening