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Trump at a UN event on the drug trade. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The annual UN General Assembly is now underway, and while the event rarely offers much in the way of high drama — few leaders, after all, bang their shoes on podiums, sniff the “sulfur” left behind by a U.S. president, or whip out Looney Tunes-inspired illustrations of nuclear weapons — there is one big story to watch this week: Trump and Iran.

What to watch: Later today, we’ll hear speeches from the U.S. President and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani, while tomorrow Mr. Trump will chair a session of the UN Security Council that is ostensibly about stopping the spread of nuclear weapons generally, but which Trump evidently wants to focus on Iran in particular. In these two days we’ll learn a lot about the fate of the Iran nuclear deal and U.S. policy towards the Islamic Republic.

The backdrop: Earlier this year, the Trump Administration pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal because the president said the accord hadn’t done enough to limit Tehran’s nuclear program or regional ambitions. Washington has already put some sanctions back on Iran, but the most severe measures — on Iran’s vital oil industry — will take effect in November. Ahead of that, Iran’s currency has slumped to historic lows while oil exports have fallen more than 30% since the spring.

The other signatories to the deal — the UK, France, Germany, China, Russia and, of course, Iran — have so far stuck to the terms of the deal, because they fear a complete collapse would push Iran to ramp up its nuclear program, fomenting a perilous regional arms race and raising the risk of a conflict that brings in the U.S.

  • Over the next few days, Trump and his national security team will press those governments to consider forcing Tehran to accept a new, broader deal with much more stringent terms. Fat chance, given that international observers had repeatedly said the existing deal that all agreed to was working just fine.
  • The Iranians, meanwhile, will be working the room not only to keep the other signatories in the deal — which Tehran has continued to adhere to — but also to seek fresh economic support to cushion the blow of U.S. sanctions.  

The trouble for the Iranians is that while the other signatories will almost certainly remain in the nuclear deal, there’s not much any of them can do for Iran’s economy. Despite pledges by Brussels to shield European companies from new U.S. sanctions, many of them are scrapping investment plans in the Islamic Republic anyway.

And with those oil sanctions set to take effect in just six weeks, Iran’s economic position is getting dicier by the day. As it happens, that is actually helping the hardliners within Iran who never wanted a deal in the first place, and who see a credible nuclear deterrent as something infinitely more valuable than any benefits that may come from an economic opening to the West (see: Kim Jong-un).

The latest: Trump had said he was open to meeting with Rouhani, but both leaders have now said such a meeting won't happen. The blood is as bad as ever, with Tehran suggesting that the U.S. was responsible for a terrorist attack on a memorial parade in Iran over the weekend.

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Go deeper

2 hours ago - Health

FDA authorizes mix-and-match for COVID booster shots

Photo: Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) on Wednesday gave its approval for Americans to get booster shots that are different from the COVID vaccine they initially received.

Why it matters: The recommendation from the FDA, which also authorized booster shots for people who received Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines on Wednesday, paves the way for an expansion of booster shots.

GOP congressman forfeits committee seats after indictment

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) on Wednesday stepped down from his committee assignments after being indicted for lying to federal investigators amid a probe into illegal campaign donations.

What they're saying: In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Fortenberry said he is "grateful for the outpouring of support from my friends and colleagues as we work against the injustice confronting me."

Rahm Emanuel questioned on murder of Laquan McDonald in confirmation hearing

Rahm Emanuel during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Oct. 20. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about the murder of Laquan McDonald during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to become the U.S. ambassador to Japan, saying that "there's not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years I haven't thought about this."

Catch up quick: McDonald was a Black teenager who was fatally shot 16 times by Chicago police during Emanuel's tenure as the city's mayor. The 2014 shooting triggered massive protests, both because of its nature and the fact that the officers' body-cam footage was concealed for years.