Greece and Iran Deadlines, Scope of Cruelty, Leap Second

Greece and Iran Deadlines, Scope of Cruelty, Leap Second

Photo: Aristidis Vafeiadakis/Zuma


With the Greek bailout due to expire tonight at midnight and Athens expected to make a $1.8 billion payment to the IMF, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is reportedly discussing with the European Commission a last-minute deal that would avoid the country defaulting on its debt. The Guardian notes the tough odds of finding an agreement, especially after Brussels and Athens’ war of words since Friday evening, with both sides accusing each other of lying and betrayal. The latest talks are said to be based on a proposal put forward by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker late Monday night, and it includes what Greek reporter characterizes as a “positive change” on Greek pensions. Tsipras initially rejected the proposal but is expected to make a counter offer in the afternoon.

  • According to newspaper To Vima, Tsipras is under intense pressure from his cabinet to accept the creditors’ proposal, amid rumors stemming from centrist opposition party To Potami that the authorities are secretly preparing a return to the country’s former currency, the drachma. The government has denied the rumors.

  • Tsipras used a televised interview Monday to calls on voters to reject the austerity measures so far imposed by the creditors and to vote No in Sunday’s referendum. If he loses the vote, the Syriza leader said he would resign as he refused to oversee more cuts, the BBC writes. Thousands of anti-austerity protesters demonstrated yesterday in Athens against “the blackmailing of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.”

  • All other European leaders are united in insisting that Sunday’s referendum in Greece was about more than just a potential rescue package and would in fact be about the continued Greek membership in the single currency. This line of argument is echoed in a European Central Bank official’s interview with French newspaper Les Échos, where he said that the possibility of a Grexit couldn’t be ruled out anymore.

  • The Greek government however appears determined to remain in the single currency area. Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told The Daily Telegraph that Athens was even willing to launch an injunction at the European Court of Justice to block a Grexit. “Our membership is not negotiable,” he said.

  • What would Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz vote?


Representatives from Iran and the P5+1 group are gathered in Vienna for what is supposed to be the last day of negotiations to agree on a nuclear energy program for Tehran, but talks are likely to extend past the deadline with a deal believed to be within reach, Bloomberg reports.


A Indonesian military aircraft crashed in a residential area in the city of Medan, on the island of Sumatra, killing at least 38 people, AFP reports. The crash took place shortly after the plane took off, with the aircraft exploding in a fireball that destroyed several buildings and cars. Officials have warned the death toll might rise further.


“The scope and level of cruelty that has characterized the reports suggests a depth of antipathy that exceeds political differences,” the UN said in a statement accompanying the release of a devastating report that accuses South Sudanese troops of raping and torching girls alive inside their homes.


Writing in Caixin,Wang Duan suggests to folks on China’s mainland to take heed of Hong Kong, especially when thinking about how to transform the economy: “Critics say that Hong Kong is also no longer much of a reference for those seeking reform and more openness on the Chinese mainland. Some have even used the term "parasitic economy" to describe Hong Kong. Though there is some real evidence behind these arguments, I’m still convinced that it would be a serious mistake to underestimate the Hong Kong economy. It's true that economic data would suggest the former British colony's economic output in a decade will be comparable only to some of the mainland's second-tier cities. But any smart analysis should include questions beyond mere scale...Its experiences, as well as the lessons it has learned, are a valuable reference for the rest of China, which is undergoing an economic transformation. Read the full article: Why Hong Kong Is Still A Model For Mainland China


Iraqi government forces have regained control of Baiji and of its oil refinery which served as a major revenue source for ISIS, The International Business Times reports.

  • Across the border, in Syria, the terrorist group beheaded two women, a first in its year-long rule according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, accusing them of witchcraft.

  • The extremist Sunni Muslim group also claimed responsibility for a car bombing in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa late yesterday. The attack, which AFP says targeted two Houthi Shia leaders, killed 28 people, including 8 women.


One week after publishing documents showing the NSA had been spying on France’s last three presidents, newspaper Libération, investigative website Mediapart and Wikileaks reveal that the U.S. intelligence agency also wiretapped French Finance Ministers between at least 2011 and 2014. One of the NSA strategies consisted in gathering as much information as possible on all contracts involving French companies in France or abroad and worth more than $200,000, which, as Mediapart puts it, means that the NSA “tracks almost all the international development moves of French companies.” The reporters add that any official or diplomat that had the slightest information thought to be relevant was targeted. More in English from AFP.


The People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, featured Tuesday on its front page a large photograph of the representatives of 50 countries that signed an agreement Monday for the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The ceremony took place at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.


Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff will use her visit to the White House today to present an ambitious plan to end illegal deforestation by 2025, Folha de S. Paulo reports. Brazil loses close to 2,000 square miles of forests every year, most of it through illegal deforestation. The Brazilian President is also expected to outline measures to push reforestation, sustainable development and renewable energies.


Congo independence and Michael Phelps share a piece of June 30. See more in our 57-second video feature On This Day.


There will be a little more today to enjoy as the world’s atomic clocks will add one extra second to keep them in sync with the Earth’s fluctuating rotation. These are usually a drag for the Internet and stock markets, but there’s plenty of things you can see in that extra second.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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