International Current Affairs 2018

US announces creation of Iran Action Group to pressurise Iran

United States (US) State Department has announced creation of Iran Action Group (IAG) to execute President Donald Trump administration’s Iran strategy and pressure country to change its behaviors.  Its creation comes in wake of US withdrawal (unilaterally) from Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (also known nuclear deal) signed between Iran and P5+1 countries (P5: China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States and +1: Germany,) and European Union in Vienna (Austria) in July 2015.

Iran Action Group (IAG)

IAG will be responsible for directing, reviewing, and coordinating all aspects of State Department’s Iran-related activity, and it will report directly to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It will ensure that Department of State remains closely synchronized with interagency partners and lead US diplomatic efforts to galvanize international support for our efforts. Veteran diplomat Brian Hook (current director of Policy Planning in State Department) was appointed head of IAG and will lead it with formal title of Special Representative for Iran.

Background

US had unilaterally withdrawn from historic 2015 Iran nuclear deal, citing it unfair and it cannot prevent Iran nuclear bomb and is defective at its core as it does not target Iran’s ballistic missile programme, its nuclear activities beyond year 2025, and its subversive political and military involvement in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and Iraq. It also simultaneously announced to re-impose sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under nuclear deal to squeeze Iran’s economy and, consequently, its regime in order to change its policies. Following pullout from JCPOA, US had rolled out new strategy on Iran, outlining 12-point requirements for Iran to change its behaviors. In August 2018, uS re-imposed sanctions on Iran on non-energy areas and notified that it will slap remaining sanctions in November 2018 that concentrate on Iran’s key economic areas such as energy, shipping and ports.

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US extends $39 million military finance to Sri Lanka to boost maritime security

United States has announced to grant $39 million as part its foreign military financing to Sri Lanka to boost maritime security. The US funding for Sri Lanka is part of its $300 million set aside for South and Southeast Asia to ensure free, open, and rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region.

Key Facts

The foreign military financing to Sri Lanka will be subject to approval by US Congress. It is viewed latest move by US to counter China’s increasing strategic influence on Indian Ocean island. This contribution will also support Bay of Bengal initiative and Sri Lanka’s humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) priorities. This will be first US grant to Sri Lanka since 2009, after US had stopped arms sales to Sri Lanka during height of its Tamil separatist war that ended in 2009. During this time, US was highly critical of human-rights record of Sri Lankan Government led by then President Mahinda Rajapakse. This had led Sri Lanka to seek China as its alternative partner.

Background

China (world’s second-largest economy) in recent has raised its investments in major ports in Sri Lanka, which are key to its ambitious ‘Belt and Road’ infrastructure initiative. Under it, China has vowed to keep providing financial help, including loans to Sri Lanka despite warnings about its mounting debt. Sri Lanka has already handed over control of Hambantota sea port to China on 99-year lease in 2017, after its inability to repay Chinese loans for the $1.4 billion project. The port in Hambantota straddles world’s busiest east-west shipping route and also gives strategic foothold to China in region, threating long dominance of India in the region. International Monetary Fund (IMF) also has warned Sri Lanka over its heavy debt after it bailed out island nation in June 2016 with $1.5 billion loan.

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