The Weekly Rundown: An 'All-Ireland' Brexit Plan, U.S. Options Against Iran and China's New Pacific Ties

8 MINS READSep 21, 2019 | 19:38 GMT
Brexit supporters protest outside the United Kingdom's Supreme Court on Sept. 19, 2019, in London.
(WIKTOR SZYMANOWICZ/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Brexit supporters gather outside the United Kingdom's Supreme Court on Sept. 19. The court heard arguments this week on whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson illegally suspended Parliament for five weeks until Oct. 14. A ruling is expected next week.

Stratfor's geopolitical guidance provides insight on what we're watching out for in the week ahead.

On the Record

Our people may be British but our cows are Irish.

Ian Paisley, in 2001. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently quoted the former Democratic Unionist Party leader when asked about his alternative Irish border proposal for Brexit.

On Our Radar

A New Plan for Ireland? After weeks of paralysis, Brexit negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom seem to be moving again. On Sept. 19, London sent to Brussels a series of proposals to keep the Irish border open after Brexit in an attempt to solve the most important obstacle to a withdrawal agreement. Then on Sept. 20, British and European negotiators promised to increase the frequency of their meetings in the coming weeks. The United Kingdom's current proposals, which include having Northern Ireland follow EU standards on agricultural and food products, will probably not be enough to persuade the European Union to accept a deal. But at least they suggest that the British government is starting to move away from its rejection of granting Northern Ireland special legal status, and is opening the door to a Brexit arrangement that keeps the region relatively aligned with the European Union while the rest of the United Kingdom leaves. While this proposal increases the chances of an orderly Brexit, it also raises questions about the future of Northern Ireland, as unionists fear that granting the Irish border a different legal status could eventually lead to louder calls for Northern Ireland's reunification with the Irish Republic.

The U.S. Weighs How to Respond to Iranian Attacks. Following the Sept. 14 drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia's Abqaiq and Khurais oil processing facilities, the United States is weighing potential responses that would punish and deter Iran. The Trump administration announced on Sept. 20 that it was sending a "moderate" number of U.S. troops along with air and missile defense equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The administration reportedly is also considering other options that fall short of a U.S. military strike, such as cyberattack, additional sanctions or supporting Saudi Arabia in its own limited military response against Iran. Iran is calculating that the United States will be hesitant to stoke a major Middle Eastern conflict before next year's presidential elections and that President Donald Trump eventually will consider easing sanctions.

U.S. and Japan Reach a Limited Trade Deal. President Trump will sit down with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sept. 25 on the sidelines of next week's U.N. General Assembly and the two leaders likely will sign their long-awaited trade deal, which Trump plans to implement without congressional approval through a little-used legal mechanism. This first-cut deal will be far from comprehensive and will do little to ease the U.S. trade deficit with Japan. But it will likely ease U.S. trade pressure on Japan given that the agreement will provide some relief for American farmers ahead of next year's U.S. elections. For Japan, the deal means it will avoid devastating U.S. auto tariffs, although the final details of how much of a guarantee that Japan can get on that front have yet to be revealed.

De-escalation in Donbas? Ukrainian officials indicated this week that the country's military forces are preparing to pull troops and equipment back along the 450-kilometer (280-mile) front line in eastern Ukraine, provided that Russian-backed separatists reciprocate. This is the latest suggestion of progress in negotiations between Ukraine and Russia over the conflict in Donbas following a large-scale prisoner swap earlier this month. However, there are still reasons to be skeptical that a full pullback of troops will take place, as both sides have failed to follow through with previous such agreements. Nevertheless, if both sides successfully pull back their forces, there would be momentum to revive the so-called Normandy Four talks involving Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France. The talks would raise the chance that at least the beginning stages of the 2014 Minsk protocols can be implemented, leading down the road to the potential lifting of sanctions on Russia.

Russia Provides an Alternative to SWIFT. Russia and Iran's economic ties continue to grow amid increased U.S. sanctions pressure against both countries. The governor of Iran's central bank announced this week that Russia and Iran would replace SWIFT, the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication system, in two-way transfer payments between each other using Iran's SEPAM and Russia's SPFS financial messaging systems as a means to protect themselves from third-party sanctions. Russia has been developing efforts to insulate its economy from exposure to U.S. sanctions and has also been helping Iran with such efforts.

On Our Minds

More of Oceania Abandons Taiwan. China won over two more diplomatic allies this week, with the Solomon Islands and Kiribati abandoning Taiwan in rapid succession. China has successfully persuaded seven countries to switch diplomatic recognition since 2016 — nearly one-third of the total countries that still recognize Taiwan's independence. With Taiwan's presidential election less than four months away, this latest severing of diplomatic ties is a signal to Taiwanese voters that President Tsai Ing-wen's confrontational approach to China comes at the price of international isolation.

Signs of Trouble Are Brewing With Mozambique's Peace Deal. A breakaway faction of the Mozambique National Resistance Movement, the longtime rebel group better known by its Portuguese acronym Renamo, has threatened to carry out attacks should the government move forward with its planned general election on Oct. 15. The dissident faction's ability to play spoiler will be important to monitor as the Mozambican government seeks to hold together the peace agreement that it and Renamo signed on Aug. 1, and as it seeks to benefit from the deal's peace dividend, which will allow it to send more troops and resources to combat an ongoing Islamic insurgency in Mozambique's far north, in close proximity to the country's offshore energy sector.

The U.N. General Assembly Provides a Convenient Forum for Bilateral Meetings. Sometimes meetings between world leaders on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly have substance and are used to cement agreements or advance relations between countries in meaningful ways. Stratfor will be watching the following bilateral meetings next week:

  • The confrontation between Iran and the United States will be a centerpiece issue at the U.N. General Assembly. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will use their attendance to meet with European and Asian leaders at the same time the United States will be using the summit to marshal global support against Iran. A formal meeting between Rouhani and Trump is unlikely. A sideline talk, however, is not out of the question, especially given the imperative felt by both sides to de-escalate tensions if possible.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is set to hold his first meeting with President Trump on Sept. 25. They will discuss the conflict in eastern Ukraine and efforts to revive the Normandy Four negotiation format following a recent high-profile exchange of prisoners between Russia and Ukraine.
  • The U.N. General Assembly could bring a meeting between the Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers amid their countries' deepening trade war. On the back of working-level meetings this week and the initiation of World Trade Organization consultations, both sides are as entrenched as ever. The United States, for its part, may have agreed with Japan to lay aside its pressure for a Tokyo-Seoul resolution as part of overall U.S.-Japan trade talks.
  • The United States and India could announce a trade deal during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the United States next week. A deal, which could see the United States reinstating India's tariff benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences in exchange for concessions on agriculture and medical devices, would enable Trump to project a victory among his various trade disputes while cooling Modi's fears of a trade war. But a more comprehensive pact will require a broader dialogue on a range of difficult issues, including India's e-commerce and data localization regulations.

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On Our Calendar

In the coming week, world leaders take part in the U.N. General Assembly in New York and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits the United States. For more, see our Geopolitical Calendar.

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