Why the US won’t join the single most important treaty to protect nature

“The US still hasn’t joined the most important international agreement to conserve biodiversity, known as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). And it isn’t just a small, inconsequential treaty. Designed to protect species, ecosystems, and genetic diversity, the treaty has been ratified by every other country or territory aside from the Holy See. Among other achievements, CBD has pushed countries to create national biodiversity strategies and to expand their networks of protected areas.

Since the early 1990s — when CBD was drafted, with input from the US — Republican lawmakers have blocked ratification, which requires a two-thirds Senate majority. They’ve argued that CBD would infringe on American sovereignty, put commercial interests at risk, and impose a financial burden, claims that environmental experts say have no support.”

Biden’s big Putin bet

“If one phrase defines President Joe Biden’s approach to negotiating, it’s “all politics is personal.” When he uses that line, he aims to convey a rock-ribbed belief that finding what the other person can and can’t accept — be it a member of Congress from the other party or a foreign leader — will eventually lead to better relations and even mutually agreeable deals.

During a Wednesday press conference following his Geneva summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden showed once more that he puts a lot of faith in that approach. “All foreign policy is the logical extension of personal relationships,” Biden said. “It’s the way human nature functions.”

That’s not Biden saying all it takes to improve US-Russia relations is to have a one-on-one chat with Putin, although they did have a roughly 90-minute discussion. It meant, as he went on to explain, that because of that discussion, both men are now clear on what red lines not to cross as they seek to cooperate on arms control, cybersecurity, and more.

That outcome, in Biden’s mind, was worth the trip.

“What I’m saying is I think there’s a genuine prospect to significantly improve relations between our two countries without us giving up a single, solitary thing based on principle and our values,” he told reporters. “This is not just about self-interest. It’s about mutual self-interest.”

It’s the clearest distillation yet of how Biden thinks about foreign policy and diplomacy. Sure, there are constraints on what can be achieved, but the only way to make progress is to hear the other person out and find areas of common ground.”

“Knowing the long odds, even Biden acknowledged his bet might not pay off. “Let’s see what happens,” he said at his press conference. “I’m not confident [Putin] will change his behavior.”

Analysts share that skeptical view, saying that reiterating America’s stances won’t have much of an effect on Putin. “We can deliver a message, as other presidents have, but from the Russian perspective, they’ve heard this before,” said Alina Polyakova, president and CEO of the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington, DC.”

Why Biden’s statement recognizing the Armenian genocide is a big deal

“President Joe Biden became the first US president to formally refer to atrocities committed against Armenians as a “genocide””

“Previous presidents have refrained from using the word “genocide” in connection with the mass atrocities committed against the Armenian people in the early 20th century, and Turkey categorically denies that a genocide took place. So Biden’s declaration marks a major break from precedent, and could signal an increase in tensions with Turkey, a longtime US and NATO ally.”

“Previous presidents, including George W. Bush and Barack Obama, made similar campaign promises to recognize the Armenian genocide, but never followed through while in office, and Bush later called on Congress to reject such a designation. In 1981, Ronald Reagan made a passing reference to “the genocide of the Armenians” during a speech commemorating victims of the Holocaust.”

“other factors have already chilled the US-Turkey relationship. In December of last year, for example, shortly before Biden took office, the US imposed sanctions on Turkey for purchasing Russian military hardware. In 2019, the US also removed Turkey from its joint F-35 stealth fighter program over the same purchase.”

The US may still be helping Saudi Arabia in the Yemen war after all

“In February, President Joe Biden announced that he was ending America’s “offensive” support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, six years into the conflict that has killed around 230,000 people and triggered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Instead, the US role would be limited to “defensive” operations “to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity and its people.”

There’s just one problem: The line between “offensive” and “defensive” support is murky, and critics argue even the limited support the US is providing still helps Riyadh carry out its offensive bombing campaign in Yemen.”

“Biden’s policy sounds straightforward enough. For the past few months, the US made a clean break and no longer provides assistance to Riyadh’s ongoing strikes inside Yemen, right?

Not quite. That’s because the “defensive” support the US is still providing includes greenlighting the servicing of Saudi aircraft.

Multiple US defense officials and experts acknowledged that, through a US government process, the Saudi government pays commercial contractors to maintain and service their aircraft, and those contractors keep Saudi warplanes in the air. What the Saudis do with those fighter jets, however, is up to them.

The US could cancel those contracts at any time, thus effectively grounding the Saudi Air Force, but doing so would risk losing Riyadh as a key regional partner.”

“Riyadh, with its own money and at no cost to the US taxpayer, uses a US government program to procure maintenance for its warplanes. (That service likely was included when the Saudis bought the American-made warplanes.) It may not be the US military providing direct support, then, but the service was still greenlit by the US.”

“Saudi Arabia doesn’t have an Offensive Air Force and a Defensive Air Force. It just has the one aerial service that the US supports.

Still, the offensive part is relatively straightforward: The Saudis find a Houthi target inside Yemen they want to hit, and they bomb it.

But it gets more complicated when you consider what “defensive” might mean. As the Houthis continue to launch missile and drone attacks inside Saudi Arabia, Riyadh might decide to strike a few of the Houthis’ launch points to dissuade further assaults.

Would such a move be defensive or offensive? It’s unclear.

What is clear is that without the US-approved maintenance of Saudi fighters, Riyadh wouldn’t really have the option of launching such retaliatory responses. “They’d be able to fly two out of every 10 aircraft,” said Des Roches. That would give the Houthis an edge in the ongoing fight.”

“it seems likely that US-authorized contractors maintaining Saudi warplanes are indirectly involved in helping the Saudis carry out “offensive” operations, however one defines them. “If we’re servicing the planes that are fighting the war, we’re still supporting the war,” said the Democratic congressional aide. That the contract remains in place, after all, is a policy decision. The US could also decide to maintain other equipment and provide training instead of keeping Saudi aircraft in the sky.

But it’s also true that without the maintenance support, Saudi Arabia would be further exposed to all kinds of attacks from the Houthis (and others). And after nixing the contract, the decades-old ties between Washington and Riyadh might not just spiral downward but sever entirely.”

Diplomats to Biden: Don’t give the plum Europe posts to donors and allies

“Most presidents in recent decades have given 30 percent of ambassadorships to political appointees, including major campaign donors. Trump increased that number to roughly 44 percent, which included posts in some countries that usually went to career diplomats, such as Thailand and Kenya. That’s why the pressure is on Biden to revert to a smaller number.
A White House official said Thursday the administration expects the percentage of political ambassadors to be lower than that of the previous administration and closer to the traditional amount.”

Israel’s suspected attack on an Iranian nuclear site complicates US-Iran talks

“A mysterious power outage occurred at one of Iran’s most important nuclear facilities..in what reports indicate was likely an act of cyber-sabotage carried out by Israel — and it could have serious ramifications for the future of the floundering 2015 nuclear deal.”

“Under that original agreement, Iran agreed to significantly curb its nuclear program — including its uranium enrichment efforts — in exchange for the removal of some of the economic sanctions imposed on the country by the US.
But after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the deal in 2018 and reimposed those sanctions, Iran once again began to enrich uranium above the levels set by the deal.”

“It’s unclear if the Biden administration got a heads-up before the strike, though many believe the US was probably informed, as US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was in Israel at the time of the incident. The Biden administration firmly denies any foreknowledge or participation, though. “The US was not involved in any manner,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday.

Either way, two big questions arise from this episode. The first is whether the Natanz attack might lead to a greater confrontation between Israel and Iran. Experts I spoke to don’t really think so, as Jerusalem has carried out many of these strikes without a serious overt response from Tehran.

They “fit a pattern of how the Israelis have tried to set back Iran’s program in the past. In that sense, this is business as usual,” said Dalia Dassa Kaye, a fellow at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington, DC.

The second is if the attack might derail the sensitive negotiations between Iran and the United States to revive the nuclear deal. And that, experts said, is certainly possible.”

“Those making this argument say that Iran has less political space to agree to a deal with the US now, because doing so would be extra embarrassing after being attacked. As a result, any progress on this front will at best be delayed and at worst derailed indefinitely. “Iran doesn’t like to appear that it is negotiating from a weakened position or under pressure,” Eric Brewer, who worked on nuclear issues in Trump’s National Security Council, tweeted on Monday.

Others, though, say that delaying Iran’s uranium enrichment by nine months actually weakens Iran’s position in nuclear talks. If Tehran increased its enrichment to pressure the US to get back into the pact — essentially proving it would keep inching closer and closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon unless the US agreed to come back to the deal — then without the ability to enrich uranium as quickly, that pressure on Washington potentially decreases.

What’s more, Iran is used to Israeli attacks. It therefore won’t be shocked into changing its long-term goal of getting the sanctions relief it desperately needs.”

North Korea is giving Biden the silent treatment

“Since 1992, America’s policy toward North Korea has been mostly consistent: It would seek the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Simply put, that means the US won’t station nuclear-capable warplanes in South Korea and Seoul won’t seek the bomb, all so North Korea feels comfortable enough to verifiably dismantle its nuclear arsenal.

When Kim and former President Donald Trump met in Singapore in 2018, they signed a declaration in which North Korea promised to work toward such an outcome.

But three times now the Biden administration has offered a harder-line stance than that, potentially reversing even that limited progress.

In February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the UN’s Conference on Disarmament that the US “remains focused on denuclearization of North Korea.” By phrasing it that way — the denuclearization of North Korea instead of the Korean Peninsula — he seemed to be suggesting that only North Korea needs to give up its nuclear weapons, while the US can still maintain its nuclear defense of South Korea.

Last week, the US — along with its “Quad” partners Japan, India, and Australia — released a statement saying, “We reaffirm our commitment to the complete denuclearization of North Korea.”

And then on Sunday, a State Department press briefing about Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s trip to Japan this week noted they would “reinvigorate trilateral cooperation on a broad range of global issues, including the denuclearization of North Korea.”

Even though Biden’s team has said its North Korea policy remains under review for a few more weeks, those statements indicate the administration has made up its mind. The goal now, it seems, is to let Pyongyang know it alone must agree to a non-nuclear future. For now at least, it looks like the Biden administration is taking a harder line than the Trump team did.

That might please some US allies like Japan, which prefers a tougher stance against North Korea. But Seoul, which wants to keep diplomatic channels with Pyongyang open, certainly won’t like it, and neither will Kim.”

Biden’s No. 1 Task in Cuba? Find Out What Happened in Havana.

“The starting point of any conversation about U.S. policy toward Cuba needs to be a piece of unfinished business from the previous administration: the still-unfolding mystery of how 26 American diplomats were injured in Havana in 2016 and 2017.

The exact origins of the injuries remain uncertain, but the known and emerging evidence suggests the Cuban regime is guilty, if not by commission then at least by omission, of injuring U.S. personnel. This episode represents a likely direct attack on one country’s citizens by another, and there has yet to be a full accounting of who is responsible and how it all happened, or a resolution. If the Biden administration is tempted to engage anew with Havana, it must first hold the Cuban government to account for what these American diplomats endured.”

“Cuba consistently denied involvement. Instead, the regime has peddled the theory that the cause was mass psychogenic illness—aka. mass hysteria—among America’s diplomatic personnel. Conveniently, this theory absolves Cuba of blame, shifting it instead to the victims. Yet the theory doesn’t hold up to scrutiny now, and never did.”

“Accountability for the injuries of these 26 Americans must begin where the attacks started, in Havana.”

Three Solutions to Biden’s Nuclear Stalemate with Iran

“Biden must open the door for these direct talks. His first step must be significant enough to restore belief in the original “win-win” logic of the deal and offer Iranian officials a credible rationale for engagement with the U.S. At the same time, it may be limited enough to keep the U.S. outside of the deal, offering him political cover with critics and underscoring the necessity for Iran to also take reciprocal steps.

Taking this kind of first step could, in its way, be a signal of strength for Biden: He’d be showing domestic opponents of the JCPOA that he will not be bullied into compromising his Iran policy. The fight over the appointment of Robert Malley as Iran envoy showed that hawks will “play dirty” to undermine the credibility of Biden’s outreach to Iran. Biden ought to nip this kind of cynical politics in the bud.

If Biden goes go this route, officials in the U.S., Europe, and Iran are currently deliberating what a reasonable first move could be. Our conversations with officials suggest that there is awareness that breaking out of the political deadlock may require Biden to be bold. He has a few options.

First, the Biden administration could restore temporary waivers that enable Iran to sell oil while U.S. sanctions remain in place. Iran’s oil production and exports are rising faster than projected despite the Covid-19 crisis and U.S. sanctions. This trend has reduced the perceived urgency of restoring the nuclear deal among key political stakeholders in Tehran who may gain more power after the upcoming Iranian presidential election. The Biden administration’s efforts to re-enter the JCPOA would be best served by making already increasing oil sales once again subject to the “win-win” logic of the nuclear deal. Iran’s earnings from these oil sales would be accrued in escrow accounts and subject to strict oversight as per the waiver terms. Revenues would be used by Iran for sanctions-exempt trade with the country in which the funds are held. Such a step would serve to remove a key piece of tension with U.S. allies such as South Korea, Japan, and India whose energy security has been impacted by U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Second, the Biden administration could support Iran’s loan request for funds from the International Monetary Fund. Iran’s request has languished despite the IMF’s technical assessment that Iran qualifies for financial support to address the balance of payments crisis created by the pandemic. Iran has indicated it is ready for these funds to be disbursed to its accounts outside of the country to be used for paying for sanctions-exempt imports. The funds would not flow directly into Iranian government coffers, but rather be used to address trade deficits. The Biden administration should grant this loan as part of its commitment to address the humanitarian impact of sanctions and a wider push to encourage the IMF to use its full financial capacities to address the ongoing economic crisis brought on by the pandemic.

Finally, a third option could be easing Iran’s access to its existing foreign exchange reserves. Presently, Iran has free and ready access to an estimated 10 percent of its reserves, a circumstance that has placed extraordinary pressure on Iran’s currency and generated high levels of inflation that harm ordinary Iranians. Iran has been engaged in fraught negotiations with numerous countries to try and get access to frozen assets, who continue to look to the U.S. Treasury Department for the final say. The Biden administration could give these countries, including allies Germany and South Korea, the approvals and guidance necessary to enable both central and commercial banks to readily execute payments on behalf of Iranian account holders. As with the oil waivers and IMF loan, these payments can be restricted to sanctions-exempt trade, a key outcome of which would be lower rates of inflation.

Should Biden take any of these three steps, Iran can be expected to cease ramping up its nuclear program. Neither country would be fully implementing its commitments under the JCPOA, but an opportunity will have been created for new talks in the spirit of “win-win” diplomacy. There is no guarantee that these talks, and the complicated choreography of JCPOA restoration, will succeed. But Biden needs to give himself a shot. After the last four years, timid gestures will fail to do that. It’s time to be bold.”