On its way out? A Trident submarine leaves Faslane naval base (Getty)
Does the US want Britain to renew its independent nuclear deterrent? The question is generating a certain amount of debate among security analysts on both sides of the Atlantic. Between now and 2016, the UK must take a decision on whether to spend £20bn building four new submarines to carry the Trident missile. David Cameron’s Conservatives are keenly committed to a like-for-like replacement, saying there can be no compromise with the UK’s ultimate security guarantee.
But there are a few discordant voices out there who are questioning whether it is really worth ploughing all this money into a renewed nuclear weapons capability when the UK is having to cut its conventional arsenal as much as it is. Would it not be better, ask some critics, if Britain shifted the billions of pounds of cash meant for Trident’s replacement and bought weapons it is far more likely to use and which will ensure it remains an effective ally of the US? Read more
The golden stuff (AFP/Getty)
It must rank as one of the most thankless jobs in diplomacy. Just how do you draw up incentives for Iran to rein in its nuclear programme?
Talks have lumbered on, in one incarnation or another, for a decade now. Efforts to win over Tehran have been encumbered by mutual suspicion, political sensitivities (there is always the charge of appeasement) and sheer force of law.
Many of the sanctions the Islamic Republic most objects to are already on the statute book, whether as UN Resolutions, EU agreements or US law. No wonder it is difficult to come up with a compelling offer; few countries can change their laws by fiat.
On Monday, Tehran attacked one of the latest ideas seemingly floated by the world’s major powers – the notion the US could roll back recently imposed sanctions on gold sales to Iran.
The idea may have been designed to help Western allies – notably Turkey –as much as to alleviate Iran’s economic isolation. Last year Ankara became the world’s leading gold exporter to Iran, whether directly or through entrepôts such as the UAE. Demand from the Islamic Republic helped Turkey’s overall exports of the metal reach levels of $1.5bn-$2bn some months.
The trade has various explanations – chief of which is that bank transactions with Iran have become ever more problematic, particularly in the wake of measures affecting Swift, a group that facilitates electronic funds transfers. Against this backdrop, Tehran started taking payment for its oil and gas exports to Ankara in Turkish Lira – instead of via bank transfer – and using the money to buy gold it then ships home. Read more
Julian Assange speaking in December 2011 (LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)
William Hague, the UK foreign secretary, has said he wants to make Latin America a priority of British diplomacy. The UK’s approach to Julian Assange suggests otherwise.
Mr Assange, today granted political asylum by Ecuador, remains holed up in its embassy in London. But the foreign office has said that, under UK law, British police can storm the Ecuadorean embassy and remove him. Such action would presumably form part of its “binding obligation to extradite Assange to Sweden,” as a foreign office spokesperson put it.
Bad move. For one, the law is unnecessary. As Ecuador acknowledges, rather than raid the embassy British police could simply arrest Assange as soon as he stepped out onto London’s street, en route to political asylum in Quito. (He faces charges of skipping bail.) The law is also politically flat-footed. It casts the UK as a heavy-handed western country that considers itself above international norms (especially given the UN Security Council’s condemnation of the sacking of the British embassy in Iran). It thereby tacitly confirms the worst kinds of conspiracy theories swirling around Assange. And it allows Ecuador to play the plucky David standing up to the bullying colonial Goliath of Britain. The pose resonates throughout the region, and has similarly been struck by Argentina in its arguments with the UK over the Falklands. Expect President Cristina Fernandez to start singing that refrain again soon. Read more