For months, the world has been focused on the threat from North Korea and the hot war in Syria. The North Korean situation was heading for war as late as last December. But a thaw in relations starting with the Olympics in February and continuing toward a planned summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump, probably in June, has taken a lot of the tension out of that area of the world.
A continuing shooting war in Syria escalated to U.S. missiles fired at targets in close proximity to Russian troops as punishment for Syria’s use of chemical weapons in their fight against rebels. Both North Korea and Syria could yet escalate into much larger confrontations.
Meanwhile, the most dangerous situation in the world today is coming to a head almost under the radar screen. On July 14, 2015, the Obama administration, along with Russia, China, France, the U.K., Germany and the EU representative, announced an agreement with Iran called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA, designed to temporarily halt Iran’s efforts at enrichment of uranium and plutonium to weapons-grade and discourage Iran’s development of ballistic missiles.
The JCPOA is not a legally binding treaty. It’s more of a handshake deal among parties who don’t trust each other, especially the U.S. and Iran. The JCPOA calls for periodic compliance certification by the U.S. president. Both Obama and Trump have provided those certifications so far. But Iran has cheated both in the initial negotiations and subsequent behavior.
The next certification deadline is May 12, 2018, just five days away. Time’s up for Iran. All signs are that Trump will end the agreement and re-impose severe economic sanctions on Iran. This will put our European allies in a bind. On the one hand, they want expanded trade with Iran. On the other hand, they don’t want to publicly oppose the U.S.
Look for market turmoil as investors scramble to pick winners and losers in the chaos. This article is a good backgrounder on the next source of market volatility.
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