Published on December 31st 2017 in The Guardian
Iran nuclear deal, 15 January
We should know by mid-January how serious Donald Trump is about seeking a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear programme. The US president refused in October to continue to certify the 2015 multilateral agreement under which Tehran accepted strict curbs on its activities in return for sanctions relief.
Trump said that either Congress or US allies should fix the “serious flaws” in the deal, or he would “terminate it. The Senate has since opted out of dealing with the matter, and Washington’s allies have insisted that the 2015 agreement cannot be renegotiated.
Winter Olympics, 9 February
The Winter Olympics in South Korea will be both a festival of sport and a test of the increasingly fragile peace in the region.
If the war of words between Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, is defused, the Olympics could offer the opportunity for a thaw. Seoul has suggested a lull in joint manoeuvres with the US during the Games, potentially opening the way for dialogue.
Middle East peace process, February
President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is expected to produce a plan for Middle East peace. It is a goal that has eluded many would-be statesmen, so it is a daunting task for the 36-year-old real estate heir.
He does have something going for him. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu feels beholden to Trump and could be willing to grant concessions that he would never have dreamed of offering to the previous US administration. The powerful if erratic Saudi crown prince, Mohamed bin Salman, is also happy to shatter precedents and tradition, and seemingly keen to make common cause with the US and Israel against Iran.
One possible outcome is a plan that falls far short of dreams of statehood and independence of most Palestinians, who will be under pressure to accept whatever is offered, while Israel and its partners prepare for a conflict with Tehran and its allies.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is likely to strengthen its grip on Syria, rebuilding Bashar al-Assad’s army and fielding proxy forces across the country as Russia withdraws.
Russian elections, 18 March
Russia will hold a presidential election on a date chosen to mark the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea. The winner has not been in doubt since Vladimir Putin confirmed he would be standing for another six year term. By 2024, he will have been running Russia for 24 years.
There are no serious challengers to Putin extending his reign, but the election campaign will still provide a barometer of the level of discontent in the absence of any significant improvements in Russian living standards and the dwindling appeal of foreign wars.
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