Iran, Trade, Harry and Meghan: Your Tuesday Briefing


(Want to get this briefing by email? Here’s the sign-up.)

Good morning.

We’re covering Iran’s economic challenges, a Russian hack in Ukraine and a rebranding campaign in the Netherlands.

Protests against Iran’s clerical rulers entered their third day on Monday, amid widespread anger at the government for shooting down a Ukrainian passenger plane and then misleading the public about it.

The fury also reflected broader grievances over an economy that has suffered under sanctions that President Trump imposed after he pulled the United States out of a multilateral accord designed to check Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s hard-line leaders know that a war with the United States could profoundly worsen joblessness and economic anxiety — and perhaps threaten their political legitimacy.

But experts said some of those hard-liners may see war with the United States as a means of jump-starting Iran’s so-called resistance economy, and of stoking the nationalist anger that has helped to keep them in power.

Related: For President Trump, who as a presidential candidate criticized America’s wars in the Middle East, the specter of conflict with Iran threatens to alienate voters who see the Republican Party as indifferent to the human cost of war.

Go deeper: Our reporter spoke with American military personnel who witnessed Iran’s attack last week on U.S. forces stationed at Iraqi military bases, a retaliation for President Trump’s decision to kill a top Iranian commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani.

Plus: Kimia Alizadeh, the only female athlete to win an Olympic medal for Iran, announced over the weekend that she had defected from the country because of its “hypocrisy, lies, injustice and flattery.”

Russian military hackers have attacked Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company at the center of President Trump’s impeachment trial. The hack comes at a time when Russia has been working to seed conspiracy theories about Ukrainian meddling in American politics, as a way to turn the focus away from its own interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

It’s unclear what the hackers found, but security experts say they may be searching for potentially embarrassing material on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the company’s board while his father was leading the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy. It was the sort of information that Mr. Trump sought when he pushed Ukraine to investigate the Bidens and Burisma, setting off a chain of events that would lead to his impeachment.

Details: Russian hackers employed strikingly similar tactics to those used in the hack on Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman and the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Responses to our report: The Biden campaign sought to cast the Russian effort to hack Burisma as an indication of Mr. Biden’s political strength. Neither the Russian government nor Burisma responded to requests for comment.

What’s next: American officials are warning that Russian hackers are seeking to steal and spread damaging information ahead of the 2020 election.

Queen Elizabeth II announced on Monday that she was “supportive” of Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, creating “a new life” as they plan to step back from their royal duties, support themselves and split their time between Britain and North America.

“Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working members of the royal family,” the queen said, “we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family.”

But the queen’s statement, which came after a family gathering at her country home, Sandringham, left many questions unanswered, including who would pay for the couple’s upkeep — and whether they could achieve financial independence without unacceptably commercializing the monarchy.

Looking ahead: The couple’s arrangement could set a precedent for future generations of a more streamlined royal family. One royal biographer wonders if they will reconsider their decision.

Related: While many Canadians expressed delight at the prospect of the couple’s move, some fretted over whether they would shoulder the costs of hosting them.

Europe’s new trade commissioner, Phil Hogan, arrived in Washington on Monday for a four-day visit amid strained trans-Atlantic relations.

The blunt-talking Mr. Hogan, a political veteran, is “on a mission to prevent the Trump administration from ruining the European economy,” our Frankfurt-based correspondent writes, but “will probably do well if he can simply prevent things from going any further downhill.”

The Europeans are angry at the United States for imposing sanctions on companies helping to build a gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, and they accuse the U.S. of crippling the World Trade Organization by blocking appointments of new members to a crucial panel.

Yesterday: Ahead of the expected signing of a U.S.-China trade deal on Wednesday, the U.S. formally removed Beijing’s designation as a currency manipulator, a major concession to the Chinese officials who were arriving in Washington.

The Times analyzed popular American history textbooks, above, that were used in California and Texas, and found that the content sometimes diverged in ways that reflected deep political divides.

For instance, both states’ editions discuss women’s fight against discrimination in the workplace, but only the California textbooks say that birth control played a role by “allowing women to exert greater control over their sexuality and family planning.”

Extremism in Britain: The home secretary, Priti Patel, refused to disavow a retracted counterterrorism brochure that had lumped climate and animal rights activists together with terrorist organizations.

Rebranding Holland: Starting on Jan. 1, all official Dutch government communications and promotional materials began referring to the country only as the Netherlands. But marketing experts are skeptical.

Oscar nods: Most of the Academy Award nominations on Monday went to four very male, very white movies: “Joker,” “The Irishman,” “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” and “1917.”

What we’re reading: The Austin Chronicle’s profile of the Texas-born jazz trumpeter Kenny Dorham. Jesse Drucker, a Times business reporter, calls it “heartbreaking and beautifully written.”

Cook: Brighten sheet-pan chicken and potatoes with feta and lemon. (Our Five Weeknight Dishes newsletter has more recommendations.)

Listen: We compiled a playlist of 10 essential tracks from Neil Peart, the Rush drummer and lyricist who died last week at 67.

Smarter Living: The benefits from “confusing” your muscles with rapidly shifting, workouts may be mostly in your head. But that’s not insignificant.

Diego, a giant tortoise who fathered hundreds of offspring to help save his endangered species on a Galápagos island, is retiring.

The tortoise, who is more than 100 years old, was in a captive breeding program at the Fausto Llerena Tortoise Center on the island of Santa Cruz. Since 1976, he has been exhibiting “an exceptional sex drive,” researchers said.

The breeding program increased the tortoise population to about 2,000 from only 15. Some 40 percent trace their lineage back to Diego.

So what is it about him? James Gibbs, a professor of environmental and forest biology at the State University of New York in Syracuse, says the tortoise has “a big personality — quite aggressive, active and vocal in his mating habits and so I think he has gotten most of the attention.”

A “more reserved, less charismatic male” known as E5 has generated about 60 percent of the island’s tortoise population. As the breeding program draws to a close, Professor Gibbs said, “It clearly is the other quieter male that has had much more success.”

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Mike

Thank you
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. You can reach the team at

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about the wildfires in Australia.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword puzzle, and a clue: App’s audience (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• An analysis of global trends in climate reporting shows that, of five major U.S. newspapers, The Times published the most climate-related articles in 2019.

Source : Nytimes