The prospect of U.S. and Iranian intervention in Iraq looms larger.
Baghdad has asked the United States for air support to counter Sunni militants who have seized major cities in a lightning advance that has routed the Shi’ite-led government army. And Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has signalled that Tehran was prepared to intervene to protect Iraq’s great Shi’ite shrines.
As of last night, ISIL fighters were in control of three-quarters of the territory of the Baiji refinery north of Baghdad and some international oil companies were pulling out workers.
Even if the two adversaries find common cause in Iraq, it doesn’t appear to have transferred to negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear programme, for which the West has imposed stiff sanctions.
Western and Iranian officials told us on Wednesday that Iran is refusing to significantly cut the number of centrifuges it intends to keep to produce nuclear fuel, putting a deal at this week’s talks with six powers and/or by a July 20 deadline far out of sight.
After touring the Gulf, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew winds up his trip with a visit to Berlin. It would be surprising if sanctions against Russia did not come up as well as the perennial U.S./German debate about growth versus austerity on which there are signs of Germany moving more into line with Washington.