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Matteo Salvini has a sun-baked, Rome transfixed. Will Italy’s de facto leader finally make up his mind and force an early election?There are reasons to think he might. For one, it would divert attention from a growing scandal over alleged illegal financing from Russia. The Captain, as he’s known to his fans, has struggled to distance himself from a close aide linked to shady deals with figures in Moscow.The deputy premier is sniping constantly with Luigi Di Maio of the Five Star Movement, the weaker half of the dysfunctional coalition, and Salvini’s advisers want him to capitalize on the fact that the League Party had a strong showing in May elections for the European Parliament. If he could match that result in a national ballot, the thinking is that he could finally rule alone.Timing is key. If Salvini pulls the plug now, a snap vote could be held in September – in time for a new administration to tackle a contentious 2020 budget. If he’s serious about taking the plunge, he must formally notify the president that he wants to quit the government. Last night, one official said Salvini had requested a meeting with President Sergio Mattarella only for another to deny it.
As he hems and haws, the nation is paralyzed in the summer heat.
Trump’s gamble | President Donald Trump’s attacks on four minority congresswomen known as “the squad” may have drawn almost universal condemnation, but he’s betting the political benefits are worth it. His insults raise the profile of the most liberal members of the Democratic Party and play into his hopes of turning the 2020 campaign into a referendum on socialist policies, which polls show is a big loser for the Democrats.
Here’s the latest Campaign Update on the race for the White House.
Uncharacteristic reaction | Vladimir Putin last week passed on an opportunity to ramp up Russian economic sanctions against Georgia following anti-Kremlin protests “because I respect the Georgians.” Salome Zourabichvili, the president of Georgia, told Bloomberg it’s high time Moscow recognized that a decade of hard-power pressure has only made its neighbors more determined to join NATO and the European Union. While Russia’s goals haven’t changed, a little more soft power could be on its way.Iran Diplomacy | Europe has few options left to save the Iran nuclear deal, which promised to plug the Islamic Republic into global trade in exchange for curbing its nuclear program. As Ladane Nasseri and Helene Fouquet write, Tehran’s provocations and Trump’s bluster are frustrating behind-the-scenes efforts by French President Emmanuel Macron and others to ease tensions.Worrying resort | An area of pristine tropical beaches along the Cambodian coast is home to a China-backed $3.8 billion investment zone that is raising fears among U.S. policymakers. Officials including Vice President Mike Pence worry that Phnom Penh has plans to host Chinese naval or military assets that would give Beijing a strategic advantage in Southeast Asia, Philip Heijmans writes.Security threat | The U.K. Parliament’s intelligence and security committee says barring Chinese tech giant Huawei from operating in the country could lower security standards because it would leave it dependent on only two potential suppliers — Nokia and Ericsson, As Kitty Donaldson reports, the body’s report today conflicts with Trump’s argument that Huawei’s alleged links to the Chinese government could allow Beijing to use its network equipment to spy.
What to Watch
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration and congressional Democrats have agreed on spending levels for a budget deal that could clear the way for raising the federal debt limit before Congress leaves town. Chinese and U.S. senior officials spoke by phone yesterday in the second call since the late June summit at which the two sides agreed to a truce in their ongoing trade conflict. Former South African President Jacob Zuma declined today to provide further testimony to a judicial panel that’s investigating whether he consented to and benefited from widespread looting during his nine-year rule.
And finally … Gleaming concrete sleepers run across a new railway bridge in Kenya, the latest stretch of a Chinese-built line from the coast all the way to Uganda. But it doesn’t quite reach the border and ends abruptly by a sleepy village about 75 miles west of Nairobi. The tracks are laid but unused. The reason, as David Herbling and Dandan Li write, is China has withheld some $4.9 billion in funding to complete the line — a sign of Beijing’s increasing adversity to loading poorer nations with debt.
–With assistance from Iain Marlow, Marc Champion and Caroline Alexander.
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