January 3, 2018 / 12:24 PM / in 2 months

Wednesday Morning Briefing

North Korea reopens its border hotline with the South, Palestinians condemn Trump’s threat to withdraw aid and Spotify is hit with a $1.6 billion copyright lawsuit.

North Korea

North Korea reopened a long-closed border hotline with South Korea, hours after U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to mock the North’s leader by saying he has a “bigger and more powerful” nuclear button than he does. The North’s decision to open the border phone line came a day after South Korea proposed high-level discussions amid a tense standoff over North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs. 

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, warned North Korea against staging another missile test and said Washington would not take any talks between North and South Korea seriously if they did not do something to get Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons. 

After a year of making threats and weapons advances, North Korea’s leader appears to be using the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in South Korea as a tool to blunt growing international pressure on Pyongyang while leaving his nuclear arsenal untouched. Kim Jong Un, in his annual New Year’s Day speech, called for reduced tensions on the Korean peninsula and flagged the North’s possible participation in the Games next month, just across the border in Pyeongchang.  

Business

World stocks hit fresh highs with European markets joining the party as early indications suggest 2018 will be another year of synchronized global growth led by a shining European economy.  

A U.S. court asked Valeant Pharmaceuticals International and activist investor Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square to appear for a hearing to discuss the proposed settlement in an insider trading lawsuit.  

Brazil’s state-controlled oil company, Petroleo Brasileiro SA, said that it has agreed to pay $2.95 billion to settle a U.S. class action brought by investors who claim they lost money as a result of a corruption scandal.  

Breakingviews: The year of mega deals 

Ant Financial’s plan to acquire U.S. money transfer company MoneyGram International collapsed after a U.S. government panel rejected it over national security concerns, the most high-profile Chinese deal to be torpedoed under the administration of Trump.  

Music streaming company Spotify was sued by Wixen Music Publishing last week for allegedly using thousands of songs, including those of Tom Petty, Neil Young and the Doors, without a license and compensation to the music publisher.  

Amazon.com and Alphabet’s Google both discounted their virtual assistant speakers so deeply over the holiday shopping season that they likely lost a few dollars per unit, highlighting a sharply different strategy from Apple as it prepares its HomePod speaker, analysts said.  

Bitcoin

China’s central bank told a top-level government internet finance group that the monetary authority can tell local governments to regulate the power usage of bitcoin miners to gradually reduce the scale of their production, a source said.  

Reuters TV: Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel bets big on bitcoin  

Members of "Miracle Team", a soccer team made up of one-legged players, listen to their coach before a training session at El Salam club on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt December 29, 2017. Picture taken December 29, 2017. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Iran

Pro-government rallies in several Iranian cities drew thousands of marchers, following six days of rare unrest that took the country’s leaders off guard. State television broadcast live pictures of rallies in Kermanshah, Ilam and Gorgan, where marchers waved Iranian flags and pictures of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  

Iranian authorities are concerned that nationwide unrest will undermine the clerical establishment and want to stamp out the protests quickly, senior government officials say. But the person with the most to lose is President Hassan Rouhani.  

Map: Iran protests  

VERBATIM: U.S. stands in solidarity with Iranian protestors  

Commentary

Iran's protesters have legitimate grievances and President Hassan Rouhani needs to take them seriously, writes Amir Handjani. However, outsiders like President Donald Trump should be wary of expressing support for those out on the streets because it risks "tainting the protesters as foreign agents -- an easy tagline the regime uses to discredit dissidents."  

Israel-Palestine

Palestinians condemned as blackmail Trump’s threat to withhold future aid payments over what he called the Palestinians’ unwillingness to talk peace with Israel. 

 Israel said it would pay thousands of African migrants living illegally in the country to leave, threatening them with jail if they are caught after the end of March. The plan launched this week offers African migrants a $3,500 payment from the Israeli government and a free air ticket to return home or go to “third countries”, which rights groups identified as Rwanda and Uganda

United States

The United States accused Pakistan of playing a “double game” on fighting terrorism and warned Islamabad it would have to do more if it wanted to maintain U.S. aid. The White House said it would likely announce actions to pressure Pakistan within days, shortly after U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said at the United Nations that Washington would withhold $255 million in assistance to Pakistan.  

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said he will not seek re-election in November, opening the door to a potential Senate bid by Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate and one of the party’s harshest critics of President Donald Trump. 

A record-shattering freeze kept its grip on much of the eastern United States, causing at least eight deaths and closing schools as forecasters warned of a storm that could slam some areas with blizzard conditions later this week.  

Thomas Monson, leader of the Mormon church, has died at the age of 90 at his home in Salt Lake City, Utah, the church said. Monson became the 16th President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - as the religion is officially known - in 2008. As president, he was believed by members of the faith to be a prophet who receives divine revelations. 

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