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BLACKWATER USA | DAILY BRIEF


China

  • Microsoft apparently lost its bid to buy TikTok’s U.S. operations to Oracle—or so the U.S. media reported. However, Chinese state media then stepped in and said ByteDance—TikTok’s parent company—would not be handing over its source code to any U.S. buyer. (Pres. Trump has threatened to ban TikTok in the U.S. if its U.S. operations aren’t sold to a local buyer by Sep. 20th, but China enacted new technology export control rules to stymie such a transfer).

  • Reuters says China asked its major cobalt producers to offer plans to sell their production to the government for addition to its large stockpile—likely to take advantages of prices that are down more than 60% from 2018 highs. China only produced 2,000 tons of cobalt last year, but its refining capacity is over 20,000 tons per year—and it represents around half the world’s cobalt consumption. It’s thought to have a stockpile of up to 7,000 tons already.

Iran

  • U.S. intelligence reports allege that Iran is thinking about assassinating the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, handbag designer Lana Marks, in retaliation for the killing of IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad in January.

  • Marks doesn’t seem to have any links with Iran; rather, she’s probably being targeted because of her longtime personal friendship with Pres. Trump and the fact that the U.S. doesn’t have strong relationships with South African law enforcement and intelligence services (so an assassination would be easier to carry out and would have fewer local diplomatic repercussions).

Venezuela

  • An oil tanker carrying around 2 million barrels of Iranian condensate arrived in the Venezuelan port of Jose on Saturday, and is discharging South Pars condensate that’ll be blended with low-quality Venezuelan crude to boost production. That’s the first time Venezuela has received Iranian crude—its recent imports from Iran have been of gasoline. A short Bloomberg article pasted below has more.

  • Venezuela identified the alleged “U.S. spy” captured Thursday en route from Falcon to Zulia as former U.S. Marine John Heath Mattew, but still didn’t offer much further detail.

Belarus

  • Yesterday saw a fifth weekend of protests in Belarus, with an estimated 100,000 demonstrators turning out. Over 400 people were arrested, and most of those say they were beaten in the process.

  • Talks between “Pres.” Lukashenko and Pres. Putin start today in Sochi.

Libya

  • The Haftar-aligned eastern government in Benghazi resigned after a prolonged period of protests over corruption and worsening living conditions. The eastern Parliament has yet to accept the resignation, though, and the same power brokers are likely to lead a new government anyway.

Mali

  • Regional bloc ECOWAS and the M5-RFP coalition that led pre-coup protests in Mali both rejected the military government’s plan to choose interim leaders during an 18-month transition back to civilian rule. Both insist that only a civilian can lead the country.

Yemen

  • The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen attacked Houthi positions in the capital of Sana’a, striking at least five times near the Sana’a airport.

  • The Houthis claimed to have hit an “important target” in Riyadh the day before, although Saudi said it safely intercepted those attacks.

Other News

  • Tanzania and Uganda signed a $3.5 billion agreement for Total and CNOOC to build a 1,445 km (900 mi) crude oil pipeline to export Ugandan oil through the Tanzanian port of Tanga. The project faces objections from conservationists and human rights groups; however, it would create 18,000 new jobs. Its timeline is unclear.

  • Nepal is facing landslides after heavy rains. At least 11 people died, and 20 others are still missing.

Venezuela Defies U.S. Sanction Tripwires and Imports Iranian Oil (Bloomberg)

An oil tanker is discharging Iranian condensate for Venezuela as both countries continue to avoid U.S. sanction tripwires.

The ship, identified as Honey, turned off its satellite signal and started unloading about 2 million barrels of South Pars condensate at Venezuela’s state-controlled port of Jose on Saturday, according to a report and a person with knowledge of the situation.

The cargo will most likely be used by the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA to blend with Venezuela’s tar-like crude and help prop up production in the Orinoco oil belt.

OPEC founding member Venezuela, owner of the world’s largest oil reserves, has been struggling to stave off a fall in production after U.S. sanctions cut off access to equipment and buyers for its oil. Output slumped to 339,000 barrels a day in July, the lowest level seen since the 1910s, according to OPEC and government data compiled by Bloomberg.

This is the first time Venezuela has imported crude from Iran, although it’s imported gasoline. It’s also the country’s first oil import since April 2019, when it got a parcel of Nigerian oil Agbami to mix with its heavy oil and produce flagship Merey 16, the country’s top exported blend.

Imports are used to offset Venezuela’s declining production of light oil, used to make Merey, or to act as a diluent and blend with viscous types of crude to make them more marketable.

Venezuela’s information ministry, PDVSA and Iran’s foreign ministry didn’t return calls and email seeking comment.

The U.S. has been ratcheting up sanctions, leaving little room for companies to work with the regime of President Nicolas Maduro.

Last month, the U.S. seized four tankers carrying Iranian gasoline bound for Venezuela in an unprecedented move by the Trump administration. The tankers were transporting 1.116 million barrels of petroleum, confiscated after help from “foreign partners,” the Justice Department said at the time.

After Russian companies Rosneft Trading SA, TNK Trading SA and Mexican Libre Abordo SA de CV cut ties with the regime, Caracas expanded business with Iran.

So far this year Tehran has supplied 1.5 million barrels of gasoline to PDVSA and food for the first Iranian supermarket in the South American nation.

A shortage of gasoline is forcing Venezuelans to queue for hours and even days, while Caracas is hit by rationing. The prospect of worsening fuel shortages and increased social unrest in the country has PDVSA grappling to revive a refining network crippled by years of mismanagement.

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