- Iran announced Wednesday that they will limit their commitments to the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal.
- Iran’s decision was prompted by stringent U.S. sanctions against the country, which the Trump administration re-imposed after the U.S. withdrew from the Iran deal last year.
- The declaration comes a just days after the U.S. announced it would be sending a strike force carrier and bombers to the region “In response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.”
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani announced Wednesday that the country will stop complying with some of its commitments under the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal.
The announcement comes exactly one year after Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. entirely from the agreement, which he referred to as “the worst deal in history.”
The agreement, officially named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, intended to limit Iran’s civilian nuclear program. Iran has never formally said that it has a nuclear weapons program. However, the U.S. and others were concerned that Iran’s nuclear efforts, like enriching uranium, were not for peaceful purposes.
After years of intense negotiations led by the Obama administration, the JCPOA was finally struck in 2015. The JCPOA set restrictions on Iran’s nuclear problem in exchange for loosening some of the economic sanctions that were destroying Iran’s economy.
In addition to the U.S. and Iran, the deal was also signed by the UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany. Additionally, a resolution was passed by the U.N. Security Council, effectively making the deal international law.
Many considered the agreement a massive step in the right direction. Trump, however, did not. He and other Republicans argued the deal was bad because it gave too many concessions to Iran and did not get enough in return.
As a result, the U.S. withdrew from the deal and re-imposed tough sanctions on Iran. However, the US was alone in these efforts, and the five other signatory countries that crafted the deal lashed out at Trump for undermining the accord and called his actions a “mistake.”
After the U.S. withdrew, many wondered if the deal would remain intact, but Iran and the five others stuck to it. That is, until today.
What Iran’s Decision Really Means
What exactly does Iran decision to stop complying with parts of the deal involve? There are two key parts of Iran’s decision.
First of all, Iran is not withdrawing from the deal like the U.S. did– at least not just yet. Basically, they are saying that they will no longer respect certain restrictions under JCPOA. Specifically, the restrictions on building stockpiles of enriched uranium and heavy water, which are used in nuclear reactors.
Second, Iran is giving the remaining countries in the deal 60 days to make a choice: either they ease the restrictions imposed by the U.S. on Iran’s oil and banking sectors– effectively violating U.S. sanctions, or Iran will slowly stop their compliance with the restrictions outlined in the deal piece by piece.
Iran’s reason for this course of action all goes back to that last point: U.S. sanctions.
In an official statement, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said that the sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Iran after they withdrew from the JCPOA were “illegal.” The statement goes on to say that the other members of the agreement promised to help ease the impacts of the sanctions, but they have not followed through, leaving Iran with “no option other than ‘reducing commitments’.”
“Now, it is the remaining countries’ turn to prove their goodwill and take serious and practical steps to preserve the JCPOA,” the statement concluded.
“The window that is now open to diplomacy will not remain open for a long time, and the United States and the remaining members will be fully responsible for the failure of the JCPOA and any possible consequences.”
Iran’s announcement Wednesday was neither unexpected nor unprovoked.
Over the last few months, the U.S. has significantly ramped up its hard-line policies against Iran. Last month, the Trump administration announced that the U.S. was designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization, marking the first time Tthe U.S. labeled part of another country’s government a foreign terrorist organization.
Following the announcement, Iran acted swiftly in response by designating U.S. Central Command as a terrorist organization. Last week, Iran’s parliament passed a piece of legislation labeling the entire U.S. military as a terrorist organization. A move that came just one day after the U.S. increased pressure on Iran by announcing they would no longer allow countries that buy Iranian oil to be exempt from U.S. sanctions.
On Sunday, United States National Security Advisor John Bolton announced that the U.S. was deploying an aircraft carrier strike group and Air Force bombers to the Middle East in an effort to counter Iran.
In a statement, Bolton said that the move was “In response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” but did not elaborate.
While the White House and Pentagon have not formally confirmed what triggered the move, U.S. defense officials that spoke on the condition of anonymity have told numerous outlets that the deployments are in response to reports that Iran was preparing to attack U.S. forces in the region.
According to the officials, recent intelligence indicated that Iran’s was planning to use proxies to attack U.S. forces both at sea off the coast of Yemen and on land in Iraq. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, made an unannounced trip to Iraq, reportedly to discuss the situation in Iran.
Currently, it seems like the tensions between the U.S. and Iran will continue to escalate, and many are worried about what will come from this.
If the JCPOA falls apart, it could put Iran on the pathway to building a bomb by essentially just resuming the activity the deal restricted. Already the U.S. is using hard power to counter against Iran, which has many experts wondering if the U.S. will consider military intervention.
However, numerous other countries, including the signatory countries in JCPOA, do not agree with what the Trump administration is doing.
European leaders criticized the U.S.sanctions again over the weekend, arguing that Iran has complied with the nuclear deal. China blamed the confrontation on the Trump administration, claiming that it was the U.S. that had escalated tensions, and reiterating their opposition to the sanctions.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, also criticized the U.S. in a meeting with Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif. “The Americans are trying to create chaos in the region as it is evident from their moves,” Lavrov said, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency, Iran’s state news outlet.
Even internally, it seems like people are worried about the Trump administrations actions.
In an exclusive report on the deployment of the strike force and bombers, the Daily Beast said they spoke to “multiple sources close to the situation” who reportedly told them that the administration exaggerated the situation, “characterizing the threat as more significant than it actually was.”
“It’s not that the administration is mischaracterizing the intelligence, so much as overreacting to it,” an anonymous official told the Daily Beast.
For now, it seems as though the U.S. and Iran are both committed to engaging in tit-for-tat tactics, and any hopes for de-escalation appear to be optimistic given the current trajectory.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Daily Beast)
U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.
The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.
New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle
A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.
Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.
In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.
The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.
Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.
However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”
The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased.
In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.
High Court Ruling
The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.”
“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”
Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.
If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.
Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.
U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe
The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.
More Information About Omicron
Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.
One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.
Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa — where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.
Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.
In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.
Studies on Vaccine Efficacy
Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.
On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.
According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses.
By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.
Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.
Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)
40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox
The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.
Camels Booted From Beauty Contest
More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.
The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.
However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”
Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.
An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.
“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”
While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.
In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.