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Iran Will Limit Compliance With Nuclear Deal

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  • 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.”

Iran’s Announcement

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.”

Escalating Tensions

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.

What Next?

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)

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TikTok Faces Billion Dollar Lawsuit in U.K. Over Children’s Data Collection Practices

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  • A former U.K. Children’s Commissioner is suing TikTok on behalf of a 12-year-old girl over concerns that the company mishandles the data of users under 13.
  • The lawsuit alleges that TikTok is “a data collection service that is thinly veiled as a social network” and doesn’t clearly tell children or parents how much data it collects nor how it will be used.
  • The complaint seeks several billion pounds and has transformed into a class-action suit, with millions of children across the U.K. and E.U. eligible to take part.
  • TikTok denies all the claims against it, but if the plaintiffs are victorious, then the social media company could be forced to pay thousands of pounds to each affected child.

TikTok Mishandling Data

TikTok is currently facing a serious legal challenge in the United Kingdom over how it uses and collects children’s data.

The claim was filed by former English Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield on behalf of an anonymous 12-year-old girl, although it has since transformed into a class-action lawsuit for children in the U.K. and European Union.

The legal challenge is for several billion pounds, and if successful, could lead to each affected child in the U.K. and E.U. receiving a few thousand pounds.

Longfield claims that TikTok is “a data collection service that is thinly veiled as a social network” and alleges that it takes children’s phone numbers, videos, exact location, and biometric data without sufficient warning. Particularly concerning for her are children under the age of twelve, who aren’t even supposed to use TikTok but do anyways.

Because of their age, they are supposed to get more legal protections over what’s done with their information, and that age range isn’t a small group of children. Longfield claims that 44% of children 8-12 use TikTok, which would roughly be 3.5 million children in the U.K. alone.

Those stats wouldn’t be too surprising, as according to a 2020 fact sheet published by Ofcom, the U.K.’s communication regulator, 50% of children aged 8 to 15 use TikTok.

Scott & Scoot, the law firm representing the case, added in a statement to the BBC that there is so little transparency for children and parents about what’s being done with the info that it’s “a severe breach of U.K. and EU data protection law.”

While every social media site collects large amounts of user data, Longfield targeted TikTok in particular because it had “excessive” data collection policies. Additionally, Longfield is annoyed at how easy it is for kids under 13 to use TikTok, saying, “Clearly, they know under-13s are using it, companies often say kids put the wrong age on but my view is that isn’t good enough.” 

“Knowing kids will do that, you need additional measures to provide more robust verification of children when they are online.”

Not The First Accusation

TikTok denied the accusations and said they “lack merit,” but the claims aren’t without precedent. The company is currently under investigation by the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office for knowingly hosting the data of children under-13 when it merged with Music.ly.

The company was ordered to delete the info and set up an age verification system.

In 2019, the company was hit with a $5.7 million fine by the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S. for mishandling children’s data. It was also fined $155,000 in South Korea over similar issues.

The concerns over children’s data have also prompted many countries to consider various legislation to either enact or expand protections on such data. In the U.K., the Online Safety Bill is being considered by Parliament. Meanwhile, in the U.S., members from both parties in Congress have expressed interest in passing laws to curb social media companies that offer services aimed at people under 16.

Longfield’s lawsuit against TikTok is still in its early stages and what happens next remains to be seen.

See what others are saying: (TechXplore) (Reuters) (BBC)

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Netanyahu Loses Key Vote in Knesset, A First Step in Losing Power

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  • A coalition of anti-Benjamin Netanyahu parties gained control of a key committee that will set the legislative agenda as Israel tries to form a new government.
  • The major legislative victory could indicate that the opposition may have a serious chance of forming a majority government when asked to do so by President Reuven Rivlin, which will likely occur in two weeks if Netanyahu fails to do the same.
  • The pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs are all courting a group of right-wing and pro-Arab parties that have yet to declare a side.
  • Convincing all of the parties in either bloc to work together is increasingly difficult, as many have refused to do so if certain parties are brought into their coalitions, leaving Israel with the likely prospect of its fifth election in two years.

Major Roadblock

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lost a key vote on Monday in the Knesset, Israel’s legislature, that could possibly lead to his fall from power. 

Bibi, as he’s known, has managed to hold onto power throughout the last two years despite his coalition lacking enough votes to form and keep a government. The latest round of elections in late March once again saw Netayanhu lacking the votes to form a majority government. 

For the last few weeks, Netanyahu has been working to cobble together a coalition government. Two weeks ago, he was finally given a four-week deadline by President Reuven Rivlin.

While Netanyahu retains the title of Prime Minister, he doesn’t get to set the legislative agenda without a majority. The authority to set the agenda is granted to the powerful Arrangements Committee. The Prime Minister received his first major defeat in his efforts to set up a government when the anti-Netanyahu opposition managed to get a majority in the Knesset and gain a majority of the seats on the committee. 

Netanyahu made efforts to secure control of the committee, but like his previous attempts to form a government, he relied on the votes from the pro-Arab Islamist Ra’am party, which instead voted with the opposition. 

The move isn’t a complete shock, as small parties such as Ra’am and the right-wing Yamina party compose a central role in the situation by consistently playing both sides in an effort to get a better deal and more power.

Unclear Future

While Netanyahu has lost control of the Arrangements Committee, it’s unclear if that will translate into a long-term majority for the anti-Netanyahu coalition. 

Many of the wildcard players have issues with parties in both coalitions, with some members of each vowing to back out if the others join. 

For example, Netanyahu needs Ra’am to be able to form a government, but its status as a pro-Arab Islamist party puts it into conflict with a large pro-Jewish party in Netanyahu’s bloc, which vowed to back out if Ra’am was brought into the coalition. The opposition faces similar issues trying to get some of the right-wing parties on board to work with Ra’am, as well.

Netanyahu has two more weeks to try and form a government. If he can’t, President Rivlin will likely turn to the leaders in the opposition with a similar request. If no one is able to form a government, then Israel will head to its fifth election in two years.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (Metro) (Jerusalem Post)

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New Zealand Considers Banning Cigarettes For People Born After 2004

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  • New Zealand announced a series of proposals that aim to outlaw smoking for the next generation with the hopes of being smoke-free by 2025.
  • Among the proposed provisions are plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and possibly prohibit the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to anyone born after 2004; effectively banning smoking for that generation.
  • Beyond that, the level of nicotine in products will likely be significantly reduced, setting a minimum price for tobacco and heavily restricting where it can be sold.
  • The proposals have proven to be popular as one in four New Zealand cancer deaths are tobacco-related, but some have criticized them as government overreach and worry a ban could lead to a bigger and more robust black market.

Smoke Free 2025

New Zealand announced sweeping new proposals on Thursday that would effectively phase out the use of tobacco products, a move that is in line with its hopes to become a smoke-free country by 2025.

Among a number of provisions, the proposals include plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and bar anyone born after 2004 from buying tobacco products. Such a ban would effectively end tobacco sales after a few decades. The government is also considering significantly reducing the level of nicotine allowed in tobacco products, prohibiting filters, restricting locations where tobacco products can be purchased, and setting a steep minimum price for tobacco.

“We need a new approach.” Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verral said when announcing the changes on Thursday. 

“About 4,500 New Zealanders die every year from tobacco, and we need to make accelerated progress to be able to reach [a Smoke Free 2025]. Business-as-usual without a tobacco control program won’t get us there.”

The proposals received a large welcome from public health organizations and local groups. Shane Kawenata Bradbrook, an advocate for smoke-free Maori communities, told The Guardian that the plan “will begin the final demise of tobacco products in this country.” 

The Cancer Society pointed out that these proposals would help combat health inequities in the nation, as tobacco stores were four times more likely to be in low-income neighborhoods, where smoking rates are highest.

Not Without Flaws

The proposals weren’t completely without controversy. There are concerns that a complete ban could bankrupt “dairy” store owners (the equivalent to a U.S. convenience store) who rely on tobacco sales to stay afloat. 

There are also concerns that prohibition largely doesn’t work, as has been seen in other nations with goods such as alcohol or marijuana. Many believe a  blanket ban on tobacco will increase the incentive to smuggle and sell the products on the black market. The government even acknowledged the issue in a document outlining Thursday’s proposals. 

“Evidence indicates that the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling,” the document said.

Some are also concerned about how much the government is intervening in people’s lives.

“There’s a philosophical principle about adults being able to make decisions for themselves, within reason,” journalist Alex Braae wrote. 

The opposition ACT party also added that lowering nicotine content in tobacco products could lead to smokers smoking more, a particular concern as one-in-four cancer cases in New Zealand are tobacco-related.

See what others are saying: (Stuff) (Independent) (The Guardian)

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