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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)

International

Petition Calls for Ban on Sexualized Fanfiction in South Korea

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  • A petition circulating across South Korea calls for sexualized fanfiction depicting K-pop stars and other real people to be outlawed and classified as sex crimes.
  • The petition particularly focuses on the way male stars are depicted in same-sex relationships and argues that they often feature people who are minors.
  • A similar petition was submitted last week to President Moon Jae-in; however, it focused on deep fakes. Because both petitions have over 200,000 signatures, they will need to be addressed by President Moon.

K-Pop Fanfiction Causes Chaos

A petition began circulating across South Korea this week demanding that “real person slash” fanfiction works be outlawed and charged as sex crimes.

“Real person slash” refers to a specific form of fanfiction that most often features sexualized versions of K-pop stars and other real people.

In particular, the petition focuses on the way male stars are depicted in same-sex relationships and the age of some of the people being portrayed. The petition notes, “due to the nature of the profession of idols, whose average age is young, many of the victims are still minors or children.”

The petition was submitted to the Blue House, South Korea’s version of the White House, and currently has over 200,000 signatures. It received a big boost in attention after K-pop star Nancy, from the group Momoland, was secretly filmed by a member of her agency while she was changing backstage. This person then doctored some of the images and uploaded them online.

While Nancy’s case isn’t hand-drawn fanfic, it did fuel outrage at what’s seen as an ineffective approach towards sex crimes in the country. Signers of this petition believe that these fanfics fall into the same category of likely illegality as deep fakes.

Deep Fakes Also Being Targeted

Additionally, just last week deep fakes – which often feature k-pop stars – had its own petition submitted to the president last week with over 300,000 signatures.

Because both petitions have over 200,000 signatures, they will need to be addressed by President Moon Jae-in

For years South Korea has struggled with secret cameras, deep fakes, revenge porn, and more violent sex crimes, such as the infamous Nth Room case that saw certain stars filming themselves having sex with women against their consent.

See What Others Are Saying: (CNA) (The Korea Herald) (South China Morning Post)

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International

Italy Begins Largest Mob Trial in Decades

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  • Italian prosecutors have started their trial against more than 320 defendants linked to the  ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate.
  • The charges range from murder and drug trafficking to extortion and money laundering.
  • The case is so large, high-profile, and potentially dangerous that the government built a bunker for the event in Calabria, the home territory of the ‘Ndrangheta.
  • Details uncovered could deliver a massive blow to organized crime in Italy and potentially across the world as the ‘Ndrangheta has major dealings in Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

Hundreds of ‘Ndranghetisti Facing Charges

A major mob trial kicked off in Italy Wednesday involving more than 320 defendants who are part of or associated with the ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate.

In addition to these defendants going on trial, 90 others have elected for a fast-tracked trial elsewhere in Calabria.

While this is a massive affair, it’s still not the country’s largest mob-related trial in history. That happened in the ’80s against the Cosa Nostra from Sicily.

The trial is so high-profile and potentially dangerous that the government built a bunker for the event in Calabria, close to the home territory of the ‘Ndrangheta.

The court is looking at many charges against the defendants, including extortion, drug and arms trafficking, money laundering, and Mafia association – a term used in Italy’s penal code for members of organized crime.

Breaking Into the Family

Investigators hope that the trial will show just how entrenched organized crime is in the territory, as it’s believed that the ‘Ndrangheta has dealings with local politicians and businessmen. These dealings are believed to not only stem from their illicit activities but also from their legitimate businesses that were initially funded via crime-related funds. Either way, the trial is seen as a major blow for the group.

The organization is made up of multiple groups of tight-knight families that are all interconnected. For years investigators have tried to get more information on the group but following the arrest and prosecution of Luigi Mancuso, a boss in the ‘Ndrangheta, investigators finally had a way to look more closely at 12 families who make up part of the ‘Ndrangheta.

During their investigation police and prosecutors managed to turn some members of those families and use them as informants. They are expected to take the stand as witnesses during the trial. In total, prosecutors hope to put bring out over 900 witnesses.

If successful, this could be a massive blow to organized crime in Italy and potentially across the world as the ‘Ndrangheta has major dealing in Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

See What Others Are Saying: (ABC News) (LA Times) (Chicago Tribune)

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Hundreds Sickened By Mysterious Illness in India

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  • A mystery illness has hospitalized over 500 people in India and is linked to one death. While most people have recovered and been discharged from the hospital, under 100 people are still being treated.
  • Health officials believe that it is not a viral infection and that it is not tied to the coronavirus pandemic. One official told The Washington Post that it is a “point source epidemic,” but no one knows what is causing it.
  • Blood tests showed patients had high levels of lead and nickel and officials are trying to find what is behind that. Some are also pointing to pesticides used in mosquito treatment as a potential cause behind the outbreak.
  • Still, health officials are puzzled, and the situation comes while India currently trails the United States as the country with the most coronavirus cases. This mystery outbreak is also occurring in one of the hardest-hit states.

Mystery Illness in India

Health officials are still looking for what might be causing a mysterious illness that has sickened hundreds of people this month in India. 

The unidentified illness has put over 500 people in the hospital and taken one life. Most patients have been discharged and recovered but under 100 are still being treated. The disease was first reported on Sunday, and new instances have gone down since the start of the week.

The outbreak started in the state of  Andhra Pradesh. Symptoms range from nausea to anxiety to loss of consciousness, and in some cases, seizures. Some reports say the patient who died suffered from a seizure. Others note they may have fallen as well.

Many patients describe the sickness as hitting them quickly and suddenly as they were going about their day. Some got foggy vision, sore eyes, or incredibly tired before passing out. Many woke up in the hospital and were left with a gap in their memory. 

While the cause of this disease is unknown, health officials do not believe it is tied to the coronavirus in any way as no patients have tested positive. The illness is also not believed to be a viral infection of any kind. 

“What has been established by experts is that this is a case of acute intoxication of toxins. It is not chronic in nature. This is all we know for now,” one high-ranking official told The Washington Post. 

Because cases are already slowing significantly, some believe it might have stemmed from an isolated source or event. 

“This is a point source epidemic,” another official told the Post. “Whatever happened, occurred for one particular day and some people got affected. The number of new patients has dropped.”

Potential Causes

What that source or event may have been remains a mystery that officials are eager to solve. So far, no commonalities have been found between the patients as they all live in different places, are of different ages, and do not test positive for other kinds of illnesses that could be causing or contributing to this outbreak. Clues are beginning to emerge, though. 

One medical official told Al Jazeera that high lead and nickel levels were found in the blood tests of patients. So far, ten have been tested and another 30 will be tested shortly. At first officials thought these levels may have been a result of water contamination, but after water tests were conducted, neither lead nor nickel were found. 

Water contamination as a whole has not been ruled out though. 

“Health experts suspect that excessive use of bleaching powder and chlorine in sanitation programmes as part of Covid-19 prevention measures may be the cause of water contamination,” the Health Minister of Andhra Pradesh told the Indian Express. “This is just one of the causes we are exploring.”

Another theory at play stems from the fact that organochlorines, which are used as pesticides in mosquito control, were found in some water samples. One of the federal legislators in the state believes that the sickness could be tied to that. A public health director confirmed to Al Jazeera that “it is one of the possibilities.”

Timing With COVID-19

Still, all these ideas simply remain possibilities and officials have far more questions than they have answers about this situation. Health officials from the country and the World Health Organization have established a presence in Andhra Pradesh to get to the bottom of the situation.

The timing of this outbreak is unfortunate as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread through India. While daily cases are much lower than they were when it peaked in September in the country, it still remains an issue. 

India is behind the United States in seeing the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases, totaling 9.7 million infections. Around 141,000 people have died in the country. In August, their outbreak was the fastest growing in the world. Andhra Pradesh is among the hardest-hit states in the country. 

Hope is on the horizon as India, like many other countries, could be on track to approve a vaccine within weeks. According to Reuters, health officials will prioritize 300 million people, including healthcare workers, policemen, and those above the age of 50.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (Indian Express) (Washington Post)

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