- Iran announced Monday that it will surpass the amount of uranium it has been allowed to stockpile under the 2015 nuclear deal in 10 days if European nations do not do more to help them mitigate U.S. sanctions.
- The announcement comes after the U.S. blamed Iran for attacking two tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday and provided what U.S. officials believed was video evidence of Iranian military officials removing a bomb.
- Iran has denied the allegations and Germany, as well as the Japanese owner of one of the tankers, have said the video the U.S. claims proves Iran launched the attack does not provide enough evidence.
Iran announced Monday that it has significantly ramped up its enrichment of uranium and said it will exceed the amount of uranium it has been allowed to stockpile under the 2015 nuclear deal in 10 days.
While certainly a big deal, Monday’s announcement does not necessarily come as a surprise. On May 8, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani announced that the country would stop complying with some of their commitments under the nuclear deal.
Rouhani said Iran would no longer respect certain restrictions under the deal, such as building stockpiles of enriched uranium and heavy water.
He also said Iran would give the other countries that signed the deal 60 days to help ease the sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Irans oil and banking industries, or Iran would slowly stop their compliance with the deal piece by piece.
While that 60-day period technically does not end for a few more weeks, Iran has made it clear that they are not happy with the progress that has been made.
In a televised speech earlier today, Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesperson for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization specifically targetted the European signatories of the nuclear deal for not doing enough, but said they still had time to save the agreement.
“If it is important for them to safeguard the accord, they should make their best efforts,” Kamalvandi said. “As soon as they carry out their commitments, things will naturally go back to their original state.”
“There is still time for European countries, but if they want more time it means that they either can’t or don’t want to honor their obligations,” he continued later. “They should not think that after 60 days they will have another 60-day opportunity.”
Monday’s announcement comes as tensions between Iran and the U.S. have increasingly escalated in recent weeks.
On Thursday, two tankers were attacked just off the coast of Iran in the Gulf of Oman. The attack caused one of the boats to be set on fire and caused both to be set adrift. A few hours later, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of attacking the tankers.
In a press conference, Pompeo said attacks were part of a “campaign” of “escalating tension” by Iran. “It is the assessment of the United States that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks,” he said.
U.S. officials also later claimed that Iran had launched a missile at a U.S.-operated drone surveying the area after the attack.
Pompeo did not immediately provide any evidence for Iran launching the attack, but later on Thursday, U.S. Central Command released a video they claimed showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) removing an unexploded mine from one of the tankers hit by explosions.
While the administration of Donald Trump, backed by Saudi Arabia, believed that the video clearly proved the IRGC was guilty, others were not so sure.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said, “The video is not enough. We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me.”
Additionally, the Japanese operator of one of the ships that was attacked also disputed the U.S government’s claim. In a statement, the president of the company that operates the ship, Yutaka Katada, said he did not believe there was a mine attached to the ship at all.
“I do not think there was a time bomb or an object attached to the side of the ship,” Katada said. “Our crew said that the ship was attacked by a flying object.”
Iran for its part has strongly denied the allegations. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned the accusations in a tweet, referring to the incident as “sabotage diplomacy.”
The incident on Thursday and the U.S. response is only part of increased tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
It is not even the first tanker attack that the U.S. has blamed on Iran. Last month, four tankers were attacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, which is close to the Gulf of Oman. Again, the U.S. was quick to blame Iran but did not provide any evidence, and again, Iran denied the accusation.
Over the last few months, numerous world leaders have come forward and called for the U.S. and Iran to de-escalate the situation, with many fearing the situation would lead to an all-out war.
Multiple European governments and leaders have called on the Trump administration to exercise “maximum restraint.”
Currently, it remains unclear what will happen next. In an interview with Fox & Friends on Sunday, Pompeo indicated that the U.S. had not ruled out military action.
“The United States is going to make sure that we take all actions necessary, diplomatic and otherwise, to achieve that outcome,” he said. In a separate interview with CBS, Pompeo also said the U.S. might tighten sanctions on Iran in response to the country ramping up its nuclear program.
According to reports, Pentagon officials are considering tactical responses to the attacks, including deploying as many as 6,000 Navy, Air Force, and Army personnel to the Persian Gulf.
Last month, 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.
At the same time, many are skeptical that Trump would send troops to directly engage Iran. Trump has repeatedly said he does not want a war in the Middle East.
During an interview with Fox & Friends on Friday, Trump said Iran did attack the tankers, but also said he was not looking for war. He even went as far as to say he wanted engagement with Iranian leadership.
“I’m ready when they are,” Trump said. “Whenever they’re ready, it’s O.K. In the meantime, I’m in no rush.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)
Three Instances of Justin Trudeau in Blackface and Brownface Surface
- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized Wednesday after TIME published a picture of him from 2001 in brownface.
- While apologizing, he also admitted to wearing blackface during a high school talent show. Soon after, the second picture in question circulated around the internet.
- The next day, Global News published a video of a third incident that appeared to show the prime minister in blackface again.
- This news is expected to significantly hurt Trudeau in Canada’s election next month, which is already expected to be a close call for Trudeau’s Liberal Party.
Brownface Photo Surfaces
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing backlash after three separate instances of the Liberal Party leader in brown and blackface surfaced this week.
The incident first came to light on Wednesday, when TIME published a photo of Trudeau wearing brownface. According to TIME, the photo was taken in 2001 at an “Arabian Nights” themed gala at the private school where he was teaching at the time.
The outlet reported that they had been given a copy of the school’s yearbook with the photo earlier this month by a businessman named Michael Adamson, who “first saw the photograph in July and felt it should be made public.”
Shortly after the story broke, Trudeau responded in a press conference, where he confirmed that the story was true.
“I shouldn’t have done that. I should have known better, but I didn’t, and I’m really sorry,” the prime minister said. “It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time, but now I recognize it was something racist to do, and I am deeply sorry.”
“I have worked all my life to try and create opportunities for people, to fight against racism and intolerance. And I can just stand here and say that I made a mistake when I was younger and I wish I hadn’t,” he continued.
When asked by a reporter if that instance was the only time in his life he had done black or brownface, Trudeau admitted that he had.
“When I was in high school I dressed up at a talent show and sang ‘Day O.’ With makeup on,” he said.
After that new admission, the picture in question circulated around the internet.
Third Blackface Instance Exposed
Towards the end of the news conference, a reporter asked Trudeau if he would like to speak to any other instances where he had engaged in racism.
“Do you want to tell Canadian’s about any other instances where you were concerned that you were racist? Or that you had blackface or brownface on?” the reporter asked.
“I think its been plenty,” Trudeau responded, seemingly to the first part of the question. “The fact of the matter is that I’ve always, and you’ll know this, been more enthusiastic about costumes than is sometimes appropriate. But these are the situations that I regret deeply.”
“Is it the only two or are there more?” the reporter clarified.
“These are the situations that I regret deeply,” the prime minister repeated.
However, on Thursday morning, the Canadian outlet Global News published a video that appeared to show Trudeau wearing black makeup on his face and all over his body while sticking out his tongue and making faces.
Global News reported that they had received the video from a source in the Conservative Party earlier this week, but had to verify the video before publishing it.
“A senior member of the Liberal campaign confirmed it was Trudeau early Thursday morning but would not comment further,” the outlet reported, also noting that the video was taken sometime in the 1990s.
Trudeau addressed the situation again in a longer press briefing Thursday afternoon, where he apologized directly to people of color in Canada.
“What I did hurt them, hurt people who shouldn’t have to face intolerance and discrimination because of their identity. This is something that I deeply, deeply regret,” he said.
“Darkening your face, regardless of the context, of the circumstances, is always unacceptable, because of the racist history of blackface. I should have understood that then, and I never should have done it,” he added.
The prime minister also said that he did not remember any other times that he did blackface or brownface when asked by a reporter.
A number of politicians and party leaders in Canada responded to the incident after TIME published the photo.
Jagmeet Singh, the leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party, who is Sikh, addressed the photos in an interview Wednesday.
“It’s troubling, I mean, it’s really insulting,” he said. “Anytime we hear examples of blackface or brownface it’s really, it’s making a mockery of someone for what they live and what their lived experiences are.”
“I think he needs to answer for it. I think he’s got to answer the question why he did that, and what does that say about what he thinks about people who, because of who they are, because of the color of their skin face challenges, barriers, and obstacles in their life,” he added.
The leader of the Green Party of Canada, Elizabeth May, also chimed in, saying in a tweet that she was “deeply shocked by the racism shown in the photograph of Justin Trudeau.”
Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer, who is also Trudeau’s main opponent responded in a video of his own.
“Like all Canadians, I was extremely shocked and disappointed when I learned of Justin Trudeau’s actions this evening,” the opposition leader said.
“Wearing brownface is an act of open mockery and racism, it was just as racist in 2001 as it is in 2019. And what Canadian’s saw this evening was someone with a complete lack of judgment and integrity, and someone who is not fit to govern this country.”
However, some have pointed out that Scheer has recently rejected calls for him to kick out members of his own party for making racist or homophobic comments. Earlier this week, he even said he would stand by candidates who had made offensive comments in the past as long as they apologized.
“As long as someone takes responsibility for what they’ve said, and addresses the fact that in 2019 some things that may have been said in the past are inappropriate today, that if anything that they’ve ever said in the past caused any type of hurt or disrespect to one community or another and have apologized for that, I accept that,” he said.
“You know, I accept the fact that people can make mistakes in the past.”
This incident could not come at a worse time for Trudeau, who faces an already contentious election in one month.
Trudeau’s re-election prospects dipped earlier this year after it was revealed that his former justice minister and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, an indigenous woman, claimed that the prime minister and an aide pressured her to reach a settlement in a criminal case against the Canadian-based engineering and construction firm SNC-Lavalin.
The criminal case in question would have prevented SNC from getting lucrative government contracts, and Trudeau argued that settling the case would save thousands of jobs.
However, many saw the incident as a prime minister, a self-described feminist who claimed to champion indigenous rights, directing his mostly male aides to bully an indigenous woman to protect a corporation that financially benefited the Liberal Party in Quebec, where Trudeau is from.
Now, experts believe that this new blackface scandal could seriously hurt Trudeau’s chances of re-election.
The prime minister fell drastically in the polls after Canada’s ethics commissioner found that he had broken the country’s conflict-of-interest law in the SNC debacle.
Even before the blackface controversy broke on Wednesday, the Conservative and Liberal parties were polling neck and neck at 34.4% and 34.2%, according to the CBC News poll tracker, which aggregates all of the other public polls.
In an already close race, experts are now saying this blackface revelation could pull not only more progressive voters away from the Liberal Party, but also centrist voters.
Canada also has a large population of people who are of South Asian and Middle Eastern descent. Those demographics have been a key source of support for the Liberal Party and Trudeau in the past, specifically in areas around Toronto, which are seen as key electoral battlegrounds for the Liberals.
With this recent controversy, it is unclear where those voter bases, which could be essential to giving Trudeau the edge he needs to be re-elected, will cast their votes next month.
See what others are saying: (TIME) (CBC) (The Guardian)
India Bans E-Cigarettes Amid Growing Global Vaping Concerns
- India banned the sale, storage, production, and advertisement of e-cigarette products on Wednesday, citing concerns over an “epidemic” among youth people.
- Penalties for violators include fines and jail sentences between 1-3 years.
- The ban comes amid increasing worldwide concerns over the health risks of vaping, as well as its appeal to younger generations.
E-Cigarette Ban Takes Effect
The Indian government announced a complete ban of e-cigarette products on Wednesday out of concern over the potential health risks of vaping and its rising popularity among young people.
“These novel products come with attractive appearances and multiple flavours and their use has increased exponentially and acquired epidemic proportions in developed countries, especially among youth and children,” said a spokesperson from India’s health ministry.
The new ordinance prohibits the manufacture, sale, storage, and advertisement of all e-cigarette products. It doesn’t actually ban the use of e-cigarettes, but essentially restricts users from buying refills for their vapes.
Those with stocks of e-cigarettes have been warned to declare and deposit them with police. Penalties for violators of the ban include up to one year in jail and a fine of 100,000 rupees (about $1,400 USD) for first-time offenders. Repeat offenders could face up to three years behind bars, along with a 500,000 rupee fine (about $7,000 USD).
“The decision was made keeping in mind the impact that e-cigarettes have on the youth of today,” India’s finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, told reporters in the capital, New Delhi.
Sitharaman suggested India’s youth are viewing e-cigarettes as a “style statement,” and noted that companies behind the vaping products have pitched vaping as a way to curb existing smokers off cigarettes.
Dr. Harsh Vardhan, the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Science and Technology, Earth Sciences, called the ban a “quantum jump towards healthy living.”
Global Vaping Concerns
E-cigarettes were previously banned in some parts of India before the ordinance was approved, following a government health advisory issued in August of last year. In May 2019, the Indian Council of Medical Research published a paper recommending a complete ban.
The ban highlights the increasing worldwide concern over vaping health risks and its popularity among young people. U.S. health officials are currently investigating a series of deaths linked to vaping, along with hundreds of cases of suspected vaping related illnesses. The CDC said this week that it activated its emergency operations center to better investigate the outbreak of lung injuries associated with e-cigarettes. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has said it is working to ban flavored e-cigarettes, also citing product flavors as a feature that appeals to younger generations.
Michigan recently became the first U.S. state to ban flavored e-cigarettes earlier this month and New York followed suit with its own ban earlier this week.
Singapore has already banned e-cigarettes and Japan allows some vaping products but bans the sale of nicotine e-cigarette juice.
India has 106 million adult smokers, second only to China in the world, making it a prime market for e-cigarette companies like Juul Labs and Philip Morris International to expand to. However, this ban now prevents vaping companies from moving forward with any potential expansion plans in the country.
The ban on e-cigarettes will need formal approval from the president, though this step is typically considered a formality. According to Reuters, the Indian health ministry expects the ban to be challenged in court.
Supporters of vaping have argued that the ban will deprive smokers of a potentially less dangerous alternative to traditional cigarettes, which might cause them to revert back. However, the health ministry says it’s in the public’s best interest to ensure that younger people don’t become hooked on these products.
Milind Deora, a former Minister for Telecom, IT, Posts, Shipping and Ports, called the ban “half-baked” in a tweet. He asked the government to take the next step and ban all tobacco products. Traditional cigarettes are legal in India, however, they are highly taxed.
See what others are saying: (Reuters) (The Guardian) (NPR)
Netanyahu’s Future Uncertain After Israeli Election. Here’s What You Need to Know
- Israel held its second election in five months, which came after its parliament dissolved itself and triggered new elections in May when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to form a government.
- With 95% of the votes counted, Netanyahu has won 32 seats, while his main opponent, Benny Gantz has won 33 seats. Neither have gained enough votes to meet the 61-seat majority required to be prime minister.
- Once all of the votes are in, Israel’s president will decide who has the best chance to form a government.
- Many have viewed the election as a referendum on Netanyahu, who is facing indictment over corruption and bribery charges on Oct. 2.
Results are still coming in from Israel’s second election in five months, which many have viewed as a referendum on long-time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu and his Likud Party won the first election in April by a fraction of a percent, beating out Benny Gantz, the leader of the new White and Blue party.
The election, held Tuesday, comes after Netanyahu failed to form a government in the allotted time period back in May. As a result, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, voted to dissolve itself and hold new elections.
With 95% of the vote counted, right now it looks like Gantz’s Blue and White party has just a one-seat lead over Netanyahu’s Likud party. Gantz currently holds 33 seats and Netanyahu holds 32.
Now, there are two main options for what happens next.
Option 1: Unity Government
The first option is for the Likud and the Blue and White parties to form what’s called a national unity government. Under that system, the two parties would come up with a power-sharing agreement and pool their seats to form a majority.
But there’s a big catch here: Gantz has said he would not form a unity government with Netanyahu as the leader of the Likud as long as Netanyahu faces indictment.
Netanyahu is currently facing charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust that stem from three different corruption cases against him. He has denied the charges and is set to have a pre-trial hearing starting in just two weeks on Oct. 2.
As a result, Netanyahu is unlikely to agree to a unity government where he is not the leader. Especially because many believe he would try to get parliament to pass a last-minute immunity deal for him, something many experts say could be his only shot at avoiding possible indictment.
Option 2: Coalition Government
The second option is for Netanyahu and Gantz to try to piece together coalitions with the smaller parties to form a majority.
For that to happen, we have to look to the blocs– the alliances that parties form based on their political and ideological opinions.
There are two main blocs in Israel’s parliament: the center-left bloc, which includes the Blue and White Party, and the right-wing bloc, which includes Likud.
According to the current unofficial election results, both Gantz’s center-left bloc and Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc are expected to get 56 seats each.
Again, not enough seats for either to have a majority.
That leaves the other eight seats, all of which are expected to go to one party– Yisrael Beiteinu, a secular ultranationalist party led by Avigdor Lieberman.
Yisrael Beiteinu’s political leanings would normally place them with the right-wing bloc. In fact, Lieberman even served in Netanyahu’s cabinet in the past. However, Lieberman has been at odds with Netanyahu and is unlikely to throw his weight behind him.
Lieberman refused to join forces with Netanyahu after he won the election back in April unless Netanyahu supported a bill that would require ultra-Orthodox men to participate in Israel’s mandatory military conscription.
But if Netanyahu had supported the bill, he would lose the support of the ultra-Orthodox, which held 16 seats he needed. All of that, of course, ultimately resulted in Netanyahu dissolving the government and holding new elections.
Again, so much power to decide the next prime minister is in Lieberman ’s hands, which is why the Israeli media often refers to him as the “kingmaker.”
Lieberman, for his part, has said he wants a unity government between his party, the Blue and White Party, and the Likud.
Netanyahu’s Hold on Power
Netanyahu remains adamantly opposed to a unity government.
Speaking in an announcement after meeting with members of his right-wing bloc, Netanyahu said the bloc “decided unanimously that we’re going forward together to negotiations that will establish a government led by me.”
“Now there are only two possibilities — a government led by me, or a dangerous government that depends on the Arabs,” he continued. “Now more than ever, with the vast security challenges that lie ahead for the country, a government must not be established that depends on anti-Zionist Arab parties. That’s our commitment to the country and to our voters.”
It should not come as a surprise that Netanyahu will try almost anything to cling to power, especially because the stakes have arguably never been higher for him. That has only been reflected in his efforts and rhetoric leading up to the election.
Last week, Netanyahu announced that he would annex part of the West Bank if re-elected. After that statement, Israel’s Central Election Committee fined the Likud $8,500 for illegal propaganda.
On Thursday, Netanyahu’s Facebook page’s chatbot was shut down for violating hate speech rules, after sending a message that said Israel’s Arab politicians “want to destroy us all.”
The Facebook bot was later brought back, only to be suspended again on Tuesday after it violated regulations that prohibit the publishing of voter surveys on Election Day.
The day before the election, Netanyahu gave two radio interviews, breaking a law that bars candidates from promoting themselves from 7 p.m. and on starting the night before the election.
The Likud party also allegedly persuaded an Israeli television station to report that surveillance cameras were being installed at “dozens” of polling places in Arab areas, which experts have said was part of an effort to suppress Arab turnout.
However, if that was the intent, it did not work. The turnout from Israel’s Arab population, which composes about 20% of the whole country, was much higher than the last election.
Once the final votes are in, Israel’s president will choose the candidate he thinks will have the best chance of forming a majority government. Usually, that goes to whoever has the most seats, but not always.