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Iran Threatens to Violate Nuclear Deal’s Limits on Uranium

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  • 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.

Announcement

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.”

Tanker Attack

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.”

Escalating Tensions

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.”

Response

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)

International

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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International

Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion

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  • Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
  • The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
  • The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.

Ever Given Still in Egypt

An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.

The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.

The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.

Pushing Back Against The Claim

While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”

“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”

It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.

See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)

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Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean

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  • The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
  • The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
  • Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
  • Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Radioactive or Bad Publicity?

After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”

While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.

According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.

Something Had To Eventually Be Done

Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.

The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.

The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.

Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.

“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.

To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (KBS World) (NBC News)

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