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Trump Ordered Strikes on Iran, Then Called Them Off

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  • President Donald Trump ordered air strikes on Iran, but later canceled the strikes after the operation was reportedly underway.
  • Trump ordered the strike after Iran shot down a U.S. drone on Thursday.
  • Iran said the drone was in their airspace, but the U.S. claimed it was in international waters.
  • In a series of tweets, Trump explained that he called off the attack after being informed that it would cause 150 casualties.

Iran Strike Ordered, Then Cancelled

President Donald Trump ordered air strikes on Iran after the country shot down a U.S. surveillance drone Thursday, but then called off the operations at the last moment.

In a series of tweets Friday morning, Trump said he called off the strikes after he was told they would cause 150 casualties, which was “not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.”

Trump claimed that the U.S. was “cocked & loaded to retaliate” against Iran, but he stopped the attacks “10 minutes before the strike” was set to launch.

A senior administration official who spoke to the New York Times, which first reported that Trump had canceled the strikes, said that the operation was well underway when Trump decided to call it off.

“Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down,” the Times reported.

The U.S. Drone and Iran

Earlier on Thursday, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said it shot down a U.S. surveillance drone that had flown into Iran’s airspace.

U.S. Central Command confirmed shortly after that the drone had in fact been shot down, but argued that it was in international airspace.  

The commander of the IRGC’s aerospace division said in an interview with Iran’s state-run broadcaster on Friday that Iran had given “warnings” to the drone before they shot it down.

“When it did not redirect its route and continued flying toward and into our territory, we had to shoot it,” he said. “Our national security is a red line.”

U.S. Central Command disputed that version of events, saying in a statement that the incident was “an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset in international airspace.”

Iran on Thursday released footage it said showed that the U.S. drone was shot down in Iranian territory.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also shared GPS coordinates that place the drone eight miles off Iran’s coast, which would place the drone inside the 12 nautical miles from the shore that legally belong to Iran under international law.

“We don’t seek war, but will zealously defend our skies, land & waters,” Zarif wrote in the tweet. “We’ll take this new aggression to #UN & show that the US is lying about international waters.”

The Defense Department responded by providing a rendered map of the drone’s flight path, which they argued showed that the drone never entered Iranian airspace.

Mixed Messages

Trump’s decision to strike Iran and his subsequent reversal is another example of the president’s hesitancy to start a conflict in the Middle East, even as more hawkish officials in his administration push for a more confrontational approach.

While meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House on Thursday, Trump spoke to journalists about Iran. When asked if the U.S. intended on striking Iran in retaliation, Trump responded, “You’ll soon find out.”

“They’re going to find out they made a very big mistake,” he said. “I have a feeling that it was a mistake made by somebody that shouldn’t have been doing what they did […] it could have been someone loose and stupid.”

He also said that it made a “big, big difference” that the drone was unmanned.

According to the New York Times, Trump’s national security advisers were divided on whether or not to respond militarily to Iran. Senior administration officials told the Times that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and C.I.A Director Gina Haspel were in favor of a military response.

However, top Pentagon officials worried that airstrikes could cause risk escalation, as striking Iran could be considered an act of war under international norms.

Pompeo and Bolton have often alluded to responding to Iran with military force, even as Trump has reiterated that he would prefer other alternatives.

Escalating tensions between Iran and the U.S. were further complicated in recent weeks. On Monday, Iran announced that it would exceed the amount of uranium it has been allowed to stockpile under the 2015 nuclear deal in 10 days, if European nations did not do more to alleviate U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran.

Last Thursday, the U.S. blamed Iran for attacks on two tankers off the coast of Oman. Iran denied the accusations.

Pompeo responded to the attacks during an interview with Fox & Friends on Sunday, where he said 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 contrast, Trump said in an interview with Fox & Friends last Friday that while Iran did attack the tankers, he was not looking for war, and instead favored engagement with the 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 Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Al Jazeera)

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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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Greta Thunberg To Skip U.N. Climate Change Conference, Citing Vaccine Inequality

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  • Young environmental activist Greta Thunberg will not attend the U.N.’s climate change conference set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland this November.
  • “Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem,” the 18-year-old tweeted Friday, adding, “Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions.”
  • Since rollouts began late last year, 40% of vaccines have been administered in wealthy and Western countries, according to The Washington Post.
  • Scientists have warned that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg Points To Vaccine Inequality

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has said she is skipping the UN’s climate change conference.

The COP26 summit is set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November, but 18-year-old Thunberg told BBC she won’t attend because she’s concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on attendance.

In a Twitter thread Friday, she responded to a headline about her plans to miss the summit.

“Of course I would love to attend…But not unless everyone can take part on the same terms. Right now many countries are vaccinating healthy young people, often at the expense of risk groups and front line workers (mainly from global south, as usual…),” she wrote.

“Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem.”

“Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions,” the teen continued.

Thunberg went on to say that if the summit is delayed, it doesn’t mean urgent action should too.

“We don’t have to wait for conferences nor anyone or anything else to dramatically start reducing our emissions. Solidarity and action can start today,” she added before noting that digital alternatives for the conference would also be insufficient.

“High speed internet connection and access to computers is extremely unequal in the world. In that case we would lack representation from those whose voices need to be heard the most when it comes to the climate crisis,” she wrote.

Data on Global Vaccine Distribution Efforts

According to The Washington Post, nearly 20% of people in the United States are now vaccinated, but many other countries are unlikely to hit that same metric by the end of the year, even with international assistance through the Covax program.

Current projections predict it could be years before developing countries distribute enough doses to come close to herd immunity, which scientists say requires inoculating around 70-80% of a population.

Since rollouts began late last year, enough shots have been distributed to fully vaccinate about 5% of the world’s population, but The Post reported that the vast majority have been administered in wealthy and Western countries.

Around 40% of vaccines have been given in 27 wealthy nations that include only 11% of the world’s population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

That’s pretty concerning because scientists also warn that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg’s comments are a blow for U.K. organizers, who have already postponed the conference once from last November because of the pandemic. Even now, there has been speculation that it could be delayed again this year.

Thunberg would not play a formal role at the conference but her decision not to attend is a significant symbolic moment.

At COP25, the young climate change activist gave a headline speech and she typically attends major climate events of this nature. On top of that, reports say this summit was slated to be one of the most consequential climate conferences since the 2015 Paris accord.

On the agenda for this year’s conference discussions were country-level plans for cutting carbon emissions, along with progress on the Paris agreement and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (CNBC) (The Washington Post)

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