Israel Cautions Biden against Rejoining Iran Deal
Israel is cautioning the Biden administration against rejoining the Iran nuclear deal, just one day after Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. was prepared to restart negotiations with an eye toward reviving an international commitment that the Trump administration abandoned three years ago. “Israel believes that going back to the old nuclear agreement will pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal. We remain committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the announcement during a video meeting with the foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Germany, known as the E3, saying the U.S. will return to its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as long as Iran does the same. “If Iran comes back into strict compliance with its commitments under the JCPOA, the United States will do the same and is prepared to engage in discussions with Iran toward that end,” a joint statement from the U.S., Britain, France, and Germany. The four nations along with Russia and China were the original signatories of the agreement. The four countries also expressed concern about Iran limiting the access of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iran’s nuclear program. “The E3 and the United States are united in underlining the dangerous nature of a decision to limit IAEA access, and urge Iran to consider the consequences of such grave action, particularly at this time of renewed diplomatic opportunity,” the statement said. An Israeli official told Axios that the U.S. made them aware of the announcement in advance. “We are in close contact with the United States on this matter,” the official said. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to the statement from the U.S. and E-3, accusing the U.S. of “economic terrorism.” “Instead of putting onus on Iran, they must abide by own commitments and demand an end to Trump’s legacy of economic terrorism against Iran,” he said. Iran has moved steadily away from the requirements of the Obama-era nuclear deal since May of 2018, when President Trump pulled out of the agreement and reimposed crippling sanction on the state terror sponsor. The deal, which was the signature foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration, gave Tehran billions of dollars in relief from sanctions in exchange for a promise to temporarily curb its nuclear program. Last month, Iran announced that it will ramp up its uranium enrichment to the highest levels since the 2015 deal was signed. Tehran said it would boost uranium enrichment to 20 percent in its underground Fordo nuclear facility, just a small technical step away from the 90 percent enrichment required to build a nuclear weapon. Earlier this month, President Biden said that the U.S. will not lift sanctions against Iran to convince the nation to return to the negotiating table unless Tehran halts its uranium-enrichment efforts. Shortly beforehand, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made the opposite demand, saying America must be prepared to lift all sanctions on Iran in order for the country to retire its nuclear expansion and return to its commitments under the nuclear deal.
Israel expands nuclear facility previously used for weapons material
Satellite images show significant expansion of desert site over past few years Benjamin Netanyahu speaking last week. Israel has a policy of deliberate ambiguity about its nuclear arsenal. Photograph: Menahem Kahana/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock Israel is carrying out a major expansion of its Dimona nuclear facility in the Negev desert, where it has historically made the fissile material for its nuclear arsenal. Construction work is evident in new satellite images published on Thursday by the International Panel on Fissile Material (IPFM), an independent expert group. The area being worked on is a few hundred metres across to the south and west of the domed reactor and reprocessing point at the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center, near the desert town of Dimona. Pavel Podvig, a researcher with the programme on science and global security at Princeton University, said: “It appears that the construction started quite early in 2019, or late 2018, so it’s been under way for about two years, but that’s all we can say at this point.” The Israeli embassy in Washington had no comment on the new images. Israel has a policy of deliberate ambiguity on its nuclear arsenal, neither confirming nor denying its existence. The Federation of American Scientists estimates that Israel has about 90 warheads, made from plutonium produced in the Dimona heavy water reactor. The nuclear facility is reported to have been used by Israel to create replicas of Iran’s uranium centrifuges to test the Stuxnet computer worm used to sabotage the Iranian uranium enrichment programme in Natanz. But that more than 10 years ago, long before the current expansion began. Israel built the Dimona reactor in the 1950s with extensive, clandestine help from the French government. By the end of the decade there were an estimated 2,500 French citizens living in Dimona, which had its own French lycées but all under the cover of official deniability. According to The Samson Option, by the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, French workers were not allowed to write home directly but had their letters sent via a phoney post-office box in Latin America. Dimona’s role in Israel’s nuclear weapons programme was first disclosed by a former technician at the site, Mordechai Vanunu, who told his story to Britain’s Sunday Times in 1986. Before publication, he was lured from Britain to Italy by a female Israeli agent and abducted by Mossad. Vanunu spent 18 years in prison, 11 of them in solitary confinement, for revealing Dimona’s secrets.
U.S. immigration agents ordered to focus on serious criminals, recent border crossers
The U.S. government issued interim guidance on Thursday sharply limiting who can be arrested and deported by immigration agents, a move that comes as the Biden administration faces growing pressure from activists to scale back deportations. The guidelines instruct Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to focus on immigrants deemed national security and public safety threats and those who entered the United States after Nov. 1, 2020. “Like every law enforcement agency at the local, state, and federal level, we must prioritize our efforts to achieve the greatest security and safety impact,” acting ICE Director Tae Johnson said in a statement.
Yellen says U.S. will keep tariffs on China in place for now
The United States will keep tariffs imposed on Chinese goods by the former Trump administration in place for now, but will evaluate how to proceed after a thorough review, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told CNBC on Thursday. “For the moment, we have kept the tariffs in place that were put in by the Trump administration … and we’ll evaluate going forward what we think is appropriate,” Yellen told the cable news network, adding that Washington expected Beijing to adhere to its commitments on trade. Asked if tariffs worked, Yellen hesitated, then said, “We’ll look at that.”
Jerusalem’s Old City turns white after rare snowfall
Jerusalem woke up to the rare experience of seeing its holy sites covered in snow on Thursday, with the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall under a layer of white after an overnight snowstorm. The snowstorm began on Wednesday evening, leading the authorities to shut down public transportation and block the main road to Jerusalem.
UAE dismantles Eritrea base as it pulls back after Yemen war
The United Arab Emirates is dismantling parts of a military base it runs in the East African nation of Eritrea after it pulled back from the grinding war in nearby Yemen, satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press show. The UAE built a port and expanded an airstrip in Assab beginning in September 2015, using the facility as a base to ferry heavy weaponry and Sudanese troops into Yemen as it fought alongside a Saudi-led coalition against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels there.
Israel sounds alarm after U.S. backs nuclear talks with Iran
The Israeli government has raised concerns about Secretary of State Tony Blinken’s announcement on Thursday that the U.S. is willing to open discussions with Iran about returning to the 2015 nuclear deal.What they’re saying: “Israel believes that going back to the old nuclear agreement will pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal. We remain committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.Get market news worthy of your time with Axios Markets. Subscribe for free.Why it matters: The Iranian issue is the main point of friction between Israel and the Biden administration, just as it was between Netanyahu and the Obama administration.Israeli officials say the U.S. notified Israel in advance about the announcement. “We are in close contact with the United States on this matter,” an Israeli official said.Driving the news: Following a video conference on Thursday with his counterparts from France, Germany and the U.K., Blinken said the U.S. was prepared to discuss a path back to full, mutual compliance with the deal, which the Trump administration pulled out of and Iran is violating.Enrique Mora, a senior EU foreign policy official, then proposed an informal meeting of diplomats from Iran and the six world powers that signed the nuclear deal.Minutes later, the State Department issued a statement saying the U.S. was prepared to attend such a meeting. “The goal of coming together would be to sit down and to see what could be a prolonged path of trying to get back to a situation where both the U.S. and Iran were back into compliance,” a State Department official said.The U.S. took several other Iran-related steps on Thursday: America’s acting representative to the UN submitted a letter to members of the UN Security Council reversing the Trump administration’s efforts to snap UN sanctions on Iran backed into place.The U.S. mission to the UN also notified the Iranian mission that all travel restrictions imposed by the Trump administration on Iranian diplomats in the U.S. would be lifted. What’s next: On Feb. 23, Iran is expected to withdraw from the “additional protocol” of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.That would see Iran curtail its cooperation with UN inspectors, suspending their ability to conduct unannounced visits to nuclear sites. Experts see that as the most damaging stepThe U.S. is waiting to see whether the meeting proposal could help delay the Iranian steps.More from Axios: Sign up to get the latest market trends with Axios Markets. Subscribe for free
Pelosi says Capitol attack commission must have subpoena power
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday that the “9/11 style” commission investigating the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol must have subpoena powers in order to be successful. The big picture: Subpoena powers will give the commission the ability to call witnesses for testimony — including uncooperative ones. Calls for a commission have grown since impeachment charges against former President Trump failed in the Senate last weekend. Get market news worthy of your time with Axios Markets. Subscribe for free.Republican lawmakers are arguing that the commission will need to be genuinely bipartisan in order to be successful. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told The Dispatch Thursday morning that the commission “must be evenly split between both parties.”Rep. Liz Cheney also said the commission “needs to have subpoena power” and “should be made up of retired officials from both parties.”Over the weekend, Sen. Lindsey Graham, an ardent supporter of Trump’s, voiced support for a commission to “make sure it never happens again.”More from Axios: Sign up to get the latest market trends with Axios Markets. Subscribe for free
Biden rolling out plan for $4 billion global vaccine effort
Joe Biden will use his first big presidential moment on the global stage at Friday’s Group of Seven meeting of world leaders to announce that the U.S. will soon begin releasing $4 billion for an international effort to bolster the purchase and distribution of coronavirus vaccine to poor nations, White House officials said. Biden will also encourage G-7 partners to make good on their pledges to COVAX, an initiative by the World Health Organization to improve access to vaccines, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to preview Biden’s announcement. Former President Donald Trump declined to participate in the COVAX initiative because of its ties to WHO, the Geneva-based agency that Trump accused of covering up China’s missteps in handling the virus at the start of the public health crisis.
Ted Cruz says he travelled to Cancun during huge Texas storm to be a ‘good dad’
The Texas senator Ted Cruz has claimed he was just being “a good dad” for taking a controversial family vacation in a sunny Mexican beach resort as his home state faced a deadly winter storm that left millions without power or water. The firebrand Republican was returning to Houston from Cancun on Thursday following furious criticism of his trip and confirmation from the city’s police chief that officers were employed to help speed his passage through the airport before his outward flight the day before. “With school cancelled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends,” Mr Cruz, who has two young daughters, said in a statement released by his office on Thursday afternoon. “Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon.” The statement followed reports that Mr Cruz had originally booked the return leg of his “long planned vacation” for Saturday, but brought forward the flight by two days as the trip became public knowledge and the backlash began. The controversy came as Texas residents continued to suffer, a major new winter storm dumping more snow on the state on Thursday before sweeping off east towards the Atlantic coast states and easing conditions a little. But officials warned Texans not to expect respite from sub-zero temperatures until at least Saturday, with residents who have been without water, power or heat for days facing further delays to the restoration of their supplies, and some badly affected hospitals evacuating patients to other facilities. Later on Thursday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas that manages the state’s power grid, said it had made “significant progress” in restoration, with little more than 500,000 customers still in the dark, down from a peak of 4.4 million.
India criticises U.N. experts who voiced concern over Kashmir
India has criticised UN rights experts for voicing concerns about constitutional changes made in the Muslim-majority territory of Kashmir, where militants have been fighting for independence for three decades. A statement released by the two special rapporteurs on minority issues and freedom of religion or belief on Thursday called into question their neutrality and objectivity, Foreign Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said. In their statement, the special rapporteurs said a decision by the Indian government last year to end the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir state and enact new laws could curtail the political participation of Muslims.
Jerusalem’s Old City turns white with snow
Before dawn children were up hurling snowballs at each other outside the Old City gates, as the faithful trudged to sites holy to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.The snowstorm began on Wednesday evening (February 17) leading the authorities to shut down public transportation and block the main road to Jerusalem.But as it eased overnight the municipality said it would resume services, and people even drove to see the spectacle.
Griffin Says ‘There’s No Doubt’ Short Selling Will Be Curbed
(Bloomberg) — Citadel founder Ken Griffin said the Reddit-fueled market turmoil last month will diminish the amount of short selling by hedge funds.“There’s no doubt in the foreseeable future the amount of short selling will be reduced by the events of the last couple of weeks,” Griffin said Friday in an interview with CNBC.A day earlier, Griffin testified before the House Financial Services Committee along with the heads of Reddit, Robinhood Markets and Melvin Capital Management. Robinhood’s decision to limit trading in shares of GameStop Corp. and other stocks angered retail investors and prompted the hearing.Read more: Robinhood, Citadel Spar With Lawmakers Over Retail Trading Citadel, Griffin and his partners invested $2 billion in Melvin, which incurred heavy losses wagering against GameStop and other companies. Citadel’s hedge fund business has about $34 billion under management. (Updates with GameStop in third paragraph.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.