IAEA Says Iran Is Sticking to Nuclear Deal

Iran has remained within the main restrictions on its nuclear activities imposed by a 2015 deal with major powers, a confidential report by the U.N. atomic watchdog indicated Thursday.

In its second quarterly report since President Donald Trump announced in May that the United States would quit the accord and reimpose sanctions, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran had stayed within the caps on uranium enrichment levels, enriched uranium stocks and other items.

In its last report in May, the IAEA had said Iran could do more to cooperate with inspectors and thereby “enhance confidence”, but stopped short of saying the Islamic Republic had given it cause for concern. Thursday’s report to member states seen by Reuters contained similar language.

It said the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog was able to carry out all so-called complementary access inspections needed to verify Iran’s compliance with the deal.

“Timely and proactive cooperation by Iran in providing such access facilitates implementation of the Additional Protocol and enhances confidence,” said the report, which was distributed to IAEA member states.

“The production rate [of enriched uranium] is constant. There is no change whatsoever,” a senior diplomat added.

With the United States reimposing its sanctions on Iran that were lifted under the nuclear deal, many diplomats and analysts now doubt that the accord will survive despite European Union efforts to counter some of the effects of Trump’s move.

Sticking to the nuclear accord is not the only way forward for Iran, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Thursday. “Being the party to still honor the deal in deeds & not just words is not Iran’s only option,” he said on Twitter.

​EU action urged

Speaking after the IAEA report was sent to the agency’s member states, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the deal was still holding, despite the U.S. withdrawal.

He urged his fellow ministers, who met in Vienna on Thursday to discuss EU policy on Iran, to do more to protect Tehran from U.S. sanctions, calling for “permanent financial mechanisms that allow Iran to continue to trade.”

The EU implemented a law this month to shield European companies from the impact of U.S. sanctions on Tehran and has approved aid for the Iranian private sector, although large European companies are pulling out of Iran.

Adhering to the deal should bring Iran economic benefits, Zarif said. “If preserving [the accord] is the goal, then there is no escape from mustering the courage to comply with commitment to normalize Iran’s economic relations instead of making extraneous demands,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.

On Wednesday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cast doubt on the ability of EU countries to save the agreement and said Tehran might abandon it.

Khamenei told President Hassan Rouhani not to rely too much on European support as he came under increased pressure at home over his handling of the economy in the face of U.S. sanctions, with key ministers under attack by parliament.

Le Drian, whose country signed the Iran deal along with Britain, Germany, China, Russia and the United States under then-President Barack Obama, said Tehran should be ready to negotiate on its future nuclear plans, its ballistic missile arsenal and its role in wars in Syria and Yemen.

Those issues were not covered by the 2015 deal, and Trump has cited this as a major reason for pulling Washington out of it.

Le Drian said Iran, which says its missiles are only for defense, was arming regional allies with rockets and allowing “ballistic proliferation,” adding: “Iran needs to avoid the temptation to be the [regional] hegemon.”

Iran has ruled out negotiations on its ballistic missiles and broader Middle Eastern role.

Afghan Taliban Urges Retaliation for Planned Dutch Cartoon Contest

The Taliban urged Afghan soldiers on Thursday to attack Dutch troops serving in the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in retaliation for a contest of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad planned by far-right

politician Geert Wilders.

The Taliban threat was issued shortly before Wilders announced Thursday that he was calling off the contest because it posed too great a threat of provoking violence against innocents.

In a statement, the Taliban’s main spokesman called the contest a blasphemous action and a hostile act by the Netherlands against all Muslims.

Members of the Afghan security forces, “if they truly believe themselves to be Muslims or have any covenant towards Islam, should turn their weapons on Dutch troops” or help Taliban fighters attack them, the statement said.

Around 100 Dutch troops are serving in the 16,000-strong Resolute Support mission to train and advise Afghan forces, according to the Dutch defense ministry. About half of the NATO-led force is made up of Americans.

Wilders’ far-right Freedom Party, which has become the second largest in the Netherlands, announced the competition in June, saying it had the right to hold it under freedom-of-speech laws.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had said that he didn’t support the planned contest but that he would defend Wilders’ right to hold it.

Images of the Prophet Muhammad are traditionally forbidden in Islam, and caricatures are regarded by most Muslims as deeply offensive.

In 2005, a Danish newspaper published cartoons of the Prophet that sparked a wave of protests across the world. Ten years later, Islamist gunmen killed 12 people in an attack on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which had published similar caricatures.

Republican US Senator Asks FTC to Examine Google Ads

U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch on Thursday added to the growing push in Washington to have the Federal Trade Commission rekindle an antitrust investigation of Alphabet Inc’s Google.

Hatch, the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter to FTC Chairman Joseph Simons recounting several news reports that identified complaints about Google’s anti-competitive conduct and privacy practices.

Alphabet shares were little changed after the release of the letter. The company declined to comment.

Lawmakers from both major parties and Google’s rivals have said this year they see an opening for increased regulation of large technology companies under the FTC’s new slate of commissioners.

Google’s critics say that ongoing European antitrust action against the web search leader and this year’s data privacy scandal involving Facebook Inc and political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica demonstrate their concerns about the unchecked power of the tech heavyweights. About 90 percent of search engine queries in the United States flow through Google.

Facebook and Twitter executives are expected to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on September 5 about their  efforts to deter foreign campaigns from spreading misinformation online ahead November’s midterm elections. Lawmakers have criticized Alphabet for not scheduling a top executive, such as Chief Executive Larry Page, for the hearings.

In 2013, the FTC closed a lengthy investigation of Google after finding insufficient evidence that consumers were harmed by how the company displayed search results from rivals. President Donald Trump accused Google’s search engine on Tuesday of promoting negative news articles and hiding “fair media” coverage of him.

Trump’s economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, later said the White House was “taking a look” at Google, and that the administration would do “some investigation and some analysis,” without providing further details.

Earlier this year, Representative Keith Ellison, a Democrat, and Representative Todd Rokita, a Republican, sent separate letters asking the FTC to probe Google.

Simon, the new Republican chairman of the FTC, said in July the agency would keep a close eye on big tech companies that dominate the internet.

An FTC representative was not immediately available for comment.

Hatch, at event hosted by reviews website and Google rival Yelp Inc in May, said moves made by “an entrenched monopolist” deserve extra skepticism.

“They may well be used, not to further consumer welfare, but to foreclose competitors,” he said, according to prepared remarks.

Yelp, a local-search service, said in a statement that Hatch’s letter was “heartening to see” as it underscored the bipartisan plea for FTC scrutiny of Google.

US Warns Russia to Stop Harassing Ships Headed to Ukraine

The Trump administration told Russia on Thursday to stop what it said was harassment of international shipping vessels in the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait aimed at trying to weaken Ukraine’s economy.

“Russia’s actions to impede maritime transit are further examples of its ongoing campaign to undermine and destabilize Ukraine, as well as its disregard for international norms,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. 

The U.S. accused Russia of delaying commercial ships since April and stopping at least 16 commercial ships from reaching Ukranian ports.

Relations between Russia and Ukraine have deteriorated since Moscow illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region and provoked conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko observed Ukraine’s Independence Day last week by announcing that his country had “cut all ties with the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.”

The Kremlin did not immediately respond to the U.S. request. 

Thousands of Yemeni Civilians Caught in Conflict Need Protection, UN Says

The U.N. refugee agency reports it is scaling up its operation in Yemen to meet the urgent protection needs of thousands of Yemenis displaced by fighting in the strategic port city of Hodeidah. 

More than 300,000 people have fled their homes since the Saudi-led coalition began its military offensive in June to capture the Houthi-held port city of Hodeidah.

So far, U.N. and international pressure has prevented an all-out attack on the port itself, a situation that most agree would be calamitous. About 80 percent of all food and humanitarian aid is imported through this Red Sea port. Were it to be knocked out, the U.N. fears this could trigger a famine throughout the country.

The conflict has escalated significantly over the past three months. The U.N. refugee agency reports this is increasing the dangers for civilians trying to leave conflict areas. UNHCR spokesman, William Spindler, said some people are particularly vulnerable and in need of urgent protection.

“Most prominent among them are the specific needs of children who may be separated from their families, and of women, who may be at risk of sexual harassment and violence either during flight or when living in overcrowded settings,” Spindler said.

“Another common concern is the loss of livelihoods, exacerbated by a decline in purchasing power due to increasing food prices, and the decline in value of the Yemeni currency, the riyal,” Spindler added.  

Spindler said UNHCR and partners have identified more than 70,000 of the most vulnerable displaced people throughout the country. He says they are being provided with a wide-range of assistance, including multipurpose cash, rental subsidies and referrals to specialized services, such as psychological counseling and legal assistance.


TV Cameraman Shot Dead in Cancun

A cameraman from a TV station in the Caribbean beach destination of Cancun has been shot to death, according to local authorities.

The Quintana Roo state prosecutor’s office said Javier Rodriguez Valladares of the Canal 10 station was shot to death along with another man Wednesday evening.

Authorities were investigating, but initially said it didn’t appear to be work related because he was off duty. Journalists have often been targeted while not working.

The Quintana Roo Human Rights Commission said in a statement that Valladares was the third journalist killed in the state this year.

In July, Ruben Pat Cahuich, the director of the online news site in Playa del Carmen, Playa News Aqui y Ahora, was killed. In June, police reporter Jose Guadalupe Chan Dzib from the same outlet was killed.

Paris-based Reporters without Borders condemned Rodriguez’s murder.

“Quintana Roo authorities must undertake an exhaustive investigation of this case and identify as soon as possible those responsible for this cowardly killing,” said Emmanuel Colombie, director of the group’s Latin America office.

Rodriguez is at least the ninth journalist killed in Mexico this year. More than 30 have been killed during the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto who leaves office in three months.

In the first six months of 2018, the coastal state of Quintana Roo saw homicides rise 132 percent, to the equivalent of about 35 killings per 100,000 inhabitants.

Spain Orders Mass Deportation of African Migrants

Spain, known for having one of the most tolerant immigration policies in Europe and accepting boatloads of migrants when no other EU nation would, was expected to open its doors even wider under its new socialist government. But that policy now appears to be going in reverse.

In a country that has shunned anti-immigration currents prevalent in much of Europe, the mass expulsion of 166 Sub-Saharan Africans who forced their way through barbed wire fences last month and attacked guards along the Spanish north African enclave of Ceuta’s border with Morocco, has become an embarrassment for Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, officials and analysts say.

“Humanitarianism is not permissiveness” said Spanish interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska before a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday .”Orderly, secure and legal immigration is possible, but not violent migration that threatens our country and its security forces.”

More than 600 migrants stormed across six-meter-high fences onto Spanish territory on July 26, hurling acid and feces, and firing home made flame throwers at border guards.Several members of Spain’s Civil Guard police force were seriously injured in the struggle, triggering calls from their top commanders for an immediate crackdown.

Spain has generally enforced a policy granting asylum to migrants who reach Spanish soil by sea or through land borders around Ceuta and Melilla, enclaves that are surrounded by Morocco.

The asylum seekers are generally housed at temporary shelters while NGOs process their applications for EU free circulation passes.

Many come with plans to continue on to northern Europe where wages and benefits are better, causing other EU governments to complain about Spain’s relatively open border policies. French President Emmanuel Macron recently ordered the deportation of large numbers of African migrants who crossed into his country from Spain.

Within days of the Ceuta border assault, Spanish police rounded up 166 migrants from a shelter in Ceuta and drove them back across the border to Morocco, invoking a special extradition agreement negotiated between the two governments 25 years ago and which had rarely been implemented before.

The expulsions generated a political crisis for the new, untested prime minister Pedro Sanchez. The hard left United We Can party coalition, known in Spanish as “Unidos Podemos,” as well as Basque and Catalan nationalists on whose parliamentary support Sanchez’ minority government depends, accused him of violating human rights and of breaking his promises of a more compassionate policy.

Sanchez began his term in May with a decision to allow the migrant ship Aquarius to dock at Spanish ports after it was denied entry by Italy’s recently elected right wing government.He had also pledged to remove rolls of razor-sharp concertina wire attached to the border fences as requested by various human rights organizations.

Quoting the International Organization for Migration, conservative opposition leader Pablo Casado said immigration to Spain had tripled since the new government took office in June. He said authorities were taking emergency measures to strengthen border defenses that had been previously rejected by the socialists.

Spain’s daily newspaper El Mundo reported that angry calls from chiefs of the militarized Guardia Civil who threatened to resign if drastic measures were not taken to counter the attack on border units, forced the government’s hand.

A retired Civil Guard general who acts as a top advisor to the interior ministry, speaking anonymously, told VOA the gendarme forces were already strained in southern Spain.

“We have to start removing some these people and prevent too many more from getting here,” he said.

While last month’s forced entry at Ceuta was the most dramatic and violent experienced until now, it was not the first and could initiate a trend of even more serious future attacks, according to security analysts.

Grande-Marlaska said the group that broke through the fence displayed a high degree of organization. The interior minister said they used cutting tools, improvised weapons and coordinated tactics by which shock units held back police to open holes through which hundreds of others slipped through the fence.

Police arrested 10 more immigrants on Wednesday and authorities accused of them of leading the attacks against the Guardia Civil. Officials said the group’s ringleader is of Togolese origin and had experience in his country’s armed forces, including some paramilitary training.

Court Quashes Canada’s Approval of Pipeline

Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal on Thursday quashed the approval of the contentious Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that would nearly triple the flow of oil from the Alberta oil sands to the Pacific Coast.

The decision means the country’s National Energy Board will have to redo its review of the pipeline. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government approved Trans Mountain in 2016 and was so determined to see it built that it announced plans this spring to buy the pipeline.

It faces stiff environmental opposition from British Columbia’s provincial government and activists. Houston-based Kinder Morgan earlier halted essential spending on the project and said it would cancel it altogether if the national and provincial governments could not guarantee it.

In a written decision, the court said the energy board’s review was so flawed that the federal government could not rely on it to approve the pipeline. The court concluded the federal government failed in its duty to engage in meaningful consultations with First Nations before approving it.

“Meaningful consultation is not intended simply to allow indigenous peoples “to blow off steam,” the decision said.

The court decision is a blow to Trudeau, whose government is having a bad week after Canada was left out of new free trade deal with the U.S. and Mexico. Talks to include Canada are now taking place in Washington.

The pipeline would allow Canada to diversify oil markets and vastly increase exports to Asia, where it could command a higher price. Canada has the world’s third largest oil reserves, but 99 percent of its exports now go to refiners in the U.S., where limits on pipeline and refinery capacity mean Canadian oil sells at a discount.

Kinder Morgan shareholders voted overwhelmingly to approve the sale of the pipeline to the government not long after the court decision was announced.

Canada’s finance minister is due to speak later Thursday.

The court decision is a victory for indigenous leaders and environmentalists, who have pledged to do whatever necessary to thwart the pipeline, including chaining themselves to construction equipment. The Trans Mountain expansion would cause tanker traffic to balloon from about 60 to more than 400 vessels annually as the pipeline flow increases from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day.

Analysts have said China is eager to get access to Canada’s oil, but largely gave up hope that a pipeline to the Pacific Coast would be built.

Trudeau approved the expansion, arguing that it was “economically necessary,” and it enabled him to overcome opposition to a carbon tax plan that will help Canada cut its greenhouse emissions.

But many indigenous people see the 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) of new pipeline as a threat to their lands, echoing concerns raised by Native Americans about the Keystone XL project in the U.S. Many in Canada say it also raises broader environmental concerns by enabling increased development of the carbon-heavy oil sands.

“This is a great victory for Indigenous communities everywhere fighting against destructive projects being imposed upon their territories,” said Patrick McCully, climate and energy program director at Rainforest Action Network.

Norman Grows Into Category 4 Hurricane in Pacific

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Norman has grown into a Category 4 storm in the eastern Pacific Ocean and could become even stronger, though it poses no threat to land.

Forecasters say Norman had maximum sustained winds of 150 mph (240 kph) Thursday morning. It was centered about 630 miles (1,015 kilometers) west-southwest of the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula and was moving west at 8 mph (13 kph).

The Hurricane Center says Norman could grow even stronger before starting to weaken Friday night or Saturday.

Meanwhile, forecasters say a disturbance off the coast of Africa is likely to become a tropical storm over the next day or so as it moves westward. A tropical storm warning was posted for parts of the Cape Verde Islands.

Trump OKs Tariff Relief for Three Countries

U.S. President Donald Trump has signed proclamations permitting targeted relief from steel and aluminum quotas from some countries, the U.S. Commerce Department said on Wednesday.

Trump, who put in place tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in March, signed proclamations allowing relief from the quotas on steel from South Korea, Brazil and Argentina and on aluminum from Argentina, the department said in a statement.

“Companies can apply for product exclusions based on insufficient quantity or quality available from U.S. steel or aluminum producers,” the statement said. “In such cases, an exclusion from the quota may be granted and no tariff would be owed.”

Trump, citing national security concerns, placed tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imports.

The tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from the European Union, Canada and Mexico took effect June 1, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said May 31 that arrangements had been made with some countries to have non-tariff limits on their exports of the two metals to the United States.

Ross said the arrangement with South Korea was for a quota of 70 percent of average steel exports to the United States in the years 2015 to 2017.

The Brazilian government said at the time the U.S. quotas and tariffs on Brazil’s steel and aluminum exports were unjustified but that it remained open to negotiate a solution.

Brazilian semi-finished steel exports to the United States are subject to quotas based on the average for the three years from 2015-2017, while finished steel products will be limited to a quota of 70 percent of the average for those years.