USA – North Korea relations
Iran nuclear deal
- Iran announced that it had breached the limits for stockpiling low-enriched uranium set by the 2015 nuclear deal.
- This was the first time the Islamic Republic was violating the terms of the multilateral agreement, which had set a 300-kg cap for Iran’s enriched uranium stock.
- A few days later, Iran announced that it would breach another crucial term of the deal: the enrichment limit.
- For now, Iran is allowed to enrich uranium to 3.67% purity.
- Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has said that from July 7, Iran will enrich uranium “in any amount that we want”.
- These steps have angered the U.S., with U.S. President Donald Trump issuing fresh threats.
- Trump, in May 2018, unilaterally pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
- Other signatories to the deal, including Russia, China and the European powers, have also expressed concern over Iran’s move, which endangers the survival of the very agreement in question.
Iran to breach uranium enrichment cap
- Iran announced it will shortly boost its uranium enrichment above 67% cap set by a 2015 nuclear deal, a major breach likely to draw a tougher reaction from President Donald Trump who has pressured Tehran to renegotiate the pact.
- In a sign of heightening tensions, France, Germany and Britain — all parties to the deal — expressed concerns over Tehran’s decision.
- In a live news conference, senior Iranian officials said Tehran would keep reducing its commitments every 60 days, unless European signatories of the pact protect it from the U.S. sanctions imposed by President Trump.
- “We are fully prepared to enrich uranium at any level and with any amount,” said a spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation.
Why is Iran breaching the terms of the deal?
- The current crisis was set off by Mr. Trump when, in May 2018, he unilaterally pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
- The deal had promised to lift all international sanctions on Iran in return for the country scuttling its nuclear programme.
- With sanctions by the U.S. back, Tehran turned to other signatories to save the deal.
- But over the past year, most foreign companies that had promised investments in Iran during the brief U.S.-Iran détente pulled out of the country fearing American sanctions.
- Countries that had stepped up buying Iranian oil after the deal was signed, including India, started cutting back on imports. As a result, Iran’s oil exports plummeted.
- Iran now exports about 230,000 barrels of crude a day, down from 2.5 million barrels a day in May 2018.
- Inflation has soared to 35%, while the rial, the Iranian currency, has fallen by 70% since early 2018.
- Faced with tough choices, Iran decided to confront the U.S. and put pressure on other signatories to take bold steps to save the deal rather than capitulating to American pressure.
- The nuclear deal is a crucial bargaining card, and Tehran has decided to use it as a pressure tactic.
- In May 2019, Iran gave a 60-day deadline to other signatories to fix the deal and also vowed to keep unspent enriched uranium and heavy water with itself.
- As the deadline was almost over, Iran has announced that it has breached the uranium stockpile limit.
- The threat to breach the enrichment limit is the most serious one as highly enriched uranium can be used to build nuclear bombs.
Could Iran make the bomb?
- There are two paths to the bomb. One is using uranium and the other using plutonium. In the first, uranium is enriched to the weapons grade level using centrifuges. The enrichment increases the fraction of that isotope of uranium which makes up the bomb.
- In the second method, plutonium, produced as a waste material by heavy water reactors, will be reprocessed to enhance its purity.
- Iran’s official position is that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes and that it never sought to build weapons, a claim which western governments and the International Atomic Energy Agency have challenged in the past.
- Iran had a functional uranium-centred nuclear programme and it was in the advanced stages of building a heavy water reactor at the time nuclear negotiations started.
- When the deal was signed in 2015, Iran had a stockpile of 11,560 kg of low-enriched uranium. It had also enriched uranium to 20% purity.
- According to nuclear experts, if Iran can produce uranium to 20% purity, it is possible for the country to make the weapons-grade fuel — at 90% purity. Iran had also possessed some 20,000 centrifuges in 2015.
- In Arak, it was building a heavy water reactor.
- The nuclear deal has substantially reduced these capabilities. It set the enrichment limit at 3.67% and the limits to the low-enriched uranium stockpile at 300 kg.
- Under the deal, Iran had also placed two-thirds of its 20,000 centrifuges in storage, besides removing the core of the Arak heavy water reactor and fill it with concrete. The plan was to enhance the break-out time (the time required to build a bomb if Iran resumes its nuclear programme in its full potential) to at least a year. Now that its stockpile of uranium is rising and it is threatening to enrich high purity uranium, at least in theory, the distance between Iran and the bomb is shrinking. If Iran continues to violate the deal, redeploying the centrifuges and resuming construction of the Arak facility could be its next steps. That would allow Iran to reload its nuclear programme in full capacity.
What is next?
- Both the U.S. and Iran are currently on a confrontational path, while other signatories to the deal call for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
- The Trump administration wants Iran to return to talks on the U.S.’s terms.
- The reason Mr. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal was that he believed it was a “bad deal” that does not address Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its “subversive” activities in West Asia such as backing proxy militia So Washington wants to negotiate an agreement that addresses all these issues.
- Iran, on the other side, sees the Trump administration as the main disruptor of the deal and instigator of tensions in the Gulf.
- It wants either the U.S. to return to the deal or other signatories to save it sans the U.S.
- But the American sanctions make it difficult for other countries to save the agreement unless they are ready to take on the U.S.’s economic might, which is unlikely.
- This has created a dangerous stalemate in the nuclear crisis.
- If either the U.S. or Iran fails to back off from the brinkmanship, another military conflict in the Gulf cannot be ruled out.
Hong Kong protests
U.S. brands Balochistan Liberation Army terrorist group
- The U.S. designated militants fighting Pakistani rule in Balochistan as terrorists after it carried out deadly attacks targeting Chinese interests.
- The U. S. State Department said it was classifying the Balochistan Liberation Army as a global terrorist group, making it a crime for anyone in the United States to assist the militants and freezing any U.S. assets they may have.
- The Balochistan Liberation Army “is an armed separatist group that targets security forces and civilians, mainly in ethnic Baloch areas of Pakistan,” the State Department said.
- Pakistan has been fighting insurgents in the southwestern region since 2004, with the militants recently finding a new focus in rallying against China’s investment that is part of its major Belt and Road initiative.
- The Balochistan Liberation Army has targeted China in Pakistan multiple times, including a brazen attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi that killed four people in November 2018.
- In May 2019, five people were killed after gunmen stormed the only five-star hotel in Gwadar, the port city which Pakistan is hoping to develop into a commercial hub.
Pakistan pulled up by FATF
- Financial Action Task Force (FATF), in 2018, placed Pakistan on its “grey list” of countries with inadequate controls over money laundering and terrorism financing.
- FATF plenary’s ultimatum to Pakistan is to implement all the 27 points of action by October 2019.
- Pakistan was pulled up on four counts, at FATF plenary met in Orlando, U.S., in June 2019.
- These included:
- no investigation done by Pakistan against terror funding done by UN designated terrorists
- not freezing weapon stores, ammunition dumps of the terror outfits
- lack of implementation of legal provisions for targeted financial sanctions against all UN designated entities
- not stopping the sustenance allowance to terrorists given by the Pakistani government.
IMF approves $6 billion loan for Pakistan
- The International Monetary Fund Executive Board approved a $6 billion, three-year loan for Pakistan to try to right the nation’s economy.
- The fund released $1 billion to Pakistan immediately and said in a statement the programme aims to “support the authorities’ economic reform programme” and to help “generate sustainable and balanced growth.”
- The IMF will review Pakistan’s performance quarterly over 39 months, phasing release of the additional aid over time.
- The Imran Khan government agreed on the loan programme last month and announced plans to slash civil expenditures and freeze military spending while promising to substantially raise revenues to stem a yawning fiscal deficit, and pledging to collect 5.5 trillion rupees ($36 billion) in taxes.
- “Pakistan is facing a challenging economic environment, with lackluster growth, elevated inflation, high indebtedness and a weak external position,” the result of a “legacy” of uneven policies, IMF mission chief Ernesto Ramirez Rigo said.
British Airways faces record $230 mn fine for data breach
- British authorities said that they intended to order British Airways to pay a fine of nearly $230 million for a data breach last year, the largest penalty against a company for privacy lapses under the new European General Data Protection Regulation.
- Poor security at the airline allowed hackers to divert about 5,00,000 customers visiting the British Airways website last summer to a fraudulent site, where names, addresses, login information, payment card details, travel bookings and other data was taken, according to the Information Commissioner’s Office, the British agency in charge of reviewing data breaches.
- The General Data Protection Regulation allows regulators in each European Union country to issue fines of up to 4% of a company’s global revenue for a breach.
- Previously, fines by the Information Commissioner’s Office were capped at 5,00,000 pounds, or about $6,25,000.
- Facebook and Google are among other companies currently under investigation by European authorities over breaches of the landmark law.