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Thursday, January 9, 2020

World News, World News Updates, World News Headlines, Latest World News, Current Affairs

World News, World News Updates, World News Headlines, Latest World News, Current Affairs

Beijing Will Send Its Chief Negotiator to Washington to Sign U.S.-China Trade Deal

Posted: 09 Jan 2020 12:55 AM PST

(BEIJING) — China’s economy czar will visit Washington next week for the signing of an interim trade deal, the government said Thursday.

Vice Premier Liu He, Beijing’s chief envoy in talks with Washington over their tariff war, had been expected to attend the signing but the Commerce Ministry’s statement was the first official confirmation.

Washington postponed planned tariff increases following the announcement of the “Phase 1” deal in October. But earlier punitive duties imposed by both sides on billions of dollars of each other’s goods stayed in place, dampening global trade and threatening to chill economic growth.

Liu will lead a delegation to Washington from Monday through Wednesday, said ministry spokesman Gao Feng.

Under the “Phase 1” deal, Beijing agreed to buy more American farm goods and Washington’s chief negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, said it would make changes to respond to complaints about its industrial policies. Details have yet to be announced and Chinese officials have yet to confirm any regulatory changes or the size of purchases of American soybeans and other exports.

Both sides have soothed financial market jitters by announcing conciliatory steps including postponing planned tariff hikes. Beijing also has resumed purchases of soybeans, the biggest American export to China, and pork.

Washington, Europe, Japan and other trading partners complain Beijing steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology. Washington is pressing China to roll back plans for state-led creation of global competitors in robotics and other industries that its trading partners say violate its market-opening commitments.

President Donald Trump announced last month he would sign the “Phase 1” agreement Jan. 15 and travel to Beijing after that to start the second stage of talks.

Trump hailed the interim agreement as a step toward ending the tariff war, but Beijing has been more measured in its public statements.

Economists say concluding a final settlement could take years. Potential hurdles include Chinese insistence that U.S. tariff hikes be canceled once an agreement takes effect. The Trump administration says some must remain in place to ensure Beijing carries out any promises it makes.

Brazilian Judge Orders Netflix to Remove Gay Jesus Christmas Special

Posted: 08 Jan 2020 10:15 PM PST

(RIO DE JANEIRO) — A Brazilian judge on Wednesday ordered Netflix to stop showing a Christmas special that some called blasphemous for depicting Jesus as a gay man and which prompted a gasoline bomb attack on the satirists behind the program.

The ruling by Rio de Janeiro judge Benedicto Abicair responded to a petition by a Brazilian Catholic organization that argued the “honor of millions of Catholics” was hurt by the airing of “The First Temptation of Christ.” The special was produced by the Rio-based film company Porta dos Fundos, whose headquarters was targeted in the Christmas Eve attack.

Netflix told The Associated Press it would not comment on the ruling.

Porta dos Fundos also declined to comment on the judge’s decision, which contradicted an earlier decision rejecting censorship of the program. The ruling is valid until another court orders otherwise.

Abicair said the program’s withdrawal “is beneficial not only to the Christian community, but to Brazilian society which is mostly Christian.”

The ruling comes at a time when some civil groups say far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is waging a “cultural war,” cutting funding for arts projects that challenge “Christian values” and inveighing against flamboyant carnival celebrations.

Early on the day before Christmas, a group of hooded men attacked the headquarters of Porta dos Fundos with Molotov cocktails. No one was hurt. A video circulating days later on social media showed three men claiming responsibility for the attack.

“The First Temptation of Christ” depicts Jesus returning home on his 30th birthday and insinuates he is gay. Religious groups bristled at the depiction. Creators of the film have defended it as legitimate freedom of expression.

City Treasurer Says Official Is Blocking Her From Taking Office Because She’s Black

Posted: 08 Jan 2020 09:25 PM PST

The newly elected treasurer of a small city in western Pennsylvania asserted in a lawsuit Wednesday that city officials plotted to block her from taking office because she is black.

Uniontown Treasurer-elect Antoinette Hodge alleged that a city councilman, Martin Gatti, took action to prevent her from being sworn in as scheduled this week and called her a “colored girl” in a discussion with officials at a bonding agency.

Gatti, a defendant in the lawsuit, has adamantly denied using racist language, saying at a council meeting Monday that he had legitimate questions about Hodge’s financial background.

The federal suit, which also names as defendants the city of Uniontown and its clerk, Kimberly Marshall — Gatti’s sister-in-law — seeks to force the city to seat Hodge and to prevent city officials from interfering with her ability to do the job, Hodge’s lawyer, Joel Sansone, said at a news conference Wednesday. The suit also seeks unspecified money damages.

“We will not allow the racist views of any person or persons to stand in the way of the will of the people, not now, not ever,” Sansone said.

Uniontown’s lawyer did not immediately return a phone message Wednesday. A message was also left for the defendants at Uniontown City Hall.

Hodge’s allegations center on the steps that Gatti allegedly took to prevent her from getting bonded. State law requires bonding of some municipal officials as a way to protect taxpayers against financial loss and malfeasance.

Hodge was approved for a bond last week, but Gatti subsequently contacted the bonding agency and canceled it, the lawsuit said. Gatti told officials at the company that “incriminating evidence” had been uncovered by Hodge’s background check, the suit said.

According to a company manager, Gatti also called the 50-year-old Hodge a “colored girl,” Sansone said Wednesday.

Sansone confronted Gatti with that accusation at the council meeting Monday night, saying: “What I’ve got to ask you, sir, is do you have any idea what century you’re living in?” according to the Herald-Standard newspaper. “Do you understand that calling a black woman a ‘colored girl’ is racist?”

Gatti, a Democrat like Hodge, vehemently denied it and said he planned to sue Sansone for defamation.

“I’ve never used that phrase in my life,” he told Sansone.

Gatti, the city’s finance director, acknowledged he called the bonding agency about Hodge, asserting that she had financial problems and that he was trying to protect city finances.

Sansone said Wednesday that Hodge, a Uniontown native, had no problem getting bonded in the past. He said that her identity was stolen nearly two decades ago, damaging her credit, but that nothing in her background would have prevented her from obtaining a bond. In fact, the Uniontown bond was approved Tuesday, he said.

Kenneth Huston, president of the Pennsylvania NAACP, joined Hodge and her attorney at the news conference and said Hodge had been subjected to “blatant racism.”

“It is absolutely appalling that she had to experience what she experienced, being a duly elected individual in in her hometown,” he said.

Uniontown, a city of about 10,000, is 45 miles south of Pittsburgh. Black people are about 15% of the population.

Hodge said she was “shocked, at first, because I ever expected anything like this would happen.” She said her shock turned to disgust.

“I just want folks to understand that it doesn’t matter, age, color, political party, we are supposed to stand united as one body to do what’s right for our city,” she said.

Hodge beat an incumbent in the Democratic primary and ran unopposed in the November general election.

After Retaliation, Iran’s 40-Year Conflict With U.S. Likely to Return to the Shadows

Posted: 08 Jan 2020 06:13 PM PST

Now that Tehran and Washington have openly exchanged fire, the conflict between the two nations will continue in the shadows where it has been fought for 40 years — and where Iran’s Revolutionary Guard still seeks to exact revenge for the U.S. killing its top commander.

But after the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, Iran now knows that any attack that even its proxies launch could trigger another American strike. President Donald Trump’s backers say the raised stakes have restored “big stick” deterrence that American enemies and allies had begun to doubt after Trump failed to respond militarily to repeated Iranian aggression. His critics say he has ushered in a new era that makes every American a target for kidnapping and assassination across the Middle East, and beyond.

Trump seemed satisfied on Wednesday that Tehran had learned its lesson, saying in a televised address that he was “ready to embrace peace with all who seek it,” after the overnight barrage of ballistic missiles fired harmlessly on U.S. bases in Iraq to avenge the U.S. drone strike that killed Soleimani.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the strikes a slap in America’s face and reiterated that his long term goal remains the ouster of U.S. forces from the region. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley told reporters he believed the Iranians intended to kill, but a senior U.S. official said Iran warned Washington via a European embassy ahead of the strikes, speaking anonymously to describe sensitive briefings.

In addition, three U.S. officials said, the Iranians prepared for the strikes in ways that American spy satellites and electronic eavesdropping were sure to detect them — which U.S. intelligence did in time to give the White House and American forces some three hours warning of possible attacks and their probable targets.

Iraqis on Al Asad Air Base even got a visit from a U.S. military officer before the attack, telling them when and where the missiles would land, said Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “This provided both sides an opportunity to de-escalate the conflict,” Alfoneah said. “Both sides can declare victory and move forward.”

The State Department declined to comment on whether Iran had provided a heads-up before the strike, and the White House and defense officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Reuters reported that an Iranian army spokesman denied “foreign media reports” suggesting there was some kind of coordination between Iran and the United States before the attack to evacuate bases.

And while both nations appeared more than ready to walk back from the brink of war, the conditions on the ground remain as volatile as ever. American and Iranian-backed forces operate in close proximity at several flashpoints throughout the Middle East in places like Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and Iraq, where a miscalculation or surprise attack could raise tensions again.

The missile attack was a rare Iranian claim of responsibility that could be an attempt to distinguish it from retaliatory actions by its vast proxy network. Unable to combat the U.S. military head-on, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has spent decades organizing a constellation of Shi’ite militias across the tumultuous region. These proxy fighters, which are trained, supplied and funded by Tehran, give Iran an asymmetric advantage over the U.S. as well as plausible deniability for some attacks the groups carry out.

“We see this big public attack carried out by Iran, but that was a show of strength to send a signal and it also plays to their own domestic audience,” says Phillip Smyth, a Shi’ite Islamist militarism expert and senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Iran’s preferred method of operation is to pick a time and place of their choosing, using the proxies that they want, in order to have the most effective response.”

After all, it was not the Iranian military, but Iranian-backed forces — groups like Asab al-Haq and Kata’ib Hezbollah —that launched 11 rocket attacks against U.S. troops and personnel on Iraqi bases over the last two months, killing an American contractor and injuring four U.S. service members. The proxy groups were also responsible for the protests outside the U.S. embassy in Iraq.

The Trump Administration says both incidents pushed the U.S. toward the precipice of war — although some members of Congress who were briefed Wednesday on the decision to kill Soleimani said the Administration failed to support its claims that the strike was launched to prevent an “imminent” attack on American forces in Iraq.

Tehran doesn’t want to get into a conventional battle with the United States, says Afshin Molavi, a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins University SAIS Foreign Policy Institute. “The Islamic Republic of Iran has for four decades demonstrated an extraordinary skill for survival,” he says. “They do not want war with the most powerful military on the planet.”

Indeed, the overriding concern of the clerical regime is holding onto power in the face of rising public discontent over official corruption and the daily hardships of economic sanctions. As a result, the Iranians may use time, distance, and proxies to keep their fingerprints off any future terrorist acts, two counterterrorism officials and a senior U.S. military official told TIME.

But Iran’s religious leader may be more patient than members of the IRGC, now led by Soleimani’s successor, Brig. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, which still wants to exact pain equal to their leader’s loss, the U.S. official who spoke about the strike warning said.

U.S. forces inside Iraq are at particular risk, officials say. American troops on Iraqi military bases remain on an elevated state of alert, bracing for a longer campaign that may follow, defense officials say. U.S. intelligence has intercepted an apparent Iranian “hit list” inside Iraq, listing American and other allied officials as key targets for kidnapping or assassination, a separate security source briefed on the threat told TIME. Attacks could also come in the form of rocket, artillery or small drone attacks on U.S. positions inside Iraqi military compounds, multiple U.S. officials say. Two rockets landed inside Baghdad’s Green Zone on Wednesday, one within a few hundred feet of the U.S. Embassy.

American troops and contractors in Iraq are also watching for the militia groups to take revenge for the killing of the deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces Abu Mahdi Al-Mohandes, who was killed in the same drone strike that killed Soleimani.

“The thing that worries us is what you saw at the Embassy,” said the security source, recalling the New Year’s Eve attack by militia groups that forced their way into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, angry over U.S. missile strikes on their bases. Just about every Iraqi base housing Americans has militia bases nearby, the source said. “If they come at these guys with 200-300 fighters, they could brute force their way in.”

In the wider region, the U.S. military and Gulf allies are on the lookout for more mysterious explosions that could, for example, cripple commercial shipping in the Gulf.

“The concern is that all militias are on standby to attack,” wherever U.S. troops are stationed, a senior congressional staffer said. Those attacks could be staged by groups of small, hard-to-combat commercial drones, technology provided by Iran. “There aren’t enough jammers or low-level air defenses to push back commercial unmanned aerial devices with improvised explosive devices,” the congressional staffer said. “And they could be dangerous to supporting (helicopters) as well.”

However, three U.S. officials said, an attack using drones would risk an American counterattack, perhaps on targets in Iran, because the drones have Iranian fingerprints “all over them.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters Wednesday at the Pentagon that he fully expected Shi’a militias to continue to carry out attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East. And, because Iran and its proxy forces are so tightly intertwined, he acknowledged the difficulties with discerning who launches attacks against U.S. forces and how to respond. “Our challenge will be to sort through that, to understand who’s doing it, who is motivating it,” Esper said, adding that the U.S. military must “react forcefully” to ensure the attacks don’t persist.

According to two U.S. counterterrorism officials, current U.S. and allied intelligence indicates that Iranian proxy groups in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province, and as far afield as Afghanistan and Western Europe are preparing to act, perhaps with direction from Tehran, or in some cases independently.

“The chatter continues, the dark web is still buzzing, people are still active, and the weapons are all still there,” said the first official, declining to describe the intelligence in detail on Wednesday. “The fact that Soleimani is not (still alive) doesn’t change our calculations, and our people and our allies are still on high alert, and they probably will be for the foreseeable future.”

Multiple officials also said they were concerned about cyberwarfare, in particular a “combination blow” on an important U.S. government, financial, energy, or communications target facilitated by an insider planted by Iran or one of its allies. “All he, or better yet she, would have to do is click on a piece of malware,” a second U.S. military official said.

Republican Congressman Mike Waltz of Florida predicted Iran will return to covert war, with one key difference: “Do they attack Americans when this president has made it clear, ‘If we’re taking American casualties, whether they are your proxies or you, we’re holding you accountable?’ That’s how deterrence works.”

A reserve U.S. Army Green Beret and former Cheney staffer, Waltz was briefed on the intelligence that led Trump to order Soleimani’s killing, describing “an escalation on the part of Soleimani and his attention to use his proxies to attack and kill American assets and ongoing plotting and planning, with a window of time…in days and weeks not months.”

The greatest danger of escalation may not lie in Tehran, but in Washington, some U.S. officials say. If the Iranians are patient, strategic, and to some extent predictable, Trump is none of those things, they say. Chaos and unpredictability may have served him well in his business dealings, but it has left his subordinates in the military, the diplomatic corps, and the intelligence community — not to mention America’s allies — unsure how he might respond to the next terror attack.

—With reporting by W.J. Hennigan/Washington.

President Morales Says No Deal to Send Mexicans Asylum Seekers to Guatemala

Posted: 08 Jan 2020 04:00 PM PST

GUATEMALA CITY — Outgoing Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said Wednesday his government has not agreed to receive Mexicans who had sought asylum in the United States.

Morales, whose presidency ends next week, said he had told U.S. officials the issue would have to be negotiated with his successor.

“It’s more than clear; in the agreement it only lays out Salvadorans and Hondurans,” Morales said. “The United States has talked about the possibility of including Mexican nationals, but that they have to discuss it with the next government. In the last visit we made to the White House with President Trump we were clear saying that that negotiation had to be done with the new government.”

The U.S. government had moved aggressively last year to curb the number of asylum seekers arriving at its southwest border. The majority came from Central America. The U.S. began making many of those requesting asylum wait out their cases in Mexico. Then it forged agreements with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that would allow it to send some asylum seekers there. The U.S. government argued that migrants should request asylum in the first country they entered, not wait until they arrived at the U.S. border.

To date, the U.S. has sent 94 asylum seekers from El Salvador and Honduras to Guatemala. Only six of them decided to seek asylum there while the rest returned to their countries.

Mexicans do not pass through any other countries to arrive at the U.S. border. But in recent days, guidance was sent to U.S. asylum officials that said Mexicans would now be included under the bilateral agreement with Guatemala.

Pedro Brolo, who has been designated foreign affairs minister by President-elect Alejandro Giammattei, and his spokeswoman did not immediately answer requests for comment.

On Dec. 19, Morales’ interior minister, Enrique Degenhart, suggested that talks were underway to expand the program to Mexicans because it had yielded such strong results with Central Americans.

Mexico has expressed its unhappiness with the plan. Mexican Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero said via Twitter Tuesday night that “it would be an action contrary to international law and the bilateral relationship.”

Trust in President Trump’s Handling of International Affairs Low Across World, New Survey Finds

Posted: 08 Jan 2020 03:49 PM PST

A majority of people surveyed in 32 countries across the world, from Argentina to Australia and Canada to the Czech Republic, have “largely negative views” of President Donald Trump, and do not trust him “to do the right thing” when making decisions on international affairs, according to a new survey from the non-partisan Pew Research Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Furthermore, more respondents viewed Trump with “no confidence” than they did Russian President Vladimir Putin or Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Inversely, Trump received a vote of confidence from 29% of respondents to Xi’s 28%.)

The survey, published on Jan. 8, was conducted from May to October of 2019. It found that more than two-thirds of the respondents said they don’t trust Trump when it comes to world affairs, in contrast to the 64% who expressed confidence in former President Barack Obama in a survey published in June 2017.

“In nearly all nations where trends are available, Trump receives lower ratings than his predecessor,” said the report. “International confidence in the U.S. President plummeted after Trump’s inauguration, while favorable ratings for the United States also declined.”

Pew Research Associate Janell Fetterolf tells TIME the survey can be useful to policymakers, “especially those who work in diplomacy and foreign policy for their decision making.”

Western Europe was especially anti-Trump; about three out of four people surveyed in Germany, Sweden, France, Spain and the Netherlands said they don’t trust the U.S. President. In Mexico, attitudes were especially negative; 89% said they didn’t trust Trump and only 36% gave the U.S. a favorable rating.

Still, Trump had distinct “pockets of support” in parts of the world. A majority in the Philippines, Israel, Kenya, Nigeria and India said they trust the American President.

The President tended to be viewed more positively in countries with conservative or right wing governments, and among those respondents who identified ideologically with the political right in their countries.

In the Philippines, where President Rodrigo Duterte has ruled with increasingly authoritarian tendencies, Trump has a 77% approval rating. In Israel, where Trump has enjoyed a close relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and decided to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, Trump’s confidence rating was 71%.

56% viewed Trump with confidence in India, where right-wing Hindu nationalism has surged under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In Poland, where the right-wing populist Law and Justice Party has attacked the independence of the judiciary since taking control of parliament in 2015, 55% of respondents expressed confidence in Trump. (The report noted that Polish President Andrzej Duda visited the U.S. in June 2019, while the survey was in the field, and the two leaders announced a plan to strengthen the military relationship between their countries.)

Supporters of right-wing parties in Europe — from the National Rally party in France from UKIP in Britain — were more likely to support Trump’s wall along the US-Mexico border and his tariffs, despite overall global opinions being negative.

Certain Trump administration policies were clearly unpopular. The strongest disapproval was recorded against the U.S. increasing tariffs on imported goods, withdrawing from international climate change agreements, building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and restricting immigration into the country.

Opposition toward Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change — which he announced in June 2017 and made official in November 2019 — were strong in Europe (78%), South Korea (82%) and Australia (78%).

The policy that was viewed most positively was Trump’s direct negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (Still, only a median of 41% said they approved of this move, while 36% opposed it.)

As trust in Trump has fallen, favorable attitudes toward the U.S. have dropped and remain low among key allies, although 54% still held generally favorable attitudes towards America. In Europe, the least favorable views were found in the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Russia.

Israelis gave the U.S. its highest rating of 83%, but there was a sharp ethnic split — 94% of Israeli Jews see the U.S. favorably, compared to only 37% of Israeli Arabs.

After Soleimani Killing, War With Iran Will Likely Continue As It Has for Decades

Posted: 08 Jan 2020 01:22 PM PST

In 1981, at the outset of the Iran-Iraq War, Qassem Soleimani witnessed his country’s first use of human wave-style tactics. That costly practice would become one of the hallmarks of a conflict that would claim nearly a million lives on both sides and would see a return to First World War style trench warfare and the widespread use of chemical weapons. When the UN eventually negotiated a ceasefire, both sides claimed victory. A key result of the conflict was Iran’s adoption of a national security strategy that relied on the more economical practice of asymmetric warfare (terrorism, wars by proxy). The Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, led by Soleimani for more than twenty years, played a crucial role in the implementation of this strategy, which ensured that Iranian society would never again experience such a bloodletting. For leaders in Tehran, the Iran-Iraq War would become “the war to end all wars”—sort of.

Now Soleimani is dead. A lot has been written in recent days about “war with Iran” while far less has been written about what that war might look like. Or acknowledging that, on the battlefields of America’s “forever wars,” a “war with Iran” has been going on for decades. During my time in the Marines, I brushed up against Iranian militias in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, helped Americans evacuate the embassy in Beirut in 2006 when Hezbollah threatened our presence, and then fought Quds Force-supported elements of the Taliban in western Afghanistan in 2008. Nearly a decade at war left me with many dead friends and, when tallying up how they died, I can trace more of their deaths to the barrel of an Iranian-supported Shia militiaman, or an Iranian-developed armor piercing IED, than to card-carrying members of al-Qaeda.

In many respects, both America and Iran have pursued similar national security strategies over the past two decades, enabling the populations of both countries to remain at “peace” while our cadres of military professionals have engaged in wars by proxy and other special operations around the globe. Soleimani’s replacement, Esmail Ghaani, as well as the entire high command, are not only the architects of our low-intensity ‘forever war’ with Iran but they are also veterans of the Iran-Iraq War. Their experience will factor prominently into crafting a post-Soleimani strategy for the region and whether that strategy will lead them into an escalatory spiral that could, ultimately, precipitate a more costly conventional war, upending “peace” at home.

Qasem Soleimani during the Iran-Iraq war in the early 1980s.
Ay-Collection/Sipa/APQasem Soleimani during the Iran-Iraq war in the early 1980s.

Despite nationalist anger at the death of Soleimani, Iran’s internal politics are as fractious as our own, and those divisions will soon re-emerge, just as our own will if (or when) Iran launches attacks that are more spectacular than their immediate response against Al-Asad air base and Irbil. Both of our nations have little appetite for a protracted conventional war, with anxious Google search terms such as “World War Three” and “the draft” surging in the United States last weekend and widespread protests across Iran throughout this past fall. If there’s a shared appetite for anything, it is de-escalation.

Navigating that de-escalation will be challenging. It will require pragmatism and moderation on the part of Iranian leaders who are enraged, and in mourning. And it will require moderation and precision on the part of an American president who is not known for either of those qualities. However, our decades-long limited war with Iran has yet to spiral out of control. That the formative experience of Iran’s generals was a futile conventional war with few parallels in history, except perhaps the First World War, cannot be emphasized enough. That experience, more than any other, may allow us to avoid further escalation.

Despite the best of intentions and the clearest of strategies, luck always plays a role on the path to war. The days ahead might very well prove as precarious as that calamitous summer of 1914, which led to the First World War. Like with Soleimani, that conflict began with an execution, that of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. The assassin happened to be sitting in a café armed with a pistol when the Archduke’s car took a wrong turn. The Archduke’s fatal mistake seemed so simple, and common, in retrospect: he found himself on a road he never should’ve traveled in the first place.

All Your Questions Answered About Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Stepping Back as ‘Senior Members’ of the Royal Family

Posted: 08 Jan 2020 11:41 AM PST

Following a period of speculation by royals fans over what would be next for Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, the couple has announced they plan to step back as “senior members” of Britain’s royal family.

In a statement shared on their official Instagram page Wednesday, the Sussexes announced they will be transitioning away from their roles as “senior” royals and will begin splitting their time between the U.K. and North America in 2020.

“After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution,” the Duke and Duchess said in the statement. “We intend to step back as roles as “senior” members of the Royal Family, and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen.”

Shortly after the statement was shared, Buckingham Palace also posted its own short response.

“Discussions with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage,” the statement read. “We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”

The announcement comes after Harry, Meghan and their young son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, were absent from the royal family’s Christmas celebration while spending “extended family time” with Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, in Canada over the 2019 holiday season.

“This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity,” the statement read.

They ended the announcement with a promise to share the full details of this next step in their lives “in due course.”

What could this mean for the future of the royal family?

“A lot of questions still have to be answered,” historian and British royals expert Marlene Koenig tells TIME. The biggest difference is in how the Sussexes will provide support — both now and in the future — to Prince Harry’s grandmother Queen Elizabeth II and father Prince Charles when he ultimately succeeds to the throne. Traditionally, “you’d have the second son carrying on more official duties and adopting more patronages” as time went on, Koenig explains. For reference, Princess Anne — Queen Elizabeth’s second-oldest child after her heir Prince Charles — has been the hardest-working royal over the last two years, even though her own children do not have royal titles of their own.

But this step back from the Sussexes suggests a new and different tactic. “I think they’re looking to focus on certain issues as opposed to what would have been the bread and butter of the royal family,” which are the traditional patronages, she says. “They’ll still be Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, but they want a more private life,” she predicts.

Why Canada?

Technically, the statement from the Sussexes says they’ll be splitting their time between “North America” and the United Kingdom. But based on their most recent ventures to Canada over the holidays, Koenig feels confident that’s where they’ll set up their second home base. “In the U.S., once you step outside your house there’s no privacy. You can be followed with a camera all day and there’s nothing you can do about it,” she says. In contrast, they have been able to operate in relative privacy during their excursions to Canada — which may appeal to their taste for less press coverage. Canada is where the pair met and where the Duchess of Sussex previously lived, too.

How will the Duke and Duchess of Sussex attain “financial independence?”

On their website, the Sussexes have laid out explanations of the source of their current income, which primarily consists of the Sovereign Grant and provisions from the Duchy of Cornwall. The Sovereign Grant is derived from revenue of the Crown Estate; a portion of these public funds are issued as a grant to cover the royal family’s work in support of the Queen, helping pay for things like maintenance of official residences and offices. The Duchy of Cornwall, meanwhile, is the land managed by Prince Harry’s father, Prince Charles, who is the current Duke of Cornwall. Historically, the male heir apparent is able to reap the financial benefits of being the figurehead of the Duchy; in 2018, Charles’s public accounting statements showed that income to be over £21 million. On their website, the Sussexes note that “95% of the funding received for their Office expenditure” came from this bucket, as an allocation from Prince Charles to his younger son and his family. (Koenig notes that Prince William and Prince Harry both are also recipients of an inheritance from Princess Diana totaling around £21 million.)

Now, the Sussexes intend to release themselves from the Sovereign Grant, which is about 5% of their funding. They currently do not receive an income from charitable events or engagements. “Will they show up for events and get a check directly? Will they come to Trooping [of the Colour]? Will [Prince Harry] be made a Knight of the Garter when his father becomes king? We don’t know,” Koenig says about the remaining questions.

Have other royals set a precedent for “stepping back,” historically?

The short answer: no. In 1936, Edward VIII — Queen Elizabeth’s uncle — gave up his throne to marry the American woman he loved, Wallis Simpson. At the time, this was scandalous enough to require his abdication; he lived in exile as the Duke of Windsor after handing over his rights to the crown. “You can’t just renounce your right to the throne; it has to be done by an act of Parliament, because succession is governed by several laws,” Koenig explains of those unusual circumstances. But the Sussexes are facing a very different situation. “They’re not being kicked out; they’ve made a decision to take what they do as royals, but do it on their own terms,” she says. Where Edward was no longer part of the working royal family, it remains unclear to what extent Meghan Markle and Prince Harry will retain some of the working royal duties. And while there has long been a push to streamline the working royal establishment, no current working royal has “stepped back” in quite this way.

That said, in their website the Sussexes make it clear there are currently members of the royal family who both hold titles and earn incomes. “Yes, there is precedent for this structure and it applies to other current members of the Royal Family who support the monarch and also have full time jobs external to their commitment to the monarchy,” they note.

What about their relationship with the media?

In another section, the Sussexes laid out revised media policies as well. Their focus is to broaden their interactions with media, calling out an interest in “grassroots” and “young, up-and-coming” journalists, and eschewing the official “Royal Rota” system of British journalists that’s currently in place. “I think they’re really, really tired of all these articles condemning Meghan for everything,” Koenig says. The Sussexes filing lawsuits against multiple British tabloids, claiming they have printed “untrue” stories.

On their site, the Sussexes amplify that sentiment: “Regrettably, stories that may have been filed accurately by Royal Correspondents are, also, often edited or rewritten by media editorial teams to present false impressions,” they say. Koenig suggests this fraught relationship has “absolutely” played a part in their decision now. The media outlets at the center of these suits have stood by their reporting and denied the allegations.

‘Living Across Two Continents is Environmentally Unethical.’ Australian Actress Yael Stone Is Giving Up Her Green Card to Reduce Her Environmental Impact

Posted: 08 Jan 2020 10:40 AM PST

Australian actress Yael Stone announced on Tuesday that she plans to give up her United States green card to reduce the environmental impact of living in two countries simultaneously.

Stone starred in Netflix’s Orange Is The New Blackwhich was shot in the U.S. — and lived primarily in New York between 2012 and 2019. She most recently performed in the play The Beauty Queen of Leenane in Sydney, Australia.

Stone tells TIME in an email that, while living in the U.S. she flew back home to Australia roughly twice a year. “When you live a long way from home you fly often to maintain some kind of connection,” she explains, adding that she’s felt “sick about the gap between my beliefs and my behavior.”

According to environmental nonprofit myclimate, a one way flight from New York to Sydney emits 2.8 metric tons of CO2 per person (in economy class). That’s roughly the same as driving 6,948 miles in a car, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Read more: Why TIME Devoted an Entire Issue to Climate Change

“Living across two continents is environmentally unethical. At this time, while my country is on fire… I must put some skin in the game,” Stone tells TIME, citing Greta Thunberg as a particular inspiration. While describing it as both a personal and professional sacrifice, Stone says she is prepared to lose acting roles as a result of her decision. “Though I received my Green Card in September 2019 it seems I will never use it to set up a life in the USA with my family as I imagined.”

Stone adds that, while she will continue to travel internationally “when the right job presents itself,” she plans to invest 50% of her earnings from roles that involved flying into “groups that actively target emission reductions,” such as the Australian non-profit FEAT.

In a video earlier posted to Twitter and Instagram, Stone shared her decision to give up her U.S. green card with her followers. “This is my way of kicking off real 2020 change in my life,” she captioned the video.

Stone said she would begin the process of giving up her U.S. green card and moving back to Australia full time. (According to the U.S. embassy in Australia, an individual must submit a I-407 form to voluntarily abandon their status as a lawful permanent resident in the U.S.)

Stone says she will now dedicate herself to fighting climate change in Australia, and that she’s returned to school to study sustainability. “I hope to be able to use the knowledge in concert with my work as a creative person to make change,” she explains.

In another video shared with her Instagram followers, Stone put it simply: “We’ve only got ten years. So let’s make these sacrifices.”

The United Nations has set a goal of reducing greenhouse emissions by 45% by 2030. A landmark report published by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018 warned that global carbon emissions must be reduced by that amount by 2030 otherwise the world’s climate world will suffer irreversible damage, including rising sea levels, extreme heat, extreme flooding and extreme drought.

As Greta Thunberg said in her speech before the United Nations Climate Action Summit in September, “The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50 percent chance of staying below 1.5 degrees and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.”

Australia is currently suffering from catastrophic bushfires that experts say have been exacerbated by climate change. At least 24 people have died, more than 12 million acres of land have burned and 480 million animals could die, according to scientific estimates. Stone has asked her followers to donate to the Australian Red Cross.

Read more: Australia’s Wildfires and Climate Change Are Making One Another Worse in a Vicious, Devastating Circle

In a separate video posted to Instagram, Stone spoke out against Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “Our country is on fire. We’ve lost 14.5 million hectares and our Prime Minister has done absolutely nothing,” she said. Morrison was widely criticized for going on vacation during the early stages of Australia’s bushfire crisis, which he layer apologized for. Morrison has also repeatedly downplayed the role climate change plays in the bushfires and is a public defender of the coal industry.

“We have to step up, because this is war. This is a climate war,” Stone said. “Our enemy is our own behavior.”

“Let’s pressure governments that refuse to act by taking the lead,” she tells TIME. “Because the future needs big movements of people with big imaginations to create a world we haven’t seen yet.”

Trump Says ‘Iran Appears to Be Standing Down.’ But History Suggests That Might Not Be So Simple

Posted: 08 Jan 2020 10:25 AM PST

Iran launched a barrage of missiles at two military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq early Wednesday morning local time, in an operation a top diplomat in Tehran said “concluded” Tehran’s retaliation after the U.S. killed the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force Qasem Soleimani on Jan. 3. Soleimani was the Islamic Republic’s most important figure after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini.

U.S. President Trump told reporters Wednesday that there were no casualties. While that presents the Trump Administration an off-ramp from the warpath, a closer look at Iran’s history of responding to its enemies’ aggression suggests it’s too early to say whether this is, in fact, the end of its retaliatory moves.

Codenamed “Operation Martyr Qasem Soleimani”, Iran’s fusillade of more than a dozen rockets struck Al Asad Air Base in Iraq’s Anbar province. Another barrage beginning at about 1:30 am local time hit an airbase in northern Iraq’s Erbil. U.S. and European government sources familiar with intelligence assessments told Reuters on Wednesday they believed Iran had deliberately sought to avoid U.S. military casualties.

“Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter,” the Republic’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter soon after the strike. He added that Iran did not seek “escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.”

“Iran appears to be standing down,” Trump said during a short address at the White House on Wednesday morning. He also boasted of the U.S. military strength and said he would immediately impose further sanctions on Iran.

But in a Twitter post issued only hours after Zarif’s, Iran’s Supreme Leader Khameini seemed to contradict his foreign minister, casting doubt on whether Iran’s retaliation has indeed concluded. “[The Americans] were slapped last night, but such military actions are not enough,” he said.

In past instances where Iran has faced acts of military aggression, Tehran has sometimes declined to respond; at other times, it has retaliated with incredible violence, weeks later and thousands of miles from its borders. Here’s how the latest strikes on U.S. air bases in Iraq fit into Iran’s strategic playbook and what we could expect next.

President Trump Addresses The Nation After Iranian Attacks In Iraq Target Bases Where U.S. Troops Stationed
Win McNamee—Getty ImagesU.S. President Donald Trump speaks from the White House in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 8, 2020.

The Hostage Crisis and the Tanker War

In 1953, the CIA orchestrated a coup d’etat to depose Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadeq. The U.S.’s first military intervention against the Islamic Republic started just months after the overthrow of the American-backed Shah in 1979, when Islamist revolutionaries stormed the U.S. embassy, taking 52 American diplomats and citizens hostage. In April 1980, the Carter Administration launched a failed military operation called Eagle Claw in a thwarted bid to retrieve the hostages.

In 1988, towards the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the U.S. launched its second military intervention in the Islamic Republic: Operation Praying Mantis. In the one-day operation, retaliation after an Iranian mine damaged an American ship, the U.S. Navy destroyed two Iranian surveillance platforms, sank two of their ships, and severely damaged another. Months later, the U.S.S. Vincennes missile cruiser shot down an Iranian airliner, killing all 290 passengers on board in an incident the U.S. characterized as an accident.

That neither operation Eagle Claw nor Praying Mantis provoked a military response from Iran was a function of the Republic’s lack of resources at the time, says Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank that seeks to prevent and resolve deadly conflict. In 1980, the nascent regime was too weak to confront America, and at the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, its forces were too depleted to open a new front. Although the Trump Administration’s “Maximum Pressure” campaign of economic sanctions has placed Tehran under increasing strain, “Iran in the 1980s is nothing like Iran in 2020,” Vaez says. “It is much more confident and much stronger in terms of both conventional military capabilities and the unconventional asymmetric means it has for defending itself.”

Assassinations and asymmetric warfare

Washington has not launched an overt military operation in Iran since the 1980s but U.S. military force directed at both Iran’s allies and adversaries have at times prompted Tehran to reassess its activities in the region. In 2003, within hours of a U.S. cruise missile strike on a Sunni terrorist group Tehran had aided in Iraq, Iran shuttered the border over which it had supplied the group with arms. It also scrapped efforts to develop a nuclear warhead soon after U.S. troops toppled Saddam Hussain, according to U.S. intelligence agency assessments.

But looking at Iran’s relations with another adversary, Israel, can provide an insight into Tehran’s playbook. Israel, which traditionally maintains a policy of silence over its overseas military operations, is widely believed to have conducted a series of assassinations inside the Islamic Republic. It has fought a war against Iranian proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon and clashed with various Iran-allied groups in Syria. In 1992, the Israel Defense Force’s killing of Hezbollah’s secretary-general Abbas al Moussawi outside his home in Beirut was followed a month later by a suicide attack that killed 29 civilians at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires. Hezbollah called the bombing revenge for its leader’s death. An attack at a nearby Jewish community center two years later killed a further 85 people.

Like Hezbollah, Iran has appeared to attack soft targets thousands of miles from its borders. In 2012 Khameini vowed to “punish the perpetrators” of a hit against an Iranian nuclear chemist, the fourth Iranian nuclear scientist Israel was believed to have assassinated over a two-year span. Amid fears of retaliation in Israel or on U.S. soil, attacks instead took place as far afield as Georgia, India, and Thailand—where a series of bomb blasts wounded nine Israeli diplomats—and in Bulgaria, where another explosion killed five Israeli tourists, the Wall Street Journal reports. Iran has denied that it perpetrated any of the bombings.

Iran’s global network of proxies and partners—many cultivated by Soleimani—gives it a variety of options to retaliate around the world. Nevertheless, experts note that the kind of terrorist attacks seen in the 1990s and 2000s have become less frequent since the establishment of effective deterrents between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.

Still, Iran’s policy of using proxies to attack its adversaries will likely endure beyond Soleimani’s killing, Ariane Tabatabai, an Iran expert at the RAND Corporation told TIME on Jan 4: “Let’s not kid ourselves. [Soleimani’s death] is not going to be a devastating strategic blow. Iran’s policy of cultivating non-state actors actually predates Soleimani. That should tell you that there is going to be a lot more continuity than we assume going forward.”

Maximum Pressure and Maximum Patience

At least since President Trump took office in 2017, Iran’s leadership has believed its regional adversaries are seeking to push Tehran into direct confrontation with the U.S. as a means of curbing its influence in the region, says ICG’s Vaez. “The Iranian leadership has tried not to play into the hands of its enemies. During the first year of Maximum Pressure, it basically pursued a policy of maximum patience,” he tells TIME. Iran’s carefully calibrated response to Soleimani’s killing represents another attempt not to take the bait, demonstrating Iranian resolve while providing the Trump Administration a means of saving face.

Still, that does not mean the Tuesday strikes are where Iran’s retaliation ends. “The Iranians might choose the time for doing this in a way that it would minimize the risks for backlash,” says Vaez. “If the U.S. is bogged down in another confrontation, in another crisis with North Korea, for example, that might be the time Iran would choose to take an eye for an eye.”