Here is CurrentHow’s Briefing™ for thr 18th of May, 2017 :-
1. Iran irate as US slaps fresh nuclear missile sanctions :-
Iran criticised new US sanctions on its missile programme on Thursday, saying they would undermine a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
“Iran condemns the US administration’s ill will in its effort to reduce the positive results of the country’s implementation of JCPOA (nuclear deal) commitments by adding individuals to the list of unilateral and illegal extraterritorial sanctions,” foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said on his Telegram channel.
The administration of US President Donald Trump chose to stick by the nuclear deal with Iran on Wednesday, renewing a waiver of nuclear-related sanctions despite his past criticism of the agreement.
But it imposed new measures to punish Iranian defence officials and a Chinese business tied to Tehran’s ballistic missile programme, which it says is in breach of international law because they could carry nuclear warheads in the future.
The decision came just before a Friday presidential election in Iran, in which moderate President Hassan Rouhani is fighting for a second term against hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who has called for a much tougher stance against the West.
Iran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons and Ghasemi said its missile programme is part of its “absolute and legal right to build up the country’s defensive capabilities”.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran will continue its missile programme with power and authority based on its plans,” he said.
Ghasemi said Iran would retaliate by adding nine US individuals and companies to its own sanctions list, accusing them of “clear violations of human rights” in relation to their support for Israel or “terrorist groups” in the Middle East.
Trump threatened to tear up the nuclear deal during his campaign and has launched a review of its terms, but until then he is required to decide on renewing sanctions relief at regular intervals.
His first deadline fell this week, related to sanctions on oil purchases through the Iranian central bank — part of a 2012 law called the National Defence Authorisation Act — that must be waived every 120 days.
The Trump administration will have to waive more sanctions next month if it wants to stick by the nuclear deal.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in April that Iran was complying with its side of the bargain, but has described the country as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.
Washington has maintained a raft of other sanctions related to human rights and the missile programme that continue to stifle Iran‘s efforts to rebuild its foreign trade.
This has been a major issue in the Iranian election, with hardliner Raisi accusing Rouhani of making too many concessions without gaining any economic benefits.
Although oil sales have rebounded since the deal came into effect in January 2016, Iran’s continued exclusion from the international banking system has prevented it from signing much needed trade and investment deals with Europe and Asia.
Rouhani, who is still seen as the frontrunner in unofficial polls, has vowed to work towards the removal of remaining sanctions and called for more time to allow the benefits of the deal to reach ordinary Iranians.
2. Ex-FBI chief Robert Mueller to investigate Trump-Russia ties :-
The US Justice Department on Wednesday appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate possible collusion between President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign team and Russia as well as alleged Russian interference in the US election.
The move followed a week of turmoil for the White House amid rising demands for an independent probe of alleged Russian efforts to sway the outcome of November’s presidential election in favour of Trump and against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Pressure has been building on Trump since his firing last week of James Comey, chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who had been leading a federal probe into the matter.
US intelligence agencies said earlier this year that Russia interfered in the US election. Moscow has dismissed the allegations, and the Trump team has denied any collusion with Russia.
“My decision (to appoint a special counsel) is not the finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement.
“I determined that a special counsel is necessary in order for the American people to have full confidence in the outcome,” he said.
The controversy has caused an uproar in Washington and on Wall Street where the S&P 500 and the Dow had their biggest one-day declines since September as investor hopes for tax cuts and other pro-business policies faded amid the political tumult.
Democrats in Congress and some of Trump’s fellow Republicans had called for an independent investigation.
US Representative Elijah Cummings, senior Democrat on the House of Representatives oversight committee, applauded Rosenstein’s action, saying: “I think he made a solid choice in Mr. Mueller, and I commend him for putting our country and justice system first.”
3. Pakistan must ensure Kulbhushan Jhadav is not executed : International Court of Justice :-
In a major victory for India at the International Court of Justice, judge Ronny Abraham today stayed Kulbhushan Jadhav’s death sentence which was passed by a military court in Pakistan last month.
The court, formally known as the International Court of Justice, is the UN’s court for hearing disputes between states and its rulings are binding. At the core of the dispute is the fate of Jadhav, a former officer in the Indian navy who was arrested in March 2016 in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. Pakistan captured him and accused him of spying and espionage. India rejected Pakistan claim as the case reached the international court.
The judge while delivering the verdict said, “Without prejudging the result of any appeal, the court considers that the mere fact that Mr Jadhav is under such a sentence and might be executed shows there might be such a risk of his execution.”
On Pakistan’s argument that the case does not come under the Vienna convention, the judge said: “the court considers it has prima facie jurisdiction in the case”.
“Court will take all measures to ensure Mr Jadhav is not executed,” the court declared.
“Pakistan will inform the court the measures it is taking to ensure Kulbhushan Jadhav’s protection,” the judge said.
4. Facebook fined 110mn euros for defying EU merger rules in WhatsApp takeover :-
The European Commission on Thursday fined US social media giant Facebook 110 million euros ($120 million) for providing incorrect and misleading information on its takeover of WhatsApp, imposing its biggest penalty linked to a merger.
“Today’s decision sends a clear signal to companies that they must comply with all aspects of EU merger rules, including the obligation to provide correct information,” EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.
“The Commission must be able to take decisions about mergers’ effects on competition in full knowledge of accurate facts,” Vestager said.
Facebook said in response that it cooperated with the Commission.
“We’ve acted in good faith since our very first interactions with the Commission and we’ve sought to provide accurate information at every turn,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
“The errors we made in our 2014 filings were not intentional and the Commission has confirmed that they did not impact the outcome of the merger review. Today’s announcement brings this matter to a close.”
EU regulators cleared the then $19 billion Facebook acquisition of WhatsApp in late 2014, finding no reason to believe it would dampen competition in the burgeoning social media sector.
In its statement Thursday, the Commission recalled that the merger rules require companies to provide regulators with the accurate information essential to any review.
It noted that when Facebook notified the Commission of the acquisition in 2014, the company had said it would “be unable to establish reliable automated matching between Facebook users’ accounts and WhatsApp users’ accounts”.
After launching a probe last year, the Commission “found that, contrary to Facebook’s statements in the 2014 merger review process, the technical possibility of automatically matching Facebook and WhatsApp users’ identities already existed in 2014, and that Facebook staff were aware of such a possibility.”
The Commission said Thursday’s decision and the fine would have no impact on its October 2014 clearance of the deal.
Commission spokesman Ricardo Cardoso said the fine was less than it would have been because Facebook cooperated.
Cardoso added it was nonetheless the “highest fine ever” imposed by the commission for breaches linked to a merger and would serve as a deterrent to others.
5. Trump willing to use engagement on North Korea crisis : South Korea envoy :-
US President Donald Trump told South Korea’s presidential envoy that Washington was willing to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis through engagement under the right conditions, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported on Thursday.
Trump has said “a major, major conflict” with North Korea was possible and all options were on the table but wanted to resolve the crisis diplomatically and peacefully, possibly through the use of economic sanctions.
South Korea’s new President Moon Jae-in who took office last week has campaigned on a more moderate approach towards the North but he has said North Korea must change its attitude of insisting on arms development before dialogue was possible.
Moon’s envoy to Washington, South Korean media mogul Hong Seok-hyun, said Trump spoke of the willing to use “engagement” to create peace on the Korean peninsula, Yonhap news quoted Hong as saying.
But the United States will not have any dialogue with the North for the sake of dialogue and the use of pressure was the premise in the approach to Pyongyang, Hong quoted Trump as saying, according to Yonhap.
Trump’s comments could not immediately be independently verified.
North Korea conducted its latest ballistic missile test on Sunday in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, saying it was a test of its capability to carry a “large-size heavy nuclear warhead.”
The North has vowed to develop a missile mounted with a nuclear warhead that can strike the mainland United States.
But a senior North Korean diplomat has said Pyongyang was open to having talks with Washington under the right conditions.