News, December 7th

Quickly restore the rule of law’ in Ethiopia’s Tigray, urges Guterres

The UN Secretary-General said on Monday it was “essential to quickly restore the rule of law” in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray, where Government forces and those loyal to the ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have been engaged in fighting for more than a month.

A Government offensive began after TPLF forces reportedly attacked a federal military base on 4 November. With communications and transportation links cut, Government forces have reportedly taken control of the regional capital Mekelle, although the TPLF claims that it is now mounting an insurgency, according to news reports.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed described TPLF leaders as a “criminal clique” on Monday, denying that their local forces were capable of a protracted insurgency

In a statement released by his Spokesperson, the UN chief António Guterres said it was essential for the rule of law to be restored, “in full respect for human rights, (to) promote social cohesion, an inclusive reconciliation, as well as to re-establish the delivery of public services and guarantee unfettered humanitarian access.”

Last Friday, UN aid coordinators with the humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, said they were “working at full speed” to secure full aid access to Tigray, after a deal was struck to help tens of thousands of civilians displaced by the weeks of fighting between federal and regional forces.

More than 47,000 Ethiopian refugees have fled across the border into Sudan, and around 96,000 Eritrean refugees being hosted in camps in Tigray, were reported by the World Food Programme (WFP) to have essentially run out of food.

In all around two million are in need of assistance in and around Tigray, with a million displaced due to the fighting, the UN estimates.

Mr. Guterres said the UN remained fully committed to supporting an African Union (AU)-led initiative effort to seek a lasting and peaceful resolution to the conflict between federal and local forces over Tigray.

“We also remain fully committed to mobilizing the full capacity of the United Nations to provide humanitarian support to refugees, displaced people and all populations in distress”, the statement concluded.

“The Secretary-General has also been conveying these messages in the numerous conversations he has had with United Nations representatives on the ground and regional leaders, as well as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia with whom he spoke today.”

A psychological dose

NDO – Earlier this December, a series of countries around the world announced the a vaccination against COVID-19. The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that if too much emphasis is placed on the “miracle” fix of vaccines and lack of supportive measures, countries couldpay a high price. However, the development createdpositive sentiment on a global scale.

A number of countries have announced the production, import and “coverage” of vaccines for their own populations in recent days. Finland’s government said that it had agreed a national strategy for COVID-19 vaccinations, planning to give them to everyone ,beginning with vaccinating selected healthcare staff from January onwards. In Turkey, the Minister of Health also announced plans to vaccinate against Covid-19 at the end of December 2020 to control the spread of the pandemic. In Russia, President V. Putin instructed the government to start mass vaccination at the end of this week. Some other European countries such as Germany, Norway, Spain have also announced their timeframes on COVID-19 vaccination plan for their peoples.

Meanwhile, in New York, which is a hotspot of the pandemic, the governor said the state expects to receive doses for 170,000 people in the first rollout. The vaccine is a product of Pfizer and BioNTech SE. The second shipment of the vaccine made by Moderna is expected to reach New Zealand by the end of December. In Mexico, the Ministry of Health said it will receive its first batch of Pfizer vaccine, with 250,000 doses in December.

The above information helped European and Asian stocks simultaneously rally in recent sessions. In the first trading days of December, major stock indices on the European market all made gains. Specifically, the STOXX 600 index all over Europe increased by 0.3%, while in the Asian market, investors resumed their stock buying activities thanks to information about the vaccine. The MSCI Asia-Pacific Index (excluding Japan) rose 1.08%.

According to some economic experts, the prospect of millions of people starting to get vaccinated over the next few weeks is a driving force for many traders to bet on a strong economic recovery in 2021.

According to the WHO, after a period of simultaneous research and production of vaccines, there are currently about 51 COVID-19 vaccines being tested on humans, 13 of which have reached their final stages and are now being tested on a large scale. Meanwhile, about 163 other vaccines are being developed in laboratories around the world. However, the biggest question now is that how long will the protective effectiveness of these vaccines be? Recently, the emergence of re-infected cases with a variant virus has raised doubts about the effectiveness of the vaccines.

Another problem is that even if the COVID-19 vaccine is fully effective, many people still refuse to get it. Survey results in 15 new countries released at the World Economic Forum earlier this month showed that the number of people willing to get vaccinated has decreased since August from 77% to 73%. In France, the survey results showed that only 54% of French respondents said they would get vaccinated against COVID-19. In addition, in the short term, the world will still have to “live together with the pandemic” as the supply of vaccines is very limited. The WHO is even concerned that the world will not have enough vaccines to prevent anincrease in cases in three to six months.

The COVID-19 vaccine will not be the only way to push back the pandemic. The world will continue to fight the virus for a long time, and the short-term disease situation and end of the epidemic will depend on decisions made by leaders and people in the coming days. Accordingly, each citizen, each country must eliminate their subjective senses. In the short term, social distancing and epidemic prevention measures should be maintained in order to curb the spread of this dangerous pandemic.

China trade surplus hits record USD 75B as November exports soar

China’s politically sensitive trade surplus with the US soared to a record USD 75.4 billion November as exports surged 21.1 per cent over a year earlier, propelled by strong demand from American consumers.

Exports to the United States rose 46 per cent despite lingering tariff hikes in a trade war with Washington, customs data showed Monday.

Total exports rose to USD 268 billion, up from October’s 11.4 per cent growth.

Imports gained 5 per cent to USD 192.6 billion, up from the previous month’s 4.7 per cent, reflecting the growing strength of China’s economic rebound from the coronavirus pandemic.

Chinese exporters are benefiting from the economy’s relatively early reopening after the Communist Party declared the disease under control in March while foreign competitors still are hampered by anti-virus controls.

Exports were much stronger than expected in November, said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics in a report.

He noted that consumers have stepped up purchases of goods, cutting back on services that may not be safe or available during the pandemic.

Chinese exporters have temporarily taken global market share from competitors.

Forecasters say that surge is unlikely to last into 2021 once coronavirus vaccines are rolled out and consumption in Western markets gradually returns to normal.

Total exports for 2020 returned to positive territory in October after the first quarter’s 13.3 per cent contraction dragged down the overall figure.

Chinese import growth by volume has been bigger than the financial figures indicate due to slumping global prices for oil and other goods amid plunging demand.

Cyber Risk is the New Threat to Financial Stability

Many of us take for granted the ability to withdraw money from our bank account, wire it to family in another country, and pay bills online.Amid the global pandemic, we’ve seen how much digital connection matters to our everyday life. But what if a cyberattack takes the bank down and a remittance doesn’t go through?

As we become increasingly reliant on digital financial services, the number of cyberattacks has tripled over the last decade, and financial services continue to be the most targeted industry. Cybersecurity has clearly become a threat to financial stability.

Given strong financial and technological interconnections, a successful attack on a major financial institution, or on a core system or service used by many, could quickly spread through the entire financial system causing widespread disruption and loss of confidence. Transactions could fail as liquidity is trapped, household and companies could lose access to deposits and payments. Under extreme scenarios, investors and depositors may demand their funds or try to cancel their accounts or other services and products they regularly use.

Hacking tools are now cheaper, simpler and more powerful, allowing lower-skilled hackers to do more damage at a fraction of the previous cost. The expansion of mobile-based services (the only technological platform available for many people), increases the opportunities for hackers. Attackers target large and small institutions, rich and poor countries, and operate without borders. Fighting cybercrime and reducing risk must therefore be a shared undertaking across and inside countries.

While the daily foundational risk management work — maintaining networks, updating software and enforcing strong ‘cyber hygiene’ — remains with financial institutions, there is also a need to address common challenges and recognize the spillovers and interconnections across the financial system. Individual firm incentives to invest in protection are not enough; regulation and public policy intervention is needed to guard against underinvestment and protect the broader financial system from the consequences of an attack.

In our view, many national financial systems are not yet ready to manage attacks, while international coordination is still weak. In new IMF staff research, we suggest six major strategies that would considerably strengthen cybersecurity and improve financial stability worldwide.

The global financial system’s interdependencies can be better understood by mapping key operational and technological interconnections and critical infrastructure. Better incorporating cyber risk into financial stability analysis will improve the ability to understand and mitigate system-wide risk. Quantifying the potential impact will help focus the response and promote stronger commitment to the issue. Work in this area is nascent—in part due to data shortcomings on the impact of cyber events and modelling challenges—but must be accelerated to reflect its growing importance.More internationally consistent regulation and supervision will reduce compliance costs and build a platform for stronger cross-border cooperation. International bodies such as the Financial Stability Board, Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructure, and Basel Committee, have begun to strengthen coordination and foster convergence. National authorities need to work together on implementation.As cyberattacks become increasingly common, the financial system has to be able to resume operations quickly even in the face of a successful attack, safeguarding stability. So-called response and recovery strategies are still incipient, particularly in low-income countries, which need support in developing them. International arrangements are necessary to support response and recovery in cross-border institutions and services.More information-sharing on threats, attacks, and responses across the private and the public sectors will enhance the ability to deter and respond effectively. Yet, serious barriers remain, often stemming from national security concerns and data protection laws. Supervisors and central banks need to develop information sharing protocols and practices that work effectively within these constraints. A globally agreed template for information sharing, increased use of common information platforms, and expansion of trusted networks could all reduce barriers.Cyberattacks should become more expensive and riskier through effective measures to confiscate crime proceeds and prosecute criminals. Stepping up international efforts to prevent, disrupt and deter attackers would reduce the threat at its source. This requires strong co-operation between law enforcement agencies and national authorities responsible for critical infrastructure or security, across countries and agencies. Since hackers know no borders, global crime requires global enforcement.

Helping developing and emerging economies build cybersecurity capacity will strengthen financial stability and support financial inclusion. Low-income countries are particularly vulnerable to cyber risk. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the decisive role that connectivity plays in the developing world. Harnessing technology safely and securely will continue to be central to development and with it a need to ensure that cyber risk is addressed. As with any virus, the proliferation of cyber threats in any given country makes the rest of the world less safe.

Addressing all these gaps will require a collaborative effort from standard-setting bodies, national regulators, supervisors, industry associations, private sector, law enforcement, international organizations, and other capacity development providers and donors. The IMF is focusing its efforts on low-income countries, by providing capacity development to financial supervisors, and by bringing the issues and perspectives of these countries to the international bodies and policy discussions in which they are not adequately represented.

Hawley urges Trump to veto Covid bill absent stimulus checks

Sen. Josh Hawley is not happy that the leading coronavirus proposals lack another round of direct payments to Americans — and he’s taking his case straight to President Donald Trump.

The Missouri Republican lobbied Trump to veto any coronavirus aid bill that does not contain a second tranche of checks to Americans in a phone call on Saturday. And Hawley said the president listened intently as he flew home on Air Force One from a rally in Georgia.

“I said, ‘I think it’s vital that any relief include direct payments, and I’m not gonna vote for it if it doesn’t.’ And I also urged him to veto any bill that did not have direct payments in it,” Hawley said in an interview on Monday.

Hawley argues that it is “wild” that a Senate GOP proposal and a bipartisan $908 billion plan offers aid but doesn’t include more checks like those $1,200 payments in March’s massive CARES Act package. And he said Trump seemed receptive to the argument.

“We had a good conversation about it. And, you know, a pretty thorough conversation. He asked a number of questions about the state of play of the different proposals. And I think it’s fair to say that he was surprised at the direction that some of these were headed,” Hawley said.

The White House declined to comment on Hawley’s conversation with Trump. Judd Deere, a White House spokesperson, said, “President Trump understands that Americans are hurting and need relief, which is why the White House continues to engage with those in congressional leadership who are serious about moving quickly to approve billions in aid.”

If Trump were to take an antagonistic approach toward a bipartisan, bicameral proposal of $908 billion in new aid, it could easily sink the effort and delay a new round of relief until Joe Biden is sworn in as president in January. Trump, who hasn’t been deeply involved in talks since negotiations broke down before the election, seemed to bless the bipartisan effort last week, buoying Republicans like Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana who are trying to strike a compromise. But that support is now in question.

Hawley argued it’s not too late to change course and that direct payments should be the “cornerstone” of any package, not something that’s viewed as too expensive to tack onto money for governments, hospitals and schools. The House Democrat’s relief proposals, which Senate Republicans have rejected, include direct payments to Americans.

And it’s not just Trump who is interested. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also spoke to Hawley on Saturday about the need to focus on payments to Americans. Both oppose efforts from centrists that leave this provision out.

“Getting the $1,200 direct payments to workers during this unprecedented crisis should be a slam dunk. Sen. Hawley seems to understand that, and Sen. Sanders will talk to anyone to get this done,” said Faiz Shakir, who managed Sanders’ presidential campaign.

Adding payments into the mix now could complicate the fragile framework that Republican and Democratic negotiators are trying to finalize into legislative text by mid-week. That effort includes money for state and local governments and gives a temporary liability shield to business from coronavirus legislation, an attempt to triangulate the disagreements between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). McConnell has also put forward a smaller bill that he says the president would sign.

But Hawley, who is a close ally of Trump’s, says all those proposals have it backwards.

“Working families and individuals ought to be first for Covid relief, and then we’ll talk about everything else. I see some of these comments about ‘well, we just don’t have any money left over,’” Hawley said. “We don’t have money left over for people? We can give it to state governments, to businesses, but we don’t have any money for people? I just think that’s crazy.”

Ikea scraps famed catalogue after 70 years

STOCKHOLM: Swedish furniture giant Ikea said Monday it would stop printing its famed annual catalogue, ending a seven-decade tradition as customers moved to digital alternatives.

The catalogues offered a snapshot on contemporary living that made them intensely popular, with circulation reaching a peak in 2016, when 200 million copies in 32 different languages were distributed worldwide.

But as fewer people were reading the printed catalogue as online shopping soared, the retailer said it had taken the “decision to respectfully end the successful career of the Ikea Catalogue”.

According to Ikea, the very first catalogue was put together by the Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad himself in 1951, and it was printed in 285,000 copies, which were distributed around the southern part of Sweden where the company was also started.

“For 70 years it has been one of our most unique and iconic products,” Konrad Gruss, Managing Director at Inter Ikea Systems, said in a statement.

“Turning the page with our beloved catalogue is emotional but rational,” Gruss added.

Scrapping the physical catalogue is part of Ikea’s transformation “to become more digital and accessible,” the company said while noting that online sales had increased by 45 percent worldwide last year.

The last one to be printed was the 2021 version that shipped this summer and was printed in 40 million copies. — AFP

Indonesian minister says COVID-19 vaccines from China in good condition

JAKARTA, Dec. 7 (Xinhua) — COVID-19 vaccines from China were in good condition upon arrival in Indonesia and refrigeration vehicles for delivery have been well prepared to keep the vaccines undamaged and safe, Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto said on Monday.

“The physical checks must be carried out accurately, so that we are sure that the vaccine status is in good condition. There is no damaged packaging or contents, and the temperature during the trip or delivery meets the procedures,” the minister told a press conference here.

A vaccine storage warehouse has also been prepared to accommodate 1.2 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine from China with cold chain management following the procedures, he said, adding that the COVID-19 vaccines were expected to be distributed to provincial health offices in several parts of Indonesia before being sent to district or city health offices.

Indonesia’s state pharmaceutical company Bio Farma has been ready with vehicles with good cold storage facilities to monitor the vaccine temperature during the trip, so that the quality of the vaccine is well maintained, the minister said.

The first phase of the COVID-19 vaccination would be prioritized for health workers, health worker assistants, and supporting workers in health facilities, Antara news agency quoted him as saying.

Indonesian police kill 6 supporters of firebrand cleric

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesian police early Monday fatally shot six followers of a firebrand cleric who returned last month from a 3-year exile in Saudi Arabia after criminal charges against him were dropped, officials said, prompting fears of more violence.

Jakarta Police Chief Muhammad Fadil Imran said police were following a car carrying 10 supporters of Rizieq Shihab, the leader of the Islamic Defenders Front, early Monday morning. The followers attacked the police with guns and swords, threatening the officers’ safety, he said.

“The officers then took firm and measured action so that six died from the group of 10 people,” he said at a news conference. He did not give further details of the violence.

An official of the Islamic Defenders Front, Ahmad Shabri Lubis, gave a different account, saying that Shihab and his family were heading to a place to deliver a sermon and that guards traveling with them had been shot.

“On their way to the sermon location, the group was intercepted by unknown people that we strongly believed were part of an operational group to stalk and harm him. Those unknown people stopped and did the shooting of the family guards,” Lubis said in a statement.

Imran said police had been scheduled to interrogate Shihab on Monday morning over an alleged violation of coronavirus health regulations during his daughter’s wedding reception on Nov. 14, and they had received information about plans for a mass mobilization of his supporters at Jakarta police headquarters during his questioning.

As of Monday evening, Shihab had not appeared for the questioning, his second police summons after an earlier one last Tuesday.

Shihab was welcomed by tens of thousands of followers when he returned to Indonesia from exile on Nov. 10. He had left Indonesia in 2017 to go on an umrah, or minor pilgrimage, to Mecca shortly after police charged him in a pornography chat case and with allegedly insulting the official state ideology, Pancasila. Police dropped both charges last year due to weak evidence, but authorities in Saudi Arabia had banned him from leaving the country without any explanation.

His return comes as Islamist forces are gaining political strength in Indonesia.

The Islamic Defenders Front was once on the political fringes and has a long record of vandalizing nightspots, hurling stones at Western embassies and attacking rival religious groups. It wants Islamic Shariah law to apply to Indonesia’s 230 million Muslims.

Measures needed to curb particulate matter emitted by wear of car parts and road surfaces

Wear and tear from brakes, tyres and road surfaces will soon overtake car exhaust fumes as the leading source of fine particles released into the air by road traffic, according to a new OECD report, and heavy electric vehicles with long-distance batteries could compound the problem even as they slash emissions from engine exhaust.

The findings in Non-exhaust Particulate Emissions from Road Transport: An ignored Environmental Policy Challenge suggest that electric vehicles should not be exempted from tolls and congestion charges aimed at reducing road traffic emissions. Instead, road traffic regulations should consider both exhaust and “non-exhaust” emissions from all vehicles and should take into account factors like vehicle weight and tyre composition. Policy makers should also favour measures that reduce driving distances, limit urban vehicle access and encourage public transport, walking and cycling.

Exposure to airborne particulate matter (PM) is associated with acute respiratory infections, lung cancer, and chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Road traffic is behind a quarter of PM2.5, the most damaging type, in urban areas yet only exhaust emissions of PM are regulated. No standards exist for measuring or regulating non-exhaust PM emissions.

As particulate matter emitted from exhaust sources decreases with the uptake of electric vehicles, the majority of PM released into the air by road traffic could come from non-exhaust sources as early as 2035.

The amount of non-exhaust particulate matter a vehicle emits is determined by many factors, including vehicle weight, driving styles, the material composition of brakes, tyres and roads, and the amount of dust on road surfaces. Lightweight electric vehicles with a driving range of about 100 miles (161 km) emit an estimated 11-13% less PM2.5 than conventional vehicles in the same segment. However, heavier electric vehicles with battery packs enabling a range of 300 miles (483 km) emit an estimated 3-8% more PM2.5 than equivalent conventional vehicles.

The report finds that the total amount of non-exhaust particulate matter emitted by passenger vehicles worldwide is likely to rise by 53.5% by 2030.

These findings underline the need to establish standardised approaches to measuring non-exhaust particulate matter and to develop a better understanding of how factors like vehicle characteristics influence the amount of PM generated, the report says.

UK to begin coronavirus vaccinations on December 8

Those at highest priority for coronavirus vaccinations in the UK will roll their sleeves on Tuesday for the first jab of Pfizer’s recently approved injections.

The limited supply of the initial 800,000 doses will go to nursing home staff and people over age 80, as well as health and social care workers, according to the NHS website.

“Despite the huge complexities, hospitals will kickstart the first phase of the largest scale vaccination campaign in our country’s history from Tuesday,” Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said in a statement released Sunday. “The first tranche of vaccine deliveries will be landing at hospitals by Monday in readiness.”

The first wave of immunizations will involve 50 hospitals, with more involved as the program ramps up, according to the statement. Pfizer’s vaccine involves a two-dose regimen, administered 21 days apart, and necessitates careful handling with its sub-freezing storage requirements at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

“This coming week will be an historic moment as we begin vaccination against COVID-19,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

Powis said the distribution will be a “marathon not a sprint,” per the BBC, adding that widespread vaccination will require “many months.” The UK government ordered 40 million doses, which will be delivered through 2021, Pfizer previously announced.

The UK authorized Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine last week, marking the first Western nation to do so, in a move criticized by many for moving too quickly. Some reports pointed to Brexit in helping the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) speed along the regulatory process. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had sparked controversy with an earlier interview in which he said U.K. regulators hadn’t acted “as carefully” as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Fauci said late Thursday that he meant to say U.S. authorities do things differently than their British counterparts, not better, but his comments weren’t phrased properly.

U.K. regulators then went on the offensive Friday to beat back criticism that they rushed their authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine, saying they rigorously analyzed data on safety and effectiveness in the shortest time possible without compromising the thoroughness of their review.

UK’s Johnson to head to Brussels amid Brexit talks deadlock

BRUSSELS (AP) — More than four years after helping set Britain’s course out of the European Union, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is headed to EU headquarters to try to finish the job.

With less than a month until the U.K.’s economic rupture with the European Union and talks on a new trade deal at a standstill on three crucial issues, Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agreed Monday to meet in person “in the coming days” to see whether they can find common ground.

Brussels is dangerous territory for Brexit-backing British leaders. Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, came time and again to negotiate a Brexit deal, only to see it repeatedly rejected by her own Parliament, ending her top-level career. Johnson will be hoping for a quick in-and-out that leaves his reputation intact and his country on course for a free trade deal with its biggest economic partner.

Johnson and von der Leyen spoke by phone Monday for the second time in 48 hours, as their negotiators were stuck in gridlocked trade talks. They said after the call that that “significant differences” remained on three key issues — fishing rights, fair-competition rules and the governance of future disputes — and “the conditions for finalizing an agreement are not there.”

The two leaders said in a joint statement they planned to discuss the remaining differences “in a physical meeting in Brussels in the coming days.”

Despite the continuing impasse, plans for a top-level meeting will be seen as a sign there is still a chance of a deal, though No. 10 Downing St. said the situation was “tricky” and failure a distinct possibility.

No timing was given for the face-to-face meeting. Leaders of the 27 EU nations are due to hold a two-day summit in Brussels starting Thursday.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier had no news of a breakthrough when be briefed ambassadors of the 27 member states early Monday on the chances of a deal with London before the Dec. 31 deadline.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said Barnier’s message was “very downbeat.”

Penny Mordaunt, a junior minister for Brexit planning, told lawmakers in the House of Commons that the “level playing field” — competition rules that Britain must agree to to gain access to the EU market — was the most difficult unresolved issue.

Officials on both sides said there were also major differences over the legal oversight of any trade deal and European boats’ access to U.K. waters.

While the U.K. left the EU politically on Jan. 31, it remains within the bloc’s tariff-free single market and customs union through Dec. 31. Reaching a trade deal by then would ensure there are no tariffs and trade quotas on goods exported or imported by the two sides, although there would still be new costs and red tape.

Both sides would suffer economically from a failure to secure a trade deal, but most economists think the British economy would take a greater hit because the U.K. does almost half its trade with the bloc.

EU member states have to unanimously support any post-Brexit trade deal and the agreement still needs to be voted on by the European parliament, procedures that would push any deal right up to the end-of-year deadline.

While both Britain and the EU say they want a trade deal, trust and goodwill are strained after months of testy negotiations.

In a further complication, Johnson’s government on Monday revived legislation that breaches the legally binding Brexit withdrawal agreement it struck with the EU last year.

The U.K. government acknowledges that the Internal Market Bill breaks international law, and the legislation has been condemned by the EU, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and scores of British lawmakers, including many from Johnson’s own Conservative Party.

The House of Lords, Parliament’s upper chamber, removed the law-breaking clauses from the legislation last month, but Johnson’s government is asking lawmakers to put them back in.

Britain says the bill, which gives the government power to override parts of the withdrawal agreement relating to trade with Northern Ireland, is needed as an “insurance policy” to protect the flow of goods within the U.K. in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The EU sees it as an act of bad faith that could imperil Northern Ireland’s peace settlement.

On Wednesday the U.K. plans to introduce a Taxation Bill that contains more measures along the same lines and would further irritate the EU.

But the British government offered the bloc an olive branch on the issue, saying it would remove the lawbreaking clauses if a joint U.K.-EU committee on Northern Ireland found solutions in the coming days. It said talks in the committee, which continued Monday, had been constructive.

US Commander: Iran’s Naval Activity Has Been ‘Respectful’

Despite the simmering tensions between the US and Iran, the top US Navy commander in the Middle East said on Sunday that Iran’s naval activity in the region has been “cautious” and “respectful.”

The comments came from Vice Adm. Sam Paparo, the head of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain. “We have achieved an uneasy deterrence. That uneasy deterrence is exacerbated by world events and by events along the way,” Papro said at an event hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a UK-based think tank.

“But I have found Iranian activity at sea to be cautious and circumspect and respectful, to not risk unnecessary miscalculation or escalation at sea,” he said. Paparo said he has a “healthy respect” for Iran’s regular navy and the navy of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The US likes to complain about Iranian naval activity in the Persian Gulf and other waters near Iran’s coast. But the US makes plenty of its own provocative maneuvers in the region.

In September, the US sailed an aircraft carrier through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway near Iran’s western coast. The US has moved around military resources in recent months to send messages to Iran, including a group of B-52 bombers that were deployed to the Middle East in November.

The B-52 deployment came after a report said President Trump reviewed options to strike an Iranian nuclear site, raising fears of a possible military confrontation in the final days of his administration. Since the report came out, Iran has been preaching caution to its allies, and Israel has stepped up its provocations in the region. Tensions have been especially high since prominent Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in an apparent Israeli plot on November 27th.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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