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Pompeo Touts ‘Toughest’ GOP Sanctions Bill on Iran Amid Signs of Tentative Progress at Vienna Talks

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Amid ongoing Vienna talks to reactivate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Biden administration has been sending indications to Tehran that it may consider reducing punitive sanctions currently targeting Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joined House Republicans on Wednesday for the unveiling of the “Maximum Pressure Act” – GOP legislation seeking to enact further sanctions on Iran while fettering President Joe Biden’s ability to roll back punitive restriction on Tehran.

“America, our ally, Israel and the world are safer because President Trump’s Maximum Pressure policy and crushing sanctions denied the Iranians the resources they needed to support building a nuclear weapon or to support terrorism around the globe,” Pompeo, who led a push for sanctions during the Donald Trump administration, said in a statement cited by Fox News.

Members of the Republican Study Committee, a conservative House GOP caucus led by Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., announced plans to introduce the 118-page legislation relating to Iran’s nuclear programme with the backing of 83 House Republicans.

Coming against the backdrop of ongoing Vienna talks between senior diplomats from the US, Iran, Germany, France, Russia, China and the European Union in a bid to chart a manner in which the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) can be fully restored, the bill seeks to forestall a US reentry into the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Amid signs of tentative progress in indirect talks between the US and Iran in Vienna, the proposed legislation would incorporate measures that would require any new deal with Tehran to be ratified by the Senate, while codifying into law sanctions introduced on Iran during the Trump-era.

Furthermore, the bill would expand sanctions, extending them to the Iran’s ballistic missile programme, the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iranian-backed militias elsewhere in the Middle East and a range of Iranian industries.

“This bill will do three things. It shows that Congress is not bound to agreements by the president that purports to speak on our behalf. Secondly it codifies the Trump administration’s maximum-pressure strategy until Iran meets the 12 demands laid out by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in May of 2018. And thirdly, it expands the existing, bipartisan Iran sanctions mandated by Congress, making it the toughest sanctions bill ever introduced in Congress on Iran,” said RSC chairman Jim Banks at a press conference on 21 April.

Pompeo, who served in the House from 2011 until joining the Trump administration in 2017, weighed in on the proposed legislation, saying that he had been “working on this issue with respect to Iran for an awfully long time”.

Underscoring that despite the Trump administration’s sanctions Tehran has continued to expand its nuclear programme, Pompeo stated:

“A pressure campaign — an effective one like we delivered — will continue to make the Iranians make difficult choices. Hard choices about whether to underwrite Hezbollah, underwrite the militias in Iraq… underwrite the Houthis… I’m proud of this legislation. It talks about the things that need to be done for Iran to rejoin the community of nations.”

Sending ‘Signal’ to Biden

Throughout his run for the White House in 2020 Democrat Joe Biden had campaigned on a promise to revive the Iran nuclear deal and reverse Trump’s maximum pressure strategy, which saw the US unilaterally scrap the 2015 Iran deal in 2018.

As Trump unleashed a plethora of sanctions on Tehran, in response, Tehran took several steps against denuclearisation, arguing that since the US had abandoned the deal first.


©
REUTERS / LEONHARD FOEGER

An Iranian opposition group protests outside a hotel, during a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission, in Vienna, Austria, April 9, 2021.

Once entering office, Joe Biden and his administration indicated they were open to rejoin the deal, rescinding the Trump-era push to snapback UN sanctions that expired as part of the 2015 accord. This included an arms embargo that terminated in 2020.

Mike Pompeo had led the push for snapback sanctions, as the US claimed that despite leaving the deal, it retained rights as a participant of an accompanying UN Security Council resolution, allowing participants to trigger the “snapback” process if they decided Iran was breaching the conditions of the agreement.

“President Biden has already demonstrated a troubling pattern of using tough rhetoric but pursuing the same, failed appeasement policies as his predecessor President Obama. His foreign policy can best be summarized: ‘Speak loudly and carry a twig,’” said Rep. Jim Banks.

Vienna Talks

This comes as earlier in April diplomats from Iran and the P4+1 (China, Russia, France, and the UK plus Germany) met in Vienna to discuss ways to get Iran and US back into the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared on Tuesday that the US and Iran could reach an agreement to return to the 2015 nuclear deal soon if American negotiators proceed with “honesty” throughout the talks.

Rouhani added that at a meeting with activists in Tehran that the Vienna negotiations had “progressed about 60, 70%,” yet the Middle Eastern nation was in “no hurry” to revive the deal.


©
AFP 2021 / LARS TERNES

In this Handout photo made available by the EU delegation in Vienna shows Diplomats of the EU, China, Russia and Iran at the start of talks at the Grand Hotel in Vienna on April 6, 2021. – The US will participate in discussions in Vienna to try to save the international agreement on Iranian nuclear power. However, they will not be at the same table as Tehran and it is the Europeans who will serve as intermediaries between the two parties, in the hope of achieving concrete results after two months of impasse.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration had reportedly been sending indications to Tehran that it may consider reducing oil and financial sanctions currently targeting Iran in the context of the negotiations, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper cited sources participating in the discussions as claiming that US negotiators had put detailed proposals for reducing sanctions or removing them altogether on the table.

 



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By 2050, a quarter of the world’s people will be African – this will shape our future | Edward Paice

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In 2022 the world’s population will pass 8 billion. It has increased by a third in just two decades. By 2050, there will be about 9.5 billion of us on the planet, according to respected demographers. This makes recent comments by Elon Musk baffling. According to him, “the low birthrate and the rapidly declining birthrate” is “one of the biggest risks to civilisation”.

Fertility rates in Europe, North America and east Asia are generally below 2.1 births per woman, the level at which populations remain stable at constant mortality rates. The trajectory in some countries is particularly arresting. The birthrate in Italy is the lowest it has ever been in the country’s history. South Korea’s fertility rate has been stuck below one birth per woman for decades despite an estimated $120bn (£90bn) being spent on initiatives aimed at raising it. Japan started the century with 128 million citizens but is on course to have only 106 million by 2050. China’s population will peak at 1.45 billion in 2030, but if it proves unable to raise its fertility rate, the world’s most populous country could end the century with fewer than 600 million inhabitants. This is the “big risk” alluded to by Musk. The trouble is, his statement seems to imply that “civilisation” does not include Africa.

The populations of more than half of Africa’s 54 nations will double – or more – by 2050, the product of sustained high fertility and improving mortality rates. The continent will then be home to at least 25% of the world’s population, compared with less than 10% in 1950. Expansion on this scale is unprecedented: whereas the population of Asia will have multiplied by a factor of four in this timeframe, Africa’s will have risen tenfold. “Chronic youthfulness”, as demographer Richard Cincotta has termed it, is the result: 40% of all Africans are children under the age of 14 and in most African countries the median age is below 20.

African mothers will have about 450 million children in the 2020s. This is projected to rise to more than 550 million in the 2040s, about 40% of all children born worldwide in that decade. Overall, low or rapidly declining birthrates remain the exception rather than the rule in most of Africa. Globally, the number of births are at their highest level ever – 140 million a year – and are unlikely to fall by much in the course of the next two to three decades.

graphic

That is some bow wave underpinning future population growth, for good or ill (or both). With continuing high fertility in east, west and central Africa, the continent will contribute 1.3 billion of the 2 billion increase in the global population between 2019 and 2050. By then, the populations of east and west Africa will each exceed that of Europe. Thereafter, Africa’s varied demography will be one of the principal determinants of whether the global population will peak in the second half of the 21st century or continue growing, a vexed and contested issue with added significance in the age of the climate crisis.

Elon Musk’s population implosion narrative is not original. It echoes that of Dr HB McKlveen, warning of the “depopulation of civilised nations” in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1895; and that of many western economists in the 1930s, John Maynard Keynes among them. More than 50 years after the publication of Paul Ehrlich’s bestselling The Population Bomb, explosion narratives also burst forth at regular intervals. To date, human adaptability and resilience have overcome demographic crises (such as the Black Death in the 14th century), and periodic alarmism. This is not intended to sound complacent or Panglossian, merely to caution that alarmist narratives are invariably touted for ideological or some other specific reasons. Beyond two or three decades, demographic futurology is fraught with pitfalls, although not nearly as hazardous as medium- and long-term economic or weather forecasting.

The omission of African demography from Musk’s pronouncement is symptomatic of colossal shortcomings in the understanding of Africa and its constituent countries in the west. African delegations are bit-part players at global gatherings like Cop26, despite the ramifications of the climate crisis for the continent (and its potential for countering deleterious effects). Western governments have been slow to cooperate with African counterparts in the battle to contain Covid-19, and have done woefully little by way of assistance. Africa remains fundamentally marginalised, including in stereotypical depictions in most western media and the imaginations of most western citizens. This lamentable state of affairs cannot – will not – endure.

Sheer weight of numbers must bring about a reimagining of African countries and their populations. This alone will impact geopolitics, global trade, technological development, the future of the world’s dominant religions, patterns of migration – almost every aspect of life. More widespread familiarity with the continent’s diverse demographic characteristics and trajectories is a good entry point to this reimagining. Oh, and it might also help to be ever-cognisant of the fact that the landmasses of China, the US, Europe, India and Japan can all fit inside this continent that will loom ever-larger in the lives of its neighbours and the world.

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MEPs keen to speed up green-transition fund for poor

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The EU should start paying out its €72bn fund for helping poor households shift to green energy in 2024, instead of 2025 as previously planned, according to a European Parliament proposal seen by Reuters. “The green transition should be feasible for everyone,” Dutch centre-right MEP Esther de Lange said. “The fund should not be used to buy Teslas …. but rather small- and medium-sizes cars for everyday families,” she added.

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Hope and pride: Zimbabweans put the country on the map in world of wine | Global development

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Like many young Zimbabweans before and since, Tinashe Nyamudoka left the economic chaos of his country to find work and a better life for himself in neighbouring South Africa.

When he left in 2008, Nyamudoka had never tasted wine. Now, he ranks among southern Africa’s top sommeliers and has his own wine label with international sales.

“We have a lot going against us as Zimbabweans, and you might think there is nothing good coming out of the country,” says the 36-year-old. “So, for me to be recognised as the [top] sommeliers in the world, being African and Zimbabwean, instils a sense of hope and pride.”

Nyamudoka began his career as a waiter in a Cape Town restaurant, where he learned about the different varieties and tastes of the wines his customers drank. He moved on to become a hotel wine waiter, working alongside some of the city’s leading sommeliers.

After studying his trade, he won the best wine steward award in a competition for luxury hotels in the Western Cape in 2013.

Tinashe Nyamudoka sniffs a glass of wine
Tinashe Nyamudoka first learned about wine tasting while working as a waiter in Cape Town. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

His talents received international attention when, in 2017, he and three other Zimbabwean sommeliers were selected to take part in the World Blind Tasting Championship in France. The team was the first from Zimbabwe to take part in the contest, in which competitors have to use just their palate to identify the variety of grape, country of origin, appellation, vintage and producer of the wines.

The Zimbabweans did not win – coming 23rd out of 24 teams – but their story became the subject of a documentary released last year, Blind Ambition, which Nyamudoka says brought him “a sense of pride”. The team returned to the competition the next year and this time came 14th – beating the UK and the US teams.

His wine label, Kumusha – “home” or “roots” in Zimbabwe’s Shona language – has benefited from his celebrity, producing 200,000 bottles a year, up from 1,200 when it was launched four years ago. “People started embracing it,” he says.

“I conceptualised it [the label] around 2014,” he adds. “Xenophobia was hitting home [in South Africa] and we were all missing kumusha.”

The eight Kumusha wines – three reds, four whites and a rosé – are all produced in South Africa. They are sold in the US, the Netherlands, Kenya and Zimbabwe – “my exciting market”, he says. This month, he is starting to export his wines to the UK.

“I started this brand from scratch with no aid or financial handouts. It has been pure grit, passion and dedication,” he says. “I want people to understand that you can make it without prejudice.”

But Nyamudoka says he has encountered racism on his way to the top of a white-dominated industry.

“There are instances where you get to a tasting, and it is all white [people], you kind of feel out of place. At work, you cannot get the position you want because you are black. It comes in different forms. It is not obvious, it is much more subtle,” he says.

A bottle of Kumusha red wine
Kumusha’s cabernet sauvignon and cinsault, from the Slanghoek region of the Western Cape. It will be launched in the UK this month. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

“When I was in my last days on the floor [in a restaurant], people would recognise your talent, but they would not give you your flowers [recognition] because you are not like them. It is like you must work twice as hard to prove yourself. It is always going to be there, I suppose.”

Nyamudoka, who sits on the board of the recently established Sommeliers Association of Zimbabwe, hopes that his achievements will encourage other Zimbabweans to enter the wine industry.

“There’s been an emergence of black sommeliers in the world as the industry becomes more diverse. We see the hospitality offering in Zimbabwe improving and there will be a need for sommeliers.”

A fellow sommelier, Takura Makadzange, agrees. Also from Harare, Makdazange, 38, trained in Australia, working his way up from hotel porter to restaurant owner. Now, he is back in Zimbabwe.

“I came back home because there are plenty of opportunities. There is plenty of space in hospitality. Recently there has been more of an explosion in the food and drink sector in Zimbabwe, especially speciality wines that are being made now.

“The industry has grown, the fish industry has grown and we can have access to wildlife and game meat. Promoting the local food and beverage industry is a no-brainer. We have something that no one else does. National pride is important but also we have beautiful products,” he says.

Makadzange qualified for last month’s Ubuntu Sommelier Trophy in South Africa, but had to withdraw when he caught Covid-19.

“There are instances where a less-qualified white person is trusted with looking after the wine list over any person of colour, but you have to keep moving,” he says.

“It is very unusual for a Zimbabwean to do well in this field. We want to continue that trajectory.

“I think it’s time we have more women sommeliers from Zimbabwe so, hopefully, I will train someone to get to the standard of competing.”

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