The World Today for March 07, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

IRAN

Going Their Own Way

American officials are angry with British, French and German leaders who are proceeding with plans that could allow their countries’ businesses to trade with Iran.

But the Europeans don’t seem to care.

The dispute stems from President Donald Trump’s decision last year to pull the US out of the Iran nuclear deal that former President Barack Obama and European leaders helped negotiate.

Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran that had been rescinded under the agreement. The Europeans, however, remained in the deal.

Recently, reported Deutsche Welle, they established the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (Instex) to facilitate payments between Europe and Iran. Instex initially will only allow for trade in humanitarian goods. But someday it might allow for other payments.

The Americans weren’t pleased. “Europe’s trust in Iranian promises is severely misplaced,” was the headline of an opinion piece in the Hill written by Sigal Mandelker, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

A Bloomberg Opinion editorial argued for the US to impose sanctions on European officials, banks and others involved with Instex. The editorial suggested the Europeans were bluffing and didn’t really want to cross the US.

Political scientist Henry Farrell of George Washington University disagreed. Writing in the Washington Post, Farrell noted that the Europeans appointed top diplomats to oversee Instex, a move that reflects their seriousness.

The issue has become one of many that illustrate the serious rift that has opened between the US and its traditional allies in Europe. “No one any longer believes that Trump cares about the views or interests of the allies. It’s broken,” a German official, speaking anonymously, told the New York Times.

The larger question, however, is whether Europe’s relationship with Iran will benefit peace in the world.

Israeli civil rights attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner didn’t think so. Britain recently outlawed all factions of Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed group that has political and militant wings. But the political wing still operates in Germany and elsewhere, raising money that Darshan-Leitner claimed helps the militants operate in Syria and Yemen, she wrote in the Jerusalem Post.

European opposition to Iran’s missile program didn’t stop the mullahs from testing missiles recently, either, US Special Representative to Iran Brian Hook told NPR.

But Al Jazeera was less convinced. The relatively insignificant Instex won’t help Iran’s floundering economy anytime soon, the Qatar-based news service wrote.

Meanwhile, moderates are losing ground in Iran amid the American criticism, reported Politico, meaning hardliners who are more likely to support terror are garnering more power.

Europe, alas, is powerless to change that momentum.

WANT TO KNOW

RUSSIA

Spy vs. Spy

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow had thwarted 600 foreign agents and intelligence personnel attempting to meddle in Russian affairs last year.

“Counterintelligence agencies acted effectively and offensively last year. Thanks to successful special operations, 129 staff officers and 465 agents of foreign special services were stopped,” Putin told a meeting of the Federal Security Service (FSB), according to CNN.

The Russian leader added that foreign spies “are striving to increase their activity” across Russia in an effort to obtain information on the country’s economy, scientific research and technology.

In one of the more publicized cases, the FSB arrested Michigan resident Paul Whelan on suspicion of espionage late last year, alleging that he was caught with classified material in Moscow. However, security analysts suggested that his arrest was most likely an attempt to gain leverage in negotiations over America’s arrest of Maria Butina on similar charges.

ITALY

Citizen Stimulus

Italy rolled out the basic income program that’s the flagship policy of the Five Star Movement, despite worries that the scheme to help claimants to find work and get off the dole isn’t ready yet.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the far-right League swept to power on populist promises in the last election, even as Italy is still struggling with high levels of debt.

The Five Star Movement says its “Citizen’s Income” scheme will alleviate poverty, boost consumer spending and spur economic growth, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported. But critics are concerned about its $8.03 billion price tag in its first year.

To be eligible, citizens must prove their household income is less than the poverty line figure of roughly $880 a month to be able to claim up to €880 for single people and $1,470 for a family with two children. An estimated 5 million people may be eligible.

Recipients must undergo job training and will lose their benefits if they turn down more than three job offers. But critics say the system to provide the necessary training and find jobs for the recipients doesn’t yet exist.

JAPAN

‘Hostage Justice’

The case of ex-Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn is drawing attention to what critics call Japan’s “hostage justice” system under which suspects can be held for months after their arrest.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire welcomed Ghosn’s release on Wednesday, Reuters reported. But in a common scenario for Japan, the former darling of the automotive industry spent more than 100 days in detention following his arrest on Nov. 19, the agency noted separately.

After his initial arrest on suspicion of under-reporting his compensation, he was arrested two more times in other investigations, each time allowing prosecutors to keep him in custody, interrogate him without his lawyers being present, and press him to confess simply to secure his release.

Freed on bail of $9 million on Wednesday, Ghosn is already an exception to the norm, as suspects who maintain they are innocent are rarely granted bail between their indictment and trial. To get out of jail, Ghosn also agreed to stay in Japan, allow surveillance cameras to be installed at his residence and accept limits on his mobile phone and computer use.

DISCOVERIES

Go Play Outside

There might be a real medical reason that explains why city people move to greener suburban areas.

Scientists in Denmark recently found that the presence of green spaces affects the mental health of children as they grow up, NPR reported.

In a study, biologist Kristine Engemann and her team analyzed data from the Danish Civil Registration System of nearly one million Danes born between 1985 and 2003.

Researchers then compared the risk of developing 16 different mental health disorders with how much vegetation was around a child’s residence.

They discovered that children raised near green areas were 15 to 55 percent less likely to develop mental disorders – for example, the prevalence of alcoholism was strongly associated with the lack of green spaces.

“Green space seemed to have an association that was similar in strength to other known influences on mental health, like history of mental health disorders in the family, or socioeconomic status,” said Engemann.

Engemann acknowledges that the study has limitations in exploring how and why green zones affect human psychology. Still, other researchers believe the study will help encourage better city planning to include more vegetation.

At least now it’s understandable why parents push their kids to go play outside.

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