Iran nuclear deal: Macron and Rouhani agree to look at conditions for talks

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (R) is shown nuclear technology by Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (9 April 2019)Image copyrightAFP
Image captionPresident Rouhani (R) inspecting nuclear technology earlier this year

France and Iran have agreed to look at conditions for resuming talks to try to save Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers, President Emmanuel Macron says.

During a phone call with President Hassan Rouhani, Mr Macron expressed his “strong concern” about the consequences of abandoning the 2015 accord.

Mr Rouhani called on European countries to act urgently to save the deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear programme.

The agreement has been in jeopardy since the US pulled out last year.

President Donald Trump later imposed punishing sanctions on Iran. In May, Iran responded by stepping up production of enriched uranium, used to make reactor fuel but also potentially nuclear bombs.

Iran has already stockpiled more enriched uranium than the country was supposed to. The country has been expected to announce on Sunday that it will breach another limit by taking the enrichment process to a higher level.

It is going to be hard – if not impossible – to get the Americans back on board, BBC Diplomatic Correspondent Jonathan Marcus writes.

The Europeans are struggling to do much to relieve the pressure on Iran from US sanctions and the fate of the nuclear deal itself is now more precarious than ever, he adds.

What did Macron and Rouhani say?

The French presidency published a statement (in French), saying that President Macron had spoken for more than an hour with his Iranian counterpart.

Mr Macron said he was very concerned about the “risk of a further weakening” of the treaty and “the consequences that would necessarily follow”.

The statement said the two leaders had agreed “to explore by 15 July the conditions for the resumption of dialogue between all parties” – beyond a Sunday deadline announced by Iran.

Mr Rouhani had previously given the five countries still party to the deal – the UK, France, Germany, China and Russia – until Sunday to meet their commitment to shield Iran from the sanctions’ effects.

The French statement also said Mr Macron would continue consultations with the Iranian side and international partners to reduce tensions.

Media captionThe BBC’s James Landale went to Tehran’s Grand Bazaar to see what people think of the stringent sanctions

President Rouhani urged the European signatories to act to save the deal.

“Lifting all sanctions can be the beginning of a move between Iran and six major powers,” Mr Rouhani said.

What is enriched uranium?

Enriched uranium is produced by feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into centrifuges to separate out the most suitable isotope for nuclear fission, called U-235.

Men work inside a uranium conversion facility outside Isfahan (30 March 2005)Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionPrior to enrichment, uranium ore concentrate must be converted into uranium hexafluoride

Under the deal, Iran is only permitted to produce low-enriched uranium, which has a 3-4% concentration of U-235, and can be used to produce fuel for nuclear power plants.

Weapons-grade uranium is 90% enriched or more.

The deal also restricted Iran to stockpiling no more than 300kg (661lb) of the low-enriched uranium.

A stockpile of 1,050kg, however, could be further enriched later into enough material to build one bomb, according to the Arms Control Association.

Iran strongly denies any intention to build nuclear weapons.

Map showing sites associated with Iran's nuclear programme


Hong Kong protests: Carrie Lam condemns ‘extreme use of violence’

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam has condemned what she called the “extreme use of violence” by protesters who stormed and vandalised the territory’s parliament on Monday night.

Activists occupied the Legislative Council (LegCo) for hours after breaking away from a peaceful protest.

The unrest follows peaceful protests sparked by a divisive extradition bill.

The chief executive held a pre-dawn press conference after police had fired tear gas to clear LegCo.

Flanked by Police Commissioner Lo Wai-chung, she said the actions of those who broke into LegCo were “something that we should seriously condemn, because nothing is more important than the rule of law in Hong Kong”.

The government suspended the extradition bill last month and it is now unlikely to pass, but the protesters want it scrapped completely and are calling on Ms Lam to stand down.

What happened on Monday?

Monday was the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

Media captionChampagne toasts and protests on HK handover anniversary

The day is usually marked by an annual pro-democracy march, but this year’s event followed weeks of unrest in the city over a controversial extradition law.

Critics have said the law could be used to send political dissidents from semi-autonomous Hong Kong to mainland China.

There were some scuffles in the early morning, as protesters blocked streets around the venue where Ms Lam was attending the annual flag-raising ceremony.

At around midday, dozens of demonstrators broke off from the main protest and made their way to LegCo.

Picture of Carrie Lam with hammer and sickle across her faceImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe protesters see Ms Lam as doing Beijing’s bidding

They effectively besieged the building, as a large crowd of several hundred watched from a distance, before eventually smashing their way through the glass facade.

Inside, they defaced the emblem of Hong Kong in the central chamber, raised the old British colonial flag, spray-painted messages across the walls and shattered furniture.

At about midnight outside the building, protesters clad in plastic helmets and brandishing umbrellas retreated from a baton charge by riot police, who quickly overcame their makeshift barriers.

Within an hour, the streets around the building were clear of everyone except the media and police

What did Carrie Lam say?

Speaking in the early hours outside the police headquarters, Ms Lam said it was a scene that “really saddens… and shocks a lot of people”.

She contrasted Monday’s tumultuous events with the annual peaceful march on 1 July, which she said reflected “the core values we attach to peace and order” in Hong Kong.

Media captionHong Kong leader Carrie Lam condemns protesters who stormed parliament

Ms Lam showed little emotion as she stressed the importance of maintaining the rule of law in Hong Kong.

“I hope the community at large will agree with us that with these violent acts that we have seen, it is right for us to condemn it, and hope society will return to normal as soon as possible,” she told reporters.

She strongly denied she could be blamed for failing to address the protesters’ demands, saying the government had “not responded to every demand asked because of good reasons”.

The extradition bill would now expire with the end of the government’s term, she said. “That is a very positive response to the demands that we have heard.”

She also argued that granting an amnesty to all protesters would not be “in accordance with the rule of law”.

In an apparent warning to protesters, Ms Lam said Hong Kong’s authorities would “pursue any illegal acts” carried out by demonstrators.

Why are people protesting?

Hong Kong is part of China but run under a “one country, two systems” arrangement, that guarantees it a level of autonomy, and rights not seen on the mainland.

Protests began in June, focusing on the extradition laws. But they have broadened to include the release of all detained activists and investigations into alleged police violence, as well as general concerns over Beijing’s influence eroding the territory’s rule of law and special rights.

Last month’s demonstrations in June forced the government to apologise and suspend the planned extradition law.

However, many protesters have said they will not back down until the bill is completely scrapped. Others are also calling for Ms Lam to step down.

What has China said?

There has been no official Chinese reaction to the latest protests.

The state run Global Times newspaper on Tuesday condemned what happened as “nothing short of mob-like behaviour”.

“Out of blind arrogance and rage, protestors showed a complete disregard for law and order,” the an editorial in the English-language paper said.

Before the violence at night, US President Donald Trump on Monday had expressed his support for the protesters.

He said the demonstrators were “looking for democracy,” adding that “unfortunately, some governments don’t want democracy”.

Protesters break the windows of LegCoImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionProtesters break the windows of LegCo after storming the building

The UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said at the weekend there was “unwavering” support for “Hong Kong and its freedoms” but urged restraint from protesters.

He said the rights of Hong Kong, as agreed in the handover, were “a legally-binding treaty and remains as valid today as it did when it was signed and ratified”.

Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said the people of Hong Kong were “seething with anger and frustration.”

In a tweet late on Monday evening, he said the idea of “one country, two systems” was “nothing but a lie” and urged the global community to “support the people’s struggle for freedom and fully democratic elections”.


Donald Trump hits out at ‘unacceptable’ India tariffs

US President Donald Trump has called new Indian tariffs on US products “unacceptable” and demanded that they be withdrawn.

India imposed retaliatory tariffs on 28 US products earlier in June, after the US announced it was withdrawing India’s preferential trade treatment.

Mr Trump’s criticism came a day after the two sides had downplayed tensions.

He is due to meet Mr Modi on the sidelines of the G20 summit, which begins on 28 June in Osaka, Japan.

Shortly before leaving for Japan, the US president told reporters on the White House lawn that he would be meeting leaders from different countries, “many of whom have been taking advantage of the United States – but not anymore”.

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Mr Trump’s tweet appeared to contradict a joint statement made by India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday.

It said that “even great friends had differences,” in what was seen as an attempt to downplay tensions.

Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House in June 2017Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionMr Modi and Mr Trump, seen here in 2017, have had cordial ties but their countries are at odds over trade

US-India bilateral trade was worth $142bn (£111bn) in 2018, a sevenfold increase since 2001, according to US figures.

But $5.6bn worth of Indian exports – previously duty-free in the US – will be hit since the country lost preferential treatment under America’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) – a scheme that allows some goods to enter the US duty-free.

Trade tensions have been simmering between the two countries. Last year, India retaliated against US tariff hikes on aluminium and steel by raising its own import duties on a range of goods.

Mr Trump has also threatened to impose sanctions if India purchases oil from Iran and goes ahead with plans to buy Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles.


US-Mexico talks: Trump hails deal on migrants to avoid tariffs

President Donald Trump has hailed a deal reached with Mexico to help stem the flow of migrants to the US after he threatened to impose trade tariffs.

Under the deal, in which Mexico agreed to take “unprecedented steps”, the duties that were due to come into effect on Monday have been suspended.

“Mexico will try very hard, and if they do that, this will be a very successful agreement,” said Mr Trump.

There were fears that the tariffs could hurt US businesses and consumers.

Under Mr Trump’s proposal, duties would have risen by 5% every month on goods including cars, beer, tequila, fruit and vegetables until they hit 25% in October.

The deal was reached at the end of three days of negotiations which saw Washington demand a crackdown on Central American migrants.

What do we know about the deal?

In a joint declaration released by the US state department, the two countries said Mexico would take “unprecedented steps” to curb irregular migration and human trafficking.

But it seems the US did not get one of its reported key demands, which would have required Mexico to take in asylum seekers heading for the US and process their claims on its own soil.

Under the deal, Mexico agreed to:

  • Deploy its National Guard throughout the country from Monday, pledging up to 6,000 additional troops along Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala
  • Take “decisive action” to tackle human smuggling networks

The US agreed to:

  • Expand its programme of sending asylum seekers back to Mexico while they await reviews of their claims. In return, the US will “work to accelerate” the adjudication process

Both countries pledged to “strengthen bilateral co-operation” over border security, including “co-ordinated actions” and information sharing.

Media captionFive numbers that explain why the current US border situation is different

The declaration added that discussions would continue, and final terms would be accepted and announced within 90 days.

Should Mexico’s actions “not have the expected results”, the agreement warned that additional measures could be taken but did not specify what these would be.

In one of a series of tweets about the deal, Mr Trump quoted National Border Patrol Council president Brandon Judd as saying: “That’s going to be a huge dealbecause Mexico will be using their strong Immigration Laws – A game changer. People no longer will be released into the U.S.”

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Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard told journalists: “I think it was a fair balance, because they have more drastic measures and proposals at the start, and we have reached some middle point.”

Speaking at a separate news conference, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said “we couldn’t be more pleased with the agreement”.

Mr Trump caught members of his own party unaware when he announced the proposed tariffs last week.

Trump tariff threat recedes – for now

By Will Grant, BBC Mexico and Central America correspondent

It’s still unclear whether it was internal pressure within his party or the measures being offered by Mexico that dissuaded Mr Trump from implementing the plan, or perhaps simply an appreciation of its potential consequences.

It became apparent during the talks just how intertwined the two neighbouring economies are, and many argued that a 5% tax on all Mexican goods would hurt US suppliers and customers too. Furthermore, damaging the already fragile Mexican economy could have pushed it into a full recession and created more migrants heading north in search of work.

Still, some considered the bilateral meetings were useful, in part to recognise that both nations are facing a steep rise in undocumented immigration.

The plan to deploy military personnel to Mexico’s southern border may well have helped bring this dispute to an end. However, President Trump has now tied immigration to bilateral trade and could easily do so again in the future should the situation fail to improve.

What is the reaction in Mexico?

Mexico is currently one of the largest trading partners of the US, just behind China and Canada – two countries also locked in trade disputes with the US.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador ran for office vowing to stand up to the US and once said he would not allow Mexico to be Mr Trump’s “whipping boy”.

A pie chart showing Mexico exports to the US

But some Mexican politicians felt he had given too much, too quickly, and they demanded to see details of the deal.

Ángel Ávila Romero, a senior member of the left-wing PRD party, said the agreement was “not a negotiation, it was a surrender”.

“Mexico should not militarise its southern border. We are not the backyard of Donald Trump,” he tweeted.

Media captionWhy are Africans in Mexico heading to US?

Marko Cortés, leader of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), said the sovereignty and dignity of Mexico had been damaged, newspaper El Universal reported.

Mr López Obrador said on Twitter that a rally in the border city of Tijuana on Saturday to celebrate Mexican sovereignty would go ahead.

What’s the situation on the US-Mexico border?

On Wednesday, US Customs and Border Protection said migrant detentions had surged in May to the highest level in more than a decade – 132,887 arrests, a 33% increase from April.

The detentions were the highest monthly total since Mr Trump took office.

Chart showing apprehensions on US-Mexico border

Official figures show illegal border crossings had been in decline since 2000. In 2000, 1.6 million people were apprehended trying to cross the border illegally – that number was just under 400,000 in 2018.

In 2017, Mr Trump’s first year in office, the figures were the lowest they had been since 1971. But the number of arrests has been rising again, especially in recent months.

In February, Mr Trump declared an emergency on the US-Mexico border, saying it was necessary in order to tackle what he claimed was a crisis.


Australia media raids: Police do not rule out prosecuting journalists

Media captionPolice officers arrived at the Sydney headquarters of Australia’s public broadcaster on Wednesday morning

Australian authorities say they have not decided whether they will prosecute journalists at the centre of controversial police raids.

Broadcasters and rights groups have condemned searches by police at the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) and a News Corp reporter’s home this week.

They have criticised the seizures of documents as attacks on press freedom.

News reports may have breached national security laws, the Australian Federal Police reiterated on Thursday.

What are the stories in question?

Police searched the ABC’s Sydney headquarters on Wednesday over a 2017 investigative series known as The Afghan Files.

According to the broadcaster, the series “revealed allegations of unlawful killings and misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan”.

ABC lawyers with police officersImage copyrightABC NEWS
Image captionThe warrant allowed police to seize documents from the ABC

Tuesday’s search at the home of newspaper journalist Annika Smethurst related to her 2018 report about a government plan to spy on Australian citizens.

What did police say on Thursday?

In a press briefing, acting Commissioner Neil Gaughan defended the searches. He said they had related to stories where “top-secret and secret” government information had been published.

“No sector of the community should be immune to this type of activity or evidence collection more broadly,” he said.

Asked whether police intended to prosecute media representatives, he said: “We have not made a decision.”

However, the commissioner added that authorities would consider the “public interest” of the news reports before proceeding with any case.

What’s been the backlash?

Rights groups and other news organisations, including the BBC, have made protests over the police raids.

The leading journalists’ union in the country said the two raids represented a “disturbing pattern of assaults on Australian press freedom”. Other unions and civil liberties groups also condemned the actions.

The search of Ms Smethurst’s home provoked anger from her employer News Corp Australia. The multinational media corporation, owned by press mogul Rupert Murdoch, called the raid “outrageous and heavy-handed” and “a dangerous act of intimidation”.

Annika SmethurstImage copyrightABC
Image captionAnnika Smethurst reported top secret discussions about new surveillance powers

In a statement on Wednesday, ABC Managing Director David Anderson said the police raid “raises legitimate concerns over freedom of the press”.

“The ABC stands by its journalists, will protect its sources and continue to report without fear or favour on national security and intelligence issues when there is a clear public interest.”

Were the raids conducted independently?

Both the police and Prime Minister Scott Morrison insist that they were.

Mr Morrison said the police investigation was being pursued “at complete arm’s length from the government, not in the knowledge of the government”.

Commissioner Gaughan reiterated on Thursday that police had acted independently, under laws granted to them by parliament.

“Not the government nor any minister has directed the actions of these investigations,” Mr Gaughan said.

He rejected assertions that police were intimidating journalists or “conduct[ing] a campaign against the media.”

Australia introduced new espionage offences last year that human rights advocates say could be used to target journalists and whistleblowers.


Sudan crisis: Dozens of bodies pulled from Nile, opposition says

Sudanese security forces are deployed around Khartoum's army headquarters. Photo: 3 June 2019Image copyrightAFP
Image captionSecurity forces, seen here on Monday, moved against protesters after a long stand-off

Dozens of bodies have been recovered from the River Nile in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, following a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests, opposition activists say.

Doctors linked to the opposition say the 40 bodies are among 100 people believed killed since security forces attacked a protest camp on Monday.

Members of a feared paramilitary group are reported to be attacking civilians.

Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) has vowed to investigate.

Residents in Khartoum have told the BBC they are living in fear as members of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) roam the streets. The paramilitary unit – formerly known as the Janjaweed militia – gained notoriety in the Darfur conflict in western Sudan in 2003.

“Forty bodies of our noble martyrs were recovered from the river Nile yesterday,” the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

An official from the group told the BBC that they had witnessed and verified the bodies in hospitals and that the death toll now stood at 100.

What is happening in Sudan?

Demonstrators had been occupying the square in front of the military headquarters since 6 April, days before President Omar al-Bashir was overthrown after 30 years in power.

Their representatives had been negotiating with the TMC and agreed a three-year transition that would culminate in elections.

But on Monday, forces swept in and opened fire on unarmed protesters in the square.

Media captionSudan military attacks protesters

On Tuesday TMC leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan announced that negotiations with protesters were over, all previous agreements were cancelled, and elections would be held within nine months. Demonstrators had demanded a longer period to guarantee fair elections and to dismantle the political network associated with the former government.

International condemnation of the crackdown was swift and on Wednesday Gen Burhan made another televised speech in which he said the TMC was willing to resume negotiations.

“We regret the events,” he said, without elaborating.

A TMC spokesman later said an investigation into the deaths of protesters had been launched.

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Sudan’s old politics re-emerge

Analysis box by Fergal Keane

Sudan’s military has faced international condemnation for its attack, but there were clear signs this was likely to happen. The country has been driven backwards by a military elite intent on holding on to power.

The TMC has scrapped agreements reached with the opposition Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), saying this will speed up the transition to democratic elections. That plan is likely a fiction.

The military also enjoys another advantage. In an age of international division, the notion of an “international community” pressuring the regime is fantasy. Sudan’s crisis has exposed the reality of international politics – that force can have its way, without consequence, if the killers and torturers represent a valuable asset to other powers.

It is impossible to say whether the FFC can come back as a street-driven force. What will not change – in fact what has been deepened – is the alienation of people from their rulers.

Protesters had called for the Islamic festival of Eid al-Fitr, marked on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, to be celebrated in the streets, as a gesture of defiance against the military.

However, much of Khartoum is under lockdown. Witnesses said protesters had retreated to residential areas where they were building barricades and burning tyres.

Video shot on mobile phones showed columns of troops advancing through the streets.

What do residents say?

Protest organisers, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), accused the TMC of carrying out “a massacre” and urged its pro-democracy supporters to continue protesting peacefully.

“We have reached the point where we can’t even step out of our homes because we are scared to be beaten or to be shot by the security forces,” one Khartoum resident told the BBC.

Her uncle had witnessed three young men being executed in the city, she said.

Another resident, who also asked not to be named, said he was pulled from his car by members of the Janjaweed and beaten on his head and back.

Deserted street in Khartoum, 4 JuneImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionMuch of Khartoum is deserted as security forces spread across the city

Large numbers of heavily armed troops were also reported on the streets of Omdurman, Sudan’s second-largest city, just across the River Nile from Khartoum.

A woman, identified only as Sulaima, told the BBC that troops from the Rapid Support Forces were “all over Khartoum”.

“They’re surrounding neighbourhoods, they’re threatening people. They’re also using live ammunition. They’re everywhere. We’re not feeling safe and we don’t have trust in the security forces. It’s complete chaos.”

The RSF commander, Mohammed “Hemedti” Hamadan, is a close ally of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, Reuters reports, and has sent troops to join the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen’s civil war.

What is the international reaction?

An attempt at the UN Security Council to condemn the violence was blocked on Tuesday by China, backed by Russia.

The UK and Germany had circulated a draft statement at the UN Security Council condemning the deaths of civilians and urging Sudan’s military and protesters to “continue working together” towards a solution.

China rejected the text and Russia said the council should first wait for a response from the African Union.

After the move was blocked, eight European countries issued their own joint statement condemning the attacks “by Sudanese security services against civilians” and calling for a transfer of power to a civilian-led government.

Speaking on BBC’s Newsday, former British ambassador to Sudan Rosalind Marsden said a snap election would “simply pave the way for much of the old regime to come back into power”.

“There’s a real risk of violence continuing,” she said.


Queensland snowfall: Icy weather brings warnings in Australia

Snow blanketed the Blue Mountains in New South WalesImage copyrightSYDNEY TRAINS
Image captionSnow blankets the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney

Icy conditions have swept across eastern Australia, bringing snow to areas as far north as subtropical Queensland.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology described it as a “rare” sight, noting the state had not experienced significant snowfall since 2015.

Severe weather warnings have also been issued for a 1,000km (620 miles) stretch of coast which includes Sydney.

People have been urged to stay indoors amid heavy rain and gale-force winds.

Meteorologist Lachlan Stone said the snowfall in Queensland, driven by colder air from the south, was an unusual occurrence in a state with a sub-tropical to tropical climate.

“But in the south of the state, particularly near the New South Wales border, it’s quite mountainous and in the elevated areas it can get quite cold,” he told the BBC.

Online, many were quick to comment on the scenes in Australia’s “sunshine state” – as it is more typically known.

Authorities said that snow had fallen near the town of Stanthorpe, 220km south-west of Brisbane.


The town recorded near-freezing temperatures on Tuesday, said Mr Stone.

Up to 5cm of snow also blanketed the Blue Mountains region, west of Sydney, prompting road closures and travel warnings.

The weather bureau said strong winds along the New South Wales coastline had been blowing in excess of 90km/h (55mph).

A train station platform in the Blue Mountains covered in snowImage copyrightNSW TRAINLINK WEST
Image captionAuthorities warned that the severe weather would cause travel delays

“These winds will whip up heavy surf conditions, making coastal activities dangerous,” it said in a statement.

Ferry services in Sydney Harbour were also suspended due to the rough conditions.

June marks the beginning of winter in Australia.

The nation has just experienced its hottest summer on record and recent extreme weather events including drought, floods and bushfires.

Australians are more concerned about climate change than at any point in the past decade, a recent poll by the Lowy Institute found.


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