4-3-15 News Notes

TRNS News Notes is brought to you by Victoria Jones. Victoria Jones is the Chief White House correspondent and global analyst of the Washington DC based Talk Radio News Service, where her insight and analysis are made available to over 400 news talk radio stations around the country and internationally.

In the News

  • Iran: Outline of a nuke deal
  • Pols demand right to review deal
  • Preliminary deal: Main points
  • March jobs report: 5 things
  • 2 NY women charged: Bomb plot
  • Arkansas, Indiana fix bills
  • Loretta Lynch is IN – likely
  • Islam to grow faster than Christianity
Iran: Outline of a Deal
• Iran and the U.S., along with five other world powers, announced on Thursday a surprisingly specific and comprehensive understanding on limiting Tehran’s nuclear program for the next 15 years, though they left several specific issues to a final agreement in June (NYT, AP, TRNS, me)

• After two years of negotiations, capped by eight tumultuous days and nights of talks, SecState John Kerry and Iranian FM Javad Zarif, announced the plan, which, if carried out, would keep Iran’s nuclear facilities open under strict production limits

• Kerry and Energy Sec Ernest Moniz, a nuclear scientist, said the pact satisfied their primary goal of ensuring that Iran, if it decided to, couldn’t race for a nuclear weapon in less than a year, although those constraints against breakout would be in effect only for the first decade of the accord

• President Obama stepped into the Rose Garden moments later to celebrate what he called “a historic understanding with Iran.” He warned Republicans in Congress that if they tried to impose new sanctions to undermine the effort, the U.S. would be blamed for a diplomatic failure

• He insisted: “This framework would cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon. This deal is not based on trust. It’s based on unprecedented verification.” “If Iran cheats, the world will know it.” (not if they’re good cheaters)

• “…the framework agreement is not a bad deal at all. In-depth examination of the details shows that the deal includes many positive aspects that preserve Israeli security interests and answer some of Jerusalem’s concerns.” (Haaretz)
• Under the accord, Iran agreed to cut the number of operating centrifuges it has by two-thirds, to 5,060, all of them first-generation, and to cut its current stockpile of low enriched uranium from around 10,000 kilos to 300 for 15 years

• A U.S. description of the deal also referred to inspections “anywhere in the country” that could “investigate suspicious sites or allegations of a covert enrichment facility.” But in a briefing, American officials talked about setting up a mechanism to resolve disputes that hasn’t been explained in any detail

• In a move not seen before the Iranian revolution in 1979, and to the surprise of many in both countries, Iranian govt broadcasters aired Obama’s comments live

• In parts of Tehran, people cheered and honked car horns as they began to contemplate a life without sanctions on oil and financial transactions, though the issue of when the sanctions are to be removed looms as one of the potential obstacles to a final deal on 30 June

• There’s enough concern in the Gulf states about a potential deal that Obama, in a phone call Thursday to King Salman of Saudi Arabia, invited Arab leaders to Camp David this spring to discuss Iran and the turmoil in the region

• Doc: Details of agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program (NYT)

• In a phone call Thursday afternoon, Obama told Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu that while the deal wasn’t final, it “represents significant progress towards a lasting, comprehensive solution.” Netanyahu released a statement saying the deal would “threaten the survival” of Israel. “Such a deal would not block Iran’s path to the bomb. It would pave it,”

• Zarif has to sell the deal at home. He focused on the fact that Iran wouldn’t have to dismantle any facilities – something Washington had initially demanded. When, late Thursday, the WH began distributing a description of what amounted to Iranian concessions, an obviously angry Zarif challenged the American accounting in several posts on Twitter

• “There is no need to spin using ‘fact sheets’ so early on,” he wrote in one. In another, he suggested that sanctions would have to be lifted far earlier than one might think listening to Kerry, saying that, in essence, all the economic sanctions would be lifted once a final deal was signed

• After 15 years, Iran would be free to produce as much uranium as it wishes – even building the 190,000 centrifuges that Ayatollah Khameini talked about last summer. That’s bound to be a major concern for Congress, the Israelis and the Arab states

• Perhaps the most important compromise came in a lengthy battle over whether Iran would be allowed to conduct R&D on advanced centrifuges, which are far more efficient than current models. The Iranians won the right to research, but not to use more modern machines for production for the next 10 years

 

State Department Fact Sheet on the agreement – Zarif angrily called it “spin” on Twitter

Pols Demand Right to Review Deal
• Leading lawmakers from both parties in Congress responded cautiously (mostly) on Thursday to the tentative framework for a nuclear deal. Senate Foreign Relations chair Bob Corker (R-TN) said the panel would continue with plans to formally draft bipartisan legislation on 14 April insisting on congressional examination of any agreement (NYT, Beast, Politico, me)

• That sentiment was bipartisan. “If Congress appears to be bypassed, that’s not good for the national debate and national unity as we move forward with Iran,” said Rep Eliot Engel (D-NY), ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee

• A senior admin official hinted at compromise, at least on the review legislation. He reiterated the president’s promise to veto legislation imposing new sanctions on Iran, but said that a previous veto threat on the congressional review bill applied only to the measure as it was originally drafted

• Sen Mark Kirk (R-IL) blasted the deal, saying that “Neville Chamberlain got a lot more out of Hitler than Wendy Sherman got out of Iran,” a ref to a top State Dept negotiator. However, Kirk, a co-author of a sanctions bill, said to the Daily Beast, “I think we will give them till the end of June” before voting on the bill

• The bill demands that the admin submit the full text of any deal to Congress, including classified annexes. It would prohibit the removal of any congressional sanctions for 60 days after a final accord, and would require the president to certify Iranian compliance every 90 day. Without that certification, it mandates a quick return of sanctions

 

• “Iranian hardliner Shariarmadari: ‘We gave a fully mounted horse and got a broken tether in return.’ (Bad deal) @ThomasErdbrink” NYT. Erdbrink, reporting from Tehran, says there’s optimism at Friday prayers today
Preliminary Deal: Main Points
Enrichment: The June deal aims at restricting the number of centrifuges standing to 6,104, and those running to 5,060. All will be Iran’s present centrifuges, which enrich uranium at much lower rates than the more developed machines Tehran would like to install. Iran has committed to enriching substantially below weapons-grade and reduce its enriched stockpile (AP, me)

Breakout time: Experts assess Iran’s current breakout time – for one weapon – at 2 to 3 months. That will be extended to at least a year for at least 10 years. Fact sheet doesn’t detail how that will be accomplished beyond reducing uranium numbers and stockpiles

Fordo underground enrichment facility: Iran commits not to enrich uranium there for at least 15 years and will convert the site into a nuclear physics and tech research center. Also commits Tehran not to do uranium enrichment-related R&D or store fissile material at Fordo for 15 years

Transparency: The UN’s IAEA will monitor enrichment and former enrichment facilities and related assets using “the  most up-to-date, modern monitoring technologies.”  IAEA also has “much greater access and info regarding Iran’s nuclear program, including both declared and (possible) undeclared facilities” than it has now

&&&

• Tehran also commits to address IAEA suspicions that it worked in the past on nuclear arms under terms still to be agreed on

Reactors and reprocessing: Commits Iran to redesign its nearly built reactor at Arak from a facility that would spew out enough plutonium to arm several nuclear weapons a year to a type that won’t produce such material. Also agrees to ship all spent fuel for the reactor’s lifetime

Sanctions: U.S. and EU nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran is hewing to its commitments. If Iran at any time fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place

• All past UN Security Council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneously with Iran’s compliance with its commitments at Fordo, Arak, its implementation of agreed-on transparency and honoring other responsibilities
• At least 147 people, mostly students, have been killed in an assault by al-Shabab militants on Garissa University in north-eastern Kenya. The gunmen separated Christians from Muslims and shot the Christians. More than 500 students managed to escape. The WH condemned the attack and is providing assistance to the Kenyan govt (BBC)
March Jobs Report: 5 Things
Payroll power: The pace of hiring could slow a bit in March from the 288,000 monthly average over the prior three months down to 245,000 new jobs, amid other signs of slower growth in the U.S. economy during the early months of 2015. Keep an eye on revisions to the Jan and Feb data, as well (WSJ, Bloomberg, me)

Elusive earnings: The recovery’s missing ingredient has been wage growth, stuck around 2% a year for the last half-decade. But Patrick O’Keefe, director of economic research at accounting and consulting firm CohnReznick thinks earnings could pick up in March as more employers raise wages to retain and hire workers in a tighter labor market

In and out: Unemployment is expected to stay at 5.5%. It fell to 5.5% in Feb from 5.7% in Jan and 6.7% a year earlier. But weakness remained below the surface of the workforce. The labor force participation rate was 6.28%. A pickup in March could signal that a healthier job market is drawing discouraged workers off the sidelines – opposite could be true, too

Persistent pain: The official unemployment rate doesn’t tell the whole story. Some 6.6 million people in Feb were stuck in part-time jobs because they couldn’t find full-time work and an additional 2.2 million Americans wanted a job but hadn’t looked for one in the last month

Oil slick: Watch how the mix of payroll jobs changed in March. One soft spot could be energy, where the plunge in crude oil prices since mid-2014 has squeezed domestic drillers and the various industries that support them, Also check out mining and manufacturing
• President Obama made his first presidential visit to Utah on Thursday – one state short of all 50 (South Dakota is the 50th). Obama will talk about clean energy and energy-based jobs today. Upon arrival in Salt Lake City, Obama went straight into a meeting with top Mormon leaders. Among issues discussed was immigration overhaul (Reuters, me)
2 NY Women Charged: Bomb Plot
• Two New York women appeared in federal court Thursday, charged with planning to build a bomb they wanted to detonate in the U.S. A complaint alleged that American citizens Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui were inspired by ISIS, al Qaeda, the Boston Marathon bombings and the Nov killing of two NYC police officers to pursue a terrorist plot (NYT, AP, Reuters, TRNS, me)

• The women were arrested soon after they brought an undercover informant to Siddiqui’s basement and showed off the propane gas tanks and torches that they planned to use to make a bomb, according to the complaint (clue?)

• The govt is expected to pursue charges of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction against the U.S., charges that carry up to life in prison. The complaint says the women made a number of statements calling for violent jihad. “Why can’t we be some real bad bitches?” Velentzas asked at one point, calling the pair “citizens of the Islamic State.” (hint?)

• Siddiqui is alleged to have been “close” with Samir Khan, who became the editor of Inspire magazine, a prominent jihadi magazine associated with al Qaeda. In conversations recorded by the govt, Velentzas expressed “a preference for attacking military or govt targets, rather than civilian targets,” the complaint said

• The undercover officer appeared to be quite involved in the plot. In Nov, the officer told the women that he or she had downloaded “The Anarchist Cookbook,” which lays out how to make homemade bombs, and had visited the library to do research on bomb-making (entrapment risk for the govt?)

• Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings co-pilot at the controls, had been searching the internet in the days immediately leading up to the crash into a mountain in the French Alps, for info about how to commit suicide and the security measures for cockpit doors, prosecutors said Thursday (TRNS)
Arkansas, Indiana Fix Bills
• The Arkansas House voted 76-17 Thursday to pass a revised religious objections bill after Gov Asa Hutchinson (R) asked for changes in the wake of mounting criticism. He signed it only moments after the vote, saying the new version recognizes that “we have a diverse workforce and a diverse culture.” (AP, me)

• In Indiana, the House and Senate passed changes to a law signed last week by Gov Mike Pence (R), who quickly approved the revisions. “However we got here, we are where we are, and it is important that our state take action to address the concerns that have been raised and move forward.”

• Opponents say the laws were designed to offer a legal defense for anti-gay discrimination. The new legislation marks the first time sexual orientation and gender identity have been mentioned in Indiana law. Supporters of the compromise Arkansas bill said it addresses concerns that the original proposal was discriminatory

• Business leaders, many of whom had opposed the Indiana law or canceled travel to the state because of it, called the amendment a good first step but said more work needs to be done. Gay rights groups noted that Indiana’s civil rights law still doesn’t include LGBT people as a protected class

• Democratic leaders repeated their calls to repeal the law. “I want to hear somebody say we made a grave mistake, and we caused the state tremendous embarrassment that will take months, if not years, to repair,” House Minority Leader Scott Pelath said. “I want to hear one of the proponents ‘fess up.”

• Asked on CNN about the religious freedom measures, freshman Sen Tom Cotton (R-AR) said it was important to have a sense of perspective about priorities. “In Iran they hang you for being gay.” (so, just be thankful, gays, for small mercies in Arkansas…)
Lynch Is In – Likely
• Sen Mark Kirk (R-IL) announced Thursday that he would vote to confirm AG nominee Loretta Lynch. He’s the fifth Republican to publicly support Lynch, and with all 46 Democrats expected to back her nomination, Lynch now has the votes to be confirmed. Opposition has come from Republicans who complain Lynch supports President Obama’s immigration policies (Politico, NYT, me)

• “We need the help of the attorney general in fighting gangs of national significance through U.S. Marshals and prosecutors, and to address organized crime like drug and sex trafficking,” Kirk said in Chicago. A few hours earlier, aides to indicted Sen Robert Menendez said the embattled NJ Democrat will also support Lynch’s nomination

• The question now is when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will bring the nomination to a vote. Republican leaders had tied the vote to a human trafficking bill stuck on the Senate floor, but that masked another issue:

• Republicans weren’t sure that Lynch had the votes, but they didn’t want to defeat the confirmation of the first African-American woman as the nation’s top law enforcement officer, a nominee whose background has caused no real problems. No resolution is expected until after the Senate reconvenes after the Easter recess on 13 April

• TRNS interviews South Sudan’s sole practicing psychiatrist, in which Dr Atong Ayuei talks about the country’s psychiatric needs. The interview was conducted in Ward 11 of the Juba Teaching Hospital in South Sudan (TRNS)

 

Islam to Grow Faster Than Christianity
• Over the next four decades, Islam is expected to grow faster than any other major religion worldwide, with the Muslim population nearly matching Christians in both number and share of the global population, according to projections released Thursday (Reuters, AP, me)

• Christians will remain the largest religious group, increasing to 2.92 billion adherents by 2050 if current demographic trends continue. But Muslims will reach 2.76 billion, making each faith group about 30% of the world population, analysts from the Pew Research Center said

• The projections in the report, “The Future of World Religions,” are based on birth and death rates, immigration patterns and rates of religious conversions, among other info found in censuses, demographic surveys and additional reports that asked people to identify what faith they follow (religious conversion rates can change)

• Atheists, agnostics and people who don’t identify with a religion will increase in much of Europe and North America, but globally will drop from about 16% to 13% of the population. Within the U.S., people with no religious affiliation are projected to become more than a quarter of the population

 

• Rocking into the weekend with “Small Town” – John Mellencamp, about growing up in a small town in Indiana. Thursday, Mellencamp said in a letter to the Indianapolis Star that he didn’t question the sincerity of religious freedomers, but that the law “is discriminatory, hurtful, and a stain of Indiana’s national reputation.” The law has now been amended

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___________________

Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Ellen Ratner, Nicholas Salazar and Loretta Lewis contributed to this report

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