Iran makes nuclear advance despite talks to salvage 2015 deal, says IAEA

Iran makes nuclear advance despite talks to salvage 2015 deal, says IAEA
satellite picture shows Iran's underground Fordo nuclear facility outside of Qom, Iran. (AP/FILE)
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Updated 03 December 2021

Iran makes nuclear advance despite talks to salvage 2015 deal, says IAEA

Iran makes nuclear advance despite talks to salvage 2015 deal, says IAEA
  • Blinken voices pessimism about reviving pact
  • Israel calls on world powers to stop talks urgently

VIENNA, JERUSALEM: Iran has started producing enriched uranium with more efficient advanced centrifuges at its Fordow plant dug into a mountain, the UN atomic watchdog has said, further eroding the 2015 Iran nuclear deal during talks with the West on saving it.

The announcement appeared to undercut indirect talks between Iran and the US on bringing both fully back into the battered deal that resumed this week after a five-month break prompted by the election of hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi.

Western negotiators fear Iran is creating facts on the ground to gain leverage in the talks.

On the third day of this round of talks, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran had started the process of enriching uranium to up to 20 percent purity with one cascade, or cluster, of 166 advanced IR-6 machines at Fordow. Those machines are far more efficient than the first-generation IR-1.

Underlining how badly eroded the deal is, that pact does not allow Iran to enrich uranium at Fordow at all. Until now Iran had been producing enriched uranium there with IR-1 machines and had enriched with some IR-6s without keeping the product. It has 94 IR-6 machines installed in a cascade at Fordow that is not yet operating, the IAEA said in a statement.

A more comprehensive IAEA report circulated to member states said that as a result of Iran’s move the nuclear watchdog planned to step up inspections at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant that houses the centrifuges, but the details still need to be ironed out.

The US sounded pessimistic on Thursday about the chances of reviving the deal, with Washington saying it had little cause for optimism and Tehran questioning the determination of US and European negotiators.

HIGHLIGHTS

•Iran starts enriching at Fordow with advanced machines.

•West fears Iran creating facts on ground for leverage.

•IAEA report says agency plans to step up inspections.

“I have to tell you, recent moves, recent rhetoric, don’t give us a lot of cause for ... optimism,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Stockholm, saying he could judge in a day or so if Iran would engage in good faith.

Israel urged world powers to halt nuclear talks with Iran immediately. “Iran is carrying out nuclear blackmail as a negotiating tactic, and this should be answered by the immediate halt to negotiations and the implementation of tough steps by the world powers,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office quoted him as saying in a call with Blinken.

An Israeli official said Bennett told Blinken of his objections to any lifting of sanctions against Iran, particularly under an interim deal, which would effectively mean “the massive flow of funds to the Iranian regime.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that negotiations in Vienna were “proceeding with seriousness” and that the removal of sanctions was a “fundamental priority.”


China says US plans to pay athletes to ‘sabotage’ Beijing Games

China says US plans to pay athletes to ‘sabotage’ Beijing Games
Updated 13 min 5 sec ago

China says US plans to pay athletes to ‘sabotage’ Beijing Games

China says US plans to pay athletes to ‘sabotage’ Beijing Games
  • The allegations were made a week before the Games start amid tensions between the two superpowers
  • US Embassy in Beijing on Saturday reiterated a previous position that Washington was not coordinating a global campaign regarding participation at the Olympics

BEIJING: China’s foreign ministry and an official newspaper have accused the United States of planning to interfere with and “sabotage” the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Allegedly, they’d be paying athletes from some countries to make half-hearted efforts in competition and to criticize China.
The allegations were made a week before the Games start amid tensions between the two superpowers that has included a diplomatic boycott of the event by the United States, which has been joined by several other countries.
Asked about the Chinese allegations, the US Embassy in Beijing on Saturday reiterated a previous position that Washington was not coordinating a global campaign regarding participation at the Olympics.
China Daily, an English-language newspaper run by the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s Publicity Department, on Friday evening cited unnamed sources as saying United States has a plan to “incite athletes from various countries to express their discontent toward China, play passively in competition and even refuse to take part.”
In return, it said, Washington would provide a large amount of compensation and “mobilize global resources” to help protect the reputation of athletes of who choose to compete passively.
Asked if the Chinese foreign ministry believes the allegation to be valid, a ministry spokesperson told Reuters on Saturday that the report has “exposed the real intention of some Americans to politicize sports and to sabotage and interfere with the Beijing Winter Olympics.”
The spokesperson said he strongly condemned the attempts by some Americans to “buy off” athletes and “cause trouble” during the Games, adding that these attempts are “doomed to fail.”
A US Embassy spokesman told Reuters by email on Saturday, “We were not and are not coordinating a global campaign regarding participation at the Olympics.”
“US athletes are entitled to express themselves freely in line with the spirit and charter of the Olympics, which includes advancing human rights,” the spokesman said.
The United States announced in December a diplomatic boycott of the Games over what it called China’s human rights “atrocities,” a move that was followed by allies Australia, Britain and Canada but that does not prevent US athletes from traveling to Beijing to compete.
China rejects allegations of human rights abuse and has repeatedly lashed out against the politicization of the Games.
In a message to convey greetings for the Chinese New Year festival next week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told China-based foreign diplomats that China “has the confidence and ability to remove the interference” and turn the Winter Games into an event that promotes friendship and mutual understanding.


LIVE: Formula E Diriyah E-Prix day two

Rokit Venturi driver Lucas Di Grassi kicked out Andretti’s Dennis, the man who finished third in the race on Friday. (Supplied)
Rokit Venturi driver Lucas Di Grassi kicked out Andretti’s Dennis, the man who finished third in the race on Friday. (Supplied)
Updated 33 sec ago

LIVE: Formula E Diriyah E-Prix day two

Rokit Venturi driver Lucas Di Grassi kicked out Andretti’s Dennis, the man who finished third in the race on Friday. (Supplied)
  • Drivers take to the circuit for qualifying under the new knockout format for the second day

DIRIYAH: Drivers take to the circuit for qualifying under the new knockout format for the second day of the Diriyah E-Prix in the 8th season of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.

It was an action-packed first day as the drivers got to grips with the new format. Despite claiming yet another pole position, Stoffel Vandoorne had to settle for second place behind his teammate Nyck de Vries.

Follow all the coverage of day two below... (All times GMT)

13:45 - DRAMA! According to officials, Antonio Felix da Costa impeded Lucas di Grassi. Whether a penalty will be given to the Portuguese driver is unclear, however da Costa says he went on the green light but was later told he went on di Grassi’s green light.

Back to the qualifying action, Di Grassi goes first with De Vries following 10 seconds later.

And what a weekend the Flying Dutchman is having, as he takes out the Venturi driver in the semifinal. De Vries proceeds to the final.

Caption

13:40 - Edoardo Mortara, the man who didn’t get to duel in Friday's session, has managed to beat his opponent Andre Lotterer in the quarterfinals to face Frijns in the next knockout stage.

13:35 - Oliver Rowland goes out first with Robin Frijns chasing him. One of these two drivers will make it to the semis for the first time.

Frijns breaks away from the Mahindra Racing driver, and crosses the line almost six tenths ahead of Rowland and advancing to the semis. Lotterer versus Mortara now.

13:30 - Friday's winner Nyck de Vries beats Jean-Eric Vergne almost effortlessly to proceed to the semifinals. 

A strange scene sees Lucas di Grassi immobile and shaking his head while Antonio Felix da Costa proceeds to duel on his own. Through the comms, Venturi felt that da Costa went before the green light.

Di Grassi takes his lap after da Costa at a disadvantage as he starts a second late, but manages to beat da Costa as the the Portuguese driver slowed down toward the end of his run, and is now under investigation for impeding.

So, as it stands, Di Grassi faces yesterday’s champion De Vries in the semifinals. Watch this space...

13:15 - Sam Bird is out of qualifying after a crash in turn two. Friday’s pole position winner Vandoorne ran a slow qualifying time on day two which led to him getting kicked out of the top four by Mahindra Racing’s Alexander Sims, and effectively throwing the Belgian driver to the back of the grid.

Rokit Venturi Racing’s Edoardo Mortara, who crashed out on Friday, is first in Group B and advances to the quarterfinals along with Envision Racing’s Robin Frijns and both DS Tcheetah’s Antonio Felix da Costa, and Jean-Eric Vergne. No jaguars will head-to-head in the duels.

13:00 - Both Andrettis out in the first run, with third on the grid yesterday Lucas di Grassi joining in on the first qualifying. Nick Cassidy won’t be taking part in qualifying, while second on the grid yesterday Jake Dennis gets a front row start.

Oliver Askew was quickest in the first sector over all other drivers, but the chance to be in top four didn’t last for the rookie as he got pushed out by TAG Heuer Porsche driver Pascal Wehrlein.

Rokit Venturi driver Lucas Di Grassi kicked out Andretti’s Dennis, the man who finished third in the race on Friday, who is not going to go forward to the duel stage, while first place podium winner Nyck de Vries, Di Grassi, Mahindra Racing’s Oliver Rowland and TAG Heuer Porsche’s Andre Lotterer advance. 


New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern isolates after virus exposure

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern isolates after virus exposure
Updated 29 January 2022

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern isolates after virus exposure

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern isolates after virus exposure
  • The exposure came on a flight from the town of Kerikeri to the largest city of Auckland
  • Officials said genome sequencing would be completed Sunday and was expected to show the infected person had the omicron variant

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said late Saturday she is self-isolating after coming into close contact with a person infected with the coronavirus.
The exposure came on a flight from the town of Kerikeri to the largest city of Auckland. New Zealand’s Governor-General Cindy Kiro was also on the Jan. 22 flight and has also gone into isolation.
Both women had been in the Northland region to do some filming ahead of New Zealand’s national day, Waitangi Day, on Feb. 6.
“The Prime Minister is asymptomatic and is feeling well,” her office said in a statement. “In line with Ministry of Health advice she will be tested immediately tomorrow and will isolate until Tuesday.”
Health officials listed a dozen flights as exposure events late Saturday, a possible indication that one or more of the flight crew was infected.
Officials said genome sequencing would be completed Sunday and was expected to show the infected person had the omicron variant.
New Zealand has managed to stamp out or contain the virus for much of the pandemic, and has reported just 52 virus deaths among its population of 5 million. But an outbreak of the omicron variant is starting to take hold and is expected to rapidly grow over the coming weeks.
About 77 percent of New Zealanders are fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data. That figure rises to 93 percent of those aged 12 and over, according to New Zealand officials.


Formula E and CBX raise $478,000 for Saudi charity

Formula E and CBX raise $478,000 for Saudi charity
Updated 25 min 35 sec ago

Formula E and CBX raise $478,000 for Saudi charity

Formula E and CBX raise $478,000 for Saudi charity
  • Money raised ahead of season eight opener, with round one of the double-header getting underway in Diriyah

RIYADH: Hosts and guests of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship and Saudi Arabia came together at the Diriyah E-Prix gala dinner on Thursday to raise funds for the Charitable Society of Autism Families.

The fund-raising event, organized by official promoter CBX, raised $478,000 for a cause that Formula E has supported since 2019.

The event, held at the Cultural Palace, kicked off Formula E’s season eight opener, with round one of the double-header getting underway in Diriyah.

“I can’t express my thanks enough to those that supported the gala dinner and SAF,” Prince Saud bin Abdul Aziz bin Farhan Al-Saud, SAF chairman, said.

“The Formula E family has gone above and beyond, and the funds will allow us to support all those involved in autism, from professionals who deliver care to the children and families navigating their way through the disorder. Our vision is to develop an integrated and well-developed platform for all autistic individuals in the Kingdom.”

Eight auction lots up for grabs included a Chelsea shirt signed by special guest Didier Drogba, who personally handed the garment over to the highest bidder who paid $92,500.

Other prizes included a Tag Heuer Carrera Heuer 02 Tourbillon, Extreme E Explorers Lounge passes for its Uruguay X Prix, a Roland Iten X Rebellion Belt Buckle, a Mouawad necklace, a VIP experience in AlUla, two paintings by Fahad Al-Naymah, plus a Salayel Arabian stud horse.

Carlo Boutagy, CBX founder, said: “I’m glad we raised significant funds for such a worthy cause. My thanks to all those who attended, donated auction items, and bid for incredible pieces and experiences.”

He added: “I would also like to express my gratitude to the Ministry of Sport, the Saudi Arabian Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, and Formula E for bringing this race to the Kingdom for a fourth consecutive year, and for also supporting our gala dinner. The money raised will make the world of difference to many families in Saudi Arabia.”

The bidding battle heated up with the highest price being offered for the Salayel Arabian stud horse, all contributing to $478,000 being raised, which will support the 5,000 families with autism spectrum disorder children across the Kingdom.

Alejandro Agag, founder and chairman of Formula E, added: “It is a pleasure to be in the Kingdom for the opening rounds of season eight of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship with the support of the host city and CBX. The Charitable Society of Autism Families is a worthy cause and last night we were able to support their important work. At Formula E we race to create better futures. We are committed to building shared values among our communities and driving change together.”

Meanwhile, Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation and chairman of the Saudi Motorsport Co., said: “The night truly reflected our mission to increase opportunities to expand the role of motorsport in terms of inclusion to reach all segments of the population in Saudi Arabia. We are committed through the Kingdom’s 2030 Vision and the support of our leaders to improve the lives of all our citizens and build a better future for our nation’s youth.”

SAF has a longstanding relationship with CBX and the Diriyah E-Prix having received a donation of $245,000 when the partnership with Formula E was conceived. The aid was channelled into projects to train families, enrol autistic children in sports programs and support the rehabilitation of individuals with autism.

Since its inception in 2009, the charity has invested more than $16.7 million in projects to fulfil its mission to improve autism care and research in Saudi Arabia by supporting and coordinating stakeholders through a research-based approach and emphasis on collaboration.


Endurance ace Carmine Villani a high achiever in and out of the saddle

Endurance ace Carmine Villani a high achiever in and out of the saddle
Updated 29 January 2022

Endurance ace Carmine Villani a high achiever in and out of the saddle

Endurance ace Carmine Villani a high achiever in and out of the saddle
  • World No.1 will represent Great Britain at the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup 2022 at AlUla

Endurance horse racing champion Carmine Villani has led a rich and colorful life that has seen him shine in business and sport.

Today, the world No.1 will represent Great Britain at the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup 2022 (Fursan Cup) at AlUla.

Villani was a talented athlete as a young man — first in Italy and then the US — excelling as a middle-distance runner. After graduating from the University of Texas in Austin, he went on to become heavily involved in sports car racing.

However, an affinity with horses has always been in his blood. When he was young, Villani was taught to ride by his grandfather. In Carmine’s words, he “learned the tricks and bareback riding from him.”

Villani’s equine passion was rekindled during his time in Texas, where he rode quarter-horses and thoroughbreds.

He began to take part in endurance events in his early 40s and climbed to the summit of the FEI World Rankings in 2020.

There are plenty of reasons the sport has him hooked.

“It teaches discipline, morals and patience, and it takes a mental effort and sacrifice,” said Villani, who is now based in England and represents Endurance GB.

“To participate in an endurance race is an achievement itself. It could be very technical. Strategy is also a very important aspect to know how to win. It is a beautiful sport.”

He added: “Endurance is a mental and physical state. Like military — sacrifice and commitment. You should never give up. You need to be fit and have a fit horse. It is a very good way to maintain your health also.”

Villani, who is also a certified public accountant and public notary, said that a strong understanding and bond between human and horse is essential for success.

Competition tests stamina, skill and intellect, so it is imperative for him that there is an empathy at the heart of the alliance. Judgment of pace and the underlying track, as well as the horse’s moment-by-moment condition, are all integral in the pursuit of success in the sport.

“You have to be the brain of the horse,” said Villani.