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UK threatens to open trade dispute proceedings in row with France

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October 29, 2021

By Costas Pitas and Sarah Meysonnier

LONDON/LE HAVRE, France (Reuters) -Britain threatened on Friday to open trade dispute proceedings against France if Paris imposes sanctions on London in a rapidly deteriorating standoff over post-Brexit fishing rights.

The warning, after France seized a British fishing boat this week, raised the stakes in a row that is part of a wider dispute over trading arrangements between Britain and the European Union, and could badly disrupt cross-Channel trade if it is not resolved.

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet French President Emmanuel Macron briefly in Rome this weekend, offering a chance to ease tensions. An EU official said talks between the two and the European Commission would continue over the weekend.

But Brexit minister David Frost warned Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic on Friday that France will be in breach of a post-Brexit free trade deal if Paris carries out its threat to impose sanctions on Britain from Tuesday.

“Lord Frost made clear that, if these actions were implemented as planned on 2 November, they would put the European Union in breach of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA),” a British government spokesperson said.

“The Government is accordingly considering the possibility, in those circumstances, of launching dispute settlement proceedings under the TCA, and of other practical responses.”

Such proceedings would be likely to involve convening an arbitration panel to decide on the dispute, and could result in a demand for compensation or suspension of obligations under the free trade deal.

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France says Britain has refused to grant its fishermen the full number of licences to operate in British waters that France says is warranted. Britain says it is issuing licences to vessels that can prove they have previously fished in UK waters.

Losing patience, Paris has said it will ban British fishing boats from unloading in French ports, carry out additional licence checks on British vessels, tighten controls of trucks and reinforce customs and hygiene controls if talks fail.

It has also hinted at the possibility of later raising energy tariffs to Britain.

BOAT DETAINED

Tensions rose sharply when a British scallop dredger, the Cornelis Gert Jan, was escorted to the northern French port of Le Havre overnight on Wednesday after French officials said its crew failed to prove it was allowed to fish in French waters.

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British officials said it had the correct documentation.

Angered by the incident, and by the threat of sanctions, British Environment Secretary George Eustice said on Friday: “Two can play at that game”.

He suggested to BBC television that Britain could “increase the enforcement that we do on French vessels, to board more of them if that’s what they’re doing to our vessels”.

France’s ambassador to London was summoned to explain the country’s actions on Friday. The exact timing and outcome of that meeting were unclear.

Johnson’s spokesperson also said the prime minister and Macron were expected to meet on the margins of the G20 summit of the world’s 20 biggest economies in Rome on Saturday and Sunday.

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“He will discuss a range of issues,” he added, without giving details, and said France remained a close and strong ally of Britain.

Paris did not immediately comment on his remarks.

Britain’s departure from the EU last year deepened strains in its relations with France, and negotiations on fishing rights proved long and difficult even before it left the bloc.

Some British officials portray France’s defence of its fishermen as an attempt by Macron to show he is looking after their interests before an election in April in which he is expected to seek a new term.

Johnson can also ill afford to look weak on fishing rights after leading the campaign to leave the EU and promising that leaving the bloc was in voters’ interests.

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Fishing makes a small contribution to the French and British economies but is a lifeline for some coastal communities.

(Additional reporting by Kylie MacLellan, Paul Sandle and William Schomberg in London; Layli Foroudi, Juliette Jabkhiro and Richard Lough in Paris; Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Catherine Evans)

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Explainer-What remains of the Iran nuclear deal as talks resume?

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November 28, 2021

By Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) – Talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are to resume in Vienna on Monday, with Iran’s atomic advances raising doubt https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/low-expectations-nuclear-talks-iran-creates-facts-grounds-2021-11-28 as to whether a breakthrough can be made to bring Tehran and the United States back into full compliance with the accord.

Since the United States under then-President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, Iran has breached many of its deal’s restrictions designed to lengthen the time it would need to generate enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb to at least a year from 2-3 months – the so-called “breakout time”.

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Iran says it only wants to enrich uranium for civil uses. But many suspect it is at least seeking to gain leverage in the indirect talks with the United States by getting closer to being able to produce a nuclear weapon.

How close is Iran to being able to do so, and what remains of the deal’s restrictions?

BREAKOUT TIME

Experts generally put breakout time at around three to six weeks but say weaponisation would take longer – often roughly two years. Israel’s finance minister recently said https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israeli-minister-says-iran-could-have-nuclear-arms-within-5-years-2021-11-23 Iran could have nuclear weapons within five years.

ENRICHMENT

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The deal restricts the purity to which Iran can enrich uranium to 3.67%, far below the roughly 90% that is weapons-grade or the 20% Iran reached before the deal. Iran is now enriching to various levels, the highest being around 60%.

The deal also says Iran can only produce, or accumulate, enriched uranium with just over 5,000 of its least efficient, first-generation centrifuges at one facility: the underground Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz.

The deal lets Iran enrich for research, without accumulating enriched uranium, with small numbers of advanced centrifuges, which are often at least twice as efficient as the IR-1.

Iran is now refining uranium with hundreds of advanced centrifuges both at the FEP and the above-ground Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) at Natanz.

It is also enriching with more than 1,000 IR-1s at Fordow, a plant buried inside a mountain, and plans to do the same with more than 100 advanced centrifuges already installed there.

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URANIUM STOCKPILE

The International Atomic Energy Agency, policing Iranian nuclear activities, estimated this month https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/21/11/gov2021-51.pdf that Tehran’s stock of enriched uranium is just under 2.5 tonnes, more than 12 times the 202.8-kg (446-pound) limit imposed by the deal, but less than the more than five tonnes it had before the deal.

That said, it is now enriching to a higher level and has around 17.7 kg of uranium enriched to up to 60%. It takes around 25 kg of weapons-grade uranium to make one nuclear bomb.

INSPECTIONS AND MONITORING

The deal made Iran implement the IAEA’s so-called Additional Protocol, which allows for snap inspections of undeclared sites. It also expanded IAEA monitoring by cameras and other devices beyond the core activities and inspections covered by Iran’s long-standing Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA.

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Iran has stopped implementing the Additional Protocol and is allowing the extra monitoring to continue only in a black-box-type arrangement https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-nuclear-iaea-deal-idUSKBN2AN1UU, whereby the data from cameras and other devices is collected and stored but the IAEA does not have access to it, at least for the time being.

The one exception https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/iaea-chief-says-negotiations-iran-proved-inconclusive-2021-11-24 to the continued monitoring is a centrifuge-parts workshop at the TESA Karaj complex, which was hit by apparent sabotage in June that destroyed one of four IAEA cameras there, after which Iran removed all of them. Iran has not let the IAEA re-install the cameras since.

POTENTIAL WEAPONISATION

Iran has produced uranium metal, both enriched to 20% and not enriched. This alarms Western powers because making uranium metal is a pivotal step towards producing bombs and no country has done it without eventually developing nuclear weapons.

Iran says it is working on reactor fuel.

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(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Former Cambodian premier Prince Norodom Ranariddh dies at 77

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November 28, 2021

By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) -Cambodian former prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the current king’s half-brother, who spent his later years in the political shadow of his one-time rival Prime Minister Hun Sen, has died in France. He was 77.

The prince, whose royalist political party won elections in 1993, was ousted in a 1997 coup by coalition partner Hun Sen, who remains Cambodia’s authoritarian leader.

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Hun Sen said in a statement on Sunday that he and his wife were “heartbroken” at the news, calling Ranariddh “a dignitary, (a) member of the royal family who was patriotic to the nation, religion, the king”.

Ranariddh was the most political member of Cambodia’s royal family in recent decades, leading his Funcinpec party in elections for years after he was ousted.

But in 2017, he dismayed https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cambodia-politics-prince-idUSKBN1CK020 Cambodia’s weakened opposition by backing the dissolution of another party whose leader was jailed on treason charges. Hun Sen has since effectively sidelined all opposition and now presides over a one-party parliament.

Explaining his position, Ranariddh told Reuters that year: “… Hun Sen, you want or you don’t want, you like him or you don’t like him, he brings about this national unity.”

His younger half-brother, King Norodom Sihamoni, has occupied the Cambodian throne since the abdication of their father, King Norodom Sihanouk https://www.reuters.com/article/oukwd-uk-cambodia-sihanouk-idAFBRE89D0K120121015, in 2004. Sihanouk died aged 89 in 2012 in Beijing.

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Lao Mong Hay, a veteran Cambodian analyst, said Ranariddh had lacked the political savvy of his father.

“He was soon outwitted and overthrown by his far more talented rival,” Lao Mong Hay said, citing a Cambodian proverb that 10 learned persons are less than one talented person. “So Norodom Ranariddh happened to be one of those 10.”

Ranariddh’s career reflected the way Hun Sen has neutralized rivals since defecting from the Khmer Rouge “killing fields” regime in the late 1970s to help drive it from power.

Hun Sen led the Vietnam-backed Communist government in Phnom Penh for more than a decade while the Khmer Rouge waged a guerrilla insurgency.

The royal family lived in exile during this time, headed by former absolute ruler Sihanouk, who had led Cambodia to independence from France and abdicated a first time to enter democratic politics and become prime minister before the Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975.

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Ranariddh was working as a French law lecturer when his father called him to contest the 1993 elections organised by the United Nations as part of a peace process.

With royalist sentiment strong, Ranariddh won the elections. But when Hun Sen threatened a return to war, a political deal resulted in a coalition government making Ranariddh “first prime minister”, Hun Sen “second prime minister” and returning King Sihanouk to the throne as constitutional monarch.

The uneasy coalition lasted four years before Ranariddh was overthrown by forces loyal to Hun Sen and driven into exile.

After international pressure, Ranariddh was allowed to return and contest elections a year later, but he never again came close to winning and entered into on-and-off alliances with Hun Sen.

(Writing by Kay JohnsonEditing by Frances Kerry, Mark Heinrich and Catherine Evans)

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Thousands protest against Czech COVID measures as hospitals fill

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November 28, 2021

PRAGUE (Reuters) – Several thousand people protested in Prague against anti-coronavirus restrictions on Sunday as many Czech hospitals halted non-urgent procedures in the face of one of the world’s fastest rates of new infections.

Gathered in a park overlooking the Czech capital’s centre, protesters waved national flags and carried signs with slogans such as: “Get vaccinated? Over your dead bodies”.

The outgoing government toughened measures on Thursday, including a ban on Christmas markets, which was one of the main themes at Sunday’s rally.

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“I am here to fight for freedom. I am here because I don’t agree with what is happening today,” Jiri Hulec told Reuters.

Czech hospitals, including the largest one, Prague’s Motol, have ceased planned operations and limited other care in the past days as the number of patients with COVID-19 has doubled to around 6,000 over the past three weeks.

Newly-appointed Prime Minister Petr Fiala earlier called on people to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others from serious conditions if infected.

Only 58.5% of Czechs are vaccinated against coronavirus, compared to a European Union average of 65.8%, data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control shows.

(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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