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France

US and allies respond to Iranian 'provocations' with studied calm

Reuters

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In the week since Washington offered to talk with Tehran about reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran has curbed UN monitoring, threatened to boost uranium enrichment and its suspected proxies have twice rocketed Iraqi bases with US soldiers, write Arshad Mohammed and John Irish.

In return, the United States and three allies, Britain, France and Germany, have responded with a studied calm.

The response - or lack of one - reflects a desire not to disrupt the diplomatic overture in hopes Iran will return to the table and, if not, that the pressure of US sanctions will keep taking its toll, US and European officials said.

Iran has repeatedly demanded the United States first ease the US sanctions imposed after former President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018. It would then wind down its own violations of the pact, which began a year after Trump’s withdrawal.

“However much they believe the US should lift sanctions first, that’s not going to happen,” said a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

If Iran wants the United States to resume compliance with the deal “the best way and the only way is to get to the table where those things will be discussed,” the official added.

Two European diplomats said they did not expect the United States, or Britain, France and Germany - informally known as the E3 - to do more to pressure Iran for now despite what one described as “provocations.”

One of the diplomats said the current policy was to condemn but avoid doing anything that could close the diplomatic window.

“We have to tread carefully,” said the diplomat. “We have to see whether the E3 can juggle Iran’s headlong rush and the U.S. hesitance to see whether we even have a path forward.”

The “headlong rush” was a reference to Iran’s accelerating violations of the agreement.

In the last week, Iran has reduced cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, including by ending snap inspections of undeclared suspected nuclear sites.

A report by U.N. nuclear watchdog also said Iran has begun enriching uranium to 20%, above the 2015 deal’s 3.67% limit, and Iran’s supreme leader said Tehran could go to 60% if it wished, bringing it closer to the 90% purity needed for an atomic bomb.

The crux of the deal was that Iran would limit its uranium enrichment program to make it harder to amass the fissile material for a nuclear weapon - an ambition it has long denied - in return for relief from U.S. and other economic sanctions.

While the United States says it is still investigating rockets fired at Iraqi bases last week that house U.S. personnel, they are suspected of having been carried out by Iranian proxy forces in a long-standing pattern of such attacks.

In a demonstration of the restrained US stance, State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday that Washington was “outraged” by the attacks but would not “lash out” and would respond at a time and place of its choosing.

The second European diplomat said US leverage was still in place because President Joe Biden had not lifted sanctions.

“Iran has positive signals from the Americans. It now needs to seize this opportunity,” this diplomat said.

On Wednesday (24 February), spokesman Price told reporters the United States would not wait forever.

“Our patience is not unlimited,” Price said.

France

COMETE Network acquires capacity to detect B1.617 “Indian variant” of Covid-19 in wastewater

Colin Stevens

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As part of the management of the current public health crisis, France’s COMETE Network, co-founded by the Bataillon de Marins Pompiers de Marseille (BMPM), commanded by Counter Admiral Patrick Augier, and the OpenHealth Company, chaired by Dr. Patrick Guerin, has announced that it is able – thanks to its scientific and industrial partnership with biotechnology laboratory Biosellal - to detect the new E484Q (then L452R) mutations, markers of the "Indian variant", as part of its environmental monitoring system currently being deployed on French territory.

The COMETE Network aims to support municipalities, departments, and regions in their monitoring of the COVID-19 pandemic and to share the operational and scientific techniques developed by the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear and Explosives unit (CBRNE unit) and partner laboratories, in order to remain one step ahead in the battle against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The scientific partnerships initiated several months ago within the COMETE Network make it possible to respond promptly to the virus’s evolution.

According to Dr. Patrick Guerin: "It is by organising the deployment of our operational, technological and industrial know-how that we will reinforce our crisis management capacities. The teams from Biosellal and the CBRN unit of the BMPM have been working for many weeks to adapt the variant screening methods already in use. The COMETE Network is now supported by partners with unique and efficient R&D capacities adapted to the monitoring of SARS-CoV-2 mutations”.

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EU

Le Pen 'is a disturbance to public order' - Goldschmidt

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Commenting on the interview with the party leader of the French right-wing populist Rassemblement National (RN) Marine Le Pen (pictured) published in the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit, Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER), has issued the following statement: “It is not the headscarf that is a disturbance to public order, but Ms Le Pen. This is clearly the wrong signal to the Jews, Muslims and other religious minorities living in France. It expresses Ms Le Pen’s fear of foreigners. She is dividing society instead of uniting it, and in doing so, she is deliberately using the Jewish community, which according to her should refrain from wearing the kippah, as collateral damage in her fight against cultures.

“The supporters of the ban are convinced that they are fighting radical Islam. But how do they define radical Islam? I define radical Islam as Islamism that does not tolerate secular Muslims, Christians and Jews and the European society as a whole. This radical Islam can also walk around in jeans and with uncovered hair. It is this that is the real danger, as France has often so bitterly experienced. Instead of attacking political Islam and its supporters, a religious symbol is being attacked.

“Le Pen’s demand is nothing other than an attack on the fundamental and human right of religious freedom, which people in many places in Europe are now repeatedly trying to restrict. This is an alarming trend for all religious minorities.”

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Brexit

UK sends two navy boats to Jersey after France threatens blockade

Reuters

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The Mont Orgueil Castle is seen behind an island flag at Gorey Harbour in Jersey, in this February 26, 2008 file photo.  REUTERS/Toby Melville

Britain is sending two navy patrol boats to the British Channel Island of Jersey after France suggested it could cut power supplies to the island if its fishermen are not granted full access to UK fishing waters under post-Brexit trading terms, write Richard Lough and Andrew Macaskill.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged his "unwavering support" for the island after he spoke with Jersey officials about the prospect of the French blockade.

Johnson "stressed the urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions," a spokesperson for Johnson said. "As a precautionary measure the UK will be sending two Offshore Patrol Vessels to monitor the situation."

Earlier, France's Seas Minister Annick Girardin said she was "disgusted" to learn that Jersey had issued 41 licences with unilaterally imposed conditions, including the time French fishing vessels could spend in its waters.

"In the (Brexit) deal there are retaliatory measures. Well, we're ready to use them," Girardin told France's National Assembly on Tuesday (4 May).

"Regarding Jersey, I remind you of the delivery of electricity along underwater cables ... Even if it would be regrettable if we had to do it, we'll do it if we have to."

With a population of 108,000, Jersey imports 95% of its electricity from France, with diesel generators and gas turbines providing backup, according to energy news agency S&P Global Platts.

Jersey's government said France and the European Union had expressed their unhappiness with the conditions placed on the issuance of fishing licences.

Jersey’s external relations minister, Ian Gorst, said the island had issued permits in accordance with the post-Brexit trade terms, and that they stipulated any new licence must reflect how much time a vessel had spent in Jersey's waters before Brexit.

"We are entering a new era and it takes time for all to adjust. Jersey has consistently shown its commitment to finding a smooth transition to the new regime," Horst said in a statement.

The rocky island sits 14 miles (23 km) off the northern French coast and 85 miles (140 km) south of Britain's shores.

The French threat is the latest flare-up over fishing rights between the two countries.

Last month, French trawlermen angered by delays to licences to fish in British waters blocked lorries carrying UK-landed fish with burning barricades as they arrived in Boulogne-sur-Mer, Europe’s largest seafood processing centre.

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