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Xiaomi in US crosshairs over military links

Technology correspondent

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Smartphone maker Xiaomi became the latest industry player to face increased restrictions from the US government, being added to a list of companies deemed to have links with the Chinese military, writes Mobile World Live Content Editor Kavit Majithi.

In a statement, the US Department of Defence (DoD) said it had nine additional “Communist Chinese military companies” operating directly or indirectly in the US, including Xiaomi.

The vendor surpassed Apple as a top three global smartphone maker in Q3 2020 in terms of shipments. Xiaomi joins Huawei, chipmaker SMIC, and China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom on the US list.

Huawei, notably, is also on a Department of Commerce list, which restricts its access to US suppliers over national security concerns.

The DoD list aims to comply with an executive order signed by Trump in November 2020, and restricts domestic investment in companies the department claims are owned or controlled by the Chinese military.

This month, the New York Stock Exchange delisted the three Chinese operators to comply with the order.

The move against Xiaomi came just hours after the US moved to restrict purchases of network technology from a number of countries, including China, citing concerns about supply chain security.

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In response, Xiaomi said it complies with the laws and regulations where it does business, and provides products and services for civilian and commercial use.

“The company confirms that it is not owned, controlled or affiliated with the Chinese military and is not a communist military company”.

It added it was reviewing potential consequences to understand the impact of the move. Xiaomi is listed in Hong Kong and the restrictions could mean US investors are forced to divest their holdings in the company.

Saudi Arabia

Open Society calls for global sanctions on Saudi crown prince after US intelligence report on Khashoggi murder

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Today (26 February) the Biden administration released an unclassified intelligence report to the US Congress that details who is responsible for the killing of Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.  The report confirmed that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), directed Khashoggi’s brutal murder in 2018. 

In response to the release, Amrit Singh, lawyer for the Open Society Justice Initiative, said: “We welcome the Biden administration’s release of this long-awaited report. This is an important step forward, but it is not enough.  The U.S. and other governments must take immediate measures to hold the Crown Prince and the Saudi government accountable for their flagrant disregard for the rule of law.  They must issue a full range of travel and financial sanctions on the Crown Prince.  They must also suspend all arms sales to Saudi Arabia.”

The Open Society Justice Initiative has sought disclosure of the report in litigation pending before a New York federal court against the U.S. Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).  Under the Trump administration, ODNI argued in court that releasing the Congressionally-mandated report on the murder would harm national security, including by revealing intelligence sources and methods.  After the Biden administration took office, ODNI sought and obtained an extension until March 3, 2021 to update the court on the new administration’s position in the lawsuit.

Given today’s new evidence presented to the U.S. Congress, Open Society is calling for immediate accountability measures on the Saudi government and the Crown Prince:

  • United States:
    • Impose the full range of sanctions on MBS and other individuals identified in the report who have not already been designated
    • Suspend all arms sales to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) as long as it continues to engage in a consistent pattern of gross human rights violations (On 27 January 2021, the Biden administration put a temporary freeze on some sales).
    • Enact legislation that will ensure governments are held accountable for the persecution of dissidents, journalists, and human rights defenders.
  • European Union:
    • Impose travel and financial sanctions on MBS under the new EU Global Human Rights Sanction Regime.
  • Key U.S. Allies (United Kingdom, Germany, France, Spain, Canada, and Australia):
    • Impose the full range of sanctions on MBS and other individuals identified in the report who have not already been designated
    • Suspend all arms sales to KSA as long as it continues to engage in a consistent pattern of gross human rights violations.
       

In a parallel lawsuit pending in the same federal court against CIA, ODNI, and the Departments of Defense and State, the Open Society Justice Initiative is challenging the U.S. government’s withholding of additional records about the murder, including a tape of the murder and a 2018 CIA report on the murder that reportedly identified the Crown Prince as responsible.  The CIA has informed the Court that, by March 10, it will produce a “Vaughn index” identifying the report and explaining the legal basis for withholding it.

Singh went on to say, “The U.S. government still needs to disclose numerous other records about the murder and its cover-up that it has withheld from the public in Open Society’s litigation.”

The Open Society Justice Initiative is represented before the court by Amrit Singh and James A.
Goldston, together with Debevoise & Plimpton, a leading international law firm, with offices in the United States, Europe, and Asia. The Debevoise team is led by Catherine Amirfar and Ashika Singh.

Documents released in litigation are publicly available on the Open Society Foundations’ Document Cloud.

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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.

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Iran

EU foreign affairs chief sounds optimistic on possibility of meeting to revive nuclear agreement with Iran

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EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell (pictured) sounded quite optimistic Monday about the possibility of a EU-led meeting to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, after a video conference between the 27 EU Foreign Ministers and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. It was the first such conversation on various world issues with the top US diplomat since the Biden administration took office, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

‘’I hope that in the next days there will be news,’’ said Borrell at a press conference after the Foreign Affairs Council meeting.

He added, ‘’We discussed the worrying recent developments in the nuclear field. We need to bring back full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and IRAN, both as regards nuclear commitments and when it comes to sanctions lifting. This is the only way forward, and is in the interest of global and regional security.’’

The US under former President Trump left the JCPOA in 2018 and reimposed tough sanctions on Iran. Since then, Tehran has intensified its uranium enrichment

But last week, the Biden administration offered to talk to Iran under the aegis of the European Union in an effort to revive the nuclear deal.

“We are of course concerned that Iran has over time moved away from its commitments under the JCPOA. There is now a proposition on the table; If Iran returns to full compliance, we will be prepared to do the same,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters.

Borrell said that ‘’intense diplomatic contacts’’ are ongoing these days, including with the United States. ‘’As JCPOA Coordinator, it is my job to help create space for diplomacy and to find solutions. And the work on this is ongoing. I informed the Ministers and I hope that in the next days there will be news,’’ he said.

Borell called the discussion with Blinken ‘’very positive’’. ‘’The next days and weeks will prove that working together (with the US) delivers,’’ he said.

The US State Department spokesperson said Blinken ‘’highlighted the United States’ commitment to repairing, revitalizing, and raising the level of ambition in the US-EU relationship.’’

Borrell noted that the International Atomic Energy Agency has reached a temporary technical understanding with Iran that ‘’will allow a sufficient level of monitoring and verification in the coming months.’’  ‘’This gives us a window of opportunity and time, the time needed in order to try to reinvigorate the JCPOA,’’ he said as Tehran has increased its use of advanced centrifuges and begun producing  quantities of uranium metal, essential for building nuclear warheads.

Tehran has threatened to expel inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visiting the nuclear facilities this week.

The U.S. announcement that it was ready to talk directly with Iran on reviving the 2015 nuclear agreement was met with concern in Israel, amid accelerating Iranian breaches of the deal’s limits on its nuclear activities.

“Israel remains committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons and its position on the nuclear agreement has not changed,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Friday. “Israel believes that going back to the old agreement will pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal. Israel is in close contact with the United States on this matter.”

“With or without an agreement,” he added, “we will do everything so Iran isn’t armed with nuclear weapons,” he said.

Israel views the E3, the three  European countries who are part of the nuclear deal with Iran-  France, Germany and the UK – as more open to the Israeli position in recent months, according to a report by KAN, the Israeli public broadcasting channel, due to Iran’s repeated violations of the deal’s limitations. The E3 have pointed out that Iran’s announcement of more uranium enrichment and production of uranium metal have no credible civilian use.

Israel has increased pressure on the E3 to try to talk them out of rejoining the old Iran deal, KAN reported.

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