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Catalan Leader Arrested, Kim Jong-Un’s Peacemaking Sister, Kindergarten Thief

Pro-independence activists gathered in Barcelona, Spain, to protest the arrest of Carles Puigdemont

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank & Bertrand Hauger

👋 Բարև Ձեզ!*

Welcome to Friday, where Kim Jong-un's sister extends an olive branch to South Korea, top Catalan separatist leader is arrested in Italy, and a kindergarten thief gets busted by technology. Meanwhile, we bid an international auf wiedersehen to Angela Merkel's through iconic front pages that featured the German chancellor over the years.

[*Barev dzez, Armenian]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

As hopes for Iran nuclear deal fade, uranium enrichment accelerates

The Institute for Science and International Security concludes that Iran is enriching uranium at a 60% level, with new centrifuges meaning that Tehran is a month away from obtaining arms-grade material to move toward its first nuclear weapon.

The U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security, which includes independent nuclear power experts, concludes from information issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran is enriching uranium at a 60% level — and thanks to new types of centrifuges, Tehran is barely a month away from obtaining weapons-grade material. The specialists caution that weapons-grade uranium is not the same as a nuclear bomb, for which delivery weapons and assemblage are needed. That would require another two years.

The Institute's experts believe Iran could produce material for a second bomb within a three-month time frame and that unless its activities are slowed, it may have enough enriched uranium for three bombs in the next five months.

Yet European states have shown unjustified optimism after a recent trip to Tehran by IAEA chief Rafael Grossi, and his meeting with Mohammad Eslami, the new head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. Grossi achieved very little in terms of reducing Iran's enrichment activities, merely ensuring the IAEA's renewed access to its cameras in installations there. Their recordings remain in Iranian hands.

Instead, the visit helped Iran to halt at the last minute a threat by Britain, France and Germany to present the IAEA board of governors with a draft resolution to resend Iran's dossier to the UN Security Council for violating its non-proliferation obligations.

The IAEA had made further concessions. In past months, it kept quiet about reports of abusive conduct in Iran toward female IAEA inspectors, protesting only once the incidents were reported in The Wall Street Journal.

The Institute for Science and International Security also believes the acts of sabotage and cyberattacks of past months reportedly carried out by Israel and the United States, have failed to significantly interrupt Iran's program, merely slowing activities at certain locations. Tehran managed to rapidly repair the damage done, and resume its activities. The report concludes that Iran is as close today as it has ever been to accessing a bomb.

It is not currently clear when Iran and the West will resume talks on Tehran's program. With the rise of hardline officials in Iran — from President Ibrahim Raisi to his foreign minister, Hossein Amir'abdollahian and the country's new nuclear chief, Mohammad Eslami — it seems unlikely the West will get the same terms as the 2015 pact that included the United States.

Western states are particularly concerned by Iran's new negotiator, Ali Baqeri-Kani, who replaces Abbas Araqchi. Baqeri's father heads some of the regime's powerful financial and cultural foundations and his brother, Mesbahulhuda, is a son-in-law to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. He has several times voiced his opposition to any type of compromise with the West.

From 2007 to 2013, he was in the negotiation team led by Sa'id Jalili, when talks with the West yielded nothing for Iran but more and tougher sanctions. Today, the prospects of reviving the 2015 pact have dimmed. Its moribund state may even have cheered Israel into recently softening its vociferous opposition to a pact with Tehran.

Observers suspect more concessions to Iran may be afoot, to prevent the pact's demise. Some believe the Islamic Republic may be changing its entire nuclear policy, and its refusal to return to Vienna has little to do with a new president but with a firm belief that it must return with its "hands full." Dangling its considerable advances toward a nuclear weapon, Iran could then stop its activities at the last minute, in return for major concessions, like the lifting of most sanctions and foregoing any talks about its ballistic program or regional interventions.

Ahmad Ra'fat / Kayhan-London

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• North Korean olive branch: Amidst growing military actions between the two Koreas, Kim Yo-jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, says Pyongyang is willing to resume diplomatic talks. Yo-jong later clarified this is on the condition that South Korea stopped its "hostile policies."

• Catalan seperatist leader arrested: Former Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemon was detained in Italy in connection to the failed 2017 referendum for Catalonian independence. Puigdemont, serving in the European Parliament, has been in exile in Brussels since 2017 to avoid allegations of sedition from Spain, though the warrant for his arrest was suspended in 2019.

• U.S. House approves $1 billion for Israeli Iron Dome defense system: The U.S. approved $1 billion in new funding for Israel's "Iron Dome" aerial defense system, designed to intercept rockets midair and protect citizens from attack. The funding is meant to help replace rockets that were used during this year's conflict with Hamas.

• Countdown to German election: Candidates are making a final push before Sunday's election, with center-left Social Democrats (SPD) candidate Olaf Scholz sparring with his Christian Democratic Union opponent Armin Laschet. The two are separated by just 2% in polls in the race to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel.

• British vows to fix oil shortage: An increase in natural gas prices and shortage of truck drivers has resulted in gas station closures and raised fears of food supply shortages. The government has promised more COVID-19 tests to ease health regulations as well as issuing special visas to increase the driver pool.

• Twitter will allow crypto "tips" from one user to another: The social media platform announced a slew of new innovations including using Bitcoin for its "Tip Jar" function, supporting NFT authentication and a new "Heads Up" feature. "Heads Up," which is a response to harassment on Twitter, will allow the platform to monitor conversations to warn users before they engage with potentially offensive content.

• An elementary theft: German police had been unable to solve an April burglary at a kindergarten in western town of Halver that included stolen food, laptops and picture books. But the thief also knapped a Toniebox speaker, a device used to play children's stories. When the criminal later attempted to download new stories onto the Toniebox, his location was sent to the manufacturers, who informed authorities. Now, the 44-year-old remains in custody and the speaker has been returned. As the police report states, "And if its circuits don't burn out, the box will tell many other stories. But rarely is one as beautiful as this one."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"The world is still hungry," titles Italian weekly magazine Internazionale, reporting that one in ten people suffers from malnutrition around the world, as food prices continue to rise and the coronavirus pandemic has stalled progress to provide universal access to food.

💬  LEXICON

𒀭𒄑𒉋𒂵𒈨𒌋𒌋𒌋


The Dream of Gilgamesh (in extinct Sumerian cuneiform inscription above), a 35,000-year-old clay tablet has been returned to Iraq, as part of a U.S. effort to return tens of thousands of antiquities that were looted and smuggled out after its 2003 invasion of the country. The ancient tablet, one of the world's oldest religious texts, features parts of an epic poem about demigod King Gilgamesh of Uruk. It was bought in 2014 by retail company Hobby Lobby for $1.67 million to be displayed at the Museum of the Bible in Washington.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Angela Merkel: Germany's global cover story for 16 years

As Angela Merkel makes her final preparations to leave the world stage, it's hard to imagine what politician could fill the shoes of the woman Germans came to call "Mutti": the mother of the nation. Having spent most of the first 35 years of her life in the former East Germany, trained as a quantum chemist, this unassuming daughter of a Lutheran pastor had an unlikely rise to lead Europe's largest country for a generation.

⏩ Fast forward to today, and Germany's first female leader is heralded both at home and abroad as a supreme tactician, skillful problem-solver and guarantor of European stability.

💭 Sweden's Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeld summed up Merkel's achievements in an interview with Swedish broadcaster SVT: "She is well-read, she is calm, she thinks ahead in a world where everyone is nervous, moody and short-sighted."

💥 That world the leaders were facing, of course has been riddled through Merkel's time in office with one crisis on top of another: from the 2008 financial crash and the conflicts in Libya and Syria, to Russia's annexation of Crimea and the migration wave to Europe in 2015 to the global pandemic.

In the final days of a near 16-year chancellorship — becoming the country's first premier to leave power of her own volition — we take a look back on four key chapters of Merkel's time in office, and how it all looked on the covers of 23 German and international magazines and newspapers over the years:

➡️ See the full story, covers and front pages on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

30

Grunge band Nirvana's seminal album Nevermind, which was released 30 years ago today, sold over 30 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling albums in history (*never mind the recent lawsuit by the now-grown-up naked baby on its iconic cover…)

📣 VERBATIM

"We have been through eleven different countries to get here."

— Haitian migrant Fiterson Janvier describes his harrowing journey through the Andes and the Amazonian Basin, on foot and by bus, to reach the U.S. border. Haiti is at a tipping point. The president was assassinated this July, gang violence is shooting up and the country is battling with the effects of climate change and economic ruin. "Haiti is like hell for me now," he told a BBC reporter.

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

Pro-independence activists gathered in Barcelona, Spain, to protest the arrest of Carles Puigdemont, former president of the Catalan Government, who was apprehended on the Italian island of Sardinia — Photo: Matthias Oesterle/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank & Bertrand Hauger

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Coronavirus

Xi's Burden — Why China Is Sticking With Zero COVID

Too much has been put in to the state-sponsored truth that minimal spread of the virus is the at-all-cost objective. But if the Chinese economy continues to suffer, Xi Jinping may have no choice but to second guess himself.

COVID testing in Guiyang, China

Cfoto/DDP via ZUMA
Deng Yuwen

The tragic bus accident in Guiyang last month — in which 27 people being sent to quarantine were killed — was one of the worst examples of collateral damage since the COVID-19 pandemic began in China nearly three years ago. While the crash can ultimately be traced back to bad government policy, the local authorities did not register it as a Zero COVID related casualty. It was, for them, a simple traffic accident.

The officials in the southern Chinese province of Guizhou, of course, had no alternative. Drawing a link between the deadly crash and the strict policy of Zero COVID, touted by President Xi Jinping, would have revealed the absurdity of the government's choices.

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