Welcome to Friday, where it's been a year since the first COVID lockdown began in Wuhan, ISIS is back in Iraq and James Bond fans get a license to kill some more time. Die Welt also takes us on a typographic journey through the infamous story of the Gothic typeface, a.k.a. the "Nazi font."
Biden and Iran: the if, when and how of reopening nuclear talks
Iran's clerical regime is boosting its military and nuclear activities, perhaps in a bid to bolster its position ahead of possible talks to revive the 2015 nuclear pact following the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden. Here's an analysis from Kayhan London's Ahmad Ra'fat:
Donald Trump has vacated the White House, replaced by Democrat Joseph Biden whose team began working immediately to undo many of Trump's policies.
Biden's main foreign policy coordinators are Anthony Blinken, his choice for secretary of state, Jake Sullivan, the next national security adviser, and William Burns as head of the CIA. All three participated in forging the 2015 nuclear pact between Iran and the 5+1 Powers.
Burns is an experienced diplomat who led secret talks with the Islamic Republic under President Barack Obama, to which he devotes a chapter of his book The Back Channel. Iran's president at the time was the conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The choice of this "troika" suggests that Biden is likely to return to the pact, which the United States abandoned in 2018 under President Donald Trump. The question now is: Which is the proper route back to negotiations. Also, when would these begin? U.S. officials and diplomats have not yet given a date for a resumption of talks, in spite of reiterating their support for the pact in principle.
Other signatory states — Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — have also been mum on the timing or possible road map back to the pact, though they have urged that the United States return to the fold.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, wants this to be done by mid-February, as Iran's recent violations of its obligations would, he believes, make a later revival of the pact very difficult. Notably, on Dec. 2, Iran's parliament voted for its bill on Strategic Measures to Suspend Sanctions, obligating the government to immediately resume 20% uranium enrichment.
A member of the Iranian Parliament's presiding board, Ahmad Amirabadi-Farahani, told state television days ago that Biden had one month after taking office to "lift banking and oil sanctions, or the Islamic Republic will, on February 21, stop implementing the Additional Protocol" (to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), and expel IAEA inspectors from Iran. This, he said, "is the law, and the government is obligated to enact it."
In spite of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's declaration that Iran is in "no hurry" to return to the pact, Iran's presidential chief of staff, Mahmud Va'ezi, has voiced optimism that President Hassan Rouhani would hand over the country to the next government without any sanctions. He told the official Iran newspaper that the government was already acting to have "America's unilateral sanctions on Iran lifted." The Rouhani government has even drafted the next budget (for the Persian year beginning on March 21, 2021) based on the projected daily sales of over 2 million barrels of crude, and sent the text to parliament.
In recent weeks, Biden and his team have made contradictory declarations on the issue of talks with Iran. Perhaps a firm decision has yet to be taken. It is not even clear whether or not the United States will talk with Iran, even if it does fully comply again with the NPT. It may seek to include two other dossiers in negotiations: Iran's ballistic program and its regional policies.
Iran is, in turn, strengthening its hand. Khamenei's foreign policy adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati, said days ago that "if there is another round of negotiations' the "snapback" mechanism, which allows the Powers to immediately reimpose sanctions in case of violations, must be ditched. This "trigger," he said, was included in the 2015 pact against Khamenei's wishes.
The Islamic Republic has been clocking up treaty violations in recent weeks, as the IAEA and satellite pictures confirm: from 20% enrichment, activities at the Fordu plant and production of uranium metal at a center in Isfahan, to construction of new, underground installations at the Natanz site.
The Islamic Republic is also expanding military activities in a bid to intimidate the region and pressure the Biden administration. These include sending missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen, two naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf and Oman Sea and an underground missile base near the Persian Gulf, as pictures have shown.
The regime's military and nuclear reactivation in recent weeks, and the possibility of a deal with the Biden administration, are undoubtedly of concern to certain regional states, especially Israel. Its ambassador at the UN has urged an extraordinary session of the Security Council to discuss the Iranian nuclear program's dangers.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also sent the head of the Mossad intelligence agency, Yossi Cohen, to Washington for talks with the Biden team. Israel, which considers the Iranian regime a threat to itself and to Middle East stability, wants Biden to adopt harsher positions toward the regime and its regional policies, even if he does adhere to the pact.
Israel's former Labor prime minister Ehud Barak has warned in turn that Israel will do what it must to defend itself if Biden reaches a deal with Iran. Defense Minister Benny Gantz believes Israel must ready a military option, and according to the paper Israel Hayom, the armed forces have been presenting the cabinet with three, as yet unspecified, options against Iran.
In the meantime, Israeli jets have pursued strikes on the Syrian positions of the Revolutionary Guards and Iran-backed militias, the last of which is reported to have killed 50 Iranian soldiers and allied militiamen.
— Ahmad Ra'fat / Kayhan-London
• COVID-19 latest: As China marks one year since Wuhan, where COVID-19 originated, began its first lockdown, an outbreak in a northern Chinese meat processing plant and Shanghai closes two hospitals to outpatient visits amidst cluster outbreaks. Death tolls in Germany and Colombia hit 50,000. Meanwhile, Rio's mayor cancels July's carnival celebrations and U.S. President Joe Biden signs an executive order to require air travelers to quarantine upon arrival.
• Trump trial update: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell asks to delay Trump's impeachment trial by two weeks in order to give the legal team more time to prepare a defense. The list of entities distancing themselves from Trump has grown, with Florida's Banks United closing the former president's bank account.
• Islamic State claims Iraq attack: ISIS has claimed responsibility for yesterday's twin suicide bombs in a Baghdad market. The death toll has risen to 32, with 110 injuries.
• Syrian civilians killed in Israel strikes: A Syrian state news agency says that a pre-dawn Israeli air attack has killed at least four civilians.
• "Queen's rep" in Canada forced out: Julie Payette, a former astronaut, has been forced to resign as the governor general of Canada, following an anonymous report of a toxic work environment. The high-profile role is largely ceremonial, linked to Canada's historic link to the British empire, but the resignation is considered a blow to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
• Google threatens Australia: The U.S. tech giant says it could cut off its search engine service in Australia in response to a proposed law requiring Google and Facebook to pay Australian media companies for using their links.
• Plenty of Time to Die: The scheduled release of the next installment of the James Bond franchise, No Time To Die, has been delayed for the third time. Originally slated for April 2020, it is now planned in theaters for October.
"Peace, Friendship, Biden," titles Ukrainian magazine Focus, one day after Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. Check out our collection of 26 front pages from newspapers around the world as the Biden era begins.
The Nazi font: when Hitler erased the Gothic typeface
The edict was both covert and surprising: On Jan. 3 1941, Nazi official Martin Bormann announced that Hitler no longer wanted to see Gothic typefaces used in print in Germany. But the reason for this decision was pure invention, writes Sven Felix Kellerhoff in German daily Die Welt.
For more than two decades, the National Socialist German Workers' Party had always printed its anti-Semitic propaganda in so-called German blackletter. Since the publication of the 25 Point Programme in February 1920, almost all documents issued by the Nazi Party were set in Gothic type.
But on Jan. 3 1941, Martin Bormann, the soon-to-be Chief of the Nazi Party Chancellery, wrote in an internal memo to the party's top officials: "It is wrong to refer to the so-called Gothic type as a German typeface. In reality this so-called Gothic script is a Jewish typeface from Schwabach." From then on, only a roman typeface – specifically Antiqua – was to be used in official communications.
Bormann claimed: "Just as they later took control of newspapers, Jews living in Germany took control of printing presses when these were first introduced and that is how printers in Germany came to use Jewish letters from Schwabach." Anyone who knew the first thing about the history of printing could tell that there wasn't a word of truth in this allegation. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, the early days of the printing press, strict guild rules almost completely excluded Jews from this new industry.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
In France, the number of tourist visas has declined from 3.53 million in 2019 to 712,311 last year, a nearly 80% drop due to the pandemic.
It's going to go worldwide. Are you going to pull out of every market, are you? Is this about stopping the precedence?
— Australian Senator Rex Patrick questioning a Google executive after the U.S. company threatened to remove its search engine from Australia over the nation's attempt to make the tech giant and others such as Facebook share royalties with news publishers.
Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?
BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.
The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.
This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.
Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.
"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.
Can you trust environmental officials?
For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.
This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.
It could have sunk because of the rain.
After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.
The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.
"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.
"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.
Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water
A questionable claim
That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.
"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.
He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."
Living in pollution
The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.
"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.
He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.
The mining work should have been stopped long ago
Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.
The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.
In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.
The mine has affected the landscape around the villages
Resisting lignite mining
The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.
The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.
They were dependent on others' land for work.
Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.
In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.
The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.
"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.