July 15, 2015

#IranDeal, El Chapo Chase, a Demoted Pluto and Russian Shenanigans

“The World in a Nutshell”
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Iran Nuclear Deal: America Great Satan No More? After 36 years of generally hating each other, Iran and the US* signed a historic deal to curb Iran’s nuclear capabilities. An agreement was finally secured after nearly nine years of negotiations and John Kerry sitting in the same chair for 18 days straight. President Obama called it “a comprehensive and long-term deal” (watch Joe Biden trying hard to pay attention) and Iranian President Rouhani said that it met all their objectives. The Iranians agreed to curtail their (semi-)peaceful nuclear program in return for the US lifting crippling economic sanctions that have severely weakened key Iranian sectors. Critics have labelled the agreement a big “mistake” which will not stop the nuclear program and only strengthen the Iranian economy and influence. Proponents argue that the deal opens the door for further cooperation and halts a potential nuclear arms race in an already volatile region. So you don’t have to read the full 80-page agreement or learn Farsi, here are the key deal points: 
  • Uranium Enrichment: A halt to further development of “advanced centrifuges” for 10 years. These centrifuges can hasten the construction of nuclear weapons. Also, Iran will reduce its enriched uranium stockpile by 96%.
  • Nuclear Inspections: The International Atomic Energy Agency can inspect the enrichment sites anywhere in the country at 24 days notice.
  • Economic Sanctions: If Iran behaves then major financial- and energy-related sanctions will be lifted this year. There are “snapback” provisions to re-introduce sanctions if Iran does not comply.
  • Arms Embargo: Iran will now be able to import conventional weapons within five years and ballistic weapons within eight years as the embargo is gradually lifted.
Perceived Winners:
  • President Obama: Secures his place in history as the president who brought both Cuba and Iran in from the cold. He’ll be well out of office before the effects of the deal can be judged, but nonetheless a huge victory for his administration.
  • Iran: Iran is so happy with the deal that (a) there’s a hashtag on Twitter (Err… #IranDeal) and (b) Iranian police have said they are ready for any and all types of celebrations in Tehran. 
  • Bashar Al-Assad: The Syrian President hailed the agreement as a ‘major turning point‘. Iran has supplied arms and financial support to his genocidal regime since 2011. You do not want this man endorsing you for anything…ever.
  • Russia: Russia’s $15 billion arms industry is dusting off the AKs in anticipation of an end to the arms embargo.
Perceived Losers:
  • Benjamin Netanyahu: The Israeli PM has said that the deal is an “historic mistake” which will greatly strengthen a nation that does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. 
  • Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Allies: Iran is a Shia Muslim country and is (officially/unofficially) fighting proxy wars against Sunni Saudi Arabia in both Yemen and Iraq. There is growing alarm in Sunni-majority Gulf States that the deal will greatly strengthen and embolden Iran to meddle in their countries’ business. Also, oil prices are likely to continue to drop as Iran exports its own black gold, hurting the Saudi economy.
  • Republicans:  They’re generally furious about everything (see below).
The deal now awaits approval by Congress, but the President made it pretty clear that he’ll veto legislation designed to defeat the deal. Lo and behold, it looks like like the deal will be passed into law after 60 days. All this drama calls to mind a well-known Iranian proverb: “He who wants the rose must respect the thorn.” This actually is totally irrelevant to this situation but a great quote nonetheless… or is it? Not sure, think on it. *and Germany, Britain, France, China and Russia
Where In The World Is… ‘El Chapo’? Doesn’t have quite the same ring as Carmen Sandiego or (Wally outside the US), but this Mexican drug kingpin certainly gets around. Arrested in 2014, he was held in Mexico’s highest security prison despite the US urging for his extradition to American soil. Apparently the US predicted that he’d be “allowed to escape” if this did not happen, according to a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent. Not surprising then that Mexican government won’t respond to the US offer to help in its search. Also not surprising: Trump wants in on the drama. He apparently thinks he’s El Chapo’s next target, calling on the FBI to investigate a threatening tweet from an unverified Twitter account.
Earth To Pluto! ‘Twas a big morning for Pluto as NASA’s Horizons Spacecraft came within just 7,800 miles after a nine-year mission. Pluto has recently undergone a bit of an identity crisis having been demoted from being a “planet” to a “dwarf planet” in 2006, but scientists were nonetheless thrilled by the hi-res images (Pluto is actually red!) and the wealth of information they have received from the probe. As of right now, we know that Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, has some funky business going on as the two seem to have evolved differently despite their similar history. Find out more about the mission here. In case you have hundreds of millions of dollars to spare and a bit of free time you can learn how to build your own probe here.
Pentagon Moves Toward Lifting Transgender Ban It’s about time. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that he has commissioned top Pentagon officials to study the guidelines and regulations needed to implement a policy that would allow transgender people to serve in the military. It’s expected to take six months to complete, after which transgender troops should be able to serve openly. This comes four years after the ban was lifted on gays and lesbians.
#Pnut4Prez: They’ve All Got Something To Say On Iran Basically it’s what you’d expect. Hillary is all for it, and every Republican has a qualm. Depending on how this plays out, expect to see some John Kerry style flip-floppin’ in the coming months. Notables below:
Russia: The Bizarre Gift That Keeps On Giving This is just weird. Residents of a town called Berezniki, near the Ural Mountain Range in Russia (don’t go there) are celebrating the world’s worst living creature — mosquitos — in a three-day festival. Highlights include the “most delicious girl” competition where participants attempt to get bitten as much as possible in 20 minutes. Although organizers describe it as a “joke” festival, they are in fierce competition with a local village that hosts an annual “cow-pat” throwing competition (we don’t get it either).
Bibi at The UN Subtley Making His Point About The Iranian Nuclear Program

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