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Obama decries GOP’s ‘meanness’ while campaigning for McAuliffe in Va.

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RICHMOND, Va. — Former President Barack Obama, campaigning Saturday for Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia’s closely watched race for governor, framed the Nov. 2 election as an opportunity to decisively reject the rhetoric and politics of another former president, Donald Trump.

“We’re at a turning point right now, both here in America and around the world,” Obama told a crowd of about 2,000 gathered outdoors on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. “Because there’s a mood out there. There’s a politics of meanness and division and conflict, of tribalism and cynicism. That’s one path. But the good news is there’s another path where we pull together and we solve big problems.”

With 10 days until Election Day, polls have shown a tight race between McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin, who has Trump’s endorsement for the job. Youngkin has kept Trump at a distance, avoiding campaign appearances with him as he attempts to appeal to an electorate that backed President Joe Biden by 10 percentage points last year. But Youngkin also has called for auditing voting machines and has launched an “election integrity task force” — efforts that play into lies and other baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

Obama linked support for such conspiracy theories to the Jan. 6 riots on the Capitol by Trump supporters trying to block certification of Biden’s victory.

“What are you willing to stand up for? When are you willing to say no to your own supporters? What are you willing to say? There are some things that are more important than getting elected,” Obama said. “And maybe American democracy is one of those things.”

Christian Martinez, a Youngkin spokesperson, said Obama’s appearance promoted “the fantasies of Terry and the left because they can’t run on their failed record and radical vision for the future.”

Youngkin has said he believes Biden was legitimately elected and last week criticized a pro-Trump, right-wing rally where attendees pledged allegiance to a flag that organizers said was present at the riot. But the message from Obama, McAuliffe and others Saturday reinforced a strategy to make Youngkin into a Trump-like figure in the eyes of Virginia voters.

“Glenn Youngkin is not a reasonable Republican,” McAuliffe told the crowd. “I call him Donald Trump in khakis. Do we want a lapdog to Donald Trump to be our governor here in the commonwealth? No we don’t.”

Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison called Youngkin a Trump “fanboy.” Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, like Obama, asserted that the race is critical to preserving democracy and voting rights. And Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney expanded the critique to include the Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, two Republicans who have gained national attention for opposing vaccine mandates in their states.

“Think about what’s going on in Florida and think about what’s going on in Texas,” Stoney said in his opening remarks. “Do you want those policies in Virginia?”

Campaigns for governor in Virginia come the year after presidential elections, and the results are often viewed as a judgment on the party in the White House and a harbinger for the midterm elections.

McAuliffe, a former governor was, because of a state law unique to Virginia, prohibited from serving a second consecutive term. His enduring popularity with Democrats helped him steamroll through a primary, but McAuliffe has found in Youngkin a Republican who has cautiously navigated Trump era politics and has not been easily defined.

Youngkin has preferred not to nationalize the race the way Democrats have, his unwillingness to campaign alongside Trump extending to other prominent Republican surrogates who have been absent from Virginia down the stretch.

“I am surprised Donald Trump hasn’t come,” Harrison told reporters before Saturday’s rally. “I mean, he’s endorsed Youngkin six times already, so you would think you’d be here. … At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter to us whether Trump comes or not. Glenn Youngkin is going to lose this race.”

Obama’s visit was one in a series of visits from national Democrats marching in to boost voter turnout and lift McAuliffe in the closing weeks. President Joe Biden will return to Virginia next week for his second event with McAuliffe. First lady Jill Biden, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and rock star Dave Matthews are among those who have rallied or are scheduled to rally with McAuliffe.

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Brace yourself, Macron! UK and France fishing row to reignite with crunch EU talks tabled

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THE UK and European Commission will hold crunch talks on Monday as they try to resolve an explosive row over the number of licenses granted to the French to fish in Britain’s coastal waters.

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U.N. nuke watchdog chief says monitoring of Iran is no longer ‘intact.’

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WASHINGTON — The head of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog says his monitoring program in Iran is no longer “intact” after Tehran refused requests to repair cameras at a key facility, creating the possibility the world will never be “able to reconstruct the picture” of what the Iranians have been doing.

In an interview with NBC News, International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi says he’s been unable to establish the type of direct communication with Iran’s government that he had before a new hardline government run by President Ebrahim Raisi was elected in June.

“I have never spoken to the new foreign minister,” Grossi says. “I hope to be able to have the opportunity to meet with him soon because it’s very important … so when there is a problem, when there is misunderstanding, when there is a disagreement, we can talk about it. I used to have it before, and I would assume it that I would be the normal thing.” Grossi spoke during a visit to Washington as the fate of the Iran nuclear deal hangs in the balance, with world powers urgently urging Iran to return to negotiations to restore the deal and the U.S. saying time is running out.

Although Grossi says he had “no indication” that Iran is currently racing for a bomb, he says the world needs look no further than North Korea to understand what’s at stake. IAEA inspectors were kicked out of North Korea, also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, in 2009, and the country is now believed to have dozens of nuclear warheads.

“The case of the DPRK should remind us of what may happen if diplomatic efforts go wrong,” Grossi says. “It’s a clear example, it’s an indication, it’s a beacon. If diplomacy fails, you may be confronted with a situation that would have enormous political impact in the Middle East and beyond.”

The Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, southeast of Bushehr, Iran, on Oct. 8, 2021.Iranian Presidency / AFP – Getty Images file

The 2015 Iran nuclear deal, struck by Iran, world powers and the U.S. under former President Barack Obama, imposed significant restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions. Former President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions, leading Iran to brush off many of its commitments under the deal and to enrich uranium to 60 percent purity — near weapons-grade.

The Biden administration and European partners want to restore the deal but after six rounds of talks, negotiations have stalled following Raisi’s election. Now the United States and Israel are speaking more openly about a “Plan B” – widely perceived to mean a military option to stop Iran’s nuclear program if diplomacy fails.

“We are prepared to turn to other options if Iran doesn’t change course,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this month during a joint appearance with Israel’s top diplomat.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations didn’t respond to a request for comment. Iran has always maintained that its nuclear program is for peaceful civilian purposes.

Earlier this year, after Iran stopped allowing IAEA inspectors to conduct snap inspections required under the 2015 deal, Grossi brokered a “stopgap” arrangement in which Iran would allow IAEA cameras to keep running. That way if the deal, known as the JCPOA, were restored, global nations could piece together what had occurred during the period when it lapsed.

Grossi says Iran has allowed the IAEA to access most of its cameras to service them with new batteries and memory cards, with one important exception: A facility in the Tehran suburbs that makes centrifuge parts and was damaged in June in what Iran says was an act of sabotage by Israel. Iran has cited its ongoing investigation into the attack in refusing IAEA access to the site, Grossi says.

Without that access, the IAEA’s monitoring and verification program in Iran is “no longer intact,” Grossi says.

“It hasn’t paralyzed what we are doing there, but damage that has been done, with a potential of us not being able to reconstruct the picture, the jigsaw puzzle,” Grossi says. “If and when the JCPOA will be restarted, I know that for the JCPOA partners to go back to an agreement, they will have to know where they are putting their feet.”

As North Korea grows its nuclear arsenal and tests new weapons, including a ballistic missile believed to be fired from a submarine, Grossi sounded optimistic that diplomacy with Pyongyang could eventually be re-started. He says that he and Blinken, who met with Grossi during his Washington visit, have been discussing the possibility of “trying to re-engage.”

“So there will be a possibility to go back there with our inspectors,” Grossi says, although he adds it’s impossible to know now whether the goal would be partial or full denuclearization given that the North already has nuclear weapons.

He says given the proliferation of sites across North Korea’s sprawling nuclear program, creating an inspections regime there would be significantly harder than in Iran.

“It would be a very big effort,” Grossi says.

Alana Heller contributed.

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