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Saudi FM criticizes EU business with Iran

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European companies engaged in business with Iran are enriching the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and inadvertently fueling its military activities in the wider Middle East, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir told CNBC on Sunday.

“We believe that a large percentage of the Iranian economy is controlled by the Revolutionary Guards and companies associated with the guards. And we believe that any dealings with those companies only serve to enrich the Revolutionary Guards and cause them to cause more mischief within the region and the world,” Al-Jubeir said, referencing the billions of dollars’ worth of deals struck between European companies and Iran since the lifting of international sanctions in 2015.

Tasked with defending the state and Iran’s Islamic ideals, the powerful IRGC — the branch of Iran’s military founded after the 1979 Islamic Revolution — is widely alleged to support militant activity by groups like Hezbollah around the region, from Iraq and Lebanon to Syria. It is also believed to control around a third of the country’s economy.

The passing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015, which lifted international sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear development, saw a wave of new investment and business come into the country from Europe, led by Germany, France and the U.K. European multinationals Airbus, Siemens, Peugeot and Total have all struck major deals in the country worth billions.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, America’s top national security advisor H.R. McMaster described European nations like Germany doing business with Iran as essentially writing a blank check to the IRGC.

Asked if he agreed with McMaster’s assessment, Al-Jubeir said yes.

“We are talking to our friends in Europe about this. We are letting them know that the nuclear agreement that was signed with Iran is lacking,” Al-Jubeir said, describing what he believed were flaws within the agreement’s sunset clause (the timeframe for restrictions on its nuclear development) and the thoroughness of United Nations (UN) inspections.

“We also believe the nuclear agreement itself does not resolve the issue of Iran’s radical behavior which has to do with the ballistic missile resolutions of the United Nations … They also do not deal with the issue of Iran’s support for terrorism,” Al-Jubeir said.

Iran has consistently said it is abiding by all the parameters of the deal, a claim that has been backed up by UN inspectors.

Speaking Sunday to NBC News, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the U.S. was jeopardizing the nuclear deal.

“I believe President Trump has tried to walk away from that deal from day one of his presidency, and he has done everything in bad faith to prevent Iran from enjoying the benefits of the deal already. So we believe the United States is already in violation of very serious and important provisions of the nuclear deal,” he said.

Between the singing of the JCPOA and February 2017, Iran conducted up to 14 missile tests, in violation of UN resolutions. The minister emphasized his government’s belief that Iran should be punished for these alleged violations.

Sanctions on the IRCG have not been lifted, and many businesses remain wary of investing in Iran because any transaction that touches an IRGC-affiliated entity could be met with severe fines from the U.S.

While the U.S. has listed Iran as a state-sponsor of terror, it has not labeled the IRGC a terrorist organization, though in October of last year President Donald Trump said that the Corps had played “a central role to Iran becoming the world’s foremost state sponsor of terror.”

Fearing U.S. abandonment of the JCPOA, the foreign ministers of Germany, France and the U.K. in have urged the Trump administration to remain faithful to the deal, insisting that it is essential to international security. Federica Mogherini, the EU’s top diplomat, said in January that it “made the world safer and prevented a potential nuclear arms race in the region.”

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House opens probe into security failures in deadly U.S. Capitol attack

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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks to reporters next to U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) as House Democrats respond to a White House briefing on reports Russia paid the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. troops during a news conference following the briefing at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., June 30, 2020.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

The Democratic-led House of Representatives on Saturday sent a letter to FBI Director Chris Wray and other agency chiefs seeking information on the intelligence and security failures that led up to the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 that forced lawmakers into hiding.

Four House committee chairs signed onto the letter, which called for documents and briefings from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center and the Director of National Intelligence on what was known ahead of the attack.

“This still-emerging story is one of astounding bravery by some U.S. Capitol Police and other officers; of staggering treachery by violent criminals; and of apparent and high-level failures — in particular, with respect to intelligence and security preparedness,” the committees wrote.

The letter was signed by Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. and Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. 

The probe comes as lawmakers — and Democrats in particular — are clamoring for more information on how a mob of President Donald Trump supporters was able to break into the so-called “People’s House,” which has its own police force, and delay the certification of President-elect Joe Biden‘s Electoral College victory by several hours.

The inspectors general of the Department of Justice, Defense, Homeland Security and Interior have launched reviews of their agency’s actions connected to the attack.

In the letter, lawmakers cited press reporting that the U.S. Capitol Police had been warned that Trump supporters would attempt to violently enter into the Capitol.

NBC News reported on Jan. 10 that the FBI and the New York Police Department passed information to the Capitol Police about threats of violence directed at the counting of the Electoral College votes.

The Washington Post reported on Jan. 12 that an FBI field office in Virginia had warned ahead of the attack that extremists headed to Washington were planning for “war.”

“Security and logistical preparations before January 6 were not consistent with the prospect of serious and widespread violence. Yet, according to media accounts that have surfaced in recent days, federal and other authorities earlier on possessed — and may have shared with some parties — intelligence and other information forecasting a dire security threat against the Congress’s meeting to certify the election results,” the committee chairs wrote.

“These latter reports, if acted upon, might have prompted more extensive planning for the event, and the infusion of far greater security and other resources,” they added.

Capitol Police officials have said they did not see FBI intelligence ahead of the attack.

The committee chairs lay out three broad lines of inquiry that they will pursue.

The first is what was known by the intelligence community and law enforcement ahead of, during and after the attack. The lawmakers also said they will be probing whether any foreign powers played a role in exploiting the crisis.

The second prong the committees are examining is whether any current or former holders of national security clearances participated in the insurrection.

The committees are also asking for information on government policy in response to the attack, including measures to prevent those implicated in crimes from traveling.

“The Committees expect and appreciate your full cooperation with this matter – while of course recognizing that resources appropriately and immediately must be allocated to efforts to counter any continuing threats to the transfer of power, including the presidential inauguration and related activities,” the committee chairs wrote.

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Armin Laschet picked as new leader of Germany’s ruling CDU party 

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Candidate for the chairmanship of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union party, Armin Laschet, gestures as he takes part in a discussion at the party’s headquarters in Berlin on Jan. 8, 2021.

CHRISTIAN MANG / POOL / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTIAN MANG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

FRANKFURT, Germany — Germany’s ruling CDU party picked Armin Laschet to be its new chairman on Saturday, possibly paving the way for him to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor at elections later this year. 

Laschet is currently the prime minister of Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia region, the most populous federal state in the country. He beat rival Friedrich Merz by 521 to 466 in a vote that was forced online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Born in 1961, he was first elected to the Bundestag (German Parliament) in 1994 and his election is seen as a continuation of Merkel’s policies, as he has pledged to keep the CDU firmly in the “middle of society.” 

With him as chairman, the CDU will likely stay on message and focus on more climate change policies and environmental topics. He has a strong Catholic background which brings him support from Christian circles within the party. 

He is a trained lawyer and also worked as a journalist at the time of German reunification between 1986 and 1991. He is seen as being very liberal and is popular with the immigrant community in his home state.

If he becomes the CDU’s candidate for chancellor at September’s elections, he could be open to various coalitions — power sharing is somewhat of a recent tradition in German politics.

He has floated the idea of a government alongside the liberals, the FDP, in a bid to win over parts of the business camp inside the CDU. But he is also seen as a natural fit for a coalition with the Greens too, as he is on good speaking terms with the party and favors environmental issues.

But the CDU’s candidate for chancellor will only be determined in the spring. And it’s not certain that the newly-elected chairman will automatically move into Merkel’s role. Markus Söder, the very popular Bavarian prime minister, and also Jens Spahn, the current health minister, may also join the race to lead Europe’s largest economy.

Merkel stepped down as leader of the CDU in 2018, and her replacement Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer quit in February 2020 after a series of communication mishaps exposed her as being too weak to lead the chancellery.

This is a breaking news story, please check back later for more.

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Biden heads into inauguration with a stock market tailwind

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