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Donald Trump announces new sanctions against Iran amid nuclear tensions | World News

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Donald Trump has announced new sanctions against Iran after Tehran threatened to enrich its stockpile of uranium.

The US president has issued an executive order imposing new restrictions on Iranian steel, aluminum, copper and iron.

Those sectors provide Iran’s troubled economy with foreign currency earnings.

Amid escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran, the White House said it had dispatched the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf.

Iran threatened to enrich its stockpile of uranium closer to weapons-grade levels in 60 days if world powers failed to negotiate new terms on the 2015 nuclear deal.

President Rouhani’s words come exactly a year after Donald Trump withdrew America from the Obama-era agreement and reimposed sanctions, although other nations stayed in.

Earlier, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said there would be “consequences” for Iran if it broke its commitments under the 2015 deal.

Mr Hunt, speaking alongside US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, described Iran’s threat to increase uranium enrichment as an “unwelcome step”.

Mr Pompeo said he was confident America and its allies would ensure Iran has “no pathway for a nuclear weapons system”.

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£10m UK scheme to help stop Russia attacking democracies | UK News

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Britain is leading a fightback in Europe against efforts by Russia to attack democracies with fake news and disinformation, Sky News has learnt.

A £10m programme seeks to help a network of groups to combat what sources say is a long-term Kremlin goal to break up institutions like the European Union and NATO.

They accuse Russia of exploiting existing divisions within societies by amplifying the messages put out by far-right, anti-EU parties, particularly at election time, including this week’s European Parliament polls.

Russia Today
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Russian broadcaster RT is part of the Kremlin’s media operation

“There is an ongoing threat to undermine state sovereignty particularly in Eastern Europe,” a diplomatic source said.

The UK is thought to be the only European country building this kind of grassroots network against false information, which sources say is spread online, in print and in broadcasts by Russia-linked outlets.

The three-year Open Information Partnership gives grants, training and other forms of support to think tanks, academics and media outlets involved in fact-checking, investigative journalism and exposing fake news.

Some three dozen organisations in 13 countries largely in central and eastern Europe – where the challenge posed by Russia is most acute and the ability to counter it is most fragile – have already signed up to the initiative, which began this year.

One of these outfits is a think tank called GlobSec in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava.

Its researchers said Slovakia started to be hit by pro-Kremlin disinformation five years ago, around the same time as Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Daniel Milo, the head of a strategic communications programme at the think tank, said his country – occupied by the former Soviet Union when part of Czechoslovakia – is a particularly vulnerable target.

Many people are sympathetic towards Russia and have an anti-American predisposition.

“If you combine these two, add a bit of sugar-coating such as labelling Ukraine as a fascist state, the EU as pushing for some foreign alien, values, it is a perfect storm,” Mr Milo said.

But the Kremlin’s media operation, including Russian state broadcaster RT and online news outlet Sputnik as well as an array of social media accounts, is not the only culprit.

Certain elements within EU countries are suspected of using the same disinformation tools – playing on fears about immigration, gender and loss of sovereignty – to whip up support at a time of disillusionment with the more traditional political groupings.

The elections are due to be held in May
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Institutions like the EU are Russia’s target

“People saw this as a very easy way to score political points,” said Mr Milo.

“This type of narrative – bashing the EU, bashing NATO, bashing the US – could win potentially political points and this has been manifested recently in the polls.”

Research conducted by GlobSec shows that the far-right People’s Party Our Slovakia is mentioned the most often on Facebook pages that it monitored for disinformation.

“Across central Europe, the monitored Facebook channels that often publish disinformation and pro-Kremlin content, actively promoted populist parties with a strong anti-migration and Eurosceptic agenda,” it said in a report.

The aim, it said, is “to further the social and political polarisation on the European level”.

One man who likes Russia, loathes NATO and dismisses any suggestion he’s been influenced by Russian disinformation is 23-year-old archaeology student Peter Svrcek.

This young man is also the head of a self-styled militia called the Slovak Recruits, which he set up in 2012.

“I don’t see the Russians as our enemy. I see the Russians as closely related culturally and I see them as an ally and that’s how we should see them,” he said.

“We have to learn to communicate with them. Because that is the basis of peace and stability in Europe.

“I don’t agree with this fanaticism that leads to tension and escalation with Russia. This destabilises our central and eastern Europe.”

His 200-strong paramilitary group made headlines last year when it conducted military-style training in Slovakia with a Russian biker group called the Night Wolves, which is under US sanctions for supporting pro-Russian forces in Ukraine.

Mr Svrcek even went on a short military training camp in Russia when he was 16, learning the fighting skills he says he now teachers his followers.

He appears far more suspicious of the activities of Britain, the United States and other Western allies than he is of Russia.

European Parliament elections
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It is believed the Kremlin has tried to influence this week’s EU elections

Asked whether he may actually have been manipulated into thinking that way by pro-Kremlin disinformation, he said: “I don’t think that is the correct evaluation.

“Labelling these reports as disinformation creates a dangerous precedent and America is doing similar things. That’s not OK. That’s censorship.”

Britain’s push to fight Russian disinformation in Europe is being overseen by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and run by a communications agency called Zinc Network.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said the goal is to expand the support to more than 50 non-governmental organisations across the continent.

“Every partner is independent and is committed to sharing their knowledge, expertise and best practice with others, ultimately strengthening the collective response of European civil society to disinformation,” the spokeswoman added.

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Russia used social media to target 2014 European Parliament election, evidence suggests | World News

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Evidence of Kremlin efforts to use social media to target the 2014 European Parliament elections have been uncovered by researchers at Cardiff University.

They tracked the activities of Twitter accounts identified by the United States as being linked to the Kremlin’s Internet Research Agency (IRA).

This is the Russian organisation accused of running fake Twitter and Facebook accounts that targeted the 2016 US presidential election in support of Donald Trump.

Cardiff University found that one of the IRA accounts “appears to have been engaging in reconnaissance activities of European Parliamentary election processes in Greece in 2014”.

It discovered messages sent by whoever was operating the account that included photographs from inside polling stations of ballot boxes and pictures of ballot papers.

The team also noted that by 2016 these accounts were posting messages in a number of European languages, including French, German, Italian and Estonian.

“Collectively, these IRA Twitter accounts were displaying high levels of interest in the American elections, but there were also significant levels of interest in a series of elections and democratic events across Europe in 2016,” Cardiff University said in a report.

It added: “Based upon the maxim that the best guide to future behaviour is past conduct, the evidence presented suggests a strong potential for similar kinds of activities to be directed towards the 2019 European Parliamentary elections.”

Professor Martin Innes, director of the Crime and Security Research Institute at the university, said the research presented in two reports “clearly evidence a sustained and wide-ranging interest in European politics from social media accounts covertly run on behalf of the Kremlin”.

“By examining in forensic detail some of the tactics and techniques featuring in their historic information-influence operations, this research affords urgent insights about the future threats to the integrity of the democratic process as we approach the 2019 European elections.”

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Pentagon: US could send 10,000 more troops to Middle East to counter ‘Iran threat’ | US News

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The Pentagon is preparing to send as many as 10,000 more troops to the Middle East as tensions with Iran continue to rise, according to reports.

The move is not in response to any new threat but is aimed at strengthening security in the region, according to officials quoted by The Associated Press.

A final decision has not been made on the deployment, which could include additional weapons and ships.

Any increase in US troop numbers would contrast sharply with US President Donald Trump’s previous stated aim of reducing America’s military presence overseas.

Air Force Colonel Patrick Ryder, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: “As a matter of long-standing policy, we are not going to discuss or speculate on potential or alleged future operations or plans.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives for a closed-door briefing on Iran in the auditorium of the Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, DC, on May 21, 2019
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the situation is being evaluated daily

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the situation was being evaluated “every day”, telling Fox And Friends: “We’re evaluating the risks, making sure that we have it right.”

Meanwhile, the German foreign ministry’s political director Jens Ploetner headed for Tehran on Thursday for talks with Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi in an effort to stop the nuclear deal from falling apart.

The deal, signed under the Obama administration in 2015, had offered economic incentives in exchange for Iran curtailing its nuclear production.

But Mr Trump pulled the US out of the deal last year and has reimposed sanctions, hurting Iran’s struggling economy.

An F/A18E Super Hornet lands on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is deployed to U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in order to defend American forces and interests in the region. With Abraham Lincoln as the flagship, deployed strike group assets include staffs, ships and aircraft(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Dan Snow/Released)
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Earlier this month, the US accelerated the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Middle East

Iran – which has obeyed the deal’s conditions according to a February report by the International Atomic Energy Agency – gave the remaining signatories Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia two months to develop a plan to shield it from the effect of sanctions.

The German foreign ministry said in an email: “The situation in the Persian Gulf and the region, and the situation surrounding the Vienna nuclear agreement, is extremely serious.

“There is a real risk of escalation – including due to misunderstandings or an incident. In this situation, dialogue is very important.”

German deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Jens Ploetner addresses a news conference in Berlin October 20, 2006
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Jens Ploetner is trying to save the Iran nuclear deal

On Monday, Iran said it had increased its production capacity of low-enriched uranium but that it would not be enriched beyond the 3.67% limit in the nuclear deal. This would mean it can be used for power but not for an atomic weapon.

Earlier this month, the US accelerated the deployment of an aircraft carrier to the Middle East and sent four B52 bombers to the region.

Non-essential US personnel have been told to leave Iran’s neighbour Iraq, due to what the Trump administration described as threats from Iranian-backed militias.

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