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North Korea fires two short-range missiles

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(Last Updated On: March 24, 2021)

North Korea fired two short-range missiles at the weekend, U.S. and South Korean officials said, but Washington played down the first such tests under President Joe Biden and said it was still open to dialogue with Pyongyang, Reuters reported.

The North Korean activity involved weapons systems at the low end of the spectrum that were not covered by U.N. Security Council testing bans, two senior officials of the Biden administration told a briefing call on Tuesday.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said two cruise missiles were fired off North Korea’s western coastal town of Onchon on Sunday morning.

Reuters reported that Seoul had detected signs a test was imminent and was monitoring it in real time, a JCS official told reporters on Wednesday. The JCS reports North Korea’s testing of advanced weapons such as nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles nearly in real time but not some tests of lower grade, shorter range weapons.

The launch marks North Korea’s first publicly known weapons test since Biden took office in January.

But Biden downplayed the latest activity, saying “nothing much has changed,” while one senior official said it was “normal” testing and warned against “hyping” it.

“No, according to the Defense Department it’s business as usual. There’s no new wrinkle in what they did,” Biden told reporters upon his return from a visit to Ohio, when asked if the test was a provocation.

The Pentagon declined comment on the test, which was first reported by the Washington Post. North Korea’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Reuters reported.

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Russia ask 10 US diplomats to leave in retaliation against Washington

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(Last Updated On: April 17, 2021)

Russia on Friday asked 10 U.S. diplomats to leave the country in retaliation for Washington’s expulsion of the same number of Russian diplomats over alleged malign activity and suggested the U.S. ambassador return home for consultations, Reuters reported.

The measures, part of a broader retaliatory package, were approved by President Vladimir Putin, as a response to an array of U.S. government sanctions imposed on Moscow a day earlier, including curbs to its sovereign debt market.

Reuters reported that although Moscow responded swiftly and with measures designed to hurt U.S. interests and shrink its diplomatic footprint, it left the door open for dialogue and did not kill off the idea, proposed by President Joe Biden, of a Putin-Biden summit.

“Now is the time for the United States to demonstrate good sense and to turn its back on a confrontational course,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

“Otherwise an array of painful decisions for the American side will be implemented.”

It said it had options to hurt the United States economically and to shrink its diplomatic corps in Russia to just 300 people, but was holding fire for now.

Russia-U.S. ties slumped to a new post-Cold War low last month after Biden said he thought Putin was a “killer” and Moscow recalled its ambassador to Washington for consultations. The envoy has still not returned almost a month later.

The Russian foreign ministry said John Sullivan, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, should return home for consultations too., Reuters reported.

Washington said its own sanctions were payback for Russia interfering in last year’s U.S. election, cyber hacking, bullying Ukraine and other alleged malign actions.

The Russian response on Friday was “escalatory and regrettable,” a State Department representative said by email.

“It is not in our interest to get into an escalatory cycle, but we reserve the right to respond to any Russian retaliation against the United States.”

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Iran nuclear chief says 60% enrichment has started at Natanz site

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(Last Updated On: April 16, 2021)

Iran has begun 60% uranium enrichment at its Natanz plant, the country’s nuclear chief said on Friday, days after an explosion at the site that Tehran blamed on Israel.

“We are producing about nine grams of 60% enriched uranium an hour,” Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told state television.

“But we have to work on arrangements… to drop it to 5 grams per hour. But then we will simultaneously produce 20% (uranium),” Salehi said.

Earlier, parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said Iranian scientists had successfully started enriching 60 percent uranium at 12:40 a.m. local time (2010 GMT).

“The will of the Iranian nation makes miracles that thwart any conspiracy,” Qalibaf said on Twitter.

In Vienna, a spokesman for the United Nations nuclear watchdog IAEA declined to comment on the Iranian statements about 60% enrichment.

Iran has said its decision to increase enrichment to its highest level ever was in response to sabotage at its nuclear site at Natanz on Sunday by Israel.

Iran and global powers are meeting in Vienna to try to rescue a 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by Washington three years ago, in an effort potentially complicated by Tehran’s decision to ramp up uranium enrichment.

The 2015 agreement sought to make it harder for Iran to develop an atomic bomb – something it denies ever trying to do – in return for lifting sanctions.

Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator at nuclear talks in Vienna, said on Tuesday that Iran would activate 1,000 advanced centrifuge machines at Natanz.

An Iranian official told Reuters that “60% enrichment will be in small quantity” only.

Multiple Israeli media outlets have quoted unnamed intelligence sources as saying the country’s Mossad spy service carried out the sabotage operation at the Natanz complex. Israel – widely believed to be the only Middle Eastern country with a nuclear arsenal – has not formally commented on the incident.

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U.S. imposes wide array of sanctions on Russia for ‘malign’ actions

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(Last Updated On: April 15, 2021)

The United States on Thursday imposed a broad array of sanctions on Russia to punish it for alleged interference in the U.S. election, cyber-hacking, bullying Ukraine and other “malign” acts, Reuters reported.

The measures blacklisted Russian companies, expelled Russian diplomats and placed limits on the Russian sovereign debt market.

According to Reuters, more penalties could come, although Washington did not want to escalate matters, the Biden administration said.

Moscow reacted angrily, saying this dangerously raised the temperature between the two countries. It summoned the U.S. ambassador for what it said would be a tough conversation.

Among the actions, President Joe Biden issued an executive order authorizing the U.S. government to sanction any sector of the Russian economy and used it to restrict Russia’s ability to issue sovereign debt to punish Moscow for interfering in the 2020 U.S. election.

Biden barred U.S. financial institutions from taking part in the primary market for rouble-denominated Russian sovereign bonds from June 14. U.S. banks have been barred from taking part in the primary market for non-rouble sovereign bonds since 2019.

Reuters reported the U.S. Treasury also blacklisted 32 entities and individuals which it said had carried out Russian government-directed attempts to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election and other “acts of disinformation and interference”.

In concert with the European Union, Britain, Australia and Canada, the Treasury also sanctioned eight individuals associated with Russia’s ongoing occupation and repression in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

The Kremlin, speaking ahead of the publication of the executive order, said the sanctions would reduce the chances of a summit between Biden and President Vladimir Putin taking place, Reuters reported.

Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said Moscow would respond to the sanctions in the near future.

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