A controversial film highlighting “disappearances” in Kashmir that premieres in Britain this week has led to fears of heightened tension between the country’s Indian and Pakistani communities.
No Fathers in Kashmir tells the story of a British-Kashmiri teenage girl who travels to the Indian Himalayan state to search for her father, only to discover that he “disappeared” and was then killed after being taken away by Indian soldiers for interrogation.
The film is set against the backdrop of the continuing turmoil in Indian-administered Kashmir and vividly addresses the contentious issue of human rights violations that are alleged to have been committed by security forces as they battle to suppress a popular insurgency that has raged for the past 30 years.
According to human rights campaigners, an estimated 8,000 people have “disappeared” during this time.
The film, partly funded by a group of British Kashmiris, opens in Bradford followed by screenings in London and other cities where there is a substantial South Asian population.
Last year, Kashmir exploded into renewed turmoil after the Indian government revoked its special status and placed it in lockdown. Known as Article 370, the move stripped away the autonomy Kashmir had been granted in exchange for joining the Indian union after independence in 1947. Another part of the state remained within Pakistan. Both countries claim it as their own.
The move prompted anger in Britain and protests outside the Indian High Commission, which resulted in violence, vandalism and several arrests. Demonstrations were also held in other cities, including Birmingham and Manchester.
Of the 1.1 million British Pakistanis, more than one million originate from the part of Kashmir governed by Pakistan. While there are no official figures for the number of Indian Kashmiris in Britain, the overall British Indian community numbers almost 1.4 million people, and support for India’s position is strong among some sections of that community.
Sabir Gull, a senior member of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, which was founded in Birmingham in 1977 and campaigns for the state’s independence, said: “We don’t want this film to create more problems but there’s no getting away from the fact that it definitely could – but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be shown.
“Kashmir is a sensitive matter for both British Indian and Pakistani communities. Drawing attention to human rights violations through film or any other medium is giving the oppressed a voice. Disappearances and the other crimes that have been committed against the Kashmiri people will not go away if we bury our heads in the sand. At the end of the day, we are all British but we can’t ignore what’s going on.”
Kuldeep Shekhawat, head of the UK branch of the Overseas Friends of the BJP, which supports India’s governing party and aims to increase its popularity among British Indians, said: “This film does not serve any purpose. It will just inflame hostility and tension. Things were difficult enough last year between the two communities but have calmed down a lot since then. If Kashmir is an issue then it is between India and Pakistan. We are all British here, so why should we be getting so obsessed with Kashmir?
“This film will not help community relations. India is a democracy and has an effective legal system, so if there are any human rights violations they are addressed through these channels.”
No Fathers in Kashmir was released in India last year following a year-long battle with the country’s board of censors, which insisted that certain parts be cut and that the film also contain a number of disclaimers.
After adhering to the demands, director Ashvin Kumar then had to hire lawyers to challenge the film’s initial adult certification, which would have prevented it from being shown on Indian television. British screenings show the unedited version of the film.
Kumar said: “Disappearances and other human rights violations are wilfully being ignored by Indian society and the media. There’s a denial in the country and it’s sad that this also seems to be the case among sections of the Indian diaspora in Britain.
“Indian armed forces behave with total impunity in Kashmir. The consequences of the disappearances are devastating for families and there’s total apathy towards their plight, which has been continuing for the past 30 years.”
He added: “My film is trying to make things better through compassion and humanity. But if you don’t discuss what’s wrong, you will not make things better. The solution is to talk about the crimes that have been committed against the Kashmiri people – surely, no one in Britain is suggesting that we should not do this just because it may upset a few people?”
Kumar has made two other films about Kashmir; Inshallah Football and Inshallah Kashmir, which both won national awards in India. He was also nominated for an Oscar for a 2005 short film that he directed. He will be taking part in a number of Q&A sessions during the screenings of No Fathers in Kashmir.
The Duke of Sussex has met Boris Johnson and other world leaders attending the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London during what is likely to be one of his few remaining engagements as an official royal.
Hours after a speech in which he spelled out he and Meghan felt they had “no other option” but to step away from royal life, he arrived at London Docklands, where the prime minister was hosting the event. The two had a 20-minute private “catch-up”, without aides present.
Harry, who spoke on Sunday of his great sadness “that it has come to this”, will leave for Canada in the near future to join Meghan and their baby son, Archie. The couple will spend the majority of their time in Canada as they begin a one-year transition period to their roles as royal outsiders.
It was not a decision he had made lightly, he said, describing it as a “leap of faith”. There are not thought to be any engagements in his diary for the latter part of this week.
No date has been given for when the prince will officially step down as a working royal, and no longer be able to represent the Queen in any official capacity. Aides have only said it will be in the spring.
It is thought Harry could conduct a small number of royal engagements, possibly in the UK, before retiring from official royal life, though there is no indication of when Meghan might return to Britain.
Though barred from using their HRH – His or Her Royal Highness – titles, the couple have not been stripped of them. Neither have they been required to give up Frogmore Cottage, their official UK residence on the Windsor estate, though they will repay the £2.4m refurbishment costs met by the public purse. This indicates there has been no burning of bridges by the Queen, allowing the couple a possible way back in future.
Harry said in his speech: “Our hope was to continue serving the Queen, the Commonwealth, and my military associations without public funding. Unfortunately that wasn’t possible.”
The risk of the royal family’s reputation being tarnished by any conflict of interest in the couple’s future commercial dealings was not one Buckingham Palace was prepared to take. They also want to avoid as much as possible any criticism of the couple cashing in on their royal heritage.
In a statement on Saturday, Buckingham Palace said the couple had made clear “that everything they do will continue to uphold the values of Her Majesty”.
The duke was holding one-to-one meetings with a number of foreign leaders at the request of the UK government at the London summit. He sat down for talks with Saad-Eddine El Othmani, the prime minister of Morocco, Peter Mutharika, the president of Malawi, and Filipe Nyusi, the president of Mozambique.
Harry chose a dinner for donors to his charity, Sentebale, to speak from the heart on Sunday after 10 days of turmoil following the couple’s bombshell announcement they wanted to “step back’ as frontline royals.
Johnny Hornby, the chairman of Sentebale, said Harry’s royal status did not matter to the charity.
“I don’t think it matters at all. I think he has a kind of unique ability and an aura around him, when he is with children, when he is with any gathering, his passions come over,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
China’s National Health Commission has confirmed human-to-human transmission of a mysterious Sars-like virus that has spread across the country and fuelled anxiety about the prospect of a major outbreak as millions begin travelling for lunar new year celebrations.
Zhong Nanshan, a respiratory expert and head of the health commission team investigating the outbreak, confirmed that two cases of infection in China’s Guangdong province had been caused by human-to-human transmission and medical staff had been infected, China’s official Xinhua news agency said on Monday.
Authorities earlier reported 139 new cases of the new strain of coronavirus over the weekend, tripling the total number of infected patients since the virus was first detected last month in the central city of Wuhan to 217.
Cases were confirmed in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong province in the south, heightening fears ahead of the lunar new year holiday, when more than 400 million people are expected to travel domestically and internationally.
State broadcaster CCTV said on Monday evening there were seven suspected cases in other parts of the country, including Shandong in the east, and the south-western provinces of Sichuan, Guangxi and Yunnan. Five people who travelled from Wuhan were also being treated for fevers in Zhejiang province.
“People’s lives and health should be given top priority and the spread of the outbreak should be resolutely curbed,” said China’s president, Xi Jinping, weighing in on the matter for the first time.
The strain has caused alarm because of its connection to severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-03. Three people have so far died in the current outbreak, which has spread to Thailand, Japan and South Korea.
China’s National Health Commission said it had sent working groups to all provinces to oversee outbreak prevention, describing the situation as “controllable”. Hospitals in Shanghai and Beijing and in Zhejiang province have “comprehensively” strengthened examination procedures. In Shenzhen, temperature checks have been put in place in airports, ports and railway stations.
More than 100 patients with symptoms were waiting to be seen at the Xiehe hospital in Wuhan at 6am on Monday. “If you are coming now, you have to wait between three and four hours before you can see the doctors,” a hospital worker said by phone.
At a hospital in Chaoyang district in Beijing, patients were being given masks and forms to fill out, detailing any recent travel to Wuhan. A nurse said preventive measures were also being taken to protect doctors
Coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and people, and the outbreak in Wuhan has been linked to a now-closed seafood market where live animals were reportedly sold.
Xi Chen, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Public Health, said the likelihood of human-to-human transmission had appeared large given how many cases were confirmed. “It’s hard to see all these cases coming from animals at the same market,” Chen said.
For weeks, the only reported cases were in Wuhan and areas outside mainland China, prompting many people to question whether other cities were simply not reporting or testing for the virus. Some internet users joked the virus appeared to be “patriotic” by only spreading beyond China’s borders.
Chen said the high cost of testing for diagnosis may have contributed to underreporting.
Authorities have still not identified the source of the infection, which further complicates the government’s ability to contain the outbreak. The Huanan seafood market, where thousands of traders sold products, has been closed since 1 January. But some of the detected cases are patients with no history of visiting the market.
“What concerns me is the source of infection. We have no idea. That’s the most important thing. Without knowing that we don’t know the harm, how hard it can be,” Chen said.
Others fear that authorities have not moved quickly enough to contain the spread of the virus or educate the public. In Wuhan, temperature checkpoints have been installed at the airport and at train stations and bus terminals since 14 January, about five weeks after the virus was first detected.
Observers and residents worry about the possibility of a cover-up worsening the outbreak, as was the case with Sars in 2003.
Some residents in Wuhan have been told not to speak to media. The official Weibo account of Wuhan police said on 1 January that eight internet users who spread false information online “causing adverse social impacts” had been dealt with “according to the law”.
But Chinese health officials have made improvements since the Sars episode. In response to a bird flu outbreak in 2013, authorities quickly worked with the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fresh food markets were shut down but the outbreak was exacerbated by poultry sales into smaller, less-regulated markets.
The situation is complicated by the fact that farmers are unlikely to be compensated by the government or give up their sick animals.
“It’s not about a cover-up. Rather it’s about a lack of capacity and about a lack of enforced regulation,” said Nicholas Thomas, associate professor focusing on health security at City University of Hong Kong.
“At the moment, it is a bad flu. Yes, it is something to be concerned about and it is probably going to get worse in terms of infections and mortality, but again it’s winter,” he said. “It is likely to spread but we are still a long way off the levels of Sars or bird flu.”
The state-run Global Times said in an editorial on Sunday: “In the early days of Sars, there was a cover-up and delayed reporting. Such things can never be repeated again in China.”
Authorities have advised residents in the run-up to the lunar new year, which falls on 25 January, to be on the lookout for symptoms including fever, coughs, breathing difficulties and pneumonia.
Millions of people will crisscross the country during a weeklong public holiday starting on 24 January, in what is known as humanity’s largest migration. Some of those travelling will have set off already.
The WHO has not recommended any travel restrictions and Chinese authorities have not yet issued any. Still, not all residents were comforted by government assurances.
“With this huge amount of spring festival travel, why are there not any prevention measures?” one wrote on Weibo. On the Douban forum, another observed that few people at Wuhan train station were wearing masks.
Traders at the now-closed suspected seafood market in Wuhan said they were not overly worried, seeing the virus as little more than the common cold. “We start early, at 2am or 3am. We put our hands in the cold water. If we catch a cold, we don’t pay it much attention,” said Li, 52, who has operated a stall in Huanan for most of the past decade.
Li said that starting from late December, the property developer that owned the market asked renters to wear masks to work and avoid going to crowded places. “I’m not worried,” said Li. “My grandchildren all live in Wuhan and we don’t believe it. It’s just rumours.”
However, Li said some tenants who might have shown symptoms of the virus were unlikely to have reported themselves, fearing the impact on their business and being quarantined. “Most people wouldn’t say if they had it,” he said.
Hello from Davos. This quiet ski resort is filling up with scores of limousines, plenty of police and a horde of the so-called Global Elite.
Business leaders, academics, campaigners and the media are back for the 50th World Economic Forum.
And corporate signs are EVERYWHERE – Facebook has apre-fabricated HQ in the middle of town. SAP, Amazon Web Services and Accenture all have prime spots too, along with Zurich who are giving out their traditional blue hats to the masses.
All quite remarkable. Still, we’ll have the opening ceremony later, plus a big survey of CEOs by PwC.
On the financial markets, it has been a fairly quiet start to the week, with US markets closed for Martin Luther King Day.
This comes following a rather eventful start to the year, since which markets have largely stabilised. The signing of the phase one trade deal [between the US and China] will allow investors to turn their attention elsewhere and this week that place will be the mountains, more specifically, Davos.
The World Economic Forum gets underway [officially] tomorrow which means lots of panel discussions, meetings and interviews for traders to get their teeth stuck into. Given the current environment, it may not be the most market impactful event that we’ll see but when it comes to a gathering of some of the most influential people in the world, you can never be too sure.
Stock markets are trading slightly lower.
UK’s FTSE 100 down 24.8 points, or 0.32%, at 7649.61
Germany’s Dax up 0.11% at 13,540.47
France’s CAC down 0.34% at 6079.85
Italy’s FTSE MiB down 0.54% at 24,011.79
Oil prices have gone up after major production shutdowns in Libya. Brent crude has added 54 cents to .39 a barrel, up 0.83%, while US crude is 36 cents ahead at .9 a barrel, up 0.61%.
Sterling is down slightly against the euro and the dollar, trading at €1.1722 and .2993 respectively.
Hundreds of climate protesters march to Davos
Hundreds of protesters are marching to the ski resort of Davos to call on global leaders to step up action on the climate crisis. They started their three-day march yesterday and some wore koala bear costumes to call attention to the Australian bush fires.
They are set to arrive at Davos on hiking trails or by train after their 30km hike, because authorities have banned foot traffic on a road leading to Davos from the neighbouring village of Klosters, Reuters reported. In contrast, many of the business and political leaders are flying in by private jet – or arriving in limousines.
Protesters will face up to 5,000 military personnel and police as they get to Davos, where US president Donald Trump is the headline speaker, as in 2018 (he pulled out last year). He is expected to attend Davos tomorrow and on Wednesday – while back in the US the Senate holds impeachment hearings to decide whether he should be removed from office.
Greta Thunberg, the 17-year-old climate change activist, will also address the World Economic Forum. She was told by Trump via Twitter in December to “work on her anger management problem” and “chill,” whereupon she changed the bio of her Twitter account to: “A teenager working on her anger management problem. Currently chilling and watching a good old fashioned movie with a friend.”
Updated at 2.24pm GMT
The press conference has finished.
Copinath is now talking about rising political tensions in the Middle East.
The reaction has been fairly muted.
She notes that the price of oil has gone up by to .
Moving on to another topic… social unrest. The IMF’s chief economist says:
Social unrest picked up quite sharply in 2019 in many parts of the world, for different reasons.
She stresses that governments’ social spending must be well targeted to protect the poor.
She is now taking questions about climate change, which the IMF has identified as a major risk to the world economy.
It is a major issue and countries should display all the political will that is needed to get the job done.
Copinath says the IMF had been hoping for a more comprehensive trade deal between the US and China. The two biggest economies have been locked in a trade dispute since June 2018.
She says the phase one trade deal between the US and China, signed last week, is estimated to reduce the cumulative negative impact on global growth to 0.5% from the previously estimated 0.8%, between 2018 and 2020.
Here is our full story on the IMF’s latest outlook.
Updated at 1.52pm GMT
Over to the IMF’s chief economist Gita Copinath, who says:
We are projecting a modest recovery in growth.
The IMF’s head has told policymakers to “be ready to act if growth slows again”.
She has summarised the outlook thus: “Tentative stabilisation, sluggish recovery.”
In Davos, the IMF’s managing director Kristalina Georgiev is discussing the IMF’s World Economic Outlook.
She says the world economy remains “sluggish” and that everyone is adjusting to live with the “new normal” of greater uncertainty.
Updated at 1.08pm GMT
IMF cuts global growth forecasts
The IMF has cut its growth forecasts for the global economy, but also hopes that the downturn is bottoming out, reports Graeme Wearden from Davos.
The IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook predicts the world economy will grow by 3.3% in 2020, compared with a forecast of 3.4% three months ago. Growth in 2021 has been revised down, to 3.4% from 3.6%.
The Fund also estimates that global GDP only rose by 2.9% last year, which would be the weakest annual performance since the financial crisis. Back in 2017, it grew by 3.8%.
The IMF is blaming “increased social unrest” for the downgrades, along with weaker-than-expected growth in emerging markets such as India. It also cites rising geopolitical tensions between the United States and Iran, and the threat of a deeper trade dispute between the US and other trading partners, such as Europe.
“A materialization of these risks could lead to rapidly deteriorating sentiment, causing global growth to fall below the projected baseline,” the IMF says in a report headlined “tentative stabilisation, slugging recovery?”.
But it also sees signs that the slowdown in global trade, and the decline in manufacturing, are bottoming out. The US-China ‘Phase One’ trade deal and declining fears of a no-deal Brexit have boosted market sentiment, it adds.
The Fund is presenting its findings in Davos, at the start of this week’s World Economic Forum.
Updated at 2.20pm GMT
IMF: World economy increasingly vulnerable to climate crisis
Newsflash from Davos: The International Monetary Fund has warned that the world economy is increasingly vulnerable to the impact of the climate emergency, writes my colleague Graeme Wearden from Switzerland.
Today’s World Economic Outlook cites hurricanes in the Caribbean, droughts and bushfires in Australia, floods in eastern Africa, and drought in Southern Africa as examples of weather disruption in 2019.
It warns that the problem could worsen without coordinated action, saying:
Climate change, the driver of the increased frequency and intensity of weather-related disasters, already endangers health and economic outcomes, and not only in the directly affected regions.
It could pose challenges to other areas that may not yet feel the direct effects, including by contributing to cross-border migration or financial stress (for instance, in the insurance sector). A continuation of the trends could inflict even bigger losses across more countries.
UK pension schemes warn on cost of fossil fuel divestment
Several of Britain’s top pension funds have warned that they would have lost hundreds of millions of pounds if they had sold out of oil and gas stocks in recent years, according to Reuters, which contacted 47 of Britain’s largest pension schemes, 33 of which said they were not divesting from fossil fuels.
For example, pension funds for Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, which together manage £39.6bn in assets, estimate in their annual reports they would have lost more than £600m combined had they pulled out of fossil fuels.
Midday market summary
Time for a quick look at the markets. The main European stock markets are trading slightly lower today, while oil prices have jumped due to major production shutdowns in Libya. Brent crude is 48 cents higher at .33 a barrel, up 0.74% while US crude is 0.6% ahead at .9 a barrel.
FTSE 100 index down 23.7 points, or 0.31%, at 76550
Germany’s Dax up 0.06% at 13,533
France’s CAC down 0.24% at 6085
Italy’s FTSE MiB down 0.26% at 24,078
Sterling has recovered somewhat but is still slightly lower against both the euro and the dollar, after comments from chancellor Sajid Javid over the weekend stoked hard Brexit fears.
US markets are closed today for Martin Luther King Day.
Updated at 1.35pm GMT
The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Risks Report ranks biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse as one of the top five threats faced by humanity in the next ten years.
Its research shows that trillion of economic value generation – over half the world’s total GDP – is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services. Nature loss matters for most businesses – through impacts on operations, supply chains, and markets.
The question is to what extent the Davos participants – political and business leaders – will act on the various reports and their findings.
But the overriding theme at Davos looks to be the climate crisis. Is the World Economic Forum becoming the World Climate Forum?
We demand that at this year’s forum, participants from all companies, banks, institutions and governments immediately halt all investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction, immediately end all fossil fuel subsidies and immediately and completely divest from fossil fuels.
We don’t want these things done by 2050, 2030 or even 2021, we want this done now – as in right now.
Updated at 11.43am GMT
While we wait for the global economic forecasts from the International Monetary Fund, out at 1pm GMT, the Bundesbank has released growth estimates for Germany.
The German economy grew last year at the slowest pace since 2013, the country’s central bank estimates. Hit by weaker exports, Germany is expected to have expanded by just 0.6% in 2019, the lowest since the eurozone’s debt crisis. Exports have been hit by China’s economic slowdown and trade wars.
Following a boom in recent years, activity in Germany’s manufacturing sector “declined strongly and in a broad range of sectors,” the Bundesbank said.
The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, will not attend Davos because its organisers “abruptly changed its agenda,” according to a foreign ministry spokesman.
Tensions are high between the US and Iran. Earlier this month, Iran launched missile strikes aimed at US troops in Iraq in what it said was retaliation for the killing of the top Iranian general Qassem Suleimani. Tehran also admitted shooting down a passenger jet, after denying it for several days. The belated admission sparked protests across the country.
Over in Davos, climate protesters marched to the ski resort yesterday to highlight the escalating climate crisis.
It will be interesting to see how much of this is filtering through to the official event. At 1pm GMT, the World Economic Forum’s founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab and other WEF officials will hold a press conference to outline this year’s programme and participants. Many will be flying in on their private jets, thereby contributing to the climate crisis.
Also at that time, at a separate press conference the International Monetary Fund will present its World Economic Outlook. IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva will kick off the presentation, while IMF chief economist Gita Copinath will summarise the updated forecast.
There will not be alignment, we will not be a rule taker, we will not be in the single market and we will not be in the customs union – and we will do this by the end of the year.
Sterling lost 0.24% against the dollar to .2978, and was down 0.21% against the euro at €1.1703.
Back in the UK, pressure on households appears to have eased somewhat, with the household finance index from IHS Markit hitting a one-year high in January. It measures households’ perceptions of financial wellbeing and rose to 44.6 from 43.2 in December, suggesting a post-election bounce.
However, the index measuring future financial wellbeing dipped back into negative territory follow a slight improvement in December. Almost one in four households think that the Bank of England’s next move will be a rate cut.
The index is based on survey data collected by Ipsos Mori and is the first consumer survey published each month.
Joe Hayes, economist at IHS Markit, said:
Latest survey data certainly show some post-election bounce for UK households, with the headline index up to a one-year high and house price expectations at their strongest since October 2018. That said, cooling inflation was most likely the real driving force, propping up real earnings and disposable incomes.
“While falling living cost pressures are stimulating purchasing power, UK households are aware that weak economic conditions have led to an increased likelihood of lower interest rates. How this will impact consumer spending behaviour will be crucial to the UK’s growth prospects.”
Updated at 10.08am GMT
Capitalism doing ‘more harm than good’ – survey
Capitalism, in its current form, is seen as doing more harm than good, a survey of more than 34,000 people in 28 countries found ahead of the Davos meeting. The “Edelman Trust Barometer” was launched in 2000 and is conducted by the US communications firm Edelman.
Lack of trust in capitalism was most pronounced in Thailand and India, at 75% and 74% respectively, with France close behind on 69%. Other countries where the majority of people agreed with the statement that capitalism is doing more harm than good include Australia, Canada, the United States, South Korea, Hong and Japan.
Updated at 9.46am GMT
And here is a list of the political leaders and leaders from international organisations, trade unions, charities and NGOs, who are attending Davos. There will be “10 leaders under the age of 20” including the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who might square up to US president Donald Trump who is also flying in.
Running alongside the daytime discussions, schmoozing and night-time partying, there is an arts and culture festival for the first time with a number of sessions and “immersive art installations”. Cultural leaders attending Davos include the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Cambridge university professor Mary Beard.
Updated at 10.20am GMT
Trying to combat its reputation as an elitist gathering, the World Economic Forum has published a number of blogs ahead of the official opening at 4.30pm GMT today. This year’s theme is how do we “create a more cohesive and sustainable world”.
Blogs include a discussion of whether, as businesses are thriving while societies aren’t, this is the end of an era for shareholder capitalism; “financing fossil fuels risks a repeat of the 2008 crash;” and “The route to true gender equality? Fix the system, not women”.
Trading volumes are thin as US markets will be closed for Martin Luther King Day.
In London, the shopping centre firm Intu, which owns the Trafford centre in Manchester and Lakeside in Essex, suffered a 7% fall in its share price after confirming that it was in talks with investors about a fund raising by the end of February to shore up its battered finances. It is thought to be looking to raise as much as £1bn, although the company’s market value is only £288m. Intu has been hit as a number of well-known retailers have gone under or negotiated rent reductions in a bid to stay alive.
Tonic maker Fever-Tree, the former stock market darling, has seen its shares slump 21% today, the lowest level since April 2017. It admitted that trading had been tough in the UK over Christmas and blamed general belt-tightening among consumers, although it remains the market leader with its premium drinks mixers. The company now expects 2019 profits to be 5% below 2018, when it enjoyed a 34% jump in pre-tax profits to £75.6m.
Annual revenues are now set to come in at £260.5m, lower than expected. This equates to a 10% year-on-year growth rate, well below the 40% surge in sales seen in 2018. Fever-Tree already cut its sales outlook in November. Tim Warrillow, the chief executive and co-founder, said then that the company would hold off heavy promotional discounting over the Christmas period.
Nicholas Hyett, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, says:
Falling sales in the UK will inevitably spark fears the gin boom has turned to bust, while guidance for weaker sales in the US and lower margins undermine Fevertree’s long term pitch that it can replicate its success across the pond.
Updated at 9.33am GMT
European stock markets open lower, oil rises
The European stock markets have opened.
UK’s FTSE 100 flat
Germany’s Dax down 0.2%
France’s CAC down 0.1%
Spain’s Ibex down 0.1%
In Asia, shares held on to their gains despite a jump in the oil price. Japan’s Nikkei rose 0.2% to near a 15-month high, China’s CSI 300 gained 0.75% and Australia’s main index added 0.2% to an all-time peak.
Crude oil prices have hit their highest level in more than a week due to production shutdowns in Libya. Brent crude rose as high as a barrel and was later up 68 cents to .53, a 1% gain.
Updated at 8.21am GMT
And the world’s 22 richest men are wealthier than all the women in Africa combined, says Oxfam.
Updated at 8.22am GMT
The world’s 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60% of the planet’s population, according to the latest inequality report from the charity Oxfam.
The climate crisis will loom large over Davos, and Mark Carney, who becomes the new UN special envoy for climate change and finance once his term as governor of the Bank of England ends in mid-March, will be attending. He will also be the UK’s key adviser for the next UN climate change conference in Glasgow in November (COP26). The other thing on people’s minds are trade disputes.
Philip Shaw, chief economist at Investec, says:
Those surveyed in the WEF’s Global Risks Report 2020 identified economic disputes, including trade tensions, as the number one risk to the global economy this year. Alongside this, “domestic political polarisation” and “extreme heat waves” were flagged as top threats.
We also expect world leaders to debate the 2020 events which have already unfolded and the repercussions of these, not least the US-Iranian conflict. Note that the WEF will get underway hot on the heels of the release of IMF’s World Economic Outlook update, providing the macroeconomic context for the discussions.
Updated at 8.24am GMT
Larry Eliott, the Guardian’s economics editor, has looked back at the last few decades since the annual talkfest in the snow started. The World Economic Forum is “committed to improving the state of the world” but in key respects things look worse today than they did in the early 70s.
Updated at 7.46am GMT
Introduction: Davos kicks off
Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the world economy, the financial markets, the eurozone and business.
It’s Davos week. Nearly 3,000 people from 117 countries will descend upon the Swiss ski resort this week, including 53 heads of state or government, for the 50th annual gathering of the World Economic Forum (WEF). Even more than last year, it is overshadowed by the escalating climate crisis, and the slowing global economy amid trade tensions.
US president Donald Trump (who faces impeachment at home) is coming again this year, as is the Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg. The German chancellor Angela Merkel, European commission president Ursula von der Leyen, and Chinese vice-premier Han Zheng will all be speaking over the next few days.
My colleagues Larry Elliott and Graeme Wearden are on their way to Davos too. Graeme has looked ahead to what the next four days might bring:
Ahead of the event, which is attended by some of the world’s richest people and always attracts scores of protesters, a WEF report said said greater social mobility would help shrink the gap between rich and poor and lift global growth by almost 5% in the next decade. But it found that only a handful of 82 countries surveyed had put in place policies that would foster social mobility.
At lunchtime, we’ll get the latest economic forecasts from the International Monetary Fund.
As the Senate opened an impeachment trial in which Donald Trump will stand charged with abusing the power of his office, the president was hit with new allegations of wrongdoing by afederal watchdog agency.
The Government Accountability Office released a finding on Thursday morning that the suspension last year of military aid for Ukraine at Trump’s direction violated laws governing the disbursement of congressionally appropriated funds.
Trump caused the law to be broken, the agency found. The White House did not immediately respond to the allegation of criminality.
The opening of the Senate trial on Thursday brought the impeachment inquiry closer to its climax, nearly four months after Nancy Pelosi announced the investigation into Trump’s alleged scheme to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden.
Trump, only the third president in US history to have been impeached, now faces a trial due to begin next week. The proceedings could result in the president’s removal from office – but that is seen as unlikely.
A group of seven impeachment managers from the House, led by the intelligence chair, Adam Schiff, arrived just after noon to the Senate chamber, where they were announced by the sergeant at arms, Paul Irving, reading from a historic script.
“Hear ye, hear ye,” Irving said. ‘‘All persons are commanded to keep silence, on pain of imprisonment, while the House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the United States articles of impeachment against Donald John Trump.”
Schiff then read the articles of impeachment – the first charging abuse of power, the second charging obstruction of Congress – to the senators, each of whom was seated at her or his individual desk.
Later, the US supreme court’s chief justice, John Roberts, was sworn in for his presiding role at the trial. He then swore in the 100 senators – 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents – as jurors. Each senator signed an “oath book” signifying a pledge of impartiality.
The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, moved for a summons to be sent to Trump, who was given until 6pm on Saturday to file an answer with the secretary of the Senate. House managers were given until 5pm on Saturday to file briefs in the case, with White House briefs required the next day and any House rebuttal due by noon on Tuesday.
The Senate planned to reconvene for the trial at 1pm Tuesday, following the Martin Luther King Jr holiday.
A two-thirds majority of voting senators would be required to convict Trump and remove him from office, but he appears to be extremely well insulated against that possibility by Republican loyalists.
Despite his declaration last month that he could not be an “impartial juror” in the case, McConnell vowed on Wednesday night that each senator would weigh the case against Trump with care.
“We’ll pledge to rise above the petty factionalism and do justice for our institutions, for our states and for the nation,” McConnell said.
But McConnell was back in his partisan foxhole on Thursday morning, vowing that the Senate would check the “runaway passions” of the House and indicating that he would continue to press for a trial limited in scope.
“Now they want the Senate to redo their homework and rerun the investigation,” McConnell said. “It’s not what this process will be going forward.
“The House’s hour is over. The Senate’s time is at hand.”
The White House released a statement on Wednesday that said “President Trump has done nothing wrong” and “expects to be fully exonerated”.
Extraordinary restrictions were in effect on Capitol grounds, including the penning of reporters in the halls of the Senate. Their attempts to interview members of Congress were interrupted by an unusual number of police officers on the scene.
The Government Accountability Office finding that Trump’s Office of Management and Budget had broken the law by withholding aid to Ukraine did not pose an immediate legal hazard for Trump personally, and the president has not been charged with a crime.
But the finding by the GAO, which is part of the legislative branch, could impose further stress on Trump’s Senate Republican defenders, who even before the trial began were lashing out at reporters asking about the continuing stream of evidence damaging to Trump.
The team of impeachment managers is led by Schiff and the judiciary committee chair, Jerry Nadler. Trump has reportedly tapped the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, to lead his team.
The managers delivered the articles of impeachment to the Senate in a ceremonial procession on Wednesday evening. “We are here today to cross a very important threshold in American history,” Pelosi, the House speaker, said before a vote to transmit the articles.
The second-ranking member of the Senate, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, swore in Roberts on Thursday. The chief justice then administered this oath to the senators:
I solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald Trump, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the constitution and laws: so help me God.
Addressing her colleagues on the House floor on Wednesday, Pelosi sharply rejected criticism by Republicans that she had delayed transmission of the articles.
“Don’t talk to me about my timing,” she said. After months of resisting calls “from across the country” for Trump’s impeachment, she said, Trump ultimately “gave us no choice. He gave us no choice.”
Trump was impeached in December for an alleged scheme in which he pressured Ukraine to announce false investigations of the former vice-president Biden and then fought an inquiry into the scheme.
No US president has ever been removed through impeachment, though Richard Nixon resigned in the face of that prospect.
While Trump’s removal is unlikely, the trial holds political hazards for him. He succeeded in enforcing message discipline among Republicans as impeachment moved through the House last fall, but there were indicators that the conduct of some Republicans in the Senate would be more difficult to manage.
A group of moderate Republicans has expressed openness in recent weeks to hearing from witnesses and a desire to weigh the charges against Trump on the merits. Those positions could quickly wither under personal pressure from Trump, who has directed rage at any suggestion that his conduct was less than perfect.
House Republicans responded vigorously to Trump’s demands that they defend him, offering worshipful assessments of Trump’s conduct, which they said was motivated by Trump’s desire to fight corruption in Ukraine.
But that posture may become more difficult as new evidence continues to emerge of Trump’s alleged wrongdoing.
On Tuesday night, House Democrats released newly gathered evidence including a handwritten note by a Trump associate describing a plot involving the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and Biden.
Trump “knew exactly what was going on” in a scheme to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate Biden, that associate, Lev Parnas, told MSNBC on Wednesday night.
Correction: This story mistakenly referred to the Government Accountability Office as a Trump administration agency. It is a legislative branch agency.
On Tuesday the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, announced the inspector-general of emergency management, Tony Pearce, will receive .55m for extra staff to review recent bushfires in the state, including in the Gippsland region and the dramatic evacuation of Mallacoota.
The inquiry will report by mid 2020 on preparedness and firefighting efforts – ahead of the next fire season – with a second report on relief and recovery due in 2021.
On Sunday Scott Morrison said that a national inquiry – most likely a royal commission – would be “necessary” to examine the bushfires and he intended to take a proposal to cabinet for endorsement in coming weeks after agreement with the states.
The Western Australian government has dissented from the call for a royal commission.
On Monday the WA emergency services minister Francis Logan said: “I would prefer – given the royal commissions that are under way at the moment and it takes a huge amount of time in doing royal commissions … I’d prefer personally to see a thorough investigation, not necessarily a royal commission into it.”
The New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has already announced that state will hold a separate inquiry.
Andrews told reporters in Melbourne that Morrison was “still working through the type of inquiry he prefers” and a proposal was yet to go to cabinet.
“It is unclear to me – and that’s not a criticism it just isn’t settled yet – whether this would be an inquiry into how the national effort can be as best coordinated as possible or whether it is an inquiry into the event more broadly,” he said.
Andrews said he had told Morrison about Victoria’s plans and Morrison had given a commitment to consult on the terms and scope of a national inquiry.
Andrews praised Pearce, who he said had the “experience, the understanding and the status in our emergency services system” to conduct the Victorian state inquiry.
Later on Tuesday Morrison told reporters in Canberra that a national inquiry had never been intended to replace state inquiries and any suggestion they were in conflict was “false”.
Morrison clarified that a national inquiry would examine the preparation and response to bushfires, the scope of federal power including when it can initiate defence force action rather than simply respond to state requests, and “resilience and adaptation” to climate change.
Bernard Teague, a retired Victorian supreme court judge who conducted the Black Saturday royal commission, said a national royal commission would be ideal if the federal and state governments could agree about the terms of reference and who would conduct it.
“If that’s not possible … then it may be scaled down to have appropriate inquiries in the relevant jurisdictions,” he told Radio National.
Teague said the hurdles to setting up a royal commission in the right way were “substantial” and it was therefore “not particularly likely”.
Teague said it is clear climate change has a major impact on bushfires but an inquiry could consider “taking more appropriate action into the future” to combat it.
The Victorian emergency services minister, Lisa Neville, announced further measures to assist in the cleanup in the state, where 353 residential properties have been damaged by the fires, including the suspension of the landfill levy.
It stopped being dark at about eight o’clock this morning, but it never got exactly light. A robin flashing its breast and singing its song among the brittle lakeside bines is a lively movement in a requiem mass. Everyone else is in funeral-wear: coot and moorhen, jackdaw and crow, a flock of tweed-grey gadwalls, a cormorant poised with thunderous drama at the top of an electricity pylon. Two other cormorants cruise the waters like snakish grebes, chins uplifted.
A black swan, with its red bill and striking white primaries, has the look of a horse decked out to lead a cortege. It’s not welcome near the mute swans’ island, this feral Anglo-Australian, blown in for the holidays from who knows where; the resident pair see it off pretty sharply. It cuts a bit of a sad figure, a little later, browsing and pawing the grass of the meadow with the Canada geese, neck flexed improbably like a U-bend or a croquet hoop.
The hostility of mute swans is one reason why the black swan – a bird of Western Australia, first brought to the UK in 1791 – has never really found a foothold here; our bad winters can’t have helped (perhaps they should simply wait a few decades for the lower Calder to start to resemble the Swan River Valley). Another reason, suggested by RSR Fitter in 1959, is that people have thought them unlucky, and not let them settle.
Dark smudges in trees, seen in the middle distance, might be blackbirds or wood pigeons or discarded baggies of dogshit, or last spring’s birds’ nests. They put me in mind of Edward Thomas’s description of nests seen in autumn, “some torn, others dislodged, all dark”, obvious in the trees and hedges: “I cannot help a little shame/ That I missed most, even at eye’s level, till/ The leaves blew off and made the seeing no game.”
Something I don’t see sends the Canada geese up in a panic. They flee, honking over our heads, perhaps two dozen or so. My daughter looks up, blinks, laughs and shouts “Rah, rah, rah” at them (or with them) and after them.
Beijing has said that anyone seeking to keep Taiwan separate from China would “leave a stink for 10,000 years” in its strongest remarks since the re-election of Tsai Ing-Wen, who opposes unification with China.
On Monday while on a tour in Africa, the foreign minister, Wang Yi, said: “The unification of the two sides of the strait is a historical inevitability,” Xinhua news agency reported.
He described those going against this trend as bound to “stink for 10,000 years” – an idiom to say one will go down in infamy.
Tsai’s landslide electoral victory on Saturday has been embarrassing for China, where state media spent most of the past year isolating Taiwan on the diplomatic stage, deriding Tsai and highlighting the popularity of her opponent, Han Kuo-yu, of the pro-China Kuomintang party.
Her win, after a campaign that leaned heavily on Hong Kong as a cautionary tale for Taiwan, is widely seen as a repudiation of Beijing’s attempts to draw Taiwan into its fold through military intimidation, economic incentives, cultural exchanges and other means. Beijing views Taiwan, a functionally independent country, as part of its territory.
Beijing has sought to downplay the election results which also saw the ruling Democratic Progressive party maintain its majority in the legislature, giving Tsai’s administration a stronger mandate over the next four years.
In an editorial on Sunday, Xinhua said Tsai’s party had used “dirty tactics”, including fake news, repression and intimidation. Mainland commentators said Tsai had “won by fear” while the Global Times blamed infighting within Han’s Kuomintang party.
“Yet no matter how much uncertainty there is across the straits, the fact that the Chinese mainland is getting increasingly stronger and the Taiwan island is getting weaker is an inevitable reality,” an editorial late on Saturday said.
Following the election, Chinese social media was flooded with comments from internet users calling for unification by force. But experts say Beijing prizes stability and would likely remain cool-headed in its approach to Taiwan.
“The ultimate goal for China government is to keep its power. Stability in the mainland is always much more important than the unification,” said Austin Wang, assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas who focuses on East Asia.
“If China’s economy is good, it may harden its hardline policy and may raise more conflict against Taiwan,” he said. “But if China’s economy goes down, it may need Taiwan’s help… In such a scenario, China may be willing to engage with Taiwan.”
This week, Chinese authorities have tried to highlight the potential of economic links.On Tuesday the international version of the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the party, criticised the DPP for focusing on politics rather than Taiwan’s struggling economy, a common argument made by Beijing and pro-China groups in Taiwan that closer ties would help stagnant wage and job growth.
“The people of Taiwan must tighten their belts and continue to live a hard life,” the paper said. State media have also accused “external dark forces”, such as the US, an ally of Taiwan’s, of having a hand in the election.
Experts say China is likely to double down on its strategy of punishing Taiwan. During Tsai’s first term, Beijing cut off a dialogue mechanism, independent travel to Taiwan, and persuaded several of Taiwan’s few remaining allies to switch diplomatic recognition.
In her victory speech on Saturday, Tsai she was committed to maintaining peaceful cross-strait relations but said it was a responsibility to be borne by “both sides”.
“China must abandon threats of force against Taiwan,” she said. “ … Democratic Taiwan and our democratically elected government will not concede to threats and intimidation.”
Donald Trump Jr and Ivanka Trump took part in a fraudulent scheme to sell units in a luxury New York condominium-hotel and “knew they were lying”, according to a new book that explores how the current US president built his business empire.
Questions have long surrounded a criminal investigation into the Trump family’s dealings around the Trump SoHo that was dropped in 2011. Public disclosure of email correspondence revealed that Don Jr and Ivanka knowingly used figures that exaggerated how well the condos were selling in a ploy to lure more buyers.
The episode is re-examined with fresh reporting by the journalist Andrea Bernstein in her book American Oligarchs: The Kushners, The Trumps And The Marriage Of Money And Power, a copy of which was obtained by the Guardian.
Trump first previewed the 46-storey Trump SoHo in lower Manhattan with fanfare in 2006 on his reality TV show The Apprentice, boasting “this brilliant 0m work of art will be an awe-inspiring masterpiece”. But sales of units proved disappointing, especially after it was revealed one of Trump’s partners, Russian-born Felix Sater, had a criminal past.
According to data filed with state and federal agencies, only 15% to 30% had been sold by the start of 2009, the New York Times reported. But in June 2008, Ivanka told the Reuters news agency that 60% had been sold, while in April 2009, Don Jr claimed in the Real Deal magazine that 55% had.
Buyers of units in Trump SoHo sued Trump, arguing that they had been defrauded by inflated claims of sales. The Manhattan district attorney’s office then began investigating whether the allegations could also constitute a crime, issuing subpoenas and carrying out interviews.
The Trumps left a damaging email trail, first reported by the ProPublica website in 2017, that Bernstein writes “showed a coordinated, deliberate and knowing effort to deceive buyers. In one email, the Trumps discussed how to coordinate false information they had given to prospective buyers. Because the sales levels had been overstated at the beginning of the sales process, any statement showing a lower level could reveal the untruths.”
The author continues: “In another email, according to a person who read them, the Trumps worried that a reporter might be on to them. In yet another email chain that included Don Jr and Ivanka, the younger generation of Trumps issued the email equivalent of a knowing chuckle, saying that nobody would ever find them out, because only people on the email chain or in the Trump Organization knew about the deception.
“There was ‘no doubt’ that the Trump children ‘approved, knew of, agreed to, and intentionally inflated the numbers to make more sales,’ one person who saw the emails said. ‘They knew it was wrong.’ ‘It couldn’t have been more clear they lied about the sales and knew they were lying,’” another person said.
“Yet another said, ‘I was shocked by the words Ivanka used.’ Was there any doubt the Trumps knew they were lying and that it was wrong? ‘Ten thousand percent no.’”
Trump and his co-defendants settled the civil case in November 2011, agreeing to refund 90% of .16m in deposits while refusing to admit any wrongdoing. As part of the settlement, the buyers agreed to no longer help the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation into whether Trump’s alleged fraud broke any laws.
The buyers set out this agreement in a letter that, Bernstein writes, contained language insisted upon by Trump’s lawyers. “In an interview, the district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr, said that he had never before seen a letter where plaintiffs in a civil case asserted that no crime had been committed. ‘I don’t think I’d ever received a letter like it,’ Vance said.”
The criminal case against Don Jr and Ivanka was eventually wound up because prosecutors feared it would be undermined by the buyers refusing to say they had been the victims of fraud. Ivanka is now in the White House as a senior adviser to the president. Don Jr has emerged as one his chief campaign surrogates for re-election.
Trump’s hugely divisive presidency has seen some of his properties suffer lost custom as his name becomes a liability. In December 2017, the Trump SoHo was rebranded as the Dominick, which helped turn around its fortunes.
Originally from a village in Belarus, many of his ancestors were murdered in the Holocaust. Survivors took refuge in Hungary and Italy and fled to America. The book tells how Jared’s grandfather, Yossel Berkowitz, posed as his father-in-law’s son, putting Kushner as his last name on US immigration paperwork. As a consequence, his grandson is named Jared Kushner rather than Jared Berkowitz.
Live political reporting continues in Thursday’s blog
Congress will vote tomorrow on legislation to curb the president’s war powers. “The Admin must work with the Congress to advance an immediate, effective de-escalatory strategy which prevents further violence,” the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said, after she and other members of the House disparaged Trump for failing to consult or inform them before ordering the assassination of the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani.
Rockets reportedly fell on the “Green Zone” around the US embassy and military facilities in Baghdad today, but details have been scarce.
Trump spoke with Justin Trudeau and Boris Johnson on the phone. The leaders discussed working together to ensure that Iran doesn’t acquire a nuclear weapon.
Catch up on news and analysis of the US-Iran crisis:
Mike Pence said the US isn’t seeking a regime change in Iran, but wants “to see the regime change its behavior” in an interview on CBS.
The vice-president earlier tweeted that the “America is safer and stronger because of President Trump’s decisive action” toward Iran.
Pence’s tone matches that of Trump, vacillating between appearing strong and backing off. As the Guardian’s Tom McCarthy wrote in his analysis, though Trump’s public address this morning, which he delivered while “flanked by cabinet members and backed by eight military officers, communicated a clear subtext: America stood ready to strike” – even as his speech was notably non-provocative.
Updated at 12.48am GMT
Lindsey Graham said that fellow Republican senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul were “overreacting” and that those seeking to limit the president’s war powers were “empowering the enemy”.
Lee told Fox News that it was “wrong” for the Trump administration to insist that there must be “no dissension” in the GOP over warlike actions from the president.
In the aftermath of the Iran missile attacks, there’s been a spread of online disinformation. The Guardian’s Jim Waterson reports:
Iran’s missile attacks on two Iraqi airbases have been accompanied by a spread of online disinformation, falsely labelled images and claims of news sources being hacked, which have added to jitters in the region regarding the attacks.
Iranian state television said on Wednesday that at least 80 “American terrorists” were killed, despite the US making clear that it had not sustained any casualties as a result of rocket attacks on Iraqi military bases hosting American troops. The attacks occurred in retaliation for the US’s assassination of the powerful Iranian general Qassem Suleimani.
Iran has a long history of running state-backed disinformation campaigns which attempt to influence opinion overseas, with Facebook regularly banning Iranian pages it believes are spreading false and divisive material aimed at audiences in the US and UK.
Twitter suspended an account impersonating the Israeli journalist Jack Khoury, which had been used to promote false claims that hundreds of US soldiers had been injured in the attacks and claimed they had been secretly evacuated to a hospital in Tel Aviv by a military aircraft.
An initial assessment by western intelligence agencies has found that the Ukrainian airliner that crashed in Iran wasn’t brought down by a missile, according to a Reuters report citing an anonymous Canadian security source.
Earlier today, Tehran said it would not be handing the plane’s black box to Boeing, fueling concerns that the crash, which killed all 176 passengers, was caused by a missile aimed at Iraqi bases used by US forces.
Updated at 12.46am GMT
Top US General: Iran intended to kill Americans
The chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, Mark Milley, told reporters that Iran’s missile attack had been intended to kill American personnel and cause damage to the al-Asad airbase.
“I believe, based on what I saw and what I know, is that (the strikes) were intended to cause structural damage, destroy vehicles and equipment and aircraft and to kill personnel. That’s my own personal assessment,” Milley said. “But the analytics is in the hands of professional intelligence analysts. So they’re looking at that.”
The defense secretary, Mark Esper, said the intent has yet to be determined.
Updated at 10.54pm GMT
Hello again, US politics watchers, I take my leave now after a lively day but hand you over to my colleague, Maanvi Singh, in California to take you through the next few hours of US-involved geopolitical events and reaction here in the United States.
Key events so far today:
The US House will vote tomorrow on new legislation to curb the president’s war powers, after Donald Trump failed to consult or inform Congress before he ordered the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Suleimani last week.
Rockets have been falling in the heavily-fortified “Green Zone” around the US Embassy and military facilities in Baghdad. Details scarce so far.
Boris Johnson and Justin Trudeauspoke on the phone about the US-Iranian crisis and the crash of a Ukrainian flight outside Tehran earlier today in which many Canadian passengers were killed.
The British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, and US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, are meeting in Washington this hour.
Donald Trump gave a live televised address at the White House this morning, in which he said “Iran appears to be standing down” after its relatively restrained missile strike on US facilities in Iraq overnight, and pledged more sanctions against Iran, but also appealed to the Islamic republic to explored “shared priorities” with the US, such as Islamic State.
“No evidence of imminent threat” – Booker
Here is some more reaction from both sides of the aisle – but in surprisingly parallel directions, rather than the usual polar opposite.
Booker and other Democrats running for president have had their campaigns rudely interrupted by the rising tension over Iran.
Less prominent 2020 candidate Tulsi Gabbard was, seconds ago, on CNN saying more or less the same thing.
Meanwhile, Republican maverick Senators of the day, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Utah’s Mike Lee, are also exasperated.
Lee told Fox News that the congressional briefing was “lame” and that it was “wrong” for the senior Trump administration briefers – the secretary of state, defense secretary, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and director of the CIA – to tell GOP members of congress that there must be “no dissension” in the ranks over any warlike actions from Donald Trump.
It seems the members were given very luke warm, unreassuring assurances over whether Congress would be involved in any near future further actions of aggression towards Iran.
Lee called it the worst briefing he’d ever heard in his nine years in the Senate.
Updated at 10.12pm GMT
No casualties in Green Zone – initial reports
Still very few details about the latest incident in Baghdad. But here are a few more fragments, via Reuters.
Sirens were sounding inside the Green Zone. Police sources told Reuters at least one of the rockets fell 100 metres from the US Embassy. “Two Katyusha rockets fall inside the Green Zone without causing casualties. Details to follow,” the military said.
Two loud blasts followed by sirens had been heard in Baghdad, Reuters witnesses said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
US House to vote tomorrow on new legislation to limit presidential war powers
US Democrats, who dominate the House of Representatives, are still furious that they were not consulted or even notified before Donald Trump took unilateral action late last week to assassinate senior Iranian general Qassem Suleimani as he was being driven away from the Baghdad airport in Iraq.
It may be no more than a democratic gesture (given that the Republicans dominate the Senate and are foursquare behind their president, Trump) but House Speaker Nancy Pelosihas announced the introduction of legislation to curb the president’s war powers, and it will come up for voting tomorrow.
As the Guardian’s senior political reporter, Lauren Gambino, just noted.
Here’s a bitter little tit-for-tat on Twitter last weekend.
For some slightly deeper dives on this topic, here are interesting pieces about presidential war powers from the New Yorker and NPR.
Meanwhile, my world affairs editor colleague, Julian Borger, analyses the bigger picture on the US and Iran and where things stand this afternoon.
Rockets falling in Baghdad, Iraq
Latest report, with details just trickling in so far, is of three Katyusha rockets, commonly used my militias, have fallen inside Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone and have started a fire, police sources report, via Reuters.
The US embassy may have been the intended target.
Flights through Middle Eastern airspace to alter routes
Commercial airlines are rerouting flights throughout the Middle East to avoid potential danger during heightened tensions between the US and Iran. Jumbled schedules could affect as many as 15,000 passengers per day, lengthen flight times by an average of 30 to 90 minutes, and severely bruise the bottom line for airlines, industry analysts said, and The Associated Press reported.
“In a war situation, the first casualty is always air transport,” said Dubai-based aviation consult Mark Martin, pointing to airline bankruptcies during the Persian Gulf and Yugoslav wars. At least 500 commercial flights travel through Iranian and Iraqi airspace daily, Martin said.
A Ukrainian passenger jet crashed shortly after taking off from Iran’s capital early Wednesday killing 167 passengers and nine crew members just hours after Iran’s ballistic missile attack, but Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Ukrainian officials initially agreed, but later backed away and declined to offer a cause while the investigation is ongoing.
Air France and Dutch carrier KLM both said Wednesday that they had suspended all flights over Iranian and Iraqi airspace indefinitely. German airline Lufthansa and two of its subsidiaries also canceled flights to Iraq.
The Russian aviation agency, Rosaviatsia, issued an official recommendation for all Russian airlines to avoid flying over Iran, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman “due to existing risks for the safety of international civil flights.”
Australian carrier Qantas said it was altering its London to Perth, Australia, route to avoid Iranian and Iraqi airspace until further notice.
Malaysia and Singapore Airlines are re-routing, too.
The US Federal Aviation Administration said it was barring American pilots and carriers from flying in areas of Iraqi, Iranian and some Persian Gulf airspace.
Fresh explosions heard in Baghdad
Initial reports coming in suggest that there were two loud blasts, moments ago, followed by sirens, Reuters witnesses said. The cause was not immediately clear.
Senior Trump administration figures brief members of Congress
The quartet of US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, the still relatively new defense secretary Mark Esper, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff Mark Milley and the historically-controversialCIA director Gina Haspel strode across Capitol Hill today to brief members of Congress on the Iran issues.
There is some difference of perspective on how effective the briefing was.
Here is a reported take from a Republican member of Congress:
Senior Democrat and chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, Eliot Engel, who was deeply involved in the Trump impeachment inquiry, was unimpressed.
Mixed reaction from libertarian Republican Rand Paul:
Democrat Pramila Jayapal said of the administration’s stated justification for assassinating Iranian general Qassem Suleimani in the Baghdad area last week: “There was NO raw evidence presented that this [Suleimani plotting against US] was an imminent threat.”
The leaders also discussed working together, and with international partners, to ensure Iran is prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Johnson also offered condolences for the Canadians who lost their lives in the Ukrainian airliner that crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board.
There are few specifics available in terms of the two leaders’ reactions to Donald Trump announcing this morning the intention for the US to impose further sanctions on Iran, and the US president’s urging of allies to abandon the “remnants” of the Iran Nuclear Deal, the international accord to trade a loosening of sanctions for Iran’s backing off from developing their own nuclear missile capability.
Updated at 8.16pm GMT
Air crash could further imperil US-Iranian relations
The pre-dawn crash of a US-built Boeing airliner in Iran earlier today, with the loss of 176 lives, looks set to strain fragile international protocols on co-operation in air disaster investigations at a time when the United States and Iran are already mired in confrontation. The relatively new Boeing 737-800NG jet flown by Ukraine International Airlines burst into flames shortly after take-off from Tehran and crashed on Wednesday, Reuters writes this afternoon.
The results of an investigation and even the way it is set up and coordinated could inflame political differences as mystery surrounds the jet’s sudden nosedive, analysts said. Iran and the United States are co-signatories of the basic global agreement on modern aviation 75 years ago and sit together at the United Nations’ aviation agency.
The 1944 Chicago Convention gave rise to strict rules about how air accidents should be investigated, marking a blueprint for co-operation that has largely stood the test of time even as member countries shunned other types of diplomatic cooperation.
As the country where the jet was designed and built, the United States has a right to be accredited to the investigation and would normally appoint Boeing, which is bogged down in its own corporate and safety crisis involving its ground 737 Max aircraft type, as its own technical adviser.
But Wednesday’s crash immediately triggered fresh signs of international distrust.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US was prepared to offer Ukraine assistance but he did not mention any role for Iran in the ensuing investigation.
It’s been a lively day so far in US-facing international politics. There will be plenty more developments to come, so do read on. Here are the key events so far:
British foreign secretary Dominic Raab and US secretary of state Mike Pompeowill meet in Washington later today. The event was brought forward and was originally scheduled to happen tomorrow. Earlier, Boris Johnson and Donald Trump talked on the phone, but almost no details have emerged.
The US has promised full cooperation in investigations following the crash of a Ukrainian passenger flight shortly after take-off from Tehran in the early hours. There is unofficial talk that it was shot down.
Donald Trump ended his live address at the White House earlier by appealing to Iran to coordinate with the US on “shared priorities” such as shutting off ISIS.
Trump said in his address that Iran appears to be “standing down” after missile launches from Iran towards US forces in Iraq almost 24 hours ago avoided (perhaps deliberately, according to sources) causing any US casualties. Nevertheless, Trump announced more economic sanctions on Iran and asked NATO to get more involved.
Leading Iraqi signals US-Iran crisis is over – at least for Iraq
Influential Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said a little earlier today that the crisis Iraq was experiencing in recent days of heightened international tension is now over following de-escalation rhetoric from both Iran and the US. He called on Iranian-backed militia groups not to carry out attacks.
A new, strong Iraqi government able to protect the nation’s sovereignty and independence should be formed in the next 15 days and usher in an early election, the populist cleric said in a statement, Reuters reports.
He added that Iraqis should still seek to expel foreign troops, however.
“I call on the Iraqi factions to be deliberate, patient, and not to start military actions, and to shut down the extremist voices of some rogue elements until all political, parliamentary and international methods have been exhausted,” he said.
The Guardian’s latest view on the US-Iran crisis is that relief from tension and aggression may be short-lived.
British foreign secretary and US secretary of state to meet within hours
Dominic Raab, Britain’s foreign secretary, arrived in Washington an hour ago. He had been expected to meet with counterpart Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, tomorrow but the meeting has been brought forward to late this afternoon.
It’s now expected to take place at 4.30pm ET/9.30pm GMT this afternoon. So far, we understand the two will not make public remarks before they disappear into their tête-a-tête but that could always change in the moment.
The two have met before, several times, and this was a pre-planned visit following the Conservative Party victory in December’s UK general election. It’s not an emergency meeting following the eruption of the US-Iran crisis in the last week (which affects NATO, British troops in Iraq, Britain’s participation in the Iran nuclear deal and British interests overall in a stable Middle East).
But there seems little doubt the events of the last six days will now be on the agenda.
Donald Trump urged Britain and others earlier today to join the US in abandoning the Iran nuclear deal.
Meanwhile, a terse read-out from the White House on a phone call earlier today between Donald Trump and British prime minister Boris Johnson. “The two leaders discussed the current situation in the Middle East and agreed to continue close coordination in support of shared national security interests.”
The US did not consult nor notify the UK before it assassinated Iranian general Qassem Suleimani last week.
Updated at 6.39pm GMT
Russia and Turkey urge de-escalation
From Istanbul today: Turkey and Russia called on the US and Iran to prioritize diplomacy and de-escalate tensions, warning that the exchange of attacks by Washington and Tehran could lead to a new cycle of instability in the region.
The joint call was issued in a statement after a meeting between presidents Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin in Turkey, where they were discussing cooperation on a gas pipeline, designed to connect the large gas reserves in Russia to the Turkish gas transportation network and provide energy supplies for Turkey, south and south-east Europe.
In part, the joint statement read: “We are deeply concerned about the escalation of the tension between the US and Iran as well as its negative repercussions on Iraq. We evaluate the targeting..of Qassem Suleimani and his entourage in Baghdad on 3 January as an act undermining security and stability in the region.
“In light of the ballistic missile attacks by Iran against coalition military bases in Iraq on 8 January 2020, we believe that exchange of attacks and use of force by any party do not contribute to finding solutions to the complex problems in the Middle East, but rather would lead to a new cycle of instability and would eventually damage everyone’s interests.”
US promises cooperation after air crash
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said a little earlier that the United States was calling for complete cooperation with any investigation into the cause of the crash of a Ukrainian airliner shortly after it took off from Tehran just over 12 hours ago.
In a statement, Pompeo said the US was prepared to offer Ukraine all possible assistance after the crash of the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737, which burst into flames shortly after take-off from Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people aboard.
There is speculation that the plane was shot down, and it appeared to burst into flames in mid-air. There is no confirmation of, or official lines on, causes yet.
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko, said that there were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians on board. The Ukrainian nationals included two passengers and the nine crew. There were also 10 Swedish passengers, four Afghans, three Germans and three British nationals, my Guardian colleagues in London and the Middle East report.
Meanwhile, announcing on his Facebook page that Ukraine would send a team of experts to Iran later today, president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said: “Our priority is to establish the truth and those responsible for this terrible catastrophe.”
Updated at 6.08pm GMT
Highlights of Trump speech
Here are some more detailed quotes of some of the main points made in the US president’s short address from the White House a little earlier.
Iran seen as standing down. “No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties. All of our soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases. Our great American forces are prepared for anything. Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.”
Boasting of US strength. “Our missiles are big, powerful, accurate, lethal and fast…The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it. American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent.”
A new Iran deal? Much to US allies’ chagrin, Trump announced in 2018 that the US intended to “exit” the 2013, multi-national Iran nuclear deal aimed at persuading Iran to abandon the pursuit of nuclear weapons in return for the easing of harsh economic sanctions. Trump said moments ago: “Iran must abandon its nuclear ambitions and end its support for terrorism. The time has come for the United Kingdom, Greece, France, Russia and China to recognize this reality. They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal, or JCPOA.”
Further sanctions: “As we continue to evaluate options in response to Iranian aggression, the United States will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime. These powerful sanctions will remain until Iran changes its behavior.” No details given.
NATO: “The civilized world must send a clear and unified message to the Iranian regime: your campaign of terror, murder, mayhem will not be tolerated any longer. It will not be allowed to go forward. Today I am going to ask NATO to become much more involved in the Middle East process.”
Trump talks of “shared priorities” with Iran, in apparent de-escalation
Donald Trump rounded off his short TV address to the public with what might normally be considered some small-talk or waffle but in the current context and with this president counts as actual diplomatic outreach.
It may be no more than lip service. But given that Trump often opts for bellicose and extremely simplistic rhetoric in denouncing or threatening anyone he regards as a foe, his closing sentences were noteworthy.
In fact, all the signals from the last 19 or so hours are that both Iran and the US have embarked on a hasty de-escalation of their sudden crisis.
As he wound down his speech moments ago, Trump referred to the battle against Islamic State, and American forces’ assassination of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last October.
But then he swiftly pivoted.
“ISIS is a natural enemy of Iran,” Trump said at the White House. “We should work together on this and other shared priorities. To the people and leaders of Iran, we want you to have a future, and a great future, one that you deserve, of prosperity and harmony.”
He concluded that the US is “ready to embrace peace with all who seek it.”
This might be meaningless chat from the US president but indicates an unusual level-headedness, however brief, communicated via Trump by those advising him and is a clear de-escalation of the rhetoric.
Calls on NATO to become more involved
In his short speech, Donald Trump, who has been scathing and mocking of NATO, called on the alliance to “get more involved in the Middle East”.
He didn’t go into further detail and went on to boast that the USA is now self-sufficient in oil and natural gas, as “the number one producer in the world”, and said: “We do not need Middle East oil.”
Trump then asserted, in warning Iran in characteristic tone, that “our missiles are big and powerful and accurate…and lethal.”
He said he didn’t want to use force, however, and said that “America’s strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent.”
Trump announces new sanctions on Iran
The US president just declared that he will impose additional economic sanctions on Iran.
He is calling on Europe to “break away from the remnants of the Iran nuclear deal”, which he called a “foolish” deal and had previously announced the US would abandon.
Trump has not given any details about the nature of further sanctions.
Trump: ‘We eliminated the world’s top terrorist’
Donald Trump has described last week’s missile assassination of Iranian general Qassem Suleimani as “decisive action to stop a ruthless terrorist”.
“Last week we eliminated the world’s top terrorist,” he said at the White House.
Updated at 4.36pm GMT
Trump says ‘Iran appears to be standing down’
Donald Trump has announced that there were no US casualties in the Iranian missile strikes on US facilities in Iraq last night.
“Iran appears to be standing down,” he said.
Updated at 4.36pm GMT
Trump addresses the public
The president has arrived and is now speaking.
Trump to address the public on TV in moments
The US president is about to arrive at a briefing podium in the White House and will begin speaking shortly on the latest developments in the US-Iran crisis. Watch, live.
Vice president Mike Pence and secretary of state Mike Pompeo just entered.
US Congress in limbo over Trump’s actions against Iran
Senior US House Democrats a little earlier today said there is no set schedule yet for voting on a war powers resolution that would limit Donald Trump’s actions regarding Iran, and that legislation is still being drafted. Representatives are seeking to put a check on the president’s power after he failed to inform Congress in advance of the US drone strike last week that killed top Iranian commander Qassem Suleimani as he was driving away from Baghdad airport in Iraq.
Updated at 5.34pm GMT
Iraqi foreign ministry will summon Iranian ambassador
We are waiting for US president Donald Trump to make a televised address, live. He’s behind schedule by almost 15 minutes so far.
Meanwhile, despite what is being interpreted as relative restraint by Iran in its missile strikes last night, both towards the US and Iraq, the latest from Reuters is that the Iraqi foreign ministry plans to summon the Iranian ambassador in order to lodge an objection to the missile strikes on its soil.
Donald Trump preparing to address the public over the Iran crisis
The White House press pool has been called to gather at the door of the Palm Room at the White House.
They are waiting to enter an area called the grand foyer, in preparation for the president’s address at the top of the hour.
Portraits of Qassem Suleimani have been carried aloft in rallies from Gaza to Yemen, raising the prospect that his violent death will elevate him as an icon of anti-American resistance.
The powerful Iranian commander, who was buried on Wednesday, was hailed as a “living martyr” in the Islamic republic for his military and strategic exploits that included halting the Islamic State group as it rampaged across Iraq and Syria, the AFP agency writes.
After his assassination at the age of 62, in a US drone strike in Baghdad last week, some observers say his martyr status will grow, rendering him a figurehead for the disparate pro-Iranian groups that he guided and fostered.
“The shock factor isn’t so much that Suleimani has died – he was after all in many battles – but the way the US president has taken ownership of this will create that type of zeal and drive and commitment across the Middle East,” said Ellie Geranmayeh from the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Suleimani was a polarising figure, even within his own country.
But the so-called Iranian “axis of resistance” stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea will now be “galvanised to focus more on their ultimate goal, which is the US withdrawal from as much of the Middle East as possible,” Geranmayeh told AFP.
Among Muslim Shiite communities, where Suleimani was seen as a champion in the face of Sunni aggression, there were expressions of grief, anger and resolve.
“The blood of the martyrs… is not just Iranian or Iraqi but belongs to the Muslim community and to free men around the world,” said a Huthi official in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital held by the Iran-backed militia.
At a mourning ceremony in the Gaza Strip Suleimani was eulogised by the militant Palestinian movement Islamic Jihad and his image was raised high in Lebanon.
In Iran, Suleimani was widely regarded as a hero for his staunch defence of the country, his defeat of the IS jihadist group, and his role in the grinding 1980s conflict between Iran and Iraq.
Since his death, Suleimani has been hailed as the “Che Guevara of the Middle East” in some quarters, but the region’s schisms and fractures present a much more complex picture.
“They’re packaging Suleimani as this foreign policy guru, martyr, strategist… away from the narrative that he was a terrorist and responsible for loss of life,” said Sanam Vakil from the London-based Chatham House.
Iran strategically avoided US casualties with missiles – report
Iran is believed to have deliberately sought to avoid US military casualties in last night’s missile strikes on bases housing American troops in Iraq, according to US and European government sources familiar with intelligence assessments, Reuters writes moments ago.
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday the Iranians were thought to have targeted the attacks to miss US forces, in order to prevent the crisis from escalating out of control, while still sending a message of Iranian resolve.
A source in Washington said overnight that early indications were of no US casualties, while other US officials declined comment.
Updated at 3.51pm GMT
US Senate leader calls Iran and its proxies “a cancer” on Iraq
US Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, speaking in the chamber on Capitol Hill moments ago communicated a relatively cautious message, following the Iranian missile strikes last night and ahead of Donald Trump’s plan to address the nation on television at the top ofthe hour.
“I was troubled but not surprised by reports that Iran fired ballistic missiles at US forced,” he said, of the strikes within Iraq.
He said the Iranian threat “had been growing for years” and noted: “It will continue even beyond the death of Iran’s master terroristQassem Suleimani. We must remain vigilant.”
He pointed out that “apparently” there had been no injuries or deaths as a result of the strikes last night. “But they demonstrated progress Iran has made…towards a large and long-range missile force.”
McConnell then added that the strikes were “a stark reminder that Iran and its proxies have been a cancer on Iraqi sovereignty and politics for a long time.”
Senior Democrats have been expressing concern about the lack of information coming from the Trump administration about the standoff with Iran, and have called on officials in the Defense department to provide regular briefings and documents to Congress.
“While recognizing the need for operations security, we similarly believe there is a requirement to be transparent with the American people about how many troops this Administration plans to deploy in support of contingency plans,” Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and other senior Democrats wrote in a letter on Wednesday.
The Democrats also expressed grave concern over Trump’s recent comments on targeting Iranian cultural sites, and asked for clarification. They said they expected a response by Friday.
The Pentagon has contradicted Trump, saying cultural sites would not be a target. US secretary of defense Mark Esper acknowledged that such an attack is against international law and would be considered a war crime, adding: “We will follow the laws of armed conflict.”
The Iranian strikes on Iraqi bases last night appear to have been carefully designed to avoid US casualties, and may offer both sides a pathway out of the standoff, the Guardian’s Michael Safi writes:
The Iranian strikes were heavy on symbolism. The missiles were launched around 1.30am in Iraq, roughly the same time as the drone strike that killed Suleimani outside Baghdad’s airport on Friday morning. The first projectiles struck their targets shortly after the Iranian general’s coffin was lowered into the ground in the city of Kerman. The Revolutionary Guards called the operation “Martyr Suleimani”. They distributed videos of the missiles being launched to be broadcast across Iranian media.
Despite this theatricality, the attacks appear to have been carefully designed to avoid US casualties: fired at bases that were already on high alert and so far registering no confirmed deaths. Adel Abdul Mahdi, the Iraqi prime minister, said he was forewarned of the attacks as they were imminent, and passed the alert to troops stationed at the base.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said the strikes were characterised as self-defence and within the boundaries of international law, not the first shots in a war. He added the attacks had now concluded. Even the hardline Revolutionary Guards said in a statement that they considered this round of overt hostilities to be over if the US declined to respond.
This presents an opportunity for Trump that the US president appears to have recognised.Far from the over-the-top warnings he issued in recent days, he used his first comments after the unprecedented attack to play it down.
Updated at 3.16pm GMT
Here’s a summary of where events stand so far today:
Iran launched more than a dozen missiles at Iraqi bases hosting US and coalition troops overnight, declaring the strikes to be retaliation for the killing last week of the senior Iranian general Qassem Suleimani. You can read the full report here. Iranian officials initially told state media, without presenting evidence, that at least 80 US personnel had been killed or injured in the strikes, but President Donald Trump tweeted that casualty assessments were underway but “so far, so good”. He is expected to make a statement at 11am ET this morning.
The Iraqi prime minister’s office said it had received a verbal message from the Iranians shortly after midnight saying that their “response to the assassination of the martyr Qassem Soleimani had begun or would start shortly” and would be limited to US military stationed in Iraq. At the same time, they were informed by the Americans that strikes had begun against US forces at various locations in the country.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, described the bombings as “a slap in the face” for the US but warned that Tehran still had a wider goal of expelling its enemy from the region. He told an audience in the city of Qom:
We just gave [the US] a slap in the face last night. But that is not equivalent to what they did.
International leaders have called on both sides to refrain from further violence. EU commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said “the use of weapons must stop now to give space for dialogue”.
The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, has condemned Iran’s missile strike, and has urged Iran to refrain from further violence.
European leaders have pleaded in public and in private with the Trump administration on Wednesday to draw a line in its conflict with Iran, and not to respond militarily to Iran’s “retaliatory” missile attack, which came days after the US drone strike in Iraq that killed Iranian general Qassem Suleimani.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump is expected to address the public on TV this morning about the Iran crisis. The time has not yet been specified.
In other US politics news, the impeachment process for bringing Trump to trial before the Senate is in suspended animation this morning. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to break off from briefing her caucus of Democrats on Capitol Hill, when they had expected to hear details about the next step in impeachment, last night, after the Iranian missiles were launched.
There is no indication yet of when she intends to deliver the articles of impeachment (aka congressional charges against the president) to the Senate. The Republican-controlled Senate appears intent on attempting to barrel through with the eventual trial without any witnesses being allowed.
Donald Trump backed away from further military confrontation with Iran on Wednesday after days of escalating tensions, saying Tehran appeared to be standing down following missile attacks on two Iraqi bases hosting US and coalition troops.
Flanked by the vice-president, Mike Pence, the defense secretary, Mark Esper, and other high ranking military officials in uniform, Trump delivered remarks in the Grand Foyer of the White House, hours after Iran declared the attack to be retaliation for the US drone strike last week that killed the senior Iranian Gen Qassem Suleimani.
“Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world,” Trump said, reading from teleprompters. “No American or Iraqi lives were lost because of the precautions taken, the dispersal of forces, and an early warning system that worked very well.”
Later, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Mark Milley, said the nature of the missile damage at the targeted bases suggested the attack was intended to take US and allied lives.
“I believe, based on what I saw and what I know, that they were intended to cause structural damage, destroy vehicles and equipment and aircraft and to kill personnel. That’s my own personal assessment,” Milley said. Satellite images showed the missiles destroyed buildings at al-Asad base in Anbar province.
A few hours after the president spoke, the fortified diplomatic area in Baghdad, the Green Zone, was hit by two rockets. Initial reports suggest they were fired locally, and caused no casualties, but they were a reminder of the threat of Iraqi militias, some with close ties to Tehran.
Trump’s speech was notably more sober than his more bellicose statements and tweets in the immediate aftermath of Suleimani’s killing, in which he threatened to bomb Iranian cultural sites, a potential war crime. The United States, in recent days, deployed 3,500 paratroopers to the Middle East and Americans were urged to leave the region over safety concerns.
Trump said the United States would continue evaluating options “in response to Iranian aggression” and that additional sanctions on the Iranian regime would be imposed. He did not elaborate. Iran is already so heavily sanctioned that few experts believe that further US measures would make much economic difference.
The president stressed the considerable power of the United States military but said that his administration did not seek conflict.
“Our missiles are big, powerful accurate lethal and fast. Under construction are many hypersonic missiles,” Trump said. “The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, it does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it.”
The president, who is campaigning for re-election in November, has faced fierce criticism from senior Democrats in recent days over his administration’s handling of the standoff. Joe Biden, the former vice-president seen as the frontrunner for the presidential nomination, accused Trump brought the United States “dangerously close” to war with Iran.
Senior administration officials briefed Congress behind closed doors on the decision to target Suleimani and other aspects of the crisis, but they were castigated on both sides of the aisle for being evasive on major issues.
“There were so many important questions that they did not answer,” said Democratic senator Chuck Schumer. “As the questions began to get tough, they walked out.”
Republican senator Mike Lee called it “the worst briefing I’ve had on a military issue in my nine years” in the Senate, according to CNN. Lee called the administration’s handling of the crisis “un-American” and “completely unacceptable”.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives will vote on a war powers resolution that demands an end to US military action against Iran without congressional approval.
Trump’s address came after Iran launched more than a dozen missiles at Iraqi bases hosting US and coalition troops. Al-Asad airbase in Iraq’s Anbar province was hit 17 times, including by two ballistic missiles that failed to detonate, according to the Iraqi government. A further five missiles were targeted at a base in the northern city of Erbil in the assault, which began at about 1.30am local time on Wednesday.
In a letter to the UN secretary general, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht Ravanchi, described the strikes as a “measured and proportionate” act of self-defence permitted under the UN Charter, adding that Iran “does not seek escalation or war”.
However, while both sides appeared to step back from confrontation in the short term, analysts have warned that the standoff may continue to play out through proxies in the Middle East. Security experts have also warned of possible Iranian cyber attacks on critical infrastructure.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, described the bombings as “a slap in the face” for the US but warned Tehran still had a wider goal of expelling its enemy from the region. The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, said the “final answer” to the assassination would be to “kick all US forces out of the region”.
In his Wednesday address, Trump again vowed that he would not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon and urged world powers to quit a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran that Washington abandoned in 2018 and work for a new deal, an issue that has been at the heart of rising tensions between Washington and Tehran. Iran has denied it seeks nuclear weapons, and rejected new talks.
“The time has come for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China to recognize this reality,” Trump said. “They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal or JCPOA. And we must all work together toward making a deal with Iran, that makes the world a safer and more peaceful place.”
Trump also said he would ask Nato to “become much more involved in the Middle East process”, without elaborating. Trump in the past has repeatedly criticizedthe alliance and further alienated his European partners by failing to warn them about the Suleimani killing.
There was no immediate reaction from Iranian officials to Trump’s comments. The semi-official Fars news agency described the US president’s remarks as a “big retreat from threats”.
Ned Price, a former CIA official who also worked on the National Security Council during Barack Obama’s administration, said that the speech had moved the United States somewhat away from the brink of war with Iran.
“President Trump’s reckless approach has created a dangerous reality in which the best case scenario would be avoiding war with Iran,” Price said. “With his address today, Trump may have met that exceedingly low bar, but just barely. At the same time, his actions are not consequence-free. Far from it, as Americans around the world and our partners are now under increased threat from an array of challenges.”
But Price also noted that by authorizing the Suleimani killing, Trump had “galvanized Tehran’s proxy and military forces into action”.
“If history is any guide, they will seek to take on a months’ or even years’-long effort to seek vengeance for Suleimani’s death, taking advantage of their presence throughout the region and even beyond,” Price added.
Additional reporting: Michael Safi in Beirut, Oliver Holmes and Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Baghdad
Australians will continue to fly into airspace around Iran that has been blacklisted by US authorities under code-share arrangements with Gulf area airlines.
Qantas is considering re-routing its Perth to London flights via Singapore or Hong Kong but its code-share deal with Dubai-based Emirates remains unchanged, a spokeswoman said.
A spokeswoman for Virgin Australia said the airline’s similar agreement with Etihad also remained in place.
Emirates and Etihad run multiple non-stop services every day from Melbourne and Sydney to the United Arab Emirates, where both are headquartered, using large-capacity planes that each carry hundreds of people.
The attacks were in retaliation for the US assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Suleimani, who was killed by an American drone strike near Baghdad airport last week on the orders of US president Donald Trump.
In an apparently unrelated incident, a plane bound for Kiev crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran airport on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board.
Australia’s regulator, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, does not issue FAA-style safety rulings and instead relies on airlines to make their own judgments.
Qantas currently runs one flight of its own that passes through the area, the QF9 service from Perth to London.
“We’re adjusting our flight paths over the Middle East to avoid the airspace over Iraq and Iran until further notice,” a spokeswoman said. “We’re looking at temporarily routing QF9 through Asia until we’re able to return to our normal flight path through the Middle East.
“This would mean a fuel stop in a city like Singapore or Hong Kong but it would enable us to still carry a full load of passengers on these heavily booked flights, and minimise disruption that way.”
Qantas’s other flight to London, QF1, is unaffected as it already makes a pitstop in Singapore.
An Emirates spokesman said the airline cancelled its Dubai to Baghdad and Baghdad to Dubai flights on Wednesday for “operational reasons”.
“We are carefully monitoring the developments and are in close contact with the relevant government authorities with regards to our flight operations, and will make further operational changes if required,” he said.
“As always, the safety of our passengers, crew and aircraft is our number one priority and will not be compromised.”
Joe Biden, speaking against a backdrop adorned with the trappings of a presidential address, including American flags and deep-blue drapery, delivered a scorching rebuke of Donald Trump’s stewardship of American foreign policy, accusing the president of bringing the country “dangerously close” to war with Iran.
Bernie Sanders quickly brought forward legislation to block funding for military force against Iran without congressional authorization, part of his argument that the “children of working families” disproportionately suffer the consequences of war compared with the “children of the billionaire class”.
And Pete Buttigieg has increasingly emphasized his experience as a naval intelligence officer in Afghanistan to reassure voters that he has the experience to be president, arguing that someone who served in uniform would bring a nuanced and “forward-looking view” to future conflicts around the world.
Since Trump’s authorization of a drone strike killing the top Iranian commander Qassem Suleimani last week – and Iran’s launch of more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two US military bases in Iraq on Tuesday night – the top contenders for the Democratic nomination have treated the threat of further escalation as a clarifying moment in the final weeks before voting begins.
In a televised address on Wednesday, Trump backed away from the precipice of war with Iran, opting instead to impose new sanctions on Tehran in response to the retaliatory strikes. But his speech did little to soothe the growing political backlash in Washington, ensuring the issue was unlikely to go away any time soon
“At a time when Trump is pushing the nation closer to more reckless wars, I think people will start to look much closely at the records of the Democrats running to replace him to see which candidate they would feel safer with,” said Waleed Shahid of Justice Democrats, a progressive group.
He added: “Foreign policy does not always rank as a top priority for voters but it’s actually an area that falls much more under the president’s control than certain domestic policy issues.”
Indeed, national security and foreign policy have so far played only a limited role in the Democratic primary, which has been dominated by healthcare, the economy and climate change. But the rising international tensions have reoriented the policy debate. Candidates are weaving foreign policy into their closing arguments to early-state voters, bringing into sharp relief long-simmering divisions within the party over matters of war and peace.
The initial response from the party’s presidential field was to condemn Trump for what candidates viewed as a reckless action that escalated tensions in the Middle East and could lead to an unintentional war with Iran. In the days that followed, however, the Democrats have amplified their disagreements, setting up what could be the first substantive debate among the candidates about the role of American power.
While it is too soon to gauge how Trump’s latest provocations toward Iran will resonate with voters, the occasion has provided both opportunities and risks for candidates.
Biden has billed his long record on foreign affairs and stature on the global stage as assets in a world rattled by Trump’s erratic foreign policy. On the campaign trail this week and during his formal speech in New York, Biden reminded voters of that résumé, which includes eight years traveling the world as Barack Obama’s lieutenant and two years serving as the chair of the Senate foreign relations committee.
“I understand better than anyone that the system will not hold unless we find ways to work together to advance our national interests,” Biden said in New York this week, waving off critics who say his commitment to bipartisanship is “naive or outdated”.
But while Biden presents hisexperience as an asset, his closest rivals have assailed that record, particularly his 2002 vote to authorize the war in Iraq and his role in shaping its aftermath. Sanders, who opposed the war in Iraq, recently suggested that the Biden’s foreign policy record could be a political liability against Trump should he be the nominee.
“Joe Biden voted and helped lead the effort for the war in Iraq – the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in the modern history of this country,” Sanders said on CNN. “I just don’t think that that kind of record is going to bring forth the energy we need to defeat Trump.”
Sanders meanwhile has seized on the rapidly unfolding conflict to emphasize his longstanding opposition to foreign wars as well as his efforts to end US military involvement in Yemen and prevent further action in Iran.
“I was right about Vietnam. I was right about Iraq. I will do everything in my power to prevent a war with Iran,” he tweeted. “I apologize to no one.”
While that message resonates with antiwar Democrats and independents, Sanders has yet to be seriously challenged on his views.
Elizabeth Warren shares Sanders’ anti-interventionist sentiments but finds herself on the defensive from critics on the left and the center as she attempts to reclaim her standing in the race. On Tuesday night she opened her rally in Brooklyn by addressing Iran’s retaliatory attacks.
“This is a reminder of why we need to de-escalate tension in the Middle East,” she said. “The American people do not want a war with Iran.”
Buttigieg has used the occasion to highlight his military service and allay concerns about his youth and relative inexperience on the world stage. He has also assailed Biden supporting the “the worst foreign policy decision made by the United States in my lifetime”.
“This is an example of why years in Washington is not always the same thing as judgment,” Buttigieg said during an appearance on Iowa Press last month.
In the years since, Biden has called the 2002 vote a “mistake”, though recently he has been criticized for wrongly suggesting that he opposed the Iraq war from the outset in 2003. Even so, Democratic voters continue to say they trust Biden more than any other candidate on foreign policy.
In a CNN poll from November, 48% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters said Biden was best suited to handle matters of foreign policy. By comparison, Sanders ranked a distant second at 14%, while 11% said Warren and only 6% chose Buttigieg.
Whether the issue will continue to be a factor in the Democratic primary depends in part on what comes next. While polls tend to show that foreign policy is a low priority for voters, it has played a significant role in presidential elections since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
In 2004, growing opposition to the Iraq war helped to propel John Kerry to the presidential nomination. Four years later, Barack Obama wielded Hillary Clinton’s past support for the Iraq war as a cudgel, lifting him to the nomination. During the 2016 presidential election, Sanders and Trump tapped into a weariness over America’s “forever wars” and both attacked Clinton for her early support for the war.
Michael Carpenter, a former foreign policy adviser to Joe Biden and the senior director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, said the recent tensions with Iran have afforded the former vice-president an opportunity to demonstrate his command of foreign affairs.
“As voters contemplate how a confrontation with Iran could spiral out of control, they will contrast the erratic, unpredictable impulsive nature of the Trump presidency with the steady hand that Biden brings to the foreign policy arena,” he said.
But the congressman Ro Khanna, a national co-chair of Sanders’ campaign and a co-sponsor with the senator of the military funding legislation, said voters were tired after nearly two decades of war and hungry for a nominee who “offers a very different vision” of American foreign policy.
“He won’t win this debate in the Beltway but he’ll win it with American voters,” Khanna said.
Next week the candidates will meet in Des Moines for the final presidential debate before the Iowa caucuses on 3 February, and many party activists are eager for the Democratic frontrunners to clarify their views on how the US should engage in the world.
Alex McCoy, a Marine Corps veteran and the political director of Common Defense, a progressive veterans’ group, said the administration’s escalation toward Iran has given Democrats a crucial opening to reach out to voters who were drawn to Trump’s promise to end “forever wars” in 2016. And he believes it could make a difference in 2020.
McCoy pointed to research that showed the communities most devastated by casualties of America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq voted for Trump. The study found that “if three states key to Trump’s victory – Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin – had suffered even a modestly lower casualty rate, all three could have flipped from red to blue and sent Hillary Clinton to the White House”.
“It’s common among pundits to say that voters don’t care about foreign policy. But that misses the truth,” he said. “Voters don’t care about the minutiae of treaty negotiations but they sure do care about whether the people they know and love are dying in forever wars.”