United States is no longer part of Iran nuclear deal


The United States wants nothing to do with the Iran deal, North Korea releases Americans, the CIA faces controversy and more in this week’s political roundup

In a move that is both completely unsurprising and yet still pretty terrible, the United States will step back from the Iran deal. This 2015 accord lifted heavy sanctions on Iran in exchange for equally strong regulations on its use of nuclear materials.

Though officials in the White House often described the deal as “defective” or a “horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made,” other world leaders disagree. French President Emmanuel Macron called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani the day after the White House announcement.

He stressed France’s and other countries’ commitment to maintaining the deal. Currently, however, it is not clear how pro-Iran deal leaders will be able to support the accords without the United States playing along.

Meanwhile, President Rouhani has said that he’s ordered Iranian scientists and engineers to prepare to restart their uranium enrichment process. That is especially concerning, given that Iran and Israel, hardly ever the friendliest to each other, have begun to explore their animosity again via the conflict in Syria.

North Korea releases prisoners

The planned U.S.-North Korea talks are progressing better than the Iran deal at least, with the news that North Korea has released three American prisoners this week. The three were released after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited North Korea and spoke with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The president claimed that the Obama administration had unsuccessfully pushed for the trio’s release. However, that is not entirely the case. Indeed, two of the three detainees were arrested during the current presidential administration.

Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim, and Kim Hak-song, all Americans of Korean descent, were arrested and held on charges of espionage or “hostile acts” committed against the North Korean state. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, they were the only Americans held by North Korea. However, The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea urged the nation to release its other detainees and called for the “complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement” of all North Korean political prisons.

This is a particularly dramatic turnaround for relations between the two countries, given past incidents involving American detainees. Otto Warmbier, a college student, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in 2016 after he tried to steal a propaganda poster from a Pyongyang hotel. After 17 months, he was released, but to little effect: Warmbier was in a coma and died shortly after returning to American soil. The North Korean government claimed that Warmbier’s condition was a result of botulism. However, others including Warmbier’s parents, argue that he was tortured.

CIA nominee faces pushback

Gina Haspel is a cipher. Unless you are also a high-level CIA operative or someone who near-obsessively follows government personnel changes, then you probably haven’t heard of her until very recently. That’s for a good reason. Haspel has spent most of her career purposely avoiding the spotlight. That’s vital when you happen to be an operative working undercover in undisclosed foreign lands.

Now, though, Haspel has been nominated to head the CIA, following former Director Mike Pompeo’s promotion to Secretary of State. That’s led to serious scrutiny. And while much of her professional past remains obscure, enough had surfaced to warrant concern. Like many recent nominees, her confirmation process has cast doubt on her past.

Haspel and torture

Members of Congress, along with members of the public, are especially worried about Haspel’s connection to torture. In particular, she played a role in the CIA’s destruction of videos in 2005. These videos documented interrogation sessions with al-Qaeda detainees. Said sessions reportedly included torture techniques such as waterboarding.

The intelligence agency has since released a 2011 memo that relieves some of the pressure on Haspel. In it, then-deputy director Michael Morell writes that “I have found no fault with the performance of Ms. Haspel”. He further referred to her as a “good soldier”. However, opponents argue that this memo has far less exonerating content than Haspel’s allies claim.

Haspel herself has told the Senate that “I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral — even if it was technically legal”. She also told Senators that she had advocated for destroying the interrogation tapes, but did so for security concerns. Haspel claimed that the agency received “consistent legal advice” that it had no obligation to preserve these videos. She also said, “I don’t believe torture works,” when asked about the President’s previous pro-torture remarks.

Pruitt under further scrutiny

EPA head Scott Pruitt is now facing more attention for ethics concerns, beyond his all-too-good deal on a condo in Washington, D.C. He has come under fire for allegations that he spent government money on first-class plane tickets and unnecessarily beefed-up security details. Yes, that includes the D.C. condo. A White House spokesperson has admitted that the allegations have “raised some concerns”.

And, finally, your palate cleanser

A recent investigation into the space constituting King Tut’s tomb shows that it’s just, well, a tomb. Speculation had hinted at rooms full of extra treasure or even the long-sought-after mummy of Queen Nefertiti.

However, a three-year-long radar survey of the Ancient Egyptian pharaoh’s resting place showed much the opposite. It is little more than a very fancy underground room. NPR couldn’t help but use the phrase “crushed by science” when referring to the non-discovery.

Next: Did Giuliani just make things worse for the White House?

To be fair, the theory that Tutankhamun’s tomb originally belonged to Nefertiti and may still have contained her remains was pretty controversial. If anything of the Ancient Egyptians remains in their tombs, that’s probably just as well. Ancient Egyptian royalty had a proclivity for keeping it in the family. So, Nefertiti was likely Tutankhamun’s stepmom, aunt, and mother-in-law, all at the same time.