What we’re watching: Iran takes a bigger step towards a bomb

Iran steps further from the nuclear deal — Iran will restart uranium enrichment at its underground nuclear facility at Fordow, President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday, pulling Tehran further away from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal that restricted the country's use of centrifuges. Iran will now begin injecting uranium gas into more than 1,000 centrifuges. While Tehran has steadily been violating more aspects of the agreement since President Trump withdrew from it last year and imposed crippling sanctions on Iran's economy, this is a serious step because it reduces the "breakout time" that Iran needs in order to build a working bomb. That poses a serious dilemma for the deal's other five signatories — Germany, France, the UK, Russia and China — which have tried to safeguard the agreement: they must now decide when Tehran's breaches become "critical," and how to react when they do.


India pulls out of a big trade deal – In the end, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi walked away from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the massive China-backed Asian trade deal that we flagged last week. RCEP would have freed up the flow of goods between 16 different countries accounting for one third of global economic output, including India and China. It'll now soldier on with 15 members, including China, but with India on the outside. Some commentators immediately drew parallels with President Trump's decision in 2017 to abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal that Trump said was bad for American jobs despite its supporters' argument that it was important for US power in the Pacific. Like Trump, the benefits for Modi of walking out are mainly domestic - India's politically important farmers and manufacturers who feared a flood of cheap Chinese imports welcomed the move – while the downsides are mainly geopolitical: reduced influence and credibility in Asia.

A new prime minister in Romania – Romania's parliament narrowly approved a transitional government on Monday, making Ludovic Orban, a member of Romania's center-right National Liberal Party, the country's fourth prime minister since 2016. Orban replaces Social Democrat Viorica Dancila, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote last month, one of a string of setbacks that have hit the increasingly unpopular Social Democrats since they took charge of the government in 2016. With Orban (no relation to the Hungarian Prime Minister of the same name) now in charge of a minority government, Romania has an opportunity – albeit a fragile one – to hit reset on years of political dysfunction. Top of the agenda: decide on a new nominee for the European Commission, whose appointment has been held up after Romania's earlier appointee to the European Union's main executive body was rejected due to potential conflicts of interest.

What We're Ignoring:

Attempts to reassure us about Polish nuclear cannibal ants – There's good news and bad news here. First, the bad news: millions of wood ants that resorted to cannibalism after they fell into a pitch-black abandoned Soviet nuclear bunker in Poland years ago have escaped after scientists studying the colony built a wooden bridge that allowed them to get back to the surface. The good news, according to the scientists, is that even though this sounds the setup for a B-grade horror-action flick, the ants stopped eating each other after they rejoined their old nest above ground. We're ignoring these reassurances and will be steering clear of the nuclear cannibal ants for the foreseeable future.

The scientific consensus is clear. The world confronts an urgent carbon problem. The world's climate experts agree that the world must take urgent action to bring down emissions. Ultimately, we must reach "net zero" emissions, meaning that humanity must remove as much carbon as it emits each year.

While the world will need to reach net zero, those of us who can afford to move faster and go further should do so. That's why last week we announced an ambitious goal and a new plan to reduce and ultimately remove Microsoft's carbon footprint. By 2030 Microsoft will be carbon negative, and by 2050 Microsoft will remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975. We are also launching an initiative to use Microsoft technology to help our suppliers and customers around the world reduce their own carbon footprints and a new $1 billion climate innovation fund to accelerate the global development of carbon reduction, capture, and removal technologies.

Read more on the Official Microsoft Blog.

A potentially deadly new coronavirus that can be transmitted from one person to another is now spreading across China. Chinese state media say it has infected about 300 people and killed six, but the number of undetected or unreported cases is certain to be much higher. Complicating containment efforts, millions of people are on the move across the country this week to celebrate the Chinese New Year with family and friends.

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Norway's government breaks up over ISIS returnee – Norway's right-wing Progress Party said it will resign from the country's four-party coalition government over the prime minister's decision to bring home a Norwegian woman affiliated with the Islamic State in Syria. The woman, who left Norway for the conflict zone in 2013, was arrested shortly after arriving in Oslo with her two children, on suspicion of being a member of ISIS. Prior to her return, she had been held in the Al-Hol refugee camp in northeastern Syria, along with thousands of other family members of ISIS fighters. The defection of Norway's anti-immigrant Progress Party undercuts Prime Minister Erna Solberg's parliamentary majority, likely making it hard for her to pass laws in parliament. This case reflects an increasingly common problem for European countries: the Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate has largely collapsed but what should countries do about the return of former fighters and their families to societies that don't want them?

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20,000: Sri Lanka's president has acknowledged for the first time that some 20,000 people who disappeared during the country's brutal civil war are dead, dashing the hopes of families who had held out hope that their relatives were alive and in military custody. The conflict, which ended in 2009, split the country according to ethnicities, killing around 100,000 people, mostly Tamil rebels.

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Since Martin Luther King Jr delivered his iconic "I have a dream" speech in August 1963, the number of Black Americans elected to the United States Congress has dramatically increased. Still, it wasn't until last year, more than half a century later, that the share of Black members serving in the House of Representatives reflected the percentage of Black Americans in the broader population —12 percent. To date, only six states have sent a Black representative to serve in the US Senate, and many states have never elected a Black representative to either house of Congress. Here's a look at Black representation in every US Congress since 1963.