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US Curbs Exports to Iranian Firms for Producing Drones for Russia

The United States on Tuesday put new trade restrictions on seven Iranian entities for producing drones that Russia has used to attack Ukraine, the U.S. Department of Commerce said. 

The firms and other organizations were added to a U.S. export control list for those engaged in activities contrary to U.S. national security and foreign policy interests. 

The additions to the Commerce Department’s “entities list” were posted in a preliminary filing in the U.S. Federal Register, the government’s daily journal, and will be officially published on Wednesday. 

Since Russia launched its war against Ukraine in February 2022, the United States and more than 30 other countries have sought to degrade its military and defense industrial base by using export controls to restrict its access to technology. 

The Iranian entities are Design and Manufacturing of Aircraft Engines, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Research and Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization, Oje Parvaz Mado Nafar Company, Paravar Pars Company, Qods Aviation Industry and Shahed Aviation Industries. 

Any suppliers to the entities are required to have licenses to ship goods and technology, but these are expected to be denied, apart from those for food and medicine. The licenses will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. 

Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York said: “Sanctions have no effect on Iran’s drone production capacity because its drones are all produced domestically. This is a strong indication that the drones shot down in Ukraine and using parts made by Western countries don’t belong to Iran.” 

In January, Canada announced it would buy a U.S.-made National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) for Ukraine. NASAMS is a short- to medium-range ground-based air defense system that protects against drone, missile and aircraft attacks. The United States has provided two NASAMS to Ukraine, and more are on the way. 

Other ground-based air defense systems such as Raytheon Technology Corp.’s Patriot have been pledged to Ukraine by the United Kingdom, the United States and the Netherlands as allies hope to stave off further power disruptions. 

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Boeing Bids Farewell to an Icon, Delivers Last 747 Jumbo Jet

Boeing bid farewell to an icon on Tuesday, delivering its final 747 jumbo jet as thousands of workers who helped build the planes over the past 55 years looked on. 

Since its first flight in 1969, the giant yet graceful 747 has served as a cargo plane, a commercial aircraft capable of carrying nearly 500 passengers, a transport for NASA’s space shuttles, and the Air Force One presidential aircraft. It revolutionized travel, connecting international cities that had never before had direct routes and helping democratize passenger flight. 

But over about the past 15 years, Boeing and its European rival Airbus have introduced more profitable and fuel efficient wide-body planes, with only two engines to maintain instead of the 747’s four. The final plane is the 1,574th built by Boeing in the Puget Sound region of Washington state. 

Thousands of workers joined Boeing and other industry executives from around the world — as well as actor and pilot John Travolta, who has flown 747s — Tuesday for a ceremony in the company’s massive factory north of Seattle, marking the delivery of the last one to cargo carrier Atlas Air. 

“If you love this business, you’ve been dreading this moment,” said longtime aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia. “Nobody wants a four-engine airliner anymore, but that doesn’t erase the tremendous contribution the aircraft made to the development of the industry or its remarkable legacy.” 

Boeing set out to build the 747 after losing a contract for a huge military transport, the C-5A. The idea was to take advantage of the new engines developed for the transport — high-bypass turbofan engines, which burned less fuel by passing air around the engine core, enabling a farther flight range — and to use them for a newly imagined civilian aircraft. 

It took more than 50,000 Boeing workers less than 16 months to churn out the first 747 — a Herculean effort that earned them the nickname “The Incredibles.” The jumbo jet’s production required the construction of a massive factory in Everett, north of Seattle — the world’s largest building by volume. The factory wasn’t even completed when the first planes were finished. 

Among those in attendance was Desi Evans, 92, who joined Boeing at its factory in Renton, south of Seattle, in 1957 and went on to spend 38 years at the company before retiring. One day in 1967, his boss told him he’d be joining the 747 program in Everett — the next morning. 

“They told me, ‘Wear rubber boots, a hard hat and dress warm, because it’s a sea of mud,'” Evans recalled. “And it was — they were getting ready for the erection of the factory.” 

He was assigned as a supervisor to help figure out how the interior of the passenger cabin would be installed and later oversaw crews that worked on sealing and painting the planes. 

“When that very first 747 rolled out, it was an incredible time,” he said as he stood before the last plane, parked outside the factory. “You felt elated — like you’re making history. You’re part of something big, and it’s still big, even if this is the last one.” 

The plane’s fuselage was 225 feet (68.5 meters) long and the tail stood as tall as a six-story building. The plane’s design included a second deck extending from the cockpit back over the first third of the plane, giving it a distinctive hump and inspiring a nickname, the Whale. More romantically, the 747 became known as the Queen of the Skies. 

Some airlines turned the second deck into a first-class cocktail lounge, while even the lower deck sometimes featured lounges or even a piano bar. One decommissioned 747, originally built for Singapore Airlines in 1976, has been converted into a 33-room hotel near the airport in Stockholm. 

“It was the first big carrier, the first widebody, so it set a new standard for airlines to figure out what to do with it, and how to fill it,” said Guillaume de Syon, a history professor at Pennsylvania’s Albright College who specializes in aviation and mobility. “It became the essence of mass air travel: You couldn’t fill it with people paying full price, so you need to lower prices to get people onboard. It contributed to what happened in the late 1970s with the deregulation of air travel.” 

The first 747 entered service in 1970 on Pan Am’s New York-London route, and its timing was terrible, Aboulafia said. It debuted shortly before the oil crisis of 1973, amid a recession that saw Boeing’s employment fall from 100,800 employees in 1967 to a low of 38,690 in April 1971. The “Boeing bust” was infamously marked by a billboard near the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport that read, “Will the last person leaving SEATTLE — Turn out the lights.” 

An updated model — the 747-400 series — arrived in the late 1980s and had much better timing, coinciding with the Asian economic boom of the early 1990s, Aboulafia said. He took a Cathay Pacific 747 from Los Angeles to Hong Kong as a twentysomething backpacker in 1991. 

“Even people like me could go see Asia,” Aboulafia said. “Before, you had to stop for fuel in Alaska or Hawaii and it cost a lot more. This was a straight shot — and reasonably priced.” 

Delta was the last U.S. airline to use the 747 for passenger flights, which ended in 2017, although some other international carriers continue to fly it, including the German airline Lufthansa. 

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr recalled traveling in a 747 as a young exchange student and said that when he realized he’d be traveling to the West Coast of the U.S. for Tuesday’s event, there was only one way to go: riding first-class in the nose of a Lufthansa 747 from Frankfurt to San Francisco. He promised the crowd Lufthansa would keep flying the 747 for many years to come. 

“We just love the airplane,” he said. 

Atlas Air ordered four 747-8 freighters early last year, with the final one — emblazoned with an image of Joe Sutter, the engineer who oversaw the 747’s original design team — delivered Tuesday. Atlas CEO John Dietrich called the 747 the greatest air freighter, thanks in part to its unique capacity to load through the nose cone. 

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Report: Advanced Economies Complicit in Transnational Corruption

Anti-corruption efforts in seemingly “clean” advanced economies have stalled even as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought to the fore that nation’s role in fostering kleptocracy in recent decades, Transparency International said in a report on Tuesday.

While painting a grim picture of the global fight against corruption, the Berlin-based watchdog put the spotlight on countries that have historically scored high, meaning favorably, on its annual Corruption Perceptions Index.

Those countries remain among the “cleanest” in the world. But from Germany to France to Switzerland, most saw their CPI scores drop or stagnate last year.

Five traditionally top-scoring countries — Australia, Austria, Canada, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom — saw a significant decline in their assessments, Transparency International said.

The U.S. scored 69, a “negligible” increase of 2 points, but a Transparency International expert called the rating “troubling.”

Even Denmark, ranked No. 1, was relegated to the “little or no enforcement” category in the fight against foreign bribery.

Cross-border corruption takes many forms, from countries allowing corrupt foreign actors to launder stolen funds through their economies to governments failing to punish companies that bribe foreign officials.

In recent years, investigators have uncovered myriad instances of corrupt money finding its way into Western economies, from nearly $2 billion worth of U.K. property owned by Russians accused of financial crime or with links to the Kremlin, to tens of billions of dollars laundered into Canada each year. 

Transparency International said that while its Corruption Perceptions Index does not capture transnational graft, that form of corruption remains the advanced economies’ “biggest weaknesses.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “made it painfully apparent how inaction on transnational corruption can have catastrophic consequences,” the report says. “Not only have advanced economies helped to perpetuate corruption elsewhere, but they have also enabled kleptocracies to consolidate, threatening global peace and security.”

Gary Kalman, executive director of Transparency International U.S., said the U.S., thanks to the sheer size of its economy and financial secrecy rules, remains a “major facilitator of corruption internationally.”

“If you take a bribe for a thousand dollars, you put that in your pocket. If you’re trying to steal millions or billions, you need to find, as they say, ‘a more sophisticated investment strategy,’ and hiding it in an economy that’s over 20 trillion dollars makes it a little bit easier to hide,” Kalman said.

Transparency International is not the first organization to call out Western nations for aiding kleptocracy.

Last year, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the United States was arguably “the best place to hide and launder ill-gotten gains.”

“And that’s because of the way we allow people to establish shell companies,” Yellen said. 

Transparency International said there are signs that the U.S. and other nations are taking the problem seriously but more needs to be done.

In 2021, the U.S. Congress enacted the Corporate Transparency Act, which aims to end the use of anonymously owned companies for money laundering.

Facilitating the transnational corruption, Kalman said, are financial service providers who are not currently subject to anti-money laundering reporting obligations.

“These are the lawyers, the accountants, the money managers, the corporate formation agents, those that create trusts for wealthy people, investment advisers who are currently not covered by any anti-money laundering responsibilities,” Kalman said.

To close the loophole, he said Congress should pass the Enablers Act, which was approved by the House of Representatives last year but fell short in the Senate.

A Justice Department task force created to seize Russian assets following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is increasingly targeting enablers and facilitators of sanctions evasions.

Earlier this month, the Justice Department announced criminal charges against two businessmen, one of them Russian and the other British, for facilitating the ownership and operation of a luxury yacht owned by a sanctioned Russian oligarch.

The $90 million, 255-foot yacht, owned by Viktor Vekselberg, was previously seized by Spanish authorities at the request of the U.S.

The U.S. is also a member of the multinational Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs (REPO) Task Force, which has seized billions of dollars in Russian assets.

“While some governments appear to have finally woken up to the problem that they had helped create, ending top-scoring countries’ complicity in cross-border corruption —originating from Russia and beyond — requires a long-term, concerted effort,” Transparency International said.

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US Congressman George Santos to Recuse Himself From Committee Assignments

U.S. Representative George Santos, who has admitted to fabricating much of his resume, told fellow Republican lawmakers on Tuesday he would not serve on committees for now, lawmakers said.

House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy said the freshman lawmaker asked if he could recuse himself from his committee assignments while he works to clear up an ethics cloud. McCarthy called it an “appropriate decision.”

“The voters have elected him,” McCarthy told reporters. “He’ll have a voice here in Congress. And until he answers all those (ethics) questions, then at that time, he’ll be able to be seated on committees.”  

The embattled congressman has faced calls from fellow New York Republicans to step down over fabrications about his career and history.

Santos, who announced his decision in a closed-door meeting with fellow Republican lawmakers, has rebuffed calls for his resignation, saying he would vacate his seat only if he loses the next election.

“He just said he recused himself for a while and then he’ll come back,” Representative Don Bacon told reporters.

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US, Allies Mark Anniversary of Myanmar Coup with Fresh Sanctions

The United States and its allies imposed further sanctions on Myanmar on Tuesday, marking the two-year anniversary of the coup with curbs on energy officials and members of the junta, among others. 

Washington imposed sanctions on the Union Election Commission, mining enterprises, energy officials, and current and former military officials, according to a Treasury Department statement. Details of the U.S. move were first reported by Reuters. 

It marks the first time the United States has targeted Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) officials under the current Myanmar sanctions program, a Treasury spokesperson said. 

Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom also announced sanctions on Tuesday.  

Myanmar’s top generals led a coup in February 2021 after five years of tense power-sharing under a quasi-civilian political system that was created by the military, which led to a decade of unprecedented reform. 

The country has been in chaos since, with a resistance movement fighting the military on multiple fronts after a bloody crackdown on opponents that saw Western sanctions re-imposed. 

Tuesday’s U.S. move targets the managing director and deputy managing director of the state-owned MOGE, which is the junta’s single largest revenue generating state-owned enterprise, according to the Treasury statement. 

Human rights advocates have called for sanctions on MOGE, but Washington has so far held back from designating the state-owned enterprise. 

Also among those designated by Washington was the Union Minister of Energy, Myo Myint Oo, who Treasury said represents Myanmar’s government in international and domestic energy sector engagements and manages the state-owned entities involved in the production and export of oil and gas. 

Mining Enterprise No 1 and Mining Enterprise No 2, both state-owned enterprises, as well as the Union Election Commission, were also hit with sanctions by the United States. 

The military has pledged to hold an election in August this year. On Friday, the junta announced tough requirements for parties to contest the election, including a huge increase in their membership, a move that could sideline the military’s opponents and cement its grip on power. 

The rules favor the Union Solidarity and Development Party, a military proxy stacked with former generals, which was trounced by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party in 2015 and 2020 elections. 

The NLD was decimated by the coup, with thousands of its members arrested or jailed, including Suu Kyi, and many more in hiding. 

The NLD in November described this year’s election as “phony” and said it would not acknowledge it. The election has also been dismissed as a sham by Western governments. 

Washington also targeted former and current Myanmar military officials, the Treasury said, accusing the Air Force of continuing to launch airstrikes using Russian-made aircraft against pro-democracy forces that have killed civilians. 

Canada targeted six individuals and prohibited the export, sale, supply or shipment of aviation fuel in its action on Tuesday, while Australia targeted members of the junta and a military-run company. 

The United Kingdom designated two companies and two individuals for helping supply Myanmar’s air force with aviation fuel used to carry out bombing campaigns against its own citizens. 

“The junta must be held to account for their brutal crackdown on opposition voices, terrorizing air raids and brazen human rights violations,” British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement. 

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Blinken, Abbas to Meet as US Urges Israeli-Palestinian Calm

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to meet Tuesday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as part of a visit to the region in which Blinken has urged Israelis and Palestinians to ease tensions amid the bloodiest violence between them in years. 

The U.S. State Department said Blinken would discuss with senior Palestinian officials the importance of a two-state solution as well as political reforms. 

Ahead of his visit to the West Bank, Blinken met Tuesday with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Jerusalem, saying at the start of their talks that U.S. commitment to Israel’s security “remains ironclad.” 

Blinken said Monday after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the United States remains committed to “Palestinians and Israelis enjoying equal measures of freedom, security, opportunity, justice, and dignity.” 

“We’re urging all sides now to take urgent steps to restore calm, to de-escalate,” Blinken said. “We want to make sure that there’s an environment in which we can, I hope, at some point create the conditions where we can start to restore a sense of security for Israelis and Palestinians alike, which of course is sorely lacking.” 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters. 

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US, South Korea Ramping Up Exercises in Response to North Korean Threats

The United States and South Korea will increase the pace and scope of joint military exercises, and expand intelligence sharing, in response to repeated and more frequent missile tests by North Korea.   

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup promised a more resolute response to what they described as Pyongyang’s unprecedented level of provocations over the past year.   

During a joint news conference following an hour-long meeting at the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul, Austin assured South Korean officials that Washington’s resolve remains firm, and that the Pentagon will use “the full range of U.S. defense capabilities, including our conventional, nuclear, and missile-defense capabilities” to defend its long-time ally.   

Austin and Lee also said the two countries would move ahead with new table-top exercises next month, as well as additional exercises and training.   

Prior to the meeting, U.S. officials had promised a resumption of joint, live-fire exercises later this year.   

Austin said South Korea could also expect more support along the lines of recent U.S. deployments, which included the deployment of F-22 and F-35 fighter jets, and a visit by the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group.   

The United States currently has about 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea. But Pyongyang’s bellicose behavior has stoked growing concern in South Korea, prompting President Yoon Suk Yeol to suggest earlier this month that Washington might need to redeploy nuclear weapons to the peninsula while saying Seoul could also begin to develop its own nuclear arsenal.   

Austin met with Yoon Tuesday, following his meeting with Lee, though neither spoke to the media.    

Lee, though, seemed satisfied with Austin’s assurances.   

“Even if they [North Korea] do use their nuclear capabilities, the Republic of Korea and the United States have the capability to deter their efforts,” Lee said, speaking through a translator.   

“The United States has the will to deter other uses of nuclear weapons, as well,” he added. “This goes on to demonstrate that we have the capability to deter any additional provocation by North Korea.”   

“As things continue to evolve, our alliance continues to strengthen,” Austin added. “And we look for ways to strengthen that extended deterrence.”   

This is Austin’s third trip to South Korea and his fourth meeting with Lee.   

In a joint statement following their meeting, the two also committed to working with Japan to improve and facilitate the sharing of missile warning data due to the North Korean threat.   

Support for Ukraine   

Austin’s visit to Seoul Tuesday followed a visit Monday by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.   

Stoltenberg urged South Korea, which has mostly provided humanitarian aid to Ukraine, to increase its military support for Kyiv.   

When asked Tuesday whether that could happen, South Korea’s Lee seemed to leave open the possibility.   

Lee said he and Stoltenberg “shared a sentiment on the need for the international effort in overcoming this crisis” in Ukraine.   

“Regarding our weapons support, our Republic of Korea weapons support, I’ll just say that I like to leave my answer that we are directing our close attention to the situation in Ukraine,” Lee said. 

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NY Case Against Trump Over Hush Money to Porn Star Goes to Grand Jury

A grand jury is hearing evidence in New York over former President Donald Trump’s role in hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels during his 2016 presidential campaign, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters. 

A grand jury could lay the groundwork for possible criminal charges against the former president by the Manhattan district attorney’s office. 

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker testified before the grand jury, one source told Reuters. Pecker was seen entering the lower Manhattan building where the grand jury is empaneled, according to the New York Times, which first reported on the grand jury on Monday. Pecker could not immediately be reached for comment. 

The publisher had offered to help Trump by buying rights to unflattering stories and never publishing them. 

The moves are an indication that the district attorney, Alvin Bragg, is closer to a decision on whether to charge Trump. 

Bragg’s office declined to comment on the Times report. 

Daniels said she had a sexual liaison with Trump and received $130,000 before the 2016 presidential election in exchange for not discussing her encounter with Trump, who denies it happened and in 2018 told reporters he knew nothing about a payment to Daniels. 

Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was sentenced to three years in prison in federal court in New York for orchestrating hush payments to Daniels and another woman, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said she had a months-long affair with Trump before he took office. 

McDougal has said she sold her story for $150,000 to American Media Inc., but it was never published. The incident involved a practice known as “catch and kill” to prevent a potentially damaging article from being published. 

Pecker, AMI’s former chief executive officer and a longtime friend of Trump and Cohen, told prosecutors of their hush-money deals with McDougal and Daniels before the 2016 U.S. election won by Trump, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2018. 

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