US college scandal: How much difference does going to a top university make?

The US admissions scandal has seen dozens of people charged following claims wealthy parents paid bribes to get their children places at elite colleges.

But how much does which university you attend really matter?

Not much, according to research – and it looks as if it matters least of all for those from the most privileged backgrounds

Many affluent parents may be spending a huge amount of time, money, and energy to secure a bumper-sticker-worthy college place, with little by way of tangible results.

Instead, it is those from the most deprived backgrounds who stand to gain most but are least able to access places.

Future earnings

It is certainly true that the graduates of elite institutions earn more than those from less prestigious colleges.

But this is almost inevitable, given students with higher grades are more likely to be admitted to selective institutions in the first place.

Those who attended a top college earn more than graduates from non-elite institutions by their mid-30s, including those from poorer backgrounds, data suggests.

Earnings boost from going to a top college, by parents' income

For example, students from middle-income households who attended Ivy League colleges have average earnings of more than $100,000 (£77,500) by the time they are 34. These institutions – including Harvard, Princeton and Yale – have average tuition fees of about $55,000 (£42,600) and admit about one in 20 applicants.

This compares with earnings of about $40,000 (£31,000) for those who attended minimally selective schools.

The effect on earnings of going to a top university is greatest for students from households with the highest and lowest incomes.

Most of the colleges in the scandal (Yale and Stanford aside) are in the “other elite” category, where the income boost is lower.

However, it is perhaps unsurprising that many parents are tempted to do all they can to secure a place at a top college.

But, as their children will learn in Statistics 101, correlation does not equal causation.

The question is whether elite colleges themselves boost future earnings, or whether they simply select highly skilled students who would succeed anyway.

Most of the evidence suggests it is largely the latter.

(L-R) Olivia Jade Gianulli, Lori Loughlin and Isabella GianulliImage copyrightEPA
Image captionLori Loughlin (centre) is accused of using a scam to get daughters Olivia and Isabella Gianulli, into the University of Southern California

Smart, motivated students who go to an elite college earn about the same as equally smart, motivated ones who go to a slightly less selective one.

Studies suggest that students admitted to a more selective college who then chose to enrol at a lower-ranked institution don’t earn less in later years.

Not all researchers come to the same conclusion but most studies suggesting any causal effect of attending a more selective college find at most a modest difference.

In many cases, the choice of college major can have as big an effect as the college itself. For example, one study indicates selectivity is important for business majors but not for those in the sciences.

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What is the college admissions scandal about?

  • The FBI believes $25m in bribes were paid to gain university places
  • Parents are accused of paying to have their children’s test scores faked or for a fraudulent place on a university sports team
  • More than 50 people – including 33 parents and various sports coaches – have been indicted
  • Full House actor Lori Loughlin is alleged to have paid $500,000 to get her daughters on to the University of Southern California rowing team
  • Desperate Housewives actor Felicity Huffman is accused of paying $15,000 to have her daughter’s exam answers corrected
  • Scheme architect Rick Singer presented himself as an expert in the university admissions process and has pleaded guilty to racketeering
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Secondary schools

Similar results can be found for selective high schools – which, again, many parents are very anxious to get their children into.

Students who narrowly miss entry into competitive secondary schools in Boston and New York, for example, go on to do just as well as those who narrowly clear the hurdle, according to research – there is little difference in terms of their subsequent SAT scores, college attendance, college selectivity, and college graduation.

As with the colleges, it seems, it is not the schools driving the impressive results: it’s the students they let in.

Prospective students tour Georgetown University in Washington DCImage copyrightEPA
Image captionProspective students tour Georgetown University in Washington DC

To be clear, none of this means that it doesn’t matter at all which college you go to – simply that modest differences around selectivity don’t seem to matter too much.

However, if a student turns down Yale in favour of an entirely non-selective local community college, it is possible they may not go on to do so well. This is especially likely if the community college lacks the resources to help students complete their degrees.

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Most of the studies use earnings as the main measure of success.

And, of course, money isn’t everything, as many graduates of the liberal arts console themselves.

Students at elite colleges may have better luck landing prestigious occupations- such as roles at top legal or financial firms. They may also learn the skills and make the connections needed to get such an occupation during their time in the ivory tower.

On the other hand, college graduates who attended more selective colleges actually report lower job satisfaction and are more likely to feel underpaid.

But if the overall story is that the status of a college seems to matter much less than the qualities of the students, there is one key exception to this general rule.

Students who are the first in their family to attend college, or who come from a minority background, appear to be the only groups who benefit from attending elite colleges.

Media captionHow US university admissions are broken

First-generation students, for example, get about a 5% earnings bump if they attend a more selective college, research suggests.

One possible explanation for this is that these institutions give disadvantaged students access to networks more affluent students already have through their parents.

It looks, then, as if the students with the least access to top-ranked institutions may well be those with the most to gain. But fewer than one in 50 young people whose family are in the bottom 60% of incomes actually attend elite colleges, compared with about 40% of those in the top 0.1%.

The irony is that the privileged students whose parents stop at almost nothing to get them into elite colleges appear to gain little as a result.

And they may even be the ones taking the places of the lower income applicants who stand to benefit most.

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About this piece

This analysis piece was commissioned by the BBC from experts working for an outside organisation.

Richard Reeves is a senior fellow in economic affairs at the Brookings Institution. Katherine Guyot is a research assistant at Brookings.

The Brookings Institution is a not-for-profit public policy organisation, conducting research that leads to new ideas for solving problems facing society.

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Edited by Duncan Walker.

Tourette’s teen leaves cinema after complaints she was too noisy

A teenager has appealed for more understanding about Tourette’s syndrome after she was forced to leave her local cinema following complaints.

Emily Womack, 15, and her family had bought tickets to watch Avengers Endgame at the AMC movie theatre in Oklahoma but never got to watch the film.

The cinema’s policy is to make sure “there are no disruptive noises during the movie” so Emily arrived at the theatre early to “release her tics”.

Emily has Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological disorder which causes tics, involuntary sounds and movements. These can be exhibited in the form of words, movements or sounds.

The teenager says she is able to temporarily suppress the tics by releasing them in quick succession for a short period of time.

In a video posted to the Tourette Association of America’s Facebook page, Emily explained how she was able to do that.

“I was releasing my tics before the movie started, so that during the movie I wouldn’t be ticking because I like to enjoy the movie too, I don’t wanna scream,” she said.

Emily’s mother Tina told the BBC that the family were seated and watching the trailers when they were approached by the theatre manager.

“He informed me that nine people had complained about Emily’s noises. I explained that she would suppress the noise during the show and there was nothing to worry about, as it was something she does during every movie she goes to.

“They told me that they can’t tell us to leave but that it would be best if we did. I refused,” she said.

Emily WomackImage copyrightTINA ZDANKIEWICZ WOMACK

Anxiety can worsen Tourette’s symptoms, and on hearing about the complaints Tina says Emily became distressed, so the family took the decision to leave the cinema.

In a statement the ANC movie theatre chain said that the family was offered the chance to stay to watch the film or an invitation to see it at a less crowded time.

“In no way did AMC kick out the guest or family, nor was anyone made to leave. The family initially chose to stay in the movie. Shortly after the movie started, the family chose to leave.”

The manager offered multiple passes, and coupons for popcorn and soda for a return visit, the statement added.

But Tina says her daughter was discriminated against because of her disability.

Avengers: Endgame movie posterImage copyrightWALT DISNEY STUDIOS
Image captionEmily and her family had bought tickets to watch Avengers Endgame

“This was a crowded theatre where people where laughing loudly, talking loudly, and even kids throwing popcorn and being disruptive, But Emily was picked out of all them, solely due to her disability,” she says.

Emily says she would have preferred if people would have approached her directly rather than complaining to the cinema manager.

“I’d appreciate it if in the future somebody could talk to my parents or talk to me before going to the manager. I wasn’t even given the chance to watch the movie.”

Ending the video Emily asks for more empathy about her condition.

“Thank you for listening to me, and I hope in the future people can understand I don’t mean to cause harm to anyone. I really would just like a chance in the future to live normally.”

Emily’s Facebook plea which has been watched 51,000 times prompted others with Tourette’s to share their own stories.

“We didn’t take our son for this reason. He gets excited and can’t control his tics. He is loud too, so sorry this happened to you,” read one Facebook post.

While another comment read: “I’m not 100% sure if it’s all AMCs but the one in my town has specific screenings for things like this, that way everyone is included.”


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Earlier this week, the American Academy of Neurology released the first ever US guidelines for treating Tourette’s.

The Tourette Association of America says 1 in 100 school-aged children have Tourette’s or a tic disorder and an alarming 50% are going undiagnosed.

CEO and President of the Association Amanda Talty says: “The request to leave created an environment where Emily and her family felt they were unwelcome as a result of her disability – a disability covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Offering movie passes and popcorn will not erase the embarrassment and shame one feels in situations like this.

“Sadly, this is a story we in the Tourette Syndrome community know all too well and this moment will stay with Emily for the rest of her life.”

US House panel holds attorney general in contempt over Mueller report

A US House of Representatives panel has voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for not releasing an unredacted copy of the report on Russian election meddling.

The judiciary committee took the rare step as tensions rose over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings.

Earlier, President Donald Trump used his executive privilege for the first time to block the report’s disclosure.

The White House and Congress accused each other of abusing power.

Mr Mueller’s report did not conclude that there was a criminal conspiracy between Moscow and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

However, Mr Mueller did detail 10 instances where Mr Trump possibly attempted to impede the investigation.

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Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr, one of Mr Trump’s sons, to legally force him to testify. It is the first known legal summons issued to a member of the president’s family in connection with the investigation.

Mr Trump Jr will be expected to answer questions about testimony he gave to the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2017, which was later contradicted by the president’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, US media report.

He will also probably be quizzed on his connections in Russia.

Why was there a contempt vote on Barr?

Democratic lawmakers put forward the measure after Mr Barr did not comply with a legal order to release the Mueller report without the redactions.

The 448-page report was released last month with parts blacked out, including information that is classified or linked to pending investigations.

After the legal order, Mr Barr formally asked the president to assert his right to executive privilege to stop the unredacted version of the report being released.

The judiciary committee voted 24-16 along party lines to refer a contempt citation against the attorney general for a full House vote. It was not clear when this vote would happen.

Media captionThe Mueller report – in 60 seconds

Democrats say they need to see the full report and its underlying evidence to investigate possible obstruction of justice by Mr Trump.

House judiciary chairman Jerrold Nadler said the vote was a “grave and momentous step”, calling the Trump administration’s refusal to provide the full report to Congress “an attack on the essence of our democracy”.

“We have talked for a long time about approaching a constitutional crisis, we are now in it,” the New York Democrat told reporters.

Earlier, Doug Collins, a leading Republican on the committee, said Democrats were acting out of anger and fear “without any valid legislative reason”.

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A conflict reaching new levels of acrimony

Analysis box by Anthony Zurcher, North America reporter

This is hardly the first battle between a president and his political opponents in Congress. Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton all responded to some congressional subpoenas with claims of executive privilege. The Republican-controlled House once even held Mr Obama’s attorney general in contempt, setting a perhaps soon-to-be-revisited precedent.

The stakes in this battle, however, are as high as they’ve ever been, and the tone of the conflict has reached new levels of acrimony.

At issue isn’t just an unredacted version of the Mueller report, which could contain damning, previously undisclosed details or amount to a big nothing. It’s the entire sweep of congressional oversight of the Trump administration, including review of administration actions and Mr Trump’s business empire and financial ties.

The president has promised to resist all subpoenas, and Congress is contemplating legal action, further rebukes or even impeachment. Some are suggesting assessing hefty fines on intransigent administration officials or invoking the seldom-used concept of “implicit contempt”, which in theory could culminate in the House sergeant-at-arms trying to arrest and imprison the attorney general.

It seems far-fetched, but such is the current state of executive-legislative relations. And neither side appears interested in backing down.

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Could the attorney general be charged?

For Mr Barr to actually face the prospect of charges, the entire House – where Democrats hold a 235-197 majority over Republicans – would have to vote against him.

The measure may be largely symbolic as few expect the Department of Justice to indict its own head with criminal contempt.

However, it would send a powerful message to the White House that congressional Democrats will not retreat in an increasingly vitriolic showdown.

Mr Barr is the first attorney general held in contempt of Congress since the Obama administration’s Eric Holder in 2012.

US President Donald Trump talks to reporters at the White HouseImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionMr Trump insists the Mueller report absolves him of any wrong-doing in his election campaign

How did the White House respond?

Earlier, the White House accused Democrats of a “blatant abuse of power” and blocked access to the full Mueller report by claiming executive privilege.

It allows a president to keep certain materials private if disclosing them would disrupt the confidentiality of the Oval Office decision-making process.

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the president had taken such a step at the attorney general’s request to reject “unlawful and reckless demands” by Democrats.

“They didn’t like the results of the [Mueller] report, and now they want a redo,” she said in a statement.

Democratic Representative from New York and Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler prepares to oversee a committee markup to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for refusal to comply with a subpoena in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC, USAImage copyrightEPA
Image captionChairman Nadler has criticised the Trump administration’s efforts to “stonewall Congress”

The judiciary committee chairman argued the White House was misapplying the doctrine of executive privilege.

Mr Nadler said: “This decision represents a clear escalation in the Trump administration’s blanket defiance of Congress’s constitutionally mandated duties.”

Mr Barr was greeted with a standing ovation as he entered a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

Will Robert Mueller testify?

The House judiciary committee has formally requested Mr Mueller testify, though a date has not been set.

The special counsel is still a Department of Justice employee, which means the attorney general could prevent him from testifying.

Mr Barr has previously said he would not mind Mr Mueller testifying before Congress, but Mr Trump has said the special counsel should not appear before lawmakers.

When Mr Mueller handed in his report, a spokesman said he would be leaving the department “within the coming days”.

If he does quit, he will become a private citizen and able to testify regardless of the department’s wishes.

The panel’s investigation into alleged Russian meddling in US politics has been rumbling on for the past two years.

Judge: Florida parents’ three-year-old must have chemotherapy

A judge has ruled that two Florida parents must continue their three-year-old son’s chemotherapy treatment for his leukaemia against their wishes.

Taylor Bland-Ball and Joshua McAdams had wanted to pursue other treatment options for their son, including medical cannabis and alkaline diets.

The parents said they were concerned about side-effects of chemotherapy.

The judge on Thursday ordered them to continue at least the first phase of the chemotherapy.

The family must use chemotherapy – which can involve as many as eight combinations of drugs – for the next 28 days as the primary treatment method.

Judge Caroline Tesche Arkin said they are free to try alternative remedies, like vitamin therapy, medical marijuana, or cannabinol oil (a non-psychoactive chemical from the cannabis plant) during this time. Medical marijuana use is legal in Florida.

Taylor Bland-Ball and Joshua McAdams' son Noah was diagnosed with cancer in AprilImage copyrightTAYLOR BLAND-BALL

After the first phase of therapy, they can receive a second medical opinion or change hospitals, the judge ruled.

The boy, whom the BBC is not naming, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia – a blood and bone marrow cancer – in April.

Local media say that doctors during the hearing argued that the toddler needed immediate chemotherapy treatment to survive.

According to the American Cancer Society, this type of cancer in children has a 90% five-year survival rate with chemotherapy treatment.

Chemotherapy is often associated with debilitating side effects, but many types of modern chemotherapy cause only mild problems.

The couple’s boy had received at least one round of chemotherapy at the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St Petersburg, Florida, before his parents stopped bringing him in.

Speaking to reporters after the ruling, Ms Bland-Ball, 22, said they will be moving forward with homeopathic remedies such as oxygen therapy, an alkaline diet, cannabis therapy and herbs.

Ms Bland-Ball said she and her husband were “mostly disappointed”, but that their case “really opened up a good discussion on parental rights, about patient rights”.

Ms Bland-Ball and Mr McAdams, 27, lost custody of their son when they stopped his treatment at the end of last month and left the state. The boy is currently living with his grandparents.

The parents say they are allowed to be at their son’s chemotherapy appointments, but are still working on getting unsupervised visitation rights.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office had put out an endangered child search alert for the child last week. The family was eventually found in Kentucky and brought back to Florida.

His parents said they only left the state to find a second opinion in Ohio. Ms Bland-Ball has said that they were allowed to leave the hospital as his tests showed no signs of cancer.

The family’s next court date is 4 June, where they will mediate with doctors and the state, with a hearing to follow.

Shark attack: Surfer killed off France’s Réunion Island

A surfer has been killed in a shark attack off the coast of the French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean.

The man, reported to be in his late 20s, was surfing off the small fishing town of Saint-Leu when the attack took place on Thursday.

The local government confirmed that a surfer had been killed as it called for vigilance in the sea.

Surfing and other water activities are heavily restricted on Réunion due to the high risk of shark attacks.

The attack took place at about 16:30 local time (12:30 GMT) off the coast of Saint-Leu, on the west of the island.

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A witness alerted rescue officials, telling them a surfer had disappeared from the surface of the water and that only his board was visible from the shore, the local government said in a statement (in French).

It gave no details about the identity of the surfer.

Rescue officials told French media that the shark tore off one of the surfer’s legs, and his body was later recovered from the port of Saint-Leu, where he was pronounced dead.

Three other people surfing with the man got back to shore safely, they said.

The incident reportedly took place in an area where surfing is prohibited.

A map shows the location of Reunion in the Indian Ocean
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Ahead of the attack, the local government had issued a statement (in French) on Thursday morning urging caution in the sea, citing the risk of bull shark attacks amid shifting temperatures.

Réunion has historically been a popular destination for surfers.

However, in recent years it has also become known as a shark attack hotspot and surfing there is widely restricted.

Following the latest incident, the local government said the strict measures were necessary to keep people safe.

Thursday marked the 24th shark attack and the 11th fatal one reported on the French island since 2011, according to reports.

Anna Sorokin: Fake heiress apologises as she is sentenced

A German woman who posed as a billionaire heiress to swindle New York hotels and banks has been sentenced to four to 12 years in prison.

“I apologise for the mistakes I made,” Anna Sorokin, 28, said shortly before she learned her fate, reports AP news agency.

She was found guilty in April of theft of services and grand larceny, having stolen more than $200,000 (£153,580).

Sorokin, who rejected a plea deal, may face deportation to Germany.

As she handed down the sentence on Thursday at Manhattan Supreme Court, Judge Diane Kiesel reportedly made a reference to Bruce Springsteen’s song Blinded by the Light.

“She was blinded by the glitter and glamour of NYC,” the judge said, according to Buzzfeed News.

Judge Kiesel reportedly also said she was “stunned” by the depths of Sorokin’s deception.

Who is Anna Sorokin? Fake heiress found guilty over NY scam

Under her assumed name Anna Delvey, Sorokin falsely claimed she had a multi-million dollar trust fund at her disposal, as she hired a private jet, attended elite parties, and lived in a luxury New York hotel. She maintained the scam for almost four years.

Meanwhile, prosecutors said, Sorokin had “not a cent to her name”.

Anna Sorokin (right), then known as Anna Delvey, at a fashion event at a New York hotel in 2014Image copyrightDAVE KOTINSKY/GETTY
Image captionAnna Sorokin (right), then known as Anna Delvey, at a fashion event at a New York hotel in 2014

Her father is reportedly a former trucker, who runs a heating-and-cooling business.

In court, her defence attorney, Todd Spodek, claimed that Sorokin had been “buying time” as she worked to pay back her debts. He maintained that Sorokin had no criminal intent but was instead an ambitious entrepreneur.

According to court documents, Sorokin used her phony persona as a German heiress with $60m in assets to try to get a loan of $22m for a foundation in her name. She presented forged bank statements and would deposit bad cheques, then withdraw the money before they bounced.

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Prosecutors say she went on a one-month shopping spree, spending $55,000 on a luxury hotel, high-end fashion purchases, personal trainer sessions, and Apple, among other personal expenses.

Assistant District Attorney Catherine McCaw said Sorokin had shown “almost no remorse”.

Following a month-long trial, a jury convicted Sorokin on eight counts.

But she was found not guilty of attempted grand larceny and stealing more than $60,000 from a friend who paid for a luxury holiday in Morocco.

Anna SorokinImage copyrightBFA
Image captionAnna Sorokin tricked the New York City’s elite into thinking she was a billionaire heiress

Even up to her sentencing, Sorokin appeared intent on maintaining her carefully curated image.

She worked with a stylist, Anastasia Walker, to create her courtroom look during the trial.

The initial story about Sorokin’s swindling by New York Magazine was swiftly optioned by Netflix.

The production has been linked with Shonda Rimes, who created TV hit shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal.

Iran nuclear deal: European powers reject ‘ultimatums’

European powers have said they remain committed to the Iran nuclear deal but that they “reject any ultimatums” from Tehran to prevent its collapse.

Iran announced on Wednesday that it had suspended two commitments under the 2015 accord in response to the economic sanctions the US reimposed last year.

It also threatened to step up uranium enrichment if it was not shielded from the sanctions’ effects within 60 days.

The EU, UK, France and Germany noted “with great concern” Iran’s move.

Under the nuclear deal, which is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran agreed to limit its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief.

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But a year ago US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, saying it was “horribly one-sided” and needed to be renegotiated, and began reinstating sanctions. In November, those targeting Iran’s oil and financial sectors took effect.

Iran’s economy is now sliding towards a deep recession, the value of its currency has dropped to record lows, and its annual inflation rate has quadrupled.

What has Iran done and why?

Under the JCPOA, Iran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium, which can be used to make reactor fuel but also nuclear weapons, and to sell surplus stocks.

It also said it would redesign a heavy-water nuclear reactor at Arak, whose spent fuel would contain plutonium suitable for a bomb, and sell any surplus heavy water.

People walk past a foreign exchange shop in Tehran, Iran (22 April 2019)Image copyrightAFP
Image captionThe value of Iran’s currency, the rial, has plummeted against the US dollar

President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that Iran would stop immediately sales of enriched uranium and heavy water, allowing it to build up its stockpiles.

The sales would resume if the remaining parties to the JCPOA – the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – met their commitments to protect Iran’s banking and oil sectors within 60 days, he added.

If not, Iran will no longer observe a key commitment not to enrich uranium to concentrations higher than the 3.67% required for reactor fuel. Weapons-grade uranium is at least 90% enriched.

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The country will also halt the redesign of the Arak heavy-water reactor.

“The Iranian people and the world should know that today is not the end of the JCPOA,” Mr Rouhani said. “These are actions in line with the JCPOA.”

How have European powers responded?

The EU’s foreign policy chief and the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the UK stressed that the JCPOA was “a key achievement of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture, which is in the security interest of all”.

“We strongly urge Iran to continue to implement its commitments under the JCPOA in full as it has done until now and to refrain from any escalatory steps,” a joint statement issued on Thursday said.

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“We reject any ultimatums and we will assess Iran’s compliance on the basis of Iran’s performance regarding its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA and the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons).”

The European powers expressed regret about the renewed US sanctions and said they were “determined to continue pursuing efforts to enable the continuation of legitimate trade with Iran”.

Those efforts include a “special purpose vehicle” that would essentially allow goods to be bartered between Iranian and foreign companies without direct financial transactions. However, the mechanism – known as Instex – is not yet operational.

What has the US said?

During a visit to London on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran was being “intentionally ambiguous”.

“We’ll have to wait to see what Iran’s actions actually are. They’ve made a number of statements about actions they’ve threatened to do in order to get the world to jump. We’ll see what they actually do.”

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Later, President Trump announced additional sanctions targeting Iran’s steel, aluminium, iron and copper sectors.

The White House said they were Iran’s largest non-petroleum-related sources of export revenue and made up 10% of its export economy.

“Tehran can expect further actions unless it fundamentally alters its conduct,” Mr Trump warned.

His administration has put forward 12 requirements for a new nuclear dealand the lifting of sanctions, including halting uranium enrichment altogether, as well as ending its development of ballistic missiles, involvement in conflicts elsewhere in the Middle East, and support of terrorist groups.

Montenegro jails ‘Russian coup plot’ leaders

A court in Montenegro has handed five-year jail terms to two pro-Russian opposition politicians for trying to topple the government in October 2016.

The court also found 12 others guilty, including two Russians – alleged secret agents – tried in absentia.

Prosecutors said the plotters had Kremlin support to assassinate then-Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and block Nato accession.

Russia has called the coup inquiry absurd.

Montenegro’s opposition has consistently rejected the charges, alleging what it called a “false-flag” operation – a fake act aimed at incriminating an opponent – to keep Mr Djukanovic in power. He is now the president.

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The opposition leaders jailed on Thursday are Andrija Mandic and Milan Knezevic – MPs in the Democratic Front Alliance.

The other defendants were another Montenegrin, nine Serbs and the two Russians tried in absentia.

The Russians, Eduard Shishmakov and Vladimir Popov, were handed the heaviest jail terms – 12 and 15 years. They are allegedly members of Russia’s GRU military intelligence service.

Interpol has put out an international wanted notice for Popov. The investigative website Bellingcat says “Popov” is a pseudonym for a GRU officer called Vladimir Moiseev.

Bellingcat has previously researched Russian state involvement in the Ukraine conflict and Skripal spy case in the UK.

Tensions over Nato

Russia has condemned Montenegro’s June 2017 accession to Nato.

Nato membership remains highly controversial in the small Balkan country, which became independent in 2006.

Serbia and Montenegro – both bombed by Nato planes in the 1999 Kosovo war – were originally one country after the break-up of Yugoslavia. At that time there was Russian support for the Yugoslav government.

What are the allegations?

Special prosecutor Milivoje Katnic said the plot involved using a sniper to kill pro-Western Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic. It was to happen on Montenegro’s election day on 16 October 2016.

Knezevic (L) and Mandic, 20 Jul 17Image copyrightAFP
Image captionOpposition leaders Knezevic (L) and Mandic spoke to reporters during the trial (20 July 2017 pic)

The plotters allegedly planned to break into parliament and bring a pro-Russian government to power.

Mr Katnic said “Russian nationalists” were involved, but he did not directly accuse any aides to President Vladimir Putin.

After the October 2016 arrests, Mr Djukanovic said around €125,000 ($140,000; £108,000) had been found as part of the alleged plot, along with uniforms.

Russia calls Montenegro’s membership of Nato “damaging for the stability of the Balkans and Europe as a whole”.

According to the indictment, dozens of cases of guns and ammunition were thrown into a lake in an unspecified neighbouring country. But the weapons were never shown in court.

Mr Djukanovic has dominated Montenegrin politics for more than two decades. He became prime minister for the first time in 1991 and last year he was re-elected president.

What about the other defendants?

The defendants can appeal against the verdict.

There was an 18-month jail term for Mihajlo Cadenovic, the Montenegrin driver working for Mandic and Knezevic, the two opposition leaders.

Bratislav Dikic, a former Serbian police general, was given eight years.

Montenegro map

Pedrag Bogicevic and Nemanja Ristic, both members of Serbian ultra-nationalist groups, got seven years each, but in absentia.

Srboljub Djordjevic and Milan Dusic – both Serbs – got 18 months each.

Three more Serbs were also jailed: Branka Milic (three years), Dragan Maksic (a year and nine months) and Kristina Hristic (suspended term).

The judge said “each member of the criminal organisation had been assigned a task and there was a willingness to use violence and intimidation”.

Trade war: China-US talks to resume amid threat of new tariffs

Chinese and US negotiators are set to resume trade talks in Washington amid the threat of fresh tariffs and warnings over the global economy.

President Trump says he will raise tariffs on $200bn (£152bn) of Chinese goods on Friday with his officials accusing China of reneging on promises.

China has said it will respond with “necessary countermeasures”.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said the row poses a “threat to the global economy”.

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“As we have said before, everybody loses in a protracted trade conflict,” the body which aims to ensure global financial stability said in a statement, calling for a “speedy resolution”.

The two sides had appeared to be making progress until recently but uncertainty now surrounds whether the talks will succeed.

Negotiations are scheduled for around 17:00 local time (21:00) GMT with the new US tariffs set to begin just seven hours later.

President Trump has also said he received a “beautiful letter” from Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping and that they would probably speak soon.

How does the US see it?

China has been a frequent target of Donald Trump’s anger, with the US president criticising trade imbalances between the two countries and Chinese intellectual property rules he says hobble US companies.

Ahead of the discussions due on Thursday, he told a rally China had “broke the deal”. He has also threatened to raise tariffs on $200bn worth of Chinese goods this week and introduce new ones.

What sparked his actions, which apparently took China by surprise, is unclear.

US trade deficit with China graph

US sources told Reuters news agency that last week China returned a draft agreement with changes that undermined its commitments to address key US demands.

Tariffs are taxes paid by importers on foreign goods, so the tariff imposed by the US on Chinese goods would be paid by American companies.

How has China responded?

China denies backtracking and has said it “keeps its promises”.

If the US tariffs go ahead, the Chinese have said they will retaliate in kind.

“The escalation of trade friction is not in the interests of the people of the two countries and the people of the world,” the Chinese Commerce Ministry said in a statement.

“The Chinese side deeply regrets that if the US tariff measures are implemented, China will have to take necessary countermeasures.”

How the trade war has played out

US seizes North Korean coal ship for violating sanctions

The US says it has seized a North Korean cargo ship, accusing it of violating international sanctions.

The justice department said the ship was used to transport coal, North Korea’s largest export but subject to a UN export ban.

The vessel was initially impounded in Indonesia in April 2018.

It is the first time the US has seized a North Korean ship for breaching sanctions and comes amid worsening relations between the two.

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A meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump ended without agreement in February with the US insisting North Korea give up its nuclear programme and Pyongyang demanding sanctions relief.

North Korea has carried out two weapons tests in the space of the past weekin what is widely seen as an attempt to increase pressure on the US over its failure to make concessions.

What do we know about the ship?

The vessel, the Wise Honest, was first seized last year and the US filed a seizure warrant in July 2018.

Indonesia has handed over the ship, and it is now on its way to the US.

US officials stressed that the announcement had nothing to do with the North Korean tests.

“Our office uncovered North Korea’s scheme to export tons of high-grade coal to foreign buyers by concealing the origin of their ship, the Wise Honest,” said US prosecutor Geoffrey S Berman.

“This scheme not only allowed North Korea to evade sanctions, but the Wise Honest was also used to import heavy machinery to North Korea, helping expand North Korea’s capabilities and continuing the cycle of sanctions evasion.”

Payments for the maintenance of the Wise Honest were allegedly made in US dollars through unsuspecting US banks – giving the US authorities the opportunity to mount an unusual civil forfeiture legal action.

North Korea has been the subject of a series of US and international sanctions over Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons and missile tests.

Can the US and North Korea get back on track?

Most of the developments concerning the two countries point to a return to animosity but the US Special Representative on North Korea Stephen Biegun is currently in South Korea to discuss ways of restarting denuclearisation talks.

President Trump has said “nobody’s happy” about the latest North Korean tests.

“I know they want to negotiate, they’re talking about negotiating. But I don’t think they are ready to negotiate,” he said.

He became the first sitting US president to meet his North Korean counterpart when they met last year but despite this, and a follow-up meeting, there has been little tangible progress towards the stated goal of ridding the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons.

Last year, Mr Kim said he would stop nuclear testing and would no longer launch intercontinental ballistic missiles but nuclear activity appears to be continuing.

One of the few concrete outcomes of their talks – joint efforts to retrieve the remains of US servicemen killed in the Korean war – have been halted.