Justin Trudeau, Iran, Prince Harry: Your Friday Briefing

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Good morning.

Sincere apologies: Technical problems and human error prevented us from sending yesterday’s briefing by email, and we emailed you Wednesday’s briefing by accident.

Today we’re covering the fallout from a plane crash in Iran, a landmark vote on Brexit, and our Travel desk’s picks for where to go in 2020.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada said on Thursday that early intelligence suggested an Iranian surface-to-air missile brought down the Ukrainian jetliner that crashed after takeoff from a Tehran airport. Mr. Trudeau and American officials said it was most likely by accident.

Wednesday’s crash, which killed some 176 passengers and crew members, including 63 Canadians, came hours after Iran launched a barrage of ballistic missiles at American targets in Iraq — and at a time when the Iranian military was presumably bracing for possible retaliation by the U.S.

A spokesman for Iran’s armed forces has denied that the crash was a result of military action.

Video evidence: Our visual investigations team verified footage that appears to show an Iranian missile hitting a plane near Tehran’s airport, in the area where the jet stopped transmitting its signal before it crashed. Visual and sonic clues in the footage match contemporaneous satellite imagery and flight path data.

Analysis: The evidence that Mr. Trudeau cited on Thursday raised questions about whether the United States played a role in provoking the events that led to the aviation disaster. It also threatened to damage Canada’s “crucial but fraught partnership with Washington,” writes our correspondent in Montreal.

What’s next: Ukraine is said to be negotiating with Iran to allow investigators to search the crash site for possible rocket fragments. Our reporting also indicates that Iran has invited American officials to assist in the investigation.

Top Iranian officials on Thursday sent conflicting signals about whether Tehran would retaliate further against the United States for the killing last week of a top military commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani.

The officials spoke a day after Iran said it had “concluded proportionate measures” against the U.S. by firing missiles at two Iraqi military bases that house American troops. No one was killed or injured in those strikes, which appeared designed to save face rather than to inflict casualties.

Whatever happens next, analysts told our Interpreter columnist, almost two years of brinkmanship have left each side worse off: Washington has failed to remake the Middle Eastern power balance to Iran’s detriment, and Tehran has been unable to secure relief from economic sanctions that President Trump imposed after withdrawing the U.S. from a nuclear accord.

Go deeper: People in Iran celebrated the missile strikes, then spent a restless night waiting for a U.S. military response that never came.

Congressional vote: The U.S. House of Representatives voted almost entirely along party lines on Thursday to curtail Mr. Trump’s war-making power, amid fears that he might careen toward war with Iran without consulting Congress. A similar resolution faces an uphill climb in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.

Trump’s take: During a brief exchange with reporters, the president said that General Suleimani had been plotting to blow up an American embassy. He did not provide any evidence.

A bombshell Instagram announcement on Wednesday by Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, caught the world by surprise and raised more questions than it answered.

The couple’s announcement said they planned to “step back” from their official duties, divide their time between Britain and North America and “work to become financially independent.” Their disclosure was apparently rushed because they feared a tabloid would report the news first, and it caught Buckingham Palace off guard.

Now it’s unclear whether Prince Harry would still be entitled to the income he has long received from his father, Prince Charles, or whether he and Meghan could continue living rent-free in a house on the estate of Windsor Castle.

Catch up: Here’s what we know so far about the couple’s plans, and how their new arrangement may affect the British economy.

Harry vs. the tabloids: Britain’s aggressive tabloid press “was always the worm in the apple” for a prince who otherwise leads a charmed life, one of our veteran reporters writes.

Opinion: An author argues that Harry and Meghan’s move is a response to a deeply ingrained British racism.

Many scientists and public-health experts believe that so-called gene drives — a tool that inserts a chosen gene into the DNA of generations of an organism’s offspring — could help to alter or even eradicate disease-causing insects.

But the tool has yet to be tested outside the lab, and there are many unknowns. Could a gene drive stop one virus, for example, only to open the way for a more virulent one?

Britain: Legislation that would take the country out of the European Union on Jan. 31 passed in Parliament’s lower house and is almost certain to be finalized and written into law next week. The European Parliament would then need to approve it, setting up negotiations on a long-term trade deal between Britain and the European Union.

France: Thousands of protesters demonstrated across France, as a marathon strike over President Emmanuel Macron’s pension overhaul entered its sixth week. Public support for the strike, which is amplified by 200 years of French history, is edging down.

Mystery virus: Researchers in China said they had identified a new virus behind a pneumonialike illness that has infected dozens of people across Asia. It appears to be transmitted to humans via animals, but Beijing has not disclosed many details.

Travelex hack: The numbers that usually glow with exchange rates on Travelex boards in airports worldwide have gone dark as the London-based currency exchange company responds to a ransomware attack.

Carlos Ghosn: The Lebanese attorney general ordered the former auto executive charged with financial misconduct in Japan to stay in Lebanon as officials consider their next moves.

Snapshot: Above, driving a right-hand-drive car in Calgary, Canada. Some automobile collectors in North America import right-hand-drive models from Britain and Japan.

“Peak TV”: There were more than 500 scripted television series in the United States last year, a record high. When will the bubble pop?

52 Places to Go in 2020: Our Travel section has released its annual list of destinations — one for each week of the year.

What we’re reading: This deep dive into Canada’s health care system in The American Prospect. Tara Siegel Bernard, who writes about personal finance and consumer issues for The Times, noted this passage: “Rather than scaring Americans with well-structured narratives about the alleged horrors of Canadian Medicare, we could take the opportunity to learn from it.”

Cook: For big flavor with little work, try maple and miso sheet-pan salmon.

Read: “Cleanness,” the latest book by Garth Greenwell, “is not even really a novel, nor is it a story collection,” our reviewer writes.

Smarter Living: Talking about our salaries, especially for women, was once considered taboo — but pushing past the initial discomfort can have huge benefits for their careers.

Boreal forests ring the globe just under the Arctic Circle, stretching across Canada, Alaska, Siberia and northern Europe.

Together, they form a giant reservoir storing carbon dioxide.

Boreal forests are distinct from tropical forests, closer to the Equator. Boreal forests lock away about 703 gigatons of carbon in woody fibers and soil, while tropical forests store about 375 gigatons. (A gigaton is a bit hard to describe, but it’s a lot.)

These are tough times for the world’s forests, though. Think about the fires in Australia and the ones last year in the Amazon. Agriculture, logging and urbanization are taking a toll, too.

That brings us to single-use paper products, like paper towels, especially the ones sold in North America. Their fiber is often taken from boreal forests, so reducing home use can help protect trees.

In Asia, cloth towels remain the standard. But paper towel sales are increasing there among more prosperous consumers — and marketers are taking note.

That’s it for this briefing. Have a great weekend.

— Mike

Thank you
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. Today’s Back Story is partly based on reporting by Jillian Mock for our Climate Fwd: newsletter. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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