Morning mail: Trump dials down tension, extreme heat returns, India strikes

Richard Parkin
Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

Good morning, this is Richard Parkin bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Thursday 9 January.

Top stories

Donald Trump has backed away from further military confrontation with Iran in a notably more sober White House address after days of escalating tensions. It followed calls from Russia and Turkey, as well as from leading EU officials, calling on both nations to prioritise diplomatic efforts amid concerns that further retaliatory attacks could plunge the wider Middle East region into a new cycle of instability. The explosion on Wednesday of a Boeing 737-800 moments after takeoff in Tehran that killed 176 passengers and crew has raised tensions dramatically, with the Iranian government refusing to hand over the flight’s black boxes to either Boeing or US investigators.

More than three-quarters of the Australian continent experienced the worst fire weather conditions on record last month as 2019 set new benchmarks for heat and dryness across the country. Nearly all of NSW, Queensland and South Australia, most of the Northern Territory, significant parts of Victoria – including east Gippsland – as well as populated areas in south-western Western Australia and north-eastern Tasmania set new records for accumulated fire risk for December, according to data released by the Bureau of Meteorology. The report comes as firefighters and residents in south-eastern Australia brace for the return of dangerous weather conditions.

The independent MP Zali Steggall is finalising a draft legislation for a “national climate change framework”, calling on “modern Liberals” to support the legislation and to ignore the wishes of their constituents “at their peril”. Modelled on the UK’s Climate Change Act and mirroring similar legislation in place in New Zealand and Ireland, Steggall is seeking to build a public campaign to support a conscience vote in parliament in March. The bill would aim for net zero emissions by 2050, with five-yearly carbon budgets to meet the goal.

Australia

Ita Buttrose was appointed chair of the ABC in February 2019 in a ‘captain’s pick’ by Scott Morrison. Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

An extensive vetting process put in place to prevent political stacking of the ABC board was ignored in favour of Scott Morrison’s “captain’s pick”. Ita Buttrose’s selection as ABC chair ahead of the independent process’s recommended candidates was just one of many such interventions over recent years.

A volunteer firefighting association that disputes the link between climate change and the current bushfires has close ties to the Shooters, Farmers and Fishers party, a Guardian Australia exclusive reveals.

Australian defence and diplomatic staff are expected to remain in Iraq as long as their US counterparts, despite key allies such as Germany and Canada withdrawing after Iranian threats of retaliation.

The world

Prince Harry and Meghan have announced they will step back from the royal family. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have said they will step back assenior” members of the royal family and “work to become financially independent”. The couple have appeared increasingly unhappy in recent months with their public roles and the level of scrutiny they have faced.

Towns across India have ground to a halt after a 24-hour workers strike, with unions decrying the “anti-people” policies of Narendra Modi’s government amid a worsening economic slowdown.

Puerto Rico’s worst earthquake in a century continues to cause widespread power outages, with all schools closed and many residents continuing to sleep outside for fear of aftershocks. The island nation suffered widespread devastation in 2017 with hurricanes Maria and Irma killing a reported 3,000 people.

The president of the EU has called a comprehensive Brexit deal “impossible” under the present timeframe set by Boris Johnson. Ursula von der Leyen is in the UK for face-to-face negotiations.

Recommended reads

Yotam Ottolenghi’s spicy cannellini beans, leeks and eggs. Photograph: Louise Hagger/The Guardian. Food styling: Emily Kydd Prop styling: Jennifer Kay.

They’re delicious, cheap, healthy and sustainable – so why aren’t we eating more legumes? Maligned as “bland food for vegans and the down at heel” beans have endured since before 6000 BCE, “filling the plates and bellies of people from cultures as diverse as Greece, Italy, Morocco, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Egypt, Mexico and India”, writes Natalie Parletta. What’s more, they’re also the perfect plant for intercropping, anchoring nitrogen back in the soil and reducing the need for artificial fertilisers.

Whatever happened to conservative values and climate change? “The idea that a ‘stitch in time saves nine’ and ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ was once central to the conservative approach to politics and economics,” writes Richard Denniss. “But while deterrence still lies at the heart of Australia’s $38.7bn defence budget, when it comes to climate change, Australian conservatives opt for suck it and see.”

Listen

Wiley and Stormzy are two of grime’s biggest artists but they’ve opened up an intergenerational rap feud, launching a series of diss tracks that drag in Ed Sheeran and of course, their mothers. But as Ben Beaumont-Thomas writes, the personal jibes may attest to something great at stake: concern about the genre’s direction.

Sport

The statue of soccer player Zlatan Ibrahimovic – sawn down and destroyed. Photograph: Tt News Agency/Reuters

He’s one of Sweden’s biggest sports stars but a statue to Zlatan Ibrahimovic can’t go more than a few days without being vandalised. Likening the mystery to the famed Scandinavian noir hit, The Bridge, Marina Hyde investigates one possible suspect.

How long does to it take to mastermind the defeat of a cross-city rival? According to Kevin de Bruyne, just 15 minutes. The Mancester City star revealed that’s all Pep Guardiola needed to set up a comfortable 3-1 defeat of United in the Carabao Cup.

Media roundup

The NSW state government will bring forward plans to double the production of Sydney’s desalination plant amid concerns about the city’s rapidly decreasing dam levels, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. About 18,000 international student visas were cancelled last year, writes Australian, with nearly 5,000 Chinese nationals found to be “non-genuine” students. The detained Australian Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert is in “another kind of hell”, says the Herald Sun, after Iranian prison officials released a fellow hunger striker from solitary confinement but continue to keep the academic in isolation.

Coming up

The annual Elvis festival begins today, with a special train leaving Sydney for Parkes this morning.

The Bureau of Meteorology will release an updated forecast for Friday and analyse its potential impact on bushfires at a lunchtime media conference.