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Posts tagged ‘Catherine Ashton’

Iran Nuclear Deal to Take Effect on Jan. 20.


Iran’s interim nuclear deal with six major powers will come into force on Jan. 20, the Iranian Foreign Ministry and the European Union said on Sunday.

“Capitals have confirmed the result of the talks in Geneva . . . the Geneva deal will be implemented from January 20,” Marzieh Afkham, spokeswoman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Tehran, the semi-official Mehr news agency said.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also confirmed the date, and said the sides would now ask the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog to verify the deal’s implementation.

“We will ask the IAEA to undertake the necessary nuclear-related monitoring and verification activities,” she said in a statement.

Ashton represents the six powers – the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – in contacts with Iran related to its controversial nuclear programme.

Senior officials from the European Union and Iran met in Geneva on Thursday and Friday to iron out remaining practical questions related to the implementation of the Nov. 24 deal, under which Iran agreed to curb its most sensitive nuclear work in return for some relief from Western economic sanctions.

EU spokesman Michael Mann said on Friday that any agreements would need to be validated by the governments of Iran and the six powers.

The accord is designed to last six months and the parties hope to use the time to negotiate a final, broad settlement governing the scope of Iran’s nuclear program.

Western powers suspect Iran has been trying to develop the ability to manufacture a nuclear weapon. Iran says its program is aimed purely at civilian electricity generation and other civilian purposes.

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.
Source: Newsmax.com

Iran Gets $4.2 Billion in Last Minute Deal on Nukes.


Iran and six world powers reached a breakthrough deal early on Sunday to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for limited sanctions relief, in what could be the first sign of an emerging rapprochement between the Islamic state and the West.

Aimed at ending a dangerous standoff, the agreement between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia was nailed down after more than four days of tortuous negotiations in the Swiss city of Geneva.

Halting Iran’s most sensitive nuclear work, it was designed as a package of confidence-building steps to ease decades of tensions and confrontation and banish the specter of a Middle East war over Tehran’s nuclear aspirations.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who has been coordinating talks with Iran on behalf of the major powers, said it created time and space for talks aimed at reaching a comprehensive solution to the dispute.

“This is only a first step,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told a news conference. “We need to start moving in the direction of restoring confidence, a direction in which we have managed to move against in the past.”

In Washington, President Barack Obama said that if Iran did not meet its commitments during a six-month period, the United States would turn off sanctions relief and “ratchet up the pressure.”

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government denounced the agreement as “a bad deal” that Israel did not regard itself as bound by.

Before Sunday’s agreement, Israel, believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear power, said the deal being offered would give Iran more time to master nuclear technology and amass potential bomb fuel.

The West fears that Iran has been seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability. The Islamic Republic denies that, saying its nuclear program is a peaceful energy project.

The United States said the agreement halted progress on Iran’s nuclear program, including construction of the Arak research reactor, which is of special concern for the West as it can yield potential bomb material.

It would neutralize Iran’s stockpile of uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, which is a close step away from the level needed for weapons, and calls for intrusive U.N. nuclear inspections, a senior U.S. official said.

Iran has also committed to stop uranium enrichment above a fissile purity of 5 percent, a U.S. fact sheet said.

Refined uranium can be used to fuel nuclear power plants — Iran’s stated goal — but also provide the fissile core of an atomic bomb if refined much further.

Diplomacy with Iran was stepped up after the landslide election of Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, as Iranian president in June, replacing bellicose nationalist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Rouhani aims to mend fences with big powers and get sanctions lifted. He obtained crucial public backing from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, keeping powerful hardline critics at bay.

On a Twitter account widely recognized as representing Rouhani, a message said after the agreement was announced, “Iranian people’s vote for moderation & constructive engagement + tireless efforts by negotiating teams are to open new horizons.”

The Geneva deal has no recognition of an Iranian right to enrich uranium and sanctions would still be enforced, the U.S. official said.

But Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said Iran’s enrichment program had been officially recognised.

Secretary of State John Kerry said the agreement would make it harder for Iran to make a dash to build a nuclear weapon and would make Israel and other U.S. allies safer.

Kerry also told a news conference that while Obama would not take off the table the possible use of force against Iran, he believed it was necessary first to exhaust diplomacy.

He said the limited sanctions relief could be reversible.

After Ashton read out a statement on the deal to the cameras at the United Nations in Geneva, ministers appeared elated. Ashton and Kerry hugged each other, and Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shook hands. Minutes later, as the Iranian delegation posed for photos, Zarif and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius approached each other and embraced.

A White House fact sheet detailed what Iran could obtain:

  • Potential access to $1.5 billion in revenue from trade in gold and precious metals and the suspension of some sanctions on Iran‘s auto sector, and its petrochemical exports;
  • Allow purchases of Iranian oil to remain at their currently significantly reduced levels. “$4.2 billion from these sales will be allowed to be transferred in instalments if, and as, Iran fulfils its commitments,” the fact sheet said;
  • License safety-related repairs and inspections inside Iran for certain Iranian airlines.

Most of the sanctions, Kerry said, would remain in place.

“The approximately $7 billion in relief is a fraction of the costs that Iran will continue to incur during this first phase under the sanctions that will remain in place,” the White House said. “The vast majority of Iran’s approximately $100 billion in foreign exchange holdings are inaccessible or restricted.”

Kerry and the foreign ministers of the five other world powers joined the negotiations with Iran early on Saturday as the two sides appeared to be edging closer to a long-sought preliminary agreement.

The Western powers’ goal was to cap Iran’s nuclear energy program, which has a history of evading U.N. inspections and investigations, to remove any risk of Tehran covertly refining uranium to a level suitable for bombs.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a Twitter message that it was an “important and encouraging” first-stage agreement with Iran, whose nuclear program “won’t move forward for 6 months and parts rolled back.”

France’s Fabius said, “After years of blockages, the agreement in Geneva on Iran’s nuclear program is an important step to preserving security and peace.”

Tehran, whose oil-dependent economy has been severely damaged by tightening Western sanctions over the past few years, denies it would ever “weaponize” enrichment.

The OPEC producer rejects suspicions it is trying covertly to develop the means to produce nuclear weapons, saying it is stockpiling nuclear material for future atomic power plants.

“This is the first time in 33 years that Washington and Tehran have concluded a formal agreement. Even six months ago, few would have imagined this outcome,” said senior fellow Suzanne Maloney of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.
Source: Newsmax.com

US: Iran Nuclear Talks Most Intense, Serious to Date.


Image: US: Iran Nuclear Talks Most Intense, Serious to Date

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton speaks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Oct. 15, prior to the start of closed-door nuclear talks in Geneva, Switzerland.

GENEVA — The United States described two days of nuclear negotiations with Iran as the most serious and candid to date after Western diplomats said Tehran hinted it was ready to scale back sensitive nuclear activities to secure urgent sanctions relief.But a senior U.S. administration official told reporters after the conclusion of negotiations between Iran and six world powers that no breakthroughs had been achieved and many disagreements remained.

Other Western diplomats involved in the talks said there had been no apparent narrowing of differences between Tehran and the six nations over its nuclear ambitions.

“I’ve been doing this now for about two years,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “And I have never had such intense, detailed, straightforward, candid conversations with the Iranian delegation before.”

The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, echoed the remarks, saying Iran’s proposal showed “a level of seriousness and substance that we had not seen before.” But he cautioned that “no one should expect a breakthrough overnight.”

Washington’s ally Israel, which has told the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China — the six powers negotiating with Iran — not to trust Tehran, announced that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to speak next week with Secretary of State John Kerry about the Geneva talks.

Netanyahu told the U.N. General Assembly earlier this month that Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani, widely seen as a pragmatist and centrist, was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and warned that Israel was prepared to act alone to prevent Tehran from getting nuclear weapons.

Follow-up talks between the six powers and Iran will be held in Geneva on Nov. 7-8.

Tehran denies allegations by Western powers that it is seeking the capability to produce atomic bombs.

But so far it has defied U.N. Security Council demands that it halt enrichment and other sensitive nuclear activities, leading to multiple rounds of crippling international sanctions that have reduced Iranian oil exports, caused inflation to soar and the value of the Iranian rial currency to plummet.

Western officials have said that they need Iran to increase the transparency of its nuclear program, stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, reduce its uranium stockpiles and take other steps to assure the world it does not want atomic weapons.

‘IMPORTANT CONTRIBUTION’

In a rare joint statement highlighting the dramatic shift from confrontation to dialogue since Rouhani took office in August, negotiators from Iran and six world powers said Tehran’s new proposal aimed at defusing longstanding suspicions over the nature of its nuclear program was an “important contribution” now under careful consideration.

Details of Iran’s proposal, presented during two days of negotiations in Geneva, have not been released, and Western officials were unsure whether Tehran was prepared to go far enough to clinch a breakthrough deal.

The joint statement, read out by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif “presented an outline of a plan as a proposed basis for negotiation” and the talks were “substantive and forward looking,” without elaborating.

Zarif, who is also Iran’s chief negotiator, said Tehran looked to a new era in diplomatic relations after a decade of tension, in which concerns about the Islamic state’s nuclear ambitions fueled fears of a new war in the Middle East.

“We sense that members of the [six powers] also have exhibited the necessary political will in order to move the process forward. Now we need to get to the details,” he told reporters after being brought into the auditorium in a wheelchair due to severe back pain.

After Tuesday’s initial round, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi suggested Tehran was prepared to address long-standing calls for the U.N. nuclear watchdog to have wider and more intrusive inspection powers.

Araqchi met the head of the U.S. delegation, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, on Tuesday, the third bilateral contact between the two nations since Rouhani’s election in June.

They followed a telephone call between Rouhani and President Barack Obama last month, the highest level U.S.-Iranian contact since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979. Washington cut off diplomatic ties with Tehran in 1980.

The sequencing of any concessions by Iran and any sanctions relief by the West could prove a stumbling block en route to a landmark, verifiable deal. Western officials have repeatedly said that Iran must suspend enriching uranium to 20 percent fissile purity, their main worry, before sanctions are eased.

Rouhani’s election opened the door to serious negotiations with the six powers, Western envoys say.

Britain said it hoped this week’s talks would lead to “concrete” results but that Iran must take the initiative. “Iran will need to take the necessary first steps on its program and we are ready to take proportionate steps in return,” Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

Russia warned against undue optimism. “The result is better than in Almaty [talks held in April] but does not guarantee further progress,” Sergey Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister and Iran negotiator, told Interfax. “There could have been better cooperation.”

COMPLETE HALT TO ENRICHMENT OUT OF QUESTION

Western diplomats were hesitant to divulge specifics about the negotiations due to sensitivities involved — both in Tehran, where conservative hardliners are skeptical about striking deals that could curtail the nuclear program, and in Washington, where hawks are reluctant to support swift sanctions relief.

But Iran, diplomats said, has made much more concrete proposals than in the past, when ideological lectures and obfuscations were the norm, to the point that Iranian negotiators were worried about details being aired in public before they had a chance to sell them back in Tehran.

Diplomats said other proposals Iranian envoys had made regarding eventual “confidence-building” steps included halting 20 percent enrichment and possibly converting at least some of existing 20 percent stockpiles — material that alarms the powers as it is only a short technical step away from weapons-grade — to uranium oxide suitable for processing into reactor fuel.

Iran has made clear for years that it does not intend to renounce uranium enrichment, despite U.N. Security Council demands that it do so.

Diplomats say the United States and its European allies have resigned themselves to the fact that Tehran will have to be allowed to maintain some enrichment capabilities, though the scale of its enrichment work will likely be the subject of heated negotiations in the coming months.

Western diplomats say that conceding to demands for zero Iranian enrichment from U.S. and Israeli hawks would undermine Rouhani’s authority at home by exposing him to accusations of a sell-out from conservative hardliners in the clerical and security elite.

Most Iranians of whatever political persuasion equate the quest for nuclear energy with national sovereignty, modernization and a standing equal to the Western world.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: NEWSmax.com

Iran Makes Proposal It Says Aimed at Nuke Standoff Breakthrough.


GENEVA — Iran said it presented “logical” proposals in talks with six world powers on Tuesday aimed at achieving a breakthrough in a decade-old standoff over its disputed nuclear program that has heightened the risk of a new Middle East war.

Tehran launched negotiations in earnest with the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, and Germany, reflecting the election in June of a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, as new Iranian president, raising hopes for an end to the deadlock.

After years of ideological defiance, Iran appeared keen for a negotiated settlement to win relief from sanctions that have crippled its economy, slashed 60 percent of its daily oil export revenue and caused a steep devaluation of the rial currency.

Details of the Iranian proposal — unveiled as a PowerPoint presentation — were not immediately available. Western diplomats have cautioned in the past that Tehran appeared loath to offer sufficient nuclear concessions to secure a deal.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said, however, that the global powers had a “welcomed” Tehran’s proposals and the substantive details would be discussed later in the day at the deputy foreign minister level.

“We think that the proposal we have made has the capacity to make a breakthrough. We had a very serious and good meeting this morning,” he told reporters.

“The questions that were asked regarding Iran’s plan were completely serious and our answers were as well. Both sides felt that the opposite side was continuing the negotiations with motivation,” Araqchi said.

He added: “We are very serious. . . . We are not here to waste time. We are serious for a real target-oriented negotiation.”

The West suspects Iran is trying to develop the means to make nuclear arms behind the screen of a declared civilian atomic energy program. Tehran denies this but its refusal to limit activity applicable to nuclear bomb production, or to permit unfettered U.N. inspections, has drawn severe sanctions.

In a possible sign of the Islamic Republic’s determination to meaningfully address specifics of the powers’ concerns after years of sidestepping them, the talks in Geneva were conducted in English for the first time.

A spokesman for the European Union (EU) foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who oversees diplomacy with Iran on behalf of the six nations, said there was a sense of “cautious optimism” ahead of the meeting and that Ashton and Zarif dined together on Monday evening in a “very positive atmosphere”.

On a personal level, the talks were complicated for Iran’s chief negotiator, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, by persistent back pain, which landed him in hospital last week. Returning to his hotel from preliminary discussions, Zarif declined to speak to reporters, saying: “I’m really in pain.”

On the eve of the talks, Washington held out the prospect of quick sanctions relief if Tehran moved swiftly to allay concerns about its nuclear program, although both countries said any deal would be complex and take time.

NEW MOMENTUM

“We definitely hope that the new momentum will translate into some concrete step forward,” a senior Western diplomat said ahead of the talks. But Iranian atomic energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi suggested this week’s talks may not get that specific.

Asked whether Iran’s Fordow underground uranium enrichment site, which the big powers want shut, would be discussed, Salehi told Iran’s Fars News Agency: “We do not expect to get into contents in today’s meeting because the discussion will be on the generalities and I believe that the principles, timing and initiating the process will be considered.”

A U.S. administration official said any potential sanctions relief would be “targeted, proportional to what Iran puts on the table. No one should expect a breakthrough overnight”.

In a hint that Western powers were seriously considering relaxing sanctions in response to any Iranian concessions, leading U.S. and EU sanctions experts came to Geneva to offer help in weighing any potential changes. Diplomats said scenarios for potential relief had been drawn up ahead of the talks.

Israel, Iran’s arch-adversary and widely assumed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, has warned the West not to scale back sanctions before Tehran has addressed concerns about its nuclear aspirations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security Cabinet Tuesday urged the powers to demand a complete dismantling of Iran’s enrichment program — something some Western diplomats say may no longer realistic given its size and identification by the Iranian leadership with national pride and sovereignty.

But the Cabinet, whose deliberations are usually secret, did not repeat past veiled threats to attack Iran as a last resort to stop it developing a nuclear warhead.

Since 2006, Iran has rejected U.N. Security Council demands that it halt uranium enrichment and has continued to expand its nuclear fuel program, triggering increasingly harsh sanctions.

Hopes of a negotiated settlement of the dispute were raised last month when President Barack Obama and Rouhani spoke by telephone, the loftiest U.S.-Iranian contact since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979. Washington and Tehran have had no diplomatic relations since 1980.

In the past, the six powers have demanded, among other things, that Iran halt uranium enrichment, particularly to 20 percent fissile purity, move stockpiles of enriched uranium abroad and close down the Fordow plant, which is buried inside a mountain south of Tehran to help withstand any air attack.

Iran has rejected the demand that it give up any refined uranium but signaled flexibility on other items.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.
Source: NEWSmax.com

US Hints Ready to Ease Iran Sanctions If Tehran Acts.


The United States held out the prospect of quick sanctions relief for Iran on Monday if Tehran moves swiftly to allay concerns about its nuclear programme, although both countries said any deal would be complex and take time.

Six world powers – the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – are to hold talks with Iran on its nuclear programme in Geneva on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“No one should expect a breakthrough overnight,” a senior U.S. administration official told reporters.

However, the official said Washington was ready to offer Iran rapid relief from economic sanctions it moved quickly to address concerns that the ultimate goal of its nuclear work was to make bombs.

Any potential sanctions relief would be “targeted, proportional to what Iran puts on the table”, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“I’m sure they will disagree about what is proportionate,” the official said. “But we are quite clear about what the menu of options are and what will match what.”

On the eve of the talks, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the so-called “P5+1” nations in negotiations, had dinner with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who said Tehran would put its case on Tuesday.

“We had a good dinner,” Zarif told Reuters as he returned to his hotel after the two-hour dinner at the Iranian diplomatic residence in Geneva.

When asked if he had given Ashton details of an Iranian proposal, he responded: “Proposal is for tomorrow.” One diplomat said Zarif did not disclose Iran’s proposal at the dinner.

In a hint that Washington is seriously considering easing sanctions, the U.S. delegation at the talks includes one of its leading sanctions experts – Adam Szubin, director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, effectively the State Department’s third-ranking diplomat, leads the U.S. delegation.

The European Union’s top sanctions official has also joined the bloc’s delegation at the talks.

Iran says its nuclear programme is peaceful and intended for energy production.

Since 2006, it has rejected U.N. Security Council demands that it halt uranium enrichment and has continued to expand its nuclear fuel programme, leading to increasingly harsh sanctions.

This week’s meeting follows the June election of President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who says he wants to thaw Iran’s icy relations with the West to secure the removal of punitive sanctions that have hobbled its oil-based economy.

Foreign ministers from the P5+1 – including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry – met with Zarif on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly last month when they announced the plan for this week’s meeting.

A day after Kerry met Zarif in New York, President Barack Obama and Rouhani spoke by telephone, the highest level U.S.-Iranian contact since Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979. Washington and Tehran have not had diplomatic relations since 1980.

 

CHANGE IN TONE

Rouhani said in New York last month he wanted a deal with the P5+1 within three to six months. Zarif played down expectations that an agreement would be reached this week.

“Tomorrow is the start of a difficult and relatively time-consuming way forward,” he said on his Facebook page late on Sunday. “I am hopeful that by Wednesday we can reach agreement on a road map to find a path towards resolution.

“But even with the goodwill of the other side, to reach agreement on details and start implementation will likely require another meeting at ministerial level,” he said.

The U.S. official said the Obama administration was encouraged that Rouhani, who avoids the strident anti-Western and anti-Israeli rhetoric of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had a mandate to “pursue a more moderate course”.

But Tehran must be put to the test, the official said.

“That is what we will be doing over the coming days,” the official said, adding that “no one is naive about the challenges we face about pursuing the diplomatic path.”

“We need to see concrete verifiable actions,” the official said. “We go into these meetings clear-eyed that we have very, very, very difficult work to do.

“We are going to make judgements based on actions of the Iranian government, not simply its words, although we appreciate the change in its tone,” the official said.

Backing up those words, 10 Democratic and Republican U.S. senators said on Monday they were open to suspending the implementation of new U.S. sanctions, but only if Tehran took significant steps to slow its nuclear programme.

The U.S. official said Washington had three priorities regarding Iranian assurances: Tehran must take steps on the production of nuclear and related material, ensure transparency of the nuclear programme and take steps regarding its stockpile of nuclear material.

In the past, the six powers have demanded, among other things, that Iran halt uranium enrichment, particularly to 20-percent fissile purity, move stockpiles of enriched uranium out of the country and close down the Fordow enrichment plant, buried inside a mountain south of Tehran.

On Sunday, Iran rejected the demand that it send enriched uranium abroad but signalled flexibility on other issues.

Israel, widely assumed to be the Middle East’s only state with atomic weapons, has warned the West not to ease sanctions before Tehran has addressed fears about its nuclear ambitions.

An Israeli official said on Saturday that Netanyahu had phoned British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande to tell them sanctions were close to achieving their goal.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.
Source: NEWSmax.com

Kerry: Iran Sanctions Could Be Lifted Within Months.


Image: Kerry: Iran Sanctions Could Be Lifted Within Months

 

By Newsmax Wires

 

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that if Iran takes rapid measures to cooperate with international monitoring of its nuclear program, Washington could begin lifting sanctions within months.Speaking to CBS News flagship 60 Minutes he said Iran should, for example, open up its Fordow underground nuclear facility to international inspection and undertake the task of scaling down the level to which it enriches uranium.

“The United States is not going to lift the sanctions until it is clear that a very verifiable, accountable, transparent process is in place, whereby we know exactly what Iran is going be doing with its program,” he said.

But, asked by his interviewer whether Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had been right to predict that a deal could be in place within three to six months, Kerry replied: “Sure, it’s possible.”

“It’s possible to have a deal sooner than that depending on how forthcoming and clear Iran is prepared to be,” he said, according to a transcript provided by CBS.

Kerry’s comments were broadcast after a day in which he had held a rare — almost unprecedented — encounter with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, and both took part in a meeting of the P5+1 Iran contact group.

Zarif and Rouhani were in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly and repeated their insistence that Iran has no intention of developing nuclear weapons.

The P5+1 talks are set to continue on October 15 and 16 in Geneva, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters after Thursday’s talks.

Diplomats from the major countries described the atmosphere at Thursday’s encounter in positive terms, but they, as well as the U.S. and Iranian foreign ministers, stressed the difficulty of resolving a dispute that has eluded solution for a decade.”We had a very constructive meeting,” Kerry told reporters after the talks at the United Nations, where he and Zarif had sat next to one another in a gesture that suggested a desire by both sides to explore how to ease their more than three-decade estrangement.

But Kerry added, “Needless to say, one meeting and a change in tone, which was welcome, doesn’t answer those questions yet and there is a lot of work to be done.”

The United States wants Iran to address questions about its nuclear program, which Washington and its allies suspect is a cover for developing nuclear weapons. Iran denies that, saying its program is for solely peaceful, civilian uses.

Zarif, a U.S.-educated diplomat, also sounded a cautionary note and insisted on quick relief from the painful U.S., European Union and U.N. sanctions imposed for Iran’s refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment program.

“I am satisfied with this first step. Now we have to see whether we can match our positive words with serious deeds so we can move forward,” he told reporters.

“Of course as we move forward, there has to be removal of sanctions and in the end game, there has to be a total lifting of all sanctions and both bilateral sanctions, unilateral sanctions, as well as multilateral sanctions and U.N. sanctions, and we hope to be able to move in that direction within a short span of time.”

Kerry said Zarif had put some “possibilities” on the table, but stressed there was more work to be done.

It was a very uncommon encounter between top officials of the United States and Iran, which have been estranged since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution toppled the U.S.-backed Shah.

A State Department official said it was the highest-level “official” meeting between U.S. and Iranian officials since before the Iranian revolution, although there had been “informal” interactions at the same level in the past 10 to 12 years.”

Both Kerry and counterparts from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany described their meeting with Zarif on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly as “a change in tone” from encounters with Iran’s previous, hardline government.

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, who chaired the meeting, told reporters it had been “a substantial meeting. Good atmosphere. Energetic.”

She said the two sides had agreed on an “ambitious timetable” to address Western concerns and would meet again in Geneva on Oct. 15 and 16 “to pursue the agenda to carry on from today’s meeting and to hopefully move this process forward.”

Ashton also added a note of caution, saying it was important to focus on “effective work that we do on the ground.”

HANDSHAKE OR NO HANDSHAKE

Kerry was seen smiling at Zarif at the start of the meeting and Ashton hinted that he and Zarif shook hands, noting the two had sat side by side.

Secretary Kerry … is a man of great politeness, so it would be surprising if they didn’t do that,” she said.

“We all shook hands and we all smiled,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said after the meeting on Iran.

The New York talks involved the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – Britain, France, Russia, China, the United States – and Germany, known as the P5+1.

Beforehand, Kerry said he looked forward to the first meeting involving the newly elected Iranian government of centrist President Hassan Rouhani, but would not specify what Iran should do to show it was serious about addressing concerns about its nuclear program.

A moderate cleric, Rouhani has stepped up efforts to improve Iran’s image abroad during his visit to New York this week. He has said that Iran would never develop nuclear weapons and called for a nuclear deal in three to six months.

U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday cautiously embraced Rouhani’s gestures as the basis for a possible nuclear deal and challenged him to demonstrate his sincerity.

But the failure to orchestrate a handshake between the two leaders, apparently because of Rouhani’s concerns about a backlash from hardliners at home and perhaps Obama’s concerns about the possibility of a failed overture, underscored how hard it will be to make diplomatic progress.

Even without making any real concessions so far, Rouhani has offered a softer, more reasonable tone than his stridently anti-U.S. predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The sanctions imposed on Iran have begun to bite severely.

Iranian oil exports have fallen by about 60 percent in the past two years as the EU stopped purchases and most Asian buyers drastically cut imports because of the sanctions. Iran is now earning only around $100 million from oil sales a day as opposed to $250 million two years ago.

The six powers said in February they wanted Iran to stop enrichment of high-grade uranium, ship out some stockpiles and shutter a facility where such enrichment work is done. In return, they offered relief on international sanctions on Iran‘s petrochemicals and trade in gold and other precious metals.

U.S. officials say that offer remains on the table.

But signaling some of the obstacles that could hamper any new diplomacy, Iran on Thursday sharply criticized the U.N. nuclear watchdog over “baseless allegations” about its atomic activity.

It was an apparent reference to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s concerns, spelled out in a series of quarterly reports, about what it calls the possible military dimensions to Iranian nuclear activities.

Information from Reuters and AFP was used in this report.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

US Official Visits Senior Egypt Islamist in Jail.


CAIRO — A top U.S. diplomat met early on Monday a jailed senior leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, part of mediation efforts to end the standoff between Egypt’s military-backed government and protesters supporting the ousted president, government officials said.

They said Deputy Secretary of State William Burns met in prison with Khairat el-Shater, the powerful deputy head of the Brotherhood, the Islamist group from which deposed President Mohammed Morsi hails. Burns was accompanied by the foreign ministers of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates as well as an EU envoy.

El-Shater is charged with complicity in the killing of anti-Morsi protesters.

Burns and the three other diplomats are in Egypt as part of international efforts to end a standoff between Mohammed Morsi’s supporters and the government installed by the military after it toppled the Islamist president in a July 3 coup.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. The U.S. Embassy could not immediately be reached for comment.

More than a month after Morsi’s ouster, thousands of the Islamist leader’s supporters remain camped out in two key squares in Cairo demanding his reinstatement. Egypt’s military-backed interim leadership has issued a string of warnings for them to disperse or security forces will move in, setting the stage for a potential showdown.

Already, some 250 people have been killed in violence since Morsi’s ouster, including at least 130 in two major clashes between security forces and Morsi supporters on July 8 and on July 26 and early July 27.

The government officials did not say why Burns and the other diplomats visited el-Shater, who was widely believed along with the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader Mohammed Badie to be the source of real power during Morsi’s one year in power.

Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, has been held at an undisclosed location since his ouster. He was last week visited by the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and a group of African elder statesmen. Ashton said he was well and had access to TV and newspapers.

Burns’ visit to el-Shater was authorized in advance by a prosecutor since he, Badie and four others are awaiting trial on charges related to the killing of eight protesters outside the Brotherhood’s Cairo headquarters hours after millions of Egyptians took to the streets on June 30 to demand Morsi’s ouster. The trial is set for Aug 25. Badie is in hiding.

In a brief statement, the Brotherhood said Morsi remained the legitimately elected president who should be spoken to and not anyone else. It did not however condemn the Burns visit.

The visit came after Egypt’s highest security body — the National Defense Council led by the interim president and includes top Cabinet ministers — announced that the timeframe for any negotiated resolution to the current standoff should be “defined and limited.”

It also called on the pro-Morsi protesters to abandon their sit-ins and join the political road map announced the day of the coup.

With the Islamist-backed constitution adopted last year suspended and the legislature dominated by Morsi’s supporters dissolved, the road map provides for a new or an amended constitution to be put to a national referendum later this year and presidential and parliamentary elections early in 2014.

Burns had extended his visit to Cairo by two days so he could have further talks with Egyptian leaders on Sunday and Monday. He met Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, who led the July 3 coup, and the prime minister on Sunday.

The State Department said Burns discussed the importance of avoiding violence and fostering an inclusive process “that helps Egypt’s ongoing transition succeed” — another clear sign Washington has moved on from Morsi’s presidency.

Burns also met for a second time this weekend with an anti-coup delegation that included two Muslim Brotherhood figures. He requested the meetings and urged them to avoid violence, according to Nevine Malak, who attended both meetings with Burns as part of the anti-coup delegation.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: NEWSmax.com

EU’s Ashton Meets With Ousted Egypt President Morsi.


Image: EU's Ashton Meets With Ousted Egypt President Morsi

DUBAI, United Arab EmiratesEuropean Union (EU) foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi late on Monday and held two hours of “in depth” discussions, Ashton’s spokeswoman said.
Spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said on her Twitter account that the meeting had taken place, but did not say where.
Morsi has been in detention since he was ousted after the military-backed interim government placed the deposed Islamist under investigation on charges that include murder.
Ashton is on her second visit to Cairo in 12 days as one of the few outsiders able to speak to both sides in Egypt’s political crisis. She is expected to speak to reporters later on Tuesday.
On Monday, Ashton met General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the army and the man behind Morsi’s overthrow. She also held talks with members of the interim government installed by the army, and representatives of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood’s political wing.
Before arriving, she said she would press for a “fully inclusive transition process, taking in all political groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood.”
The EU has attempted to mediate in the political crisis over the past six months as Egyptians have grown increasingly suspicious of U.S. involvement. President Barack Obama delayed delivery last week of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt, in a gesture of displeasure at the turn of events.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: NEWSmax.com

Kerry Suggests Egyptian Military May Have Averted Civil War.


Image: Kerry Suggests Egyptian Military May Have Averted Civil War

CAIRO — Egypt may have avoided a civil war this month, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday, saying this was one factor to weigh as Washington decides whether to cut off most U.S. aid to the Arab nation.The armed forces deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi on July 3 after huge street protests against his rule, clearing the way for this week’s installment of a new interim Cabinet charged with restoring civilian government and reviving the economy.

Thousands of Morsi’s supporters demonstrated outside the prime minister’s office and marched through Cairo on Wednesday to denounce the new military-backed administration and show that they had no intention of bowing to army dictates.

Under U.S. law, if the United States were to decide that Morsi was ousted in a military coup, or a coup in which the military played a decisive role, it would have to cut off most of the roughly $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt.

Kerry repeated the U.S. position that it has not yet made any decision, saying it would take its time, consult its lawyers and get all the facts.

“This is obviously an extremely complex and difficult situation,” Kerry told reporters in Amman, Jordan, adding that he would not “rush to judgment.”

“I will say this: That what complicates it, obviously, is that you had an extraordinary situation in Egypt of life and death, of the potential of civil war and enormous violence, and you now have a constitutional process proceeding forward very rapidly,” he added. “So we have to measure all of those facts against the law, and that’s exactly what we will do.”

The crisis in Egypt, which straddles the vital Suez Canal, has alarmed allies in the West. Washington would be forced to cut off aid to Cairo, including some $1.3 billion that goes to the military, if it determined Morsi had been removed by a coup.

His comments underscored grave U.S. concerns about the Arab world’s most populous state and suggested that President Barack Obama was in no hurry to pull the plug on the aid program.

European Union (EU) foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton became the latest senior international figure to visit Egypt’s interim rulers and, unlike a U.S. envoy who came two days ago, she also met senior figures in Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.

However, Brotherhood leader Amr Darrag said the Europeans had not put forward any plan to resolve the crisis. On her last visit, in April, Ashton attempted to persuade Morsi to sign up to a power-sharing deal brokered by an EU envoy. The president did not respond.

Thousands of Brotherhood supporters are staging a vigil in a square in northeast Cairo, vowing not to move until the restoration of Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president. He has been held at an undisclosed location since his downfall.

A prosecutor on Wednesday ordered the detention of 70 Morsi backers for 15 days pending investigations over clashes that killed seven people early Tuesday, state news agency MENA said.

They are accused, among other crimes, of rioting, blocking a Cairo road bridge and targeting policemen with firearms.

“PEACEFUL MARTYRDOM”

Wednesday’s protests were mostly peaceful, although there were scuffles when a crowd marched through the city center and along the Nile riverbank, held back by riot police as they approached Tahrir Square, focus for anti-Morsi protests.

“We have only two goals, legitimacy or martyrdom,” said Ahmed Ouda, 27. Another man interrupted to add: “Peaceful martyrdom!”

An interim Cabinet of 33 ministers, mostly technocrats and liberals, was sworn in on Tuesday. Not one was drawn from the two main Islamist groups that together have won five elections since the 2011 uprising toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

In another worrying sign for the new government’s ability to build consensus, the slate was also denounced by the April 6 youth group, which led early street protests against Mubarak.

“The Cabinet included a number of ministers who failed before when they were holding former official posts along with another number of ministers who belong to the regime of ousted president Mubarak,” the April 6 group said in a statement.

Ashton met interim head of state Adly Mansour, Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi and other government figures, telling reporters afterwards it was up to Egypt to choose its own path but that it should seek to reconcile feuding factions.

“I underlined the importance of a very inclusive process because this country belongs to everyone and they must feel part of that process,” she said, calling for the release of Morsi.

The new Cabinet is charged with implementing an army-backed “road map” to restore civilian rule, which foresees parliamentary elections in as little as six months.

Its main task is salvaging an economy wrecked by two and a half years of turmoil. For that, it has been given a lifeline of $12 billion in aid from rich Gulf Arab states.

Many of the new Cabinet ministers are supporters of deep economic reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in return for a stalled rescue loan, but investors are skeptical those reforms will be implemented soon.

Finance Minister Ahmed Galal said on Wednesday that an IMF loan was only “part of the solution” to the country’s problems.

“We need time to read and study the issues and files on the ground to come up with sound and well thought-out decisions that will pave the way and build the future for governments to come,” he said in a statement.

KIDNAPPED?

Morsi has not been seen in public since the army moved in and his supporters say he has been “kidnapped” — a charge denied by military spokesman Ahmed Mohamed Ali, who told Al Arabiya that the army had acted “for his protection.”

Ali also accused the Brotherhood of “a campaign of incitement that attempts to depict political differences as religious differences.” He said: “There is incitement to target military installations and headquarters, and this is something totally unacceptable in Egypt or in any country.”

The running street battles in the early hours of Tuesday were the deadliest in a week. Before that, more than 90 people were killed in the first five days after Morsi’s removal, more than half of them shot dead by troops outside a Cairo barracks.

In the lawless Sinai peninsula bordering Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, a policeman was killed when gunmen opened fire on a police station in El-Arish city, security sources said.

Two security checkpoints in El-Arish airport were also attacked but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

At least 14 people, mainly security personnel, have been killed there since Islamist militants called for an uprising against Egypt’s military after Morsi’s exit.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: NEWSmax.com

Kerry Plays Down Spying Storm as New Details Emerge.


Nearly all national governments, not just the United States, use “lots of activities” to safeguard their interests and security, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday, responding for the first time to allegations that Washington spied on the European Union and other allies.

The EU has strongly demanded that the United States explain a report in a German magazine that Washington is spying on the group, saying that, if true, the alleged surveillance was “shocking”.

Latest: Is Snowden a Hero or Traitor – Vote in Urgent Poll 

The Guardian newspaper said in an article late on Sunday that the United States had also targeted non-European allies including Japan, South Korea and India for spying — an awkward development for Kerry as he arrived for an Asian security conference in Brunei on Monday.

Kerry confirmed that EU High Representative Catherine Ashton had raised the issue with him in a meeting with him in Brunei but gave no further details of their exchange. He said he had yet to see details of the newspaper allegations.

“I will say that every country in the world that is engaged in international affairs and national security undertakes lots of activities to protect its national security and all kinds of information contributes to that. All I know is that is not unusual for lots of nations,” Kerry told a news conference.

Some EU policymakers said talks for a free trade agreement between Washington and the EU should be put on ice until further clarification from the United States.

Martin Schulz, president of the EU Parliament, told French radio the United States had crossed a line.

“I was always sure that dictatorships, some authoritarian systems, tried to listen … but that measures like that are now practiced by an ally, by a friend, that is shocking, in the case that it is true,” Schulz said in an interview with France 2.

Officials in Japan and South Korea said they were aware of the newspaper reports and had asked Washington to clarify them.

“I’m aware of the article, but we still haven’t confirmed the contents of the story. Obviously we’re interested in this matter and we’ll seek an appropriate confirmation on this,” said Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at a regular news conference.

“We saw the report and will do a fact-check,” a South Korean government official said. The official declined to comment further, saying it was a media report without any clear evidence.

Officials in New Delhi did not have any immediate comment but India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, who is also in Brunei, told the ANI television service: : “These are all areas of great strategic importance that we have to cooperate and collaborate in, in counter-terrorism measures.

“I think we continue to remain in touch and cooperate and (if) there is any concern we would convey it or they would convey it to us,” he added.

Der Spiegel reported on Saturday that the National Security Agency (NSA) bugged EU offices and gained access to EU internal computer networks, the latest revelation of alleged U.S. spying that has prompted outrage from EU politicians.

The magazine followed up on Sunday with a report that the U.S. agency taps half a billion phone calls, emails and text messages in Germany in a typical month, much more than any other European peer and similar to the data tapped in China or Iraq.

“If the media reports are correct, this brings to memory actions among enemies during the Cold War. It goes beyond any imagination that our friends in the United States view the Europeans as enemies,” German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said.

“If it is true that EU representations in Brussels and Washington were indeed tapped by the American Secret Service, it can hardly be explained with the argument of fighting terrorism,” she said in a statement.

Revelations about the U.S. surveillance programme, which was made public by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, have raised a furore in the United States and abroad over the balance between privacy rights and national security.

Kerry said the Obama administration believes that China could have aided the United States in its efforts to arrest Snowden while he was in Hong Kong. Snowden is currently holed up at an international airport in Russia, from where he has applied for asylum in Ecuador.

“It is safe to say that the Obama administration believes that our friends in China could in fact have made a difference here, but we have a lot of issues that we are dealing with right now,” Kerry said.

Latest: Is Snowden a Hero or Traitor – Vote in Urgent Poll 

He said he and the Chinese foreign minister had discussed Snowden during their one-on-one meetings on the sidelines of the summit.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.
Source: NEWSmax.com

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