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Iran nuclear talks miss deadline, US threatens to walk away

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– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Iran nuclear talks miss deadline, US threatens to walk away
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Six world powers and Iran negotiated past a March 31 deadline into the wee hours of Wednesday, struggling to conclude an outline accord on Tehran’s nuclear program in the face of a U.S. threat to abandon the talks.

With Iran asserting its “nuclear rights”, the talks in the Swiss city of Lausanne entered a seventh day, bogged down this time on the issues of nuclear research, the lifting of U.N. sanctions and their restoration if Iran breached the agreement.

Officials cautioned that any accord would be fragile and incomplete, but the U.S. State Department gave the go-ahead for talks to go past a self-imposed midnight deadline.

“We’ve made enough progress in the last days to merit staying until Wednesday,” acting spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement. “There are several difficult issues still remaining.”

The six powers – the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – aim to stop Iran from gaining the capacity to develop a nuclear bomb in exchange for easing international sanctions that are crippling its economy.

The outline political accord is meant to lay the foundation for a final settlement of the long-running nuclear dispute by June 30 – another self-imposed deadline, but one that Western powers have said they do not want to extend.

A senior Iranian negotiator said Tehran was willing to negotiate until the deadlock was resolved.

“Iran does not want a nuclear deal just for the sake of having a deal, and a final deal should guarantee the Iranian nation’s nuclear rights,” the negotiator, Hamid Baidinejad, told reporters.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in Washington that U.S. negotiators would not wait until June 30 to walk away from the talks if they could not reach a preliminary political agreement.

“If we’re not able to reach a political agreement, then we’re not going to wait … until June 30 to walk away,” he said.

A German delegation source said “it remains an open question whether we will succeed”, adding that it was “too early to think about stopping the clock, (though that) may perhaps prove necessary”.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Lausanne that “we are moving forward, but it’s complicated.”

TWO SCENARIOS

Disagreements on enrichment research and the pace of lifting sanctions threatened to scupper a deal that could end the 12-year-old standoff and reduce the risk of another Middle East war. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.

For days officials have been trying to agree on a brief document of several pages outlining headline numbers to form the basis of a future agreement. Parts of any understanding reached by the parties will likely remain confidential, though they will likely issue a statement if a deal is reached.

It is possible they would not agree on anything. “We are preparing for both scenarios,” a Western diplomat said.

Speaking in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande said it would be better to have no deal than a bad deal.

An agreement would almost certainly lift sanctions only in stages, deferring even a partial return of Iranian crude exports until at least 2016.

Sanctions have halved Iran’s oil exports to just over 1 million barrels per day since 2012 when oil and financial sanctions hit Iran. Brent crude dropped toward $55 a barrel on Tuesday as negotiations proceeded.

STICKING POINTS

Officials from both sides said the main sticking points were the removal of the U.N. sanctions, their reversibility and Iranian demands for the right to unfettered research and development into advanced nuclear centrifuges after the first 10 years of the agreement expires.

Officials said Iran was still demanding the lifting of all U.N. sanctions and that they not be automatically reinstated without further negotiations. Officials have said Britain, France and the United States want any removal of U.N. sanctions to be automatically reversible, but the Russians dislike this because it would weaken their veto power over the deal.

The six powers want more than a 10-year suspension of Iran’s most sensitive nuclear work. Their goal is to find a way to ensure that for at least the next 10 years Iran is at least one year away from being able to produce enough fissile material for an atomic weapon.

Iran said the main issue was lifting sanctions quickly. “There will be no agreement if the sanctions issue cannot be resolved,” Majid Takhteravanchi, an Iranian negotiator, told Iran’s Pars news agency.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he believed there was a good chance of success “if none of the parties raise the stakes at the last minute”.

The U.S. Congress has warned it will consider imposing new sanctions on Iran if there is no agreement this week, giving a sense of urgency to the talks.

U.S. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto any sanctions moves by the Republican-dominated Congress.

In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s concern that an agreement would fall short of guaranteeing its safety.

The framework agreement would leave Iran with the capability to develop a nuclear weapon in under a year, said Netanyahu, whose country is believed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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United Kingdom approves new Covid-19 vaccine, first jabs start next week

Caitlin Ashworth

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United Kingdom approves new Covid-19 vaccine, first jabs start next week | The Thaiger

The United Kingdom approved the new Covid-19 vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech for emergency use and will start injections next week. The UK became the first country in the world to license the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which Pfizer says marks a historic moment in the fight against the coronavirus.

The UK purchased 40 million doses of the vaccine and 800,000 doses will be available next week, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock. He says the most vulnerable people will get the first jabs. 50 hospitals are ready to receive the vaccine, he says.

“From early next week we will start the programme of vaccinating people against Covid-19 here in this country… It’s very good news.”

The new Covid-19 vaccine was authorised for emergency use by the private Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla says the company applauds the agency for conducting a careful, yet timely, assessment of the vaccine.

“As we anticipate further authorizations and approvals, we are focused on moving with the same level of urgency to safely supply a high-quality vaccine around the world.”

The vaccine has been shown to have a 95% efficacy in its final trials. A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson says the approval of the vaccine follows months of rigorous clinical trials and experts have concluded that the vaccine meets strict safety, quality and effectiveness standards.

SOURCES: Reuters | Guardian

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Chinese probe collects rock samples from surface of the Moon

The Thaiger

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Chinese probe collects rock samples from surface of the Moon | The Thaiger

The Chinese, like the rest of us, are mostly prohibited from travelling at the moment, but it hasn’t stopped them travelling to the Moon. A Chinese space probe has landed on the surface of the Moon to bring back the first lunar samples in nearly 5 decades. Since the US dropped its Apollo missions to the Moon in 1972, the Earth’s only natural satellite has been a bit lonely.

The Chinese space program has poured billions into its space program, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022 and of eventually sending humans to the Moon to establish an ongoing lunar base. No Chinese have been participating in the International Space Station.

The Chang’e-5 spacecraft adds to a string of successes for Beijing’s increasingly ambitious space program. Chang’e is the name for the mythical Chinese moon goddess. The probe touched down on the near side of the Moon yesterday. It will spend a total of 48 hours on the surface of the moon before re-uniting with it’s mother-ship which will then bring the lunar probe back to Earth.

The unmanned Chang’e-5 probe will collect lunar rocks and soil to help scientists learn about the Moon’s origins, formation and volcanic activity, the first such collections since the 1970s when an unmanned Russian lunar probe conducted a similar mission. The probe is the latest venture by a Chinese space program that sent its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, has a spacecraft en route to Mars and aims eventually to land a human on the moon.

If Chang’e-5 returns to Earth successfully, China will be only the third country to have retrieved samples from the Moon, following the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.

The probe was launched from China’s southern tropical island of Hainan last week and entered lunar orbit aver the weekend after a 112 hour journey. The probe will collect 2 kilograms of material in a previously unexplored area known as “Ocean of Storms”, a vast lava plain of grey rocks and dust.

The probe will collect samples from the surface and drill a 2 metre deep hole to gather soil and rock samples from beneath the lunar surface as well.

Thomas Zurbuchen, a NASA official from the mission directorate, says the mission was no easy task.

“When the samples collected on the Moon are returned to Earth, we hope everyone will benefit from being able to study this precious cargo that could advance the international science community. Congratulations to China on the successful landing of Chang’e 5.”

The Chang’e 5 flight is China’s third successful lunar landing. Its predecessor, Chang’e 4, was the first probe to land on the Moon’s lesser-explored far side which is perpetually facing away from the Earth.

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No evidence of voter fraud that would change election outcome – US Attorney General

Caitlin Ashworth

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No evidence of voter fraud that would change election outcome – US Attorney General | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Wikimedia

After repeated claims on voter fraud from United States President Donald Trump, and refusal to concede his loss to president-elect Joe Biden, the US Justice Department says they have found no evidence of widespread voter fraud “that would change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election”, according to US Attorney General William Barr.

President Trump has repeatedly posted on Twitter with comments such as “fake election results”, “impossible result” and “rigged election.” His posts are often flagged on Twitter with a warning saying “This claim about election fraud is disputed”, linking to a page with information from various news outlets.

US attorneys and FBI agents have been working to follow up on complaints and information on voter fraud, but nothing they uncovered impact the outcome of the election, Barr told the Associated Press.

“To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome on the election.”

Before the election, Barr, who is considered to be one of Trump’s most loyal allies, said mail-in votes could be vulnerable to fraud this year since many Americans would rather vote from home rather than going to the polls due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With some states flipping from red to blue once all the mail-in ballots were counted, the Trump campaign has been alleging a widespread conspiracy by Democrats to count illegal ballots and rig the election. The Trump campaign has been calling out problems with signatures, secrecy envelopes and postal marks. But local courts have repeatedly thrown out the lawsuits saying the claims have not been backed up with any evidence.

AG Barr says government agencies have also looked into claims that machines were programmed to skew election results and says that, so far, there is no evidence to back the claim.

In response to Barr’s statements, Trump’s attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis wrote a statement saying the opinion doesn’t seem to be backed by their investigation into the matters.

“With all due respect to the Attorney General, there hasn’t been any semblance of a Department of Justice investigation … with the greatest respect to the Attorney General, his opinion appears to be without any knowledge or investigation of the substantial irregularities and evidence of systemic fraud.”

SOURCE: Aljazeera

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