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Phuket Gazette World News: Iran nuclear breakthrough; Children slain in Syria; AK47 runs riot at Yemeni Gangnam Style wedding; Philippine Maoists on hold for Haiyan

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Phuket Gazette World News: Iran nuclear breakthrough; Children slain in Syria; AK47 runs riot at Yemeni Gangnam Style wedding; Philippine Maoists on hold for Haiyan | The Thaiger
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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– World news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Breakthrough deal curbs Iran’s nuclear activity
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Iran and six world powers clinched a deal on Sunday to curb the Iranian nuclear programme in exchange for initial sanctions relief, signalling the start of a game-changing rapprochement that would reduce the risk of a wider Middle East war.

Aimed at easing a long festering standoff, the interim pact between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia won the critical endorsement of Iranian clerical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But Israel, Iran’s arch-enemy and a U.S. ally, denounced the agreement as a “historic mistake”. Critics in the U.S. Congress were also quick to voice concern, with some raising the spectre of failure to rein in North Korea on its nuclear programmes, but they signalled that Congress would likely give the deal a chance to work.

The agreement was announced in the middle of the night in Geneva after long and tortuous negotiations. U.S. President Barack Obama, who sought to improve ties with Iran even before his first election to the White House in 2008, said it cut off Tehran’s possible routes to a nuclear bomb.

Obama sought to reassure Israel on this point, telling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call on Sunday that the United States would remain firm in its commitment to Israel, the White House said. Obama said he wanted to begin consultations with Israel immediately on reaching a comprehensive solution to Iran’s nuclear problem.

The agreement, which halts Iran’s most sensitive nuclear activity, its higher-grade enrichment of uranium, was tailored as a package of confidence-building steps towards reducing decades of tension and ultimately creating a more stable, secure Middle East.

Indeed, the United States held previously undisclosed, separate direct talks with Iran in recent months to encourage diplomacy towards a nuclear deal, a senior U.S. official said.

Washington broke off diplomatic relations with Tehran soon after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and relations have been fraught since then, dominated in recent years by U.S. concern over Iran’s nuclear programme.

Any new U.S.-Iranian detente will be opposed by Washington’s Israeli and conservative Gulf Arab allies as it could tilt the regional balance of power towards Tehran.

Iranian Foreign Minister and chief negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif flew home from Geneva to a crowd welcoming him as a hero with flowers and flags, a reflection of the relief felt by many Iranians exhausted by sanctions and isolation.

Zarif said in an interview broadcast on state television that Iran would move quickly to start implementing the agreement and it was ready to begin talks on a final accord.

“In the coming weeks – by the end of the Christian year – we will begin the programme for the first phase. At the same time, we are prepared to begin negotiations for a final resolution as of tomorrow,” Zarif said.

Earlier he said the accord was “only a first step,” adding: “We need to start moving in the direction of restoring confidence, a direction which we have managed to move against in the past.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking as he began a meeting with British Foreign Minister William Hague in London, also said Sunday’s deal was only a start.

“Now the really hard part begins and that is the effort to get the comprehensive agreement, which will require enormous steps in terms of verification, transparency and accountability,” Kerry said, according to a U.S. reporter who attended the session.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who has been coordinating diplomatic contacts with Iran on behalf of the major powers, said the accord created time and space for follow-up talks on a comprehensive solution.

But Israel’s Netanyahu, a steady critic of the talks, condemned the agreement as it left intact Iran’s nuclear fuel-producing infrastructure. “What was achieved last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, it was a historic mistake,” he said.

“Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world took a significant step towards obtaining the world’s most dangerous weapon,” he said in remarks to his cabinet.

He reiterated a long-standing Israeli threat of possible military action against Iran – even as a member of his security cabinet conceded that the interim accord limited this option.

Obama made plain in a late-night appearance at the White House after the deal was sealed that if Iran did not meet its commitments during the six-month period covered by the interim deal, Washington would turn off the tap of sanctions relief and “ratchet up the pressure”.

“There are substantial limitations which will help prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon,” he said. “Simply put, they cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb.”

Giving Obama room

Some analysts pointed out the risk of hardliners acting to scuttle the breakthrough – whether Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards who see any opening to the West as dangerous, or critics in the U.S. Congress.

But although Republican and Democratic U.S. senators voiced scepticism about the deal, Congress looked likely to give Obama room to see if it works.

The deal does not need to be ratified by Congress and Obama is using his executive power to temporarily suspend some existing U.S. sanctions on Iran. Senators have been discussing for months imposing even tighter sanctions, which could anger Tehran and put Sunday’s deal reached in Geneva in jeopardy.

But influential Democrats – who control the Senate – made clear that any new sanctions against Iran would include a six-month window before they took effect.

Democrat Robert Menendez, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is known as a hawk on Iran, said forthcoming legislation would “provide for a six-month window to reach a final agreement before imposing new sanctions on Iran.”

Bob Corker, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told “Fox News Sunday,” he would hold the Obama administration’s “feet to the fire” to ensure that Tehran is not given excessive leeway, and recalled past failed efforts to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program.

Corker said the pact allowing Iran to continue to enrich uranium must not “become the norm” for a longer-term agreement. “I think you are going to see on Capitol Hill, again, a bipartisan effort to try to make sure that this is not a final agreement,” he said.

The West has long suspected that Iran has been seeking covertly to develop a nuclear weapons capability. The Islamic Republic, a major oil producer, denies that, saying its nuclear programme is a peaceful quest for an alternative source of electricity to serve a rapidly expanding population.

Limits on enrichment

The United States said the deal halts advances in Iran’s nuclear programme, including construction of the Arak heavy-water reactor that deeply worries the West as it could yield plutonium, another atomic bomb ingredient, once operational.

The accord would neutralise Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to a fissile purity of 20 percent, a higher-level stage nearing the threshold needed for a bomb, and mandates more frequent U.N. nuclear inspections, U.S. officials said.

A U.S. fact sheet said Iran had also committed to suspending enrichment above a concentration of 5 percent – the level

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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World

International travel slow to take off, Covid-19 restrictions evolving

Caitlin Ashworth

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International travel slow to take off, Covid-19 restrictions evolving | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Jetstar

While Thailand is working on safely, and slowly, reopening its borders to foreign tourists after a 7 month border closure, other countries are also adapting to new, pandemic-induced, travel measures and restrictions. Now some are slowly lifting restrictions and resuming flights, while some remain grounded. What’s happening in your part of the world?

In all cases, check your local travel restrictions and quarantine requirements, if any. And if you leave a country, what paperwork or restrictions will await you when you return? Don’t book any flights until you’ve done your homework.

Australia

Qantas Airlines flights from Australia to the US will continue to be grounded until at least January 31, 2021 which includes the destinations New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu. The airline will also continue to ground flights to Japan, including Tokyo, Osaka and Sapporo.

Singapore

Jetstar Asia, based in Singapore, will resume flights to major destinations in Southeast Asia with flights to Bangkok starting next month. Since flights are always changing due to uncertainties and travel restrictions, flights to select Southeast Asia cities are only being offered from October 25 to November 15. JetStar will then review flights again. Destinations include Clark in the Philippines, Jakarta in Indonesia as well as Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong and Singapore have agreed on a travel bubble schemed that will allow Hong Kong nationals and Singapore nationals to travel between the 2 countries without going through Covid-19 tests or quarantine periods. But the countries have not announced when the scheme will begin.

Maldives

All incoming tourists and short-term visitors must have a certificate declaring negative Covid-19 test result issued 96 hours before arrival, extending the window from the previous 72 hours.

SOURCE: TTR Weekly

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Covid19 – US infections “balloon”, world case total surpasses 40 million

The Thaiger

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Covid19 – US infections “balloon”, world case total surpasses 40 million | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Ipsos

“We were really hoping to crater the cases in preparation for a bad winter. We’ve done basically the opposite.”

New Covid-19 cases are again surging in many countries. Globally, the number of infected people exceeded 40 million as of last night with new infections starting to accelerate again. Today the total number of confirmed cases around the world is 40,323,461. The number of total deaths remains at 1,118,826 and recovered patients at 30,135,040 (as of 4pm Thai time).

Covid19 - US infections

Notably, the death rate from Covid-19 is not rising as treatment for complicated cases continues to rapidly improve. The US, India, Russia, Brazil, the rest of South America, and parts of Europe and the UK, are the current ‘hot spots’ (below).

Regionally, the surge of cases in Myanmar is causing headaches for Thai border officials in the north west of the country. The Governor of Tak decided to close the border checkpoints this morning. But the 2,000 kilometre long land border between Thailand and Myanmar has many unofficial “Natural” crossing points.

In the US, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says following public health measures is the way out of the crisis that has hobbled the economy, claimed thousands of lives and sickened millions.

“The predicted fall surge is here, and rising cases across the US appear to bear that out.”

The US is averaging more than 55,000 new cases a day, and 10 states reported their highest single-day cases counts last Friday. As of this morning, US time, there were more than 8.5 million cases and 219,674 coronavirus deaths, according to Worldometers.info

“The Covid-19 crisis would have to be ‘really, really bad’ to implement a national lockdown. Despite the climbing totals, a nationwide lockdown is not the way forward unless the pandemic gets “really, really bad.”

Tara Smith, a professor of epidemiology at Kent State University says the worst fears of rising cases, leading into winter, are being realised.

“We were really hoping to crater the cases in preparation for a bad winter. We’ve done basically the opposite.”

After hitting an all-time high in July, cases did drop significantly, but the US never reached a level where the public health system could truly get a handle on the outbreak or describe it as ‘contained’.

Now infections are on the rise again, driven by ballooning outbreaks across the country’s interior, especially in the Midwest, the Great Plains and the West.

Contributing to the rise is the return of students to schools and campuses across the country, puzzling resistance to social distancing and mask wearing recommendations, and more people spending time in restaurants and other indoor settings as the weather starts to cool down.

SOURCE: worldometers.info | nor.org

Covid19 - US infections

TABLE: worldometers.com

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

2 Covid vaccine trials halted in phase 3 over safety concerns

Maya Taylor

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2 Covid vaccine trials halted in phase 3 over safety concerns | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Medical Xpress

After Johnson & Johnson paused phase 3 of its Covid vaccine trials due to safety concerns, a second pharmaceutical company has followed suit. Eli Lilly has halted phase 3 trials of a lab-produced antibody treatment, 24 hours after the Johnson & Johnson decision. The Bangkok Post reports that an unspecified incident led Eli Lilly to call a temporary halt to the trials. The day before, Johnson & Johnson paused its phase 3 trials after a participant fell ill. A spokesperson for J&J says the hiatus is temporary.

The 2 delays follow a similar incident with phase 3 trials of a vaccine being jointly worked on by Oxford University and Astra Zeneca, which was briefly delayed last month due to an unexplained illness in one participant. Trials of that vaccine have now resumed globally, with the exception of the US, for reasons unknown. Such snags are par for the course in the final phase testing of vaccine development, particularly as the number of participants is increased significantly to see if very rare side-effects are presented.

A spokesperson for Eli Lilly says the company backs the Data Safety and Monitoring Board in calling a temporary halt to phase 3 trials.

“Lilly is supportive of the decision by the independent DSMB to cautiously ensure the safety of the patients participating in this study.”

Eli Lilly’s trial began in August, aimed at recruiting 10,000 participants, across 50 sites, including the US, Denmark and Singapore, using a lab-produced antibody treatment, similar to that developed by Regeneron and used to treat US President Donald Trump recently. Eli Lilly has not given any further information about the safety concern which has paused phase 3.

Meanwhile, a J&J spokesman says such breaks are to be expected in large-scale trials and that reported illnesses or side-effects may be unrelated to the vaccine.

“It’s not at all unusual for unexpected illnesses in large studies over their duration. In some cases, serious adverse events may have something or nothing to do with the drug or vaccine being investigated.”

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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