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Iranian, Chinese and Russian Teams Meet Ahead of Crunch Nuclear Talks

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Iran’s negotiating team, led by Ali Bagheri Kani, held bilateral and trilateral meetings in Vienna on Sunday, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported, ahead of Monday’s resumption of nuclear talks to salvage the 2015 agreement between Iran and major world powers.

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“The Iranian team arrived on Saturday in Vienna and started meetings, which continued on Sunday at an expert level with the heads of the Russian and Chinese negotiating teams, as well as the EU Coordinator Enrique Mora,” Iranian diplomat Mohammad Reza Ghaebi told ISNA.

The meetings at the IAEA‘s Vienna headquarters came ahead of a resumption of talks to salvage the landmark 2015 nuclear deal after former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement, dismaying the other world powers involved – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

With the withdrawal, the US also reimposed sanctions on Iran that were lifted under the accord’s terms.

In response, the Islamic Republic has flouted many of the restrictions set on its nuclear programme.

The indirect negotiations in Vienna resume Monday after a five-month suspension imposed by Iran.

The new round begins after a hiatus triggered by the election of a new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric.

But expectations of a breakthrough are low as Tehran’s atomic activities rumble on in an apparent bid to gain leverage against the West.

Tehran’s new negotiating team has set out demands that US and European diplomats consider unrealistic. They are insisting that all US and EU sanctions imposed since 2017, including those unrelated to its nuclear programme, be lifted.

In parallel, Tehran’s conflicts with the UN atomic watchdog, which monitors the nuclear programme, have festered.

Iran has pressed ahead with its enrichment programme and the IAEA says its inspectors have been treated roughly and refused access to re-install monitoring cameras at a site it deems essential to reviving the deal with world powers.

“They are doing enough technically so they can change their basic relationship with the West to be able to have a more equal dialogue in the future,” said a Western diplomat involved in the talks.

Western diplomats say they will head to Monday’s talks on the premise that they resume where they left off in June. They have warned that if Iran continues with its maximalist positions and fails to restore its cooperation with the IAEA then they will have to quickly review their options.

Iran’s top negotiator and foreign minister both repeated on Friday that full sanctions lifting would be the only thing on the table in Vienna.

“If this is the position that Iran continues to hold on Monday, then I don’t see a negotiated solution,’ said a European diplomat.

Several diplomats said Iran was now between four to six weeks away from the “breakout time” it needs to amass enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon, although they cautioned it was still about two years from being able to weaponise it.

Should the talks collapse, the likelihood is the US and its allies will initially confront Iran at the IAEA next month by calling for an emergency meeting.

Western powers will also want to try to keep Russia, which has political influence on Iran, and China, which provides economic breathing space to Tehran through oil purchases, on board as they initially seek alternative diplomatic options.

One scenario diplomats say Washington has suggested is negotiating an open-ended interim accord with Tehran as long as a permanent deal is not achieved. However, they say that it would take time and there is no certainty Iran has any appetite for it.

“Iran may calculate that its unconstrained nuclear advances and unmonitored centrifuge production will put more pressure on the West to give ground in talks quickly,” Eurasia analyst Henry Rome said in a note.

“But it will likely have the opposite effect, signalling that the new Iranian team does not have an interest in resolving the nuclear issue and hastening the switch toward a more coercive policy next year.”

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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Original Source: france24.com

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World at ‘inflection Point’ Warns Biden, Raising Alarm at Democracy Summit

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Democracy faces “sustained and alarming challenges” worldwide, US President Joe Biden said Thursday at the opening of a virtual summit on democracy with representatives from some 100 countries.

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Biden said trends were “largely pointing in the wrong direction” and that democracy needed “champions.”

“We stand at an inflection point,” he said. “Will we allow the backward slide of rights and democracy to continue unchecked?”

The two-day event, held by video link due to the coronavirus pandemic, was billed by the White House as US leadership in an existential struggle between democracies and powerful autocracies or dictatorships.

“Make no mistake, we’re at a moment of democratic reckoning,” said Uzra Zeya, the US under secretary of state for civilian security, democracy, and human rights. “Countries in virtually every region of the world have experienced degrees of democratic backsliding.”

The summit featured opening remarks from Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, with representatives from some 100 governments, as well as NGOs, private businesses, philanthropical organisations and legislatures attending.

China, Russia not invited

The conference is a test of Biden’s assertion, made in his first foreign policy address in February, that he would return the US to global leadership to face down authoritarian forces led by China and Russia.

Both countries were not invited to this week’s event, which coincides with questions about the strength of America’s democracy. Biden is struggling to pass his agenda through a polarised Congress following the turbulent and disruptive Trump presidency.

Amid rising US-China tensions, the Biden administration’s decision to invite Taiwan has irked Beijing.

China considers Taiwan, a democratically ruled island, part of its territory.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said the invitation of Taiwan showed the US was only using democracy as “cover and a tool for it to advance its geopolitical objectives, oppress other countries, divide the world and serve its own interests.”

‘Lip service’

Washington used the run-up to the summit to announce sanctions against officials in Iran, Syria and Uganda it accuses of oppressing their populations, and against people it accuses of being tied to corruption and criminal gangs in Kosovo and Central America.

US officials hope to win support during the meetings for global initiatives, such as use of technology to enhance privacy or circumvent censorship, and for countries to make specific public commitments to improve their democracies before an in-person summit planned for late 2022.

Annie Boyajian, director of advocacy at non-profit Freedom House, said the event had the potential to push struggling democracies to do better and to spur coordination between democratic governments.

“But, a full assessment won’t be possible until we know what commitments there are and how they are implemented in the year ahead,” Boyajian said.

Zeya at the State Department said civil society would help hold the countries, including the United States, accountable. Zeya declined to say whether Washington would disinvite leaders who did not fulfill their pledges.

Human Rights Watch’s Washington director Sarah Holewinski said making the invitation to the 2022 summit dependent on delivering on commitments was the only way to get nations to step up.

Otherwise, Holewinski said, some “will only pay lip service to human rights and make commitments they never intend to keep.”

“They shouldn’t get invited back,” she said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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Top US Scientist Fauci: Omicron ‘almost Certainly Not More Severe’ Than Delta Variant

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Top US scientist Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that while it would take weeks to judge the severity of the new Covid-19 variant Omicron, early indications suggested it was not worse than prior strains, and possibly milder.Read More

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Suspected Member of Khashoggi Hit Squad Arrested at Paris Airport

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French police Tuesday arrested at Paris’s main airport a suspected member of the team that murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, sources said.Read More

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