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Coordination with Gulf increases as US, world powers align focus on Iran nuclear deal

Gulf countries’ involvement in the Vienna talks to revive the abandoned 2015 Iran nuclear deal has increased significantly as of late, as GCC officials meet with their US and Western counterparts while direct negotiations between Tehran and world powers are ongoing.

Saudi Arabia’s Permanent Representative to International Organizations in Vienna, Prince Abdullah bin Khaled said on Wednesday that GCC representatives in Vienna met with US special envoy to Iran Robert Malley to discuss Iran’s nuclear deal and its malign activities in the region.

“[During the meeting] Mr. Malley reviewed the latest developments of the Vienna Talks, and we emphasized the security concerns regarding the Iranian nuclear program and Iran's interventions in the region to destabilize security through its support for terrorist militias,” the Prince tweeted.

This announcement is the latest in a series of increasing coordination between the US and the Gulf when it comes to the Vienna talks to revive the abandoned 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The GCC has long believed it necessary to be included in nuclear talks because they directly affect the region.

The Gulf officials’ meeting with Malley comes a few days after the US official met with Prince Abdullah to update him on the latest developments of the Vienna talks.

Gulf countries have long said Iran needed to stop its malign activities in the region through providing financial and military support to its network of proxy militias across the Middle East, including in countries such as Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz recently listed what the Gulf considers are Iran’s offenses: “The formation and support of sectarian and armed militias, the systemic deployment of its military capabilities in regional countries and its failure to cooperate with the international community regarding its nuclear program and the development of ballistic missiles.”


Nevertheless, mixed signals came out of Vienna on Wednesday as Western capitals and Iranian officials continue their efforts to reach a nuclear deal, which has been a priority of US President Joe Biden since he took office.

Russia’s de-facto spokesperson at the talks said he felt that negotiations were moving forward.

The US special envoy for Iran, Rob Malley, met with a broad range of officials, including Gulf diplomats to update them on the latest developments.

“Met with the #US Special Envoy for #Iran Mr. Robert Malley. As usual, we had a productive discussion on the remaining most difficult issues to be settled in the course of the #ViennaTalks. The feeling is that the negotiations are moving forward,” Russia’s ambassador to Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, tweeted.

Asked by Al Arabiya English if he was more or less optimistic about a positive outcome than he was at the start of the latest round of talks, Ulyanov said he had reason for hope.

“I was quite optimistic at the beginning of this round. Now I am even more optimistic. My experience tells me that difficulties in the course of such complicated negotiations are inevitable. That’s why I perceive them more philosophically than the majority of others,” he said.

The Russian diplomat did not immediately respond when asked if an interim deal was being floated as a proposal.

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Israeli army kills suspected assailant after West Bank car ramming

A suspected assailant was shot dead by Israeli soldiers after injuring three young men with his car in the southern West Bank on Saturday, the army and medics said.

The army said a “terrorist” had conducted a “ramming attack adjacent to the town of Beit Ummar” before being neutralized, with a spokesperson confirming to AFP the presumed assailant’s death.

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Magen David Adom medics said the three men were taken to hospitals in Jerusalem with serious, moderate and light wounds.

There were no immediate details on the suspected assailant.

The latest violence comes less than 24 hours after an Arab Israeli allegedly snatched a gun from a police officer and fired it in a scuffle at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, before being shot dead.

The Saturday deaths bring an end to the relative lull in violence since the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan some 10 days ago.

Since the start of the year, the conflict has claimed the lives of 88 Palestinians, including militants and civilians, and one Arab Israeli.

Fourteen other Israelis, including members of the security forces and civilians, and one Ukrainian have been killed over the same period, according to an AFP tally based on official sources from both sides.

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High activity spotted at N. Korea nuclear complex after Kim’s bomb-fuel order: Report

Satellite images show a high level of activity at North Korea’s main nuclear site, a US think tank reported on Saturday after the North Korean leader ordered an increase in production of bomb fuel to expand the country’s nuclear arsenal.

The Washington-based 38 North Korea monitoring project said the activity it had spotted, based on images from March 3 and 17, could indicate that an Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR) at the Yongbyon site was nearing completion and transition to operational status.

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The report said the images showed that a 5 megawatt reactor at Yongbyon continued to operate and that construction had started on a support building around the ELWR. Further, water discharges had been detected from that reactor’s cooling system. New construction had also started around Yongbyon’s uranium enrichment plant, likely to expand its capabilities.

“These developments seem to reflect Kim Jong Un’s recent directive to increase the country’s fissile material production to expand its nuclear weapons arsenal,” the report added, referring to the North Korean leader.

On Tuesday, North Korea unveiled new, smaller nuclear warheads and vowed to produce more weapons-grade nuclear material to expand its arsenal, while denouncing stepped up military exercises by South Korea and the United States.

Its state media said Kim had ordered the production of weapons-grade materials in a “far-sighted way” to boost the country’s nuclear arsenal “exponentially.”

It is unclear whether North Korea has fully developed miniaturized nuclear warheads needed to fit on smaller weapons it has displayed and analysts say perfecting such warheads would most likely be a key goal if it resumes nuclear testing for the first time since 2017.

South Korea and the United States have warned since early 2022 that North Korea may resume nuclear testing at any time.

In a report last year, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimated North Korea had assembled up to 20 nuclear warheads, and probably possessed sufficient fissile material for approximately 45–55 nuclear devices.

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UK water companies to face unlimited fines for sewage pollution

Water companies will incur unlimited fines for polluting rivers and the sea under new UK legislation to protect the environment, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Therese Coffrey, the environment secretary, will announce plans next week to remove the £250,000 maximum fine on civil penalties for companies that break the rules. The environment agency is also seeking to strengthen its ability to impose sanctions on water companies without going through the courts.

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Fines will be reinvested into a new Water Restoration Fund which will work with local communities and groups to improve water quality and support projects to improve management of waters and restore protected sites. Penalties and fines will be taken from water company profits, not customers.

Last year, 10 water and sewage companies within England released sewage into rivers and the sea on 301,091 occasions, with United Utilities and Yorkshire Water responsible for 40 percent of the spills.

“I want to make sure that regulators have the powers and tools to take tough action against companies that are breaking the rules and to do so more quickly, Therese Coffrey said in a statement.

The government’s ‘Plan for Water’ will also include measures against other forms of pollution, such as storm overflows, agriculture, plastics, road run-off and chemicals and pesticides.

The proposals will be published within a consultation on Tuesday.

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