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Nuclear talks see ‘satisfactory’ progress, says Iran

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Ongoing talks in Vienna to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran have seen “relatively satisfactory progress”, Iran’s negotiator Ali Bagheri said Thursday.

“Some written changes on the lifting of sanctions were established between the two parties and relatively satisfactory progress has been made over the first days of the eighth round of negotiations,” Bagheri said in a video published by Tasnim news agency.

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His remarks come two days after negotiators from Britain, France and Germany described the talks as “urgent”, warned that “we are nearing the point where Iran’s escalation of its nuclear programme will have completely hollowed out” the deal.

Negotiations to restore the 2015 agreement began earlier this year but stopped in June as Iran elected a new ultraconservative government. They resumed in late November with the latest round getting underway on Monday.

The 2015 deal offered Iran much-needed relief from sanctions that have weighed heavily on its economy.

But the unilateral withdrawal by then-US president Donald Trump derailed the deal and prompted Tehran to walk back on its commitments under it.

Iran had announced in April that it had begun enriching uranium up to 60 percent purity, well beyond the 3.67 percent threshold set by the pact. Uranium enriched to 90 percent purity is considered weapons grade.

But on Saturday, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran director Mohammad Eslami said Tehran had no plans to enrich uranium beyond 60 percent, even if the Vienna talks fail.

“The discussions focused mainly on the lifting of sanctions,” Bagheri said Thursday.

“We hope that after a few days of pause, more serious work will continue on the question of lifting sanctions,” he continued.

Talks are due to pause briefly before resuming on January 3.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday “there may have been some modest progress” in the negotiations.

Unlike other parties to the deal, Washington has only been engaged in the talks indirectly.

Shortly before Bagheri’s remarks, Iran had announced that it carried out a new space launch, a move likely to irk Western powers amid the ongoing talks.

Read more: King Salman: Iran must cooperate in nuclear deal, stop supporting militias in region

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Russian and UK defense ministers to meet over Ukraine

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Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has accepted an invitation to meet his British counterpart Ben Wallace to discuss the crisis on the Russia-Ukraine border, a senior UK defense source said Saturday.

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“The Defense Secretary is glad that Russia has accepted the invitation to talk with his counterpart,” the source said.

“Given the last defense bilateral between our two countries took place in London in 2013, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has offered to meet in Moscow instead,” added the source.

“The Secretary of State has been clear that he will explore all avenues to achieve stability and a resolution to the Ukraine crisis.”

Tens of thousands of Russian troops are massed on Ukraine’s border, along with an arsenal of tanks, fighting vehicles, artillery and missiles.

Russia has denied it plans to invade but the White House believes an attack could now come “at any point.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned on Friday that Moscow risks becoming embroiled in a “terrible quagmire” if it invades.

In a speech in Australia, the UK’s top diplomat issued a blunt and personal warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he is on the brink of making a major strategic blunder.

He “has not learned the lessons of history,” Truss told Sydney’s Lowy Institute.

“The Ukrainians will fight this, it could be a quagmire” she said.

Britain is among a handful of Western nations rushing weapons such as anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.

Read more:

Germany ‘encouraging Putin’ by refusing to supply weapons: Ukraine

US, Russia work to lower friction in Ukraine issue as invasion fears loom

Russia to hold huge naval drill with 140 warships, 60 aircraft as tensions heighten

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At least six killed in blast in western Afghan city of Herat

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A blast ripped through a minivan in the western Afghan city of Herat on Saturday, killing at least six people, according to officials.

Herat commander Mawlawi Ansari told Reuters that nine people had been injured. The cause of the blast was not clear.

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A health official in Herat, who asked not to be named, said an explosion hit a small van used for public transport just after 1800 local time and that three of the injured were in serious condition.

Since the Taliban took over in August, a series of blasts and attacks, some claimed by Islamic State, have taken place across Afghanistan.

The attacks have heightened the new administration’s security challenges as the country spirals into an economic crisis.

Read more:

Afghan NGO women ‘threatened with shooting’ by Taliban for not wearing burqa

Taliban, other Afghan delegations to meet in Oslo on Jan. 23

Desperate Afghans queue for free bread as poverty crisis deepens

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Arab League delays annual summit as COVID-19 bites again

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The Arab League has announced it is delaying its annual summit scheduled for March 22 in Algiers because of COVID-19 after two years of cancellations due to the pandemic.

“Every year, the summit is held in March, but this year, there has been a delay,” the pan-Arab organization’s assistant secretary general, Hossam Zaki, said in televised remarks Friday, a week after returning to Cairo from a visit to Algiers.

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The last Arab League summit was held in Tunis in March 2019. The past two years’ gatherings have been cancelled due to the pandemic.

Zaki added that Algeria “preferred the option” of delaying the summit, noting that the critical mass of Arab leaders and high-ranking officials needed for the summit could not be guaranteed due to the public health situation.

Arab foreign ministers are expected to announce a new date for the summit during their scheduled meeting on March 9, Zaki said.

Zaki said that there were “no political reasons” behind the delay, but the time could be used to “improve political climates” in the region.

The summit is important for Algeria, which has been seeking to expand its political sphere of influence, against the backdrop of heightened tensions with Morocco.

No agenda has been announced for this year’s summit, but the Arab world remains plagued with multiple conflicts and crises.

These extend from the war in Yemen, which has killed nearly 400,000 people since 2015, to the 2021 coup in Sudan that resulted in its suspension from the African Union, as well as protracted crises in Libya, Lebanon and beyond.

Read more:

Arab League to host extraordinary meeting to discuss Iran-backed Houthi attack on UAE

US commits to helping Saudi Arabia, Gulf partners defend against threats from Yemen

Libyan eastern parliament speaker calls for new government

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