Sunday 24 September 2017

Kerry warns 'there are no guarantees' as Iran nuclear talks reach key stage

Associated Press

US Secretary of State John Kerry and five foreign ministers warned yesterday there were no guarantees that their participation in Iran nuclear talks would be enough to seal a deal to curb Tehran's atomic programme.

The goal is a six-month agreement to freeze Iran's nuclear programme while offering Iran incentives through limited sanctions relief. If the interim deal holds, the parties would negotiate final-stage deals to ensure Iran does not build nuclear weapons.

But it was unclear whether the current round, which began last Wednesday, would produce any first-stage deal.

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke of "very difficult negotiations", saying "narrow gaps" remain on the same issues that blocked agreement at the last round.

Details were not released but it appeared the two sides were trying to reconcile Iran's insistence that it has a right to enrich for peaceful purposes while assuaging fears that Tehran was secretly trying to build a bomb.

As the talks entered an intensive phase, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the negotiations had reached "the final moment", according to China's Xinhua news agency.

SEARCH CONTINUES IN COLLAPSED SHOP

Rescuers yesterday resumed a search for 10 people following the collapse of a supermarket roof in Riga.

Fifty-two deaths have been confirmed in the disaster and a police spokesman said some 10 families have reported they have missing relatives.

The nation's president described the disaster as "murder". President Andris Berzins said: "This is a case where we need to say clearly that an enormous number of defenceless people were killed, and that's how we should proceed."

Some 40 people were wounded, including 13 firefighters, and 23 people remained in hospital yesterday afternoon, police said. The government has declared three days of mourning.

Laila Rieksta-Riekstina, head of the state's child welfare department, told Latvia Radio that 16 children lost parents in the accident. Three of them lost both parents.

TENSIONS RISE BETWEEN TURKEY AND EGYPT

Egypt has downgraded diplomatic relations with Turkey and expelled its ambassador from Cairo.

It follows tensions between the two countries that mounted after a military coup ousted the country's Islamist president this summer.

In a quick reaction, Turkey reciprocated by declaring the Egyptian ambassador "persona non grata" and downgrading relations with Egypt to the same level. Egypt's ambassador had not been in the country since August over the turmoil.

Yesterday's decisions, which fall short of closing diplomatic missions in the two countries, are a dramatic reversal of the warming relations between the two countries over the past year.

Egypt's foreign ministry said it considered the Turkish envoy "persona non grata" and asked him to leave the country.

"This (Turkish) leadership has persisted in its unacceptable and unjustified positions by trying to turn the international community against Egyptian interests and . . . by making statements that can only be described as an offence to the popular will," the foreign ministry statement said.

A Turkish ministry statement said Egypt's interim government, "which came to power in exceptional circumstances", was responsible for the deteriorating relations.

CHINA'S AIR DEFENCE MAP ANGERS JAPAN

The Chinese defence ministry has issued a map of an East China sea air defence identification zone that includes a chain of disputed islands also claimed by Japan, triggering a protest from Tokyo.

Beijing also issued a set of rules for the zone, saying all aircraft must notify Chinese authorities and are subject to emergency military measures if they do not identify themselves or obey orders from Beijing. It said it would "identify, monitor, control and react" to any air threats or unidentified flying objects coming from the sea. The rules went into effect yesterday.

In Tokyo, Junichi Ihara, head of the foreign ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, protested by phone to China's acting ambassador to Japan, Han Zhiqiang, saying the zone was "totally unacceptable".

Ihara also criticised China for "one-sidedly" setting up the zone and escalating bilateral tensions over the islands.

Both Beijing and Tokyo claim the islets, called Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese.

GUNMEN KIDNAP 11 PAKISTANI TEACHERS

Militants kidnapped 11 Pakistani teachers involved in a polio vaccination campaign for school children, officials said, the latest in a string of attacks on health workers trying to eradicate the deadly disease.

The teachers were taken from the private Hira Public School in the Bara area of the Khyber tribal agency, one of the semi-autonomous tribal areas along border with Afghanistan.

The gunmen arrived just after teams administering the polio vaccines had left, officials said.

Local official Khyali Gul said the gunmen took the teachers to an area controlled by militant leader Mangal Bagh and his Taliban-affiliated Lashkar-e-Islam group.

"Mangal Bagh and his men are opposing polio vaccination for children and don't allow teams to immunise children in their areas," Mr Gul said.

Another Khyber official said the teachers had been taken to an area where security forces cannot enter due to presence of militants. It was expected they would be released following negotiations with local elders.

Gunmen frequently attack polio vaccination workers in Pakistan. Militants accuse them of being western spies or part of a plot to sterilise Muslims. One militant leader said he would only allow vaccinations in his area if US drone strikes stopped.

Meanwhile, thousands of people protesting US drone strikes blocked a road in north-west Pakistan yesterday which is used to truck NATO troop supplies and equipment in and out of Afghanistan, the latest sign of rising tension caused by the attacks.

The protest, led by Pakistani politician and cricket star Imran Khan, had more symbolic value than practical impact, as there is normally little NATO supply traffic on the road on Saturdays. The blocked route in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province leads to one of two border crossings used to send supplies overland to neighbouring Afghanistan.

Khan, whose Tehreek-e-Insaf party runs the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, called on federal officials to take a firmer stance to force the US to end drone attacks and block NATO supplies across the country.

SCOTLAND COULD BE INDEPENDENT BY 2016

Scotland could become an independent country on March 24, 2016, if voters back leaving the UK in next year's independence referendum, the Deputy First Minister has announced.

The date is included in the Scottish government's white paper, described as a "blueprint" for independence, which will be published on Tuesday.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it is a "landmark document", which has economic growth, jobs and fairness at its heart.

The 670-page document runs to more than 170,000 words and will be available as a hard copy and as an ebook.

Ms Sturgeon said it will be the document that drives the independence debate, providing the positive case for a vote in favour of independence.

Sunday Independent

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