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Climate set to dominate G20 summit ahead of U.N. conference

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October 28, 2021

By Crispian Balmer

ROME (Reuters) – If high-stakes climate talks are to succeed next month in Glasgow, the initial signs of progress may emerge this weekend when leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies hold their first face-to-face meeting in two years.

Big obstacles lie in the way. The G20 is divided over questions such as phasing out coal and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), giving diplomats little time to forge an accord before the Oct. 30-31 gathering.

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Many of the leaders coming to Rome, including U.S. President Joe Biden, will fly immediately afterwards to Scotland for the United Nation’s climate summit, known as COP26, which is seen as vital to tackling the threat of rising temperatures.

The COP26 involves almost 200 countries, but the G20 bloc, which includes Brazil, China, India, Germany and the United States, is the dominant force, accounting for more than 80% of the world’s gross domestic product, 60% of its population and an estimated 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“The time has passed for diplomatic niceties. If governments, especially G20 governments, do not stand up and lead this effort, we are headed for terrible human suffering,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week.

In a setback to hopes of a robust G20 response, Biden’s expectations of heading to Europe with a strong domestic deal on climate policy have diminished greatly because of political divisions over a broader spending package.

To the further disappointment of hosts Italy, the leaders of China, Japan, Mexico, Russia and Saudi Arabia have declined to attend the meeting, which will be held in a Rome suburb called EUR that was built by the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin are reported to have pulled out because of concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, but are expected to follow the discussions via a video link, diplomats said.

PANDEMIC

COVID-19 meant last year’s G20 summit was a virtual event and continued fallout from the health emergency will feature prominently in the Rome talks, with Italy keen for major economies to coordinate the global recovery.

Fears over rising energy prices and stretched supply chains are likely to be addressed, as is the need for reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

G20 leaders will also sign off on a minimum global tax rate of 15% for big companies – a deal that was finalised earlier this month and that Italy has hailed as a major achievement of its year-long G20 presidency.

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Italy has likewise said it is proud of a summit it organised in May that resulted in pledges from rich nations for hundreds of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses for poorer regions, as well as a deal to channel International Monetary Fund emergency reserves to impoverished countries.

“Given the international situation, I think Italy can be satisfied with its G20 presidency. But hopefully further agreements can be reached over decarbonisation,” said Antonio Villafranca, director of studies at the Italian Institute of International Policy Studies.

One area where Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi aims to find consensus is a pledge to slash methane emissions by 30% by 2030 against 2020 levels – another element in the battle to curb greenhouse gases responsible for warming the Earth’s atmosphere.

One of the trickiest negotiations will concern the need for rich nations to honour a 2009 pledge to provide poor ones with $100 billion per year to help them adapt to climate change.

In 2015 they agreed to extend this goal through to 2025 but the target, which some poor countries and climate activists now say is insufficient, has yet to be met.

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The talks will take place in a futurist convention centre called ‘The Cloud’, with social events scheduled at some of the historic sites that dot central Rome, including a gala dinner in the president’s palace.

The interior ministry has said between 5,000 and 6,000 police along with some 500 soldiers will be deployed to ensure security. Airspace will be closed over Rome and border controls will be enhanced to try to keep away potential troublemakers.

(Additional reporting by Angelo Amante and Gavin Jones in Rome and Michel Rose in Paris; editing by Barbara Lewis)

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Blinken downbeat about nuclear talks as Iran floats proposals

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December 2, 2021

By Parisa Hafezi and Humeyra Pamuk

VIENNA/STOCKHOLM (Reuters) -The United States said on Thursday it had little cause for optimism about reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and would know in a day or so if Iran would negotiate in good faith as Tehran put forward fresh proposals.

“I think, in the very near future, the next day or so, we’ll be in a position to judge whether Iran actually intends now to engage in good faith,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Stockholm.

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“I have to tell you, recent moves, recent rhetoric, don’t give us a lot of cause for … optimism. But even though the hour is getting very late, it is not too late for Iran to reverse course and engage meaningfully,” he added.

Iran has provided European powers who are shuttling between U.S. and Iranian officials with drafts on sanctions removal and nuclear commitments, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator said on Thursday, as world powers and Tehran try to reinstate the pact.

The announcement came on the fourth day of indirect talks in Vienna between Iran and the United States on bringing both fully back into the deal, under which Iran limited its nuclear program in return for relief from U.S., European Union and U.N. economic sanctions.

The talks resumed on Monday after a five-month hiatus prompted by Iran’s election of an anti-Western hardliner as president.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog on Wednesday said Iran has started producing enriched uranium with advanced centrifuges at its Fordow plant dug into a mountain, further eroding the nuclear deal during talks with the West on saving it.

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“What Iran can’t do is sustain the status quo of building their nuclear program while dragging their feet on talks. That will not happen,” Blinken told reporters in Stockholm in a possible reference to that development.

It was unclear whether Blinken had been briefed on the latest proposals by the Iranians when he made his comments.

“We have delivered two proposed drafts to them … Of course they need to check the texts that we have provided to them. If they are ready to continue the talks, we are in Vienna to continue the talks,” Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani told reporters in the Austrian capital.

A European diplomat in Vienna confirmed draft documents had been handed over.

Under the pact, Tehran limited its uranium enrichment programme, a potential pathway to nuclear weapons though Iran says it seeks only civilian atomic energy, in exchange for relief from the economic sanctions.

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But in 2018, then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, calling it too soft on Iran, and reimposed harsh U.S. sanctions, spurring Tehran to breach nuclear limits in the pact.

“We want all sanctions to be lifted at once,” Bagheri told reporters. He said an Iranian proposal regarding how to verify the removal of sanctions – Tehran’s overriding priority in the talks – would be handed over to the European parties later.

A senior European diplomat estimated on Tuesday that 70-80% of a draft deal on salvaging the 2015 accord was completed when Iran and world powers last met in June, though it remained unclear if Tehran would resume talks where they left off.

(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Vienna and Humeyra Pamuk in Stockholm; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Simon Lewis in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi and Arshad Mohammed;Editing by Peter Graff, Mark Heinrich and Marguerita Choy)

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Jailed former paralympic athlete Pistorius moved closer to victim’s family

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December 2, 2021

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – Former South Africa paralympic superstar, Oscar Pistorius, jailed in 2016 for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, has been moved closer to her family ahead of reconciliation talks that could help pave the way for his early release from prison.

Pistorius, known as “Blade Runner” for his carbon-fibre prosthetic legs, went from public hero to convicted murderer in a trial that drew worldwide interest. He becomes eligible for parole after serving half of his 13-year sentence.

Pistorius is set to speak to Steenkamp’s parents, June and Barry Steenkamp, in a process known as victim-offender dialogue – an integral part of South Africa’s restorative justice programme in its prison system that brings parties affected by a particular crime together in a bid to achieve closure.

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“They are participating in the process because they have committed themselves to being part of the victim-offender dialogue. They feel they have to do this for Reeva,” Tania Koen, lawyer for the Steenkamps, said of the family.

Pistorius’ lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

‘SENSITIVE PROCESS’

Gold medalist Pistorius, once the darling of the Paralympic movement for pushing for greater recognition and acceptance of disabled athletes, shot dead Steenkamp, a model and law student, in his bathroom in 2013.

Pistorius said he had believed she was an intruder but was jailed in 2016, initially for a six-year term. After an appeal by prosecutors who said this was too lenient the term was increased to 13 years.

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He has now been moved from a prison near Johannesburg to one on South Africa’s east coast, near where Steenkamp’s parents live.

Neither their lawyer Koen nor Singabakho Nxumalo, a spokesman for the department of correctional services, could provide Reuters with a timeline for the discussions.

“It is very sensitive process, highly emotional… and we do not force people to participate in it,” Nxumalo said.

“But we are saying at least it does lay a foundation where people can, if possible, forgive each other, find one another and then try to move forward in harmony,” he said.

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf and Siyabonga Sishi; editing by Gareth Jones)

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Omicron may soon cause over half of COVID infections in Europe -EU

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December 2, 2021

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s public health agency said on Thursday that the Omicron variant could be responsible for more than half of all COVID-19 infections in Europe within a few months.

The estimate could lend weight to preliminary information about the very high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, above that of the Delta variant, which before Omicron was considered the most contagious of the main coronavirus strains.

“Based on mathematical modelling conducted by ECDC, there are indications that Omicron could cause over half of all SARS-CoV-2 infections in the EU/EEA within the next few months,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a statement.

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There is no conclusive evidence about Omicron’s transmissibility so far but the World Health Organization’s lead person on COVID-19, Maria van Kerkhove, said on Wednesday the agency expected to have data on this within days.

Europe has so far recorded a few dozens of infections with the Omicron variant, which was first detected in southern Africa last month.

The European Union and European Economic Area (EEA) include the 27 EU member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Earlier on Thursday, the French government’s top scientific adviser Jean-Francois Delfraissy said that Omicron could take Delta’s place already by the end of January.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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