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Iran’s Raisi vows no retreat in nuclear talks with major powers

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November 4, 2021

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will not back down “in any way” in defending its interests, President Ebrahim Raisi said on Thursday, a day after all sides announced the resumption of nuclear talks between Tehran and major powers on Nov 29.

Washington said it hoped the talks would see Iran willing to negotiate in good faith on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal, while Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani said the talks would cover the removal of “unlawful and inhumane sanctions”.

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The negotiations that started in April have been on hold since the election of hardline cleric Raisi in June.

Raisi, under personal U.S. sanctions over allegations of human rights abuses in his past as a judge, said Iran seeks the “lifting of all U.S. sanctions and neutralisation of sanctions”, sounding an uncompromising tone ahead of the Vienna discussions.

“The negotiations we are considering are result-oriented ones. We will not leave the negotiating table … but we will not retreat from the interests of our nation in any way,” Iranian state TV quoted Raisi as saying.

Under the 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers, Tehran curbed its uranium enrichment program, a possible pathway to nuclear arms, in return for the lifting of U.S., U.N. and European Union sanctions.

But former U.S. President Donald Trump quit the deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions on Iran’s oil and financial sectors that have crippled its economy, prompting Tehran to breach limits set by the pact on its nuclear work.

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In spite of six round of indirect talks, Tehran and Washington still disagree on which steps need to be taken and when, with key issues being what nuclear limits Tehran will accept and what sanctions Washington will remove.

Separately, the chief commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards, Hassan Salami, said U.S. pressure on Iran had failed.

“The Americans have used all means, policies and strategies to surrender the Iranian nation … but the Islamic Republic has become stronger,” Salami said in a televised speech to mark the siege of the U.S. embassy in Tehran after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

There have been no U.S.-Iranian diplomatic relations since the takeover of the embassy by radical students, who also took hostage 52 Americans for 444 days.

Live state television footage showed crowds across Iran attending state-organised rallies, chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”. Some burned U.S. and Israeli flags.

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(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean)

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One of suspected killers of Saudi journalist Khashoggi arrested in France – RTL

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December 7, 2021

PARIS (Reuters) – One of the suspected killers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was arrested at the Roissy airport near Paris on Tuesday as he was about to board a flight to Riyadh, French RTL radio reported.

RTL said the person arrested was a former Royal Guard of Saudi Arabia who is believed to have been involved in the killing of Kashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Writing by GV De Clercq, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Biden, Putin begin talks, RIA says, after U.S. warning of toughest sanctions yet if Russia invades Ukraine

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December 7, 2021

By Steve Holland and Andrew Osborn

WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden began a video conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, Russian state television said, after U.S. officials warned Moscow could be hit with the toughest economic sanctions yet if it invades Ukraine.

The officials said the sanctions, which one source said could target Russia’s biggest banks and Moscow’s ability to convert roubles into dollars and other currencies, were designed to dissuade Putin from using tens of thousands of troops massed near the Ukrainian border to attack its southern neighbour.

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The Kremlin, which said before the meeting it did not expect any breakthroughs, has denied harbouring such intentions and has said its troop posture is defensive.

But Moscow has voiced rising vexation over Western military aid to Ukraine, a fellow former Soviet republic that has tilted towards the West since a popular revolt toppled a pro-Russian president in 2014, and what it calls creeping NATO expansion.

Moscow has likewise questioned Ukrainian intentions and said it wants guarantees that Kyiv will not use force to try to retake territory lost in 2014 to Russia-backed separatists, a scenario Ukraine has ruled out.

“We’re looking for good, predictable relations with the United States. Russia has never intended to attack anyone, but we have our concerns and we have our red lines,” said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

Calling for everyone to keep “a cool head”, Peskov said it was vital that Putin and Biden speak given what he called the extraordinary escalation of tensions in Europe.

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The Russian rouble weakened slightly on Tuesday, with some market analysts predicting the talks would de-escalate tensions and others saying that the U.S. sanctions threat eroded hopes of finding common ground.

Ahead of his first direct talks with Putin since July, Biden discussed the sanctions plan with European allies on Monday, seeking a strong joint stance in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

He spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

They called on Russia to defuse tensions and return to diplomacy and said their teams would stay in close touch, including in consultation with NATO allies and EU partners, on a “coordinated and comprehensive approach”, the White House said.

Biden’s team has identified a set of economic penalties to impose should Russia launch an invasion, a senior Biden administration official said.

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A separate source familiar with the situation said targeting Putin’s inner circle has been discussed but no decision made. Sanctions against Russia’s biggest banks and curbing the conversion of roubles into dollars and other currencies were also being considered, another source said.

(Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington, Gleb Stolyarov, Dmitry Antonov, Alexander Marrow, Tom Balmforth and Katya Golubkova in Moscow, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Catherine Evans and Mark Heinrich)

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Britain reports 101 more cases of Omicron coronavirus variant

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December 7, 2021

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain has found a further 101 confirmed cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the UK Health Security Agency said on Tuesday, taking the total number of cases to 437.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by William Schomberg)

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