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Analysis: Wielding fresh leverage, Iran to play hardball at nuclear talks

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November 11, 2021

By Parisa Hafezi, John Irish and Arshad Mohammed

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will adopt an uncompromising stance when it resumes nuclear talks with major powers, betting it has the leverage to win wide sanctions relief in return for curbs on its increasingly advanced atomic technology, officials and analysts say.

The stakes are high, since failure in the negotiations resuming in Vienna on Nov. 29 to revive a 2015 nuclear deal would carry the risk of a fresh regional war.

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Iran’s arch foe Israel has pushed for a tough policy if diplomacy fails to rein in Iran’s nuclear work, long seen by the West as a cover for developing atomic bombs.

Tehran denies it has ever sought to develop nuclear weapons and says it is prepared for war in defence of its atomic programme.

    Iranian hardliners believe that a tough approach, spearheaded by their strongly anti-Western Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, can force Washington to accept Tehran’s “maximalist demands”, the officials and analysts said.

    “Our nuclear facilities are up and running … We can live with or without the deal… The ball is in their court,” said a hardline Iranian official who asked not to be named.

    “Progress means lifting all those cruel sanctions … Iran has never abandoned the deal. America did.”

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    Iran began breaching nuclear restrictions under the pact in response to a decision in 2018 by then U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw from the agreement and reimpose harsh sanctions that have devastated Iran’s economy.

    In an apparent bid to pressure Trump’s successor Joe Biden to lift sanctions, Iran accelerated those breaches by rebuilding enriched uranium stocks, refining it to a higher fissile purity and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up production.

    Dramatically upping the ante, Iran has also limited access given to U.N. nuclear watchdog inspectors under the nuclear deal, restricting their visits to declared nuclear sites only.

    Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian tweeted that Tehran was ready “to deliver a good agreement”, but some Western diplomats said a deal hinged on Tehran’s readiness to show flexibility when the talks resume.

    Failure to agree by early 2022, they said, would make the pact’s revival less likely due to a key technicality – the longer Iran remains outside the deal, they said, the more nuclear expertise it will gain, shortening the time it might need to race to build a bomb if it chose to.

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Kasra Aarabi, senior Iran analyst at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, said by using delays in the talks, advancing its atomic expertise and continuing to support paramilitary allies in the region, Khamenei and his hardline allies were “genuinely convinced they can intimidate the U.S. into granting more concessions without facing any consequences”.

FAILURE OR SUCCESS

    The fact that indirect talks between Tehran and Washington paused after the June election of hardline President Ebrahim Raisi signalled that the likelihood of failure was greater than chances of success of the negotiations, two Iranian sources close to the country’s power centre told Reuters.

    Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the negotiations were bound to fail “if Iran’s opening salvo is indeed its bottom line”.

    “By insisting on its maximalist demands, Iran is likely to get neither sanctions relief nor the guarantees it is seeking.”

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    With differences between Tehran and Washington still vast after six rounds of indirect talks on some key issues – such as the speed and scope of lifting sanctions and how and when Iran will reverse its nuclear steps – chances of a deal seem remote.

Iran insists on immediate removal of all Trump-era sanctions in a verifiable process. Washington has said it would remove curbs “inconsistent with the 2015 nuclear pact” if Iran resumed compliance with the deal, implying it would leave in place others such as those imposed under terrorism or human rights measures.

Tehran also seeks guarantees that “no U.S. administration” will renege on the pact again. But Biden cannot promise this because the nuclear deal is a non-binding political understanding, not a legally-binding treaty.

    The pact, negotiated under former U.S. President Barrack Obama, was not a treaty because there was no way the Democratic president could have secured the approval of the U.S. Senate.

‘NOT WORTH PURSUING’

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Things are not much better for Biden.

Under the U.S. Constitution, treaties require the consent of two-thirds of the 100-member Senate. Given that it is now split between 50 of Biden’s fellow Democrats and 50 Republicans, there is no plausible way for Biden to meet that threshold.

    Many Republican senators detest the nuclear agreement and even some Democrats oppose it. However, Rob Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, said last month :”Our intent is to be faithful to the deal if we could get back in.”

Eurasia Group analyst Henry Rome said many hardliners in Iran were convinced that, since the deal has failed once, “it’s not worth pursuing unless it’s fundamentally altered”.

Despite U.S. sanctions, China has provided a financial lifeline to Iran by importing supplies of Iranian oil that have held above half a million barrels per day on average for the last three months.

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(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by William Maclean and Alex Richardson)

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Germany’s Free Democrats back coalition agreement

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December 5, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) – Members of Germany’s pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) voted on Sunday by a large majority to back a coalition agreement with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, paving the way for the three-way alliance to form a new government next week.

The coalition, the first at federal level between the environmentalist Greens, the FDP and Olaf Scholz’s centre-left SPD, will end 16 years of conservative governments led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The SPD approved the agreement on Saturday and the Greens are due to announce the outcome of a member survey on the deal on Monday. The three parties hope the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, will vote Scholz in as chancellor on Wednesday.

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The “traffic light” alliance, named after the parties’respective colours, will usher in a new era of relations with Europe, and plans to speed up digitalisation of the continent’sbiggest economy and put a focus on fighting climate change.

(Reporting by Alexander Ratz; Writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Gambian President Barrow on course for resounding election win

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December 5, 2021

By Bate Felix

BANJUL (Reuters) – Gambia’s incumbent president, Adama Barrow, was on course for a resounding election win on Sunday, partial results indicated, that could help to draw a line under recent political turmoil.

Saturday’s vote was the first in 27 years without disgraced former president Yahya Jammeh, who lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea after refusing to accept defeat to Barrow in 2016.

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Jammeh, whose 22-year rule over the tiny nation of 2.5 million people was characterised by killings and torture of political opponents, had tried to persuade supporters to vote for an opposition coalition in telephoned speeches that were relayed to campaign rallies.

But his lingering influence was not enough to dent Barrow’s showing. The president, who only needs to win more votes than the second-placed candidate, won 36 of the first 41 constituencies announced, taking 315,547 votes.

His nearest rival, political veteran Ousainou Darboe, had 133,177 votes, with four other candidates far behind.

Only 12 constituencies remained to be announced.

The election was seen as a test of Gambia’s democratic progress and its ability to leave the Jammeh era behind.

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Barrow’s first term was marked by the coronavirus pandemic, which damaged an economy that relies heavily on tourism, as well as exports of peanuts and fish.

(Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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S.Africans protest against Shell oil exploration in pristine coastal area

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December 5, 2021

By Siyabonga Sishi

PORT EDWARD, South Africa (Reuters) – South Africans took to their beaches on Sunday to protest against plans by Royal Dutch Shell to do seimsic oil exploration they say will threaten marine wildlife such as whales, dolphins, seals and penguins on a pristine coastal stretch.

A South African court on Friday struck down https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/shell-wins-court-case-start-seismic-surveys-offshore-south-africa-2021-12-03 an application brought by environmentalists to stop the oil major exploring in the eastern seaboard’s Wild Coast, rejecting as unproven their argument that it would cause “irreparable harm” to the marine environment, especially migrating hump-back whales.

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The Wild Coast is home of some of the country’s most undisturbed wildlife refuges, and it’s stunning coastal wildernesses are also a major tourist draw.

At least 1,000 demonstrators gathered on a beach near Port Edward, a Reuters TV correspondent saw.

“It’s just absolutely horrendous that they are even considering this. Look around you?” said demonstrator Kas Wilson, indicating an unspoilt stretch of beach. “It’s unacceptable and … we will stop it.”

Shell officials were not immediately available for comment, but the company said on Friday that its planned exploration has regulatory approval, and it will significantly contribute to South Africa’s energy security if resources are found.

But local people fear the seismic blasting conducted over 6,000 square kilometres will kill or scare away the fish they depend on to live.

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“I don’t want them to operate here because if they do we won’t be able to catch fish,” said 62-year-old free dive fisherwoman Toloza Mzobe, after pulling a wild lobster from the ground. “What are we going to eat?”

Environmentalists are urging Shell and other oil companies to stop prospecting for oil, arguing that the world has no chance of reaching net zero carbon by 2050 if existing oil deposits are burned, let alone if new ones are found.

Earlier this year, a Dutch court ordered Shell to reduce its planet warming carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2019 levels, a decision it plans to appeal.

South Africa’s environment ministry referred Reuters to a statement late last month that “the Minister responsible for environmental affairs is … not mandated to consider the application or to make a decision on the authorisation of the seismic survey.”

(Writing by Tim Cocks;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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