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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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Pope says willing to go to Moscow to meet Orthodox Patriarch

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December 6, 2021

By Philip Pullella

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Monday he was willing to go to Moscow for to meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill “brother to brother” in what would be the first trip by a pope to Russia.

The pair’s meeting in Cuba in 2016 was the first by a pope and a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since the great schism that split Christianity into Eastern and Western branches in 1054.

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Both sides have declared a willingness to work towards unity but they are still far apart theologically and over what role the pope would play in an eventually reunited Church.

“We are brothers and we talk straight to each other. We do not dance the minuet,” Francis told reporters aboard his plane returning from a trip to Cyprus and Greece.

“We have to move forward, walking and working towards unity.”

He said he was willing to go Moscow and that a top Russian Orthodox official was expected in Rome next week to decide the time and location of the meeting.

Francis said working out the protocols would be less important than meeting “brother to brother” with Kirill.

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The Pope normally travels to countries with a joint invitation from its religious authorities as well as one from the government, meaning that Francis would most likely need an invitation from President Vladimir Putin to visit Russia.

The Russian Orthodox Church, the largest in Christian Orthodoxy, with about 100 million members, is closely aligned with the Kremlin.

Francis said the meeting with Kirill was “on the not too distant horizon”.

He said Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, who is responsible for the Russian Orthodox Church’s external relations, would be coming to the Vatican to meet him to discuss where and when the next meeting can take place.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alison Williams)

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Yemen Houthis bury their dead as Marib fighting rages

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December 6, 2021

By Adel Al-Khader

SANAA (Reuters) – Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis held military funerals on Monday for 25 fighters killed in battles with a Saudi-led coalition, as fighting shows no sign of abating despite intense international diplomacy to end the seven-year-old conflict.

The funerals took place as fighting has raged in the gas-rich Marib region, while warplanes from the coalition have intensified their bombing of Sanaa, Marib and other areas.

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The Houthis have also stepped up cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia using armed drones and missiles.

An honour guard carried the coffins – draped with flags, flowers and photographs of the dead – with military music through the capital Sanaa. Relatives gathered to mourn their loved ones.

“We are in these days inspired by these martyrs’ pride and dignity and say to them: ‘congratulations! You have preceded us to a paradise as wide as the heavens and earth’,” said Ali Muhyaddin, a relative of one of the dead.

The war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands and caused what the United Nations describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

U.N.-led efforts to agree a ceasefire have stalled in the conflict, which is seen largely as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign invasion.

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Houthi media showed fighters exchanging heavy artillery fire with coalition forces in Marib on Sunday as warplanes flew overhead. All the 25 fighters buried in Sanaa were killed in Marib, Houthi officials said.

The Houthis have launched a year-long offensive to take Marib, which hosts Yemen’s biggest gas fields. The city is the last stronghold of the internationally recognised government.

Marib is home to 3 million people, including nearly 1 million who fled other parts of Yemen after the Houthis ousted the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to intervene.

The number of displaced people in camps in the province has risen nearly 10-fold since September, with more than 45,000 people fleeing their homes as Houthi forces press the offensive, the U.N. migration agency IOM said last month.

(Writing by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Putin and Modi discuss trade, humanitarian situation in Afghanistan

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December 6, 2021

By Alasdair Pal and Neha Arora

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Russian President Vladimir Putin in New Delhi on Monday, with trade and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan both on the agenda.

Afghanistan’s takeover by the Taliban earlier this year has led to a humanitarian crisis in the country, which New Delhi and Moscow have both previously said risks destabilising the region.

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“The fight against terrorism is also a fight against drug trafficking and organised crime,” Putin said in introductory remarks broadcast by Indian media. “In that regard, we are concerned about developments of the situation in Afghanistan.”

The visit by Putin and several top Russian officials comes amid increasingly strained relations between Russia and the United States, also a key Indian ally.

Earlier on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a deal to supply India with S-400 air defence missile systems was being implemented despite what he said were U.S. efforts to undermine the accord.

India and Russia are expected to cement several trade and defence pacts at the summit.

“The relation between India and Russia is truly a unique and reliable model,” Modi said.

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(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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