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IRAN

Kerry’s exit throws Iran talks into uncertainty

Negotiations between world powers and Iran over Tehran's nuclear ambitions were thrown into uncertainty Saturday after US Secretary of State John Kerry announced his imminent departure and Iran's chief negotiator expressed doubts a deal would be reached.

Kerry's exit throws Iran talks into uncertainty
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Geneva. Photo: Denis Balibouse/Pool/AFP

Amid signs that the talks in Geneva were proving difficult, Kerry's spokesman said the US's top diplomat would leave for London on Sunday for meetings with British counterpart William Hague and the Libyan prime minister.
   
At the same time, Iranian chief negotiator Abbas Araqchi said he doubted that Tehran and the P5+1 world powers — comprising the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany — could reach an accord by the end of the day.
   
"Intense and difficult negotiations are under way and it is not clear whether we reach an agreement tonight," Fars news agency quoted Araqchi as saying.

"The dispute is over the wording."
   
The talks are aimed at securing a freeze on parts of Iran's nuclear programme in order to ease fears that Tehran will develop atomic weapons, in return for modest sanctions relief.
   
The arrival of foreign ministers including Kerry on Saturday had raised hopes, after three days of intense negotiations among lower-level officials, that a breakthrough was in sight.
   
Kerry had decided to join the talks "with the hope that an agreement will be reached," the State Department said on Friday.
   
Since their arrival however, officials from both sides have indicated that there are still considerable differences to be bridged.
   
"We have now entered a very difficult stage," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told state television, saying he would not bow to "excessive demands".
   
"In any agreement, (uranium) enrichment in Iran will not be suspended," Zarif said, adding that "a very difficult task" still lay ahead in clinching a deal.
   
Hague was also cautious on Saturday morning.

"They remain very difficult negotiations," he said in Geneva.

"I think it is important to stress that we are not here because things are necessarily finished."
   
"It's not a done deal," said his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle.

"We think there's a realistic chance but there is still a lot of work to do."
   
Mark Hibbs from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said Kerry's imminent departure might "set a deadline and focus people's minds".
   
Just two weeks ago, the ministers had jetted in seeking to sign on the dotted line, only to fail as cracks appeared among the powers — fissures that officials say are now repaired.
   
Since being elected in June, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has raised big hopes that after a decade of rising tensions over Tehran's nuclear programme, a solution might be within reach.

Devil in the detail
   
Iran insists its nuclear programme is peaceful but many in the international community suspect it is aimed at acquiring atomic weapons.
   
The six powers want Iran to stop spinning, for six months initially, some 700 of its some 19,000 thousand centrifuges that are enriching uranium to levels close to weapons-grade.
   
They also want Tehran to stop constructing a new reactor at Arak and to grant the International Atomic Energy Agency more intrusive inspection rights.
   
In return they are offering Iran minor and reversible relief from painful sanctions including unlocking several billion dollars in oil revenues and easing some trade restrictions.
   
Ministers in Geneva are seeking to obtain a "first phase" deal which would build trust and ease tensions while negotiators push on for a final accord that ends once and for all fears that Tehran will acquire an atomic bomb.
   
A major sticking point has been Iran's demand —  as expressed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei this week —  for recognition of its "right" to enrich uranium.
   

The risks posed by failure are high: Tehran could resume the expansion of its nuclear activities, leading to more painful sanctions and even Israeli and possibly US military action.
   
A hard sell
   
Getting an agreement palatable to hardliners both in the United States and in the Islamic republic — as well as Israel — is tough.
   
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu wants all of Iran's nuclear infrastructure dismantled, not just parts of it frozen, believing that the P5+1 will leave Iran with an ability to develop nuclear weapons.
   
In Washington there is a push by lawmakers to ignore President Barack Obama's pleas and pass yet more sanctions on Iran if there is no deal —  or one seen as too soft.
   
Rouhani, meanwhile, is under pressure to show Khamenei the first fruits of his "charm offensive", and it is unclear whether the sanctions relief on offer is enough.

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DIPLOMACY

Iran summons Swiss envoy over US arrest of journalist

Iran's foreign ministry on Tuesday summoned the Swiss ambassador to Tehran to demand the unconditional and immediate release of a state television journalist detained in the United States.

Iran summons Swiss envoy over US arrest of journalist

Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said a note of complaint was issued to¬†the ambassador for Switzerland over the “inhuman and discriminatory” detention¬†of Iranian citizen and Press TV reporter Marzieh Hashemi.

The Swiss embassy in Tehran handles US interests in the Islamic republic after the two countries broke off relations following the 1979 Islamic revolution.

“Her immediate and unconditional release was demanded” at the meeting with the ambassador, Ghasemi added.

US-born Hashemi, who works for Iran's English-language Press TV, was arrested on arrival at St Louis Lambert International Airport on January 13th, according to family and friends cited by Press TV.

Hashemi, a Muslim convert who changed her name from Melanie Franklin, had reportedly been visiting her ill brother and other family members.

A US court on Friday confirmed the arrest, saying her testimony was required over an unspecified case but that she was not accused of a crime.

At a hearing in Washington, a judge ordered the partial unsealing of an order on Hashemi.

The court said Hashemi was arrested on “a material arrest warrant” and would be let go after she gave testimony to a grand jury investigating unspecified “violations of US criminal law”.

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Thursday described the detention as a “political action” by the United States that “tramples on freedom of speech” and demanded she be set free.

Zarif said that since Hashemi was married to an Iranian she is considered as an Iranian national and “it is our duty to defend our citizens”.