US-Iran nuclear talks resume in Geneva

Iran and the US held more than six hours of talks in Geneva on Wednesday seeking to nail down a complex nuclear deal, but negotiators remained tight-lipped on what progress had been made as the clock ticks down to a third deadline.

Complicating the atmosphere between the two foes, Iranian officials announced that the case of an American-Iranian journalist detained in Iran since July had been transferred to the country's revolutionary court.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has repeatedly called for Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian to be freed, met with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif throughout the day in Geneva, breaking off at times to consult with their teams, who will continue bilateral talks on Thursday.
In a surprise move, US officials announced the talks had ended, only for Kerry to return to Zarif's hotel for another hour-long session deep into the night.
The two sides are seeking to break a stalemate which has seen two earlier deadlines pass without an accord.
Now negotiators have given themselves until the end of June to reach a comprehensive agreement which would prevent the Islamic Republic from developing a nuclear bomb in return for an easing of iron-clad global
"They had substantive meetings . . . and they discussed a broad range of issues with a small group of staff from each side," a senior State Department official said.
Before the talks Zarif told reporters he felt the talks were "important".
"I think it will show the readiness of the two parties to move forward to speed up the process," he said.
But asked if there would be a comprehensive deal by the new deadline, he remained cautious, replying: "We'll see."

Concern for jailed reporter 

Rezaian's detention was also raised during the talks, as Tehran's prosecutor general said the case was being sent to Iran's revolutionary court which normally handles political or national security crimes.
The specific charges against Rezaian remain unclear, according to the Post, and there are growing fears over his health. His mother revealed after a meeting in December in Tehran's Evian jail that he had an eye infection, and severe back pain from sleeping on the floor.
Kerry had raised the fate of American citizens and "they also discussed the indictment" of Rezaian, a US official told reporters travelling on Kerry's plane to his next stop in Sofia, Bulgaria.
The top US diplomat "reiterated that he wanted to see Jason return home to his family," the official said.
After the talks Kerry briefed his negotiators before lower level US-Iran bilateral talks here on Thursday, ahead of Sunday's discussions with the whole P5+1 group — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
Past negotiations have stumbled over Iran's insistence that it retain the right to enrich some uranium — which can in some cases be used to make an atomic bomb — for what it says is a peaceful civilian nuclear programme.
There has also been disagreement over global sanctions, with Tehran calling for an end to the crippling regime while the US has insisted on a temporary, gradual suspension.
"All issues are hard until we resolve them and all issues are easy if you resolve them," Zarif told reporters earlier.
Diplomats and observers fear time may be running out after the two earlier deadlines for a deal were missed.
The new Republican-controlled US Congress is already considering a bill which would slap new sanctions on Iran despite attempts by the Obama administration to hold them off.
Zarif, who was set to meet German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin Thursday and his French counterpart Laurent Fabius in Paris Friday, has repeatedly stressed that Iran is not seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon.
Kerry will also be in Paris on Friday, but it was unclear if he would meet again with Zarif.
Zarif told Iranian television earlier that "we have arrived at the stage where the other party must take decisions so we can go forward."
"New proposals must be put forward. We are ready to discuss all the issues, but we will have to see if the other side is ready," he said.

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Is Basel the best Swiss city for foreigners and Geneva the worst?

Switzerland’s cities usually nab top rankings in international quality of living studies. But in a new survey, only one Swiss town made it to the top 10. Here’s why.

Basel is Switzerland’s best city for international workers. Photo by Nadine Marfurt on Unsplash
Basel is Switzerland’s best city for international workers. Photo by Nadine Marfurt on Unsplash

Basel is ranked in the 9th place out of 57 cities surveyed in the new Expat City Ranking 2021.

Carried out by InterNations, the annual survey rates cities around the world in terms of advantages they offer to foreign nationals who move there for professional reasons.

READ MORE: The best commuter towns if you work in Basel

The survey, which polled 12,420 people for its 2021 edition, ranks cities based on criteria such as Quality of Urban Living, Getting Settled, Urban Work Life, Finance & Housing, and Local Cost of Living, along with their sub-categories.

Of the four Swiss cities analysed in the study — Geneva, Zurich, Basel, and Lausanne — only Basel was highly rated, and is one of only three European cities ranked in the top 10 (the others are Prague, in 7th place, and Madrid in 10th).

This is why

A popular destination for international employees because of its pharmaceutical industry, including giants like Roche and Novartis, Basel ranked well across all categories.

For instance, it is in the 1st place for its public transportation network, in a 2nd position in terms of Quality of Urban Living, and in 3rd for Safety & Politics.

All expats in Basel (100 percent) are satisfied with public transportation, versus 69 percent globally. The public transportation system is excellent”, one respondent said.

Nearly all participants (97 percent) feel safe there, against 84 percent globally. The city also performs well in the Urban Work Life Index (6th), particularly for the state of the local economy, which is in the 1st place and the working hours (8th); additionally,  75 percent are happy with their working hours, compared to 66 percent globally.

More than four in five expats (84 percent) find their disposable household income enough or more than enough to cover their expenses (versus 77 percent globally), and 77 percent are satisfied with their financial situation (against 64 globally).

Where Basel is doing less well is in the  Finance & Housing Index (34th place), though it still ranks ahead of other Swiss cities: Zurich (37th), Lausanne (39th), and Geneva (53rd).

But the city ranks 48th in the Local Cost of Living Index: 69 percent of foreigners living there are dissatisfied with the cost of living, more than double the global average (34 percent).

The Getting Settled Index (39th) is another of Basel’s weak points. Internationals struggle with getting used to the local culture: more than one in four respondents (26 percent) state that they find this difficult — this figure is 18 percent 1globally.

It is worth mentioning that in the 2020 InterNations survey, Basel ranked in the 24th place, so it progressed impressively this year.

What about Geneva?

Switzerland’s most “international” city due to the presence of a number of United Nations agencies and multinational companies, places near the bottom of the ranking, in the 47th place.

“It has the worst results among the Swiss cities included in the report and is the only one that does not rank in the global top 10 of the Quality of Urban Living Index”, InterNations said.

Similar to the other Swiss cities, Geneva ranks among the top 10 for political stability (1st) and in the bottom 10 for the affordability of healthcare (56th). However, it lags behind for all other factors, with expats particularly dissatisfied with the local leisure options (23 percent versus 14 percent globally).

“Interestingly, the comparably low quality of life does not make Geneva any easier to afford: on the contrary, it is the worst-ranking city worldwide in the Local Cost of Living Index (57th) and by far the worst-rated Swiss city in the Finance & Housing Index (53rd)”, the report noted.

It added that “while Geneva comes 26th in the Finance Subcategory, it ranks 55th in the Housing Subcategory, only ahead of Dublin (56th) and Munich (57th). Expats find housing in Geneva unaffordable (87 percent  vs. 39 percent globally) and hard to find (63 percent vs. 23 percent globally).”

READ MORE: Why is Geneva’s rent the highest in Switzerland?

Geneva has a fairly average performance in the Urban Work Life Index (28th) but receives worse results in the Getting Settled Index (43rd). It ends up in the bottom 10 of the Feeling Welcome (52nd), Local Friendliness (50th), and Friends & Socializing (48th) subcategories.

“It is certainly not easy to integrate into the local culture and community,” said one respondent. In fact, 35 percent find the locals generally unfriendly, against 16 percent globally).

The difficulty is making friends in Switzerland is a well-known phenomenon among the international community.

READ MORE: ‘Suspicious of the unknown’: Is it difficult to make friends in Switzerland?

Maybe this is also why they find it hard to get used to the local culture (32 percent versus  18 percent globally) and do not feel at home — 33 percent compared to 19 percent  globally).

Zurich and Lausanne

The two other Swiss cities with a high proportion of international residents fall between the “best” and the “worst”, with Lausanne in the 21st place and Zurich in the 34th.

“All of them rank among the bottom 10 worldwide for the local cost living but among the top 10 for the local quality of life— except for Geneva, which lands in 21st place.”, the survey noted.

This InterNations chart shows how the four the cities are doing in each category. Please click here for a larger version of the chart. 

Image: Internations

You can find out more about each of the four cities from these links. 

READ MORE: Ten things Zurich residents take for granted

Zurich versus Geneva: Six big differences between Switzerland’s two biggest cities

Swiss town ranked the ‘world’s best small city’