Tag Archives: Geneva

Russia urges to immediately stop combat operations in Ukraine

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also said on Friday they were deeply concerned by the progressing crisis in Ukraine

MOSCOW, April 25, 20:43 UTC+4 ITAR-TASS

Russia urges to immediately stop any combat operations and violence in Ukraine, to pull troops back and to begin the implementation of the Geneva agreements, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday.

“Bearing in mind the genesis of the current crisis, we think it right to begin with measures stipulated in the agreements of February 21, 2014 that was signed by the leaders of the Verkhovna Rada [Ukrainian parliament] coalition and reaffirmed by foreign ministers of Germany, Poland and France,” the ministry said. “It would make it possible to start practical de-escalation in line with the Geneva statement.”

Russia consistently supports its full realization, including the activities of the mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE),” the ministry said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also said on Friday they were deeply concerned by the progressing crisis in Ukraine.

Lavrov told Steinmeier that, to stabilize the situation, it was necessary to put an end all types of violence and to stop the use of the Army units and armed nationalistic radicals in the towns and cities of Eastern Ukraine.

The two ministers drew a conclusion on the importance of an active engagement of a mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in the efforts to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine.

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Putin: Kiev authorities are junta if they use force against civilians

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If Kiev authorities have started to use force against the civilian population, this is a serious crime, Russian President Vladimir Putin said. Taking this action makes them a “junta” and may affect their relations with other countries, he added.

“If the Kiev regime started military actions against the country’s population, this is without doubt a very serious crime,” Putin said at All-Russia People’s Front media forum.

According to Putin current situation in East Ukraine is another proof Russia was right when it supported Crimeans, when they decided to have a referendum.

“[Otherwise] it would have seen there the same things which are now happening in the east of Ukraine, or even worse,” he said. “That’s one more proof to the fact we did it all right and in time.”

Putin believes that the use of force by the coup-imposed government in Kiev means that it’s actually a junta.

“If current authorities in Kiev have done this [used force], then they are junta,” the president said. “For one thing, they don’t have nation-wide mandate. They might have some elements of legitimacy, but only within the framework of the parliament. The rest of the government bodies are for various reasons illegitimate.”

Vladimir Putin described the use of force in eastern Ukraine as a “reprisal raid” and said that it would have an impact on Russian-Ukrainian relations.

Earlier in the day, fighting erupted just outside Slavyansk, a town in eastern Ukraine where the population voiced their protest against the Kiev authorities. Ukrainian troops in tanks and armored vehicles have been trying to break into the town.

According to the Ukrainian Interior ministry, at least five self-defense guards have been killed and one policeman injured after the “anti-terrorist operation” launched by Kiev in the town. Three checkpoints erected by the anti-government protesters have also been destroyed.

Self-defense forces managed to repel an attack at one checkpoint 3 kilometers north of Slavyansk, forcing at least three infantry vehicles to retreat, Russia-24 TV reports.

On Wednesday, authorities in Kiev announced they were resuming a military operation against protesters in eastern Ukraine, which they described as an “anti-terrorist” one.

Protesters believe the move was contrary to the agreement on de-escalation reached in Geneva.

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Kiev must immediately deescalate east Ukraine crisis, call back troops – Moscow

Ukrainian soldiers drive an airborne combat vehicle near Kramatorsk, in eastern Ukraine April 16, 2014.

Kiev authorities must “immediately” deescalate the situation in southeast Ukraine by withdrawing its troops from the region, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has said, adding that Kiev must start nationwide talks and stop “distorting” the Geneva agreement.

“The Russian side once again insists on an immediate deescalation of the situation in the southeast of Ukraine, the withdrawal of divisions of the Ukrainian Army and the start of a real inter-Ukrainian dialogue including all the regions and political entities of the country,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website.

Moscow is “surprised” by Kiev’s interpretation of the four-sided Geneva agreement adopted by Russia, Ukraine, the US and the EU on April 17, it added.

Despite the call for disarmament of “all the illegal armed groups” specified by the agreement, Kiev, Washington and a number of European leaders “keep harping on the necessity to ‘hand over weapons’ [referring] only to the Ukrainian citizens defending their rights in southeastern Ukraine.” With that, the Western powers “are turning a blind eye to the ongoing provocative actions of the gunmen of the far-right groups, including that of the so-called Right Sector.”

Such actions, which have been taking place in both the capital, Kiev, and in southeastern Ukrainian cities, “have already led to death of people overnight into April 20,” the ministry said.

Russia continues to believe that the Western partners are “earnest” in their stated commitment for the peaceful resolving of the Ukrainian crisis, the statement said. However, the facts “regretfully speak to the opposite,” it added. Kiev has not moved to enter a dialogue with the regions of Ukraine protesting against its rule, while the US officials have apparently chosen not to discourage the coup-imposed authorities in their “strongarm ambitions.”

Immediately after US Vice-President Joseph Biden ended his April 21-22 talks and left the Ukrainian capital, Kiev announced the renewal of the so-called “anti-terrorist operation” in eastern Ukraine, the statement noted. Previously, CIA director’s John Brennan’s April 13 visit to Kiev coincided with the start of the same military operation, it said.

Moscow blasted the US-backed distinction between “legally occupied” buildings in central Kiev at the Independence Square (Maidan) and the “illegally occupied” buildings in southeastern Ukraine, calling US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s recent statements on the issue “absolutely incorrect.”

The statements voiced by the Ukrainian oligarch and multibillionaire Igor Kolomoysky, picked by the Kiev authorities as the governor of the Dnepropetrovsk region, “look even more absurd,” the ministry said. Kolomoysky’s deputy Boris Filatov recently announced a $10,000 bounty for each “Russian mercenary” captured and handed over to the Kiev-backed authorities and a $200,000 reward for each regional administration building freed. Filatov also said the servicemen at the Mariupol military base, who on April 16 killed three people and injured 13 more during an attempted storming allegedly inspired by the anti-government activists, have been paid 500,000 hryvnas ($43,000).

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Protesters in Ukraine’s Donetsk refuse to recognize Geneva agreements

One of the leaders of the self-proclaimed Dontesl People’s Republic claims the Kiev authorities were not observing the agreements

KIEV, April 18. ITAR-TASS

The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in Ukraine’s east refuses to recognize the agreements on the Ukrainian settlement reached in Geneva on April 17, one of the republic’s leaders, Denis Pushilin, told a news conference in Donetsk on Friday.

Pushilin claimed the Kiev authorities were not observing these agreements. “They are not withdrawing troops from the Donetsk region, so we cannot speak about any concession in such conditions,” he said. Before speaking about any compromise solutions, in his words, Kiev “must vacate seized buildings, unarm illegal groups, such as the National Guards and the Right Sector, and release political prisoners.” “We will be ready for a dialogue only when Kiev does it,” he stressed.

The Geneva consultations involving representatives from Ukraine, the United States, the European Union and Russia yielded an agreement that illegal armed groups were to vacate buildings they had seized and surrender arms. Diplomats also agreed that people who did this would be granted amnesty.

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Europe understands there is no backtracking on Crimea — Russian EU ambassador

Russia’s Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov

MOSCOW, April 18. ITAR-TASS

Europe is fully aware that there is no and there will be no backtracking on Crimea, Russia’s Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov said on Friday.

“I think Europe has finally come to understand that there is no and there will be no going back. They understand that it is rather pointless to discuss the Crimean problem with us, although this issue will remain a point of contention in our relations,” he told the Rossiya 24 television channel.

The work on the process that was launched in the Geneva negotiations on Ukraine will be continued, Chizhov added.

“Many were inclined to think that this meeting would be doomed to failure,” Chizhov noted. “The fact that we managed to agree on the document is a big success, which opens the way for further work. The work at the Geneva meeting is not over, it will be continued with active participation of Russian diplomacy,” he said.

Geneva agreement on deescalation of crisis in Ukraine

The term ‘constructive ambiguity’ cannot be applied to Geneva statement on Ukraine, Chizhov said, commenting on various interpretations of the agreements reached in Thursday’s Geneva negotiations on Ukraine.

“The statement rather clearly states what the Kiev authorities should do,” he said. “Kiev is insisting on disarming eastern regions and ignores what is going on in western regions and in the capital,” he added.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will expand its mission in Ukraine and increase its financing, Chizhov said.

“Participants in the Geneva meeting agreed that control over the implementation of agreements in Ukrainian cities will be vested with the OSCE monitoring mission, which is already working in Ukraine and regularly sends its reports to Vienna,” the diplomat explained. “I think the mission will be expanded – more personnel will be sent there and more funds will be allocated. Russia supported the initiative to send this mission. It took much time and effort to agree its mandate.”

Ukraine’s entry restrictions for Russians

Ukrainian authorities’ decision to ban entry into the country for some categories of Russian citizens “has revealed hostility towards the nationals of Russia and, on top of that, a bureaucratic mess,” Chizhov said.

“This doesn’t justify the Ukrainian authorities by any means,” he said.

As he answered a reporter’s question on the EU’s reaction to the ban, Chizhov expressed hope that there would be a reaction of some kind eventually. “It turned out that Ukraine’s interim acting foreign minister (Andrii Deshchytsia) didn’t even know about the decision.”

“The anti-humanistic nature of the step is further intensified by its timing,” Chizhov said. “It was announced on the eve of the Easter, which all confessions of Christianity celebrate on the same day this year.”

 

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Breaking news – Kiev: Military operation in Ukraine southeast to go on despite Geneva agreement

Breaking NewsDETAILS TO FOLLOW

Despite calls for a peaceful dialogue in the document on Ukraine adopted in Geneva, the coup-imposed Ukrainian Foreign Minister said it will not affect the “anti-terrorist” operation in the East of the country and the troops will remain there.

Soon after the Geneva document, adopted at a four-side meeting between Ukraine, the US, the EU and Russia, was published, Ukraine’s acting Foreign Minister Andrey Deshchytsa said Kiev is not bound by its recommendations.

According to Deshchytsa cited by RIA Novosti, “the troops in the East of the country are carrying out a special operation and can remain where they are.”

DETAILS TO FOLLOW

This comes despite the statement issued by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry following the meeting, which says:

“All sides have pledged to refrain from any form of violence, intimidation or provocative actions. The participants of the meeting strongly condemned and rejected all forms of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including manifestations of anti-Semitism.”

Deshchytsa said the Ukrainian side has agreed on “joint efforts” with Russia “to start the process of de-escalation in eastern Ukraine.”

DETAILS TO FOLLOW

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia (R) stops U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton (C) in Geneva April 17, 2014.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia (R) stops U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton (C) in Geneva April 17, 2014.

Speaking after the four-side meeting, US Secretary of State John Kerry also gave an assurance that the Ukrainian authorities are ready to ensure “inclusive and transparent” constitutional reform. All regions of Ukraine will be included in the work towards this reform, he said.

Ukraine will take de-escalation measures in the coming days, Kerry claimed, adding that Washington will “watch that very closely.”

“All of this, we are convinced, represents a good day’s work, but on the other hand, this day’s work has produced principles, and it has produced commitments and it has produced words on paper. And we are the first to understand and agree that words on paper will only mean what the actions taken as a result of those words produce,” Kerry said.

The top US diplomat again threatened Russia with “additional sanctions, additional costs as a consequence,” if there is no progress in eastern Ukraine. At the same time, he hinted some sanctions may be lifted if the de-escalation process goes well.

All sides of the conflict in Ukraine must refrain from violence and provocations, Kerry stressed. International meetings on Ukraine should continue, he said.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has assessed the talks as “frank but constructive discussions,” saying that “it was extremely important to bring us all together here to have that process of dialogue begin.”

“We absolutely welcomed the Ukrainian commitment to conduct an inclusive and transparent constitutional process,” Ashton said.

The EU diplomat stressed that measures to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine should be taken “immediately,” with the leading role given to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, which will “assist the Ukrainian authorities and local communities to take the necessary measures that they need to take.”

Ashton said the EU will “continue to support efforts to stabilize the situation in Ukraine economically, financially and politically.”

“Today President Barroso of the European Commission wrote to President Putin on behalf of the European Union, accepting President Putin’s proposal for consultations with Russia and Ukraine, trilateral consultations, on the security of gas supply and transit,”
she added.

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Lavrov: Russia, US, EU, Ukraine agree on de-escalation roadmap

Russia, the US, the EU and Ukraine have adopted a joint document on the de-escalation of the Ukraine crisis, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, after talks in Geneva. It calls for all illegal armed groups to lay down arms and a wide amnesty.

The document calls for an “immediate start of a nationwide national dialogue within the framework of the constitutional process, which must be inclusive and accountable,” Lavrov said.

The most important agreement reached during the talks, according to Lavrov, states that the Ukrainian crisis “must be resolved by the Ukrainians themselves concerning an end to the conflict” including those related to “detaining protesters, occupying buildings” and, in the long run “the start of true constitutional reform.”

“Among the steps that have to be taken are: the disarmament of all the illegal armed groups, and the return of all the occupied administrative buildings,” Lavrov told journalists at the Thursday briefing.

“An amnesty for all the protesters must take place, except of those who committed grave crimes,” the Foreign Minister added.

The issue of illegal armed groups and seized buildings concerns all the regions of Ukraine, Lavrov stressed.

“It is impossible to solve the problem of illegally seized buildings in one region of Ukraine when the illegally seized buildings are not freed in another,” he said.

“Those who took power in Kiev as a result of a coup – if they consider themselves as representing the interests of all the Ukrainians – must show the initiative, extend a friendly hand to the regions, listen to their concerns, and sit down with them at the negotiation table,” Lavrov said.

Lavrov said the document does not give any guidelines on the future political system of Ukraine.

“We did not use any terms… There are federations where the rights of the regions are limited, and there are unitary states in name only where the regions have broad authority,” he explained.

The goal of the meeting was to send a signal to the Ukrainians that they are responsible for stability in the country and must ensure that “each region can protect its history and language,” Lavrov stressed.

“Only then will Ukraine be a strong state, a proverbial bridge between the East and the West,” Lavrov said.

The Russian side on Thursday provided US and EU representatives with documents passed on from south-eastern Ukrainians, which contain “a thorough vision of how their interests should be reflected in the new [Ukrainian] constitution.”

The OSCE’s (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) monitoring mission must play “the leading role” in assisting the Ukrainian authorities to resolve the crisis, Lavrov stressed, adding that Russia “will support” the mission’s work.

The Geneva meeting has given Russia “hopes” that “the US and the EU are genuinely interested in a trilateral cooperation with Russia aimed at convincing the Ukrainian to sit down at the negotiation table,” Lavrov said.

According to the Russian top diplomat, the Americans now have a “decisive influence” on the Kiev authorities, which should be used for resolving the crisis.

Russia “does not want to send any troops to Ukraine,” Lavrov stressed, answering journalists’ questions. Moscow’s chief concern is that the rights of all the Ukrainian regions, including those with Russian-speaking majorities, must be taken into account in the constitutional reform.

“We have absolutely no wish to send our troops to Ukraine, to the territory of a friendly state, to the land of a brotherly nation. This is against the fundamental interests of the Russian Federation,” Lavrov said.

Calling the recent NATO statements on Ukraine’s neutrality “unacceptable,” Lavrov stressed that pushing for changes in the country’s non-aligned status will “undermine the efforts to resolve the crisis” in Ukraine.

“The fact that Ukraine has chosen non-aligned status and enshrined it in its law must be respected by all and there should not be any attempts to doubt it or to erode its meaning,” the Russian Foreign Minister stressed.

Ahead of the quadrilateral talks, Lavrov met US Secretary of State John Kerry, while EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton saw Ukraine’s acting Foreign Minister Andrey Deshchytsa. Both meetings were held behind closed doors.

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Syria Peace Talks In Doubt After 6th Day In Geneva

GENEVA (AP) — U.N.-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi ended direct talks between the Syrian government and opposition Saturday without finding a way of breaking the impasse in peace talks.

Saturday’s talks, which lasted less than half an hour, left the future of the negotiating process in doubt and no date was set for a third session.

Brahimi told a news conference that both sides agreed that the agenda for the next round should focus on four points: ending the violence and terrorism, creating a transitional governing body, building national institutions, and reconciliation.

To avoid losing another week or more before resuming discussions, Brahimi said he proposed that the first day should be reserved for talks on ending violence and combating terrorism, the main thrust of the government’s stance, and the second for talking about how to create a transitional body, as the opposition and Western powers insist.

“Unfortunately the government has refused, which raises the suspicion of the opposition that in fact the government doesn’t want to discuss the TGB (transitional governing body) at all,” Brahimi said.

“In that case, I have suggested that it’s not good for the process, it’s not good for Syria that we come back for another round and fall in the same trap that we have been struggling with this week and most of the first round,” he said. “So I think it is better that every side goes back and reflect and take their responsibility: do they want this process to take place or not?”

Brahimi said he would consult with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about a way forward.

“I am very, very sorry, and I apologize to the Syrian people that their hopes which were very, very high that something will happen here,” Brahimi said.

Syria’s ambassador to the U.N., Bashar Jaafari, said the government accepted Brahimi’s proposed agenda but a problem was raised “by the other side when they gave their own interpretation of the agenda.”

He insisted that the government is committed to returning to negotiations.

“We promised our own people to get back to Geneva to continue the Geneva talks as long as it takes, because we are extremely careful about stopping the bloodshed in Syria and combatting terrorism,” Jaafari told reporters. “This I promise you: We will be committed to doing so.”

Anas al-Abdeh, a member of the opposition negotiating team, said his side accepted the agenda but the government’s unwillingness to go along with the order of discussions put the prospects of a third session of talks within the “Geneva 2″ negotiating round in doubt. The first two sessions lasted from Jan. 22-31 and Feb. 10-15. The first round, known as “Geneva 1,” resulted in a roadmap for peace in June 2012 that was not followed.

Al-Abdeh called the continuing stalemate in negotiations a result of the government’s “continuous effort to not talk and not to discuss the issue of the transitional governing body.”

Syria Peace Talks In Doubt After 6th Day In Geneva « CBS DC.

Iran, six world powers clinch breakthrough nuclear deal | Reuters

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton delivers a statement during a ceremony at the United Nations in Geneva(Reuters) – Iran and six world powers reached a breakthrough deal early on Sunday to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief, in what could be the first sign of an emerging rapprochement between the Islamic state and the West.

Aimed at ending a dangerous standoff, the agreement between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia was nailed down after more than four days of tortuous negotiations in the Swiss city of Geneva.

Halting Iran’s most sensitive nuclear work, it was designed as a package of confidence-building steps to ease decades of tensions and confrontation and banish the specter of a Middle East war over Tehran’s nuclear aspirations.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who has been coordinating talks with Iran on behalf of the major powers, said it created time and space for talks aimed at reaching a comprehensive solution to the dispute.

“This is only a first step,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told a news conference. “We need to start moving in the direction of restoring confidence, a direction in which we have managed to move against in the past.”

In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama said that if Iran did not meet its commitments during a six-month period, the United States would turn off sanctions relief and “ratchet up the pressure.”

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu’s government denounced the agreement as “a bad deal” that Israel did not regard itself as bound by.

Before Sunday’s agreement, Israel, believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear power, said the deal being offered would give Iran more time to master nuclear technology and amass potential bomb fuel.

The West fears that Iran has been seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability. The Islamic Republic denies that, saying its nuclear program is a peaceful energy project.

The United States said the agreement halted progress on Iran’s nuclear program, including construction of the Arak research reactor, which is of special concern for the West as it can yield potential bomb material.

It would neutralize Iran’s stockpile of uranium refined to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, which is a close step away from the level needed for weapons, and calls for intrusive U.N. nuclear inspections, a senior U.S. official said.

Iran has also committed to stop uranium enrichment above a fissile purity of 5 percent, a U.S. fact sheet said.

Refined uranium can be used to fuel nuclear power plants – Iran’s stated goal – but also provide the fissile core of an atomic bomb if refined much further.

REVERSIBLE SANCTIONS RELIEF

Diplomacy with Iran was stepped up after the landslide election of Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, as Iranian president in June, replacing bellicose nationalist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Rouhani aims to mend fences with big powers and get sanctions lifted. He obtained crucial public backing from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, keeping powerful hardline critics at bay.

On a Twitter account widely recognized as representing Rouhani, a message said after the agreement was announced, “Iranian people’s vote for moderation & constructive engagement + tireless efforts by negotiating teams are to open new horizons.”

The Geneva deal has no recognition of an Iranian right to enrich uranium and sanctions would still be enforced, the U.S. official said.

But Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said Iran’s enrichment program had been officially recognized.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the agreement would make it harder for Iran to make a dash to build a nuclear weapon and would make Israel and other U.S. allies safer.

Kerry also told a news conference that while Obama would not take off the table the possible use of force against Iran, he believed it was necessary first to exhaust diplomacy.

He said the limited sanctions relief could be reversible.

After Ashton read out a statement on the deal to the cameras at the United Nations in Geneva, ministers appeared elated. Ashton and Kerry hugged each other, and Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shook hands. Minutes later, as the Iranian delegation posed for photos, Zarif and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius approached each other and embraced.

A White House fact sheet detailed what Iran could obtain:

– Potential access to $1.5 billion in revenue from trade in gold and precious metals and the suspension of some sanctions on Iran‘s auto sector, and its petrochemical exports;

– Allow purchases of Iranian oil to remain at their currently significantly reduced levels. “$4.2 billion from these sales will be allowed to be transferred in installments if, and as, Iran fulfils its commitments,” the fact sheet said;

– License safety-related repairs and inspections inside Iran for certain Iranian airlines.

Most of the sanctions, Kerry said, would remain in place.

“The approximately $7 billion in relief is a fraction of the costs that Iran will continue to incur during this first phase under the sanctions that will remain in place,” the White House said. “The vast majority of Iran’s approximately $100 billion in foreign exchange holdings are inaccessible or restricted.”

Kerry and the foreign ministers of the five other world powers joined the negotiations with Iran early on Saturday as the two sides appeared to be edging closer to a long-sought preliminary agreement.

The Western powers’ goal was to cap Iran’s nuclear energy program, which has a history of evading U.N. inspections and investigations, to remove any risk of Tehran covertly refining uranium to a level suitable for bombs.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a Twitter message that it was an “important and encouraging” first-stage agreement with Iran, whose nuclear program “won’t move forward for 6 months and parts rolled back.”

France’s Fabius said, “After years of blockages, the agreement in Geneva on Iran’s nuclear program is an important step to preserving security and peace.”

‘CHRISTMAS PRESENT’

Tehran, whose oil-dependent economy has been severely damaged by tightening Western sanctions over the past few years, denies it would ever “weaponise” enrichment.

The OPEC producer rejects suspicions it is trying covertly to develop the means to produce nuclear weapons, saying it is stockpiling nuclear material for future atomic power plants.

“This is the first time in 33 years that Washington and Tehran have concluded a formal agreement. Even six months ago, few would have imagined this outcome,” said senior fellow Suzanne Maloney of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings.

Iran, six world powers clinch breakthrough nuclear deal | Reuters.

Putin calls Assad on Geneva-2, chemical weapons, persecution of Christians.

For the first time since 2011, the Russian and Syrian presidents spoke on the phone to discuss developments in the Syria crisis. Vladimir Putin called Bashar Assad about the Geneva-2 peace talks and the destruction of Syria’s chemical stockpile.

President Putin called President Assad to talk about the preparations for the Syria peace talks, and to share Russia’s concerns over the reports of a surge in extremist persecution of religious minorities in Syria, the Kremlin press service said on Thursday.

The Russian President said he hopes that major Syrian opposition groups will take “a constructive approach” and participate in the peace conference in Geneva.

Putin told Assad he was “satisfied” with Syria’s cooperation with the UN and the OPCW (International Chemical Weapons Watchdog).

The presidents discussed the procedure for bringing the Syrian chemical arsenal under international control and its ultimate destruction.

Putin said he was concerned with “purposeful persecution of Christians and other religious minorities” by extremist groups in Syria. He said Russia hopes the Syrian government “will do everything possible to relieve the suffering of the civilian population and to restore the peace.”

Assad thanked the Russian government for “aiding the Syrian people,” and the two presidents confirmed they intend to foster bilateral relations further.

The Geneva-2 peace talks, brokered by the US and Russia, have not yet been scheduled officially, although they were tentatively planned for November 23. Syrian official media recently said the date has been set for December 12, but this has not been officially confirmed.

While Russia has been pushing the international community for months to start the talks, and the Syrian government has repeatedly said it is ready to participate without preconditions, Western powers are still struggling to bring the opposition groups to the negotiation table.

Recently, the leader of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, Ahmad Jarba, told the Sunday Telegraph the group will agree to take part in talks on condition that the West ensures humanitarian corridors to the opposition strongholds in Syria. Previously, Jarba rejected the possibility of attending the Geneva-2, demanding that President Bashar Assad must go.

Putin calls Assad on Geneva-2, chemical weapons, persecution of Christians — RT News.