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Iran top diplomat says U.S. must show goodwill gesture for direct talks

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(Last Updated On: February 20, 2022)

Iran is ready to swap prisoners with the United States, Iran’s foreign minister said on Saturday, adding that talks to revive a 2015 nuclear deal could succeed “at the earliest possible time” if the United States makes the necessary political decisions, Reuters reported.

Reuters reported on Thursday that a U.S.-Iranian deal is taking shape in Vienna after months of indirect talks to revive the nuclear pact. The draft text of the agreement alluded to other measures, including unfreezing billions of Iranian funds in South Korean banks and the release of Western prisoners held in Iran, Reuters reported.

“We believe prisoner swap is a humanitarian issue … unrelated to the nuclear accord … We can do it immediately,” Hossein Amirabdollahian told a panel at the Munich Security Conference.

Robert Malley, who leads the indirect U.S. talks with Iran in Vienna, has suggested that securing the nuclear pact is unlikely unless Tehran releases four U.S. citizens Washington says it is holding hostage.

According to Reuters in recent years, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners, mostly on espionage and security-related charges. Tehran denies taking prisoners to gain diplomatic leverage, as claimed by rights activists.

In the past, Iran has called for the release of over a dozen Iranians in the United States, including seven Iranian-American dual nationals, two Iranians with permanent U.S. residency and four Iranian citizens with no legal status in the United States.

Most of them have been jailed for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, Reuters reported.

When asked whether Tehran was ready to hold direct talks with Washington, Amirabdollahian did not rule this out.

“They have asked for direct meetings … If Washington’s intentions are genuine, they should take some tangible steps of goodwill on the ground such as freeing Iran’s frozen assets abroad,” he said.

The 2015 deal between Iran and major powers limited Iran’s enrichment of uranium to make it harder for Tehran to develop material for nuclear weapons, in return for a lifting of international sanctions against Tehran, read the report.

But it has eroded since 2018 when then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States and reimposed far-reaching sanctions on Iran.

Tehran has since breached the deal’s limits and gone well beyond, rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium, refining it to higher fissile purity and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up output.

Both Tehran and Washington have described the nuclear talks as constructive since last week, when the negotiations resumed after a 10-day pause. However, they have also said that tough political decisions needed to be taken to overcome the remaining differences.

“I would like to emphasize here that we are ready to achieve a good deal, at the earliest possible time, if the other side makes the needed political decision,” Amirabdollahian said.

“If the talks fail in Vienna, Western powers will be responsible for the failure because we want a good deal.”

After 10 months of talks, one of the remaining differences is Iran’s demand for a U.S. guarantee of no more sanctions or other punitive steps in future, and also how and when to restore verifiable restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity, Reuters reported.

A senior Iranian official told Reuters that Iran has shown flexibility by agreeing to “inherent guarantees” as Washington says it is impossible for President Joe Biden to provide the legal assurances Iran has demanded.

Amirabdollahian said a joint statement by the heads of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to back the nuclear deal would suffice as a “political guarantee”.

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Two killed, 14 wounded in Norway nightclub shooting

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(Last Updated On: June 25, 2022)

Two people were killed and 14 injured on Saturday in a shooting at a nightclub and in nearby streets Norway’s capital Oslo, according to reports.

A suspect believed to be the sole perpetrator was arrested, police said.

The crime scene extended from the London Pub via a neighbouring club and onwards to a nearby street where the suspect was apprehended a few minutes after the shooting began in the early hours of Saturday, police spokesman Tore Barstad told newspaper Aftenposten.

The London Pub is a popular gay bar and nightclub in the centre of Oslo.

“I saw a man arrive with a bag, he picked up a gun and started to shoot,” journalist Olav Roenneberg of public broadcaster NRK reported.

The motive behind the attack was not immediately clear.

Oslo is due to hold its annual Pride parade later on Saturday, just months after Norway marked 50 years since the abolition of a law that criminalised gay sex.

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Pakistan’s central banks tells staff to work from home to save fuel

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(Last Updated On: June 23, 2022)

Pakistan’s central bank asked its employees to work from home two days a week and hold more virtual meetings as the country looks to conserve fuel and ensure it doesn’t run out of US dollars, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

In a Twitter message on Thursday, State Bank of Pakistan told its staff to opt for virtual meetings, car pooling and cutting down on air-conditioning. It also suspended purchases of furniture and restricted travel.

“These measures are intended to help with the energy bill while not compromising work,” the authority said.

“We encourage the banking industry and other stakeholders to save energy as much as possible.”

Pakistan’s government has already ordered shopping malls and factories to shut early in various cities including Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi, and cut the working week by a day.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s administration has increased pump prices by as much as 83 percent in less than a month as he tries to curb subsidies and win a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, Bloomberg reported.

The south Asian nation’s energy needs are largely met through imports and in July-May, its total petroleum import bill increased by 99 percent, according to Pakistan Bureau of Statistics’ data.

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Rwanda’s president urges other countries to follow UK migrant deal

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(Last Updated On: June 22, 2022)

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame said Tuesday that a controversial deal with Britain to take in migrants could be extended to other countries as the asylum system is “broken.”

Kagame, who is to host the Commonwealth summit in Kigali this week, said he believed the British deal could still go ahead despite being blocked by the European Court of Human Rights, AFP reported.

Britain has wanted to send some migrants and asylum seekers to Rwanda, in a proposal criticized by the UN refugee agency, rights groups and British church leaders.

Earlier this month, the first flight carrying asylum seekers was canceled following a European court ruling, AFP reported.

But Rwanda’s president told the Qatar Economic Forum: “I think the agreement is still on and may be implemented as well.”

Kagame said Rwanda has been hosting more than 100,000 refugees for decades, “so we are not new to this problem.”

“In fact most Rwandans have experienced being a refugee at some point in their lives. We know what it means and we are doing this for the right reasons.”

Kagame highlighted his country’s experience in giving “safe haven” to more than 1,000 people from Libya with help of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“The arrangement with the UK is really connected to that experience. There is no doubt that the asylum system is broken and it needs innovative solutions and we are happy to be contributing to those solutions.”

He added that when Britain approached Rwanda, “we talked about it, we looked at all the merits and thought it was something we could try to help out on as we have done in the past.”

Kagame said the model could be used with other countries, AFP reported.

“We need to try something new. What has been in place has not worked very well and that is why people are complaining about all kinds of things and we are seeing increased migration.”

“We need to really take a new look at the problem.”

Kagame said other solutions were possible but insisted “the problem has been running for a long time and hasn’t been sorted out.”

Rwanda will host the Commonwealth summit on Friday and Saturday, and Kagame praised the 54-nation group.

He said it helps “direct attention to challenges” facing smaller, developing countries, and that there would be “meaningful” meetings at the summit.

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