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Experts from the UN nuclear watchdog were at Iran's Arak heavy water plant on Sunday to inspect it for the first time in more than two years, media reported. "The IAEA experts started their visit to the Arak facility on Sunday morning," Fars news agency quoted Iran's atomic energy organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi as saying. The visit comes just weeks after Iran clinched a landmark nuclear agreement with world powers under which it will freeze or curb some of its controversial nuclear activities in return for limited relief from crippling international sanctions.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will visit US troops in Afghanistan on Sunday after appealing to Kabul to sign a long-delayed security accord allowing NATO forces to stay in the country after 2014. Hagel will travel outside the Afghan capital to greet American troops in the field a day after tensions between Washington and Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the stalled security pact were on full public display. As President Barack Obama's top national security adviser, Susan Rice, and top diplomat, John Kerry, had already had frank discussions with Karzai urging him to sign the security agreement, Hagel said there was no point in him merely repeating the US position. "There's not much I can add in a meeting with President Karzai to what's already been said," he said.
By Jeff Mason WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Saturday defended an interim deal with Iran to curb its nuclear program and, seeking to reassure Israel, pledged to step up sanctions or prepare for a potential military strike if Tehran fails to abide by the pact. U.S. relations with Israel have been strained by the interim agreement, reached between Iran and major world powers including the United States, which was designed to halt advances in Iran's nuclear program and buy time for negotiations on a final settlement.
By William Maclean MANAMA (Reuters) - Rising naval power India has no intention of becoming a U.S.-style protector of Gulf Arab states, even if the region's states asked it to take on that role, its foreign minister said on Saturday, citing his country's avoidance of foreign military deployments not mandated by the United Nations. Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid added without elaborating that any effort by fellow Asian powers Japan and China to become a strategic security partner of the Gulf would not necessarily help secure the region, where deployed U.S. forces are currently the dominant military power. Khurshid was speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of a security conference in Bahrain that debated whether a United States increasingly self reliant in oil might show less commitment to safeguarding the Strait of Hormuz, the world's main energy artery through which 40 percent of the world's sea-borne oil exports pass. We certainly don't believe that the presence of any other power, such as China or Japan, or what have you, would necessarily contribute to the security of the region." Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel told the meeting on Saturday that the United States has a proven and enduring commitment to Middle East security, backed by diplomatic engagement as well as warplanes, ships, tanks, artillery and 35,000 troop.
President Barack Obama warned Saturday that Israel's vision of an "ideal" nuclear agreement with Iran was unrealistic and put the chance of any acceptable final deal emerging at no more than 50/50. But Obama argued that the best possible available agreement with Tehran was likely to be better than the alternatives, and it was therefore imperative to try to secure one. Obama, speaking at the Brookings Institution's Saban Forum in Washington, said a deal was possible that included enough verification safeguards to assure foreign powers Tehran could not build a nuclear bomb. He indicated that could include a very "modest" option for Iran to enrich uranium as part of a peaceful nuclear program under intense scrutiny by outside observers that would ensure Tehran was kept from "breakout" capacity needed to race to build an atomic weapon.
Gunmen attacked 12 liquor stores in Baghdad on Saturday, killing nine people, police said, the latest in a series of assaults on alcohol sellers in the capital. Police said most of the victims were members of Iraq's Yazidi Kurdish minority who tend to staff alcohol stores. No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but Shi'ite Muslim militias, who warn against practices they see as going against their strict interpretation of Islam, are believed to have been behind assaults on liquor stores and cafes earlier this year. Even though many Iraqis shun alcohol, forbidden under Islamic law, the country is a generally less conservative Muslim society than neighbours such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, thanks to its mix of Shi'ites, Sunnis, ethnic Kurds and Christians.
Iran is moving ahead with testing more efficient uranium enrichment technology, a spokesman for its atomic energy agency said on Saturday, in news that may concern world powers who last month agreed a deal to curb Tehran's atomic activities. Spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi was quoted by state news agency IRNA as saying that initial testing on a new generation of more sophisticated centrifuges had been completed, underlining Iran's determination to keep refining uranium in what it says is work to make fuel for a planned network of nuclear power plants. Although the development does not appear to contravene the interim agreement struck between world powers and Iran last month, it may concern the West nonetheless, as the material can also provide the fissile core of a nuclear bomb if enriched to a high degree.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama says the recent nuclear deal with Iran is the best strategy for preventing Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
UN nuclear inspectors arrived in Iran Saturday to visit the still-unfinished Arak heavy water plant for the first time in more than two years, the ISNA news agency reported. The visit comes just weeks after Iran clinched a landmark nuclear agreement with world powers under which it will freeze or curb some of its controversial nuclear activities in return for limited relief from crippling international sanctions. The Arak heavy water plant had been a sticking point in the negotiations because, once completed, it would produce plutonium as a by-product, potentially giving Tehran a second route to a nuclear weapons capability. The two inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency will begin their work on Sunday at the site, 240 kilometres (150 miles) southwest of the capital, but ISNA did not say how long they would be there.
By David Alexander KABUL (Reuters) - A NATO meeting in February could become a new deadline for a security pact between the United States and Afghanistan, whose president has been reluctant to sign the deal, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on visit to Kabul. Hagel arrived in Afghanistan on Saturday to visit troops and senior Afghan officials but, unusually, did not plan to meet President Hamid Karzai, who has resisted signing the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) which would govern the U.S. military presence after most NATO forces leave by the end of next year. "Some answers are going to be required at that NATO ministerial." Hagel met the Afghan defense minister, the deputy interior minister and the commanding general of the Afghan National Army, but said the purpose of his trip was to greet troops during the holiday season and that he had never intended to see Karzai.
Diplomacy with Iran must be backed up by US military might, Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said Saturday in a speech to Gulf allies anxious over a nuclear deal with Tehran. Hagel promised the United States would maintain a 35,000-strong force in the Gulf region, as well as an armada of ships and warplanes, despite the recent accord with Tehran. Speaking at a security conference in Bahrain, he said the interim deal with Iran to roll back its nuclear programme was a risk worth taking, but that Western diplomacy should not be "misinterpreted". The Pentagon "will not make any adjustments to its forces in the region -- or to its military planning -- as a result of the interim agreement with Iran," he added.
US lawmakers are preparing a possible vote on new sanctions against Iran, a move President Barack Obama and his P5+1 partners fear could sabotage the nuclear deal reached in Geneva. Administration officials have beaten a path to Capitol Hill in recent weeks, warning Congress against short-circuiting the delicate negotiations. Now that the talks have borne fruit in the form of an interim accord on Tehran's nuclear program, officials are again encouraging a go-slow approach by lawmakers to allow the parties to reach a final deal. But the public and private lobbying has not deterred many in Congress who are determined to tighten the noose on Iran's oil sector and industries like mining, construction and engineering.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's president defended an interim nuclear deal that eases some of the international community's crippling economic sanctions in return for a freeze on part of the Islamic Republic's uranium enrichment activities, saying Saturday that improving the economy is as important as maintaining a peaceful nuclear program.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is to visit Iran on Sunday straight after an awkward visit to Kabul by US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, an Iranian official said. To the growing dismay of Washington, Karzai has been refusing to sign a deal allowing NATO troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond next year, a position strongly backed by Iran. Hagel flew into Kabul on Saturday amid disagreement over whether he would even meet the Afghan president in the face of the security pact row. Washington and its allies have appealed to Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), which lays out the rules for US and other NATO troops to operate in the country after 2014 on a mission focused on training, and countering Al-Qaeda-linked extremists.
The personal website of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has published pictures of the cleric hiking in the mountains outside Tehran, his black turban replaced by a baseball cap. The pictures show Rouhani, usually seen in the turban and robes favoured by Iran's clerics, in a black baseball cap and matching ski jacket walking along a dirt road and using hiking poles. He is seen mingling and chatting with other hikers, including a group of women, and posing for a picture with the sun setting over Tehran in the background. Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who must approve all major decisions and who is seen as more distrustful of the West, is also fond of hiking, and state media have published similar pictures of him in the past.
By Amy Sawitta Lefevre BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand will help the United Nations and the United States with any investigation into the findings of a Reuters report that Thai immigration officials moved Myanmar refugees into human-trafficking rings, the prime minister said on Saturday. The United Nations and the United States called on Friday for an investigation into the report, published on Thursday and based on a two-month investigation in three countries, that revealed a clandestine policy to remove Rohingya refugees from Thai immigration detention centers and deliver them to human traffickers waiting at sea. Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who chairs a government committee on human trafficking, declined to comment on the findings when asked about her reaction. "I cannot comment on the Rohingya issue and reaction as this is the responsibility of the Foreign Ministry to handle," she said in a comment to Reuters, delivered through an aide.