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SUNDAY, MAY 31, 2015

US, Iran in crucial nuclear talks ahead of looming deadline n AFP, Geneva

Tehran rejected a key Western demand for site inspections yesterday just as US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart launched crunch talks to secure a nuclear deal ahead of a looming deadline. The Geneva talks between Kerry and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in the run-up to the June 30 deadline come amid heightened diplomatic moves to try and end a 12-year standoff and put a nuclear bomb beyond Iran’s reach. Kerry and Zarif huddled for negotiations in a leading hotel, greeting each other warmly and chatting as they walked together along the corridor to the meeting room. Asked by a journalist whether they expected to meet the deadline, Zarif smiled and said: “We will try.” Kerry did not respond. But even as talks got underway, senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi told state television it would be “out of the ques-

tion” for UN inspectors to question Iranian scientists and inspect military site inspections as part of a final nuclear deal with world powers. After an interim accord struck in Geneva in November 2013, Washington and Tehran are trying to nail the final details of a ground-breaking agreement that would see Iran curtail its nuclear ambitions in return for a lifting of crippling international sanctions. Sealing a long-elusive deal with the Islamic republic could give US President Barack Obama his biggest foreign policy achievement yet. After three decades of enmity, it would also pave the way to bringing Iran back into the international fold and create fresh impetus to resolve a host of conflicts in the Middle East. The Geneva meeting came as the United States and its partners – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – seek to finalise the complex pact.

Time running out

US officials said the talks could spill over into a second day as the clock ticks down to the deadline. On April 2, Iran and the “P5+1” – as the US and its partners are known – agreed after eight days of tough talks in the Swiss city of Lausanne to the main outlines of a nuclear deal, with Tehran agreeing to rein in and mothball large sections of its nuclear programme. But differences remain, with both the US and Iran under immense pressure from hardliners not to make major concessions. A senior State Department official told reporters Friday that Kerry wanted to meet with Zarif to discuss the “really tough sticking issues.” Since the April 2 accord, technical experts have been meeting behind the scenes to overcome the remaining issues. But many of the decisions now need to be made at a political level. l

15 hurt in Philippine mosque attack n AFP, Jolo

Fifteen people including 10 police officers were wounded in an attack on a mosque at police camp on a remote Philippine island long plagued by Islamic militancy, officials said yesterday. Successive blasts targeted the mosque inside Camp Kasim on the island of Jolo early evening Friday – an initial grenade attack followed by a bomb explosion less than 10 minutes later that was intended to target police who rushed to the scene, local authorities said. “It seems the (first) explosion was set up to draw responders as the target,” the provincial police chief Senior Superintendent Abraham Orbita told reporters. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred inside the sprawling provincial police headquarters in the provincial capital of Jolo, a mainly Muslim island in the south of the predominantly Catholic Asian nation. It was the second bomb attack on Camp Kasim since 2010, when a Christmas Day blast wounded six people worshipping at a Catholic church in another section of the facility. l

Syrian barrel bombs leave 71 dead n AFP, Aleppo

Barrel bombs dropped from regime helicopters killed at least 71 civilians in Syria’s Aleppo province yesterday, after forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad retreated from the neighbouring northwestern region of Idlib. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said “at least 71 civilians were killed, and dozens were wounded, when regime helicopters dropped barrel bombs on the city of Al-Bab and in Al-Shaar in east Aleppo city.” The bodies of those slain were laid out on the streets of the neighbourhood, with the limp blood-covered hand of one of them protruding from under a blanket, said an AFP correspondent at the scene. One of the civil defence volunteers, Shahud Hussein, said the blasts were so powerful that buildings in the neighbourhood were “likely to collapse.” l

Iraqi forces inch towards Ramadi n AFP, Baghdad

Iraqi forces retook an area west of Ramadi yesterday as they pressed their operation aimed at sealing off the jihadists who captured the city two weeks ago, commanders said. “The Iraqi army and the Hashed al-Shaabi liberated the Anbar traffic police building in the 5K area west of Ramadi after a fierce fight,” an army officer said. Hashed al-Shaabi (“popular mobilisation” in Arabic) is an umbrella for mostly Shiite militia and volunteers that has played a key role in Iraq’s fight against the Islamic State group. “The battle forced IS to withdraw from the building, which they had used as a base, and pull back into Ramadi city,” the officer told AFP. Iraq forces have launched wide operations aimed at severing the supply lines of the jihadists from Anbar, a vast Sunni province in western Iraq of which Ramadi is the capital. l

People escort ambulances, carrying victims of an attack on buses, to the hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, yesterday


At least 21 killed in 2nd Pakistan bus attack n AFP, Quetta

Unidentified gunmen stormed two passenger coaches in southwest Pakistan and killed at least 21 people, officials said yesterday. The buses were en route to the port city of Karachi when they were stormed in Mastung district in the troubled province of Baluchistan late Friday, according to Mastung deputy district commissioner Akbar Harifal. “The death toll has risen to 21,” Harifal told AFP. Officials had earlier put the death toll at 19, but one passenger later died in hospital overnight while the dead body of another passen-

ger was recovered from the site of the attack. Harifal said security forces rescued five passengers after a firefight with the assailants. It was unclear exactly how many passengers were on the buses. Baluchistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti said 15 to 20 attackers armed with guns and other automatic rifles were involved in the attack. He told reporters that a massive search operation involving 500 ground troops and supported by four helicopters was underway. “Two terrorists have been killed and the search and cordon operation is on,” Bugti said. “We have cordoned the

attackers in a large area.” An AFP reporter in Quetta said around 800 relatives of the passengers carried the victims’ bodies and staged a sit-in protest in front of the provincial chief minister’s official residence. The protest, which continued for more than 10 hours, only ended after Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch pledged to tighten security, arrest the attackers and raise compensation for victims’ families. The provincial government yesterday announced more than one million rupees ($9,800) as compensation for the families of each of the victims. l

31 May, 2015