Category: Diplomacy

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U.S. Begins Military Talks With Russia on Syria

LONDON — As the first Russian combat aircraft arrived in Syria, the Obama administration reached out to Moscow on Friday to try to coordinate actions in the war zone and avoid an accidental escalation of one of the world’s most volatile conflicts.

The diplomatic initiative amounted to a pivot for the Obama administration, which just two weeks ago delivered a stern warning to the Kremlin that its military buildup in Syria risked an escalation of the civil war there or even an inadvertent confrontation with the United States. Last week, President Obama condemned Russia’s move as a “strategy that’s doomed to failure.”

But the White House seemed to acknowledge that the Kremlin had effectively changed the calculus in Syria in a way that would not be soon reversed despite vigorous American objections. The decision to start talks also reflected a hope that Russia might yet be drawn into a more constructive role in resolving the four-year-old civil war.

At Mr. Obama’s instruction, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter on Friday opened a dialogue on Syria with his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu, aimed at making sure that American and Russian forces avoid running into each other by mistake. The Russians have sent tanks, other equipment, marines and now combat aircraft to their new military hub near Latakia in western Syria. The Americans have flown hundreds of air missions in Syria striking the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.


Aleppo, Syria, on Thursday after what activists said was an aerial bomb attack by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. Credit Reuters


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Leader of US war effort against Islamic State stepping down

Marine General John R. Allen © Susan Walsh / Pool
The retired Marine general chosen by President Barack Obama to head military efforts against Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS/ISIL) is leaving the position, according to a new report.

John R. Allen, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, will leave the job in November, according to Bloomberg, which cited four anonymous Obama administration officials when reporting on the yet-public information.

Allen is reportedly frustrated with a lack of resources to counter the jihadist group, according to US officials. Allen had unsuccessfully lobbied administration officials for increased tactical air control teams to more efficiently target IS on the ground in Iraq, Bloomberg reported. Meanwhile, administration officials have portrayed his decision as one made out of concern for his wife’s poor health.

After originally committing to six months, Allen stayed in the position for an additional six months at the request of US Secretary of State John Kerry. In the near term, his deputy, Ambassador Brett McGurk, is expected to assume his duties.

Allen has defended the Obama administration’s IS strategy, including on one occasion earlier this month when he told ABC News that airstrikes have been successful in some areas of Iraq and Syria, where IS controls large swaths of territory.

“Where we were a year ago today, I wasn’t sure how it was going to unfold,” said Allen, who took the envoy post in September 2014. “It was not clear to me even that Iraq would survive this. In the intervening months, we’ve seen remarkable progress in many respects.”


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Hold on. John Allen steps down as ISIS war czar. David Petraeus gets royal treatment before the Senate today. You don’t think… ???



Equating Assad & ISIS West helps to prolong conflict

©  Andrey Stenin
Russia’s military support for Syria can only be considered controversial or wrong to those who maintain that a moral equivalence exists between ISIS and the Assad government.

Prolonging the conflict in Syria and the suffering of the Syrian people is a direct result of the mendacity and perfidy that informs the West’s stance towards the region. Indeed the lack of any moral clarity, leadership, and competence on the part of Western governments has been nothing short of criminal, with scant evidence of it changing anytime soon. Only in an upside down world could any equivalence be drawn between ISIS in Syria and the Assad government. Yet this is exactly the equivalence that the West continues to make, thus hampering efforts to destroy a movement that is intent on turning the clock back in Syria to the seventh century, embracing inhuman levels of butchery and barbarity in the process.

ISIS is the Khmer Rouge of our time, holding to a similar objective of turning an entire nation into a cultural, human, and physical desert. It revels in its cruelty and bestiality, enslaves and rapes women on a grand scale, and has been allowed to grow to the point where it now constitutes a direct threat to centuries of human progress. Thus we are talking about an organization that has no program that can be negotiated with, nothing to offer except carnage and chaos, making its complete and total destruction a non-negotiable condition of saving millions of people from a horrific fate.

In contradistinction to ISIS the Assad government is secular, believes in modernity, and upholds the rights of minorities, both Muslim and non-Muslim. More crucially, regardless of the huge campaign of demonization that has been unleashed against it in the West, it retains the support of its people, who understand more than any Western diplomat, politician, or ideologue the nature of the struggle they have been engulfed in these past four and half years.

Starting a New Cold War With Russia a Big Mistake – Sarkozy

Nicolas Sarkozy

Sputnik International

© RIA Novosti. Ekaterina Chesnokova
09:05 10.09.2015(updated 09:09 10.09.2015) 

The world needs Russia to end the civil war in Syria and flush out the Islamic State, French ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy said in an interview Wednesday. He also urged the West not to start a new Cold War with Russia.


Could the West ACCIDENTALLY start a war with Russia? Warning over aggressive military exercises – as U.S. fears build-up of Putin’s forces in Syria could spark conflict

  • Diplomatic and military leaders call on Russia and the West to ‘urgently’ begin talks to prevent conflicts being accidentally triggered
  • Comes as Russia holds an increasing number of military exercises
  • US asked Greece to deny Russia the use of its airspace for flights to Syria
  • Washington concerned by reports of Russian military build up in country
The European Leadership Network, a group made up of members from both Russia and Europe, has warned that relations are heading towards Cold War levels of hostility following events in Ukraine

The European Leadership Network, a group made up of members from both Russia and Europe, has warned that relations are heading towards Cold War levels of hostility following events in Ukraine

Diplomatic and military leaders are calling on Russia and the West to ‘urgently’ begin talks to prevent conflicts being accidentally triggered by an increasing number of military exercises and encounters

The European Leadership Network, a group made up of members from both Russia and Europe, has warned that relations are heading towards Cold War levels of hostility following events in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the United States has asked Greece to deny Russia the use of its airspace for supply flights to Syria, a Greek official said on Monday, after Washington told Moscow it was deeply concerned by reports of a Russian military build up in Syria.


US Wary, Not Surprised, by Russia’s Syria Efforts

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov, left, speaks during a meeting in Moscow, Russia.

FILE – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, left, speaks during a meeting in Moscow, Russia.

Top U.S. intelligence and security officials say Russia’s ramped up presence in Syria should come as little surprise though they remain concerned about Moscow’s increasingly aggressive posture.

“Russia has been very candid. There is some additional people and stuff that is on its way to Syria,” CIA Director John Brennan told a meeting Thursday of intelligence and security professionals in Washington.

“They are stating it is a dual purpose,” he said.

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by Staff Writers
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) April 18, 2014

Malaysia and Australia will sign a deal specifying who handles any wreckage from missing flight MH370 that may be recovered, including the crucial “black box” flight data recorders, local media reported Friday.

Malaysia is drafting the agreement “to safeguard both nations from any legal pitfalls that may surface during that (recovery) phase,” the New Straits Times reported.

The government hopes the deal can be finalised soon and endorsed in a Cabinet meeting next week. Canberra is studying the memorandum of understanding, it said.

“The MoU spells out exactly who does what and the areas of responsibility,” civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman was quoted as saying.

Azharuddin added that Malaysia would lead most of the investigation, with Australia and others helping. Details of the MoU will not be made public, the report said.

Azharuddin and other officials could not immediately be reached by AFP.

The Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 239 people inexplicably veered off course en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 and is believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean far off western Australia.

But a massive international search has failed to turn up any wreckage so far.


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by Staff Writers
Muscat (AFP) March 13, 2014


Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Shiite Iran on Thursday sought to allay concerns among mainly Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab monarchies mistrustful of Tehran over its nuclear ambitions.

“Our message to the other countries of the Persian Gulf is a message of friendship, fraternity and cooperation,” Zarif said in the Omani capital Muscat, where he is accompanying President Hassan Rouhani on a landmark visit.

The sultanate maintains strong links with Tehran, and has played an important intermediary role between Western countries and the Islamic republic.

Gulf Arab countries have expressed concern about the reliability of Iran’s sole nuclear power plant at Bushehr and the risk of radioactive leaks in case of a major earthquake, as well as a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear drive.

Iran insists that its atomic ambitions are peaceful, despite fears in Israel and the West that these mask a covert drive to acquire the bomb.

“Iran is ready for strong and fraternal relations with all the states of the region,” said Zarif, who has embarked on a charm offensive towards the Gulf since Rouhani became Iran’s president in August.


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Iran’s Rouhani extends hand to Gulf monarchies

by Staff Writers
Muscat (AFP) March 13, 2014


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sought Thursday to mend fences between his mainly-Shiite country and Sunni-dominated Gulf monarchies distrustful of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its support of the Syrian regime.

Rouhani, winding up a two-day visit to Oman, said the Islamic republic offered “a hand of fraternity to all the countries of the region.”

“Relations with one country should not grow at the expense of another. We want to see the countries of the region live in peace, understanding and friendship,” Rouhani told a business gathering in Muscat.

The sultanate maintains strong links with Iran and has played an important role as mediator between Western countries and Tehran.

But other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which besides Oman also comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have cool relations with Tehran.

Its Arab neighbours have expressed concern about the reliability of Iran’s sole nuclear power plant at Bushehr in the southern Gulf and the risk of radioactive leaks should it be hit by a major earthquake.

Like world powers, they also fear a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear drive, despite repeated assertions by Tehran that its atomic ambitions are peaceful.

Ties between Gulf countries and Iran have also been strained by Tehran’s backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in its battle against rebels supported by the Arab monarchies.

“Cooperation and rapprochement would benefit the whole region,” said Rouhani, adding that his country is “open to investors from the region, especially Omanis.”

Oman and Iran are seeking to expand trade, which reached $1 billion last year, and bilateral investments which they expect will top $10 billion by the end of this year, Iranian Ambassador Ali Akbar Sibeveih said Monday.


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NBC News

Image: Police officers from Lviv who joined anti-government protesters appear on a stage in Kiev's Independence Square DAVID MDZINARISHVILI / Reuters

Police officers from Lviv, Ukraine, appear on a stage after joining protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square on Friday.

Dozens of Ukrainian Police Defect, Vow to Protect Protesters

By James Novogrod

KIEV, Ukraine – About 40 police officers defected to Ukraine’s opposition and marched into the heart of the protest encampment in the Kiev on Friday, the day after violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces killed dozens.

“We wear this uniform, and in this uniform I made a vow to be a servant of the Ukrainian people,” said Col. Vasyl Krykovskiy, the head of police in the district of Lviv. “I just have to be here and protect these people.”

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LA Times

RIot police, Kiev

Riot police take a break near Kiev’s Independence Square Wednesday afternoon after two days of clashes with the opposition. (Sergei L. Loiko / Los Angeles Times)

KIEV, Ukraine — In the wake of violence that claimed 25 lives and left hundreds injured, the Ukrainian government declared Wednesday that it was launching “an anti-terrorist operation” that some feared would escalate its conflict with pro-Western demonstrators.

“What is happening today is a conscious use of violence by way of arson, murder, hostage-taking and intimidation … for the sake of pursuing criminal goals,” the country’s security agency chief, Alexander Yakimenko, said in a statement published on the agency’s website. “All of that with the use of firearms. These are not just signs of terrorism but concrete terrorist acts.

“By their actions, radical and extremist groups bear a real threat to lives of millions of Ukrainians,” his statement said.

Yakimenko’s statement followed two days of the worst violence the country has seen during several months of political conflict over President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision to align Ukraine economically with Russia, not the European Union.

Hours after Yakimenko issued his warning, the Associated Press reported that Yanukovich had fired the head of Ukraine’s armed forces.

[Updated, 10:58 a.m. PST Feb. 19: The UNIAN news agency said the armed forces chief, Vladimir Zamanu, had been replaced by Yuri Ilyin.

One analyst said the move may have been prompted by Zamanu’s reluctance to use the army against civilian demonstrators.

“The sudden switch can be explained by Yanukovich’s desire to use the army in combating the growing protests,” Vadim Karasyov, head of the Institute of Global Strategies, a Kiev-based think tank, said in an interview. “Zamanu has recently hesitated to express readiness to get involved in helping to defuse the political crisis.”]

As dusk set over Independence Square in central Kiev, several thousand protesters armed with sticks, stones and Molotov cocktails faced hundreds of police armed with teargas and stun grenades, water cannons and shotguns firing rubber bullets.

An eerie fog descended on the square, where several thousand protesters were praying together. At a square nearby, police buses arrived, disgorging new units of riot police and interior troops, who joined government forces positioned near Independence Square.

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Ukraine’s Yanukovich agrees ‘truce’ with opposition, start to negotiations

Ukraine’s Yanukovich agrees ‘truce’ with opposition, start to negotiations A portrait of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich burns near the destroyed building of the security service in Lviv yesterday after a night of violence when protesters seized public buildings and forced police to surrender

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich said on Wednesday he had agreed a “truce” with opposition leaders, after street violence in which at least 26 people were killed, and a start to negotiations to end further bloodshed.

A statement on the presidential website said that during talks with the three main opposition leaders, Yanukovich had agreed firstly a truce and secondly “the start to negotiations with the aim of ending bloodshed, and stabilising the situation in the state in the interests of social peace.”

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Obama condemns Ukraine violence, threatens ‘consequences’ if clashes escalate

Published time: February 19, 2014 22:11
US President Barack Obama.(AFP Photo / Jewel Samad)

US President Barack Obama.(AFP Photo / Jewel Samad)

President Barack Obama said the US “condemns in the strongest terms the violence” in Ukraine, adding that the Ukrainian government must uphold the rights of peaceful protesters. Obama said there would be consequences should “people step over the line.”

“We expect the Ukrainian government to show restraint, to not resort to violence in dealing with peaceful protesters,” Obama said Wednesday from Mexico ahead of a summit with other North American leaders. “We’ve also said that we expect peaceful protesters to remain peaceful.”

As Tuesday’s riots and clashes between protesters and police in Kiev continued into Wednesday, the European Union announced that a rare meeting of its 28 member countries would occur on Thursday to address what is to be done about the ongoing violence, AP reported.

“We’ll be monitoring very carefully the situation, recognizing that, along with our European partners and the international community, there will be consequences if people step over the line,” Obama said.

At least 26 people, including 10 police officers, have been killed and some 800 injured since the start of violent riots in Kiev on Tuesday. The most recent, deadliest wave of violence in Ukraine started with an attempt by radical protesters to storm the building of the Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada), which prompted fierce clashes with police. Several buildings in central Kiev – including the office of the Party of Regions – were stormed, looted, and set on fire.

At least 426 people have sought medical help following the clashes in Kiev, the city’s health department said. There are currently 277 people being treated in hospitals for injuries, including gunshot wounds and burns.

Despite the fierce battles on Independence Square (Maidan) and the possibility of further violence in coming days, Obama said the US and its partners would watch vigilantly to make “sure the Ukrainian military does not step to what should be a set of issues that can be resolved by civilians.”

Reuters / David Mdzinarishvili

Reuters / David Mdzinarishvili

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have “agreed to continue to do everything so that there is no escalation of violence” in Ukraine, Merkel said, as quoted by Reuters. The German Chancellor spoke with the Russian president over the phone.

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Germany Trying Friendly Approach to Ending Ukraine Unrest

By | February 17, 2014

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, welcomes Ukraine opposition leaders Vitali Klitschko, left, and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, right, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 at the chancellery in Berlin to discuss the country’s crisis. The former Soviet nation has been in chaos since November when President Viktor Yanukovych ditched a planned EU trade and political pact in favor of closer ties with Moscow. (AP Photo/Jogannes Eisele, Pool)


BERLIN—Germany is seeking to play good cop to America’s bad cop in Western efforts to mediate between the government and protesters in Ukraine in an early test of the German government’s efforts at a more robust foreign policy role.

The Germans have refused to back Washington’s calls for sanctions against Ukraine’s government to pressure it into accepting opposition demands for reforms. At the same time, Germany has launched a flurry of diplomacy toward Kiev and Moscow — a key ally of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych — while trying to promote selected Ukrainian opposition leaders as legitimate negotiating partners.

On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel and her foreign minister held closed doors talks with top Ukrainian opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Vitali Klitschko, speaking with the two for about an hour.

Merkel assured Yatsenyuk and Klitschko that Germany and the EU would do everything possible to try and assure a “positive outcome” to the crisis in Ukraine — support for which the two praised the chancellor at a short news conference after the meeting.

“The chancellor is one of the most influential people in the world,” Klitschko said through an interpreter. “The backing of Germany and the EU plays a big role in Ukraine.”

Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the release of jailed protesters in Ukraine and the handover of occupied buildings in Kiev on Sunday were signs that the government and opposition can find common ground, despite months of increasingly bloody confrontation.

Berlin’s diplomatic advance has put it at odds with some of its European Union partners, including Sweden and the Baltic nations, which have pressed for a harder line against the former Soviet republic, according to Stefan Meister, a senior research fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

But it fits in with the German government’s recent pledge for a more assertive role on the international stage.

For Germany, Ukraine is a good test case — a large European country, relatively close to German borders undergoing a more difficult transition than other former Soviet states such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which joined the EU years ago.

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Ukraine opposition leader Yatsenyuk gives up post of prime minister

The leader of the opposition faction “ Batkivshchyna” in the Ukrainian Parliament Arseniy Yatsenyuk said that he had rejected the proposal of the Ukrainian President to become the country’s PM. Speaking on the Independence Square in Kiev Sunday, he said that ,

According to him, it is a joint decision of all opposition leaders and the former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The Ukrainian opposition has no plans to hold talks on the constitutional reform in the cabinet of the Verkhovnaya Rada (Parliament) speaker Vladimir Rybak and is demanding that voting on the relevant resolution draft be held Tuesday, Yatsenyuk added.He also said that on Tuesday the Ukrainian Parliament was due to put to the vote the resolution on the return of the 2004 Constitution.

The former Constitution provided for the parliamentary-presidential form of rule in the country.

Voice of Russia

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by Staff Writers
Tehran (AFP) Feb 09, 2014

UN nuclear experts tackle Iran on arms allegations
Tehran (AFP) Feb 08, 2014 – Iran said talks Saturday with the UN atomic watchdog over allegations of Tehran’s past weapons work and additional safeguards were constructive and have been extended for another day.
The five-hour-long meeting came as the Islamic republic’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, demanded tolerance from critics of President Hassan Rouhani ahead of fresh talks with world powers.Negotiations between Iran and the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are building on a framework deal agreed in November that requires Tehran to take six practical steps by Tuesday.Chief inspector Tero Varjoranta and four experts are assessing the implementation of those measures, Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said.

The official IRNA news agency quoted Kamalvandi as saying that the talks were “good, constructive and are progressing”.

He said both side had agreed to continue the talks on Sunday, which are expected to include long-standing allegations of “possible military dimensions” to Iran’s past nuclear activities.

IAEA director general Yukiya Amano told AFP last month that time was now ripe to ask the “more difficult” questions.

How long this takes “very much depends on Iran. It can be quick or it can be long. It really depends on their cooperation,” Amano said.

Another issue to be discussed is access to the Parchin military facility, suspected of having been used for research pertaining to weapons development prior to 2003, and possibly since, according to the IAEA.

The November deal, struck after two years of on-off talks, was separate from a landmark agreement reached with world powers the same month that has placed temporary curbs on Iran’s nuclear activities.

Implementation of the IAEA deal began in December, when inspectors visited Arak, where the small unfinished heavy water reactor has been hit by delays.

The site is of international concern because Iran could theoretically extract weapons-grade plutonium from spent fuel if it also builds a reprocessing facility.

Iran says it will continue work there but its atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi said this week the reactor could be modified to produce less plutonium to “allay the worries.”

The second step was to visit the Gachin uranium mine, which took place in late January.

Also required were information on future research reactors, identifying sites of new nuclear power plants, and clarification on Iranian statements regarding additional enrichment facilities and laser enrichment technology.

All six measures have been implemented.

Iran agreed Sunday to clarify to the UN atomic agency its need for detonators used in nuclear devices, as part of a probe into allegations of its past weapons work.

The move is part of seven new steps agreed between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency to increase transparency over Tehran’s controversial nuclear drive.

And it appears to be the first time in years Iran has agreed to tackle IAEA suspicions that its nuclear work prior to 2003 had “possible military dimensions”.

The development comes with Iran set to resume nuclear talks with world powers later this month, after an initial accord in November imposed curbs on its uranium enrichment to allay concerns that it seeks to acquire atomic weapons.

Capping two-days of talks in Tehran with Iranian officials, the IAEA said Iran agreed to provide “information and explanations for the agency to assess Iran’s stated need or application for the development of Exploding Bridge Wire (EBW) detonators”.

According to the IAEA, Iran told the agency in 2008 that it had developed EBWs for “civilian and conventional military applications” but has yet to explain its “need or application for such detonators”.

Such fast, high-precision detonators could be used in some civilian applications but are mostly known for triggering a nuclear chain reaction. The IAEA believes they form “an integral part of a programme to develop an implosion type nuclear device.”

Mark Hibbs, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the detonators are “fine wires… designed to perform with exceeding precision and reliability. Without that dependability, the detonations would fail.”

Citing an unnamed Iranian nuclear official, the ISNA news agency said Tehran would “provide information beyond what it had already provided to the agency” on the EBWs.

It did not elaborate.

Earlier, Iran’s envoy to the Vienna-based IAEA, Reza Najafi, said “seven more practical steps” had been agreed between the two sides in a deal that would be implemented by May 15.

Six other steps were agreed under a framework deal struck on November 11.

In the latest agreement, the IAEA will also have “managed access” to the Saghand uranium mine and the Ardakan yellowcake facility where an impure form of uranium oxide is prepared to be fed into centrifuges for enrichment.

Officially unveiled in April 2013, the plant in Ardakan receives raw material from Saghand, some 120 kilometres (75 miles) away. It can reportedly produce up to 60 tonnes of yellowcake annually.

Arak reactor in spotlight

Iran also agreed to submit updated design information and finalise a safeguards mechanism for the so-called heavy water reactor under construction in Arak.

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by Staff Writers
Damascus (AFP) Feb 07, 2014

Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Muqdad, said on Friday that Damascus will take part in a second round of peace talks in Geneva due to start on February 10.

“It has been decided that the delegation of the Syrian republic will take part in the second round of negotiations in Geneva,” state news agency SANA quoted Muqdad as saying.

“The Syrian delegation wishes to pursue the efforts it deployed during the first round in Geneva, and insists that the discussions focus on all clauses in the Geneva I communique, beginning with the first clause,” he said.

Ten days of talks in Switzerland last month between government and opposition delegations yielded no tangible results, and Damascus had said it was unsure whether it would return to the negotiating table.

Despite persistent pressure from UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, and cosponsors Russia and the United States, the two sides failed to agree on a single point.

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