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Geneva (AFP) – Iran and world powers appeared to make modest progress in nuclear talks Friday, with Tehran saying foreign ministers could fly in to Geneva in a fresh bid to clinch a deal.

“Last night we were a long way from foreign ministers coming. Today it has got closer,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, according to the ISNA news agency.

Differences however remained.

This third meeting in Geneva since President Hassan Rouhani was elected in June is seen as the biggest hope in years to resolve the decade-old standoff over Iran’s nuclear programme.

Failure might mean Iran resuming the expansion of its atomic activities, Washington and others adding to already painful sanctions, and possible Israeli military action.

At the last gathering two weeks ago foreign ministers including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Geneva but three days of intense, high-drama talks failed and they went home empty-handed.

Both sides say they want a deal but getting an accord palatable to hardliners both in the United States and in the Islamic republic — as well as Israel — has proven a daunting task.

According to a draft proposal hammered out on November 9, the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia, and Germany — the P5+1 — want Iran to freeze for six months key parts of its nuclear program.

In return Iran would get minor and, Western officials insist, “reversible” sanctions relief, including unlocking several billion dollars in oil revenues and easing trade restrictions on precious metals and aircraft parts.

This hoped-for “first phase” deal would build trust and ease tensions while Iran and the six powers hammer out a final accord that ends once and for all fears that Tehran will get an atomic bomb.

God willing

After Thursday’s sessions Iranian diplomats were downbeat.

But on Friday signals coming out of Tehran appeared to indicate an improvement after only an hour-long meeting between Zarif and the powers’ chief negotiator Catherine Ashton.

“The negotiations are progressing well but we still have differences of opinion over a limited number of issues,” Zarif said on Facebook.

“God willing we will reach a result,” he told Iranian media.

Ashton’s spokesman said that the meeting was “useful”, without giving details.

“We are glad to hear the Iranians are also seeing things in a positive way, but we’ll have to wait and see how things develop in the afternoon,” Michael Mann said.

Russia’s representative at the talks, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, said he thought a deal was a “possibility” but added that it “depends on many factors”.

Netanyahu says no

Many in Israel, widely assumed to have a formidable nuclear arsenal itself, are alarmed about the mooted deal, however, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu campaigning vigorously against it.

Netanyahu wants all of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure dismantled, not parts of it frozen, believing that the P5+1 will leave Iran with an ability to develop nuclear weapons.

“You are not really dismantling any capacity to make fissile material for nuclear weapons,” he said in an interview in Germany’s Bild, Europe’s top-selling newspaper, this week.

In the United States meanwhile there is a push by lawmakers to ignore President Barack Obama’s pleas and pass yet more sanctions on Iran if there is no deal — or one seen as too soft.

Raising the pressure, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in Washington on Thursday that lawmakers would move to impose new trade restrictions in December.

This risks spoiling Iran’s apparent newfound appetite for rapprochement with the West since Rouhani replaced the more hardline and combative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in August.

Rouhani is under pressure to show the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei the first fruits of his “charm offensive”, and it is unclear whether the minor sanctions relief on offer is enough.

Khamenei, describing Israel as a doomed “rabid dog”, said in Iran on the first day of the talks Wednesday that he insisted “on not retreating one step from the rights of the Iranian nation”.

By this he meant what he sees as the “right” to enrich uranium, something the P5+1 are loath to endorse explicitly and which is a key sticking point in Geneva.

“The principle of enrichment is not something that is negotiable,” Iran’s lead negotiator Abbas Araqchi said Wednesday.

“But we can talk about volumes, the level and the location.”

AFP Photo/Fabrice Coffrini

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]