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Iran Nuclear Talks Halt Without Signs Of Progress

By Paul Richter, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Two days of high-level meetings among Iran, the United States and the European Union on Iran’s nuclear program ended Monday in the Persian Gulf state of Oman without visible signs of progress.

With two weeks remaining before a negotiating deadline, the meetings between Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and European Union envoy Catherine Ashton offered another opportunity for a long-awaited breakthrough in the multination negotiations.

State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki did not claim that the talks had advanced, but described the discussions as an effort to “continue to chip away at a very challenging issue.”

She insisted that “there is still time” to reach an agreement, while acknowledging that officials review after each meeting whether there is still time to complete a deal.

Iran and six world powers — France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China, and the United States — are seeking a deal that would lift economic sanctions on Iran’s economy if it agrees to limit its nuclear activities to nonmilitary purposes.

Iranian officials told state media that there had been no progress during the 10 hours of meetings.

In a brief public appearance Monday, Zarif, asked whether the group was making progress, said, “We will, eventually.”

The Omani hosts for the meeting had set up a stage, complete with national flags, to enable the leaders to hold a news conference after the meetings. But the stage went unused, as Kerry hurried off to the airport to depart for Beijing.

Some diplomats have said in recent weeks that the talks were near a breakthrough. But those hopes have not been realized.

President Barack Obama gave a sober assessment of the talks in a TV interview Sunday, saying that a deal may not be completed.

Adding to the complications, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stirred outrage by going on Twitter over the weekend to call for the annihilation of Israel.

Psaki said Obama administration officials “strongly condemn the hateful remarks made about Israel on Twitter from an account linked to the supreme leader.” The comments were “offensive and reprehensible” and “not conducive to regional security,” she said.

AFP Photo/Majid Asgaripour

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Kerry In Southeast Asia Seeking Support Against IS Group

Jakarta (AFP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday visited Indonesia, home to the world’s biggest Muslim population, to press Southeast Asian nations to step up efforts in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group.

Kerry was among foreign dignitaries in Jakarta for the inauguration of President Joko Widodo, a former furniture exporter who is the first leader of the world’s third-biggest democracy to come from outside the country’s political and military elites.

On the sidelines of the event, the top U.S. diplomat was using a series of bilateral meetings to urge Widodo, known by his nickname Jokowi, and other Southeast Asian leaders to take more action against the growing threat from IS militants, officials said.

IS’s jihadist appeal is fanning fears that it could serve as a potent rallying cry for extremists in the region, who had been largely brought to heel following a run of deadly attacks.

A senior State Department official said discussions on combating the IS group were “at the top of the list” for the meetings.

During talks with Najib Razak, the prime minister of Muslim-majority Malaysia, Kerry thanked the leader for “Malaysia’s strong public comments” condemning the IS organisation and support for a United Nations resolution aimed at tackling the threat of radicals who join the extremist group, said another senior U.S. official.

“They also discussed the need for the international community to continue to do more to crack down on foreign fighters,” said the official.

As well as Widodo, Kerry was meeting Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah and Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario on Monday.

– Growing alarm –

There is particular concern about the influence of the IS group in Indonesia, which has a population of some 250 million Muslims and a history of Islamic militancy, and in neighboring Malaysia.

Authorities in those countries have watched with alarm as scores, possibly even hundreds, of their nationals have gone to Syria and Iraq to join the fight for a hard line Muslim caliphate.

Malaysian police have arrested a total of three dozen people this year for suspected IS-related activities.

Jakarta has sought to ban support for IS ideology while police believe up to five Indonesians — including two suicide bombers — have died fighting with radical groups in the Middle East this year.

Indonesia launched a crackdown on extremists more than a decade ago after a series of attacks on Western targets, and managed to weaken major militant networks.

In the Philippines, the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group that recently pledged allegiance to IS militants last week released a German couple after a harrowing six-month hostage ordeal.

The extremists had threatened to behead one of the hostages unless Berlin pay them a $5.6-million ransom and withdraw its support for U.S. offensives against IS jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

During his meetings Kerry will press Southeast Asian countries on areas “where we believe and hope that the individual countries can do more”, a State Department official said.

Territorial disputes in the South China Sea, climate change and the Ebola virus will also be on the agenda during the meetings, officials said.

Following his visit to Indonesia, Kerry will head to Germany to attend events marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

AFP Photo/Bay Ismoyo

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Close The ‘Evil’ Prison Camps, Kerry Urges N.Korea

New York (AFP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Tuesday denounced human rights abuse in North Korea and called on Pyongyang to shut down its penal colonies riddled with “barbarity and inhumanity.”

“You should close those camps, you should shut this evil system down,” Kerry said at an unprecedented event on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

In one of the most comprehensive reports to date, a U.N. commission of inquiry into the North’s rights detailed a wide range of systemic abuses including murder, enslavement and torture.

The commission, in findings published in February, concluded that many of the violations constituted crimes against humanity and suggested they could be placed before the International Criminal Court.

“The veil has been truly lifted,” Kerry told the event in New York bringing together the foreign ministers of South Korea, Japan and Australia.

“If we who are free, …. if we don’t stand with men and women suffering in anonymity, then what do we stand for? If we don’t give voice to the voiceless, then why bother to speak,” Kerry pleaded.

The impoverished but nuclear-armed North has been ruled for more than six decades by the Kim family dynasty which has maintained power with an iron fist and zero tolerance for political dissent.

The country is estimated to have 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners in its sprawling prison system.

AFP Photo/Shah Marai

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Top Iran Leader Says No Cooperation With United States Over Islamic State

By Ramin Mostaghim, Patrick J. McDonnell, and Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran has rejected direct overtures from top U.S. diplomats, including Secretary of State John F. Kerry, to cooperate with Washington in the battle against Islamic State extremists in Iraq, Iran’s supreme leader said Monday.

In his most extensive comments to date on the crisis, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad had requested a meeting with his Iranian counterpart to discuss “coordination” between the two nations to confront the threat of the al-Qaida breakaway faction. The United States, for its part, says it is not coordinating military efforts against Islamic State with Iran, though it has repeatedly discussed the issue with Iranian officials.

“I opposed (the U.S. request) and told them we will not cooperate with the Americans on the issue because their intent and hands are not clean,” Khamenei said after being discharged from a weeklong hospital stay during which he underwent prostate surgery, reported Press TV, Iran’s official English-language news outlet. “How is it possible for us to cooperate with the Americans under such circumstances?”

According to Khamenei, Iran also rebuffed a request from Kerry for “cooperation,” as the Obama administration seeks to build an international coalition against the Islamic State group. The request was conveyed “personally” from Kerry to the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Khamenei said.

“Iran has voiced its opposition to being a party to that coalition from the very beginning,” said Iran’s supreme leader. “The Americans’ coalition is nonsense.”

A U.S. State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said the issue of countering the Islamic State has come up in sideline discussions with Iranian officials during ongoing nuclear negotiations involving Iran and six world powers, known as the P5+1 talks.

“ISIL presents a serious threat to Iran as it does to every other state in the region,” Harf said, using a common acronym for Islamic State. “It is not a secret that we have had discussions with Iran about the counter-ISIL efforts in Iraq on the margins of our P5+1 talks on the nuclear issue. … But we are not and will not coordinate militarily.”

The comments from Tehran and Washington highlight how the Sunni militant threat in Iraq and Syria has created a public relations quandary for two nations that have not had formal diplomatic relations in more than three decades.

In seeking to form an international bloc to fight Islamic State, the White House has publicly ruled out any role for Iran, also a longtime adversary and rival of Saudi Arabia and Israel, two major U.S. regional allies.

Iran was excluded from a global security conference on the threat posed by Islamic State that was held in Paris on Monday.

In Ankara on Friday, Kerry said that Iran’s participation in the Paris conference “would not be appropriate, given the many other issues that are on the table with respect to their engagement in Syria and elsewhere.”

Shiite Iran is a major supporter of the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose forces are also battling the Sunni extremists in Syria. The United States, while vowing to “destroy” Islamic State, is backing other rebel factions fighting to oust Assad.

The Obama administration, which has called for Assad to step down, has also ruled out the Syrian government’s participation in the coalition against Islamic State.

Iran, like the United States, is heavily invested in the battle against the al-Qaida breakaway group, which has seized vast stretches of territory in both Iraq and neighboring Syria. But officials of the two longtime adversaries have declined to say publicly that they are fighting on the same side in Iraq. The situation touches on sensitive geopolitical concerns in both capitals and among both nations’ chief allies.

Both Tehran and Washington have provided Iraq with military assistance against Islamic State, which views Shiites as apostates. Iran is a largely Shiite nation that shares an almost 1,000-mile-long border with Iraq, which also has a majority Shiite population.

Iranian officials have generally viewed the U.S. aerial offensive against Islamic State as a means to bolster Washington’s military presence in the region. Iranian authorities also fear that the U.S. military may use the Islamic State threat as a pretext for a hidden agenda to bombard Syrian government positions with an eye toward toppling Iranian-backed Assad.

Iranian commentators regularly blame the West and its allies in the gulf and Turkey for abetting the rise of Islamic State through financial and materiel support for extremist fighters on the ground in Syria. Washington says it has supported only Syrian rebels it considers moderate and rejects any responsibility for contributing to the rise of Islamic State militancy.

Mostaghim is a special correspondent. Times staff writer McDonnell contributed from Beirut and Times staff writer Richter from Washington.

AFP Photo

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