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Iran calls for nuclear deal deadline extension

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Iran’s foreign minister called Tuesday for an extension of a looming deadline to strike a potentially historic nuclear deal with world powers, after surprise talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

“As we stand now, we have made enough headway to be able to tell our political bosses that this is a process worth continuing,” Zarif told reporters.

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“This is my recommendation. I am sure secretary Kerry will make the same recommendation.”

Both Zarif and Kerry stressed that they still hoped to secure a deal by the Sunday deadline.

Briefing the press earlier, Kerry said that despite some “tangible progress” there remained “very real gaps on other key issues”.

He and Obama would now discuss whether more time was needed.

“I am returning today to Washington to discuss with President Obama and leaders in Congress over the coming days about the prospects for a comprehensive agreement as well as the path forward if we do not achieve one by July 20,” he said.

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Kerry said talks would include “the question of whether or not more time is warranted, based on the progress we have made and how things are going.”

He added: “With respect to the issue of July 20, yes, that is still on the table. We are still working and we are going to continue to work.”

An interim accord struck in November between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany expires on July 20.

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Extending the deadline has always been a possibility in order to keep the parties talking, but Washington in particular has stressed it will not agree to such a move without key concessions from Iran first.

– Mission not accomplished –

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The mooted accord is aimed at eradicating fears that Iran might develop nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian programme after a decade of rising tensions and threats of war.

Iran denies seeking the atomic bomb and wants the lifting of crippling UN and Western sanctions.

The six powers want Iran to dramatically reduce in scope its nuclear programme for a lengthy period of time and agree to more intrusive UN inspections.

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This would greatly expand the time needed for the Islamic republic to develop a nuclear weapon, should it choose to do so, while giving the world ample warning of any such “breakout” push.

Iran on the other hand has stated it wants to expand its nuclear facilities, insisting they are for purely peaceful purposes and that it has the perfect right to nuclear activities under international treaties.

Both sides are also under intense pressure from hardliners at home — midterm US elections are in November — and both are wary of giving too much away after several months of talks.

– ‘Innovative proposal’ –

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Kerry, along with the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Britain and the deputy foreign minister of China jetted into the Austrian capital on Sunday seeking to inject some momentum to the negotiations.

But the three European ministers left on Sunday evening empty-handed, leaving Kerry to keep trying.

Before leaving Vienna, Kerry also had lunch with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, lead negotiator in the talks.

Britain’s now former foreign secretary William Hague had said a “huge gap” remained on the key issue of uranium enrichment.

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This activity can produce fuel for the country’s sole nuclear plant or, if further enriched, the material for an atomic bomb.

Israel, the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear armed state and which together with Washington has refused to rule out military action, is opposed to any enrichment by Iran at all.

Zarif however outlined a possible compromise in an interview with the New York Times published on Tuesday.

This “innovative proposal” would see Iran essentially freeze its enrichment capacities at current levels for between three and seven years.

Kerry stuck to his guns on Tuesday, saying that nothing short of a reduction in Iran’s enrichment capacities was acceptable.

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“We have made it crystal clear that the 19,000 (centrifuge enrichment machines) that are currently part of their programme is too many,” Kerry said.

A senior US official said last week the programme should be limited for a “double digit” number of years.


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2020 Election

Here are 3 winners and 3 losers from the 2020 Democratic presidential primary debate

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Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined the other leading Democratic presidential primary candidates Wednesday night in the fieriest evening of the race so far.

His presence on the stage drew fire from the other candidates, but it also seemed to change the overall tone of the debate, with more attacks, counter-attacks, and passion than was generally seen earlier in the campaign.

Here’s a (necessarily subjective!) list of the winners and losers from the fray:

Winners

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — Warren hit her stride right as the debate started by attacking Bloomberg for his record on the mistreatment of women, racist policies, and his tax returns. She repeatedly came back to skewer the former mayor, making herself the biggest and most notable presence in the debate. But importantly, she also continuously brought the discussion back to the issues she cares about — like expanding health care, environmental justice,  and consumer protection — while getting in digs at the other candidates on the stage.

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Michael Bloomberg ‘lost everything’ in Las Vegas: MSNBC analyst

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Senior editor for "The Root," Jason Johnson, concluded that the biggest loser of the Democratic debate in Las Vegas Wednesday was Michael Bloomberg, but not merely because of his debate performance.

"The big new name was going to be Michael Bloomberg," he said. "This was probably the most expensive night in Vegas I've ever seen. He lost everything. This guy has spent $320 million. He had the opportunity to stand on stage, and appear to be an equal, and he looked bored. He looked disenchanted. He stumbled over obvious questions that anybody would have anticipated about sexual harassment and stop and frisk. I thought it was a bad night for him."

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Pro-immigration protesters interrupt Joe Biden’s closing statement at debate

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Former Vice President Joe Biden's closing statement was interrupted by protesters at Thursday night's Democratic presidential debate.

As Biden began his remarks, demonstrators began shouting about the Obama administration's record on deportations.

WATCH: Protesters interrupt the #DemDebate as the debate nears end. pic.twitter.com/TKCn6eIEsN

— NBC News (@NBCNews) February 20, 2020

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