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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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The Republicans’ impeachment lawyer made 2 huge mistakes in questioning Gordon Sondland

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Ambassador Gordon Sondland delivered complex and convoluted impeachment testimony on Wednesday about his involvement in President Donald Trump’s Ukraine scandal. He gave detailed evidence recounting the president and the rest of the administration’s involvement in his effort to get Ukraine to launch investigations of Trump’s political opponents — including by leveraging a potential White House meeting and a hold on military aid.

But he also, to the Republicans’ delight, left some ambiguity about how much Trump had been involved in the effort to leverage the aid, saying that he had “presumed” Ukraine’s announcement of the investigations would release the hold. And he noted that, in one phone call the president — as the scheme was slowly being uncovered — Trump angrily denied there was a quid pro quo.

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Rick Santorum smacked down for claiming Sondland testimony helped Trump

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On Wednesday's edition of CNN's "Cuomo Prime Time," former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) tried to argue that the testimony of E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland actually helped President Donald Trump — and was promptly challenged.

"I think the Democrats had a good morning. I don't think they had a good afternoon," said Santorum. "I think what when the Republicans actually started questioning Sondland about the details, I think it fell apart a little bit."

"How so?" asked Chris Cuomo.

"He said the president never said any of these things to him," said Santorum. "In fact, what the president said, he quoted what the president said is, no, there's no quid pro quo. What he says is, well, I'm surmising, this is what I'm just sort of gathering. Did anything come from the president? No, it came from Rudy Giuliani."

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Indicted Giuliani associate helped Nunes arrange meetings during his overseas trips to discredit the Russia investigation

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On Thursday, The Daily Beast reported that Lev Parnas, the Rudy Giuliani associate currently under federal indictment for campaign finance violations, helped Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) arrange meetings in Europe as part of his efforts to discredit the investigation of Russian contacts within President Donald Trump's campaign.

According to congressional records, Nunes, in his capacity as then-House Intelligence Chairman, visited Europe from November 30 to December 3, of last year, during which he was accompanied by three staffers — Derek Harvey, Scott Glabe, and George Pappas — at a taxpayer expense of over $63,000.

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