From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved
"REVELATION EUPHRATES RIVER 2021"

    This file is attached to http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterEight/2014-2017.htm from "Astronomical Events To Appear Between 2014 Through 2017 A.D." - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright @ 1995, all rights reserved.

REVELATION EUPHRATES RIVER 2021

THE FOLLOWING ARE NEWS ARTICLES REGARDING THE ABOVE SUBJECT:.


1/5/2021 Iran Tests Drones In Military Exercise
Drones are seen during a large-scale drone combat exercise of Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in Semnan, Iran
January 4, 2021. Picture taken January 4, 2021. Iranian Army / WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran launched exercises featuring a wide array of domestically produced drones on Tuesday, Iranian media reported, days after the anniversary of the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general by a drone strike in Iraq.
    Iran and the regional forces it backs have increasingly relied in recent years on drones in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf.
    Iran’s armed forces are to test combat drones used as bombers, interceptors and in reconnaissance missions in the two-day exercises in central Semnan province, the semi-official Fars news agency said.
    “The fingers of our heroic armed forces are on the trigger, and if enemies commit the slightest mistake, the armed forces will surely respond fiercely,” said Mohammad Baqeri, chief of staff of the armed forces, quoted by state media.
    Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said U.S. President Donald Trump may be trying to find an excuse to attack Iran in his last days in office, or Israel might try to provoke a war.    Israel rejected the allegation.
    The exercises coincided with increased tensions between Iran and the United States, two days after the first anniversary of the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike at Baghdad airport, and two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
    Biden aims to revive a nuclear agreement with Iran abandoned by Trump, though diplomacy is expected to be tricky.
    Beyond surveillance, Iranian drones can drop munitions and also carry out a “kamikaze” flight when loaded with explosives and flown into a target, according to a U.S. official who spoke to Reuters https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-iran-drones-idUSKCN1UC1X4.
    Iran has developed a large domestic arms industry in the face of international sanctions and embargoes barring it from importing many weapons.    Western military analysts say Iran sometimes exaggerates its weapons capabilities, though concerns about its ballistic missiles contributed to Washington leaving the nuclear pact.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Peter Graff)

1/5/2021 Iran Continues Nuclear Program, Aims To Enrich Uranium To 20% by OAN Newsroom
FILE – This Nov. 4, 2020, file satellite photo by Maxar Technologies shows Iran’s Fordo nuclear site. Iran has told international
nuclear inspectors it plans to enrich uranium up to 20% at its underground Fordo nuclear facility, a technical step away from
weapons-grade levels, as it increases pressure on the West over its tattered atomic deal. (Maxar Technologies via AP, File)
    Tensions are on the rise with Iran as it announces it will continue its nuclear program.    On Monday, Tehran announced it has resumed 20 percent uranium enrichment in its underground facilities.
    According to experts, this development puts the country one step closer to enrich uranium at 90 percent, which is required to produce a nuclear weapon.    This marks the biggest breach of the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, which called for Tehran to shut down its nuclear program.
    In a recent statement, the U.S. State Department said Iran is attempting “nuclear extortion” of the world in retaliation to U.S. sanctions that were reimposed in 2018 after the Trump administration pulled out of the agreement.
    Iran has continued to insist that its nuclear program is peaceful. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it’s clear the regime plans to manufacture nuclear weapons. Netanyahu added, he will not allow Iran to continue down this path.
    “There is no other explanation except for the continued realization of Iran’s intention to manufacture nuclear weapons,” he stated.    “I reiterate: Israel will not allow Iran to manufacture nuclear weapons.”
    The escalating tensions come just after the one-year mark since the death of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, which Iran vowed at the time to “get revenge” for.
    Meanwhile, the European Union has also spoken out against the regime’s uranium enrichment program On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the European Commission said the EU regrets Iran’s decision.
    The move clearly violates the 2015 nuclear agreement.    The deal is now effectively dead, but the EU said the pact is still worth saving and that all parties involved must continue to implement it.

1/8/2021 Iran Leader Bans Import Of U.S., UK COVID-19 Vaccines, Demands Sanctions End by Parisa Hafezi
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech, in Tehran, Iran January 8, 2021. Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader on Friday banned the government from importing COVID-19 vaccines from the United States and Britain, labelling the Western powers “untrustworthy,” as the infection spreads in the Middle East’s hardest-hit country.
    In a live televised speech, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei raised the prospect of the two Western countries, long-time adversaries of the Islamic Republic, possibly seeking to spread the infection to other countries.
    He added however that Iran could obtain vaccines “from other reliable places.”    He gave no details, but China and Russia are both allies of Iran.
    “Imports of U.S. and British vaccines into the country are forbidden … They’re completely untrustworthy.    It’s not unlikely they would want to contaminate other nations,” said Khamenei, the country’s highest authority.
    “Given our experience with France’s HIV-tainted blood supplies, French vaccines aren’t trustworthy either,” Khamenei said, referring to the country’s contaminated blood scandal of the 1980s and 1990s.
    Khamenei repeated the accusations in a tweet that was removed by Twitter along with a message saying it violated the platform’s rules against misinformation.
    Iran launched human trials of its first domestic COVID-19 vaccine candidate late last month, saying it could help Iran defeat the pandemic despite U.S. sanctions that affect its ability to import vaccines.
    Tensions between Washington and Tehran have risen since 2018, when President Donald Trump abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions to pressure Iran into negotiating stricter curbs on its nuclear program, ballistic missile development and support for regional proxy forces.
    In retaliation for U.S. sanctions, which were lifted under the nuclear deal, Tehran has gradually violated the accord.    U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20, has pledged to rejoin the agreement if Tehran also returns to full compliance.
    Khamenei said Tehran was in no rush for the United States to re-enter the deal, but that sanctions on the Islamic Republic must be lifted immediately.
    Iran’s utmost authority, Khamenei ruled out any talks over Tehran’s missile programme and Iran’s involvement in the Middle East, as demanded by the United States and some other major powers.
    “Contrary to the U.S., Iran’s involvement in the region creates stability and is aimed at preventing instability … Iran’s involvement in the region is definite and will continue.”
    Shortly before Khamenei’s speech, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards unveiled an underground missile base at an undisclosed Gulf location.
    The West sees Iran’s missiles both as a conventional military threat to regional stability and a possible delivery mechanism for nuclear weapons should Tehran develop them.
    But Iran, which has one of the biggest missile programmes in the Middle East, regards the programme as an important deterrent and retaliatory force against the United States and other adversaries – primarily Gulf Arabs – in the region in the event of war.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Toby Chopra, Timothy Heritage, William Maclean and Sonya Hepinstall)
[DON'T BE A FOOL BIDEN IF YOU DO NOT GET IN WRITING AND SIGNED AND APPROVED BY CONGRESS AND HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS THEY WILL CONTINUE DOING WHAT THEY WANT AND WILL KILL ALL AMERICANS AND ISRAEL AND YOU WILL BE WATCHING IT OCCUR AS YOUR ADMINISTRATION IS FOOLED EASY AS IT HAS OCCURRED IN THE PAST BY IRAN, CHINA AND RUSSIA BUT THEN WE KNOW YOU LIKE THEM TO DO THAT TO YOU AS LONG AS THEY GIVE YOU MONEY.].

1/10/2021 Iran Claims They Have ‘Network Of Missile Bases’ Along Gulf Coast by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, by Sepahnews, the website of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, commanders of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard
walk last missiles during a visit to a new military base in an undisclosed location in Persian Gulf in Iran. (Sepahnews via AP)
    Iran ramped up threats to peace and stability in the Middle East with its new ballistic missile base.
    Iranian Guards of Islamic Revolution unveiled an underground missile facility this weekend, saying it is one of the many similar installations along the Gulf Coast.
    Officials claimed Iran’s missiles have a range of “thousands of miles,” and can breach electronic missile defense systems of other countries.
Missiles are displayed during an inauguration of a new military base in an undisclosed location in Persian Gulf in Iran. (Sepahnews via AP)
    Iran also reiterated its opposition to President Trump’s peace plan for the Middle East.
    “What you see today in this complex is one of several strategic missile storage facilities of the IRGC Navy.    Behind us, you see a column of these missiles and launchers,” Major Gen. Hossein Salami, chief commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said.    “Our logic to defend the territorial integrity and independence of the country and to defend the achievements of the Islamic Revolution is to get strong.”
    Iranian officials said they are targeting the information systems and radars of the U.S. and its allies from the guards’ new missile bases.

1/12/2021 Secy. Pompeo: Iran Harboring Al-Qaeda Militants by OAN Newsroom
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo believes al-Qaeda stands to “gain strength and capabilities” in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
    In an update Tuesday, Pompeo announced sanctions on Iran based al-Qaeda leaders, putting a bounty on the heads of the terrorist group’s leaders.
    He argued that Iran has given “a new operational headquarters” to terrorist networks who currently plot fresh atrocities from Tehran.
    Secretary Pompeo warned Iran is the “largest state sponsor of terrorism,” and it poses a grave national security threat.
    “We now have the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, the Islamic Republic of Iran, as the home base for al-Qaeda,” Pompeo stated.    “They are partners in terrorism, partners in hate.    This axis poses a grave threat to the security of nations and to the American homeland itself.”
    Pompeo offered $7 million for information helping find al-Qaeda’s leader, Muhammad Abbatay.

1/25/2021 Yemen Aid Groups Call On U.S. To Revoke Houthi Terrorism Designation
FILE PHOTO: Houthi supporters hold up their weapons during a demonstration against the United States decision to
designate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organisation, in Sanaa, Yemen January 20, 2021. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Twenty-two aid groups working in Yemen called on Sunday for the new U.S. administration to revoke the designation of Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi movement as a foreign terrorist organization, saying it puts millions of lives and the peace process at risk.
    The U.S. State Department has initiated a review of the designation, which came into effect Jan. 19, the day before President Joe Biden’s inauguration.    The designation freezes any U.S.-related assets of the Houthis, bans Americans from doing business with them and makes it a crime to provide support or resources to the movement.
    “This designation comes at a time when famine is a very real threat to a country devastated by six years of conflict, and it must be revoked immediately.    Any disruption to lifesaving aid operations and commercial imports of food, fuel, medicine and other essential goods will put millions of lives at risk,” the aid groups’ statement said.
    The United States has exempted aid groups, the United Nations, the Red Cross and the export of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices from its designation.
    But the aid organisations say the legal implications of the designation are not fully understood, and the exemptions do not cover enough of the commercial sector.
    “The licences and associated guidance do not provide sufficient guarantees to international banks, shipping companies and suppliers that still face the risk of falling foul of US laws.    As a result, many in the commercial sector will likely feel the risk is too high to continue working in Yemen,” they said.
    Signatories to the statement include Mercy Corps, the Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee.
    A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Houthis in a war widely seen as a proxy conflict between U.S. ally Saudi Arabia and Iran.    U.N. officials are trying to revive peace talks to end the war.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Frances Kerry)

1/29/2021 Iran Says It Will Not Reverse Nuclear Steps Before U.S. Sanctions Are Lifted
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif attends a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart
Mevlut Cavusoglu (not seen) in Istanbul, Turkey, January 29, 2021. Turkish Foreign Ministry /Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) -Tehran will not accept U.S. demands that it reverse an acceleration of its nuclear programme before Washington lifts sanctions, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Friday.
    The demand “is not practical and will not happen”, he said at a joint news conference in Istanbul with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.
    The new administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has said Tehran must resume compliance with curbs on its nuclear activity under the world powers’ 2015 deal before it can rejoin the pact.
    Iran breached the terms of the accord in a step-by-step response to the decision by Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump to abandon the deal in 2018 and reimpose sanctions on Tehran.
    Earlier this month, Iran resumed enriching uranium to 20% at its underground Fordow nuclear plant – a level it achieved before the accord.
    However, Iran has said it can quickly reverse those violations if U.S. sanctions are removed.
    “If the United States fulfils its obligations, we will fulfil our obligations in full,” he said.
    Iran’s parliament, dominated by hardliners, passed legislation last month that forces the government to harden its nuclear stance if U.S. sanctions are not eased within two months.
    Zarif also condemned U.S. sanctions against Turkey over Ankara’s decision to procure Russian S-400 defence systems.
    “The U.S. government is addicted to sanctions … and this harms the world and the U.S. itself,” he said.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Jon Boyle)

2/1/2021 Iran’s Zarif Hints At Way To Bridge Nuclear Deal Impasse by Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay
FILE PHOTO: Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif attends a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart
Mevlut Cavusoglu (not seen) in Istanbul, Turkey, January 29, 2021. Turkish Foreign Ministry /Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggested a way on Monday to overcome the U.S.-Iranian impasse over who goes first in returning to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, saying a top EU official could “synchronize” or “choreograph” the moves.
    Zarif’s stance was a shift from his position, expressed in a Jan. 22 article in which he said the United States should remove U.S. sanctions before Iran returned to the deal.
    “There can be a mechanism to basically either synchronize it or coordinate what can be done,” Zarif told CNN when asked how to bridge the gap.
    Each government wants the other to resume compliance first with the agreement, which former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 but which President Joe Biden as said he will rejoin if Iran resumed “strict” compliance.
    Under the accord, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program to make it harder for it to develop nuclear weapons in return for relief from U.S. and other economic sanctions.
    Zarif noted the pact created a Joint Commission coordinated by the European Union foreign policy chief, now Josep Borrell. Borrell “can … sort of choreograph the actions” needed from both sides, Zarif told CNN.
    The commission includes the EU and the seven parties to the deal: Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
    After abandoning the deal, Trump reimposed U.S. sanctions and imposed new U.S. economic penalties on Iran.
    Analysts said Zarif’s stance might lay the ground for talks on reviving the deal despite Iran’s prior insistence that the United States lift sanctions first.
    “It is entirely unsurprising to me that we are hearing, amid a largely uncompromising position from the Iranians, occasional breadcrumbs that will enable them” to enter into a negotiation, said Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution.
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Chris Reese; editing by Grant McCool)
[OH GREAT WE ARE IN TROUBLE NOW THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE IS GETTING INVOLVED AGAIN TO CONTINUE WHAT THEY SCREWED UP THE FIRST TIME.].

2/2/2021 Iran Deepens Breach Of Nuclear Deal At Underground Enrichment Site by Francois Murphy
FILE PHOTO: A view of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility 250 km (155 miles) south of the
Iranian capital Tehran, March 30, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has deepened a key breach of its 2015 nuclear deal, enriching uranium with a larger number of advanced centrifuge machines in an underground plant as it faces off with the new U.S. administration on salvaging the accord.
    Tehran has recently accelerated its breaches of the deal, raising pressure on U.S. President Joe Biden as both sides say they are willing to come back into compliance with the badly eroded agreement if the other side moves first.
    Iran began its breaches in 2019 in response to Washington’s withdrawal in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump and the reimposition of U.S. economic sanctions against Tehran that were lifted under the deal.
    The accord says Iran can refine uranium only at its main enrichment site – an underground plant at Natanz – with first-generation IR-1 centrifuges.    Last year Iran began enriching there with a cascade, or cluster, of much more efficient IR-2m machines and said in December it would install three more.
    “Iran has completed the installation of one of these three cascades, containing 174 IR-2m centrifuges, and, on 30 January 2021, Iran began feeding the cascade with UF6,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report obtained by Reuters on Tuesday, referring to uranium hexafluoride feedstock.
    The IAEA later confirmed that the Islamic Republic had started enriching with the second cascade.
    Tehran is also pressing ahead with the installation of more advanced centrifuges, the report indicated.    Of the remaining two cascades of IR-2m machines, installation of one had begun while the other’s installation was “nearing completion,” it said.
    Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said on Twitter Tehran had also started installing IR-6 centrifuges at Fordow, a site dug into a mountain where Iran has begun enriching uranium to the 20% purity it last achieved before the 2015 deal.
    In a second report on Tuesday evening also reviewed by Reuters, the IAEA said only that Iran had informed it in a letter dated Feb. 1 that two cascades of IR-6 centrifuges would be installed at Fordow to be used with the 1,044 IR-1 machines already enriching in six cascades there.
    The report did not say installation had begun.
    The IAEA confirmed in a statement that Iran had informed it that the two cascades would be installed at Fordow.
    Earlier on Tuesday Israel’s energy minister said it would now take Iran about six months to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon, a timeline almost twice as long as that anticipated by a senior Biden administration official.
    Iran denies any intent to produce nuclear weapons.    The nuclear deal sets a limit of 3.67% enrichment purity, suitable for producing civilian nuclear energy and far below the 90% that is weapons-grade.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Additional reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Richard Chang)

2/2/2021 Israel Sees 6-Month Iran Nuclear Breakout, Longer Than Blinken Projection
Newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken concludes his first press briefing at the
State Department in Washington, U.S., January 27, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/Pool
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s energy minister said on Tuesday it would take Iran around six months to produce enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon, a timeline almost twice as long as that anticipated by a senior member of the Biden administration.
    Israel is wary of the Biden administration’s intent to reenter the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal and has long opposed the agreement.    Washington argues that the previous Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal backfired by prompting Iran to abandon caps on nuclear activities.
    Speaking last month a day before he took office as U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken said that the so-called “breakout time” – in which Iran might ramp up enrichment of uranium to bomb-fuel purity – “has gone from beyond a year (under the deal) to about three or four months.”    He said he based his comments on information in public reporting.
    But Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, in a radio interview, said the Trump administration “seriously damaged Iran’s nuclear project and entire force build-up.”
    “In terms of enrichment, they (Iranians) are in a situation of breaking out in around half a year if they do everything required,” he told public broadcaster Kan.    “As for nuclear weaponry, the range is around one or two years.”
    Iran, which denies seeking nuclear weaponry, has recently accelerated its breaches of the deal, which it started violating in 2019 response to the U.S. withdrawal and reimposition of sanctions against it.
    The last quarterly estimates by the U.N. nuclear watchdog in November show that Iran’s stock of enriched uranium had risen to 2.4 tonnes, more than 10 times the amount allowed under the deal but still a fraction of the more than eight tonnes it had before.
    Since then Iran has started enriching uranium to higher purity, returning to the 20% it achieved before the deal from a previous maximum of 4.5%.    The deal sets a limit of 3.67%, far below the 90% that is weapons grade.
(Writing by Dan Williams and Francois Murphy, Editing by William Maclean)

2/4/2021 U.S., E3 Foreign Ministers Expected To Discuss Iran Soon - Sources by John Irish and Arshad Mohammed
FILE PHOTO: A view of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility 250 km (155 miles) south of the Iranian capital Tehran, March 30, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi
    PARIS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S., British, French and German foreign ministers plan to discuss soon, possibly as early as Friday, how to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal abandoned by former U.S. President Donald Trump, sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday.
    Four of the sources said the virtual meeting, which was likely to cover other topics, could take place as soon as Friday, while two others said it could happen next week.    All spoke on condition that they not be identified.
    Such a high-level conversation would be the latest step by U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration to seek a way to revive the pact, under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear activities so as to make it harder to develop an atomic bomb in return for relief from U.S. and other economic sanctions.
    Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, restoring the U.S. sanctions the agreement had removed and placing more on Iran.
    Iran has long denied any intent to develop nuclear arms.
    Biden, who took office last month, has said that if Tehran returned to strict compliance with the 2015 pact, Washington would follow suit and use that as a springboard to a broader agreement that might restrict Iran’s missile development and regional activities.
    Tehran has insisted that Washington ease sanctions before it will resume compliance, but Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif hinted on Monday at a way to resolve the impasse over who goes first by saying the steps could be synchronized.
    While the U.S. State Department reacted coolly, a U.S. official said its stance should not be seen as a rejection.
    The State Department declined comment on whether the four foreign ministers would meet soon. British, French and German spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    Speaking to a U.S. think tank from Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed the U.S. willingness to engage Iran, offered himself as an “honest broker” and said Saudi Arabia and Israel must ultimately be involved.
    In 2019, he pushed to bring Washington and Tehran back to the negotiating table and to set parameters for wider future talks.
    European and Western diplomats have said Britain, France and Germany have proposed sequencing for Iran to return to compliance in return for economic benefits.    It is unclear if Washington would lift sanctions without Iran first complying.
    In September 2019, France proposed offering Iran a $15 billion credit facility, which would be guaranteed by Iranian oil revenues if Tehran came back fully into compliance.    Such an arrangement hinged on Washington giving tacit approval.
    “We aren’t starting from a blank page. We know the parameters of the sequencing to get back to (the deal) and then to build on a deeper accord,” said a senior European diplomat.
(Reporting By John Irish in Paris and by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Peter Cooney)
[WELL HERE WE GO AGAIN AS THE PREVIOUS OBAMA ADMINISTRATION WHO WAS CONTROLLED BY THE GLOBALIST SOCIALIST ONE WORLD GOVERNMENT AND HAS RISEN AGAIN IN THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION PROBABLY HAS NOT LEARNED ANYTHING FROM THEIR PAST WILL CONTINUE WHERE THEY LEFT OFF AND THE REVELATION-EUPHRATES PROPHECIES WILL CONTINUE TO OCCUR AS PREDICTED IN A FAST PACE WE WILL NOT BE ABLE TO KEEP UP WITH IT.].

2/4/2021 Biden Reduces Support For S. Arabia In Another Boon To Iran by OAN Newsroom
Saudi army artillery fire shells towards Yemen from a post close to the Saudi-Yemeni border, in
southwestern Saudi Arabia, on April 13, 2015 . (Photo: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)
    Joe Biden reduced support for key U.S. ally Saudi Arabia by citing concerns over its proxy war with Iran in Yemen.
    In what appears to be another win for the Iranian regime, Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Thursday that the U.S. will no longer provide material support to the Saudi operations in Yemen. He cited concerns of civilian casualties in Yemen that resulted from Saudi bombings of Houthi militants, which was backed by Iran.
    According to reports, analysts said a reduction of U.S. aid for the Saudis may give Iran an upper hand in that ongoing conflict.    Sullivan also failed to address Iranian threats against U.S. regional allies.
    “So it does not extend to actions against AQAP, which are actions that we undertake in service of protecting the homeland and protecting American interests in the region and our allies and partners,” Sullivan said.    “It extends to the types of offensive operations that have perpetuated a civil war in Yemen that has led to a humanitarian crisis.”
WILMINGTON, DE – NOVEMBER 24: National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaks. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
    Officials also cast doubt on arms-sales to the UAE and Saudi Arabia that had been approved by President Trump to counter the Iranian threat.    Iran is now expected to ramp-up terror-activities across the Middle East.

2/8/2021 Iran Takes ‘Final’ Stance On Nuclear Deal, Says U.S. Must Lift Sanctions Before Tehran Rejoins by Parisa Hafezi and Arshad Mohammed
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech, in Tehran, Iran January 8, 2021. Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday that Tehran’s “final and irreversible” decision was to return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal only if Washington lifts sanctions on the Islamic Republic, Iranian state TV reported.
    The comment, as well as U.S. President Joe Biden’s separate statement that the United States would not lift sanctions simply to get Iran back to the negotiating table, appeared to be posturing by both sides as they weigh whether and how to revive the pact.
    The deal between Iran and six major powers limited Iran’s uranium enrichment activity to make it harder for Tehran to develop nuclear arms – an ambition Iran has long denied having – in return for the easing of U.S. and other sanctions.
    But former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, denouncing it as one-sided in Iran’s favour, and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
    “Iran has fulfilled all its obligations under the deal, not the United States and the three European countries … If they want Iran to return to its commitments, the United States must in practice … lift all sanctions,” state TV quoted Khamenei as saying during a meeting with Air Force commanders.
    “Then, after verifying whether all sanctions have been lifted correctly, we will return to full compliance … It is the irreversible and final decision and all Iranian officials have consensus over it.”
    While Iran has insisted the United States first drop its sanctions before it resumes compliance, Washington has demanded the reverse.
    In a segment of a CBS News interview taped on Friday and broadcast on Sunday, Biden said “no” when asked whether Washington would lift sanctions to get Tehran to the negotiating table.
    Asked if Iran had to stop enriching uranium first, Biden nodded.    It was not clear exactly what he meant, since Iran was allowed to enrich uranium to 3.67% under the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
    A senior U.S. official later said Biden meant Iran had to stop enriching beyond the deal’s limits, not that it had to stop enriching entirely before the two sides might talk.
    “They have to stop enriching beyond the limits of the JCPOA,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.    “There is nothing changed in the U.S. position.    The United States wants Iran to come back into (compliance with) its JCPOA commitments and if it does, the United States will do the same.”
    Iran in January said it has resumed 20% uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow nuclear site, well above the deal’s limit but far short of the 90% that is weapons-grade.
    In response to Trump’s withdrawal, Tehran has breached the deal’s key limits by building up its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, refining uranium to a higher level of purity and using advanced centrifuges for enrichment.
    Biden has said if Tehran returned to strict compliance, Washington would follow suit and use that as a springboard to a broader agreement on other areas of concern for Washington including Iran’s missile development and regional activities.
    Those activities include support for proxies in conflicts roiling countries such as Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
    Iran has said it could quickly reverse its JCPOA violations if U.S. sanctions are removed but has ruled out talks on its missile programme and its influence in the Middle East, where Iran and Saudi Arabia have fought proxy wars for decades.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by William Maclean and Daniel Wallis)

2/8/2021 U.N. Envoy Griffiths In Iran For First Time To Discuss Yemen Crisis: TV
FILE PHOTO: Martin Griffiths, United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen arrives to attend the closing plenary of the fourth meeting of the Supervisory
Committee on the Implementation of the Prisoners' Exchange Agreement in Yemen, in Glion, Switzerland, September 27, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Nations special envoy on Yemen is visiting Iran for the first time to discuss Yemen’s crisis, Iranian state TV reported on Sunday, days after Washington announced an end to its support for Saudi-led military operations in Yemen.
    A Saudi Arabia-led coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015, backing government forces fighting Iran-aligned Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia and Iran compete for influence across the Middle East, from Syria to Iraq and Yemen.
    “The U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths has arrived in Tehran for a two-day visit, during which he will meet with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and other Iranian officials,” state TV said.
    Griffiths’ office said the visit was part of his diplomatic efforts to support a negotiated political solution to the conflict.    His immediate priority was to support agreement between the warring parties on a ceasefire, urgent humanitarian measures and a resumption of the political process, it said in a press release.
    Griffiths’ spokeswoman, Ismini Palla, said the visit had been planned for some time, adding it comes at a time when he is trying to bring together more diplomatic, regional and international support to his efforts to end the war.
    “Griffiths will consult with Iranian officials on ways to alleviate sufferings of the Yemeni people,” Iranian state news agency IRNA reported.
    On Saturday, Iran welcomed U.S. President Joe Biden’s move on Thursday to end Washington’s support for offensive operations in the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen as a “step towards correcting past mistakes.”
    When asked whether the U.S. decision will produce the opportunity to end the war in Yemen, Zarif told CNN: “I certainly hope that it does … it is best for the United States to show some tough love to its allies and tell them to stop this atrocity.    They will never win in Yemen.”
    Reversing one of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s most criticised last-minute decisions, Washington also said on Friday it intended to revoke a terrorist designation for the Houthi movement in response to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where the United Nations says some 80% of the population is in need.
(Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Frances Kerry and Susan Fenton)

2/8/2021 Iran: We Won’t Talk Nuclear Deal Until Biden Lifts Sanctions by OAN Newsroom
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addressed a joint press conference with his Venezuelan counterpart Delcy Rodriguez
following their meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran on April 20, 2015. (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
    Iranian leadership is claiming it is America’s responsibility to lift sanctions before Iran will resume compliance with the nuclear deal.    Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif made those remarks during an interview on Sunday.
    Though Iran acknowledged it broke some of the agreement’s terms following U.S. withdrawal under President Trump, it maintained the U.S. is responsible for the deal’s failure.
    In an echo of previous ultimatums issued by other top Iranian officials, Zarif took a hardline stance, saying it is the U.S. which must make concessions to reestablish the agreement.
    “We do not buy the horse twice.    You put yourselves in our shoes, you agreed to a deal,” Zarif stated.    “You agreed to give and take. You agreed to sacrifice certain demands that you had, because you agreed not to deal with certain issues.”
    The controversy came amid growing pressure on Joe Biden to declare whether he will seek to rejoin the deal despite reports indicating Iran is continuing to enrich material that could be used in production of nuclear weapons.
    Critics of the deal have said the terms did not do enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear capabilities.

2/9/2021 Two U.S. Carrier Groups Conduct Exercises In South China Sea by Se Young Lee
FILE PHOTO: The USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) is pictured as it enters the port in Da Nang, Vietnam, March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Kham/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Two U.S. carrier groups conducted joint exercises in the South China Sea on Tuesday, days after a U.S. warship sailed near Chinese-controlled islands in the disputed waters, as China denounced the United States for damaging peace and stability.
    The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group and the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group “conducted a multitude of exercises aimed at increasing interoperability between assets as well as command and control capabilities,” the U.S. Navy said, marking the first dual carrier operations in the busy waterway since July 2020.
    In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the frequent moves by U.S. warships and aircraft into the South China Sea in a “show of force” was not conducive to regional peace and stability.
    “China will continue to take necessary measures to firmly safeguard national sovereignty and security and work with countries in the region to firmly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea,” he said.
    The exercise comes days after China condemned the sailing of the destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, near the Chinese-controlled Paracel Islands in what the United States calls a freedom of navigation operation – the first such mission by the U.S. navy since President Joe Biden took office.
    Last month, the U.S. military said Chinese military flights over the South China Sea fit a pattern of destabilising and aggressive behaviour but posed no threat to a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier strike group in the region.
    The United States has contested China’s extensive territorial claims in the region, accusing it of militarising the South China Sea and trying to intimidate neighbours such as Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, who have claims that overlap with China’s in the resource-rich area.
    “We are committed to ensuring the lawful use of the sea that all nations enjoy under international law,” Rear Admiral Jim Kirk, commander of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, said in a statement.
    China has been infuriated by repeated U.S. sailings near the islands it occupies and controls in the South China Sea.    China says it has irrefutable sovereignty and has accused the United States of deliberately stoking tension.
    China has also been angered by U.S. warships sailing through the Taiwan Strait, including one last week, also the first such operation under the Biden administration.
    Speaking in Taipei, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said U.S. ships and aircraft carrying out freedom of navigation operations was reassuring.
    “This demonstrates the clear U.S. attitude towards challenges to the security status quo in the Indo-Pacific region,” she said.
(Reporting by Se Young Lee in Washington; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Robert Birsel)

2/9/2021 Iran’s Spy Chief Says Tehran Could Seek Nuclear Arms If ‘Cornered’ By West
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi, a candidate for upcoming vote on the Assembly of Experts, speaks during a
campaign gathering of candidates mainly close to the reformist camp, in Tehran February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s intelligence minister said persistent Western pressure could push Tehran to fight back like a “cornered cat” and seek nuclear weapons, which the Islamic Republic has for years insisted it has no intention of ever developing.
    The remarks made in a television interview are a rare suggestion that Iran might have an interest in nuclear weapons, which Western nations have accused Iran of pursuing.
    Iranian officials have repeatedly dismissed this charge, citing a fatwa or religious decree issued in the early 2000s by the Islamic Republic’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that bans the development or use of nuclear arms.
    The United States and the other Western powers which originally signed up to a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran appear to be at an impasse over which side should return to the accord first, making it unlikely U.S. sanctions that have crippled its economy can be quickly removed.
    “The Supreme Leader has explicitly said in his fatwa that nuclear weapons are against sharia law and the Islamic Republic sees them as religiously forbidden and does not pursue them,” the minister, Mahmoud Alavi, told state TV.
    “But a cornered cat may behave differently from when the cat is free. And if they (Western states) push Iran in that direction, then it’s no longer Iran’s fault,” Alavi said in the interview broadcast late on Monday.
    Details from the interview were published by Iranian news websites on Tuesday.
    Iran has insisted its nuclear programme is to generate power and for other peaceful purposes.    But U.S. intelligence agencies and the United Nations nuclear watchdog believe Iran once had a nuclear weapons programme that it halted. [L1N2JF0J2]
    U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is exploring ways to restore the 2015 nuclear deal that Iran signed with major world powers but that was abandoned in 2018 by former President Donald Trump, who restored sanctions. Iran retaliated by breaching the terms of the accord in a step-by-step response.
    Biden has said that, if Tehran returned to strict compliance with the pact, Washington would follow suit, using that as a springboard to a broader agreement that might restrict Iran’s missile development and its regional activities.
    Tehran has insisted that Washington must first ease sanctions before it resumes compliance.    It has ruled out any negotiations on wider security issues.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Edmund Blair)

2/9/2021 Ayatollah Regime Demands Biden Restore Failed Nuclear Deal by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Jan. 7, 2021, file photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency,
President Hassan Rouhani attended a meeting in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP, File)
    Iran’s Ayatollah regime is continuing to pressure Joe Biden to restore the failed nuclear deal.
    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that Biden must bring the U.S. back in compliance with the failed accord, alleging President Trump’s termination of the deal was illegal.    Rouhani also demanded that Biden lift the sanctions imposed by President Trump.
    The Iranian economy is continuing to reel under the pressure of an oil embargo and currency devaluation, but restoring the 2015 agreement could save the Ayatollah regime.
    Rouhani also reiterated nuclear threats against the U.S.
    “The country that has exited the agreement for about three years and has been this cruel to our country, against international regulations and its commitments under Resolution 2231, is obligated today to take the first step,” Rouhani stated.    “Not just today.    Every hour that it is delaying this, it is ignoring international laws and regulations.”
    The Ayatollah regime is now saying Biden owes them reparations for President Trump’s policies, suggesting Biden should repeat the cash payment sent to Iran by Barack Obama in 2016.

2/9/2021 China Poses Serious Strategic Threat To Canada, Says Canadian Spy Agency Head by David Ljunggren
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ahead
of their meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China August 31, 2016. REUTERS/Wu Hong/Pool
    OTTAWA (Reuters) – China poses a serious strategic threat to Canada, both through attempts to steal secrets and a campaign to intimidate the Chinese community, the head of Canada’s spy agency said on Tuesday in a rare public appearance.
    The remarks by Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) Director David Vigneault mark the second time in a few months that Ottawa – mired in a broad diplomatic and trade dispute with Beijing – has identified China as a problem actor.
    Vigneault told an online forum that hostile activity by state actors seeking among other things to purloin business secrets and sensitive data “represents a significant danger to Canada’s prosperity and sovereignty” and singled out China.
    “The government of China … is pursuing a strategy for geopolitical advantage on all fronts – economic, technological, political, and military – and using all elements of state power to carry out activities that are a direct threat to our national security and sovereignty,” he said.
    The biopharmaceutical and health, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, ocean technology and aerospace sectors were most at risk from state-sponsored hackers, he said.
    China regularly denies it is trying to steal secrets.
    Vigneault also said China had used its Operation Fox Hunt – a search for what Beijing says are corrupt officials and executives who have fled abroad with their assets – to routinely threaten and intimidate political opponents in Canada.
    “These activities … cross the line by attempting to undermine our democratic processes or threaten our citizens in a covert and clandestine manner,” he said.
    Last November, the Communications Security Establishment signals intelligence agency identified state-sponsored programs in China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as major cyber crime threats for the first time.
    The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa was not immediately available for comment.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

2/10/2021 Analysis: Economic Pain May Push Tough-Talking Iran To Show Nuclear Flexibility by Parisa Hafezi and John Irish
FILE PHOTO: A view of the Natanz uranium enrichment plant 250 km (155 miles) south of the Iranian capital Tehran, March 30, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo
    DUBAI/PARIS (Reuters) – Iran insists the new U.S. administration act first to save the collapsing 2015 nuclear deal but faces pent-up pressures, from ruinous sanctions to internal dissent and wider regional crises, that may impel Tehran to show flexibility in a test of wills.
    U.S. sanctions are squeezing Iran’s oil income, Iranians’ economic misery is palpable.    Israel’s normalisation deals with Gulf Arab states threaten Iran’s wider regional presence, and Tehran’s regional proxy wars are draining scarce resources.
    Despite official Islamic Republic bluster that Tehran is in no rush for Washington to rejoin its nuclear accord with world powers, the myriad pressures mean speed is of the essence with a presidential election looming in June.
    “Public dissatisfaction is simmering … The hopes of many Iranians that their economic misery would quickly end after (U.S. President Joe) Biden’s election are turning to frustration and anger,” a senior Iranian official said.
    Iran’s clerical rulers fear a re-eruption of unrest among its core voting bloc – lower-income Iranians – whose periodic bouts of protest in recent years reminded them how vulnerable they could be to popular anger over economic hardships.
    “This anger over economic problems should be addressed immediately.    It does not mean yielding to America’s pressure.    It means showing heroic flexibility,” he told Reuters.
    Biden has said Washington will return to the nuclear pact abandoned by predecessor Donald Trump if Tehran first resumes compliance with its strict limits on uranium enrichment, a potential pathway to nuclear bombs.    But with mutual mistrust running deep, Tehran avers that Washington must act first.    “It is a delicate decision for top leaders to make.    They have to choose between sticking to their uncompromising stance or showing some flexibility,” another senior Iranian official told Reuters.
    There may be little time to lose to avoid the risk of the stand-off deteriorating into open conflict, some analysts say.    Since Trump ditched the deal, asserting it was too lenient on Iran, Tehran has been rebuilding stockpiles of low-enriched uranium, enriching it to higher levels of fissile purity and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up production.    Dramatically upping the ante, a law passed by the hardline parliament obliges Tehran on Feb. 21 to cancel the sweeping access given to U.N. non-proliferation inspectors under the 2015 deal, limiting their visits to declared nuclear sites only.
    “This will be considered a major breach by Iran and will deeply complicate the situation,” warned a senior Western diplomat whose country is a party to the deal.
QUIET DEBATE ABOUT MUTUAL GESTURES
    However, some officials and analysts see room to bypass the hardline public posturing over which side should take the first step to rescue the deal, which was touted as a key insurance policy against wider Middle East war when signed.
    Iran would be amenable to a step-by-step, give-and-take approach if Washington took the first step, another Iranian official who was involved in the nuclear diplomacy with six world powers before 2015 told Reuters.
    “Biden needs to build trust by returning to the deal as soon as possible.    Then they should immediately find a way to ease the unjust economic pressure that would encourage Iran to show flexibility,” he said.
    Three sources told Reuters on Monday that the Biden administration was weighing a wide array of ideas on how to revive the deal, including an option where both sides would take small steps short of full compliance to buy time.
    A viable route to agreement that would avoid either side losing face has yet to crystallise, however.
    “We still don’t know how all this will happen because the Americans have not defined how they see the calendar sequencing and crucially what they actually want to obtain.    The Iranians have also not defined what they want,” said a European diplomat.
    A senior Iranian diplomat suggested one gesture by Tehran towards resolving the impasse could be help in ending conflicts in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, saying this could offer a “quick foreign policy win” for Biden.
    Ali Vaez, Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, suggested Washington could help pave the way to a new deal by reviving a French proposal to give Iran a $15 billion credit facility, or unblocking Iranian funds abroad. About 90% of Iran’s official reserves are frozen abroad due to sanctions.
    Eurasia Group analyst Henry Rome said Iran could match U.S. gestures by eschewing further provocative moves, such as “not reducing U.N. inspector access, not installing more advanced centrifuges, not ramping up enriched uranium production.”
    Another gesture could lie in a prisoner swap – Tehran has in the past indicated readiness to carry one out with Washington.
    Ultimately the Islamic Republic desires Western recognition of what it sees as its rightful place as a pre-eminent power in the Middle East, where for decades Iran and Saudi Arabia have jostled for the upper hand.
    Saudi Arabia and Israel both opposed the 2015 deal and fear its revival, without addressing Iran’s ballistic missile program and role in various Middle East conflicts via proxy forces, might further embolden their mutual enemy.
ECONOMIC MISERY
    As the nuclear impasse has festered, so has popular disenchantment at home – especially among women and the young, who comprise the bulk of voters – over high unemployment, soaring inflation and restrictions on political freedoms and social life.
    Hundreds of factories have been closed, Iran’s rial currency has lost 70% of its value against the U.S. dollar and official data show over 40 million Iranians live below the poverty line.
    The election outcome in June will have no notable sway on nuclear policy, which is determined by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
    But the myriad privations suffered by voters make a poor turnout more likely and this could bolster critics who say the establishment must moderate domestic and foreign policy.
    “Any delay in reviving the economy could push Iran into chaos.    People cannot take more economic pressure,” said a former Iranian official who favours policy reforms.
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

2/11/2021 President Rouhani Urges Biden To Restore Failed Nuclear Deal For Third Consecutive Day by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani addresses
the nation in a televised speech in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
    Iran has continued to plead with Joe Biden to lift sanctions on the Ayatollah regime.    In a new statement Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called on the U.S. to restore the failed nuclear deal and open direct talks on the matter.
    Rouhani’s statement came amid celebrations of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, which resulted in a siege of the U.S. Embassy at the time. The Iranian leader also proudly declared his regime helped remove President Trump from office.
    “The role of the Iranian people and the Iranian government in the downfall of this tyrant Trump was undoubtedly influential,” he stated.    “And today the world owes its security, its sense of lawfulness and its sense of stability felt with the departure of Trump to the Iranian people.”
    Iranian officials also reiterated they expect Biden to pay reparations for sanctions imposed by President Trump.

2/12/2021 U.S. Blacklisting Of Yemen’s Houthis To Be Lifted On Feb. 16 – Blinken
FILE PHOTO: Newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken removes his face mask as he arrives to hold his
first press briefing at the State Department in Washington, U.S., January 27, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/Pool/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday announced that he will revoke, effective Feb. 16, designations of Yemen’s Houthi movement as a foreign terrorist organization and a specially designated global terrorist group.
Blinken said in a statement that the United States would “closely monitor” Houthi activities and is “actively identifying” new sanctions targets, especially those responsible for attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea and missile strikes on Saudi Arabia.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Daphne Psaledakis)
[MORE PROOF THAT THE BIDEN-FORMER OBAMA ADMINISTRATION IS UNDOING EVERYTHING THAT TRUMP DID AND WHEN THE HOUTHIS WHO WERE GETTING THEIR ORDERS FROM IRAN WILL EVENTUALLY HAVE THEM PURSUE THEIR AGENDA AGAIN AND THIS ARTICLE WILL BE THE WE TOLD YOU SO.].

2/16/2021 U.S. Urges Yemen’s Houthis To Stop Military Operations
FILE PHOTO: Houthi supporters rally against the United States' designation of Houthis as a
foreign terrorist organisation, in Sanaa, Yemen January 25, 2021. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday urged Yemen’s Houthi movement to halt an offensive on the government-held city of Marib and join international efforts to find a political solution to the more than six-year civil war.
    The advance by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement on the last government-held northern city threatens to complicate the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden’s new drive to intensify diplomatic efforts to end the conflict.
    State Department spokesman Ned Price called on the Houthis to halt the Marib attack, cease all military operations, end cross-border strikes on Saudi Arabia and participate in a U.N.-led peace process.
    The conflict pits the Houthi movement against the country’s internationally recognized government and a Saudi-led coalition.
    “The Houthis’ assault on Marib is the action of a group not committed to peace or to ending the war afflicting the people of Yemen,” Price said in a statement.
    The assault will only worsen the world’s most serious humanitarian catastrophe, he said, noting that a U.N. agency estimates that Marib hosts about 1 million people displaced from other areas by fighting.
    “Marib is controlled by the legitimate government of Yemen,” he said.    “This assault will only increase the number of internally displaced persons and exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.”
    He urged the Houthis to “constructively participate” in the U.N.-led peace process and “engage seriously” with the recently appointed U.S. special envoy for Yemen, Timothy Lenderking.
    Biden appointed the veteran U.S. diplomat as part of his new approach to ending the war that also includes halting U.S. support for offensive operations by the Saudi-led coalition.
    Since Biden launched the policy, however, the Houthis have pressed the assault on Marib and persisted with cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia.
    “The time to end this conflict is now,” Price said.    “There is no military solution.”
    The United States on Tuesday also revoked the foreign terrorist organization and specially designated global terrorist designations of the Houthis, imposed by the Trump administration on its last full day in office despite warnings from aid groups and others that it could push Yemen into a major famine.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bernadette Baum)
2/17/2021 Merkel Tells Rouhani Iran Should Return To Nuclear Deal
FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel sits following her speech on the government's response to the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) pandemic, at the country's parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, February 11, 2021. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Iran should send positive signals to increase the chances of a return to the 2015 nuclear deal and defuse a standoff with western powers, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told President Hassan Rouhani in a phone call on Wednesday.
    Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said the German leader told Rouhani she was concerned that Iran was continuing to breach its commitments under the deal, which U.S. President Joe Biden wants to restore should Iran halt nuclear activities.
(Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Madeline Chambers)

2/17/2021 Iran Plans Extra Advanced Machines At Underground Enrichment Plant: IAEA
FILE PHOTO: Iranian soldiers stand guard on an anti-aircraft machine gun inside the Natanz uranium
enrichment facility, 322km (200 miles) south of Iran's capital Tehran March 9, 2006. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has informed the U.N. nuclear watchdog it plans to install more of its advanced IR-2m centrifuges at an underground uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, a report by the agency on Wednesday said, which would deepen a breach of Iran’s nuclear deal.
    “Iran indicated it plans to install two additional cascades of 174 IR-2m centrifuges at FEP to enrich … up to 5% U-235.    This will bring the total number of cascades of IR-2m centrifuges either planned, being installed, or operating in FEP to six,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report to member states obtained by Reuters.
    An IAEA report on Feb. 1 said Iran had brought a second cascade, or cluster, of IR-2m centrifuges online at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) and was installing two more.    Iran’s deal with major powers says it can only enrich at the FEP with far less efficient, first-generation IR-1 centrifuges.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

2/17/2021 Iran’s Khamenei Demands ‘Action’ From Biden To Revive Nuclear Deal by Parisa Hafezi
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wears a mask during a virtual speech, in Tehran, Iran
February 17, 2021. Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanded “action, not words” from the United States if it wants to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, challenging new President Joe Biden to take the first step toward a thaw.
    Iran has set a deadline of next week for Biden to begin reversing sanctions imposed by his predecessor Donald Trump, or it will take its biggest step yet to breach the deal – banning short-notice inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
    “We have heard many nice words and promises which in practice have been broken and opposite actions have been taken,” Khamenei said in a televised speech.    “Words and promises are no good. This time (we want) only action from the other side, and we will also act.”
    Biden aims to restore the pact under which Iran agreed to curbs on its disputed uranium enrichment programme in return for the lifting of sanctions, a major achievement of the Obama administration that Trump scrapped in 2018, calling the deal one sided in Iran’s favour and reimposing a wide range of sanctions.
    Iran and the United States are at odds over who should make the first step to revive the accord. Iran says the United States must first lift Trump’s sanctions while Washington says Tehran must first return to compliance with the deal, which it began violating after Trump launched his “maximum-pressure” campaign.
    Highlighting the urgency of a diplomatic solution to the standoff, German Chancellor Angela Merkel held a rare phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in which she urged Tehran to take steps ensuring its return to full compliance.
    “It is now time for positive signals that create trust and increase the chances of a diplomatic solution,” Merkel told Rouhani, according to a statement by the chancellor’s spokesman.
    Iran has accelerated its breaches of the deal’s restrictions in recent months, culminating in an announcement that it will end snap inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency on Feb. 23.
    Such inspections, which can range anywhere beyond Iran’s declared nuclear sites, are mandated under the IAEA’s “Additional Protocol” that Iran agreed to honour under the deal.    It signed up to the Protocol in 2003 but has not ratified it.
MORE ADVANCED CENTRIFUGES ON TAP
    An IAEA report on Wednesday said Iran had informed the IAEA of plans to install more of its advanced IR-2m centrifuges at its main underground enrichment plant at Natanz, in a further move apparently meant to pile pressure on Washington.
    The IAEA reported on Feb. 1 that Iran had brought a second cascade, or cluster, of IR-2m machines online at Natanz, and was installing two more.    The 2015 deal says Iran can only enrich with far less efficient, first-generation IR-1 centrifuges.
    Iran recently began enriching uranium to 20% fissile purity at another site, Fordow, well above its previous level of 4.5% and the deal’s 3.67% limit, though still well before the 90% that is weapons grade. Iran had enriched to 20% before the deal.
    Refining uranium to high levels of fissile purity is a potential pathway to nuclear bombs, though Iran has long said it its enrichment programme is for peaceful energy purposes only.
    European parties to the deal, which have called on Tehran not to halt snap inspections, will discuss the issue with the United States on Thursday, the French Foreign Ministry said.
    Rouhani played down the importance of the snap inspections, saying that ending them would not be a “significant step,” as Iran would still comply with obligations under a so-called Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA.
    “We will end the implementation of the Additional Protocol on Feb. 23 and what will be implemented will be based on the safeguards,” Rouhani said at a televised cabinet meeting.    “The Additional Protocol is a step beyond safeguards.”
    Iran’s envoy to the IAEA said on Wednesday that the agency’s director general, Rafael Grossi, would visit Tehran on Saturday to discuss the country’s plan to scale back cooperation with inspectors next week.
(Additional reporting by Joseph Nasr in Berlin with additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
[WHY IS IT SO HARD FOR THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION TO SAY NO TO IRAN WHO IS A COUNTRY THAT WOULD DESTROY YOU IF THEY COULD.].

2/19/2021 Biden Admin. Seeks To Rejoin 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal by OAN Newsroom
Joe Biden walked on the South Lawn of the White House after stepping off Marine One, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
    The Biden administration announced its plans to open dialogue with Iran regarding America’s return to the 2015 nuclear deal.    On Friday, Joe Biden announced the U.S. is looking forward to coming to a diplomatic agreement in order to revive the deal.
    President Donald Trump famously withdrew from the deal in 2018, saying it failed to stop the development of ballistic missiles and handed Iran billions of dollars, used to fund terrorism across the Middle East.
    However, Biden signaled a willingness to engage with world leaders and Tehran in a bid to return the U.S. to the negotiation table.
    “We said we’re prepared to reengage in negotiations with the P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear program,” Biden stated.    “We must also address Iran’s destabilizing activities across the Middle East, and we’re going to work in close cooperation with our European and other partners as we proceed.”
    Biden’s statement came after Secretary of State Antony Blinken, along with his German, French and British counterparts said on Thursday that the U.S. would be “prepared to engage in discussions.”
WILMINGTON, DE – NOVEMBER 24: Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on November 24, 2020
in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
    The administration has already softened its stance on Iran in comparison with the last administration. Reports have said Biden formally rescinded the effort by President Trump to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran. It further pulled back the restrictions on domestic travel for Iranian officials working at the UN.
    On Thursday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. was prepared to attend a meeting of the countries that signed the deal to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear program. He noted, while Tehran has already gone beyond what the deal allows in terms of limits on its nuclear program, the steps are “reversible.”
    “If Iran resumes its full compliance with the deal, we will do the same. Importantly, as you have also heard us say, that the deal for us, it is a floor. It’s not a ceiling,” Price said.    “We want to go beyond the 2015 deal, lengthen and strengthen it and build on it with follow-on arrangements to address other areas of concern when it comes to our relationship with Iran.”
    Unfortunately, Iran has indicated it will only backtrack on its progress if the U.S. “unconditionally lifts all sanctions,” a point made by the Iranian foreign minister.
    Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made similar comments during a statement on Wednesday.
    “We have heard many nice words and promises, which in practice have been broken and opposite actions have been taken,” Khamenei stated.    “    Words and promises are no good.    This time we want only action from the other side and we will also act.”
    Iran’s state media have already called the effort a “defeat for America.”
    One State Department official warned if the Biden team continues to roll back restrictions with only the hope of starting talks, Iran is “going to eat our lunch” in the negotiations.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who recently praised a phone call he received from Biden, reiterated his government’s longtime stance against the deal hasn’t changed.    He noted Israel believes that going back to the old agreement will “pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal.”
[WELL BIDEN YOU WOKE ISRAEL AND THE ARAB NATIONS UP TO YOUR LIES AND THEY WILL HOPEFULLY STRENGTHEN THEIR FORCES TO PROTECT THEMSELVES FROM IRAN AND YOU HAVE OPENED THE GATE FOR THE KING OF THE EAST TO TRY TO INFILTRATE THE WEST AGAIN.].

2/22/2021 Khamenei Says Iran May Enrich Uranium To 60% Purity If Needed
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian soldier stands guard inside the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, 322km (200 miles)
south of Iran's capital Tehran March 9, 2006. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday Iran might enrich uranium up to 60% purity if the country needed it and would never yield to U.S. pressure over its nuclear programme, state television reported.
    Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers, which it has been breaching since the United States withdrew in 2018, caps the fissile purity to which Tehran can refine uranium at 3.67%, well under the 20% achieved before the agreement and far below the 90% suitable for a nuclear weapon.
    “Iran’s uranium enrichment level will not be limited to 20%. We will increase it to whatever level the country needs … We may increase it to 60%,” the TV quoted Khamenei as saying, upping the ante in a stand-off with U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration over the future of the fraying deal.
    “Americans and the European parties to the deal have used unjust language against Iran … Iran will not yield to pressure. Our stance will not change,” Khamenei said.
    U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Khamenei’s comments “sounds like a threat” and declined to respond to what he described as “hypotheticals” and “posturing
    He reiterated U.S. willingness to engage in talks with Iran about returning to the 2015 nuclear deal.
    The Biden administration said last week it was ready to talk to Iran about both nations returning to the accord abandoned by former U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Tehran said last week it was studying a European Union proposal for an informal meeting between current members of the deal and the United States, but has yet to respond to it.
    Iran, which has resumed enriching to 20% in an apparent bid to heap pressure on the United States, has been at loggerheads with Washington over which side should take the initial step to revive the accord.
    Although under domestic pressure to ease economic hardships worsened by sanctions, Iranian leaders insist Washington must end its punitive campaign first to restore the deal, while Washington says Tehran must first return to full compliance.
DIPLOMACY PATH
    Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday Washington intended to bolster and extend the 2015 pact, which aimed to limit Iran’s enrichment potential – a possible pathway to atomic bombs – in exchange for a lifting of most sanctions.
    Blinken, addressing the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, said in a pre-recorded speech: “The United States remains committed to ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. Diplomacy is the best path to achieve that goal.”
    Khamenei, in his televised remarks, repeated a denial of any Iranian intent to weaponise uranium enrichment.
    He added: “That international Zionist clown (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) has said they won’t allow Iran to produce nuclear weapons.    First of all, if we had any such intention, even those more powerful than him wouldn’t be able to stop us.”
    To pressure the Biden administration to drop sanctions, Iran’s hardline-dominated parliament passed a law last year obliging the government to end roving snap inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog from Tuesday if sanctions are not lifted.
    Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said Iran had ended the implementation of the so-called Additional Protocol, which allows International Atomic Energy Agency to carry out short-notice inspections at midnight (2030 GMT).
    To create room for diplomacy, the U.N. watchdog on Sunday reached a deal with Iran to cushion the blow of Iran’s reduced cooperation and refusal to permit short-notice inspections.
    Iranian lawmakers protested on Monday at Tehran’s decision to permit “necessary” monitoring by U.N. inspectors for up to three months, saying this broke the new law.
(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Arshad Mohammed and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alison Williams)
2/23/2021 Iran’s Rulers Close Ranks, Raise Pressure On Biden To Lift Sanctions by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – An Iranian state newspaper, taking aim at hardline lawmakers’ intervention in Tehran’s nuclear row with the West, warned on Tuesday that overly radical actions may lead to Iran’s isolation after a new law ended snap inspections by U.N. inspectors.
    Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers has been fraying since 2018 when the United States pulled out and reimposed harsh sanctions on Tehran, prompting it to breach the deal’s limits on uranium enrichment, a potential pathway to nuclear weapons.
    On Monday, Iranian lawmakers protested against the government’s decision to permit “necessary” monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency for up to three months, saying the move broke a new law they passed that mandated an end to IAEA snap inspections as of Tuesday.
    Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to observe the IAEA’s Additional Protocol that permits short-notice inspections at locations not declared to the agency – to bolster confidence that nuclear work is not being covertly put to military ends.
    The three-month compromise secured by the IAEA’s director-general on a trip to Tehran last weekend kept alive hopes for an eventual diplomatic solution to rescue the nuclear deal.
    But the state newspaper Iran, seen as close to pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani, a former chief nuclear negotiator, suggested in an unusually critical commentary that the new law blocking snap inspections could be counter-productive.
    “Those who say Iran must take swift tough action on the nuclear accord should say what guarantee there is that Iran will not be left alone as in the past…, and will this end anywhere other than helping build a consensus against Iran?” it said.
    Later on Tuesday, the three major European parties to the nuclear deal called on Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA and reverse steps that reduce transparency, saying its suspension of the Additional Protocol was deeply regrettable.
    Both Tehran, whose economy has been crippled by sanctions, and new U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration want to salvage the deal repudiated by his predecessor Donald Trump, but disagree over who should take the first step.    Iran insists the United States must first lift sanctions, while Washington avers that Tehran must first return to compliance with the pact.
    Since Trump’s pull-out in 2018, Iran has been rebuilding stockpiles of low-enriched uranium, enriching it to higher levels of fissile purity and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up production.
HIGH-LEVEL SHOW OF UNITY
    Biden’s refusal to lift sanctions first has been met by a show of unity from both sides of Iran’s political divide, uniting hardliners who cast the United States as an implacable enemy with pragmatists who seek rapprochement with the West.
    Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, although the top hardliner with the last word on policy, endorsed the inspections deal with the IAEA in a tacit rebuff of hawkish lawmakers.
    The hardline daily Kayhan, whose editor-in-chief is appointed by Khamenei, also approved it, saying the deal “could not have been prepared without the participation and opinion of the Supreme National Security Council
    But Iran’s overall strategy appears to be cranking up enrichment and raising questions about cooperation with the IAEA to push the Biden administration into dropping the “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions launched by Trump.
    Khamenei, upping the ante on Monday, said Iran might enrich uranium up to 60% purity if needed, while repeating a denial of any Iranian intent to seek nuclear weapons, for which 90% enrichment would be required.
    “Iran’s economy is doing badly because of sanctions, COVID-19 crisis and mismanagement,” said Meir Javedanefar, a lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel.
    “Therefore, if Biden takes the first step by removing at least part of the sanctions…, Khamenei would be willing to reach a deal with him.”
    Washington, which said last week it was ready to talk to Tehran, said Khamenei’s comments “sounds like a threat” but reiterated U.S. willingness to engage with Iran about returning to the 2015 nuclear deal.
    Iran’s clerical rulers face challenges in keeping the economy afloat under U.S. sanctions that have slashed its vital oil exports.
    The economic hardship bodes ill for the presidential election in June, when Iran’s rulers typically seek a high turnout to show their legitimacy, even if the outcome will not change any major policy that is decided by Khamenei.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

2/24/2021 Iran cuts access to nuclear facilities - Nasser Karimi and Kiyoko Metzler by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    TEHRAN, Iran – Iran officially started restricting international inspections of its nuclear facilities Tuesday, in a bid to pressure European countries and U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration to lift crippling economic sanctions and restore the 2015 nuclear deal.
    World powers slammed the restrictions as a “dangerous” move.
    It came as the International Atomic Energy Agency reported in a confidential document distributed to member countries and seen by the Associated Press that Iran had added 38.8 pounds of uranium enriched to 20% to its stockpile as of Feb. 16.
    It was the first official confirmation of plans Iran announced in January to enrich to the greater purity, which is just a technical step away from weapons- grade levels and far past the 3.67% purity allowed under the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.    It also increased its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to 6,542.9 pounds, up from 5,385.7 pounds reported Nov. 2, the IAEA reported.
    Iran’s violations of the JCPOA and the move Tuesday to limit international inspections underscore the daunting task facing Biden as he seeks to reverse former President Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally pull the U.S. out of the deal in 2018.

2/24/2021 CIA Dir. Nominee: U.S. Must Prevent Iran From Developing Nuclear Weapons by OAN Newsroom
WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 24: William Burns, nominee for Central Intelligence Agency director, arrives for his Senate Select Intelligence
Committee confirmation hearing in Russell Senate Office Building on February 24, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Burns is a career
diplomat who most recently served as Deputy Secretary of State in the Obama administration. (Photo by Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images)
    If confirmed, Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Central Intelligence Agency vowed to give straight-forward intelligence on Iran.    During the Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing Wednesday, William Burns told lawmakers he does not believe Iran can be trusted with a nuclear weapon.
    Burns also stressed the U.S. needs to keep doing everything it can to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
FEBRUARY 24: William Burns, right, nominee for Central Intelligence Agency director, talks with Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., after his Senate
Select Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing in Russell Senate Office Building on February 24, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Burns is a career diplomat who most recently served as Deputy Secretary of State in the Obama administration. (Photo by Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images)
    “I learned that good intelligence, delivered with honesty and integrity, is America’s first line of defense,” Burns said.    “I learned that intelligence professionals have to tell policymakers what they need to hear, even if they don’t want to hear it.    And I learned that politics must stop where intelligence work begins.”
    Meanwhile, Biden is expected to try to re-join the Iran Nuclear Deal.    The Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of it back in 2018.

2/24/2021 Biden CIA Nominee Burns To Focus On ‘Authoritarian Adversary’ China by Patricia Zengerle and Mark Hosenball
William Burns is sworn in to testify before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on his nomination to be director of the
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 24, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/Pool
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s nominee to be director of the CIA, William Burns, told a Senate committee on Wednesday that he saw competition with China – and countering its “adversarial, predatory” leadership – as the key to U.S. national security.
    Burns, 64, a former career diplomat during both Democratic and Republican administrations, is expected to easily win confirmation to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency.    Burns has already been confirmed by the Senate five times for his stints as ambassador to Jordan and Russia and three senior State Department positions.
    The Senate Intelligence Committee will likely vote on his confirmation late next week or the week after, to allow time for members to send more questions, a congressional official said.
    Testifying to the committee, Burns outlined his four top priorities – “people, partnerships, China and technology” – if he is confirmed.
    He called China “a formidable, authoritarian adversary,” that is strengthening its ability to steal intellectual property, repress its people, expand its reach and build influence within the United States.
    During questioning, Burns said that if he were a U.S. college or university president, he would recommend shutting down Confucius Institutes – Beijing-funded campus cultural centers that many members of Congress see as propaganda tools.
    Burns was introduced at the hearing by bipartisan foreign policy heavyweights – former Secretary of State James Baker and former CIA director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. He would be the first career diplomat to lead the agency.
    Senators from both parties praised Burns during an unusually amicable two-hour hearing.    Republican Richard Burr, a former committee chairman, said he looked forward to Burns’ confirmation. Democrat Ron Wyden praised Burns’ record on human rights and said he would support him.
    Competition with China is a top priority for the Biden administration – and for members of Congress, who want a tough line toward Beijing.    Avril Haines, Biden’s Director of National Intelligence, also called for an “aggressive stance” toward the threat from China at her hearing last month.
    Russian aggression also is a constant concern, especially its involvement in U.S. elections and the recent SolarWinds hack that penetrated government agencies and that U.S. officials have blamed on Russian hackers.
    Burns said the Biden administration would soon produce an assessment of Russia-related issues, including the SolarWinds hack.
OLD AND NEW THREATS
    Burns said “familiar” threats persist, including from Russia, North Korea and Iran.    He also said climate change, global health issues and cyber threats are great risks, and “an adversarial, predatory Chinese leadership poses our biggest geopolitical test.”
    Burns helped lead secret talks with Iran in 2013 that helped pave the way for the international nuclear deal, which was opposed by Republicans. He told the hearing that Iran must not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.
    The Biden administration offered last week to sit down with the Iranians and other parties to the 2015 pact to see if there is a way to return to the agreement, after former Republican President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018.
    Burns’ arrival at the CIA would come after a difficult four years under Trump, who frequently disregarded spy agencies’ findings, especially the determination that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to boost his chances of winning the White House.
    Senator Mark Warner, the committee’s Democratic chairman, stressed that point in his opening remarks.
    “I would like to hear how you plan to reinforce the credo that – no matter the political pressure, no matter what – CIA’s officers will always do the right thing and speak truth to power,” Warner said.
    Biden has been able to get most of his national security team into place with support from many Senate Republicans as well as Democrats.    Haines, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin all easily won confirmation.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Mark Hosenball and Daphne Psaledakis, additional reporting by Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed; writing by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Mary Milliken and Sonya Hepinstall)

2/24/2021 U.S. Patience With Iran On Renewing Nuclear Talks ‘Not Unlimited’: State Department
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian protester holds the picture of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as she attends an anti U.S. demonstration, marking the 40th anniversary of the
U.S. embassy takeover, near the old U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran, November 4, 2019. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States’ patience with Iran on returning to discussions over the 2015 nuclear deal is “not unlimited,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Wednesday.
    Iran has not formally responded to a U.S. offer last week to talk with Iran in a joint meeting with the countries that negotiated the deal.
    Asked at a news briefing whether there was an expiration date on the offer, Price said Iran’s moves away from compliance with the 2015 agreement’s restrictions on its nuclear activities made the issue an “urgent challenge” for the United States.
    “Our patience is not unlimited, but we do believe, and the president has been clear on this … that the most effective way to ensure Iran could never acquire a nuclear weapon was through diplomacy,” Price said.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Daphne Psaledakis and Simon Lewis; Editing by Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)

2/26/2021 Armenian Opposition Leader Urges Army To Rebel After PM’s Coup Accusation
Armenian opposition leader Vazgen Manukyan delivers a speech during a rally to demand the resignation
of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Yerevan, Armenia February 25, 2021. Lusi Sargsyan/Photolure via REUTERS
    YEREVAN (Reuters) – Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s grip on power appeared to be slipping on Friday, a day after the army called on him to quit.
    Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in the capital Yerevan to demand his downfall, and a leading opposition figure called on the army to rebel against him.    Two former presidents have already said he must step down.
    Pashinyan, 45, accused the military of a coup attempt on Thursday and tried to sack the chief of staff, after the army issued a written statement calling for him to resign.
    He has faced calls to quit since November from countrymen who blame him for a disastrous six-week war that saw ethnic Armenian forces lose swathes of territory in neighbouring Azerbaijan they had held for decades.
    While crowds on Friday demanded he resign, thousands of others had gathered in the capital to rally behind him on Thursday.
    Pashinyan told his supporters on Thursday he was firing Onik Gasparyan, the chief of the army’s general staff.    But by Friday the dismissal had not yet been approved by Armenia’s president, a step needed for it to enter force.
    President Armen Sarkissian held a meeting with Gasparyan, the president’s office said, without releasing further details.
    Vazgen Manukyan, a politician who has been touted by the opposition as a possible interim prime minister to replace Pashinyan, told hundreds of supporters at a rally that the army would never allow Gasparyan to be sacked.
    “You think the army will easily agree that Pashinyan illegally removes their head?    No.    The army will rebel.    I call on the army to rebel.    The army shouldn’t carry out illegal orders,” Manukyan said.
    The General Prosecutor’s Office told Reuters on Friday that it was investigating whether the army’s call for the prime minister to go constituted a crime.
    “The general staff’s statement and the possible risk of developments around it are the subject of our attention,” Gor Abrahamyan, an aide to the prosecutor general, told Reuters by telephone.    “If any elements of a crime outlined in the criminal code are revealed, a legal response will immediately follow.”
    Pashinyan, a former journalist and lawmaker, came to power in a peaceful popular uprising in May 2018 known as Armenia’s velvet revolution.
    But the loss of territory in and around the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh last year was a bitter blow for Armenians, who had won control of the area in the 1990s in a war which killed at least 30,000 people.
    The conflict was brought to a halt by a ceasefire deal brokered by Russia.    Moscow, which has deployed peacekeepers to enforce the ceasefire, said on Friday it was vital the agreements be fully implemented despite Armenia’s crisis.
(Reporting by Artem Mikryukov and Nvard Hovhannisyan; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Peter Graff)

3/2/2021 U.S. Blacklists Two Leaders Of Yemen’s Houthi Movement by Daphne Psaledakis and David Lawder
FILE PHOTO: Armed Houthi followers ride on the back of a truck after participating in a funeral of Houthi fighters killed in recent
fighting against government forces in Yemen's oil-rich province of Marib, in Sanaa, Yemen February 20, 2021. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on two military leaders of the Houthi movement in Yemen, accusing them of procuring weapons from Iran and organizing attacks, in the Biden administration’s first punitive action against the group.
    The sanctions contrast with the State Department’s decision last month to revoke terrorist designations on the group imposed by President Donald Trump’s administration on its last full day in office, over concern that they would exacerbate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.
    But President Joe Biden’s administration has signaled limits to U.S. tolerance of the Iran-backed Houthi movement, warning that Washington will keep up pressure on the group’s leadership.
    “The United States remains committed to promoting accountability of Houthi leadership for their actions, which have contributed to the extraordinary suffering of the Yemeni people,” Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control Andrea Gacki said in a Treasury Department statement.
    Tuesday’s move blacklisted Mansur Al-Sa’adi, the Houthi naval forces chief of staff, and Ahmad ‘Ali Ahsan al-Hamzi, the commander of Yemen’s Houthi-aligned Yemeni air force and air defense forces.
    The Treasury accused the two leaders of orchestrating attacks by the Houthis that affected the Yemeni people, neighboring countries and commercial vessels in international waters, in actions done to “advance the Iranian regime’s destabilizing agenda.”
    “The United States condemns the destruction of civilian sites by the Houthi militants designated today.    These individuals command forces that are worsening the humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” Gacki said.    The war has sent the impoverished country spiraling into what the United Nations describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
    The new sanctions were issued as Biden has withdrawn support for a Saudi Arabia-led military campaign in Yemen, declaring that the six-year war, widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, “has to end.”
    The Treasury said Iran has intensified the conflict by providing direct financial and material assistance to the Houthis, including small arms, missiles, explosives and unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, that have been used against the internationally recognized Yemeni government.
    The Treasury said Al-Sa’adi has received extensive training in Iran and helped smuggle weapons into Yemen, while al-Hamzi has acquired Iranian-made weapons for use in the civil war, including in drone strikes.
    Tuesday’s sanctions – imposed under an executive order that aims to freeze the assets of people threatening the peace, security or stability of Yemen – blocks any property those blacklisted may have under U.S. jurisdiction and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and David Lawder; Editing by Mary Milliken and Franklin Paul)

3/4/2021 Western Powers Scrap Plan For IAEA Rebuke Of Iran To Make Space For Talks by Francois Murphy and John Irish
FILE PHOTO: A view of the Natanz uranium enrichment plant 250 km (155 miles) south of the
Iranian capital Tehran, March 30, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo
    VIENNA/PARIS (Reuters) – Britain, France and Germany have scrapped a U.S.-backed plan for the U.N. nuclear watchdog to criticise Iran for reducing cooperation with its inspectors, in a bid to avoid escalation and make room for diplomacy, diplomats said on Thursday.
    Tehran and Washington have emerged from U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempts to wreck Iran’s nuclear deal locked in a standoff over who should move first to save it.    Tehran has added to its breaches of the deal’s atomic restrictions in protest at U.S. sanctions re-imposed when Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018.
    The European powers, all parties to the 2015 deal, have been lobbying for the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors to adopt a resolution at its quarterly meeting this week expressing concern at Iran’s latest breaches, including ending the basis for snap IAEA inspections.
    The resolution also called on Iran to answer the IAEA’s questions on the origin of uranium particles recently found at several undeclared and apparently old sites     Just as time for a resolution was running out, the IAEA announced a new diplomatic push to get answers from Iran.
    “We are trying to sit down around the table and see if we can resolve this once and for all,” IAEA chief Rafael Grossi told a news conference called at short notice, outlining a process that will start next month.
    “We are going to be starting this process of focused analysis of the situation with a technical meeting which will take place in Iran at the beginning of April which I hope will be followed by other technical or political meetings.”
    That push prompted the so-called E3 to drop their planned resolution, even though there is no sign as yet of Iran relenting on its breaches of the deal.
    A French diplomatic source told reporters the resolution was put on hold because the E3 believed they had won concessions allowing Grossi to work on the outstanding issues and because it would have harmed the prospects of a meeting between Iran, the United States and other parties to the deal.
    “If we had gone through with the vote (on a resolution) it would have made it more difficult to quickly start this meeting,” the source told reporters.
    Iran had bristled at the prospect of the resolution, threatening to end a recent agreement with the IAEA that limits the impact of its latest breaches, enabling monitoring of its facilities to continue almost as before for up to three months.
    “Cooler heads are prevailing,” said one diplomat from a country on the board that had been sceptical about a resolution.
TALKING PAST EACH OTHER
    Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the move kept diplomatic efforts alive.
    “Today’s development can preserve the path of diplomacy that was created by Iran and the IAEA and pave the way for returning to full compliance by all parties to the JCPOA,” Iranian state media quoted him as saying, referring to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal.
    While Grossi said he hoped to report progress to the next IAEA board meeting in June, the French source said the resolution could be revived even before then if there were problems between the IAEA and Iran.
    Grossi said he was seeking to end a process of “talking past each other” with Iran that has failed to yield credible answers.
    U.S. intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe Iran had a nuclear weapons programme that it halted in 2003.    Iran denies ever having had one.
    “Either you continue with this merry-go-round that can last a long time or you try something else,” Grossi said.    “I felt that we needed to try to discuss this in a different way.”
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Editing by Gareth Jones and Hugh Lawson)

3/4/2021 Iran Gives Positive Signals On Informal Nuclear Talks, Time Short: Sources by John Irish
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian soldier stands guard inside the Natanz uranium enrichment facility,
322km (200 miles) south of Iran's capital Tehran March 9, 2006.REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi
    PARIS (Reuters) – Iran has given encouraging signs in recent days about opening informal talks with world powers and the United States, two European sources said on Thursday after European powers scrapped plans to criticise Tehran at the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
    Iran has so far refused to take part in a meeting brokered by the European Union between world powers and the United States on reviving its 2015 nuclear deal.
    “Things are moving in the right direction and we have had positive signals this week and especially in last few days,” a French diplomatic source said.    “We are seeing movements that we weren’t seeing last weekend,” he said.
    The source added the objective was to get everyone around the table before the start of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, on March 20, when Iran slows down administratively.
    He added that the window would also narrow from mid-April when Iran’s presidential election campaign kicks in.
    “We are putting all our efforts so that this (meeting) can take place in the days or coming weeks,” the source said.
    French President Emmanuel Macron and his foreign minister both spoke separately with their Iranian counterparts earlier this week.
    A second European source also said there had been positive signals from the Iranian side.
    An Iranian official declined to comment.
    An EU official said that this was the objective and the channels remained open with contacts almost daily.
    “It’s good that the Iranians are still talking,” the official said.
    The French source added that another positive indication was that Iran had reportedly suspended its production of uranium metal, one of its latest violations of the nuclear accord, although that had not been verified by the IAEA.
    Britain, France and Germany decided to pause the submission of a resolution critical of Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday to not harm the prospects for diplomacy and after what they said were concessions gained from Iran to deal with outstanding nuclear.
(Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels and Andreas Rinke in Berlin; Editing by Alex Richardson and GV De Clercq)

3/4/2021 Protesters Block Lebanon Roads For Third Day As Economy Falters
A demonstrator walks past burning tires and garbage bins blocking a road, during a protest against the fall of the
Lebanese pound and mounting economic hardships, in Beirut, Lebanon March 4, 2021. REUTERS/Issam Abdallah
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Demonstrators blocked main roads in several parts of Lebanon on Thursday in a third day of protests as anger over the country’s economic downturn grows.
    Protests started on Tuesday after the currency tumbled to a new low, enraging a population long horrified by the country’s financial meltdown.
    Lebanon’s financial crisis, which erupted in 2019, has wiped out jobs, raised warnings of growing hunger and locked people out of their bank deposits.
    On Thursday evening, protesters burnt tyres to block roads leading out of Beirut in Jal el Dib and Furn al-Shebak.    The main road was also blocked in Zouk district to the north of the capital, with tensions sometimes arising between motorists wanting to drive through and demonstrators.
    In the past year, Lebanon has been through a popular uprising against its political leaders, the bankruptcy of the state and banking system, a COVID-19 pandemic and, in August, a huge blast that killed 200 people and destroyed parts of Beirut.
    The collapse of the Lebanese pound, which fell to 10,000 to the dollar on Tuesday was the last straw for many who have seen prices of consumer goods such as diapers or cereals nearly triple since the crisis erupted.
(Reporting By Maha El Dahan, Editing by William Maclean)

3/5/2021 Iran’s Zarif To Offer ‘Constructive’ Plan Amid Hopes Of Informal Nuclear Talks
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at the presidential palace
in Baabda, Lebanon August 14, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will soon present a “constructive” plan of action, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Friday, after European sources said Tehran gave positive signs about opening informal talks about its nuclear programme.     “As Iran’s FM (foreign minister) & chief nuclear negotiator, I will shortly present our constructive concrete plan of action – through proper diplomatic channels,” Zarif said on Twitter.
    A French diplomatic source and another European source said on Thursday that Iran had given encouraging signs in recent days about opening the informal talks after European powers scrapped plans to criticise Tehran at the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
    Iran has so far refused to take part in a meeting brokered by the European Union between world powers and the United States on reviving its 2015 nuclear deal.
    Iran’s nuclear policy is decided by the country’s top authority, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and not the president or the government.
    Tehran and Washington have emerged from former U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempts to wreck Iran’s nuclear deal locked in a standoff over who should move first to save it.    Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018.
    Britain, France and Germany decided to pause the submission of a resolution critical of Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday to not harm the prospects for diplomacy after what they said were concessions gained from Iran to deal with outstanding nuclear.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Nick Macfie)

3/11/2021 Turkey, Russia, Qatar To Push For Political Resolution In Syria by Maher Chmaytelli, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Tom Balmforth
Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and
Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attend a meeting in Doha, Qatar March 11, 2021. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI/ANKARA/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Turkey, Russia and Qatar are making a joint attempt to promote a political solution to Syria’s 10-year conflict, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday.
    “Today we launched a new trilateral consultation process,” Cavusoglu said after talks in Doha with Russian and Qatari foreign ministers.    “Our goal is to discuss how we can contribute to efforts towards a lasting political solution in Syria.”
    All three ministers emphasised in their meeting that the only solution to the conflict, in which hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced, was a political settlement in line with United Nations resolutions, he said.
    Turkey and Qatar have backed fighters who sought to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Moscow provided military support which helped Assad seize back most of the country.
    Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the three countries were not seeking to replace efforts which Turkey, Russia and Iran had jointly been making since 2017 to reduce fighting in Syria and discuss a political solution.
    “I can only welcome Qatar’s desire to make its contribution to creating the conditions for overcoming the current tragic situation in Syria,” he said.
LESSENING SYRIANS’ SUFFERING
    Qatari minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said they had also discussed mechanisms for delivering humanitarian aid across the whole of Syria, adding “there is a crucial need to lessen the suffering of the Syrians.”
    He said the reasons for Syria’s suspension from the Arab League in 2011 remain, while Cavusoglu said recent international engagement with Assad’s government hindered efforts for a political solution by giving it more legitimacy.
    In a joint statement after their talks, the ministers urged U.N. agencies and the World Health Organization to prioritise COVID-19 vaccinations inside Syria and to “enhance” efforts for delivering humanitarian aid.
    They also stressed their commitment to preserving Syria’s independence and territorial integrity.
    Cavusoglu said Turkey would host the next round of the talks.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli and Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara and Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Editing by Dominic Evans and Gareth Jones)

3/12/2021 Turkey Plans To Host Afghan Peace Talks In April
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a news conference following a meeting with Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign
Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Doha, Qatar March 11, 2021. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey plans to host Afghanistan peace talks in Istanbul in April, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Friday, and Ankara will appoint an Afghanistan special envoy.
    Cavusoglu’s comments come after the United States shared a draft peace plan calling for replacing Afghanistan’s government with a power-sharing interim administration pending elections under a new constitution.
    The U.S. proposal is intended to jump-start stalled talks in Doha between the Taliban and a team including Afghan officials on a political settlement to decades of conflict.
    Cavusoglu said Turkey had previously been asked by Afghan officials, the Taliban and the negotiation team to host talks, and this week’s decision came after a U.S. proposal for Turkey to host a meeting.
    “This is not a meeting that is an alternative to the Qatar process, it is a complement to that,” state-owned Anadolu news agency quoted Cavusoglu as saying.    "We will carry this out in coordination with brotherly Qatar, but it will be in Turkey.”
    He said the aim was for talks between the Taliban and the government to continue in a “goal-oriented” way.    The exact date in April, and the content of the talks, were being discussed.
    Cavusoglu also said Turkey had been sending messages to the Taliban and the negotiating team, calling for violence in the country to stop for talks to yield results.
    The Taliban and the Afghan government have been negotiating in Qatar to reach a peace deal.    Those talks resumed in January after an almost month-long break, but negotiators and diplomats say there has been little progress since then.
    Russia also plans to hold a conference on Afghanistan in Moscow later this month, the TASS news agency said on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Daren Butler and Dominic Evans)

3/12/2021 Turkey Says It Has Restarted Diplomatic Contacts With Egypt
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan looks on as he addresses the media after the Friday
prayers in Istanbul, Turkey March 12, 2021. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey has resumed diplomatic contacts with Egypt and wants to further cooperation, Turkish leaders said on Friday, after years of tension since the Egyptian army toppled a Muslim Brotherhood president close to Ankara.
    Any thaw in ties between the two regional powerhouses could have repercussions around the Middle East, where Cairo and Ankara have sought to influence events in various hotspots and stand on opposing sides in a Mediterranean maritime dispute.
    Two Egyptian intelligence sources said Turkey had proposed a meeting to discuss cooperation, but suggested the contacts were still only preliminary.
    President Tayyip Erdogan said the contacts were “not at the highest level, but right below the highest level.    We hope that we can continue this process with Egypt much more strongly.”
    Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by state-owned Anadolu news agency: “We have contacts with Egypt both on the intelligence level and the foreign ministry level … Contacts at the diplomatic level have started.”
    Relations with Cairo have been frosty since Egypt’s army ousted Mohammed Mursi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president and an ally of Erdogan, after protests in 2013.
    An Egyptian security official received a phone call from a Turkish intelligence official on Thursday, setting out Turkey’s desire for a meeting in Cairo to discuss economic, political and diplomatic cooperation, the Egyptian intelligence sources said.
    The Egyptian official welcomed the call and promised to respond as soon as possible, the Egyptian sources said.
    The call followed unofficial contacts between Egyptian and Turkish security officials in which communications between the two sides were discussed.    The issue of maritime borders, a source of tension between Turkey and other east Mediterranean countries, was not raised, according to the sources.
    Rebuilding trust will be hard. As well as the tensions over the ousting of Mursi and Mediterranean disputes, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said last week the Arab League expressed its “categorical rejection” of Turkish military interventions in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
GULF STATES
    Cavusoglu’s comments come as Turkey seeks to repair strained relations with several regional powers.    He said on Friday Ankara would reciprocate if Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates take “positive steps” to overcome recent tensions.
    Ties with Riyadh have been strained over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 and a row between Turkey’s ally Qatar and other Gulf Arab states. Trade has collapsed under an informal boycott by Saudi businesses.
    Turkey has also been at odds with the United Arab Emirates over the conflict in Libya, and both countries have accused each other of disrupting regional stability.
    “There is no reason for our ties with Saudi Arabia not to be fixed.    If they take positive steps, we will take positive steps.    The same goes for the UAE.    We don’t want to fight with anyone,” Cavusoglu said.
    Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by Saudi operatives in 2018 and a U.S. intelligence report found Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the operation.
    “We never blamed the Saudi Arabian leadership,” Cavusoglu said.    At the time, Erdogan said the operation was ordered at the “highest levels” of the Saudi government.    Erdogan spoke to King Salman in November and they agreed to resolve differences through dialogue, Turkey’s presidency said.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara and Mohamed)

3/12/2021 U.S. Joins West In Rare Criticism Of Egypt On Human Rights Abuses by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends the opening ceremony of floating bridges and
tunnel projects executed under the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Western countries on Friday called on Egypt to end the prosecution of activists, journalists and perceived political opponents under counter-terrorism laws, and to unconditionally release them.
    The United States, which has observer status at the U.N. Human Rights Council, was among 31 signatories of the joint statement on Egypt, the first since 2014, which called on the government to lift curbs on freedoms of expression and assembly.
    Egypt is a close ally of the United States, but the Biden administration has vowed to speak out about human rights violations and abuses of the rule of law worldwide.
    President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from power in 2013, has overseen an extensive crackdown on political dissent that has steadily tightened in recent years.    Sisi has said there are no political prisoners in Egypt and that stability and security are paramount.
    “We urge Egypt to guarantee space for civil society – including human rights defenders – to work without fear of intimidation, harassment, arrest, detention or any other form of reprisal,” Finland’s ambassador Kirsti Kauppi said, reading out the statement to the Geneva forum.
    “That includes lifting travel bans and asset freezes against human rights defenders – including EIPR staff,” she said, referring to three activists from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights arrested last November after briefing senior diplomats in Cairo.
    Egypt’s foreign ministry had said EIPR was operating illegally, an accusation the group denies.
    The trio have been provisionally released, but the arrests galvanized support for the move in the council, activists and diplomats said.
    “It’s been seven years since there has been any kind of collective action on Egypt at the Human Rights Council, all the while the situation has declined sharply – this is a crucial step,” Kevin Whelan, Amnesty International representative to the UN in Geneva, told Reuters.
    “We’re at the point where the survival of the human rights movement in Egypt is at stake.”
    Most of the signatory countries are European, joined by Australia, Canada and New Zealand.    No countries from the African or Middle East region backed the statement.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Editing by William Maclean)

3/15/2021 Iran Touts New Missile Base Amid Soft Stance By Biden by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released on Monday, March 15, 2021, missiles are shown in an underground
storage facility in an undisclosed location, Iran. (Sepahnews via AP)
    Iran unveiled a major ballistic missile facility amid ongoing appeasement by Joe Biden.    On Monday, Iranian state media showed video footage of what it called the “missile city,” ran by the Guard of Islamic Revolution.
In this photo released on Monday, March 15, 2021, missiles are shown in an underground
storage facility in an undisclosed location, Iran. (Sepahnews via AP)
    Iranian officials claimed the facility will serve as an operational base for cruise and ballistic missiles, as well as electronic warfare equipment.
    The missile base came in yet another violation of UN resolutions by Iran, while Joe Biden is sending more cash to the ayatollah in hopes to restore the nuclear deal.
    “Allah be praised, the Islamic Republic has advanced so much militarily that nobody even considers to attack it. Not only is the military option is no longer on America’s table, it’s not underneath the table either.    There’s no such thing,” Islamic scholar Mohammad-Bagher Ebadi said.    “Unless the sanctions are lifted, there will be no return to the JCPOA.”
    Iranian officials also called Biden a “second-class idiot,” saying the future of mutual relations is now in the hands of Iran.
[HALF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE CALL BIDEN WORST THAN THAT WE WANT TRUMP TO COME BACK AND PUT YOUR ASS IN RESTRAINT AS HE DID FOR 4 YEARS.].

3/18/2021 Armenian Leader, In Standoff With Army, Announces Early Election On June 20
FILE PHOTO: Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan greets his supporters during a rally in
Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia March 1, 2021. Hayk Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Armenia will hold an early parliamentary election on June 20, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced on Thursday, indicating a potential path out of a political crisis that has pit him against the army.
    Pashinyan has faced calls to resign since last November when he agreed to a Russian-brokered ceasefire that halted six weeks of fighting in which ethnic Armenians lost territory to Azeri forces in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
    “Based on discussions I have had with Armenia’s president, the ‘My Step’ faction and with the leader of the Bright Armenia faction… special parliamentary elections will be held on June 20…” Pashinyan wrote on Facebook.
    The army told Pashinyan to quit on Feb. 25, prompting the prime minister to sack the chief of the army’s general staff.    Armenia’s president, whose role is largely ceremonial, declined to approve the army chief’s dismissal, and the general’s lawyer said on Thursday he remained in his post.
    Pashinyan, who was swept to power by protests in 2018, has been under fire since the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, seen as a fiasco for ethnic Armenian forces.
    The enclave is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is populated by ethnic Armenians, who had held full control there and across a swathe of surrounding territory since a war in the 1990s.
    Pashinyan said he had been compelled to agree to the peace deal to prevent greater human and territorial losses.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Alison Williams, Gareth Jones and Peter Graff)

3/18/2021 Unlikely Allies Russia And U.S. Push Afghan Enemies To Accept Interim Government by Charlotte Greenfield and Rupam Jain
FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani meets U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in
Kabul, Afghanistan March 15, 2021. Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Russia hosts a summit on Thursday to revive the Afghan peace process, the first in a series of meetings that make unlikely allies of Washington and Moscow as they try to pave the way for an interim government in Kabul and end the bloodshed.
    The United States is shifting the focus from largely stalled negotiations in Qatar’s capital to meetings among key regional countries aimed at pushing Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Taliban insurgents and other Afghan political leaders to form a transitory government as soon as possible.
    The Moscow meeting will include U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and representatives from Pakistan and China, according to officials.    A team of Afghan political leaders and government representatives and a Taliban delegation will also attend.
    Khalilzad has been trying to drum up support for a written proposal that includes an interim government and ceasefire, as U.S. President Joe Biden reviews plans for Afghanistan ahead of a May 1 troop withdrawal deadline agreed with the Taliban by the Trump administration.
    The Moscow gathering will be followed by a meeting of regional players in the first week of April in Turkey and a summit that Khalilzad has asked the United Nations to organise, styled on a 2001 conference in the German city of Bonn.
    It was there that Afghan leaders met to set up a provisional administration after the Islamist Taliban was ousted by local forces backed by the U.S. military.
    Some diplomats and experts said that for the renewed peace push to succeed, Washington must align itself with countries including Russia, China and Iran, with which it has strained relations.
    Both Russia and the United States support the idea of an interim government, said a diplomatic source whose country will be present in Moscow, which could pressure Afghan leaders to give ground while Pakistan leans on the Taliban to do the same.
    “If they are working together it is very possible to bring this war to an end,” the source said, adding the main hurdle was any lingering mistrust between Moscow and Washington.
    A U.S. State Department spokesperson said the meeting in Russia complemented the Doha process and that Washington was engaging with regional countries, though believed the peace process should be “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned at its core.”
    “We have never sought to be prescriptive.    Rather we are encouraging the sides to accelerate the peace process and make progress toward a political settlement and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire,” the spokesperson said.
MUTUAL SUSPICION, CHALLENGES AHEAD
    The warring Afghan sides have yet to reach a peace deal amid mutual suspicion and ongoing violence in Afghanistan which the government largely blames on the Taliban.
    The Islamist militant movement sees Ghani as a lackey of the West and insists remaining foreign troops leave the country.
    Iran, which borders Afghanistan, is not attending the Moscow meeting.    The source said Tehran had communicated it would accept an interim government so long as it had representation from minority ethnic groups that have historic ties with Iran.
    Iranian officials and Russia’s foreign ministry could not be immediately reached for comment.
    Three diplomatic sources and one international official said that traditional U.S. partners including European and NATO nations felt sidelined by Washington’s regional push.
    Some experts said that, although talks in Doha had struggled to make headway since starting in September, peace negotiations tend to take time.
    “They’re scrambling as if they need to fix a broken process, but it’s barely even started,” said Andrew Watkins, senior Afghanistan analyst at International Crisis Group.
    There are also concerns among some officials over whether an interim government – which Ghani has vehemently opposed and the Taliban have said they would not join – is feasible.
    A Taliban leader said they would avoid joining an interim government, although they would support replacing Ghani’s administration. He added that they had refused a request to allow U.S. forces to stay in Afghanistan after April.
    A Taliban spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Three more diplomatic sources familiar with the discussions said Ghani was under intense pressure from the United States to accept an interim government.
    Key to the Taliban, a separate source familiar with negotiations said, was an Islamic jurisprudence council that would oversee the president.    They also wanted half of government positions and the chance to nominate a president.
    A spokesman for Ghani’s office denied any pressure, saying the leader had a respectful working relationship with the United States and that no amount of pressure would lead him to accept an unelected interim government.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad, Rupam Jain in New Delhi, Alexander Cornwell in Dubai, Jonathan Landay in Washington and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow; Additional reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Hamid Shalizi in Kabul, Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, Pakistan and Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Mike Collett-White/Mark Heinrich)

3/18/2021 Russia Hopes For Progress As U.S. Joins Afghan Peace Talks In Moscow
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov delivers a speech at the Afghan peace conference
in Moscow, Russia March 18, 2021. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said it hoped international talks in Moscow on Thursday would breathe new life into the Afghan peace process, after a high-level U.S. official joined the Russian-hosted talks for the first time.
    The talks, which also include representatives of Pakistan and China, are designed to give a boost to negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Qatar’s capital Doha, stalled lately by government accusations that the insurgents have done too little to halt violence.
    “We regret that so far the efforts to launch a political process in Doha have yet to yield a positive result,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in his opening remarks at the talks.    “We hope today’s talks will facilitate the creation of conditions to achieve progress in intra-Afghan negotiations.”
    U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s presence was a sign of Washington’s increasing effort to attract support among regional powers for its plans for Afghanistan, where it has agreed to withdraw its forces after nearly 20 years.
    Khalilzad has been trying to drum up backing for a proposal that includes an interim government and ceasefire, as President Joe Biden reviews plans ahead of a May 1 deadline to withdraw troops agreed under his predecessor Donald Trump.
    There was no immediate indication whether the U.S. participation at the talks would be affected by a separate announcement from Moscow that it was withdrawing its ambassador from Washington for consultations, following an interview in which Biden criticised President Vladimir Putin.
    Moscow, which fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s, has hosted talks among Afghan sides and regional powers since 2017.    Previously, Washington had largely kept its distance from the so-called “Moscow Format.”
    Arkady Dubnov, a Russian political analyst, said Khalilzad’s participation would bolster Moscow’s role, and “should, according to the Russian leadership, highlight that a settlement is impossible without Russia.”
    Nevertheless, an immediate breakthrough is unlikely, given the distance between the Afghan sides, said Andrew Watkins, Senior Analyst for Afghanistan at International Crisis Group. President Ashraf Ghani objects to an interim government and the Taliban have said they will not join one.
    “The Taliban and the Afghan government, in particular President Ghani and his senior officials, have just as much reason to resist,” Watkins said.
    The Moscow gathering will be followed by a meeting of regional players in Turkey next month and a summit that Khalilzad has asked the United Nations to organise.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Peter)

3/18/2021 WHO Allows China To Bar U.S. Scientists From COVID Probe, Gives China More Control Over Int’l Panel; Australia Leads Own Probe Saying WHO Is Biased by OAN Newsroom
This photograph taken on March 5, 2021 shows the sign of the World Health Organization (WHO)
at their headquarters in Geneva amid the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
    The World Health Organization has authorized China to effectively bar American scientists from the probe into the origins of COVID-19. According to the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, the WHO has allowed Chinese officials to determine which American scientists can join the international probe into COVID’s origins.
    The WHO said none of the scientists recommended by the HHS were approved to join the probe so far.    Meanwhile, Australia has been leading its own investigation.
    “50 percent of the members of this panel were put there by the Chinese government,” Flinders University Prof. Nikolai Petrovsky said.    “And given we know that some of the international members of the panel are quite parochial and supportive of China, I think we can assume that China, in fact, were confident that they had the majority of panel members on their side, which meant the panel only trumped findings that were agreed to by the Chinese government.    And again that’s not an independent panel.”

    China has also accused American and Australian scientists of “misinformation” on every occasion they have questioned Beijing’s narrative about COVID-19.

3/19/2021 Taliban Insist On Islamic System For Afghanistan And Sticking To Troop Withdrawal Deadline
FILE PHOTO: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's deputy leader and negotiator, and other delegation members
attend the Afghan peace conference in Moscow, Russia March 18, 2021. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Taliban on Friday pushed back against major regional players at a conference in Moscow who said Afghanistan should not return to being an Islamic emirate, and it warned the United States against keeping troops in Afghanistan beyond their agreed withdrawal date.
    At a summit in Moscow on Thursday, six weeks ahead of a deadline set last year for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the United States, Russia, China and Pakistan called on the warring Afghan sides to agree on an immediate ceasefire.
    In a joint statement they added that they “did not support the restoration of the Islamic Emirate.”
    But Taliban political spokesman Mohammad Naeem, speaking to media in Moscow on Friday, said that it was up to the Afghan sides to decide their system of governance and that it should be an Islamic system.
    “What is stated in the declaration is against all principles and is not acceptable,” he said.
    A member of the Taliban’s political office, Suhail Shaheen, said negotiations should be sped up and said Washington should not keep troops in the country beyond their agreed withdrawal date.
    “After that, it will be a violation of the agreement.    That violation will not be from our side but it will be from their side.    So in that case if there is action, of course, there will be reaction,” he said.
    The Moscow conference aimed to shake up the largely stalled negotiations which have been held between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Qatar’s capital Doha.
    “We expressed our readiness to accelerate the (peace) process,” Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, told Russia’s RIA news agency.
    The conference will be followed by another summit in Turkey next month.
    “We encouraged delegations representing the Islamic Republic and the Taliban…to prepare for and attend a leaders’ meeting in Istanbul in early April, the next critical milestone in the peace process,” U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad wrote on Twitter, adding that Thursday’s meeting had been “productive diplomacy.”
    The Moscow conference was the first time the United States had sent a senior representative to talks on Afghanistan under a format launched by Russia in 2017.
    Washington agreed last year with the Taliban to withdraw its troops by May 1 after nearly two decades, but President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing its plans for Afghanistan and says all options remain on the table.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova, Andrew Osborn and Hameed Farzad; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Tom Balmforth, Peter Graff and Raissa Kasolowsky)

3/19/2021 U.S., Chinese Diplomats Clash In First High-Level Meeting Of Biden Administration by Humeyra Pamuk, Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (2nd R), joined by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (R), speaks while facing Yang Jiechi (2nd L),
director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office, and Wang Yi (L), China's State Councilor and Foreign Minister, at the opening
session of US-China talks at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S. March 18, 2021. Frederic J. Brown/Pool via REUTERS
    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – The first high-level U.S.-China meeting of the Biden administration got off to a fiery start on Thursday, with both sides leveling sharp rebukes of the others’ policies in a rare public display that underscored the level of bilateral tension.
    The run-up to the talks in Anchorage, Alaska, which followed visits by U.S. officials to allies Japan and South Korea, was marked by a flurry of moves by Washington that showed it was taking a tough stance, and by blunt talk from Beijing.
    “We will … discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber attacks on the United States, economic coercion of our allies,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Chinese counterparts in a highly unusual extended back-and-forth in front of cameras.
    “Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability,” he said.
    The Biden administration has made clear that it is looking for a change in behavior from China, which has expressed hope to reset relations between the world’s two largest economies that worsened drastically under former President Donald Trump.
    China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi responded with a 15-minute speech in Chinese while the U.S. side awaited translation, lashing out over what he said was the United States’ struggling democracy, poor treatment of minorities, and criticizing its foreign and trade policies.
    “The United States uses its military force and financial hegemony to carry out long-arm jurisdiction and suppress other countries,” said Yang.
    “It abuses so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade exchanges, and incite some countries to attack China,” he added.
‘GRANDSTANDING’ AND PROTOCOL BREACHES
    Throughout Yang’s monologue, U.S. National Security Adviser Sullivan and other officials in the delegation passed notes to each other.    At the end, Blinken held journalists in the room so he could respond.
    What is typically a few minutes of opening remarks in front of journalists for such high-level meetings lasted more than an hour, and the two delegations tussled about when media would be ushered out of the room.
    Afterwards, the United States accused China of “grandstanding” while Chinese state media blamed U.S. officials for speaking too long and being “inhospitable.”
    Both sides accused the other of violating diplomatic protocol by speaking too long in opening remarks.
    “The Chinese delegation … seems to have arrived intent on grandstanding, focused on public theatrics and dramatics over substance,” the official told reporters at the Anchorage hotel where the meeting was taking place.
    “Exaggerated diplomatic presentations often are aimed at a domestic audience,” the official added.
    Many netizens on China’s social media said Chinese officials were doing a good job in Alaska, and that the U.S. side lacked sincerity.
    Some even characterized the talks as a “Hongmen Banquet,” referring to an event that took place 2,000 years ago where a rebel leader invited another to a feast with the intention of murdering him.
    Still, the two sides reconvened for another meeting on Thursday evening, and a senior Biden administration official said that the first session was “substantive, serious, and direct,” running well beyond the two hours originally allotted.
    “We used the session, just as we had planned, to outline our interests and priorities, and we heard the same from our Chinese counterparts,” the official said in the pool report, adding that a third session of talks was scheduled for Friday morning.
    While much of Biden’s China policy is still being formulated, including how to handle the tariffs on Chinese goods implemented under Trump, his administration has so far placed a stronger emphasis on democratic values and allegations of human rights abuses by China.
    China firmly opposes U.S. interference in what it regards as its internal affairs, issues such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
    Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said it was expecting the United States to brief them about the talks.
TERMS OF DISAGREEMENT
    Washington says Blinken’s Asia tour before the meeting with Chinese officials, as well as U.S. outreach to Europe, India and other partners, shows how the United States has strengthened its hand to confront China since Biden took office in January.
    But the two sides appeared primed to agree on very little at the talks.
    Even the status of the meeting became a sticking point, with China insisting it is a “strategic dialogue,” harkening back to bilateral mechanisms of years past.    The U.S. side rejected that, calling it a one-off session.
    On the eve of the talks, the United States issued a flurry of actions directed at China, including a move to begin revoking Chinese telecoms licenses, subpoenas to multiple Chinese information technology companies over national security concerns, and updated sanctions on China over a rollback of democracy in Hong Kong.
    Adding to tensions, China on Friday tried a Canadian citizen on espionage charges, in a case embroiled in a wider diplomatic spat between Washington and Beijing.
    At the talks on Thursday, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi questioned Blinken about whether the sanctions were announced ahead of the meeting on purpose.
    Washington has said it is willing to work with China when it is in U.S. interests, citing climate policy and the coronavirus pandemic as examples.    Blinken said Washington hoped to see China use its influence with North Korea to persuade it to give up its nuclear weapons.
    Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said tough statements from both sides in the run-up to the meeting had created a risk that it would devolve into an exchange of accusations and demands.
    “Neither side benefits from this meeting being judged a total failure,” Glaser said.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Anchorage and Michael Martina, David Brunnstrom and Simon Lewis in Washington, and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Mary Milliken, Grant McCool, Tony Munroe, Michael Perry and Kim Coghill)

3/19/2021 U.S.-China High-Level Talks To Wrap Up After Acrimonious Opening by Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: The U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State Antony Blinken (C) and flanked by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (R), face their Chinese
counterparts at the opening session of U.S.-China talks at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska on March 18, 2021. Frederic J. Brown/Pool via REUTERS
    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – Senior U.S. and Chinese officials are set to conclude their talks in Alaska on Friday after a dramatic opening round laid bare the depth of tensions between the world’s two largest economies at the outset of the Biden administration.
    The United States accused China of “grandstanding” for its domestic audience, and both sides suggested the other had broken diplomatic protocol.
    The rebukes played out in front of cameras, but a senior U.S. administration official told reporters that as soon as media had left the room, the two sides “immediately got down to business” and held substantive, serious, and direct talks.
    Blinken and Yang, joined by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi, have a final session scheduled in Anchorage at around 9 a.m. (1700 GMT).
    While much of President Joe Biden’s China policy is still being formulated, including how to handle the tariffs on Chinese goods implemented by his predecessor Donald Trump, his administration has so far placed a stronger emphasis on democratic values and allegations of human rights abuses by China.
    “I am very proud of the secretary of state,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Friday morning when asked about the previous day’s meeting.
    In recent weeks, top Republicans have given a nod to efforts by Biden, a Democrat, to revitalize relations with U.S. allies in order to confront China, a shift from Trump’s go-it-alone ‘America First’ strategy.
    Biden has partially staked his approach on China to rebuilding American domestic competitiveness, and several top Republicans, whose cooperation will be crucial to the success of those plans, backed his administration in the face of the heated exchanges from the first day of talks.
    “I have many policy disagreements with the Biden Administration, but every single American should unite against Beijing’s tyrants,” Republican Senator Ben Sasse said in a statement.
    China’s social media carried comments saying Chinese officials were doing a good job in Alaska, and that the U.S. side lacked sincerity.
    “My sense is that the administration is testing the question of whether it is possible to get real results from these dialogues,” said Zack Cooper, who researches China at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
    Dean Cheng at the conservative Heritage Foundation said China’s global influence had grown to the point where it felt it could openly deride the U.S. system.
    “That is a vision from the Chinese perspective of, ‘you need me, I don’t need you,” Cheng said.
    China on Friday put a Canadian citizen on trial https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN2BB00S on spying charges, in a case embroiled in a wider diplomatic spat between Washington and Beijing.
    The Chinese military also banned Tesla cars from entering its housing complexes, citing security concerns over the cameras installed on the vehicles, according to two people who saw notices of the directive.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Anchorage and Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)

3/19/2021 Taiwan Says China Bolstering Ability To Attack, Blockade Island by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: AH-64 Apache helicopters fly to location during the live-fire, anti-landing Han Kuang military
exercise, which simulates an enemy invasion, in Taichung, Taiwan July 16, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – China is bolstering its ability to attack and blockade Taiwan, deploying long-range missiles to prevent foreign forces helping in the event of war and using psychological warfare to undermine faith in Taiwan’s military, the island’s defence ministry said.
    The ministry, in its once-every-four-years defence review, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, warned China was deploying “grey zone” warfare tactics to subdue the Chinese-claimed island, seeking to wear Taiwan down with repeated drills and activities near its airspace and waters.
    “China has continued to modernise its military and increase its capability in a war with Taiwan,” it said.
    China’s Defence Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
    China views democratic Taiwan as its own territory, and has ramped up military activities in recent months, seeking to assert its sovereignty and express displeasure at Washington’s support for the island.
    The review offered sobering details about the threat Taiwan faces from the world’s largest armed forces.
    It said China was building copies of Taiwanese facilities so it could train to attack them and was conducting landing drills to simulate invading Taiwan.
    China has the ability to partially shut down Taiwan’s key ports and sea routes and cut off sea transport to the island, while its deployment of long-distance missiles is aimed at stopping foreign forces from assisting Taiwan, it said.
    China’s “hostility and threats against us have increased, elevating the risks of an accident and conflict and destroying stability and peace across the Taiwan Strait,” the report said.
    Chinese aircraft, including drones, are flying repeatedly in Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, seeking to wear out Taiwan’s air force, it added.
    China is also spreading “fake news” in Taiwan to try and “damage people’s faith in the country,” the report said.
    Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said earlier this month that China would resolutely deter any separatist activity seeking Taiwan’s independence.
    Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen says Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name, and that she will defend its democracy and sovereignty.
    Tsai is overseeing a military modernization programme, including building submarines, upgrading Taiwan’s air force, and developing long-range missiles of its own.
    But its armed forces are dwarfed by China’s which is adding stealth jets, aircraft carriers and other advanced equipment.
    Taiwan is a key source of tension between Beijing and Washington, the island’s main arms supplier and international backer, and was raised in high-level Sino-U.S. talks in Alaska on Thursday.
    U.S. President Joe Biden’s government, which took office on Jan. 20, has moved to reassure Taiwan that its commitment to them is “rock solid,” especially after China stepped up its military activity near the island shortly after Biden’s inauguration.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Susan Fenton)

3/26/2021 Men Forced To Rape Family Members In Ethiopia’s Tigray, U.N. Says by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: The United Nations logo is seen on a window in an empty hallway at United Nations headquarters during the 75th annual U.N. General Assembly
high-level debate, which is being held mostly virtually due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in New York, U.S., September 21, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar
    NEW YORK (Reuters) -More than 500 rape cases have been reported to five clinics in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the United Nations said on Thursday, warning that the actual numbers were likely to be much higher due to stigma and a lack of health services.
    “Women say they have been raped by armed actors, they also told stories of gang rape, rape in front of family members and men being forced to rape their own family members under the threat of violence,” Wafaa Said, deputy U.N. aid coordinator in Ethiopia, said in a briefing to U.N. member states in New York.
    She said at least 516 rape cases had been reported by five medical facilities in Mekelle, Adigrat, Wukro, Shire and Axum.
    “Given the fact that most health facilities are not functioning and also the stigma associated with rape, it is projected that actual numbers are much higher,” she added.
    A dozen top U.N. officials called on Monday for a stop to indiscriminate and targeted attacks against civilians in Tigray, particularly calling out reports of rape and “other horrific forms of sexual violence.”
    Fighting in Tigray broke out in November between government troops and the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.    Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has also said troops from neighboring Eritrea were in the region.
    The Ethiopian government takes the allegations of sexual violence “very seriously” and has deployed a fact-finding mission, Ethiopia’s U.N. ambassador, Taye Atskeselassie Amde, told Reuters.
    “Ethiopia has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual crimes and anyone found responsible for the despicable acts will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.
    Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed and Eritrea’s information minister, Yemane Gebremeskel, did not respond to calls and messages requesting comment on the U.N. remarks on Thursday.
    The violence in Tigray has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes in the mountainous region of about 5 million.
    “Most of the internally displaced people left with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing.    They are generally traumatized and tell stories of the difficult journey they took in search of safety.    Some reported walking for two weeks and some as far as 500 km,” Said said on Thursday.
    “Of the people who traveled with them, some were reportedly killed, particularly youngsters, people were reportedly beaten, women were subject to rape, some were pregnant and delivered on the way losing their babies,” she said.
    The United Nations has raised concerns about atrocities, while U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has described acts carried out as ethnic cleansing. Ethiopia rejected Blinken’s allegation.
    This week, Abiy acknowledged for the first time that atrocities such as rape had been committed and said any soldiers committing crimes would be punished.
    Dozens of witnesses in Tigray have told Reuters that Eritrean soldiers routinely killed civilians, gang-raped and tortured women and looted households and crops.     Eritrea has not responded to queries on reports of atrocities.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Additional reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom; Editing by David Gregorio and Peter Cooney)

3/26/2021 Analysis: Lebanon Frozen By Political Intransigence As It Hurtles Towards Collapse by Samia Nakhoul and Maha El Dahan
FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a Lebanese flag during a protest against the fall in Lebanese
pound currency and mounting economic hardships, in Beirut, Lebanon March 12, 2021. REUTERS/Aziz Taher/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Just 18 months have passed since mass protests against Lebanon’s political class brought down one government, and nearly eight more months since a huge explosion destroyed the port of Beirut and toppled its successor.
    Since then the currency has lost 90 per cent of its value, inflation has driven more than half the population below the poverty line, the country has defaulted on its debts, and banks have all but cut clients off from their dollar deposits.
    Scenes of shoppers brawling over scarce goods, protesters burning tyres to block roads, and hundreds of shuttered businesses are now commonplace.
    A vibrant Beirut has turned into a ghost-town in eerie darkness, as the outgoing energy minister warns that a total black-out is looming as fuel for electricity runs out.
    Yet even as Lebanon hurtles towards outright collapse, in the worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, bickering politicians are either unwilling or unable to form a government.
    Saad al-Hariri, the Sunni Muslim three-time prime minister designated by parliament to form a cabinet, stormed out of his 18th meeting with President Michel Aoun this week.    He said Aoun’s Christian party, led by the president’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil, wanted to dictate cabinet seats and have veto power over decisions.
    “As of today you have to satisfy Gebran Bassil’s conditions; he has the pen of the president,” said one government source.
    Hariri, son of Rafik al-Hariri, the post-war premier assassinated in 2005, has called for a technocrat cabinet that must enact reforms long demanded by the IMF and donor countries such as the United States and France. He is backed by the Shi’ite Amal party, led by influential House Speaker Nabih Berri and others.
    Overshadowing what might otherwise look like a sectarian squabble over sharing the diminishing pie of Lebanon’s spoils system is the power of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shi’ite group that dominates Lebanon politics and underpins Aoun’s presidency.
    Like other Arab countries such as Iraq and Syria, Lebanon has long been an arena of proxy competition between Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, with traditionally influential Christians divided between the two.
    With a new administration in Washington reassessing policy towards Iran, the regional balance of power is shifting.    For now, Hezbollah, as Iran’s main client, appears reluctant to back a new governmnent that might be seen as offering a concession to Saudi-and Western-backed rivals such as Hariri.
    While it agrees on the need for a government, Hezbollah is not ready to pressure Aoun and risk its alliance with his large Christian party.
‘EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT’S NEEDED’
    The most optimistic scenario would see a capable government, able to regain local and international confidence, and implement reforms international lenders have demanded, such as an overhaul of the wasteful power sector, audit of the central bank and restructuring of the bloated public sector.
    “Everyone knows what fiscal and monetary reforms are needed,” a senior official source told Reuters.
    The pessimistic scenario would see a further collapse in the pound and plummeting economic growth, already measured at minus 25% of GDP by the IMF last year and minus 19% of GDP by the World Bank.
    The economy is shrinking so fast it is difficult to measure precisely, but on present trends this year’s contraction is set to be around 10% of GDP, the source said.
    The remaining foreign exchange reserves estimated at $16 billion are draining away: with roughly $500 million a month on fuel, wheat and medicine subsidies; $75 million to $100 million a month spent by the state, and at least $100 million a month when the Central Bank intervenes in the currency market.
    Some officials, diplomats and politicians are inclined towards pessimism: “I don’t think the parties want a solution,” the senior official source said.
    “It’s not so important who the prime minister is, what matters is the criteria and implementation, regaining confidence and credibility,” he said.    “The current government started by persuading the parties to go to the IMF (and) any successor government will have to do the same.    They have no choice.”
    As long as the paralysis continues, it is hard to fathom how bad the situation can get.    Dan Azzi, former chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank in Lebanon, said a scenario could evolve in which the currency tumbles further, all basic functions of government cease to exist and chaos spreads.
    “If we continue like this…total control will be lost on society.    This means you are driving down a road and someone with a weapon can stop you kill you, take your car, money and wife.”
    Nabil Boumonsef, deputy editor-in-chief of An-Nahar daily, said: “I don’t see any solutions, I see an open-ended crisis.”
WHAT’S AT STAKE
    While Hariri blames Aoun’s demands for holding up a government, the president has so far remained intransigent.
    Sources who meet Aoun quote him as saying he is not responsible for the financial crisis: as power has been held for most of the last three decades by Hariri, Hariri’s father and Berri, they should be the ones making concessions, the president believes.
    The sources say Aoun’s attitude has hardened since Washington imposed sanctions on his son-in-law Bassil, the man he was grooming as a contender for president.
    “There is total change. He’s not ready to make any concessions at all,” one visitor said.
    The scale of financial losses and a planned audit of state finances turned into a point of friction in Lebanon last year, bringing IMF talks to a halt, as top bankers and lawmakers torpedoed the outgoing government’s draft recovery plan.
    Western donors have made clear they won’t bail out Lebanon without reforms to tackle enshrined corruption and the crushing debt, and revive IMF talks.
    Gulf Arab states that once funnelled money to Lebanon have shut the taps, wary of the expanding role of Iran’s client Hezbollah.
    Despite the meltdown, the parties that form the ruling elite appear more concerned with securing seats in next year’s parliamentary elections than enacting reforms, diplomats and sources close to power say.
    “For them it’s a political game.    It’s about who’s going to win.    The total collapse, the economic and social costs are not a priority for them.    It’s a battle of existence for them, they think they can discuss the costs later,” a source close to government sources said.
    “They think they can last a bit longer – but nobody knows where the breaking point is,” added another political source.
(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam; Editing by Peter Graff)

4/6/2021 Iran Indicts 10 Over Ukraine Plane Crash, Prosecutor Says; Canada Demands Justice
FILE PHOTO: Soldiers carry a coffin containing the remains of one of the eleven Ukrainian victims of the Ukraine International Airlines flight 752
plane disaster, at Boryspil International Airport, outside Kiev, Ukraine, January 19, 2020. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran has indicted 10 officials over the shooting-down of a Ukrainian passenger plane in January 2020 that killed all 176 people on board, a military prosecutor said on Tuesday.
    In a report published last month, Iran’s civil aviation body blamed the crash on a misaligned radar and an error by an air defence operator. Ukraine and Canada, home to many of those who died, criticised the report as insufficient.
    “Indictments have been issued for 10 officials involved in the crash of the Ukrainian plane…and necessary decisions will be taken in court,” Gholam Abbas Torki, the outgoing military prosecutor for Tehran province, was quoted as saying by the semi-official news agency ISNA. He did not elaborate.
    In Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “tremendously concerned about the lack of accountability” from Iran about the disaster.
    Canada, along with its partners, will continue to press Tehran to deliver justice and compensation for families of the victims, he told a briefing when asked about the indictments.
    Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight on Jan. 8, 2020, shortly after it took off from Tehran Airport.
    The Iranian government later said the shooting-down was a “disastrous mistake” by its forces at a time when they were on high alert in a regional confrontation with the United States.
    Iran was on edge about possible attacks after it fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for the killing days before of its most powerful military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad airport.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Gareth Jones and Mark Heinrich)

4/7/2021 U.S. Could Lift Iran Sanctions, Begin Nuclear Deal Discussions by OAN Newsroom
US State Department spokesman Ned Price speaks during a press briefing at the
State Department in Washington, DC. (Photo by CAROLYN KASTER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
    New talks between Iran and the Biden administration could result in the lifting of sanctions.    On Wednesday, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. was open to direct negotiations with Iran as well as open to diplomacy.
    The two countries have been speaking indirectly about future relations.
    President Trump withdrew the U.S. from Iran’s Nuclear Deal back in 2018.    He claimed the country refused to take the deal seriously.    However, Price said the Biden administration was willing to bet on Iran’s compliance in exchange for sanctions relief.
    “We are prepared to take the steps necessary to return to compliance with the JCPOA, including by lifting sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA,” Price stated.
    Price gave little detail about how the U.S. would get Iran to comply.    Indirect talks with Iran were expected to continue.

4/9/2021 Parties To Iran Nuclear Talks See Progress Despite Clash On Sanctions by Francois Murphy and John Irish
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo/File Photo
    VIENNA/PARIS (Reuters) -Talks to bring Iran and the United States fully back into the 2015 nuclear deal are making progress, delegates said on Friday, but Iranian officials indicated disagrement with Washington over which sanctions it must lift.
    The talks, in which European Union officials are shuttling between the remaining parties to the deal and the United States, aim to restore the bargain at the core of the deal – restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of U.S. and other international sanctions.     The United States was the first to renege on that bargain under President Donald Trump, who vehemently opposed the deal and sought to wreck it.    He pulled out, reimposed the sanctions that were lifted, and brought in many more. Iran responded by breaching many of the nuclear restrictions.
    “All Trump sanctions were anti-JCPOA & must be removed—w/o distinction between arbitrary designations,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Twitter, referring to the deal by its full name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
    The United States says it is prepared to lift “sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA.”    While it has declined to elaborate, that appears to exclude sanctions formally unrelated to nuclear issues covered by the deal.
    Whether the statements are opening gambits or more firm positions remains to be seen.    European officials said Iran was bargaining hard at the outset.
    The remaining parties to the accord – Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – met again in Vienna on Friday after talks formally began on Tuesday and they agreed to keep going, Russian and Chinese envoys said.
    “The #JCPOA participants took stock of the work done by experts over the last three days and noted with satisfaction the initial progress made,” Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s envoy to the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said on Twitter after the meeting formally known as the Joint Commission.
    “The Commission will reconvene next week in order to maintain the positive momentum.”
    The deal’s remaining parties have formed two expert-level working groups whose job is to draw up lists of sanctions that the United States will lift and of nuclear restrictions Iran will implement.    Their work continues between Joint Commission meetings.
    “All parties have narrowed down their differences and we do see the momentum for gradually evolving consensus,” Wang Qun, China’s ambassador to the IAEA, told reporters after the meeting, adding that work would continue next week.
‘IRAN IS THE PACE CAR’
    Iran’s foreign ministry said in a statement diplomats would meet again on Wednesday in Vienna.    Talks are expected to drag on for weeks.
    “Given the technical complexity of the nuclear aspects and legal intricacies of sanctions lifting, it would be very optimistic to think a few weeks,” a senior European diplomatic source said.br>     Some diplomats hope agreement can be reached before Iran’s June 18 presidential election or else talks risk being pushed back until later in the year.
    “Iran is the pace car for progress.    If Tehran decides to push forward swiftly before the June presidential elections, the U.S. will almost certainly be receptive,” Henry Rome, an analyst with the Eurasia Group research firm said in a note.
    “That would require Iran to compromise on its sanctions and sequencing demands. If Tehran is unsatisfied with the US position, or if Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is wary about the political consequences of a diplomatic breakthrough in the midst of a presidential campaign, Tehran will tap the brakes.”     Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last say on all state matters, has opposed any gradual easing of sanctions.
(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Dubai newsroom, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

4/10/2021 Iran Reveals New Centrifuge, Can Enrich Uranium 50 Times Quicker by OAN Newsroom
NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 25: President of Iran Hassan Rouhani addresses the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters on
September 25, 2019 in New York City. World leaders from across the globe are gathered at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly,
amid crises ranging from climate change to possible conflict between Iran and the United States. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
    Iran unveiled a new nuclear centrifuge it said would allow the nation to enrich uranium much faster than older equipment.    According to Iranian state television Saturday, the new centrifuge will be able to enrich uranium 50 times faster than the nation’s first centrifuges.
    Iran has begun enriching uranium at up to 20 percent purity, which is nearing weapons-grade levels.    This week, the State Department said the U.S. would be open to negotiations with Iran.
    “Once again, I stress that all our nuclear activities are peaceful and for non-military purposes,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated.    “And just as the Supreme Leader of Iran has emphasized multiple times, based on Islamic ethics and deep understanding, pursuing a destructive weapon that can be a large threat to a large community is not something Iran is doing.”
    Iran is seeking to have U.S. sanctions lifted, while the Biden administration is looking for the country to return to the terms of the 2015 Nuclear Deal.

4/11/2021 Secy. Of State Vows To Defend Taiwan Against Chinese Invasion by OAN Newsroom
Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered remarks on March 3, 2021. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
    Joe Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken is vowing military support for Taiwan in case of a Chinese aggression against the island nation.
    “What we’ve seen, and what is of real concern to us, is increasingly aggressive actions by the government in Beijing directed at Taiwan, raising tensions in the Straits,” Blinken stated.
    Blinken said the U.S. would provide assistance to Taiwan to increase its ability to defend itself against a possible Chinese incursion.    However, he didn’t say if the U.S. would confront China directly if such an incursion were to happen.
    “We have a commitment to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act, a bipartisan commitment that’s existed for many, many years to make sure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself and to make sure that we’re sustaining peace and security in the western Pacific,” Blinken stated.    “We stand behind those commitments and all I can tell you is, it would be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change the existing status quo by force.”
    Critics noted back in 2014 the Obama administration failed to defend Ukraine, despite having similar commitments under the Budapest Memorandum.
    Taiwanese officials said they’re preparing to repel a Chinese invasion by all means they have.

4/12/2021 Iran: Site’s blackout is ‘nuclear terrorism’ by Jon Gambrell, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Iran on Sunday described a blackout at its underground Natanz atomic facility an act of “nuclear terrorism,” raising regional tensions as world powers and Tehran continue to negotiate over its tattered nuclear deal.
    While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, suspicion fell immediately on Israel, where its media nearly uniformly reported a devastating cyberattack orchestrated by the country caused the blackout.
    If Israel was responsible, it further heightens tensions between the two nations, already engaged in a shadow conflict across the wider Middle East.    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met Sunday with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, has vowed to do everything in his power to stop the nuclear deal.
    Details remained few about what happened early Sunday morning at the facility, which initially was described as a blackout caused by the electrical grid feeding its above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls.
    Ali Akbar Salehi, the American-educated head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, who once served as the country’s foreign minister, offered what appeared to be the harshest comments of his long career, which included the assassination of nuclear scientists a decade ago.    Iran blames Israel for those killings as well.
    He pledged to “seriously improve” his nation’s nuclear technology while working to lift international sanctions.
    Salehi’s comments to state TV did not explain what happened at the facility, but his words suggested a serious disruption.
    “While condemning this desperate move, the Islamic Republic of Iran emphasizes the need for a confrontation by the international bodies and the (International Atomic Energy Agency) against this nuclear terrorism,” Salehi said.
    The IAEA, the United Nations’ body that monitors Tehran’s atomic program, earlier said it was aware of media reports about the incident at Natanz and had spoken with Iranian officials about it.    The agency did not elaborate.
    However, Natanz has been targeted by sabotage in the past.    The Stuxnet computer virus, discovered in 2010 and widely believed to be a joint U.S.Israeli creation, once disrupted and destroyed Iranian centrifuges at Natanz amid an earlier period of Western fears about Tehran’s program.
    Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion at its advanced centrifuge assembly plant in July that authorities later described as sabotage.    Iran now is rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain.
    Iran also blamed Israel for the November killing of a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier.
    Multiple Israeli media outlets reported Sunday that an Israeli cyberattack caused the blackout in Natanz. Public broadcaster Kan said the Mossad was behind the attack.    Channel 12 TV cited “experts” as estimating the attack shut down entire sections of the facility.
    While the reports offered no sourcing for their information, Israeli media maintains a close relationship with the country’s military and intelligence agencies.
Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, which lost power Sunday,
in central Iran. ATOMIC ENERGY ORGANIZATION OF IRAN VIA AP, FILE

4/12/2021 Iran Blames Israel For Natanz Nuclear Plant Outage, Vows Revenge by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: A view of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility 250 km (155 miles) south
of the Iranian capital Tehran, March 30, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran on Monday accused arch-foe Israel of sabotaging its key Natanz nuclear site and vowed revenge for an attack that appeared to be latest episode in a long-running covert war.
    Iran’s semi-official Nournews website said the person who caused an electricity outage in one of the production halls at the underground uranium enrichment plant had been identified.    “Necessary measures are being taken to arrest this person,” the website reported, without giving details about the person.
    The incident occurred amid diplomatic efforts by Iran and the United States to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, an accord Israel fiercely opposed, after former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned it three years ago.
    Last week, Iran and the global powers held what they described as “constructive” talks to salvage the deal, which has unravelled as Iran has breached its limits on sensitive uranium enrichment since Trump reimposed harsh sanctions on Tehran.
    Iranian authorities described the incident a day earlier as an act of “nuclear terrorism” and said Tehran reserved the right to take action against the perpetrators.
    On Monday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif explicitly blamed Israel.    “The Zionists want to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions… We will not fall into their trap…We will not allow this act of sabotage to affect the nuclear talks,” Zarif was quoted by state TV as saying.
    “But we will take our revenge against the Zionists.”
    Multiple Israeli media outlets have quoted unnamed intelligence sources as saying the country’s Mossad spy service carried out a successful sabotage operation at the underground Natanz complex, potentially setting back enrichment work there by months.
    Israel, whose existence Iran does not recognise, has not formally commented on the incident.
    Iranian nuclear energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi said an emergency power system had been activated at Natanz to offset the outage.    “Enrichment of uranium has not stopped at the site.”
ADVANCED CENTRIFUGES
    The incident took place a day after Tehran, which has insisted it wants only peaceful nuclear energy not nuclear bombs from the enrichment process, launched new advanced centrifuge machines at Natanz.
    “All of the centrifuges that went out of circuit at Natanz site were of the IR-1 type,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a news conference, referring to Iran’s first generation of enrichment machines more vulnerable to outages.
    “Our nuclear experts are assessing the damage but I can assure you that Iran will replace damaged uranium enrichment centrifuges in Natanz with advanced ones.”
    Modernised centrifuges can refine uranium to higher fissile purity at a much faster rate, helping accumulate a stockpile that could shorten Iran’s route to a nuclear weapon, if it chose to develop them, than the IR-1 that still predominates in Natanz’s production halls.
    The 2015 deal only allows Iran to enrich with up to 5,060 IR-1 machines, in a plant designed to house around 50,000, but it has begun enriching at Natanz with hundreds of advanced centrifuges including the IR-2m.
    Despite strong Israeli opposition, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is committed to rejoining the deal if the Islamic Republic returns to full compliance with restrictions on nuclear fuel production.
    Asked by reporters about the Natanz outage, a German Foreign Ministry spokesman, alluding warned that such incidents could adversely affect the nuclear negotiations.
    Khatibzadeh said nuclear talks would resume on Wednesday in Vienna. Diplomatic headway has been made, delegates said on Friday.    Iran insists all U.S. sanctions crippling its oil-based economy must be lifted first before it stops accelerating enrichment and restores caps on the process.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday Iran had never given up efforts to develop nuclear weapons and that Israel would never allow Tehran to do so.    Israel sees the Iranian enrichment drive as a existential menace.
    There have been sporadic episodes of sabotage and outages at Iranian nuclear installations over more than a decade, for which Tehran has blamed Israel.
    In 2010, the Stuxnet computer virus, widely believed to have been developed by the United States and Israel, was discovered after it was used to attack Natanz, causing damaging breakdowns of centrifuge cascades that refine uranium.
    In July last year, a fire broke out at Natanz that Iran said was an attempt by Israel to scuttle enrichment activity there.
    Iran also accused Israel of responsibility for last November’s ambush killing outside Tehran of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was considered by Western intelligence services as the mastermind of a covert Iranian nuclear weapons programme.    Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in his death.
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem, Francois Murphy in Vienna and Alexander Ratz in Berlin; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/12/2021 EU Sanctions Elite Iran Commander, Seven Others, Over 2019 Protests by Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters
in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The European Union has imposed sanctions on eight Iranian militia commanders and police chiefs, including the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards, over a deadly crackdown in November 2019, the bloc said in its Official Journal on Monday.
    The travel bans and asset freezes are the first EU sanctions on Iran for human rights abuses since 2013, as the bloc had shied away from angering Tehran in the hope of safeguarding a nuclear accord Tehran signed with world powers in 2015.
    Their preparation was first reported by Reuters last month.
    The bloc, which also hit three Iranian prisons with asset freezes, blacklisted Hossein Salami, head of the Revolutionary Guards, the most powerful and heavily armed security force in the Islamic Republic.
    “Hossein Salami took part in the sessions that resulted in the orders to use lethal force to suppress the November 2019 protests.    Hossein Salami therefore bears responsibility for serious human rights violations in Iran,” the EU said.
    The three prisons sanctioned included two in the Tehran area where the EU said those detained after the 2019 protests were deliberately wounded with boiling water and denied medical treatment.
    About 1,500 people were killed during less than two weeks of unrest that started on Nov. 15, 2019, according to a toll provided to Reuters by three Iranian interior ministry officials at the time.    The United Nations said the total was at least 304.
    Iran has called the toll given by sources “fake news.”
    Iran has repeatedly rejected accusations by the West of human rights abuses.
    On March 9, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, presented a report saying Tehran used lethal force during the protests and chided it for failing to conduct a proper investigation or failing to hold anyone accountable.
    Other individuals targeted with EU sanctions, which take effect on Monday, include members of Iran’s hardline Basij militia, who are under the command of the Revolutionary Guards, and its head Gholamreza Soleimani.
    The eight Iranians were added to an EU sanctions list for human rights abuses in Iran that was first launched in 2011 and which now numbers 89 people and four entities.    It includes a ban on exports of equipment that could be used for repression.
    Diplomats said the sanctions were not linked to efforts to revive the nuclear deal, which the United States pulled out of but now seeks to re-join.    That deal made it harder for Iran to amass the fissile material needed for a nuclear bomb – a goal it has long denied – in return for sanctions relief.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott, editing by Marine Strauss and Giles Elgood)

4/13/2021 White House: Biden To Withdraw 2.5K U.S. Troops From Afghanistan By Sept. 11 by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Jan. 31, 2020, file photo Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, center, top U.S. commander for the Middle East, makes an unannounced visit
in Kabul, Afghanistan. Without coming right out and saying it, President Joe Biden seems ready to let lapse a May 1 deadline for completing a
withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Orderly withdrawals take time, and Biden is running out of it. (AP Photos/Lolita Baldor, File)
    Joe Biden has planned to withdraw all remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11. Defense officials told news outlets Tuesday that he plans to remove the last 2,500 military personnel from the region.
    The administration will, however, miss President Trump’s deadline to withdraw troops by May 1, which is the 10-year anniversary of the death of Osama Bin Laden.    The new withdrawal date would come on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which preceded America’s longest running war.
    Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken are expected to brief U.S. NATO allies on the withdrawal during their visit to Brussels this week.
    “My administration strongly supports the diplomatic process that’s underway and to bring an end to this war that is closing out 20 years,” Biden stated.    “We remain committed to ensuring that Afghanistan never again provides a base for terrorist attacks against the United States and our partners and our interest.”
    Biden is expected to make a formal announcement on the troop withdrawal on Wednesday.

4/14/2021 US to exit Afghan war by Sept. 11 by Lolita C. Baldor, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden will withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America that were coordinated from that country, several U.S. officials said Tuesday.
    The decision defies a May 1 deadline for full withdrawal under a peace agreement the Trump administration reached with the Taliban last year, but leaves no room for additional extensions.    A senior administration official called the September date an absolute deadline that won’t be affected by security conditions in the country.
    While Biden’s decision keeps U.S. troops in Afghanistan four months longer than initially planned, it sets a firm end to two decades of war that killed more than 2,200 U.S. troops, wounded 20,000, and cost as much as $1 trillion.    The conflict largely crippled al-Qaida and led to the death of Osama bin Laden, the architect of the Sept. 11 attacks.
    But an American withdrawal also risks many of the gains made in democracy, women’s rights and governance, while ensuring that the Taliban, who provided al-Qaida’s safe haven, remain strong and in control of large swaths of the country.
    Biden hinted for weeks that he would let the May deadline lapse, and as the days went by it became clear that an orderly withdrawal of the roughly 2,500 remaining troops would be difficult and was unlikely.

4/14/2021 Official: Iran to enrich uranium to 60% purity - Blackout at power plant roils diplomatic efforts by Jon Gambrell, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Iran will begin enriching uranium up to 60% purity after an attack on its Natanz nuclear facility, a negotiator said Tuesday, pushing its program to higher levels than ever before though still remaining short of weapons-grade.
    The announcement marks a significant escalation after the sabotage that damaged centrifuges, suspected of having been carried out by Israel – and could inspire a further response from Israel amid a long-running shadow war between the nations.
    Earlier, Iran’s foreign minister had warned that the weekend assault at Natanz could hurt ongoing negotiations over its tattered atomic deal with world powers. Those talks are aimed at finding a way for the United States to reenter the agreement, the goal of which is to limit Iran’s uranium enrichment in exchange for relief on sanctions.
    Nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi, in Vienna to begin informal talks Tuesday night, made a point to make his announcement in English.
    “We believe this round of negotiations is the time for the U.S. to present a list, and I hope that I can go back to Tehran with the list of sanctions which should be lifted,” Araghchi told Iranian state television’s English-language arm Press TV.
    He said authorities would add another 1,000 centrifuges to Natanz as well.
    “The damaged centrifuges in Natanz ... would be replaced with more advanced centrifuges and more capable centrifuges,” he said.    “We insist on what we have asked.    All sanctions should be lifted, we verify, and then we go back to full compliance if we are satisfied with the verification process.”
    Iran had been enriching up to 20%, and even that is a short technical step to weapons-grade levels of 90%.
    Meanwhile on Tuesday, Israeli broadcaster Channel 12 reported an Israeliowned ship had been attacked in the Gulf of Oman off the coast of the United Arab     Emirates near the port city of Fujairah.    The broadcaster said Israeli security officials believed it was an Iranian attack, but did not elaborate.    Iranian state media had been reporting a similar incident for hours.    U.S. military officials declined to immediately comment, and Emirati officials did not acknowledge any incident there.
    Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, though the West and the International Atomic Energy Agency say Tehran had an organized military nuclear program up until the end of 2003.    However, the nuclear deal prevents it from having enough of a uranium stockpile to be able to pursue a nuclear weapon.
    The talks in Vienna are aimed at reviving America’s role in that agreement, which former President Donald Trump abandoned, and lifting the sanctions he imposed.
    The Vienna-based IAEA told The Associated Press that Director General Rafael Grossi reported to member states on Tuesday that Iran had informed the agency it planned to begin enriching uranium up to 60% purity at its Natanz facility.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, center right, and Russian counterpart
Sergey Lavrovsign sign agreements. IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY VIA AP

4/14/2021 Blinken Meets With NATO Chief Over Afghanistan Withdrawal by OAN Newsroom
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, right, and United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken address a media conference
at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Brussels on
Wednesday for talks with European and NATO allies about Afghanistan, Ukraine and other matters. (Johanna Geron, Pool via AP)
    Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Brussels to try convincing NATO’s ally countries to withdrawal from Afghanistan.
    During his visit Wednesday, Blinken met with NATO Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg to discuss the alliance members’ future in the region.    He said neither the U.S. nor NATO has plans to desert the region despite the impending withdrawal.
    There are roughly 7,000 NATO troops stationed in Afghanistan and Blinken made it clear what path the administration hopes the group will take.    Meanwhile, none of the alliance members are expected to go against Joe Biden’s plans.

4/15/2021 Blinken Visits Afghanistan In Show Of Support After Biden Announces Withdrawal by Jonathan Landay and Humeyra Pamuk
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meets with Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah
Abdullah in Kabul, Afghanistan April 15, 2021. High Council for National Reconciliation Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken flew to Kabul on Thursday in an unannounced visit to show support for the Afghan government a day after U.S. President Joe Biden said that he was pulling out U.S. forces after nearly 20 years of war.
    Biden acknowledged that U.S. objectives in Afghanistan had become “increasingly unclear” over the past decade and set a deadline for withdrawing all U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan by Sept. 11, exactly two decades after al Qaeda’s attacks on the United States that triggered the war.
    Foreign troops under NATO command will also withdraw from Afghanistan in coordination with the U.S. pullout.
    Blinken, arriving in Kabul after attending NATO talks in Brussels, met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, whose government remains embroiled in fierce fighting with Taliban insurgents while a U.S.-backed peace process is shrouded in uncertainty.
    The top U.S. diplomat tried to reassure Ghani that despite the departure of U.S. troops, the United States would remain committed to Afghanistan, saying Washington will “intensify” its diplomacy to do “everything we can” to advance efforts to secure a peace agreement between Kabul and the insurgents.
    “The reason I’m here, so quickly after the president’s speech last night, is to demonstrate literally, by our presence, that we have an enduring an ongoing commitment to Afghanistan,” Blinken said at the embassy, according to a press pool report.
    He was in Kabul for about eight hours.
    The foreign troop withdrawals have raised concerns that the country could erupt in full-scale civil war, providing al Qaeda space in which to rebuild and plan new attacks on U.S. and other targets.
    In his meeting with Ghani at the presidential palace, Blinken assured the Afghan president that “the partnership is changing, but the partnership is enduring.”
    Later at a press conference at the heavily fortified American embassy, where earlier he had greeted U.S. soldiers, Blinken warned the Taliban that any attack on American troops as they pulled out would be met with “a very forceful response.”
    Blinken also met with Abdullah Abdullah, the head of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, who expressed support for the U.S. decision.
    “This does not mean the end of relations and cooperation between the two countries.    A new chapter of relations and cooperation between the two countries has returned and we will continue our cooperation in various fields in this chapter,” Abdullah said in a statement.
IMPLICIT THREAT
    Even as Blinken visited Kabul, the Taliban reiterated a call for an “immediate” withdrawal of all foreign forces, accusing Washington of breaching a February 2020 accord – secured by the Trump administration – to complete a U.S. troop pullout by May 1.
    The Taliban statement appeared to make an implicit threat, warning that “in principle” their fighters would “take every necessary countermeasure, hence the American side will be held responsible for all future consequences.”
    They also said they will “under no circumstance ever relent” on their goal of establishing a “pure Islamic system,” underscoring a deep difference with Kabul over the kind of governmental system that should be established in a peace agreement.
    As the fate of the peace talks remained uncertain, with the Taliban saying they would not attend a planned conference in Turkey until all foreign forces leave Afghanistan, Blinken remained hopeful.
    “We’re waiting to see a definitive response form the Taliban about their participation… The goal is … to accelerate the peace process.    The gathering will be supported by high-level attendance from the international community,” he said.
    Some U.S. officials and experts are concerned about the enduring presence in Afghanistan of al Qaeda and Islamic State extremists, worried that the former will be able to rebuild and plot new attacks on Western targets.
    Speaking to CNN, Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, conceded that the U.S. withdrawal would result in less intelligence.    But, he said, the United States still would be able to detect threats to the U.S. homeland from Afghanistan.
    “Our ability to protect the American homeland in my view will not diminish,” Sullivan said.    “Our ability to collect intelligence on a day-to-day basis, against the comings and goings of actors within Afghanistan, will diminish. That’s a big difference.”
    “From our perspective, we can set up the kind of scenario in which we can protect this country without remaining at war in Afghanistan for the third decade.”
    The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 when they were ousted by U.S.-led forces.    A U.S.-backed government has held power in Afghanistan since then, although the Taliban have control over wide areas of the country.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels, Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad and Jonathan Landay in Washington, editing by Sabine Siebold and Nick Macfie)

4/15/2021 Iran, World Powers Resume Nuclear Talks Amid Strains Over Enrichment, Natanz Attack by Francois Murphy, Parisa Hafezi and John Irish
Police officers stand outside a hotel, where a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission or Iran nuclear
deal will be held, in Vienna, Austria, April 15, 2021. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA (Reuters) -Iran and global powers resumed talks on Thursday to rescue the 2015 nuclear deal in an effort potentially complicated by Tehran’s decision to ramp up uranium enrichment and what it called Israeli sabotage at a nuclear site.
    Casting a shadow over the Vienna talks, Tehran on Tuesday announced its decision to enrich uranium at 60% purity, a big step closer to the 90% that is weapons-grade material, in response to an explosion at its key Natanz facility on Sunday.
    Calling the move “provocative,” the United States and the European parties to the deal warned that Tehran’s enrichment move was contrary to efforts to revive the accord abandoned by Washington three years ago.
    The 2015 agreement sought to make it harder for Iran to develop an atomic bomb in return for lifting sanctions.
    Tehran’s refusal to hold direct talks with the United States forced European intermediaries to shuttle between separate hotels in Vienna last week when Iran and the other signatories – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – held what they described as a first round of “constructive” negotiations.
    Senior diplomats, excluding the United States, initially met to set the tone on Thursday in what diplomats anticipated would be a tougher round of talks to salvage the pact.
    Two expert-level groups, seeking to marry lists of sanctions that the United States could lift with nuclear obligations Iran should meet, have now resumed their discussions.
    “Currently I think the nuclear working group is more advanced, much more advanced, than (the) sanctions-lifting working group,” Wang Qun, China’s ambassador to the U.N. atomic watchdog, told reporters after the Joint Commission meeting of senior officials.
    “So currently we should do away with all disruptive factors, moving forward as swiftly as we can on the work of negotiation, especially by zeroing in on sanctions-lifting.”
    Iran’s foreign ministry said its negotiators had defended their decisions and expressed their disappointment at “the weak reaction” from European powers to the attack on Natanz.
SANCTIONS
    Highlighting Western concerns, a senior diplomat said that while the desire was to make progress, Iran’s latest violation could not be ignored and made efforts to achieve a breakthrough before the June 18 Iranian presidential election harder.
    “The seriousness of Iran’s latest decisions has hurt this process and raised tensions,” said the senior Western diplomat.
    “We will have to see how in the coming days we address these violations with the will to press ahead in the talks.”
    Tehran has repeatedly said that all sanctions must be rescinded first, warning that it may stop negotiations if the measures are not lifted. Washington wants Iran to reverse the breaches of the deal that it made in retaliation for tough sanctions imposed by former U.S. President Donald Trump.
    “Iran’s 'seriousness of purpose' in pursuing diplomacy was tested in the three years since Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter.    “Iran – by remaining in the deal – passed with flying colors.    The Biden administration, however, has only shown a commitment to Trump’s maximum pressure.”
    Enrique Mora, EU chief coordinator for the talks, said in a tweet it was good to see participants resume the talks “despite very challenging events and announcements over the past days.”
    Israel, which Tehran refuses to recognise, opposes the deal, an accord that Iran and U.S. President Joe Biden are trying to revive after Trump quit it in 2018 and reinstated sanctions.    Israel has not formally commented on Sunday’s Natanz incident.
    The United Arab Emirates, which also supported the decision to quit the 2015 accord and reimpose sanctions on Tehran, urged Washington to push for a better accord and a Gulf diplomatic source said the Riyadh-based Gulf Cooperation Council had sent letters to global powers stressing the need for Gulf involvement in ongoing negotiations.
(Additional reporting by Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai; Writing by Parisa Hafezi and John Irish, Editing by William Maclean)

4/15/2021 ‘Time To End The Forever War’: U.S., Allied Troops To Leave Afghanistan By Sept. 11 by Phil Stewart and Steve Holland
FILE PHOTO: U.S. troops patrol at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in Logar province,
Afghanistan August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden said on Wednesday U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan starting May 1 to end America’s longest war, rejecting calls for them to stay to ensure a peaceful resolution to that nation’s grinding internal conflict.
    Foreign troops under NATO command will also withdraw from Afghanistan in coordination with the U.S. pull-out, NATO allies agreed.    The withdrawal of foreign troops will be completed by Sept 11.
    Around 7,000 non-U.S. forces from mainly NATO countries, also from Australia, New Zealand and Georgia, outnumber the 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but they still rely on American air support, planning and leadership.
    “While our military contribution will reduce, we will continue to support the stability of Afghanistan through our bilateral partnership and in concert with our other nations,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
    Biden acknowledged that U.S. objectives in Afghanistan had become “increasingly unclear” over the past decade and set a deadline for withdrawing all U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan by Sept. 11, exactly 20 years after al Qaeda’s attacks on the United States that triggered the war.
    But by pulling out without a clear victory over the Taliban and other radicals in Afghanistan, the United States opens itself to criticism that a withdrawal represents a de facto admission of failure for American military strategy.
    “It was never meant to be a multi-generational undertaking.    We were attacked.    We went to war with clear goals.    We achieved those objectives,” Biden said, noting that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by American forces in 2011 and saying that organization has been “degraded” in Afghanistan.
    “And it’s time to end the forever war,” Biden added.
    The war has cost the lives of 2,448 American service members and consumed an estimated $2 trillion.    U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan peaked at more than 100,000 in 2011.
    In withdrawing, Biden is embracing risks at the start of his presidency that proved too great for his predecessors, including that al Qaeda might reconstitute itself or that the Taliban insurgency might topple the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
    “I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan.    Two Republicans.    Two Democrats,” Biden said.    “I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.”
    Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wrote on Twitter that he spoke with Biden and respects the U.S. decision.    Ghani added that “we will work with our U.S. partners to ensure a smooth transition” and “we will continue to work with our US/NATO partners in the ongoing peace efforts.”
    A peace summit on Afghanistan is planned from April 24 in Istanbul that would include the United Nations and more than 20 countries.
TALIBAN WON’T ATTEND
    The Taliban, ousted from power in 2001 by U.S.-led forces, said they would not take part in any meetings involving decisions about Afghanistan until all foreign forces have left.    Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Wednesday called on the United States to adhere to the deal the group reached with Trump’s administration.
    “If the agreement is committed to, the remaining problems will also be solved,” Mujahid wrote on Twitter.    “If the agreement is not committed to … the problems will certainly increase.”
    In Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, government officials said they would carry on with peace talks and their forces would defend the country.
    “Now that there is an announcement on foreign troops withdrawal within several months, we need to find a way to co-exist,” said Abdullah Abdullah, a top peace official and former presidential candidate.    “We believe that there is no winner in Afghan conflicts and we hope the Taliban realize that too.”
    Biden rejected the idea that U.S. troops could provide the leverage needed for peace, saying: “We gave that argument a decade.    It has never proven effective.”
    “American troops shouldn’t be used as a bargaining chip between warring parties in other countries,” Biden said.
    Biden also said the threat of terrorism was not limited to a single country and that leaving American forces in one foreign land at great financial cost did not make sense.
    The president made the decision personal, invoking the memory of his late son who served in Iraq and showing a card he carried with the number of U.S. troops killed and wounded in Afghanistan. Visiting Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, Biden later said the decision to withdraw was not difficult.     “To me, it was absolutely clear,” Biden said.
    Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, was among Biden’s fiercest critics, saying the withdrawal would backfire by prolonging the conflict and possibly even breathing new life into al Qaeda.
    “What do we lose by pulling out? We lose that insurance policy against another 9/11,” Graham said.
    Critics of the U.S. military involvement say it clearly failed to get the Taliban to end the conflict on America’s terms.    Some experts blame endemic corruption in Afghanistan, Taliban safe havens across the border in Pakistan and overly ambitious goals for training Afghan security forces.
    Biden criticized past U.S. aspirations to somehow unify Afghans, a goal that defied the lessons of history over centuries.
    “It’s never been done,” Biden said.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Steve Holland in Washington and Hamid Shalizi and Orooj Hakimi in Kabul; Additional reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad; Editing by Mary Milliken, Will Dunham, Grant McCool and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

4/15/2021 Many Afghans Feel U.S. Is Leaving Them At Mercy Of Resurgent Taliban
FILE PHOTO: Afghan security forces fires heavy machine-gun at insurgents near the site of an
attack in Jalalabad city, Afghanistan September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Parwiz
    KABUL (Reuters) – Many Afghans believe that the United States is putting them at the mercy of hardline Islamist Taliban insurgents after President Joe Biden’s announcement that U.S. troops will leave the country by Sept. 11.
    The withdrawal date was pushed back four months from the May 1 deadline agreed to between the Washington and the insurgents last year – but, this time, there have been no conditions attached to the pullout.
    “International forces’ intervention was like a light in a dark night,” Amina, 32, a teacher at a girls school in the northern province of Kunduz, told Reuters.
    Amina, who was a child when U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban in 2001, feels Washington should not leave without making the Taliban agree to accept the changes that have occurred in the country over the past two decades.
    Washington is pressing for a settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban at a conference in Turkey next week, where they hope to reach an agreement on a ceasefire and a power-sharing interim government.
    The Taliban announced a boycott of the event in reaction to Washington’s announcement that foreign troops would stay beyond May 1.
    However foreign capitals are pushing the Taliban to attend and reach some sort of agreement that would save the country from another bout of civil war.
    “It would have been better if foreign forces had not come at all… At least we could have found a way in the past 20 years, which I think are now just wasted,” Amina said.
    Ahmed, 26, who works at an international organisation in Kabul, said he and many others had been living in fear of the Taliban returning to power.
    “Now foreign forces are preparing to leave us in the hands of the Taliban,” he said, but added it was up to Afghans to overcome their fear.
    Munira Harir, 30, a government employee in Kabul, criticised the decision to withdraw at a time when unrest was at its peak.
    Afghan women, young government employees, and rights activists have, over the last few months, faced increased attacks, which no group has claimed but the Afghan government blames on the Taliban.
    Women have found much more space in public than they did during the Taliban’s puritan rule, which included contempt for women’s rights, blocking their education, forcing nearly all to quit work, restricting their movement and brutally enforcing a strict dress code.
    “They (Taliban) will repeat the black history again, and this is not acceptable for women like us, so we are again going to face a wave of migration, and once again the achievements of the last 20 years become zero,” Harir said.
    For Pedram Qazizada, 40, a resident of the western province of Herat, the withdrawal of foreign troops was inevitable.
    “Every country that came was gone one day,” he said in reference to the British and Russians before the arrival of the Americans.
    But he added that the United States had failed in its mission because, if there were a return to civil war, it would be worse in the face of an emboldened Taliban, who ruled from 1996 to 2001.
    “The fact that they are not attending the peace talks means that they consider themselves the winners of this war,” he said.
    Some Afghans still hope things won’t fall apart.
    “This nation was alive before U.S.A., Russia and Britain and after them it will get better … by the grace of almighty Allah, we will build and free our country from the evil of a religious and terrorist virus,” said Noorullah, 62, a shopkeeper in Kabul.
    Yasin Darman, 25, a professor at Nangarhar University in the eastern city of Jalalabad, in one of the country’s most dangerous provinces, feels Afghan forces had taken over a majority of security responsibilities and were now capable of preventing a complete Taliban takeover.
    “Naturally, with the withdrawal of American troops, the war will intensify for a while, but the Taliban will not win,” he said.
(Reporing by Orooj Hakimi and Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul, Ahmad Sultan in Nangarhar, and Storay Karimi in Herat; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Nick Macfie)

4/16/2021 Iran Nuclear Talks To Last Several Days Then Pause: EU Official
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, before the beginning of a
board of governors meeting, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    BRUSSELS/VIENNA (Reuters) – Talks on rescuing Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal will carry on for several days before breaking so that Iranian and U.S. officials can return home for consultations, a European Union official said on Friday.
    The EU is chairing meetings in Vienna of the remaining parties to the deal – Iran, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain.    A delegation from the United States, which pulled out of the accord under President Donald Trump, is based in a nearby hotel as Iran has refused to hold direct talks.
    A second round of talks, which involve discussions in various formats as well as formal meetings of all the remaining parties, started on Thursday.    The aim is a U.S. return to the deal, lifting sanctions that were reimposed after its pullout, and undoing Iranian breaches of its nuclear restrictions.
    Talks will continue “for a few days and then I think the two most relevant delegations will go back home to receive more precise instructions and then, I don’t know when, we will resume,” the EU official told reporters in a phone briefing.
    The talks have been overshadowed by an explosion at Iran’s main uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, which Tehran has blamed on Israel, and Iran’s decision to enrich uranium to 60% purity, a big step towards weapons-grade, which it said it started doing on Friday.
    “We have this (Iranian) decision to go for 60% enrichment.    Obviously this is not making the negotiation easier,” the official said, calling what happened at Natanz “deliberate sabotage.”    It is not clear how long the talks will last in total, he added.
    Israel – widely believed to be the only Middle Eastern country with a nuclear arsenal – has not formally commented on the Natanz incident.    Several Israeli media outlets have quoted intelligence sources as saying the country’s Mossad spy service carried out the operation.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels and Francois Murphy in Vienna; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

4/16/2021 Iran Nuclear Chief Says 60% Enrichment Has Started At Natanz Site
FILE PHOTO: Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Ali-Akbar Salehi wears a mask as he speaks during a meeting with International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi, in Tehran, Iran August 25, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    (Reuters) - Iran has begun 60% uranium enrichment at its Natanz plant, the country’s nuclear chief said on Friday, days after an explosion at the site that Tehran blamed on Israel.
    We are producing about nine grams of 60% enriched uranium an hour,” Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told state television.
    “But we have to work on arrangements… to drop it to 5 grams per hour.    But then we will simultaneously produce 20% (uranium),” Salehi said.
    Earlier, parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said Iranian scientists had successfully started enriching 60 percent uranium at 12:40 a.m. local time (2010 GMT).
    “The will of the Iranian nation makes miracles that thwart any conspiracy,” Qalibaf said on Twitter.
    In Vienna, a spokesman for the United Nations nuclear watchdog IAEA declined to comment on the Iranian statements about 60% enrichment.
    Iran has said its decision to increase enrichment to its highest level ever was in response to sabotage at its nuclear site at Natanz on Sunday by Israel.
    Iran and global powers are meeting in Vienna to try to rescue a 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by Washington three years ago, in an effort potentially complicated by Tehran’s decision to ramp up uranium enrichment.
    The 2015 agreement sought to make it harder for Iran to develop an atomic bomb – something it denies ever trying to do – in return for lifting sanctions.
    Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator at nuclear talks in Vienna, said on Tuesday that Iran would activate 1,000 advanced centrifuge machines at Natanz.
    An Iranian official told Reuters that “60% enrichment will be in small quantity” only.
    Multiple Israeli media outlets have quoted unnamed intelligence sources as saying the country’s Mossad spy service carried out the sabotage operation at the Natanz complex.    Israel – widely believed to be the only Middle Eastern country with a nuclear arsenal – has not formally commented on the incident.
(dubai.newsroom@thomsonreuters.com, additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna; Editing by William Maclean and Angus MacSwan)

4/15/2021 U.S. Intel Warns China Is Advancing Military Power, Sharing Propaganda by OAN Newsroom
Director Avril Haines of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) testifies during a House
Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 15, 2021. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)
    U.S. Intelligence officials warned that China is looking to “change global norms” while expanding its technological capabilities and military power.
    A new global risk assessment was released by the National Intelligence Office Tuesday, stating the Chinese regime was close to becoming a “near-peer competitor” for the U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines reiterated those claims to the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday, also adding that China poses an increasing risk to America’s role in global affairs.
    The 27-page report addressed China’s ongoing regional disputes with Taiwan and the India-China border.    It also noted that China is likely responsible for the hack of the Microsoft Exchange email system, which targeted thousands of U.S. organizations
.
    “China is employing a comprehensive approach to demonstrate its growing strength and compel regional neighbors to acquiesce to Beijing’s preferences, including its claims over disputed territory and assertions of sovereignty over Taiwan,” Haines explained.    “It also has substantial cyber capabilities that, if deployed, at a minimum can cause localized, temporary disruptions to critical infrastructure inside the United States.”
    In addition to advancing their regional power, the report stated China will do everything possible to damage ties between the U.S. and their allies.    The country also continues to spread propaganda about its communist politics and is looking for new ways to interfere with democratic elections.
    China’s controversial report about the origins of the coronavirus was another warning sign for intelligence officials who said they are still unsure about where the virus came from.    The U.S. and 13 other countries have since shared concerns about the report with many claiming it was long overdue and lacked access to complete data or samples.
    Officials said the U.S. will have to focus on creating long-term solutions to growing threats not just from China, but other countries like Russia and Iran.
    “This insight compels us to broaden our definition of national security, develop and integrate new and emerging expertise into our work, deepen and strengthen our partnerships, and learn to focus on the long-term strategic threats while simultaneously addressing urgent crises,” Haines stated.
    Meanwhile, officials said there are thousands of ongoing investigations into China as the threat to the U.S. continues to change.

4/18/2021 U.S., Iran Nuclear Talks Not Easy Despite Emerging Understanding by OAN Newsroom
FILE – This file photo released Nov. 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows centrifuge machines
in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)
    Serious disagreements remain between the U.S. and Iran, as Joe Biden continues to attempt to recommit to the failed nuclear deal in Vienna.
    According to reports on Saturday, Iran’s chief negotiator said that a new understanding appears to be emerging between the two parties, but stressed the path ahead was not easy.
    Despite this comment, Iran has continued to breach agreements with the U.S.
    Iran began ramping up its uranium enrichment program to 60 percent purity, a big step up from its current max of 20 percent.
    “We do not support and do not think it’s at all helpful that Iran is saying it’s going to move to enrichment to 60 percent,” Biden stated.    “It is contrary to the agreement.    We are, though, nonetheless pleased that Iran has continued to agree to engage in discussions.”
    Negotiators are working on steps both sides must take on sanctions and nuclear activities.
    However, the talks have been further complicated by an explosion at Iran’s main uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, which their government has claimed was an act of sabotage by Israel.

4/18/2021 Blinken: U.S. Will ‘Monitor’ Afghan Security After Withdrawal by OAN Newsroom
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
    Joe Biden’s Secretary of State Tony Blinken has claimed a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan would not compromise the security of that country.
    “We will have the means to see if there is a resurgence, a reemergence of a terrorist threat from Afghanistan,” said Blinken.    “We’ll be able to see that in real-time with time to take action.    And we’re going to be repositioning our forces and our assets to make sure that we guard against the potential re-emergence.”
    Blinken suggested U.S. forces would be able to return to Afghanistan if terror group the Taliban moves to restore control over that nation’s politics.    He also claimed the U.S. has achieved its objectives in that country, although the Taliban still controls nearly 20 percent of the Afghan territory.
    “And we went to take on those who attacked us on 9/11 and to make sure that Afghanistan would not again become a haven for terrorism directed at the     United States or any of our allies and partners,” Blinken noted.    “And we’ve achieved the objectives that we set out to achieve.    Al-Quaeda has been significantly degraded. Its capacity to conduct an attack against the United States, now, from Afghanistan, is not there. And of course, Osama Bin Laden was brought to justice ten years ago.”
    In early April, Biden postponed the withdrawal of U.S. troops, which had been slated for May 1 by President Trump, and is now expected by mid-September.

4/19/2021 Biden Admin. Unsure Of Consequences Of Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan by OAN Newsroom
WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 03: Joe Biden spoke during the 19th Annual HRC National Dinner at Walter E. Washington
Convention Center on October 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images)
    The White House said it cannot guarantee what will happen in Afghanistan once American troops leave the region.
On Sunday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. has achieved all its goals after sending troops to the Middle East nearly 20 years ago.
    Sullivan said Joe Biden has no intention of sending more troops to Afghanistan, despite being aware the move could embolden terrorist groups in the region.
WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 04: National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke to reporters during the daily press conference in the
Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House February 04, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
    Lawmakers are divided on the issue, as some expressed concerns that groups like the Taliban could further destabilize the country.
    Sullivan explained the Biden administration wants to focus on more pressing threats.
    “The terrorist threat has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, it’s not just about Afghanistan anymore,” Sullivan explained.    “Al-Qaeda is in Yemen, ISIS is in Syria and Iraq, Al-Qaeda is in Somalia and Syria and many other places.”
    Sullivan said the only troops that will remain in the region will be security for the U.S. Embassy.

4/19/2021 EU’s Borrell Cites Progress In Iran Nuclear Talks
FILE PHOTO: European High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell speaks during a meeting via video conference
with EU foreign ministers at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium April 19, 2021. Francois Walschaerts/Pool via REUTERS
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said on Monday he saw a willingness to save the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and global powers, citing progress in talks in Vienna to bring the United States back to the accord.
    The optimism follows comments by China’s envoy to the negotiations, Wang Qun, on Saturday that negotiations were starting to pick up pace.
    “I think that there is real good will among both parties (Iran and the United States) to reach an agreement, and that’s good news,” he said, citing progress but not giving details.
    “I think that both parties are really interested in reaching an agreement, and they have been moving from general to more focused issues, which are clearly, on one side sanction-lifting, and on the other side, nuclear implementation issues.”
    The second round of talks began last Thursday in the basement of a luxury hotel in Vienna.    The United States is not present as Iran has declined face-to-face negotiation, but EU officials are carrying out shuttle diplomacy with a U.S. delegation based at another hotel across the road.
    Borrell said that his political director Enrique Mora, who is chairing the talks, had gone back to Vienna after returning to Brussels on Friday.
    Iran has breached many of the deal’s restrictions on its nuclear activities in response to the U.S. withdrawal and reimposition of sanctions against Tehran under former U.S. President Donald Trump.    Negotiators are working on steps both sides must take, on sanctions and nuclear activities, to return to full compliance.
    The deal was intended by the six global powers to make it harder for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.    Iran says it has never sought nuclear weapons and never would, and that its nuclear activity has only civilian aims.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott and Sabine Siebold; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Timothy Heritage)

4/19/2021 Some Progress In Nuclear Talks, Interim Deal Possible -Iran Officials by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, before the beginning of a board
of governors meeting, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran and world powers have made some progress on how to revive the 2015 nuclear accord later abandoned by the United States, and an interim deal could be a way to gain time for a lasting settlement, Iranian officials said on Monday.
    Tehran and the powers have been meeting in Vienna since early April to work on steps that must be taken, touching on U.S. sanctions and Iran’s recent breaches of the deal, to bring back Tehran and Washington into full compliance with the accord.
    “We are on the right track and some progress has been made, but this does not mean that the talks in Vienna have reached the final stage,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a weekly news conference in Tehran.
    “Practical solutions are still far away, but we have moved from general words to agreeing on specific steps towards the goal,” Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s ambassador to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency (IAEA), wrote on Twitter on Monday.
    U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, which took office in January pledging to rejoin the deal, has said it is ready to remove “all sanctions that are inconsistent” with the accord, but not spelled out which measures it means.
    Iran’s clerical establishment has said it will not return to strict observance of the 2015 agreement unless all sanctions reimposed or added by former President Donald Trump after he ditched the accord in 2018 are rescinded first.
    Diplomats say sequenced steps by each side may offer a solution, while Iranian officials told Reuters the high-stakes talks in Vienna might yield an interim deal to give space to diplomacy on a lasting settlement.
    “The May deadline is approaching…What is being discussed in Vienna for the near term is the main outlines of an interim deal to give all sides more time to resolve complicated technical issues,” said an Iranian official.
    He referred to a law passed by Iran’s hardline-dominated parliament that obliges the government to harden its nuclear stance if sanctions are not lifted.
    The law mandated an end to short-notice U.N. nuclear inspections from Feb. 21, but Tehran and the IAEA agreed to keep up “necessary” monitoring for up to three months.
    Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi told Iranian state media that “there is no discussion on an interim agreement or similar topics in the Vienna talks.”
    However, another Iranian official said that if a political agreement was reached on technical steps to remove all sanctions, Tehran might suspend enrichment to 20% purity in return for a release of blocked Iranian funds in other countries.
    Iran says $20 billion of its oil revenue has been frozen in countries like South Korea, Iraq and China under the U.S. sanctions regime since 2018.
    “Unblocking Iran’s funds is a good start. An interim deal will give us time to work on removal of all sanctions on Iran,” the second Iranian official said.
    On top of sanctions reimposed in 2018, Trump added new ones, including classifying Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group and blacklisting Iran’s Central Bank for alleged terrorist financing.
EU SEES GOODWILL TO SAVE 2015 DEAL
    The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said on Monday he saw a willingness to save the 2015 deal, citing progress at the talks in Vienna.
    “I think that there is real goodwill among both parties (Iran and the United States) to reach an agreement, and that’s good news,” he said.
    “I think that both parties are really interested in reaching an agreement, and they have been moving from general to more focused issues, which are clearly, on one side sanction-lifting, and on the other side, nuclear implementation issues.”
    At the same time, Iran has been overstepping the deal’s limits on nuclear activity since Washington withdrew, recently raising uranium enrichment to 20% fissile purity, a level where uranium is considered to be highly enriched and a significant step towards bomb-grade material.
    The 2015 pact had capped the level of enrichment purity at 3.67% – suitable for generating civilian nuclear energy.
    Complicating Biden’s objective to rejoin the deal, Tehran last week launched enrichment to 60% purity at its main Natanz plant after a damaging blast at the site that Tehran blamed on sabotage by arch-foe Israel, which opposes diplomacy with Iran.
    Around 90% fissile purity is needed for a nuclear explosive, Tehran has repeatedly denied seeking to weaponise enrichment, though Western intelligence services and the IAEA believe it once had a covert atom bomb programme that was shelved in 2003.
(Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna, Robin Emmott and Sabine Siebold in BrusselsWriting by Parisa HafeziEditing by Mark Heinrich and Alistair Bell)
[WELL TRUMPS OIL EMBARGO ON IRAN MADE THEM GO FROM 150 BILLION TO 5 BILLION WHICH HELD THEM IN CONTROL FOR 4 YEARS SO NOW BIDEN AND THE EU IS GOING TO PUT THEM BACK ON THE PATH OF DESTROYING WHOMEVER.].

4/20/2021 Iran Sees Vienna Talks Moving Forward, Warns Against Excessive Demands
FILE PHOTO: Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, attends a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission
in Vienna, Austria, September 1, 2020. European Commission EbS - EEAS/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran’s chief negotiator said on Tuesday talks to save the 2015 nuclear accord were moving forward despite difficulties but warned Tehran would stop the negotiations if faced with “unreasonable demands” or time wasting.
    Iran and world powers have made headway in the Vienna talks though much more work is needed, a senior European Union official said, with meetings to resume next week after consultations in their respective capitals.
    Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi “assessed the current trend of the talks as going forward, despite the existing difficulties and challenges,” Iranian state media reported.
    “The Iranian delegation will stop the talks whenever the process of negotiations leads to unreasonable demands, waste of time and irrational bargaining,” Araqchi was quoted as saying.
    “It is too early to judge the outcome or to say whether we are optimistic or pessimistic, but we think we are on the right track,” Araqchi told state television.
    Hardline-led Iranian news agencies quoted an unnamed source as saying the United States was only planning to issue temporary waivers instead of permanently lifting sanctions, which Washington re-imposed on Tehran after withdrawing from the nuclear accord in 2018.
    “America’s intention is not to lift the sanctions completely and to be satisfied with temporary waivers on some sanctions in order to simply return to the nuclear accord so that it can use the possibility of the snapback mechanism against Iran,” the Fars news agency quoted the source as saying.
    Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear work in return for relief from U.S. and other sanctions.    The accord includes the option of a snapback of U.N. sanctions if Iran breaches the deal, requiring Tehran to suspend all nuclear enrichment-related activities, including research development.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom;Editing by Alison Williams and Cynthia Osterman)

4/20/2021 Iran Welcomes Iraqi Mediation With Gulf States – Ambassador
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, before the
beginning of a board of governors meeting, in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said on Tuesday it welcomes Iraqi mediation to help mend its ties with Gulf Arab states, following reports that Saudi and Iranian officials had held discussions in Iraq.
    The remarks by the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad came a day after Iran’s foreign ministry said that Tehran always welcomed dialogue with its arch-rival Saudi Arabia, without confirming that talks had been held.
    Iran and Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties in 2016 and have been engaged in several proxy wars in the region as they vie for influence.
    “The Islamic Republic (of Iran) supports Baghdad’s mediation to bring Tehran closer to countries with which we have faced challenges or with which ties have cooled, and Iraqi officials have been notified of this,” Iraj Masjedi, Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.
    Asked about any progress in talks, Masjedi said: “We have not yet reached clear results and significant progress.    Let us wait for the work to go forward and we can see practical results.”
    A senior Iranian official and two regional sources had told Reuters that Saudi and Iranian officials held discussions in Iraq in a bid to ease tensions as Washington works to revive a 2015 nuclear pact with Tehran and end the Yemen war.
    Saudi authorities have not responded to a Reuters request for comment on the talks.
    Iraqi national security adviser Qasim al-Araji met the Saudi envoy to Baghdad, Abdulaziz al-Shammari, on Tuesday and reviewed the political and security situation in the region and “ways to end the differences in a way that serves the interests of the region’s countries and peoples,” Iraq’s INA state news agency said.
    Sunni power Saudi Arabia had opposed the international nuclear accord with Shi’ite Iran for not tackling Tehran’s missiles programme and regional behaviour.
    It has called for a stronger deal this time around at talks in Vienna aimed at bringing the United States and Iran back into compliance with the pact, which then U.S. President Donald Trump quit in 2018.    Tehran has breached several nuclear restrictions set by the deal after Trump reimposed sanctions.
    President Joe Biden’s administration is also pressing for a ceasefire in Yemen, which is grappling with what the United Nations describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by William Maclean and Peter Graff)

4/21/2021 State Dept. Officials Describe Iran Nuclear Talks As ‘Positive’ by OAN Newsroom
State Department Spokesman Ned Price speaks to reporters during a news briefing at the
State Department, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Washington. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool via AP)
    The Biden administration said negotiations with Iran have been “positive” even as the Islamic Republic inches ever closer to acquiring a nuclear weapon.     This was the assessment shared with reporters by State Department spokesman Ned Price during a Tuesday press briefing.
    Yet, even as the Biden State Department was declaring its confidence in the progress of talks, Iranian officials stated they would consider walking away from negotiations altogether. They warned this would be the case unless the U.S. agreed to unilaterally remove the entirety of Trump-era sanctions on the Islamic Republic.br>     “We think that if the United States decides to distance from (Donald) Trump’s failed legacy and to live up to its commitments, the consultations will advance easily,” stated Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
    My note: I put this image above here since they have found away to keep it from being copied on the above image, so what else are they hiding.
    Many critics of the plan suggest returning to the accords could weaken America’s position in the Middle East and allow Iran to get closer to achieving nuclear weapons.
4/21/2021 Australia Cancels Belt And Road Deals; China Warns Of Further Damage To Ties by Kirsty Needham
FILE PHOTO: Staff members chat as they prepare a seminar of Australia China bilateral cooperation
in resources and infrastructure in West Australia, in Beijing July 23, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia on Wednesday cancelled two deals struck by its state of Victoria with China on Beijing’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative, prompting the Chinese embassy in Canberra to warn that already tense bilateral ties were bound to worsen.
    Under a new process in Australia, Foreign Minister Marise Payne has the power to review deals reached with other nations by the country’s states and universities.
    Payne said she had decided to cancel four deals, including two that Victoria agreed with China, in 2018 and 2019, on cooperation with the Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature trade and infrastructure scheme.
    “I consider these four arrangements to be inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy or adverse to our foreign relations,” she said in a statement.
    China’s embassy in Australia voiced its “strong displeasure and resolute opposition” to the cancellations late on Wednesday.
    “This is another unreasonable and provocative move taken by the Australian side against China,” the embassy said in a statement.    “It further shows that the Australian government has no sincerity in improving China-Australia relations.”
    Bilateral ties were strained in 2018 when Australia became the first country to publicly ban Chinese tech giant Huawei from its 5G network.    Relations worsened last year when Canberra called for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak.
    Australia’s latest move “is bound to bring further damage to bilateral relations, and will only end up hurting itself,” the Chinese embassy said.
    Australia’s federal parliament granted the veto power over foreign deals by states in December amid the deepening diplomatic spat with China, which has imposed a series of trade sanctions on Australian exports ranging from wine to coal.
    Liberal Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull had declined to agree to a country-level MOU with China on the Belt and Road Initiative.
    But Victoria’s Labor state premier Dan Andrews signed agreements with China’s National Development and Reform Commission to promote the initiative in 2018 and 2019.
    Some countries fear the lending the Belt and Road scheme entails could lead to unsustainable debt levels in developing nations, including the Pacific islands region.
    Morrison’s government has denied that its new veto power is aimed at China, Australia’s largest trading partner and biggest source of overseas universities students before the pandemic led the country to close its borders.
    Payne said states, local governments and publicly funded universities had notified her of more than 1,000 foreign deals overall.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; additional reporting by Colin Qian and Tom Daly; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Hugh Lawson)

4/21/2021 Australia Severs Regional ‘Belt & Road’ Deals With China, FM Payne Says Deals With Beijing Inconsistent With Australia’s Foreign Policy by OAN Newsroom
Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne during a press conference in the Prime Ministers Courtyard
at Parliament House on March 17, 2021 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Sam Mooy/Getty Images)
    Australia has ceased all economic partnerships with Mainland China under its Belt and Road Initiative due to risks of political pressure by Beijing.
    “If China comes knocking and says: ‘Hey, by the way, there’s all this money here you can use for infrastructure.    Oh, no problem, don’t worry about it,'” Caleb Bond, political analyst for ‘The Advertiser – Australia,’ stated.    “Pull the other one.    They’re not doing this out of goodwill.”
    The decision by Australia’s central government came in response to the state of Victoria joining Belt and Road several years ago.    The deals were inked by Victorian officials back in 2004 and 2018, but Foreign Minister Marise Payne said those accords are now inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy and are void.
    “China has been going around basically buying different islands,” Bond added.    “They offer loads of money to islands in the South Pacific.    They take the money, they spend it on whatever it is they want to build.    They then default.    They can’t pay the money back, China sweeps in and takes the island.    It’s as simple as that or they call them in for favors, whatever is beneficial at the time.    And it would be no different with Victoria.”
    Foreign Minister Payne also said Australia holds China responsible for the spread of COVID-19 and is continuing the probe into the origins of the virus.

4/21/2021 U.S. Says Iran Support To Yemen’s Houthis ‘Significant, Lethal’
FILE PHOTO: A Yemeni government fighter fires a vehicle-mounted weapon at a frontline position during
fighting against Houthi fighters in Marib, Yemen March 9, 2021. REUTERS/Ali Owidha
    (Reuters) – Iran’s support for Yemen’s Houthi movement is “quite significant and it’s lethal” and there is no real evidence that Tehran wants to support a constructive resolution to the conflict, U.S. special envoy on Yemen Tim Lenderking told U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday.
    “We would welcome Iran playing a constructive role, if they are willing to do so,” Lenderking said.    “We have not seen any indication of that.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Jonathan Landay)
[I HAVE NOT HEARD ANY NEWS LATELY FROM THE ABRAHAM ACCORD NATIONS WHO WOULD MOST LIKELY PROTECT YEMEN FROM IRAN SO IT PROBABLY WILL NOT HAPPEN IF THEIR INTEREST IS TO KILL YEMEN CITIZENS JUST TO GET A NEW POSITION TO ATTACK ISRAEL WHICH THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION HAS NO INTEREST IN THAT.].

4/22/2021 China Lashes Out Over Bipartisan Bill Condemning Beijing’s Abuses by OAN Newsroom
Flag of the Chinese Communist Party (WANG ZHAO/AFP via Getty Images)
    China has lashed out at a bipartisan effort in Congress to hold Beijing to task over its disregard for international norms, continuous attacks on human rights and attempts at establishing itself as the dominant force in global politics.
    Chinese Communist Party officials reacted quickly to the news the Strategic Competition Act had gained overwhelming bipartisan support.    It was approved in a 21-to-one vote during a Wednesday session of the Senate Foreign Policy Committee and has headed to the Senate floor for chamber-wide consideration.
    “The bill seriously distorts the facts, confuses right and wrong, plays up the ‘China threat theory,’ advocates the U.S. to carry out comprehensive strategic competition with China and grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs,” Wang Wenbin, spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, claimed.    “It is fraught with outdated Cold War mentality and zero-sum thinking and reflects the hegemonic mentality and self-supremacy of the U.S. that does not allow normal development of other countries.”
    The 280-page bill, authored jointly by the top Democrat and Republican in the Committee — Senators Bob Menendez and Jim Risch respectively — covers a wide range of issues related to the U.S. response to China.    These issues include increased spending on strategic military projects, calling for a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics by U.S. officials, and punishing China’s mistreatment of ethnic and religious minorities through increased sanctions.
    China has claimed the bill is fraught with falsehoods, particularly concerning its treatment of ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang province, where Beijing has carried out a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing that led to the U.S. State Department — then-headed by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — to officially accuse the country of genocide in January of 2021.
    Yet even as CCP officials were accusing U.S. lawmakers of spreading misinformation about the regime’s activities, “CTGN,” a channel under direct control by the Chinese Communist Party, was busy blaming Uyghurs for their own mistreatment by suggesting repression was appropriate due to the ethnic group “lacking the mental sophistication” to accept communist rule.
    “At that time, the people of Xinjiang were not immunized against such ideological infiltration, so they did not have the ability to resist it, nor were they mentally prepared for it,” Kamalet Law Firm Attorney Mijit Litip stated.    “The kind of blind worship of whatever was foreign, coupled with a lack of sophistication, made them very susceptible to such extremist thoughts.”
    Nevertheless, representatives of China’s communist regime were intent on flipping the script on America by claiming it is not China, but rather the U.S. that has been the source of global conflict.
    “This kind of twisted and narrow mindset doesn’t fit the mold of a great global power,” the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said. “I will reiterate that China is willing to form a relationship with the U.S. without confrontation or conflict, with mutual respect and win-win cooperation.”
    The attempt by Chinese authorities to paint themselves as open to international cooperation, contrasted against their portrayal of the U.S. as an unjustifiable aggressor, however, is belied by Beijing’s own state media.
    Indeed, another communist party-controlled outlet, the “Global Times,” actually celebrated U.S. opposition in its coverage of the bill.    They argued the fact America condemns Beijing’s actions “just proves that China is developing on the right path.”

4/22/2021 U.S. Centcom Chief: Afghan Forces May Collapse After U.S. Pullout, Says Pentagon May Need Additional Resources To Withdraw U.S. Troops by OAN Newsroom
General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., US Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander. (Photo by MAZEN MAHDI/AFP via Getty Images)
    A top military official disagreed with Joe Biden’s assessments of the upcoming withdrawal from Afghanistan.    On Thursday, Central Command Chief Gen. Frank McKenzie spoke in Congress and said the U.S. military would have to respond to possible attacks by the Taliban, despite the withdrawal.
    The General added, the Pentagon would require more money to actually pull out U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
    This came after Biden pushed back President Trump’s withdrawal deadline from May 1 to mid-September of 2021.
    McKenzie also said the Afghan military may collapse after U.S. troops leave.
    “It is a matter of very much great concern to me, and I think everyone, whether or not the future government of Afghanistan is going to be able to do that after we leave,” Gen. Frank McKenzie noted.    “That will be determined here over the next few weeks as we begin our drawdown and we evaluate the security platforms.”
    McKenzie went on to say, U.S. regional partners, such as Pakistan, have not been particularly helpful over the past 20 years as political tensions and Islamic terror continue to simmer.

4/22/2021 Iran Cuts Number Of Centrifuges Enriching Uranium To 60% Purity, IAEA Report Says by Francois Murphy
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has reduced the number of centrifuges enriching uranium to up to 60% purity at an above-ground plant at Natanz to one cluster from two, a report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog seen by Reuters indicated on Thursday.
    Iran announced the shift to 60%, a big step towards weapons-grade from the 20% it had previously achieved, in response to an explosion and power cut at Natanz last week that Tehran has blamed on Israel.
    Iran’s move complicated the current indirect talks with the United States on rescuing its nuclear deal with major powers.    Washington pulled out and reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 under President Donald Trump; Iran responded as of 2019 by breaching the deal’s restrictions on its nuclear activities.
    “On 21 April 2021, the Agency verified that Iran had changed the mode by which it was producing UF6 enriched up to 60% U-235 at PFEP,” the report said, referring to the above-ground Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz and to uranium hexafluoride, the form in which uranium is fed into centrifuges for enrichment.
    Iran was now using one cascade, or cluster, of IR-6 centrifuges to enrich to up to 60% and feeding the tails, or depleted uranium, from that process into a cascade of IR-4 machines to enrich to up to 20%, the report said.    The IR-4 cascade was previously being used to enrich to up to 60%.
    The International Atomic Energy Agency report did not say why Iran had made the change or say how many centrifuges are in each cascade.    A previous report in February said there were 119 centrifuges in the IR-4 cascade and 133 in the IR-6 one.
    The deal lets Iran produce enriched uranium but only at an underground plant at Natanz and only with first-generation IR-1 machines, which are far less efficient.    It also caps the purity to which Iran can enrich uranium at 3.67%.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Chris Reese, Marguerita Choy and Barbara Lewis)

4/22/2021 U.S. Lawmakers Intensify Bipartisan Efforts To Counter China by Patricia Zengerle and Michael Martina
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and U.S. flags flutter outside the building of an American company
in Beijing, China January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A bipartisan U.S. congressional push to counteract China picked up steam on Wednesday as a Senate committee overwhelmingly backed a bill pressing Beijing on human rights and economic competition, while other lawmakers introduced a measure seeking billions for technology research.
    The Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed the “Strategic Competition Act of 2021” by 21-1, sending the bill for consideration by the 100-member Senate, even as committee members voiced a need to do even more to counteract Beijing.
    The committee added dozens of amendments to the bill. One would force a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics by U.S. officials, not athletes, which was also recommended by the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom.
    Separately, a group of Senate and House of Representatives lawmakers introduced the “Endless Frontier Act,” calling for $100 billion over five years for basic and advanced technology research and $10 billion to create new “technology hubs” across the country.
    Both bills have strong support from both political parties and are expected to become law.    The desire for a hard line in dealings with China is one of the few truly bipartisan sentiments in the deeply divided U.S. Congress, which is narrowly controlled by President Joe Biden’s fellow Democrats.
    The Biden administration supports the measures.
    “With this overwhelming bipartisan vote, the Strategic Competition Act becomes the first of what we hope will be a cascade of legislative activity for our nation to finally meet the China challenge across every dimension of power, political, diplomatic, economic, innovation, military and even cultural,” said Senator Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate panel.
    He and Senator Jim Risch, the panel’s top Republican, wrote the “Strategic Competition” measure together, with Risch saying it was “truly bipartisan.”
    The legislation was greeted with anger in Beijing.<
    “It distorts facts and confuses right and wrong,” said Wang Wenbin, a spokesman at the Chinese foreign ministry.
    “It hypes up the China threat theory and talks about full strategic competition with China.    It grossly interferes with China’s affairs and reeks of Cold War and zero sum mentalities.”
HUMAN RIGHTS AND MILITARY SPENDING
    The 280-page Senate bill addresses competition with China through efforts such as increasing international development funding and working with allied countries and international organizations.    It pushes humanitarian and democratic values, like imposing sanctions over the treatment of the minority Muslim Uighurs and supporting democracy in Hong Kong. [L1N2M113C]
    The bill stresses the need to “prioritize the military investments necessary to achieve United States political objectives in the Indo-Pacific.”    It backs steep increases in security-related funding for the region and closer ties with Taiwan.
    It would expand the scope of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which scrutinizes financial transactions for potential national security risks. U.S. universities are concerned about a provision of the bill requiring CFIUS to review some Chinese grants and contracts.
    The Strategic Competition and Endless Frontier acts are part of a fast-track effort announced in February by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to pass a wide range of legislation to counter China. Schumer is a lead sponsor of the Endless Frontier bill.
    Foreign Relations committee members said they want to do more.
    “I don’t believe anyone would think that this legislation is going to change China’s march toward a global hegemony of autocracy and repression,” Republican Senator Mitt Romney said.    “…I would suggest we have a lot more work to do.”
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Howard Goller, Sonya Hepinstall and Kim Coghill)

4/22/2021 China Rebukes Australia For “Cold War Mentality” After Belt And Road Accords Cancelled by Kirsty Needham
FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrives at Haneda airport in Tokyo, Japan, November 17, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia said on Thursday that it cancelled two accords between Victoria state and China on the Belt and Road Initiative because they were out of line with the federal government’s foreign policy, which sees a “free and open Indo Pacific” as a key goal.
    A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman responded by urging Australia to abandon its “Cold War mentality and ideological bias” and “immediately correct its mistakes and change course
    The Chinese embassy earlier criticised the move by Foreign Minister Marise Payne to veto two agreements signed by Victoria state as “provocative” and said it would further damage ties.
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters on Thursday the accords were cancelled because his federal government didn’t want other levels of government to enter into agreements that conflict with Australia’s foreign policy.
    “We will always act in Australia’s national interest to protect Australia, but to also ensure we can advance our national interest in a free and open Indo     Pacific and a world that seeks a balance in favour of freedom,” he said.
    Under a new process, states must consult with the foreign minister before signing agreements with other nations.
    Payne earlier told local radio the policy was “not aimed at any one country.”    Wang Wenbin, a spokesman at the Chinese foreign ministry, expressed doubt over that claim during a regular news conference in Beijing.
    “The Australian side reviewed more than 1,000 deals and only decided to cancel four, and two of them were agreements with China, so Australia’s claim that the decision doesn’t target any particular country does not hold water,” Wang said.
    The spokesman warned Australia against travelling “further down the wrong path to avoid making the already strained China-Australia relations worse.”
    Speaking to reporters in New Zealand after meeting with her counterpart Nanaia Mahuta, Payne said Australia sought a clear-eyed and practical engagement with China, particularly as the world emerged from COVID-19.
    “We also have to acknowledge that China’s outlook, the nature of China’s external engagement, both in our region and globally, has changed in recent years, and an enduring partnership requires us to adapt to those new realities,” she said.
    China is the largest trading partner of New Zealand and Australia.
    Mahuta on Thursday repeated comments that New Zealand valued the Five Eyes security alliance – which also includes Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States – but questioned whether it was the right platform for New Zealand to speak out on human rights issues.
    The comment, first made on Monday, has been widely interpreted as referring to recent Five Eyes joint statements criticising China.
    In a joint written statement that did not mention China, Payne and Mahuta said they had “reaffirmed their intent to work together to preserve the liberal international order that has underpinned stability and prosperity in the region, and to foster a sustainable regional balance where all countries- large and small – can freely pursue their legitimate interests.”
    Australia’s conservative coalition government had declined to agree to a country-level MOU with China on the Belt and Road Initiative.    But Victoria Labor Premier Dan Andrews signed an MOU to promote the infrastructure development initiative in 2018 and a framework agreement in 2019, saying it would bring Chinese investment to his state.
    Hans Hendrischke from the University of Sydney Business School said the cancellation of the agreements would have minimal commercial impact because no projects had begun.
    “It had no legal force and there were no specific deals,” he told Reuters.
    Diplomatic relations between Australia and China have worsened since Canberra called for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, prompting trade reprisals from Beijing.
    Fitch Ratings said economic co-dependencies between Australia and China will restrain Beijing from targeting major exports such as iron ore.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Stephen Coates & Simon Cameron-Moore)

4/24/2021 DOD: More Troops Will Be Deployed To Afghanistan Before Sept. 11 by OAN Newsroom
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
    The Pentagon has released new logistical details regarding the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.    On Friday, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had approved additional support to aid the withdrawal movement, which is slated to conclude by September 11.
    “He has approved some additional measures today,” Kirby said.    “He has approved the extension of the USS Eisenhower to remain in the Central Command area of responsibility for a period of time. And he has approved the addition of some long-range bombers to be deployed to the region.”
    However, it isn’t just air and sea support that will be in the region.    Kirby revealed that before the men and women serving abroad can return home, more troops will be deployed in the meantime.
    “It’s entirely possible that there will be a temporary increase of some ground forces and enablers, not just for force protection, but also for logistical and engineering support that will have to go into Afghanistan to help us make sure this drawdown gets done on the timeline and in a safe, orderly way,” the Defense Press Secretary stated.
    Sending in the cavalry isn’t surprising as concerns have been raised that once the U.S. misses the original May 1 withdrawal deadline, the Taliban may launch a new campaign of violence.
    U.S. CENTCOM Commander General Frank McKenzie explained the scenario was a serious threat the administration was aware of, and yet, would be moving ahead with a later withdrawal.
    “We are planning collaboratively with our interagency and their international measures and will take all measures to ensure the safe and orderly withdrawal of all of our forces and those of our partners,” Gen. McKenzie said.    “This includes positioning significant combat power to guard against the possibility that the Taliban decide to interfere in any way with our orderly redeployment.”
    Attacks initially slowed after President Trump negotiated a temporary peace deal with the Taliban in February of 2020, but since Biden took office there has been little evidence to support the idea that the Taliban will abide by any terms of peace.
    While Biden has taken credit for ending the two-decades-long conflict, McKenzie said that the end being celebrated wasn’t exactly what it seemed as forces would be leaving Afghanistan, but may not be returning home.
    “Additionally, although we are going to pull out of Afghanistan, I’m operating under the concept that for U.S. military presence, zero is going to be zero,” McKenzie continued.    “We will have architecture in the theater that will allow us to look into Afghanistan.    It will not give us the same picture that we’ve got now.    It will allow us to see in.    The ranges will be greater, the resources will be greater, the risks will all be greater.”
    With the apparent repositioning of troops in Afghanistan underway, the question remains: When will those men and women return home for good?

4/28/2021 GOP Lawmakers Request IG Probe Into Kerry-Iran Ties by OAN Newsroom
Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
    A group of House Republicans demanded a federal investigation into Climate Envoy John Kerry over his ties to Iran.    On Wednesday, Reps. Andy Barr (R-Ky.), Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) and Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) sent a letter to acting State Department Inspector General Diana Shaw.
    The representatives requested a probe into reports that said Kerry was giving out Israeli military secrets to Iran and taking other actions to undermine President Trump.
    Letter to acting State Department Inspector General Diana Shaw
Letter to acting State Department Inspector General Diana Shaw     In the letter, the lawmakers ask what role Kerry had in creating the Iran Nuclear Deal under President Obama.
    The lawmakers also want the Inspector General to determine if Kerry’s actions resulted in Iranian attacks on Israel and if he caused any deaths among U.S. allies.

4/30/2021 Indirect Talks On Iran Nuclear Deal In ‘Unclear Place’: U.S. National Security Adviser by Jonathan Landay and Michael Martina
FILE PHOTO: White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan delivers remarks during a press briefing
inside the White House in Washington, U.S., February 4, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Indirect negotiations between the United States and Iran on a return to compliance to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are in “an unclear place,” U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Friday.
    Sullivan’s comments followed the start this week of a third round of the talks in Vienna in which representatives of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and European Union shuttle between U.S. and Iranian delegations.
    “I’m not going to characterize the substance of the negotiations at this point because they are in … an unclear place,” Sullivan told an Aspen Security Forum webinar.    “We’ve seen willingness of all sides, including the Iranians, to talk seriously about sanctions relief restrictions and a pathway back into the JCPOA.”    The acronym refers to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear deal’s title.
    “But it is still uncertain as to whether this will culminate in a deal in Vienna,” he said.
    The agreement limited Iran’s nuclear program to block the development of nuclear weapons.    In return, Iran received relief from U.S. and international sanctions.
    Former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord in 2018, reimposing and adding U.S. sanctions.    In response, Tehran began breaching JCPOA restrictions.
    President Joe Biden has pledged to return to the deal.    Iran refused direct talks on resuming compliance in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions.
    Sullivan was asked whether the Iranians are negotiating in good faith.
    “I guess good faith is always in the eye of the beholder,” he said.    “The Iranians have come in a serious way to have serious discussions about details and the teams are working through those details now.”
    The main differences are over what U.S. sanctions will need to end, the steps Iran must take to resume its obligations to restrict its nuclear program and how to sequence the process.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Michael Martina; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

5/3/2021 Blinken Says China Acting ‘More Aggressively Abroad’: ’60 Minutes’ Interview by David Shepardson
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken participates in a virtual bilateral meeting with Kenya's President
Uhuru Kenyatta during a videoconference at the State Department in Washington, U.S., April 27, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis/Pool
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview that aired on Sunday that China had recently acted “more aggressively abroad” and was behaving “increasingly in adversarial ways.”
    Asked by CBS News’ “60 Minutes” if Washington was heading toward a military confrontation with Beijing, Blinken said: “It’s profoundly against the interests of both China and the United States to, to get to that point, or even to head in that direction.”
    He added: “What we’ve witnessed over the last several years is China acting more repressively at home and more aggressively abroad.    That is a fact.”
    Asked about the reported theft of hundreds of billions of dollars or more in U.S. trade secrets and intellectual property by China, Blinken said the Biden administration had “real concerns” about the IP issue.
    He said it sounded like the actions “of someone who’s trying to compete unfairly and increasingly in adversarial ways.    But we’re much more effective and stronger when we’re bringing like-minded and similarly aggrieved countries together to say to Beijing: ‘This can’t stand and it won’t stand.'”
    The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond on Sunday to a request for comment on Blinken’s interview.
    On Friday, President Joe Biden’s administration said China had fallen short on its commitments to protect American intellectual property in the “Phase 1” U.S.-China trade deal signed last year.
    The commitments were part of the sweeping deal between former President Donald Trump’s administration and Beijing, which included regulatory changes on agricultural biotechnology and commitments to purchase some $200 billion in U.S. exports over two years.
    Blinken arrived in London on Sunday for a G7 foreign ministers meeting where China is one of the issues on the agenda.
    In the interview, Blinken said the United States was not aiming to “contain China” but to “uphold this rules-based order – that China is posing a challenge to.    Anyone who poses a challenge to that order, we’re going to stand up and – and defend it.”
    Biden has identified competition with China as his administration’s greatest foreign policy challenge.    In his first speech to Congress last Wednesday, he pledged to maintain a strong U.S. military presence in the Indo-Pacific and to boost U.S. technological development.
    Blinken said he speaks to Biden “pretty close to daily.”
    Last month, Blinken said the United States was concerned about China’s aggressive actions against Taiwan and warned it would be a “serious mistake” for anyone to try to change the status quo in the western Pacific by force.
    The United States has a long-standing commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to ensure that self-governing Taiwan has the ability to defend itself and to sustain peace and security in the western Pacific, Blinken said.
    Taiwan has complained over the past few months of repeated missions by China’s air force near the island, which China claims as its own.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Peter Cooney)

5/7/2021 U.S. Ready To Lift Many Sanctions But Iran Says It Wants More
FILE PHOTO: Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, attends a meeting of the JCPOA Joint
Commission in Vienna, Austria, September 1, 2020. European Commission EbS - EEAS/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) -The United States has expressed its readiness to lift many of its sanctions on Iran at the Vienna nuclear talks but Tehran is demanding more, top Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi told state media on Friday.
    “The information transferred to us from the U.S. side is that they are also serious on returning to the nuclear deal and they have so far declared their readiness to lift a great part of their sanctions,” Araqchi told state TV.
    “But this is not adequate from our point of view and therefore the discussions will continue until we get to all our demands,” Araqchi said as indirect talks were scheduled to resume on Friday in the Austrian capital.
    In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden said he believed Iran was seriously engaging in the talks but it was unclear what Tehran was actually prepared to do for both sides to resume compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
    Asked at the White House if he thought Tehran was serious about talks, Biden replied: “Yes, but how serious, and what they are prepared to do is a different story.    But we’re still talking.”
    U.S. officials have returned to Vienna for a fourth round of indirect talks with Iran on how to resume compliance with the deal, which former President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, prompting Iran to begin violating its terms about a year later.
    The crux of the agreement was that Iran committed to rein in its nuclear program to make it harder to obtain the fissile material for a nuclear weapon in return for relief from U.S., EU and U.N. sanctions.
    Tehran denies having nuclear weapons ambitions.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom and by Steve Holland, Susan Heavey and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Grant McCool)

5/7/2021 Exclusive-Saudi Arabia Wants To See “Verifiable Deeds” From Talks With Iran, Says Official by Ghaida Ghantous
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – A Saudi foreign ministry official said on Friday that talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran aim to reduce regional tensions, but added it was too early to judge the outcome and Riyadh wanted to see “verifiable deeds.”
    The comments by Ambassador Rayed Krimly, head of policy planning at the ministry, were the first public confirmation from Riyadh that the rivals – who severed ties in 2016 – were holding direct talks.
    “As to current Saudi-Iranian talks they aim to explore ways to reduce tensions in the region,” Krimly told Reuters.
    “We hope they prove successful, but it is too early, and premature, to reach any definitive conclusions.    Our evaluation will be based on verifiable deeds, and not proclamations.”
    He declined to provide details on the talks, but regional officials and sources had told Reuters that the discussions were focused on Yemen and the 2015 nuclear deal between global powers and Iran, which Riyadh had opposed.
    Iraq’s president said on Wednesday that Baghdad hosted more than one round of talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, who have been locked in a rivalry that has played out in proxy conflicts across the region, including Yemen.
    Krimly said Saudi policy had been explained “very clearly” by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who last month said that while the Sunni Muslim kingdom has a problem with Tehran’s “negative behaviour” it wanted good relations with Shi’ite Iran.
YEMEN WAR
    Tensions between Riyadh and Tehran have festered over the Yemen war, where an Iran-aligned Houthi group has increased attacks on Saudi Arabia. Strains between the two Gulf powerhouses also grew after a 2019 assault on Saudi oil plants that Riyadh blamed on Iran, a charge Tehran denies.
    Riyadh supported former U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision in 2018 to quit the nuclear pact for not addressing Tehran’s missiles programme and regional behaviour.    After Trump re-imposed sanctions on Iran, Tehran responded by breaching several nuclear restrictions.
    Global powers are trying at talks in Vienna to bring the United States and Iran back into full compliance with the deal. Saudi Arabia has urged them to reach a stronger accord.
    Riyadh and Tehran have also backed opposing sides in Lebanon and Syria, where Iran has supported President Bashar al-Assad.
    Gulf states have been alarmed by the rising influence of non-Arab Iran, Russia and Turkey in Syria, especially after Syria’s membership of the Arab League was suspended in 2011 over its crackdown on protesters at the start of the civil war.
    Krimly said recent media reports that the head of Saudi intelligence had held talks in Damascus were inaccurate.
    He said Saudi policy towards Syria remained based on support for the Syrian people, for a political solution under a United Nations umbrella and in accordance with Security Council resolutions, and for the unity and Arab identity of Syria. (Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Catherine Evans and Alex Richardson)

5/10/2021 Denmark Draws China Ire For Inviting Taiwan Leader To Speak At ‘Democracy Summit’ by Nikolaj Skydsgaard
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen and others pose for photos in front of the newly launched
coast guard flagship Chiayi in Kaohsiung, Taiwan April 29, 2021. REUTERS/Yimou Lee
    COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Denmark’s foreign minister defended democratic values alongside Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Monday, drawing criticism from China which considers fiercely democratic, self-ruled Taiwan its “sacred” territory.
    China has never renounced the use of force to ensure eventual unification with Taiwan, an island it views as a breakaway province.    Denmark and all but a handful of countries recognise Beijing over Taipei as part of Beijing’s “one China” policy.
    In recent months, China has also stepped up military activities near Taiwan.
    Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod, who said he was preparing a new “value-based” foreign policy and security strategy, denounced as “deplorable” recent sanctions imposed by China against the EU.
    “We need to stand firmer, respond faster and stronger, when universal values like human rights and freedom of speech are under pressure,” Kofod said at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit.
    The European Union had imposed sanctions on Chinese officials suspected of human rights abuses against Muslim Uyghurs in farwestern Xinjiang, a charge Beijing denies.
    Danish-Chinese relations have improved significantly since 2009, when former state head Lars Lokke Rasmussen met the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, but the Danish government recently drew criticism from parliament for being too passive about Chinese interference in the former British colony of Hong Kong.
    China brands the Dalai Lama a dangerous “splittist,” or separatist, and denies Western charges of trying to erase freedoms in Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    “We walked a long road to realize the freedoms we enjoy today and we are determined never to surrender these freedoms,” Tsai said during her video speech.
    The Chinese embassy in Denmark criticized the event on Monday, saying “anti-China” activities by foreign forces and separatists to promote independence for Taiwan and Hong Kong were “bound to fail.”
    Inviting Tsai and Hong Kong democracy activist Nathan Law to the summit violated “the one-China principle and interferes in China’s internal affairs,” the embassy said in an emailed statement to Reuters.
    Among those hit by China’ sanctions was the organiser of the summit, the non-profit Alliance for Democracies Foundation, which was founded by ex-NATO Secretary General and former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
    Other speakers at the event included Belarussian opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.
(Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard; Editing by Nick Macfie)
[GOOD JOB DENMARK FOR PISSING OFF CHINA SINCE OUR JOE BIDEN IS STILL KISSNG THEIR ASS.].

5/10/2021 EU Prepares New Round Of Belarus Sanctions From June, Diplomats Say by Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko attends the Roundtable Summit Phase One Sessions of Belt and Road Forum
at the International Conference Center in Yanqi Lake on May 15, 2017 in Beijing, China. REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union is readying a fourth round of sanctions against senior Belarus officials in response to last year’s contested presidential election and could target as many as 50 people from June, four diplomats said.
    Along with the United States, Britain and Canada, the EU has already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on almost 90 officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko, following an August election which opponents and the West say was rigged.
    Despite a months-long crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by Lukashenko, the EU’s response has been narrower than during a previous period of sanctions between 2004 and 2015, when more than 200 people were blacklisted.
    The crisis has pushed 66-year-old Lukashenko back towards traditional ally Russia, which along with Ukraine and NATO member states Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, borders Belarus.
    Some Western diplomats say Moscow regards Belarus as a buffer zone against NATO and has propped up Lukashenko with loans and an offer of military support.
    Poland and Lithuania, where opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya fled to after the election she says she won, have led the push for more sanctions amid frustration that the measures imposed so far have had little effect.
    EU foreign ministers discussed Belarus on Monday and diplomats said many more of the bloc’s 27 members now supported further sanctions, but that Brussels needed to gather sufficient evidence to provide legally solid listings.
    “We are working on the next sanctions package, which I hope will be adopted in the coming weeks,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting.
    The EU has sought to promote democracy and develop a market economy in Belarus, but, along with the United States, alleges that Lukashenko has remained in power by holding fraudulent elections, jailing opponents and muzzling the media.
    Lukashenko, who along with Russia says the West is meddling in Belarus’ internal affairs, has sought to deflect the condemnation by imposing countersanctions on the EU and banning some EU officials from entering the country.
    “The fourth package (of sanctions) is likely to come in groups (of individuals), but it will be a sizeable package,” one EU diplomat told Reuters.
    More details were not immediately available.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels, additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin, editing by Alexander Smith)
[WITH THE EU AFTER HIM LUKASHENKO WENT TO CHINA TO GET HELP FROM THE BELT AND ROAD.].

5/10/2021 EU’s Borrell Says Iran Nuclear Talks Moving To Crucial Stage
FILE PHOTO: European High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell speaks during a meeting via video conference
with EU foreign ministers at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium April 19, 2021. Francois Walschaerts/Pool via REUTERS
(Refiles to correct spelling of Borrell in headline)
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Negotiations in Vienna between world powers and Iran are moving into a crucial stage and the next few weeks will be critical to saving their 2015 nuclear deal, the European Union’s top diplomat said on Monday.
    U.S. officials returned to Vienna last week for a fourth round of indirect talks with Iran on how to resume compliance with the deal, which former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, prompting Iran to begin violating its limits on uranium enrichment about a year later.
    “I am optimistic, there is a window of opportunity that will stay open for a couple of weeks, (until) end of the month,” EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, who is chairing the talks, told a news conference in Brussels.
    “But a lot of work is needed, time is limited and I hope that the negotiations will enter into a phase of nonstop (talks) in Vienna,” he said following a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
    The crux of the 2015 agreement was that Iran committed to rein in its uranium enrichment program to make it harder to obtain the fissile material for a nuclear weapon, in return for relief from U.S., EU and U.N. sanctions.
    Tehran denies having nuclear weapons ambitions.
    German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas described the negotiations as tough and laborious, but added that all participants were conducting them in a constructive atmosphere.
    “However, time is running out. We aim for the full restoration of the Iran nuclear deal as this is the only way to guarantee that Iran will not be able to come into possession of nuclear weapons,” Maas said in Brussels.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott and Sabine Siebold; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
[ITS KIND OF LIKE THE FOX SAYING IT WILL NOT ATTACK THE CHICKENS IN THE HEN HOUSE BUT THEN DOES IT ANYWAY.].

5/11/2021 Iran Has Enriched Uranium To Up To 63% Purity, IAEA Says by Francois Murphy
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) - “Fluctuations” at Iran’s Natanz plant pushed the purity to which it enriched uranium to 63%, higher than the announced 60% that complicated talks to revive its nuclear deal with world powers, a report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Tuesday.
    Iran made the shift to 60%, a big step towards nuclear weapons-grade from the 20% previously achieved, last month in response to an explosion and power cut at Natanz that Tehran has blamed on Israel and appears to have damaged its enrichment output at a larger, underground facility there.
    Iran’s move rattled the current indirect talks with the United States to agree conditions for both sides to return fully to the 2015 nuclear deal, which was undermined when Washington abandoned it in 2018, prompting Tehran to violate its terms.
    The deal says Iran cannot enrich beyond 3.67% fissile purity, far from the 90% of weapons-grade.    Iran has long denied any intention to develop nuclear weapons.
    “According to Iran, fluctuations of the enrichment levels… were experienced,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in the confidential report to its member states, seen by Reuters.
    “The agency’s analysis of the ES (environmental samples) taken on 22 April 2021 shows an enrichment level of up to 63% U-235, which is consistent with the fluctuations of the enrichment levels (described by Iran),” it added, without saying why the fluctuations had occurred.
    A previous IAEA report last month said Iran was using one cascade, or cluster, of advanced IR-6 centrifuge machines to enrich to up to 60% and feeding the tails, or depleted uranium, from that process into a cascade of IR-4 machines to enrich to up to 20%.
    Tuesday’s report said the Islamic Republic was now feeding the tails from the IR-4 cascade into a cascade of 27 IR-5 and 30 IR-6s centrifuges to refine uranium to up to 5%.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/11/2021 In Iran Talks, France Sees Progress On Nuclear Aspects, But Time Short
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    PARIS (Reuters) -France said on Tuesday that there had been some progress in negotiations related to Iran’s compliance on nuclear issues, but warned that there remained a lot still to do within a short time frame if efforts to revive a 2015 accord were to succeed.
    Talks resumed in Vienna on May 7 with the remaining parties to the deal – Iran, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – meeting in the basement of a luxury hotel, and the United States based in another hotel across the street.
    Iran has refused to hold direct meetings with the United States on how to resume compliance with the deal, which former President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, prompting Iran to begin violating its terms about a year later.
    “The discussions that resumed on May 7 in Vienna have led to some initial progress on the nuclear issue,” France’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters without elaborating.
    “Nevertheless, major disagreements remain on some key points that must be ironed out in order to reach an agreement providing for the return of Iran and the United States and their full implementation of the JCPoA. There is still a lot to do, within very tight deadlines.”
    The crux of the agreement was that Iran committed to rein in its nuclear programme to make it harder to obtain the fissile material for a nuclear weapon in return for relief from U.S., EU and U.N. sanctions.
    Officials have said they hope to reach a deal by May 21, when an agreement between Tehran and the U.N. nuclear watchdog on continued monitoring of some Iranian nuclear activities is due to expire.
    Diplomats have said they believe there had been sufficient progress in the Vienna talks that an extension of the monitoring accord between Tehran and the U.N. agency was likely even if the modalities would still need to be worked out.
    “If an agreement on Iran’s resumption of its commitments is not reached before the expiration of the bilateral technical arrangement between Iran and the Agency, they will have to agree on its extension,” Von der Muhll said.
(Reporting by John Irish;Editing by GV De Clercq, William Maclean)

5/20/2021 Iran’s Rouhani Says U.S. Will Lift Sanctions, As Another Official Denies It
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a session
of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council In Yerevan, Armenia October 1, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s president said on Thursday that the United States was ready to lift sanctions on his country’s oil, banking and shipping sectors that were reimposed after former U.S. President Donald Trump exited a 2015 nuclear deal three years ago.
    Iran and world powers have been in talks since April on reviving the deal and the EU official leading the discussions said on Wednesday he was confident a deal would be reached.
    But European diplomats said success was not guaranteed and very difficult issues remained, while a senior Iranian official contradicted the president.
    “The talks in Vienna are about minor issues.    They have accepted to lift sanctions on Iran’s oil and shipping sectors as well as sanctions on the Central Bank and others,” President Hassan Rouhani said during a televised cabinet meeting.
    Rouhani was speaking a few weeks ahead of Iran’s presidential election, in which the revival of the nuclear accord could boost moderate candidates close to him.
    Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, prompting Iran to steadily overstep the accord’s limits on its nuclear programme designed to make it harder to develop an atomic bomb – an ambition Tehran denies.
    Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi said on Wednesday that some “key issues” needed to be discussed further.
    And a senior Iranian official told the country’s Press TV that Washington had no intention to “completely lift any sanctions on the oil, banking, finance and energy sectors.”
    “Washington intends to temporarily suspend some of the sanctions over a long period of time and in various steps,” said the official, who was not identified by the station run by hardliners and which is close to the Revolutionary Guards.
    Oil prices were on course for a third day of losses on Thursday after diplomats said progress was made towards a deal to lift sanctions on Iran, which could boost crude supply.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Giles Elgood)

5/21/2021 CCP-Linked Professor Admits COVID-19 Was Biological War Against U.S. by OAN Newsroom
In this picture taken on December 18, 2019, a Fudan University sign is seen on the campus
in Shanghai. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
    A top Chinese scholar has reportedly admitted that the coronavirus outbreak was an act of biological warfare against the U.S. In a recent video, Professor Ping Chen of China’s Fudan University said in 2020 Beijing won in both a trade war and a biological war against the U.S.
    This comes after bioweapons expert Lawrence Sellin discovered China released COVID-19 intentionally to gain economic advantage of the U.S. and remove President     Donald Trump from office.    Professor Ping’s video further confirmed China’s biological warfare program served a political purpose of derailing President Trump’s “America First” agenda.
    A new House Intelligence report found overwhelming circumstantial evidence that COVID-19 came from a lab in Wuhan.    The report cited evidence obtained by U.S. Intelligence agencies over the past year, noting that the coronavirus outbreak was likely a result of an accidental leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.    It added, there’s no credible evidence that the virus jumped from animals to humans by itself without any outside influence.
    Meanwhile, Australian Intelligence suspects China may have released the virus intentionally in order to take advantage of the global economy.    The House Intelligence report concluded by urging the U.S. government to release all evidence of Dr. Anthony Fauci’s cooperation with the Wuhan lab on the research.
TOPSHOT – An aerial view shows the P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei
province on April 17, 2020. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
    This comes as Mainland China has been caught spreading COVID-19 misinformation, yet again.    Most of this was channeled by its state propaganda media.    According to a new report by the International Federation of Journalists( IFJ), Beijing was exaggerating COVID-19 fears and drumming up its response to it.
    As a result, 56 percent of IFJ members said media coverage in their country became more positive of China amid the initial outbreak.    The IFJ is based in Brussels and its members include 54 journalist unions in more than 50 countries.    Amongst them, there has been a collective agreement that China has successfully manipulated COVID narratives to increase its political influence worldwide.

5/21/2021 Iran Leader Urges Muslim States To Back Palestinians Militarily, Financially
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a live televised speech marking the annual Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day,
on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Tehran, Iran May 7, 2021. Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday called on Muslim states to support Palestinians militarily and financially and help rebuild Gaza after an 11-day conflict with Israel, Iranian media reported.
    “Muslim states must sincerely support the Palestinian people, through military …or financial support …or in rebuilding Gaza’s infrastructure,” Khamenei said in a statement carried by media outlets.    He urged Muslims to demand that their governments back Palestinians.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Chris Reese)

5/21/2021 Pakistanis Rally In Support Of Palestinians by Syed Raza Hassan
People carry flags as they chant slogans to express solidarity with Palestinian people and to protest
against Israel, during a rally in Karachi, Pakistan May 21, 2021. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
(Fixes media identifier tag to conform with pictures; no changes to text)
    KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) -Ten of thousands of Pakistanis marched in support of the Palestinians on Friday as a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas took effect after 11 days of fighting, but a bomb blast killed six people at one rally in southwest Pakistan.
    Shrugging aside restrictions linked to the coronavirus pandemic, people waved Palestinian flags and placards that read “All unite to free Palestine” and “Boycott Israel” at the rallies, many organised by Islamic groups, in a number of cities across the country including Islamabad and Karachi.     In Peshawar demonstrators burned Israeli flags.
    The bomb blast, which also wounded 13 people, occurred in the city of Chaman in the province of Balochistan near the Afghan border, the region’s police chief, Jafar Khan, told Reuters by telephone.
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
    Police in Karachi halted a rally organised by the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami when demonstrators trying to march on the U.S. consulate in the port city caused a massive traffic jam.
    “The Palestinian issue is more of a humanitarian issue than a religious issue.    You don’t need to be a Muslim or a Christian to condemn whatever is going on in Palestine.    You need to be a human being to condemn it,” Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain told foreign media on Friday.
    Pakistan, a largely Muslim country, has no diplomatic relations with Israel.
    Prime Minister Imran Khan applauded Friday’s rallies across Pakistan and said international public opinion was tilting in favour of the Palestinians.
    The foreign ministry said in a tweet that Pakistan continued to believe that peace in the Middle East hinged on the creation of a viable, independent and contiguous Palestinian state alongside Israel.
    Both Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that governs Gaza, claimed victory on Friday as the ceasefire, mediated by Egypt, came into force.
(Additional Reporting by Gibran Naiyyar PeshimamEditing by Gareth Jones)

5/25/2021 Russia Says It Can Now Operate Nuclear Capable Bombers From Syrian Air Base
FILE PHOTO: Russian military jets are seen at Hmeymim air base in Syria, June 18, 2016.
REUTERS/Vadim Savitsky/Russian Defense Ministry via Reuters/
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Tuesday it had the ability for the first time to operate long-range strategic nuclear-capable bombers from its air base in Syria, expanding its capabilities and allowing such planes to train in new regions.
Russia operates the Hmeymim base on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, from which it has launched air strikes in the past in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
    The Russian defence ministry said in a statement that three Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range bombers had flown to Hmeymim.
    It said runways at the base had been made longer and one of them upgraded allowing Russia to operate aircrafts of all types from the base.
    The three newly arrived bombers would hold training exercises in new geographical areas over the Mediterranean Sea, the defence ministry said, before returning to their permanent airfields in Russia.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

5/25/2021 Iran Agrees To 1 Month Extension Of Nuclear Site by OAN Newsroom
Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi from Argentina, addresses the media during a news conference behind plexiglass shields regarding
the agency’s monitoring of Irans’s nuclear energy program at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, Monday, May 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)
    Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) havem agreed to extend surveillance at Tehran’s nuclear sites.    IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told reporters in Austria Monday that the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency would keep its monitoring devices in place until June 24.
    “One thing that we had agreed on back in February was that at the expiration of the technical understanding, the information would be erased,” stated the IAEA chief.    “And this is not going to happen, so this is an important aspect.”
    The temporary three month agreement that expired Saturday was an attempt to encourage Iran’s cooperation with inspectors.    Tehran’s compliance began to falter in     February as they violated terms of the failed 2015 nuclear deal to pressure the U.S. into lifting sanctions.
    “I want to stress, this is not ideal,” Grossi stated.    “This is like an emergency device that we came up with in order for us to continue having these monitoring activities.”
    The extension buys more time for negotiations between the U.S. and Iran to salvage an Obama-era nuclear deal, which aimed to limit Tehran’s enrichment of uranium.    President Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 after calling it “horribly one-sided.”
    At the time, President Trump said that at the point when the U.S. had maximum leverage, the Obama administration gave billions of dollars to the Iranian terror regime.
    “The agreement was so poorly negotiated that even if Iran fully complies, the regime could still be on the verge of a nuclear breakout in just a short period of time,” stated the 45th President.    “The deal’s inspection provisions lack adequate mechanisms to prevent, detect and punish cheating.”
FILE – This Jan. 15, 2011 file photo shows Arak heavy water nuclear facilities, near the central city of Arak,
150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/ISNA, Hamid Foroutan, File)
    According to experts, there are as many as two dozen facilities active in Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program.    Inspectors have only visited three of these sites and found traces of processed uranium.

5/25/2021 Iran Official Upbeat Over Nuclear Talks, Top Delegate Cautious
Iranian flag flies in front of the UN office building, housing IAEA headquarters, amid the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria, May 24, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    DUBAi (Reuters) – Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said on Tuesday he was optimistic over Tehran reaching an agreement soon at talks with world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal, although Iran’s top negotiator cautioned that serious issues remained.
    Iran and global powers have held several rounds ofnegotiations since April in Vienna, working on steps that Tehranand Washington must take on sanctions and nuclear activitiesto return to full compliance with the nuclear pact.
    “General agreements have been reached on major disputes.    On the lifting of sanctions, the remaining cases are very minor, and given the negotiation process, we are optimistic about resolving the remaining minor and practical cases,” Rabiei told a news confrence streamed on a state-run website.
    Iran’s top negotiator, Abbas Araqchi struck a more cautious stance in comments to state TV.
    “There are still serious and important issues that need to be resolved,” he said.    “Today we will start the negotiations again and we hope that during the few days of talks, God willing, we will be able to reach the final solutions.”
    On his way to the talks, U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said on Twitter: “The latest round of talks was constructive and saw meaningful progress.    But much work still needs to be done.”
    Washington withdrew from the deal in 2018, prompting Iran tosteadily overstep the accord’s limits on its nuclear programmedesigned to make it harder to develop an atomic bomb – anambition Tehran denies.
    Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said sanctions on oil, shipping, petrochemicals, insurance and the central bank had been dealt with in the talks, though European diplomats said success was not guaranteed and very difficult issues remained.
    U.S. sanctions are likely to be a major issue in campaigning for Iran’s presidential election on June 18.
    State TV reported on Tuesday that Iran’s election watchdog had approved the candidacy of hardline judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi in the election.    Hardliners say Washington cannot be trusted to respect any nuclear accord.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Gareth Jones)

5/25/2021 Iran Approves Hardliner For Presidential Polls, Bars Several Hopefuls
FILE PHOTO: Ebrahim Raisi, Chief Justice of Iran, shows his identification document as he registers as a candidate for the presidential
election at the Interior Ministry, in Tehran, Iran May 15, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/ WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran’s election watchdog has approved the candidacy of hardline judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi in next month’s presidential election, state TV said on Tuesday, while disqualifying some of his main rivals including former parliament speaker Ali Larijani.
    The move is likely to boost the prospects of Raisi, a close ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.    But it may further dent the clerical rulers’ hopes of a high turnout in the June 18 vote, amid rising discontent over an economy crippled by U.S. sanctions.
    As well as Larijani, a moderate conservative, the hardline-led Guardian Council barred populist former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and pragmatist First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, an ally of the outgoing president, Hassan Rouhani.
    Rouhani and his moderate allies have blamed most of Iran’s economic woes on U.S. sanctions and given top priority to talks aimed at reviving Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which former U.S. president Donald Trump quit.
    Conservative and hardline allies of Khamenei have placed the responsibility squarely on the government, and insisted that Washington cannot be trusted to fulfil any accord.
    The Council approved just seven candidates out of 40 who met its basic criteria – in turn a small fraction of the 600 who had registered.
    They included former chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, a conservative; former Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezaei, a frequent presidential candidate; and current Central Bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati, a low-profile moderate.
    In a statement carried by local media, Rouhani’s ally Jahangiri said: “The disqualification of many qualified people (is) a serious threat to public participation and fair competition among political tendencies, especially reformists.”
    Even Raisi appeared to object to the large number of disqualifications.
    “Since yesterday evening, when I was informed of the results, … I have made contacts and I am holding consultations to make the election scene more competitive and participatory,” Raisi said on Twitter.
    Larijani, who had voiced support for the nuclear deal and talks to revive it, accepted the Council’s ruling, tweeting: “Now that the election process has been conducted in this way, I have done my duty before God and my dear nation.”
    In a speech in parliament carried by local media, lawmaker Ahmad Alirezabeigi blasted Ahmadinejad’s disqualification and said security forces had surrounded the populist leader’s home, even though he had urged his supporters to remain calm.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

5/26/2021 Biden Admin. Won’t Condemn China For Alleged COVID Leak by OAN Newsroom
In this May 13, 2021 file photo, Joe Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
    The Biden administration is refusing to condemn China over a suspected leak from the Wuhan lab, which House Republicans found was likely the cause behind the COVID-19 outbreak.
    Joe Biden confirmed in a separate statement on Wednesday that no conclusions will be made on COVID origins until there has been a 90-day review by the Intelligence Community.
    This comes just one day after Biden shut down a federal investigation into the origins of COVID-19 that was previously put in place by the Trump administration.    Instead, his administration asked China and the World Health Organization for help with the investigation.
    Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced, “Joe Biden believes there needs to be an independent investigation, one that’s run by the international community.”
    Republicans have argued that neither China nor the WHO have been transparent in sharing the findings of their investigations.
    Meanwhile, they stressed the House report is based off U.S. Intelligence data and that Biden’s 90-day timeout poses an unnecessary delay in holding China accountable.
[WHAT DO YOU EXPECT THE PRESS, DEMOCRATS, WHO AND FAUCI HAVE LIED ABOUT THIS FOR OVER A YEAR BECAUSE TRUMP TOLD EVERYONE WHERE IT CAME FROM WUHAN AND CHINA COVERED IT UP ALSO AND NOW WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BELIEVE ANYTHING THEY SAY AND THEY ARE ALREADY TRYING TO SQUASH THE COMING NEWS ABOUT IT SO THEIR DEMOCRAT VIEWERS WILL CONTINUE NOT KNOW ABOUT IT AND IF SO STOP WATCHING THE FAKE NEWS AND GO TO OANN, NEWSMAX, AND SOME OF THE FOXNEWS SHOWS IN THE EVENINGS WHICH I RECORD AND WATCH DURING THE DAY.].

5/27/2021 U.S. Outraged By Violence Against Iraqi Demonstrators - State Department
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators face security forces during an anti-government protest in
Baghdad, Iraq May 25, 2021. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States is outraged that peaceful Iraqi demonstrators demanding reform were met with threats and “brutal violence,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement on Thursday.
    One person died and several were injured on Tuesday when Iraqi security forces fired live rounds in the air to disperse anti-government protests in central Baghdad, according to security and medical sources.
    Hundreds demonstrated in Tahrir Square, shouting slogans against Iran-backed militias and accusing Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s government of failing to answer for the deaths of dozens of activists shot dead in different parts of Iraq in recent months.
    “The United States is outraged that peaceful demonstrators who took to the streets to urge reform were met with threats and brutal violence,” Price said.
    “We welcome every effort by the government to hold accountable the militias, thugs, and vigilante groups for their attacks against Iraqis exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as well as for their assault on the rule of law.”
(Reporting by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Leslie Adler and Grant McCool)

5/27/2021 Biden Calling To Intensify Probe Into COVID-19 Origins After Shutting Down State Dept. Probe by OAN Newsroom
In this May 13, 2021 file photo, President Joe Biden speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
    Joe Biden asked U.S. Intelligence agencies to intensify their investigation into the origins of COVID-19.    In a statement Wednesday, he noted researchers are still considering two key theories regarding the initial outbreak of the virus.
    The theories include whether the virus came from human contact with an infected animal or it leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China.    The Biden administration admitted China has not been transparent with international probes into the matter.
    “You know, China wasn’t transparent enough,” Biden stated.    “We have been saying that for a very long time, that China needed to provide more access to the lab, cooperate more fully with the scientific investigators, and we don’t think that they have met that standard.”
    This flip-flop came after Biden quietly shut down a State Department effort to investigate the Wuhan lab leak theory, allegedly questioning the legitimacy of their findings.    However, insiders said the State Department’s investigation was an honest effort to look into whether China’s biological weapons program played a role in the virus’ initial outbreak.
    As to whether the Biden administration thinks China should be condemned and held responsible for its handling of the virus, there are still no definitive answers.    The White House said it will be working alongside the World Health Organization (WHO) to come to a conclusion on the matter.
Security personnel gather near the entrance of the Wuhan Institute of Virology during a visit by the World Health Organization team. (Photo | AP)
    Last year, the WHO conducted an investigation into the Wuhan laboratory near where the virus was first detected.    They determined it was “extremely unlikely” the virus leaked from a lab.    That probe was widely condemned by U.S. lawmakers for being overly shallow and too conciliatory to the Chinese Communist Party.
    Meanwhile, many scientists have argued that knowing where the coronavirus came from is essential to preparing the world for another potential pandemic in the future.

5/28/2021 China Invites Four European Foreign Ministers To Visit In Diplomatic Push
FILE PHOTO: An attendant walks past EU and China flags ahead of the EU-China High-level Economic
Dialogue at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    BEIJING (Reuters) – The foreign ministers of Ireland, Poland, Hungary and Serbia will visit China from Saturday, the Chinese foreign ministry said, in a sign of a push to strengthen ties with Europe after an investment treaty was frozen.
    The European Parliament this month halted ratification of the investment pact with China until Beijing lifts sanctions on EU politicians, deepening a dispute in Sino-European relations and denying EU companies greater access to China.
    Beijing’s sanctions were a response to Western sanctions against Chinese officials accused of the mass detentions of Muslim Uyghurs in northwestern China.
    The four ministers will visit China from May 29 to 31 at the invitation of Foreign Minister Wang Yi, ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular news conference in Beijing on Friday.
During the visit Wang will separately meet the four ministers and discuss bilateral and China-Europe relations, said Zhao.    China hopes the visit can help deepen cooperation and “promote the post-epidemic economic recovery,” he said.
    EU members Poland and Hungary, as well as Serbia, which is not in the bloc, belong to the China-led “17+1” grouping of Central and Eastern European countries.    The grouping recently lost a member when Lithuania pulled out.
    Lithuania’s parliament in May described China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority as genocide, and the country also said it would open a trade representative office this year in Taiwan, which China considers its own territory, prompting anger in Beijing.
    None of the ministers invited to China are from countries whose parliaments have branded its treatment of the Uyghurs as genocide, a label Beijing strongly rejects.
    Serbia and Hungary have also both approved and administered Chinese vaccines against COVID-19.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Gareth Jones)

6/1/2021 Iran Says Nuclear Talks Not At Impasse, But Difficult Issues Remain
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, before the beginning of a board
of governors meeting, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran believes that barriers to the revival of its 2015 nuclear accord with world powers are complicated but not insurmountable, a spokesman said on Tuesday, denying that negotiations had stalled.
    The Islamic Republic and six powers have been negotiating in Vienna since April to work out steps for Tehran and Washington to take, respectively, on nuclear activities and sanctions, for the pact to resume.
    Two Western diplomats and an Iranian official said the talks would likely pause on Thursday for consultations in respective capitals, though it remained unclear if they would resume before Iran’s June 18 presidential election, in which a prominent hardliner is tipped to replace the pragmatist incumbent.
    “There is no impasse in the Vienna talks,” Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei told a news conference streamed live by a state-run website.
    “Negotiations have reached a stage where a few key issues need to be decided, and these issues require the proper attention, perfectionism and time.”
    Since former U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal three years ago and reimposed sanctions on Iran, Tehran has embarked on counter-measures, including rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium, a potential pathway to nuclear bombs.
    “It is natural that due to the complexities created by the Trump administration’s numerous sanctions and Iran’s measures…, many details need to be considered, but none of these obstacles are insurmountable,” Rabiei added.
    On Monday, Iran’s nuclear negotiator expressed doubt that the current round of talks would be the final one.
    U.S. President Joe Biden has said Washington will return to the pact if Tehran first resumes compliance with its strict limits on uranium enrichment.
    Separately, France, one of the signatories to the deal, voiced concern after a report from the U.N. nuclear watchdog which showed on Monday that Iran had failed to explain traces of uranium found at several undeclared sites.
    French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll, asked whether Paris wanted to resurrect a resolution criticising Iran at the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency (IAEA) for not clarifying the uranium issue, said: “We strongly call on Iran to provide such responses as quickly as possible.”
    Three months ago Britain, France and Germany scrapped a U.S.-backed plan for the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors to criticise Iran for failing to fully explain the origin of the particles.    The three backed off when IAEA chief Rafael Grossi announced fresh talks with Iran.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, John Irish in Paris, Francois Murphy in Vienna and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Editing by Alison Williams and Mark Heinrich)

6/2/2021 China’s Xi Calls For Greater Global Media Reach
FILE PHOTO: China's President Xi Jinping speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin via a video link,
from the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China December 2, 2019. Noel Celis/Pool via REUTERS
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China President Xi Jinping said the country must improve the way it tells its “stories” to a global audience as it seeks to develop an international voice that reflects its status on the world stage, official news agency Xinhua reported.
    Speaking at a Communist Party study meeting, Xi said it was crucial for China to improve its ability to spread its messages globally in order to present a "true, three-dimensional and comprehensive China," Xinhua said on Tuesday.
    China needed to develop an “international voice” to match its national strength and global status, Xinhua said, citing Xi.    It also needed to strengthen propaganda efforts to help foreigners understand the Chinese Communist Party and the way it “strives for the happiness of the Chinese people.”
    The country needed to create a team of professionals and adopt “precise communication methods” for different regions, he said.
    China’s relationship with foreign media has become increasingly tense in recent years, with local news outlets such as the Global Times often singling out foreign reporters for what it says is biased and unfair coverage.
    Several journalists working for U.S. news organisations were expelled last year as relations between the two sides deteriorated.
    China has also banned BBC World News from mainland Chinese television networks following criticism of the British broadcaster’s coverage of human rights in the northwestern region of Xinjiang as well as the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

6/4/2021 Secy. Of State Blinken Marks Anniversary Of Tianaman Square Protests, Sparking Chinese Govt. Response by OAN Newsroom
FILE – Secy. of State Tony Blinken speaks at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
    China has rebuked U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken for his tweet regarding the Tianamen Square protests of 1989.
    China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin released a statement on Friday stating, “the U.S. government stops at nothing to suppress Chinese enterprises.”
    Earlier that day, Blinken took to Twitter to recognize the anniversary of the protests and hinted at the “deadly crackdown” of the People’s Republic of China.    He also released a press statement further explaining his stance on the historical event.
    “The relevant U.S. statement has interfered in China’s internal affairs. China firmly opposes this,” Wenbin asserted.    “Before attacking other countries through the use of human rights issues, the United States should first look in the mirror to see the stigma of its own human rights issues.”
    Known as the ’89 Democracy Movement, the student-lead demonstrations were suppressed with armed troops and tanks.    In China, the protests are widely acknowledged with questioning Communist Party rule and remains one of the most censored subjects.

6/4/2021 U.S. Plans 6th Round Of Negotiations With Iran To Move Forward In Compliance With A Nuclear Deal by OAN Newsroom
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price speaks during a news conference at the State Department in
Washington, DC. (Photo by Andrew Harnik / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW HARNIK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
    U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price shared his expectations on Thursday for another round of negotiations with Iran to get the country to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal.
    “The steps that Iran would need to take to resume its own compliance with the nuclear deal…to be subject to the stringent verification and monitoring regime,” he explained.    “    The limitations on heavy water, the limitations on centrifuges, the limitations that permanently, and again, verifiably prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
    Price added that prior discussions have suggested what the U.S. should do with the sanctions for Iran to comply with the 2015 nuclear deal.    However, former Trump-era Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe criticized Joe Biden’s push to bring Iran back to the negotiating table and mentioned that Biden is deprioritizing America’s strong relationship with Israel.
    “The path that the Biden administration has chosen with respect to Iran means that there’s gonna be chaos and war in other places in the Middle East besides Gaza,” he announced.    “Syria, Yeman Afghanistan, Iraq.”
    This comes after Iran agreed to a one-month extension of surveillance on its nuclear facilities in late May.    President Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 because his administration found it to be “horribly one-sided.”
    “The agreement was so poorly negotiated that even if Iran fully complies, the regime could still be on the verge of a nuclear breakout in just a short period of time,” the President expressed.    “The deal’s inspection provisions lack adequate mechanisms to prevent, detect, and punish cheating and don’t even have the unqualified right to inspect many important locations, including military facilities.”
    The extension gives the Biden administration more time for negotiations to try and salvage the Obama-era nuclear deal.

6/8/2021 Iran Says Nuclear Talks Policy Won’t Change After Presidential Vote
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s policy in talks with world powers to revive the 2015 nuclear accord will remain unchanged after a June 18
presidential election because the issue is decided by its highest leadership, a government spokesman said on Tuesday.
    A host of barriers to the revival of the nuclear deal remain firmly in place ahead of talks due to resume this week, suggesting a return to compliance with the accord is still a way off, diplomats, Iranian officials and analysts said.
    “We have shown that we adhere to our international obligations under all circumstances, and this was a national decision,” cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei told a weekly news conference.
    Rabiei said Iran’s nuclear policy, set by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is not linked to internal developments and that the new government would maintain the same policies as those followed in the Vienna talks which began in April.
    “As long as all parties to the nuclear accord abide by their commitments, they can be sure that Iran will not abandon its obligations,” Rabiei said.
    Former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, prompting Iran to steadily overstep the accord’s limits on its nuclear programme.
    With a hardline-led election watchdog barring leading moderate and conservative candidates, the turnout is likely to be low in seven-man race between hardline and somewhat less hardline candidates, and two low-profile moderates.
    The candidates took part in a televised debate on Tuesday and sparred on issues including ways of saving the nuclear deal and lifting U.S. sanctions that have devastated Iran’s economy.
    The leading moderate candidate, Abdolnaser Hemmati, accused hardliners of seeking to heighten tensions with the West through a militant foreign policy, while conglomerates they control rake in large sums by circumventing sanctions.
    “I face a tendency which wants to turn the White House into a Hosseinieh (Shi’ite prayer hall) instead of developing Iran,” said Hemmati, a former central bank chief.    “They benefit from the sanctions by raising the cost of our transactions by 20%.”
    Saeed Jalili, a hardline diplomat, rejected Hemmati’s warning about radicals seeking a confrontation with the West as “imaginary
    He accused instead the government of outgoing pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani of wasting time by “constantly waiting on a few other countries, one time Trump was the excuse, another time the nuclear deal”.
    Judiciary head Ebrahim Raisi, seen as the leading hardline candidate, said: “Any government that takes over should work towards ending the oppressive sanctions, but there should also be practical measures to neutralise the sanctions.”
    Iranian leaders say sanctions can be neutralised by circumventing them or by boosting local production.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Grant McCool)

6/9/2021 Russia Says Few Outstanding Issues Left To Agree For Revival Of Iran Deal: RIA
FILE PHOTO: A view of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility 250 km (155 miles) south of the
Iranian capital Tehran, March 30, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi//File Photo/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday there were few outstanding issues left to resolve in talks to revive the Iran nuclear deal and that there were no longer any insurmountable obstacles left, the RIA news agency reported.
    World powers have been negotiating in Vienna with Iran and the United States to revive the 2015 deal, under which Tehran agreed to curbs on its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of international sanctions.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Catherine Evans)

6/10/2021 Biden Admin. Lifts Sanctions On Iran Oil Officials by OAN Newsroom
Joe Biden delivers a speech on the COVID-19 pandemic, in St Ives, Cornwall on June 10, 2021, ahead
of the three-day G7 summit being held from 11-13 June. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
    Joe Biden is continuing to ease sanctions on Iran despite the recent attacks on Israel by its terror proxies.    On Thursday, reports found the U.S. Treasury lifted sanctions on five individuals linked to the Ayatollah regime’s oil sector and illegal energy exports.
    Biden’s State Department petitioned to remove three of those individuals from the Treasury’s sanctions list.    The Biden administration said the move was made in efforts to demonstrate “our commitment to lifting sanctions in the event of a change in status or behavior by sanctioned persons.”
    The Iranians in question are involved in illegal exports of oil through Hong Kong in violation of United Nations resolutions.    Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) blasted the move saying Biden is giving unilateral concessions to the Ayatollahs to restore the failed nuclear deal.

6/11/2021 Iran Nuclear Deal Talks To Resume On Saturday: Iranian Official
FILE PHOTO: Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, attends a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission
in Vienna, Austria, September 1, 2020. European Commission EbS - EEAS/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Talks between Iran and world powers on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal will resume in Vienna on Saturday, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on Friday.
    “The participants are expected to continue consultations on the possible return of the United States to the nuclear accord and ensuring the full and effective implementation of this agreement,” Araqchi, Iran’s top negotiator at the talks, said on his channel on the Telegram messaging app.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

6/11/2021 Iran Regains U.N. Vote After U.S. Enables U.N. Payment by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: A gas flare on an oil production platform is seen alongside an Iranian
flag in the Gulf July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – Iran regained its vote in the U.N. General Assembly on Friday after the United States enabled Tehran to use funds frozen in South Korea to pay some $16 million it owed to the world body.
    Iran lost its vote in the 193-member General Assembly in January because it was more than two years in arrears.    It owed a total of more than $65 million, but paid the minimum amount needed to regain its vote.
    “Iran has paid the minimum amount due,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said on Friday, confirming Iran could vote again.
    Iran says $20 billion of its oil revenue has been frozen in countries like South Korea, Iraq and China since 2018 under sanctions imposed by then-U.S. President Donald Trump.
    “Illegal U.S. sanctions have not just deprived our people of medicine; they have also prevented Iran from paying our dues in arrears to the U.N.,” Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi posted on Twitter.    “After more than 6 months of working on it, the U.N. today announced it has received the funds.”
    Iran was able to vote in the General Assembly on Friday to elect five new members of the U.N. Security Council.
    Iran’s Foreign Ministry said that it had proposed to the United Nations that it could use funds frozen in South Korea to pay its dues.    It said the world body followed up with the U.S. Treasury Department to get the appropriate approvals.
    “The permit was recently issued and the process of withdrawing the membership fee from Iran’s account in the Korean banks and transferring it to the U.N. account in Seoul has been paved, and this payment will be made soon,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said last week.
    When asked about the issue last week, the U.S. Treasury Department said it “does not comment on specific licenses.”
    The U.N. payment comes as U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration and Iranian officials are expected to begin their sixth round of indirect talks in Vienna this weekend about how both sides might resume compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal.
    Under the deal with key world powers, Iran limited its nuclear program to make it harder to obtain fissile material for atomic weapons in return for relief from U.S., European Union and U.N. sanctions.
    However, Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, arguing it gave Tehran too much sanctions relief for too few nuclear restrictions, and reimposed sanctions that slashed Iran’s oil exports.    Iran then retaliated about a year later by violating the limits on its nuclear program.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

6/12/2021 China Passes Anti-Sanctions Law by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a keynote speech. (Ju Peng/Xinhua via AP)
    China has targeted foreign sanctions in response to power politics.    On Thursday, the Chinese Communist Party passed an anti-sanctions law aimed at boosting Beijing’s authority against international pressure.
    The measures allow Chinese authorities to refuse to issue visas as well as freeze a person’s assets in mainland China.    Officials claim the law was implemented to safeguard China’s national sovereignty while undermining the authority of certain western countries.
    “This law targets the unilateral sanctions against China that violates international law in international relations,” law professor Liao Shiping explained.    “It is a response to all these sanctions and the countries that are enforcing them.    Therefore, it is not a legislation targeting a specific country.”
    The move comes just one week after Joe Biden expanded the U.S. blacklist on certain Chinese companies receiving investments from Americans.

6/12/2021 ‘Intense’ Iran Nuclear Talks Resume As Germany Calls For Rapid Progress by Francois Murphy
Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Kazem Gharibabadi leaves a meeting of the Joint
Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in Vienna, Austria, June 12, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    VIENNA (Reuters) -Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed in Vienna on Saturday as the European Union said negotiations were “intense” and Germany called for rapid progress.
    The sixth round of talks began as usual with a meeting of remaining parties to the deal – Iran, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union – in the basement of a luxury hotel.
    The U.S. delegation to the talks, known as the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA), is based in a hotel across the street as Iran refuses face-to-face meetings.
    The talks’ chief coordinator, EU foreign policy official Enrique Mora, who is leading the shuttle diplomacy between Iran and the United States, has said he expects a deal in this round of talks.    Other envoys, however, are more cautious, saying many difficult issues are yet to be resolved.
    “We are making progress but the negotiations are intense and a number of issues (remain), including on how steps are to be implemented,” an EU spokesman said in a statement to reporters, adding that the aim was “to find ways to get very close to a final agreement in the coming days
    The top Iranian negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, suggested it was unlikely the talks would conclude before Iran’s presidential election on Friday.
    “I don’t think we will be able to reach a final conclusion in Vienna this week,” Iranian state media quoted Araqchi as saying.
    The deal, or JCPoA, imposed strict limits on Iran’s nuclear activities designed to extend the time Tehran would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, if it chose to, to at least a year from two to three months.
    Iran denies ever pursuing nuclear weapons, saying its aims are solely peaceful.
    President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018 and reimposed economic sanctions lifted by the deal.    Iran responded by breaching many of those limits, producing more enriched uranium than allowed and enriching to higher purity levels, recently to near weapons grade.
    “Playing for time is in no-one’s interest,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who is not at the talks, told Reuters, urging all sides to show flexibility and pragmatism.
    China’s top envoy said the main sticking point was U.S. sanctions.    “Our message to them (the United States) is that they should stop shilly-shallying by moving decisively to sanction-lifting,” China’s ambassador to the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Wang Qun, told reporters.
    On the steps Iran must take to return to compliance with the deal, Wang said: “To a great extent, the major issues have been worked out as a matter of principle, though I think there are some fixes (left).”
(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold and Vera Eckert in Frankfurt, and Dubai newsroomEditing by David Holmes, William Maclean)

6/12/2021 U.S., Iran Resume Talks To Revive 2015 Nuclear Deal by OAN Newsroom
Deputy Secretary General and Political Director of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Enrique Mora, leaves the ‘Grand Hotel
Vienna’ where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)
    U.S. and Iranian diplomats have resumed talks to revive the controversial Obama-era nuclear deal.    The sixth round of discussions began on Saturday and officials with the European Union said the negotiations were intense.
    EU Foreign Policy official Enrique Mora, who is leading the shuttle diplomacy between Iran and the U.S., said he expects both sides to make an agreement during this round. However, other envoys believe there are still several contentious issues that still need to be resolved.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken boards his plane prior to departing from Cornwall Airport, Newquay, England,
Saturday June 12, 2021, following his visit to the G7 summit, before heading to Brussels. (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP)
    Secretary of State Antony Blinken commented on the administration’s action to remove sanctions stating, “these actions demonstrate our commitment to lifting sanctions in the event of a change in status or behavior by sanctioned persons.”    The Biden administration is hoping their repeal of sanctions on several senior officials and companies will get Iran to relax their position.

6/12/2021 Top U.S. General Warns China’s Military Is Growing by OAN Newsroom
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley speaks at a Senate Armed Services budget
hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
    Top U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley called China’s increased military spending “very serious.”    During the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Milley, said it is vitally important the U.S. retain its competitive and technological edge over China.    Milley noted that the combined total defense spending by China and Russia is currently greater than that of the U.S.
    Philip Davidson, head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, argued similar ideas stating, “the military balance in the Indo-Pacific is becoming more unfavorable for the U.S. and our allies.”
Chinese soldiers march outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, before the introduction of the
Communist Party of China’s Politburo Standing Committee. (GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)
    He also said, “our deterrence posture in the Indo-Pacific must demonstrate the capability, the capacity and the will to convince Beijing unequivocally the costs of achieving their objectives by the use of military force are simply too high.”
    Milley added, in order for the U.S. to retain dominance globally, sufficient military spending is necessary.    Milley said China and Russia are not the only potential threats to America, also arguing the Middle East is still a major concern.

6/13/2021 G7 Chides China On Rights, Demands COVID Origins Investigation by Guy Faulconbridge and Steve Holland
FILE PHOTO: The Chinese national flag is seen in Beijing, China April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    CARBIS BAY, England (Reuters) -Group of Seven leaders on Sunday scolded China over human rights in its Xinjiang region, called for Hong Kong to keep a high degree of autonomy and demanded a full and thorough investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China.
    After discussing how to come up with a unified position on China, leaders issued a highly critical final communique that delved into what are for China some of the most sensitive issues, including also Taiwan.
    The re-emergence of China as a leading global power is considered to be one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union that ended the Cold War.
    China’s rise has also unnerved the United States: President Joe Biden casts China as the main strategic competitor and has vowed to confront China’s “economic abuses” and push back against human rights violations.
    “We will promote our values, including by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” the G7 said.
    The G7 also called for a transparent, expert-led Phase 2 COVID-19 Origins study including in China, to be convened by the World Health Organization (WHO).    Reuters earlier reported the finalised version of the draft communique.
    “We haven’t had access to the laboratories,” Biden told reporters.
    Biden said it was not yet certain whether or not “a bat interfacing with animals and the environment… caused this COVID-19, or whether it was an experiment gone awry in a laboratory.”
    Before the G7 criticism emerged, China pointedly cautioned G7 leaders that the days when “small” groups of countries decided the fate of the world were long gone.
    The G7 also underscored “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.”
    “We remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas and strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions,” they said.
FORCED LABOUR
    Biden said democracies were in a global contest with “autocratic governments,” and that the G7 had to deliver viable alternatives.
    “We’re in a contest, not with China per se, … with autocrats, autocratic governments around the world, as to whether or not democracies can compete with them in a rapidly changing 21st century,” Biden told reporters.
    “As I’ve told (Chinese President) Xi Jinping myself, I’m not looking for conflict.    Where we cooperate, we’ll cooperate; where we disagree I’m going to state this frankly, and we are going to respond to actions that are inconsistent.”
    The G7 – comprising the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada – said it was concerned about forced labour in global supply chains including in the agricultural, solar, and garment sectors.
    Beijing has repeatedly hit back against what it perceives as attempts by Western powers to contain China.    It says many major powers are still gripped by an outdated imperial mindset after years of humiliating China.
    U.N. experts and rights groups estimate that more than a million people, mainly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in Xinjiang in northwest China.
    China denies all accusations of forced labour or abuse.    It initially denied the camps existed, but has since said they are vocational centres and are designed to combat extremism.    In late 2019, China said all people in the camps had “graduated.”
(Additional reporting by Kate Holton, Elizabeth Piper, William James, Michel Rose and Michael Holden; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Andrew Heavens and Gareth Jones)

6/14/2021 China Denounces G7 Statement, Urges Group To Stop Slandering Country
FILE PHOTO: The Chinese national flag is seen in Beijing, China April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China denounced on Monday a joint statement by the Group of Seven leaders that had scolded Beijing over a range of issues as a gross interference in the country’s internal affairs, and urged the grouping to stop slandering China.
    The G7 leaders on Sunday took China to task over human rights in the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang, called for Hong Kong to keep a high degree of autonomy and underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait – all highly sensitive issues for Beijing.
    China’s embassy in London said it was strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed to mentions of Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan that distorted the facts and exposed the “sinister intentions of a few countries such as the United States.”
    With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging and global economy sluggish, the international community needs unity and cooperation of all countries rather than “cliquey” power politics sowing division, it added.
    China is a peace-loving country that advocates cooperation, but also has its bottom lines, the embassy said.
    “China’s internal affairs must not be interfered in, China’s reputation must not be slandered, and China’s interests must not be violated,” it added.
    “We will resolutely defend our national sovereignty, security, and development interests, and resolutely fight back against all kinds of injustices and infringements imposed on China.”
‘COUNTERING CHINA’
    Taiwan’s government welcomed the G7 statement, saying the Chinese-claimed island will be a “force for good” and that they will continue to seek even greater international support.
    White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday’s statement from G7 was a significant move forward for the group as leaders rallied around the need to “counter and compete” with China on challenges ranging from safeguarding democracy to the technology race.
    China’s embassy said the G7 should do more that is conducive to promoting international cooperation instead of artificially creating confrontation and friction.
    “We urge the United States and other members of the G7 to respect the facts, understand the situation, stop slandering China, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, and stop harming China’s interests.”
    The embassy also said work on looking at the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic should not be politicised, after the G7 in the same statement demanded a full and thorough investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China.
    The joint expert group on the virus between China and the World Health Organization has been conducting research independently and following WHO procedures, the embassy added.
    “Politicians in the United States and other countries ignore facts and science, openly question and deny the conclusions of the joint expert group report, and make unreasonable accusations against China.”
(Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Lincoln Feast.)

6/14/2021 Secy. Blinken: China Needs To Be Transparent With COVID-19 Origin Probes by OAN Newsroom
United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken disembarks from his airplane upon arrival
at Brussels Airport in Brussels, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (Saul Loeb, Pool via AP)
    According to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, China is failing to cooperate with global leaders on an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.    On Sunday, the U.S. official said the initial World Health Organization (WHO) report on China’s handling of the pandemic was “highly deficient.”
    When WHO investigators were sent to China in February to collect data on the virus, they were barred access from pertinent medical centers and data by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials.    Blinken stressed that G7 leaders are calling on China to accept the terms of a second probe.
    “We can put in place what’s necessary to prevent it from happening again or at least to mitigate the next outbreak,” he stated.    “China has to cooperate with that transparency, access for international experts, information sharing that has to happen and, again, I think you’re seeing countries coming together to insist on that.”
    Additionally, Blinken reiterated that the importance of getting to the bottom of the pandemic is not only a matter to U.S. national security, but people around the world are counting on a thorough probe.

6/14/2021 NATO Takes Tough Line On China At First Summit With Biden by Robin Emmott, Steve Holland and Sabine Siebold
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meet during a NATO summit,
at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, June 14, 2021. Stephanie Lecocq/Pool via REUTERS
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) -NATO leaders designated China as presenting “systemic challenges” in a summit communique on Monday, taking a forceful stance towards Beijing at Joe Biden’s first summit with an alliance that Donald Trump openly disparaged and ridiculed.
    The new U.S. president has urged his fellow NATO leaders to stand up to China’s authoritarianism and growing military might, a change of focus for an alliance created to defend Europe from the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
    The language in the summit’s final communique, which will now set the path for alliance policy, comes a day after the Group of Seven (G7) rich nations issued a statement on human rights in China and Taiwan that Beijing said slandered its reputation.
    “China’s stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security,” NATO leaders said in a communique after their summit.
    Biden also told European allies the alliance’s mutual defence pact was a “sacred obligation” for the United States – a marked shift in tone from his predecessor Trump, who had threatened to withdraw from the alliance and accused Europeans of contributing too little to their own defence.
    “I want all Europe to know that the United States is there,” said Biden.    “NATO is critically important to us.”
BALANCING THREAT
    Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, at her last summit of the alliance before she steps down in September, described Biden’s arrival as the opening of a new chapter.    She also said it was important to deal with China as a potential threat, while keeping it in perspective.
    “If you look at the cyber threats and the hybrid threats, if you look at the cooperation between Russia and China, you cannot simply ignore China,” Merkel told reporters.    “But one must not overrate it, either – we need to find the right balance.”
Biden said both Russia and China were not acting “in a way that is consistent with what we had hoped.”
    NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said China’s growing military presence from the Baltics to Africa meant nuclear-armed NATO had to be prepared.
    “China is coming closer to us.    We see them in cyberspace, we see China in Africa, but we also see China investing heavily in our own critical infrastructure,” he said, a reference to ports and telecoms networks.    “We need to respond together as an alliance.”
    Stoltenberg also said the leaders had agreed to increase their contributions to the alliance’s small common budget.    The vast bulk of military spending in NATO is handled separately by member countries.
    G7 nations meeting in Britain over the weekend scolded China over human rights in its Xinjiang region, called for Hong Kong to keep a high degree of autonomy and demanded a full investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China.
    China’s embassy in London said it was resolutely opposed to mentions of Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, which it said distorted the facts and exposed the “sinister intentions of a few countries such as the United States.”
    “China’s reputation must not be slandered,” the embassy said on Monday.
    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, arriving at the summit, said there were both risks and rewards with Beijing.
    “I don’t think anybody around the table wants to descend into a new Cold War with China,” he said.
DEEP ECONOMIC TIES
    From China’s investments in European ports and plans to set up military bases in Africa to joint military exercises with Russia, NATO is now agreed that Beijing’s rise deserves a strong response, although envoys said that would be multi-faceted.
    Allies are mindful of their economic links with China.    Total German trade with China in 2020 was more than 212 billion euros ($257 billion), according to German government data.    Total Chinese holdings of U.S. Treasuries as of March 2021 stood at $1.1 trillion, according to U.S. data, and total U.S. trade with China in 2020 was $559 billion.
    Biden will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday in Geneva.
    Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said that Russia was trying to “swallow” Belarus and that NATO needed to be united in deterring Moscow. Nauseda also said the Baltic nations would push for more U.S. forces in their region to deter Russia.
($1 = 0.8255 euros)
(Additional reporting by Mark John, Sarah Young and Elizabeth Piper in London, Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, and Kate Abnett, Gabriela Baczynska, Marine Strauss and John Chalmers in Brussels; Editing by Catherine Evans, Peter Graff, Bernadette Baum and Alex Richardson)

6/15/2021 China Urges NATO To Stop Exaggerating ‘China Threat Theory’
FILE PHOTO: The Chinese national flag is seen in Beijing, China April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s mission to the European Union urged NATO on Tuesday to stop exaggerating the “China threat theory” after the group’s leaders warned that the country presented “systemic challenges.”
    NATO leaders on Monday had taken a forceful stance towards Beijing in a communique at United States President Joe Biden’s first summit with the alliance.
    “China’s stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security,” NATO leaders had said.
    The new U.S. president has urged his fellow NATO leaders to stand up to China’s authoritarianism and growing military might, a change of focus for an alliance created to defend Europe from the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
    The NATO statement “slandered” China’s peaceful development, misjudged the international situation, and indicated a “Cold War mentality,” China said in a response posted on the mission’s website.
    China is always committed to peaceful development, it added.
    “We will not pose a ‘systemic challenge’ to anyone, but if anyone wants to pose a ‘systemic challenge’ to us, we will not remain indifferent.”
    In Beijing, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, Zhao Lijian, said the United States and Europe had “different interests,” and that some European countries “will not tie themselves to the anti-China war chariot of the United States.”
    G7 nations meeting in Britain over the weekend scolded China over human rights in its Xinjiang region, called for Hong Kong to keep a high degree of autonomy and demanded a full investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China.
    China’s embassy in London said it was resolutely opposed to mentions of Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, which it said distorted the facts and exposed the “sinister intentions of a few countries such as the United States.”
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Beijing newsroom; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Clarence Fernandez)

6/15/2021 Iran Says It Produced 6.5 Kg Of Uranium Enriched To 60%
FILE PHOTO: A number of new generation Iranian centrifuges are seen on display during Iran's National Nuclear Energy
Day in Tehran, Iran April 10, 2021. Iranian Presidency Office/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran has made 6.5 kg (14 lb) of uranium enriched to up to 60%, the government said on Tuesday, detailing a move that rattled the country’s nuclear talks with world powers by taking the fissile material a step towards nuclear weapons-grade of 90%.
    Government spokesman Ali Rabiei was quoted by state media as saying the country had also produced 108 kg of uranium enriched to 20% purity, indicating quicker output than the rate required by the Iranian law that created the process.
    Iran said in April it would begin enriching uranium to 60% purity, a move that would take the uranium much closer to the 90% suitable for a nuclear bomb, after Tehran accused arch-foe Israel of sabotaging a key nuclear site.
    Tuesday’s disclosure came as Tehran and Washington hold indirect talks in Vienna aimed at finding ways to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
    Iran’s hardline parliament passed a law last year to oblige the government to harden its nuclear stance, partly in reaction to former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018.
    Trump’s withdrawal prompted Iran to steadily overstep the accord’s limits on its nuclear programme designed to make it harder to develop an atomic bomb – an ambition Tehran denies.
    “Under parliament’s law…, the Atomic Energy Organization was supposed to produce 120 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium in a year.    According to the latest report, we now have produced 108 kg of 20% uranium in the past five months,” Rabiei was quoted as saying.
    “In the area of 60% uranium production, in the short time that has elapsed…, about 6.5 kg has been produced,” Rabiei added.
    A quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear activities by the U.N. nuclear watchdog in May said that, as of May 22, Tehran had produced 62.8 kg of uranium enriched up to 20%, and 2.4 kg of uranium enriched up to 60%, with the next level down being enriched to between 2% and 5%.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna, Editing by William Maclean)

6/15/2021 China Says Radiation Levels Normal Around Taishan Reactor
A nuclear reactor and related factilities as part of the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant, to be operated by China Guangdong Nuclear Power (CGN), is
seen under construction in Taishan, Guangdong province, October 17, 2013. As China signs global deals to export its nuclear power technology,
it faces a huge obstacle: it still needs to show it can build and safely operate these reactors at home. Aided by foreign technology
acquired during three decades of development, China has the highest number of reactors being built and ambitions to export its home-grown
models to an overseas market worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Picture taken October 17, 2013.
REUTERS/Bobby Yip (CHINA - Tags: ENERGY ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS)
    BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Tuesday that radiation levels around the Taishan nuclear project in the southeastern province of Guangdong remained normal, following media reports of a leak at one of its reactors.
    French utility EDF, one of the project’s owners, said on Monday that it was investigating media reports that abnormal levels of radioactive gas had leaked from the plant.
    CNN had reported that Framatome, the EDF unit that designed Taishan’s reactors, was warning of an “imminent radiological threat” at the project following a build-up of krypton and xenon.
    Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, told a news briefing that the plant was fully compliant with all requirements and there were no signs of abnormalities in its vicinity.
    “So far China’s nuclear power plants have maintained a good operating record, with no incidents affecting the environment and public health,” Zhao said.
    EDF said on Monday that the problem at the plant could have been caused by fuel rods supplied by Framatome.
    “Under normal operating conditions it is true some gases like krypton and xenon will escape and be detected but in this case the concentrations are much higher, so something is happening,” said Tatsujiro Suzuki, a former vice-chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission.
    “Once radioactive gas is leaking to the environment it is a serious issue.    It could get worse.    I think there could be problems with the fuel.    It is unusual.”
    The Taishan project, completed in 2019, consists of two French-designed reactors, and is located around 200 km (124 miles) from Hong Kong.
    Earlier, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam told reporters that the Hong Kong Observatory and the Water Supplies Department have been monitoring radiation levels and have so far not detected anything abnormal.
    Li Ning, a Chinese nuclear scientist based in the United States, said the dangers at Taishan have been exaggerated.
    “Because nuclear power plants, once built and in operation, are under very strict control and local areas are excluded from further development, background radiation levels around them can often be lower than historical levels,” he said.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo; Writing by David Stanway; Editing by Jason Neely and Kim Coghill)

6/17/2021 Close Khamenei Loyalist Sanctioned By U.S. Set To Win Iran Vote by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a campaign rally in Tehran,
Iran June 15, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranians vote on Friday in a race likely to hand the presidency to a judge sanctioned by Washington for alleged involvement in executions of political prisoners, a result that would cheer the clerical leadership but stir Western human rights concerns.
    Hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, an ally and protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is favourite to succeed the pragmatist incumbent Hassan Rouhani, forbidden under the constitution from serving a third four-year term.
    Raisi says that while the Islamic Republic needs no help from foreigners, he does back talks with world powers aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear deal, a development that would bring an easing of Western sanctions that have crushed Iran’s economy.
    But the election of an Iranian head of government currently under U.S. sanctions could alarm Washington and liberal Iranians, analysts of Iranian politics said, especially given President Joe Biden’s sharpened focus on human rights globally.
    “Raisi being elected will justify and legitimize America’s human rights sanctions against the Islamic Republic,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born expert on Iran at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel.
    Khamenei on Wednesday urged Iranians to turn out and vote, but record numbers of people are expected to boycott the polls due to anger over worsening economic hardship and frustration with hardline rule.
    Another potential deterrent for voters is a hardline vetting body’s disqualification of hundreds of would-be candidates, including many advocating more political and personal freedoms.
    For an overwhelmingly young population chafing at political restrictions, the lack of choice at the ballot box means a vote serves little purpose, analysts of Iranian politics say.
BOYCOTT CALL
    The establishment’s religiously devout core supporters are expected to vote for Raisi, a mid-ranking Shi’ite Muslim cleric who lost to Rouhani in 2017.
    “I will vote for Raisi because he is the most capable candidate to bring back the country to our revolutionary values,” Said Mohammad Hosseini from the holy Shi’ite city of Mashhad.
    But hundreds of Iranians, including prominent politicians and relatives of dissidents killed since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, have called for an election boycott.
    “Why should I vote when it has no impact?    Raisi will be the next president whether we vote or not,” said an Iranian journalist who asked not to be named due to security concerns.
    Raisi, whose main rival in the vote is moderate former Central Bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati, was appointed by Khamenei to the high-profile job of judiciary chief in 2019.
    A few months later, the United States sanctioned him for human rights violations, including the executions of political prisoners in 1980s and the suppression of unrest in 2009, events in which he played a part according to human rights groups.
    Iran has never acknowledged the mass executions, and Raisi himself has never publicly addressed allegations about his role.
    A win on Friday would burnish Raisi’s chances of one day succeeding Khamenei at the pinnacle of power, the analysts say.
STREET PROTESTS
    If elected, Raisi is not expected to stray from Khamenei’s anti-U.S. stance, in contrast to Rouhani, whose comments in favour of opening up to the world sometimes appeared at variance with the supreme leader’s intense suspicion of the West.
    “Khamenei does not want dissent from the presidential office, especially not now that he faces unprecedented challenges,” said Javedanfar.
    Within Iran’s mix of clerical rulers and elected officials, Khamenei has the final say on all state matters, including nuclear and foreign policies.    But the elected president will be in charge of tackling an economy hammered by U.S. sanctions.
    Over 50% of Iran’s 85 million population has been pushed under the poverty line since 2018, when then U.S. President Donald Trump ditched a 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed nuclear-related sanctions that have squeezed Tehran’s oil income.
    The election coincides with talks between Iran and six major powers to revive the nuclear accord, under which Tehran agreed to curbs on its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of international sanctions.
    Aware of its vulnerability to anger over the economy, the leadership fears a revival of street protests that have erupted since 2017, in which protesters called for “regime change.”
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean)

6/17/2021 Gulf Nations: Any Iran Deal Must Bar Ballistic Missile Development by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this April 10, 2021 file photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency,
President Hassan Rouhani, second right, listens to head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi while
visiting an exhibition of Iran’s new nuclear achievements in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP, File)
    Foreign ministers from a group of Arab nations are calling for Iran’s ballistic missile program to be included in ongoing nuclear talks.
    During a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh on Wednesday, the diplomats agreed Iran must be barred from developing high-precision ballistic missiles in exchange for economic concessions.    The Arab nations also said they should be included in the talks as well.
    This comes as Joe Biden is leading indirect talks to revive the failed 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and European nations.    The Gulf Council added, any deal with Iran must be fully verifiable.
    “The Ministerial Council stressed the need for the joint committee’s negotiations on the Iranian nuclear file currently in Vienna or any other negotiations with Iran to address Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region,” stated Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf, secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council.    “And its sponsorship of terrorism, sectarian militias and the Iranian missile program, including ballistic and cruise missiles and drones in one basket.”
    The Gulf nations also called on Iran to avoid violating United Nations resolutions and take unilateral steps to reduce violence as well as hostilities across the Middle East.

6/19/2021 As Iran Veers Right, Ties With Gulf Arabs May Hinge On Nuclear Pact by Ghaida Ghantous
FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi gestures after casting his vote during presidential elections at
a polling station in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Gulf Arab states are unlikely to be deterred from dialogue to improve ties with Iran after a hardline judge won the presidency but their talks with Tehran might become tougher, analysts said.
    Prospects for better relations between Muslim Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Gulf Arab monarchies could ultimately hinge on progress to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear accord with world powers, they said, after Ebrahim Raisi won Friday’s election.
    The Iranian judge and cleric, who is subject to U.S. sanctions, takes office in August, while nuclear talks in Vienna under outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, a more pragmatic cleric, are ongoing.
    Saudi Arabia and Iran, longtime regional foes, began direct talks in April to contain tensions at the same time as global powers have been embroiled in nuclear negotiations.
    “Iran has now sent a clear message that they are tilting to a more radical, more conservative position,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a UAE political analyst, adding that Raisi’s election might make improving Gulf ties a tougher challenge.
    “Nevertheless, Iran is not in a position to become more radical … because the region is becoming very difficult and very dangerous,” he added.
    The United Arab Emirates, whose commercial hub Dubai has been a trade gateway for Iran, and Oman, which has often played a regional mediation role, were swift to congratulate Raisi.
    Saudi Arabia has yet to comment.
    Raisi, an implacable critic of the West and an ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power in Iran, has voiced support for continuing the nuclear negotiations.
    “If the Vienna talks succeed and there is a better situation with America, then (with) hardliners in power, who are close to the supreme leader, the situation may improve,” said Abdulaziz Sager, chairman of Gulf Research Center.
LEVERAGE
    A revived nuclear deal and the lifting of U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Republic would boost Raisi, easing Iran’s economic crisis and offering leverage in Gulf talks, said Jean-Marc Rickli, an analyst at Geneva Centre for Security Policy.
    Neither Iran nor Gulf Arabs want a return to the kind of tensions seen in 2019 that spiralled after the U.S. killing, under former U.S. President Donald Trump, of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.    Gulf states blamed Iran or its proxies for a spate of attacks on oil tankers and Saudi oil plants.
    A perception that Washington was now disengaging militarily from the area under U.S. President Joe Biden has prompted a more pragmatic Gulf approach, analysts said.
Nevertheless, Biden has demanded Iran rein in its missile programme and end its support for proxies in the region, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthi movement in Yemen, demands that have strong support from Gulf Arab nations.
    “The Saudis have realised they can no longer rely on the Americans for their security … and have seen that Iran has the means to really put pressure on the kingdom through direct attacks and also with the quagmire of Yemen,” Rickli said.
    Saudi-Iran talks have focused mainly on Yemen, where a military campaign led by Riyadh against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement for over six years no longer has U.S. backing.
    The UAE has maintained contacts with Tehran since 2019, while also forging ties with Israel, Iran’s arch regional foe.
    Sanam Vakil, an analyst at Britain’s Chatham House, wrote last week that regional conversations, particularly on maritime security, were expected to continue but “can only gain momentum if Tehran demonstrates meaningful goodwill.”
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous; Additional reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Edmund Blair)

6/19/2021 Khamenei Protege Wins Iran Election Amid Low Turnout by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi looks on at a polling station during presidential
elections in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline judge who is under U.S. sanctions for human rights abuses, secured victory as expected on Saturday in Iran’s presidential election after a contest marked by voter apathy over economic hardships and political restrictions.
    With all 28.9 million ballots counted, Raisi was elected with a tally of 17.9 million, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said on state TV.
    Turnout in Friday’s four-man race was a record low of around 48.8% and there were 3.7 million invalid ballots that were likely to have been mostly blank or protest votes.
    Appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the high-profile job of judiciary chief in 2019, Raisi was placed under U.S. sanctions a few months later over human rights violations.
    Those included the role that human rights group say Raisi played in the executions of thousands of political prisoners in the 1988 and in the violent suppression of unrest in 2009.
    Iran has never acknowledged the mass executions, and Raisi himself has never publicly addressed allegations about his role.     Seen by analysts and insiders as representing the security establishment at its most fearsome, Raisi, 60, had been widely tipped to win the contest, thanks to Khamenei’s endorsement.
    Iran’s regional allies, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and militant Islamist group Hamas welcomed Raisi’s election.    Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard said his victory was “a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran.”
    “We continue to call for Ebrahim Raisi to be investigated for his involvement in past and ongoing crimes under international law, including by states that exercise universal jurisdiction,” she said in a statement.
    Outgoing pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani, barred by the constitution from seeking a third term, visited Raisi at his office to congratulate him, and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he would lead Iran well.
    “Backed by your high vote and exceptional confidence, I will form a hard-working, revolutionary and anti-corruption government,” state media quoted Raisi as saying in a statement.
    Raisi, who takes office in early August, said he will be a president for all Iranians – whether they voted for him or for the other candidates, or did not vote at all.
NUCLEAR TALKS
    Raisi’s election comes at a critical time.
    Iran and six major powers are in talks to revive their 2015 nuclear deal. Donald Trump, U.S. president at the time, abandoned the deal in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions that have squeezed Iran’s oil income.
    However, with Iran’s ruling clerics aware their political fortunes rely on tackling worsening economic hardships, Raisi’s win will not disrupt Iran’s effort to revive the pact and break free of tough U.S. oil and financial sanctions.
    Nonetheless, some analysts predicted his hardline stances could deter foreign investors.
    “Raisi’s hardline political and economic beliefs will limit the scope for significant foreign investment if a deal is reached and further isolate Tehran from the West,” said senior analyst Henry Rome at Eurasia Group.
    Khamenei, not the president, has the last say on all issue of state such as Iran’s foreign and nuclear policies.
    Seeking to win over voters preoccupied by bread-and-butter issues, Raisi has promised to create millions of jobs and tackle inflation, without offering a detailed political or economic programme.
LACK OF CHOICE
    Hoping to boost their legitimacy, the country’s clerical rulers had urged people to turn out and vote on Friday, but simmering anger over economic hardships and curbs on freedoms kept many Iranians at home.
    Khamenei said the turnout displayed the clerical establishment’s popularity.    But more than half of eligible voters were too dissatisfied to vote or appeared to have heeded calls by hundreds of dissidents, at home and abroad, to boycott the vote.
    Another deterrent for many pro-reform voters was a lack of choice, after a hardline election body barred heavyweight moderates and conservatives from standing.
    A U.S. State Department spokesperson said on Friday: “Iranians were denied their right to choose their own leaders in a free and fair electoral process” – a likely reference to the disqualification of candidates.
    Many pro-reform Iranians fear Raisi’s presidency could usher in more repression.
    “I am scared. I don’t want to go back to jail again.    I am certain that any kind of dissent will not be tolerated,” said Hamidreza, 31, who declined to give his full name. He was jailed for participating in unrest in 2019 that broke out over fuel price hikes and quickly turned political.
    Analysts say the election win could increase Raisi’s chances of succeeding Khamenei, who himself served two terms as president before becoming supreme leader in 1989.
(Writing by Parisa HafeziEditing by John Stonestreet and Frances Kerry)

6/19/2021 Winner Of Iran Presidency Is Hardline Judge Who Is Under U.S. Sanctions by Parisa Hafezi
A supporter of Ebrahim Raisi displays his portrait during a celebratory rally for his presidential
election victory in Tehran, Iran June 19, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Ebrahim Raisi’s record of fierce loyalty to Iran’s ruling clerics helped explain why the senior judge had been expected to win Friday’s presidential election, a contest the authorities limited almost exclusively to hardline candidates like him.
    The win for Raisi, 60, an implacable critic of the West whose political patron is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, burnishes his chances of one day succeeding Khamenei at the pinnacle of power, analysts say.
    Accused by critics of human rights abuses stretching back decades – allegations his defenders deny – Raisi was appointed by Khamenei to the high-profile job of judiciary chief in 2019.
    Later that year, Raisi headed the legal system as authorities used the courts to suppress the bloodiest political unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution.    Iran says its legal system is independent and not influenced by political interests.
    “Raisi is a pillar of a system that jails, tortures, and kills people for daring to criticize state policies,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of New York-based advocacy group the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), in a statement.
    Iran denies it tortures prisoners.
    A mid-ranking figure in the hierarchy of Iran’s Shi’ite Muslim clergy, Raisi has been a senior judiciary official for most of his career.    He served as deputy head of the judiciary for 10 years, before being appointed prosecutor-general in 2014.
    Gaining a reputation as a feared security hawk, he was one of four judges who oversaw executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, rights groups say.    Amnesty International has put the number executed at around 5,000, saying in a 2018 report that “the real number could be higher.”
SUPPORT FOR IRAN TALKS
    The CHRI said that those executed were “buried in unmarked mass and individual graves, based on the committee’s determination of their ‘loyalty’ to the newly established Islamic Republic.    These prisoners had already been tried and were serving their issued prison sentences.”
    Iran has never acknowledged the mass executions.    However, some clerics have said the trials of the prisoners were fair, and those judges involved should be rewarded for eliminating the armed opposition in the revolution’s early years.    Raisi himself has never publicly addressed allegations about his role.
    In 2020, U.N. human rights experts called for accountability over the 1988 deaths, warning “the situation may amount to crimes against humanity” if the Iranian government continued to refuse to hold responsible those involved.
    The United States imposed sanctions on Raisi in 2019 for human rights violations, including the 1980s executions and his part in the suppression of unrest in 2009.
    Raisi, who lost to pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani in 2017, offered no detailed political or economic programme during his election campaign, while wooing lower-income Iranians by promising to ease unemployment.
    However, by promising not to “waste a single moment” in removing U.S. sanctions, Raisi signalled his support for talks with world powers aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear deal.
    A Raisi presidency will strengthen Khamenei’s hand at home, and rights activists fear it could usher in more repression.
    “He would not have registered as a candidate if his chances were not all but certain, and Raisi’s decision to register would have almost certainly been guided by Khamenei himself,” said Kasra Aarabi, a senior analyst on Iran & Shia Islamist Extremism at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.
NEXT SUPREME LEADER?
    With the rejection of prominent moderate and conservative candidates by a hardline vetting body, voters had a choice only between hardliners and low-key moderates in the election.    Turnout was, as expected, a record low amid rising anger over economic hardship and curbs on personal freedoms.
    “By taking its exclusionary strategies to a new height, the Guardian Council has left no space for surprise,” said Ali Vaez, senior adviser at the International Crisis Group.
    An election win would increase Raisi’s chances of succeeding Khamenei, who himself served two terms as president before becoming supreme leader upon founder of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s 1989 death, analysts said before Friday’s vote.
    “Raisi is someone that Khamenei trusts … Raisi can protect the supreme leader’s legacy,” said Sanam Vakil, deputy director of Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa Program.
    Born in 1960 to a religious family in Iran’s holy Shi’ite Muslim city of Mashhad, Raisi was active in the 1979 revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah and continues to proclaim his fidelity to the “fundamental values” of Khamenei.
    “The deep state is willing to go as far as undermining one of its pillars of legitimacy to ensure that Ayatollah Khamenei’s vision for the revolution’s future survives him when Raisi takes over the Supreme Leader’s mantle,” said Vaez.
    Vaez was referring to the republican pillar of Iran’s dual system of clerical and republican rule.    Critics say the hardline election body’s rejection of leading moderate and conservative hopefuls to enter the election race has cleared the way for tyranny, a charge Iranian authorities deny.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by William Maclean and Frances Kerry)

6/19/2021 Parties To Iran Nuclear Deal To Meet On Sunday – EU
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    PARIS (Reuters) -Parties negotiating a revival of the Iran nuclear deal will hold a formal meeting in Vienna on Sunday, the European Union said on Saturday.
    Iran and six world powers have been negotiating in Vienna since April to work out steps for Washington and Tehran to take.    The United States withdrew in 2018 from the pact, under which Iran accepted curbs on its nuclear programme in exchange for a lifting of many foreign sanctions against it.
    Sunday’s formal meeting comes more than a week after this round of talks resumed and is an indication that the talks are likely to be adjourned.
    Officials over the week have indicated that differences remain on key issues.
    “The Joint Commission of #JCPOA will meet on Sunday, June 20,” Mikhail Ulyanov Russia’s envoy to the talks said on Twitter.
    “It will decide on the way ahead at the #ViennaTalks.    An agreement on restoration of the nuclear deal is within reach but is not finalised yet.”
    The remaining parties to the deal – Iran, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union – meet in the basement of a luxury hotel.
    The U.S. delegation to the talks is based in a hotel across the street as Iran refuses face-to-face meetings, leaving the other delegations and EU to work as go-betweens.
    Since former U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran, Tehran has embarked on counter measures, including rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium, a potential pathway to nuclear bombs.
(Reporting by John IrishEditing by Frances Kerry and Christina Fincher)

6/19/2021 Praise And Condemnation For Iran’s New Hardline President
Iran's outgoing President Hassan Rouhani and Iran's President-elect Ebrahim Raisi speak to the media
after their meeting in Tehran, Iran June 19, 2021. Official Presidential website/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) -Following are some world reactions to the election of Ebrahim Raisi as president of Iran. Raisi, 60, is a hardline judge who is loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and subject to U.S. sanctions for alleged human rights abuses.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT
    “Relations between our countries are traditionally friendly and good-neighborly.    I hope that your activities in this high post will contribute to the further development of constructive bilateral cooperation in various directions, as well as to the partnership in international affairs.    This fully meets the interests of the Russian and Iranian peoples, goes in line with the strengthening of regional security and stability,” Putin said in a message to Raisi, according to the Kremlin.
YAIR LAPID, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER, ON TWITTER:
    “Iran’s new president, known as the Butcher of Tehran, is an extremist responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iranians.    He is committed to the regime’s nuclear ambitions and to its campaign of global terror.”
BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIAN PRESIDENT
    Assad wished Raisi success “for the good and interest of the steadfast Iranian people in the face of all schemes and pressures that aim to break their will and undermine their independent decision,” according to a Syrian presidency statement.
TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKISH PRESIDENT
    “Stating my belief that cooperation between our two countries will strengthen during your presidency, I am ready to work together with you,” Erdogan said in a letter sent to Raisi.
SHEIKH MOHAMMED BIN RASHID, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES VICE-PRESIDENT AND DUBAI RULER
    “We wish for the Islamic Republic, and for our bilateral relations, stability, continuity and prosperity,” he said in a statement tweeted by Dubai’s media office.
ABU DHABI CROWN PRINCE SHEIKH MOHAMMED BIN ZAYED
    Sent a message of congratulations, according to state news agency WAM.
HAITHAM BIN TARIQ AL-SAID, SULTAN OF OMAN
    Congratulated Raisi on his victory, Oman’s state news agency ONA reported.
TAMIM BIN HAMAD AL-THANI, QATAR’S EMIR
    Sent a message to Raisi “wishing him success as well as further development and growth of the relations between the two countries,” state news agency QNA said.
SHEIKH NAWAF AL-AHMAD AL-SABAH, KUWAIT’S EMIR
    Messaged Raisi, “wishing him further success and wellness, as well as the friendly Islamic Republic to further progress and prosper,” according to KUNA state news agency.
MUSTAFA AL-KADHIMI, IRAQ’S PRIME MINISTER
    Congratulated Raisi by phone, according to a Tweet by the prime minister’s office, and expressed his hopes for further cooperation on economic and security matters “in addition to the fight against terrorism, and in a way that boosts the security and stability of the two countries and the region.”
BARHAM SALIH, IRAQI PRESIDENT
    “I extend my sincere congratulations and blessings on the occasion of your election as President of the Islamic Republic of Iran … We in Iraq look forward to strengthening our solid relations with our neighbour Iran and its people.”
MICHAEL PAGE, DEPUTY MIDDLE EAST DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
    “Iranian authorities paved the way for Ebrahim Raisi to become president through repression and an unfair election.    As head of Iran’s repressive judiciary, Raisi oversaw some of the most heinous crimes in Iran’s recent history, which deserve investigation and accountability rather than election to high office.”
AGNES CALLAMARD, SECRETARY GENERAL AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
    “That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture, is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran.    We continue to call for Ebrahim Raisi to be investigated for his involvement in past and ongoing crimes under international law, including by states that exercise universal jurisdiction.”
MARYAM RAJAVI, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE PARIS-BASED NATIONAL COUNCIL OF RESISTANCE OF IRAN
    “Ebrahim Raisi, the henchman of the 1988 massacre and murderer of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK), is Khamenei’s final bid to preserve his regime.    Weak, crisis-riddled, and rattled by looming uprisings, Khamenei purged all rivals to install Raisi as president, one of the vilest criminals against humanity since World War II.”
MAHDI AL-MASHAT, HEAD OF THE HOUTHI MOVEMENT’S POLITICAL OFFICE
    Sent a message of congratulations to Raisi on his victory, al-Masirah TV reported.
HAZEM QASSEM, HAMAS SPOKESMAN IN GAZA
    “We congratulate the Islamic Republic of Iran for the success of the democratic process, the holding of the presidential election and the victory of Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s President.    We wish the Islamic Republic of Iran progress and prosperity.    Iran has always been a fundamental and a real supporter of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian resistance.”
YOUSSEF AL-HASSAYNA, ISLAMIC JIHAD OFFICIAL IN GAZA
    “Once again the people of Iran have reiterated their commitment to the path of revolution and its regime.    We congratulate the Islamic Republic and the people of Iran on this great achievement.”
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; John Irish in Paris; Dominic Evans in AnkaraWriting by Maayan LubellEditing by Frances Kerry)

6/19/2021 Israel Says Iran’s Raisi Extreme, Committed To Nuclear Programme by Maayan Lubell
FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran
June 15, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel on Saturday condemned Iran’s newly-elected president Ebrahim Raisi, saying he was its most extreme president yet and committed to quickly advancing Tehran’s nuclear programme.
    “Iran’s new president, known as the Butcher of Tehran, is an extremist responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iranians.    He is committed to the regime’s nuclear ambitions and to its campaign of global terror,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Twitter.
    A separate statement from the Israeli Foreign Ministry said Raisi’s election should “prompt grave concern among the international community.”
    Israel’s new government, sworn in on Sunday, has said it would object to the revival of a 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and its arch-foe, Iran.
    Israel sees a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat.    Tehran denies seeking nuclear weapons.
    Toeing the policy line set by the administration of Israel’s former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the foreign ministry said: “More than ever, Iran’s nuclear program must be halted immediately, rolled back entirely and stopped indefinitely.”
    “Iran’s ballistic missile program must be dismantled and its global terror campaign vigorously countered by a broad international coalition.”
    Raisi, a hardline judge who is under U.S. sanctions for human rights abuses, secured victory as expected on Saturday in Iran’s presidential election after a contest marked by voter apathy over economic hardships and political restrictions.
(Reporting by Maayan LubellEditing by Mark Potter)

6/21/2021 Iran’s Raisi Says U.S. Violated Nuclear Deal, EU Failed To Fulfil Commitments
Iran's President-elect Ebrahim Raisi attends a news conference
in Tehran, Iran June 21, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian President-Elect Ebrahim Raisi said on Monday that the United States violated the 2015 nuclear deal and the European Union failed to fulfil its commitments, speaking in his first news conference since his victory in Friday’s election.
    The United States and the EU should fulfil their pledges under the deal, Raisi said in Tehran.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Edmund Blair)

6/21/2021 Analysis: Iran Vote Points To Hardline Goal Of Long-Term Power – Analysts by Parisa Hafezi and John Irish
FILE PHOTO: A supporter of Ebrahim Raisi displays his portrait during a celebratory rally for his presidential
election victory in Tehran, Iran June 19, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – A hardline victory in Iran’s presidential election has tilted the domestic balance of power towards the country’s anti-Western clergy and away from officials chosen by popular vote, a shift Tehran may one day seek to make permanent, six analysts who follow the Islamic Republic’s politics say.
    In a tightly controlled race on Friday marked by voter apathy, judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, a protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a trusted ally of the security establishment, was elected Iran’s next president.    He takes office in August.
    While his win presages no change in Iran’s push to revive a 2015 nuclear deal and break free of sanctions, it points to Raisi as a potential successor to Khamenei and brings all arms of the state under the control of hardliners suspicious of the West, officials and analysts say.
    Although the supreme leader, not the president, has the last word on all matters of state, the changeover at the presidency will remove the moderating influence on policy-making exercised by outgoing pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani since 2013.
    The constitution’s provision for a directly elected president may be one area targeted for change, the analysts say.
    The election of Raisi, whose views appear to align with Khamenei’s on every major topic, may permit the supreme leader to pursue changes entrenching more clerical power, a goal some analysts suspect the 82-year-old has long sought.
    “This election was rather a selection, as it precluded any competitive race,” said Ali Fathollah-Nejad, an analyst and author of Iran in an Emerging New Word Order.
    “… the true nature of the Islamic Republic has been revealed, in that the theocratic institutions are omnipotent and the so-called republican one is just an impotent facade.”
    Pointing to the authorities’ decision to severely limit the field in the election, some insiders including former senior government officials have called Raisi’s win a “political coup d’etat” aimed at eliminating all other factions from the political scene.
    Iranian officials were not immediately available to reply to a request for comment on possible constitutional changes or on accusations of a power grab.
MONOLITHIC CONTROL
    Crisis Group’s Iran Project Director, Ali Vaez, said the establishment preferred “a pliant, tested, loyal president” who will not oppose constitutional changes he suspects are desired by the clerical rulers.
    “They are probably paving the ground for some structural changes (to the constitution) and for that you need to have monolithic control over all instruments of power, including for instance changing the system from a presidential to a parliament one,” Vaez said.
    Such a move would signal the biggest constitutional change since 1989, at the end of the reign of late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, when the position of prime minister was abolished and that of president strengthened.
    Iran’s political system is a complex mix of Shi’ite Muslim clerical authority and an elected president and parliament.    The president runs the government day-to-day, but reports to the deeply anti-Western Khamenei.    A hardline watchdog body made up of clerics and jurists aligned to Khamenei and who favour tough political and social restrictions has the power to veto laws and decide which candidates may stand.
    While Khamenei has never declared whether this system needs improvement, he has indicated he is open to change.
    He said a decade ago there would be “no problems” in switching the republican part of the country’s administration from a directly-elected presidency to a parliamentary system, giving MPs the power to elect a prime minister.
    And on June 3 this year, in a televised speech, Khamenei appeared to go further, saying: “There may come a time in the future when elections become meaningless, there may be other forms of public presence and expression.”
    Over the decades there have been periodic tensions between presidents, deriving their authority directly from the ballot box, and clerics invoking divine law who have the final word.
    Replacing a popularly elected president with a premier picked by a parliament dominated by hardliners would strengthen the supreme leader’s hold over the establishment, the six analysts said.    Such a shift could hand more influence over policy-making to unelected clerics hostile to trade and investment with Western and Gulf Arab countries long seen as foes, analysts say.
    Cohesion among those in power – all hardliners – would also guarantee a smooth power transfer after Khamenei dies.
    “Raisi’s election was an exclamation point on a longer term effort by hardliners to consolidate power ahead of Khamenei’s succession,” said Henry Rome, an analyst at Eurasia Group.
NUCLEAR TALKS
    With the clerics aware their political fortunes rely on tackling economic hardship, Raisi has made a point of saying he backs Iran’s talks with world powers to restore the nuclear pact and break free of tough U.S. oil and financial sanctions.
    The struggle of ordinary Iranians to make ends meet has become harder since three years ago when then U.S. President Donald Trump exited the deal and reimposed crushing sanctions.
    Several officials have publicly warned against a reprise of protests in recent years that reminded the clerical rulers how vulnerable they could be to popular anger over the economy.
    “The nuclear deal’s revival would probably lead to a surge in Iranian economic growth … This would give Raisi a substantial cushion in his first year or two in office,” said Clement Therme, an Iran expert at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.
    Dissidents also fear Raisi’s presidency could usher in more repression at home.    As head of the judiciary, Raisi held significant power in a country that has long used its powerful legal system to crack down on political dissent.
    Raisi was placed under U.S. sanctions for human rights violations in 2019, for the role he allegedly played in the executions of thousands of political prisoners in the 1988.    Iran has never acknowledged the killings.
    Raisi said on Monday he should be rewarded for defending his people’s rights and security.    He said that, as a jurist, he had “always defended human rights,” adding that U.S. sanctions had been imposed on him for doing his job as a judge.    He had not previously publicly addressed the allegations.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean)

6/21/2021 Iran’s Raisi Backs Nuclear Talks, Rules Out Meeting Biden by Parisa Hafezi
Iran's President-elect Ebrahim Raisi attends a news conference in Tehran, Iran
June 21, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi on Monday backed talks between Iran and six world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal but flatly rejected meeting U.S. President Joe Biden, even if Washington removed all sanctions.
    In his first news conference since winning Friday’s presidential election, the hardline judge said his foreign policy priority would be improving ties with Iran’s Gulf Arab neighbours, while calling on Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia to immediately halt its intervention in Yemen.
    Raisi, 60, a strident critic of the West, will take over from pragmatist Hassan Rouhani on Aug. 3 as Iran seeks to salvage the tattered nuclear deal and be rid of punishing U.S. sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
    “We support the negotiations that guarantee our national interests. … America should immediately return to the deal and fulfil its obligations under the deal,” said Raisi, who is himself under U.S. sanctions.
    Negotiations have been under way in Vienna since April to work out how Iran and the United States can both return to compliance with the nuclear pact, which Washington abandoned in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump before reimposing sanctions on Iran.
    Iran has subsequently breached the deal’s limits on enrichment of uranium, designed to minimise the risk of it developing nuclear weapons potential.    Tehran has long denied having any such ambition.
    Raisi said Iran’s foreign policy would not be limited to the nuclear deal, adding that “all U.S. sanctions must be lifted and verified by Tehran.”
    Iranian and Western officials alike say Raisi’s rise is unlikely to alter Iran’s negotiating stance in talks to revive the nuclear deal.    Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on all major policy.
    Asked if he would meet Biden if those sanctions were lifted, Raisi answered: “No.”
WHITE HOUSE RESPONSE
    The White House downplayed Raisi’s influence, saying no meeting was planned and that Khamenei was the real decision maker in Tehran.
    “We don’t currently have any diplomatic relations with Iran or any plans to meet at the leader level,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.    “Our view is that the decision maker here is the supreme leader.”
    The U.S. State Department said it regarded the process that elected Raisi as “pretty manufactured” and expected the Vienna nuclear talks to resume “in the coming days.”
    Raisi secured victory as expected in the election after a contest marked by voter apathy over economic hardships and political restrictions.
    He is under U.S. sanctions over a past that includes what the United States and human rights groups say was his involvement in the extrajudicial killing of thousands of political prisoners in the Islamic Republic in 1988.
    When asked about human rights groups’ allegations that he was involved in the killings, he said: “If a judge, a prosecutor has defended the security of the people, he should be praised.”
    “I am proud to have defended human rights in every position I have held so far,” Raisi said.
    The White House said it would keep human rights on the table following negotiations on the nuclear deal.    Psaki declined to predict when or if a deal would be reached, adding that officials are “looking forward to seeing where that goes.”
    Gulf Arab states have said it would be dangerous to separate the nuclear pact from Iran’s missile programme and “destabilising” behaviour in the Middle East, where Tehran and Riyadh have fought decades of proxy wars, in countries from Yemen to Iraq.
    Echoing Khamenei’s stance, Raisi said Iran’s “regional activities and ballistic missile programme” were non-negotiable.
    A Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen’s war in 2015 after Iran-backed Houthi forces drove its government out of the capital, Sanaa.    The conflict has been largely stalemated for several years.
    “They (the United States) did not comply with the previous agreement.    How do they want to enter into new discussions?” Raisi said.
    Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran, which severed ties in 2016, began direct talks in Iraq in April aimed at containing tensions.    “The reopening of the Saudi Embassy is not a problem for Iran,” said Raisi.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington; Writing by Raya Jalabi and Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Timothy Heritage and Peter Cooney)

6/21/2021 Iran Set To Stay On Hardline Course After Raisi Win, Saudi Commentators Say
FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran
June 15, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The election of a hardline Iranian president has so far been met with silence from Saudi Arabia, but commentators in state-controlled Saudi newspapers forecast little change in Iran’s foreign policy as security hawks tighten their grip on power.
    Most Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates which is also at odds with Iran, offered congratulations after judge Ebrahim Raisi, an ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who wields ultimate power, emerged the winner in Friday’s presidential election.
    “After Ebrahim Raisi’s win we do not expect any important changes in foreign policy since it falls under the supreme leader, and the (nuclear) deal being negotiated by (incumbent President Hassan) Rouhani’s team in Vienna will go through,” wrote Abdulrahman Rashed in Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat daily.
    Riyadh and its allies are eyeing the talks between global powers and Iran to revive a 2015 nuclear pact that Washington quit in 2018 and which Gulf states opposed for not addressing Tehran’s missile programme and support for regional proxies.
    Analysts said progress in Vienna would determine momentum in direct talks between Riyadh and Tehran launched in April to contain tensions that have festered over the Yemen war and which grew following a 2019 attack on Saudi oil plants.
    “Reconciliation with Iran is possible but within a pragmatic political framework…,” said Ali al-Kheshaiban in an op-ed in Al Riyadh newspaper.    “The language of moderation and equivalence is the only political language capable of curbing Iran.”
    Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in April said Riyadh wanted good ties with Tehran, adopting a more conciliatory tone as he tries to balance long-held animosity with economic considerations and bridge differences with Washington over how to tackle Tehran’s regional behaviour.
    President Joe Biden, who has demanded Iran rein in its missile programme and end support for proxies, withdrew support for a military campaign led by Riyadh in Yemen against the Iran-aligned Houthis, who continue cross-border attacks on the kingdom.
    Saudi commentator Khaled Suleiman, writing in Okaz daily, said Washington was “turning its cheek” to Iran and should avoid making “free concessions” that embolden Tehran.
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous, Editing by William Maclean)

6/23/2021 Iran Says U.S. To Lift Oil Sanctions, Germany, France Cautious On Matter by Parisa Hafezi and Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    DUBAI/BERLIN (Reuters) -Iran said on Wednesday the United States had agreed to remove all sanctions on Iran’s oil and shipping, although Germany cautioned that major issues remained at talks between Tehran and world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal.
    The Iranian remarks, by outgoing President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi, echoed previous assertions by officials in Rouhani’s pragmatist camp that Washington is prepared to make major concessions at the talks, which have been under way since April in Vienna.
    The talks adjourned on Sunday for consultations in capitals, two days after Iran held a presidential election won by hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the Iranian judiciary chief who is on a U.S. blacklist. Raisi is due to replace Rouhani in August.
    “An agreement has been reached to remove all insurance, oil and shipping sanctions that were imposed by (former U.S. President Donald) Trump,” Vaezi was quoted as saying by Iranian state media.
    Like other Western and Iranian negotiators who have said the talks remain a long way from conclusion, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Wednesday that Tehran and the powers still had to overcome significant hurdles.
    “We are making progress but there are still some nuts to crack,” Maas told a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.    Maas said a deal was possible even after the election of Raisi, an implacable critic of the West.
‘DIFFICULT DECISIONS’
    French Junior Foreign Minister Franck Riester told lawmakers that time was running out to reach a deal and he opened the door to the idea that a deal might not be reached quickly.     “Difficult decisions will need to be made in the coming days or weeks if these negotiations were not to move forward.”
    U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday there was still “a fair distance to travel,” including on sanctions and on the nuclear commitments that Iran has to make to salvage the tattered deal.
    Iran agreed in 2015 to curbs on its uranium enrichment programme, a possible pathway to nuclear weapons, in return for the lifting of international sanctions.    Trump abandoned the deal three years later, calling it flawed to Iran’s advantage, and reimposed harsh sanctions that hammered Iran’s economy.
    Tehran responded by violating some enrichment limits, while continuing to insist that it has no nuclear arms ambitions.
    Iranian and Western officials alike say Raisi’s ascendancy is unlikely to alter the Islamic Republic’s negotiating position, as clerical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei already has the final say on all major policy.
    Vaezi said the United States had agreed to take some senior Iranian figures off a blacklist.
    “About 1,040 Trump-era sanctions will be lifted under the agreement.    It was also agreed to lift some sanctions on individuals and members of the supreme leader’s inner circle.”
    U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration aims to restore the deal, but the sides disagree on which steps need to be taken and when to defuse mutual suspicions and ensure full compliance.
    But some Iranian officials have suggested Tehran may prefer an agreement before Raisi takes office to give the new president a clean slate and avoid blame if problems subsequently arise.
    Vaezi also said that Iran’s Supreme National Security Council would decide whether to extend its nuclear site monitoring deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency after its expiry on June 24.
    Iran and the IAEA reached a three-month accord in February to cushion the blow of Tehran’s decision – another response to the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement – to scale back its cooperation with the U.N. watchdog by ending extra monitoring measures introduced by the 2015 deal.
    Under the February accord, which on May 24 was extended by a month, data continues to be collected in a black box-type arrangement with the IAEA able to access it only at a later date.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Humeyra Pamuk in Berlin and John Irish in ParisEditing by Mark Heinrich)

6/23/2021 French Minister Says Time Running Out On Iran Nuclear Talks
FILE PHOTO: French Culture Minister Franck Riester speaks at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France
May 6, 2020 following a video conference between the French president and several artists' representatives as the country
is under a strict lockdown to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS
    PARIS (Reuters) – Talks on Iran’s nuclear program need to end quickly because time is running out, French junior minister Franck Riester said on Wednesday.
    Riester told parliament that difficult decisions would need to be taken in coming days or weeks if negotiations do not advance.
(Reporting by John Irish; Writing by Matthieu Protard; Editing by Toby Chopra)

6/23/2021 Iran Says U.S. To Lift Oil Sanctions, U.S. Says Nothing Agreed by Parisa Hafezi and Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    DUBAI/BERLIN (Reuters) -Iran said on Wednesday the United States had agreed to remove all sanctions on Iran’s oil and shipping but Washington said “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” in talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
    The remarks by outgoing President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi echoed previous assertions by officials in Rouhani’s pragmatist camp that Washington is ready to make major concessions at the nuclear talks in Vienna that began in April.
    The indirect talks adjourned on Sunday for consultations in capitals, two days after Iran held a presidential election won by hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the Iranian judiciary chief subject to U.S. sanctions.    Raisi is due to replace Rouhani in August.
    Iran struck a deal with major powers in 2015 to curb its uranium enrichment program, a possible pathway to nuclear arms, in return for the lifting of U.S., EU and U.N. sanctions.
    Then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions, prompting Tehran to start violating some of the nuclear limits in 2019 while sticking to its position that it had no nuclear weapons ambitions.
    U.S. President Joe Biden aims to restore the deal, but the sides disagree on which steps need to be taken and when, with the key issues being what nuclear limits Tehran will accept and what sanctions Washington will remove.
    “An agreement has been reached to remove all insurance, oil and shipping sanctions that were imposed by Trump,” Vaezi was quoted as saying by Iranian state media.
    While acknowledging negotiators sometimes draw up draft texts, the U.S. State Department said there would be no agreement until all matters had been resolved.
    “During negotiations of this complexity, negotiators try to draft text that capture the main issues, but again, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” a State Department spokesman said on condition of anonymity.
    Echoing Western and Iranian negotiators, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said there were still significant hurdles.
    “We are making progress but there are still some nuts to crack,” Maas told a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.    Maas said a deal was possible even after the election of Raisi, an implacable critic of the West.
‘DIFFICULT DECISIONS’
    French Junior Foreign Minister Franck Riester told lawmakers time was running out to reach a deal and he suggested one might not be struck quickly.
    “Difficult decisions will need to be made in the coming days or weeks if these negotiations were not to move forward."
    White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday there was still “a fair distance to travel.”
    Iranian and Western officials say Raisi’s rise is unlikely to alter Iran’s negotiating stance because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei already has the final say.
    Vaezi also said Washington had agreed to take some senior Iranian figures off a blacklist.
    “About 1,040 Trump-era sanctions will be lifted under the agreement.    It was also agreed to lift some sanctions on individuals and members of the supreme leader’s inner circle.”
    The State Department did not directly comment on this.
    Some Iranian officials have suggested Tehran may prefer an agreement before Raisi takes office to give him a clean slate and allow him avoid blame if problems arise.
    Vaezi also said Iran’s Supreme National Security Council would decide whether to extend its nuclear site monitoring deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency after its expiry on June 24.     Iran and the IAEA reached a three-month accord in February to cushion the blow of Tehran’s decision – another response to the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement – to scale back its cooperation with the U.N. watchdog by ending extra monitoring measures introduced by the 2015 deal.
    Under the February accord, which on May 24 was extended by a month, data continues to be collected in a black box-type arrangement with the IAEA able to access it only later.
    (Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Humeyra Pamuk in Berlin; John Irish in Paris and Arshad Mohammed in WashingtonEditing by Mark Heinrich and Howard Goller)

6/24/2021 Serious Differences Persist In Iran Nuclear Talks – U.S. Official
FILE PHOTO: European External Action Service (EEAS) Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Deputy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi
wait for the start of talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna, Austria June 20, 2021. EU Delegation in Vienna/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – There are serious differences in talks on resuming compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and if they cannot be bridged in the foreseeable future, Washington will need to rethink its approach, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.
    “This process is not going to be open forever,” the senior U.S. official told reporters.    “We do have differences and if we can’t bridge them in the foreseeable future, I think we are going to have to regroup and figure out how we … move ahead.”
    The sixth round of indirect talks adjourned on Sunday, two days after hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi, the Iranian judiciary chief who is subject to U.S. sanctions, was elected president of the Islamic Republic. Raisi is due to take office in August.
    The U.S. official, who spoke to reporters on condition he not be named, said the U.S. delegation expected to return to Vienna for a seventh round of talks in the not-too-distant future but that he did not know when.
    Iran struck a deal with major powers in 2015 to curb its uranium enrichment program, a possible pathway to nuclear arms, in return for the lifting of U.S., European Union and U.N. sanctions.
    Then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions, prompting Tehran to start violating some of the nuclear limits in 2019 while sticking to its position that it had no nuclear weapons ambitions.    U.S. President Joe Biden is seeking to revive the agreement.
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed, Daphne Psaledakis and Doyinsola Oladipo; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

6/24/2021 Canada Finds No Evidence Iran’s Downing Of Airliner Was Premeditated by Steve Scherer
FILE PHOTO: Mourners attend an outdoor vigil for the victims of a Ukrainian passenger jet which
crashed in Iran, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada January 9, 2020. REUTERS/Chris Helgren/File Photo
    OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada said on Thursday it had found no evidence that Iran’s downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane last year had been premeditated, and condemned what it called the incompetence and recklessness of those responsible.
    Iran has admitted it shot down the airliner shortly after takeoff from Tehran in January 2020, killing 176 people, and blamed a “disastrous mistake” by forces on high alert during a confrontation with the United States.
    A special Canadian forensic team charged with examining all available information about the incident, including classified intelligence, said it had “found no evidence that Iranian officials ordered the shoot-down or that it was premeditated.”
    In a report the team added: “This in no way absolves Iran of its responsibility for the death of 176 innocent people.”    The dead included 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents.
    Ottawa has repeatedly complained that Iran’s official explanation did not answer many important questions about the downing of Ukrainian International Airlines flight 752.
    “Iranian civilian and military authorities bear full and complete responsibility.    Flight PS752 was shot down due to their recklessness, incompetence, and wanton disregard for human life,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote in the report.
    “Senior regime officials made the decisions that led to this tragedy, and the world must not allow them to hide with impunity behind a handful of low-ranking scapegoats.”
    In March, Iran’s civil aviation body blamed the crash on a misaligned radar and an error by an air defense operator. Iran has indicted 10 officials.
    “In the context of military operations, a misalignment of this nature should have been detected,” the report concludes, adding that Iran has failed to provide a “credible explanation” as to why the aircraft was targeted.
    Canada and other countries are seeking reparations for victims’ families.    Canada does not have formal diplomatic relations with Iran, making the process lengthy and complex.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer, editing by David Ljunggren and David Gregorio)

6/25/2021 China Promotes Security Officials To Senior Roles In Hong Kong by James Pomfret
FILE PHOTO: Secretary of Security John Lee Ka-Chiu is seen after announcing the withdrawal
of the extradition bill, in Hong Kong, China October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    HONG KONG (Reuters) -China on Friday approved the promotion of Hong Kong’s security secretary John Lee to chief secretary, while police chief Chris Tang will take Lee’s position in what critics say will further tighten Beijing’s security squeeze on the global financial hub.
    The elevation of Lee, 63, a former police deputy commissioner, to chief secretary is the first time a security specialist has taken on the number two position in the territory since Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Other former chief secretaries have had extensive economic and social policy-making expertise.
    “They have had distinguished performance in the government over the years and possess proven leadership skills,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, said in a statement.    “I am confident that they are competent for their new posts and would rise to the challenges in serving the community.”
    Beijing’s imposition of a sweeping national security law in Hong Kong in June 2020 has put China’s freest city on an authoritarian trajectory, with mass arrests of democratic campaigners, curbs on public assemblies and free speech.
    The reshuffle could further empower security officials, critics say, who have faithfully implemented Beijing’s new security regimen to strengthen control and clamp down on freedoms in the former British colony after mass pro-democracy protests in 2019.
    “The promotion of John Lee and Chris Tang completes the swift and total transformation of Hong Kong into a police state,” said Samuel Chu of the Hong Kong Democracy Council.
    Lam and Lee are expected to travel to Beijing for the Chinese Communist Party’s centenary celebrations next week, local media reported.
    Lee and Tang, 55, were among 11 Hong Kong and Chinese officials sanctioned by the U.S. government last August for undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and democratic processes after the enactment of the national security law.
    Lam told reporters on Friday the changes would lay down a “good base” for a government transition next year when her current term ends.
    Lee holds a degree from Charles Sturt University in Australia, and joined the Hong Kong Police in 1977, rising to become deputy commissioner, according to a government statement.
    He played a key role in trying to implement a contentious proposed extradition law in 2019 that divided Hong Kong society and triggered the mass protests.    That legislation was eventually scrapped amid widespread public calls for Lee to quit.
    Known for his hawkish stance, Lee had spearheaded the city’s disciplinary forces, including the police, in the national security crackdown.
    That clampdown has seen mass arrests of democratic activists and politicians, and a freeze on the assets of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper on national security grounds that led to its abrupt closure this week.
    Chinese and Hong Kong officials say the national security law has restored stability and order to Hong Kong, maintaining that rights and freedoms aren’t absolute.
    One source who has worked with Lee said he is resolute, earnest and efficient but, as a career police officer, “doesn’t have a natural feel for the politics of a highly-polarised Hong Kong.”
(Reporting by James Pomfret, Greg Torode, Twinnie Siu and Marius Zaharia; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

6/25/2021 Taiwanese Foreign Minister Warns Of Potential War With Communist China by OAN Newsroom
File- Joseph Wu, Foreign Minister of Taiwan, speaks in Taipei. (AP Photo/ Chiang Ying-Ying)
    Taiwan is preparing for a possible war with Communist China. Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said Thursday that his nation needs to be ready for a possible military conflict amid growing signs of a potential invasion by Communist China.
    The diplomat added, Beijing has not renounced its plans to use military force against Taiwan.    Nonetheless, Wu said Beijing will not be able to destroy Taiwan’s independence and political freedoms.
    “But they want to use force if necessary, so we need to prepare ourselves for a possible conflict,” he stated.    “We hope it doesn’t happen; a war between Taiwan and China is in nobody’s interest.”
    “I think they are also trying to expand their sphere of influence over the China Sea, over the South China Sea or beyond the first island chain into the white Pacific, so this is not just Taiwan’s problem,” Wu continued.    “We certainly hope that the international community will continue to look at the peace and stability in this region with attention and continue to support Taiwan."
    Beijing has claimed Taiwan is a rogue province of Mainland China, but Taipei has insisted it will stand up to any form of aggression by the illegitimate communist regime.

6/26/2021 Biden Calls On Afghans To ‘Decide Their Future’ As Withdrawal Nears End by Jonathan Landay, Steve Holland and Phil Stewart
FILE PHOTO: Armed men attend a gathering to announce their support for Afghan security forces and that they are ready
to fight against the Taliban, on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan June 23, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his former political foe, Abdullah Abdullah, on Friday at the     White House where he called on Afghans to decide the future of their country as the last U.S. troops pack up after 20 years of war and government forces struggle to repel Taliban advances.
    Biden, seated beside Ghani and Abdullah in the Oval Office, called them “two old friends” and said U.S. support for Afghanistan was not ending but would be sustained despite the U.S. pullout.
    “Afghans are going to have to decide their future, what they want,” said Biden, saying the “senseless violence has to stop.”
    Ghani said Afghan security forces had retaken six districts on Friday.    He said he respected Biden’s decision and that the partnership between the United States and Afghanistan is entering a new phase.
    “We are determined to have unity, coherence,” he said.
    Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Ghani said the United States’ decision to withdraw troops was a sovereign one and it was Kabul’s job to “manage consequences.”
    He added that Biden had clearly articulated that the U.S. embassy would continue to operate and security aid would continue and in some cases move on an accelerated schedule.
    Abdullah said in a Reuters interview after the Biden meeting that stalled intra-Afghan talks on a political settlement to decades of strife should not be abandoned unless the insurgents themselves pull out.
    “I think we shouldn’t shut the door unless it’s completely shut by the Taliban,” Abdullah said.    “We can’t say no to talks despite a lack of progress or in spite of what’s happening on the ground.”
    The Oval Office meeting could be as valuable to Ghani for its symbolism as for any new U.S. help because it will be seen as affirming Biden’s support for the beleaguered Afghan leader as he confronts Taliban gains, bombings and assassinations, a surge in COVID-19 cases and political infighting in Kabul.
    “At a time when morale is incredibly shaky and things are going downhill, anything one can do to help shore up morale and shore up the government is worth doing,” said Ronald Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Kabul.    “Inviting Ghani here is a pretty strong sign that we’re backing him.”
    Biden’s embrace, however, comes only months after U.S. officials were pressuring Ghani to step aside for a transitional government under a draft political accord that they floated in a failed gambit to break a stalemate in peace talks.
    Biden has asked Congress to approve $3.3 billion in security assistance for Afghanistan next year and is sending 3 million doses of vaccines there to help it battle COVID-19.
    U.S. officials have been clear that Biden will not halt the American pullout – likely to be completed in the coming weeks -and he is unlikely to approve any U.S. military support to Kabul to halt the Taliban’s advances beyond advice, intelligence, and aircraft maintenance.
    Earlier, the Afghan leaders met for a second day on Capitol Hill, where Biden’s withdrawal decision met objections from many members of both parties.
    U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, welcoming Ghani to a bipartisan leadership meeting, said she looked forward to hearing about what more can be done with U.S. humanitarian aid, especially for women and girls.
    Many lawmakers and experts have expressed deep concerns that the Taliban – if returned to power – will reverse progress made on the rights of women and girls, who were harshly repressed and barred from education and work during the insurgents’ 1996-2001 rule.
WORRIES ABOUT AL QAEDA
    The Ghani-Abdullah visit comes with the peace process stalled and violence raging as Afghan security forces fight to stem a Taliban spring offensive that threatens several provincial capitals and has triggered mobilizations of ethnic militias to reinforce government troops.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking during a visit on Friday to Paris, said Washington is “looking very hard” at whether the Taliban are “serious about a peaceful resolution to the conflict.”
    The crisis has fueled grave concerns that the Taliban could regain power – two decades after the U.S.-led invasion ended their harsh version of Islamist rule – allowing a resurgence of al Qaeda. U.S. and U.N. officials say the extremists maintain close links with the Taliban.
    U.S. officials respond that the United States will be able to detect and thwart any new threats by al Qaeda or other Islamists.    The Taliban insist al Qaeda is no longer in Afghanistan.
    U.S. government sources familiar with U.S. intelligence reporting describe the situation as dire. Ghani, they said, has been urged to do more to step up pressure on the insurgents while U.S.-led coalition forces are still there.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Mary Milliken, Daniel Wallis and Jonathan Oatis)

6/26/2021 Afghan Peace Talks Should Continue Unless Taliban Pull Out - Abdullah by Jonathan Landay
Chairman of Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah looks on during an
interview with Reuters at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., U.S., June 25, 2021. REUTERS/Ken Cedeno
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of Afghanistan’s peace council said on Friday that long-stalled talks on a political settlement to decades of strife should not be abandoned despite surging Taliban attacks, unless the insurgents themselves pull out.
    “I think we shouldn’t shut the door unless it’s completely shut by the Taliban,” Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, told Reuters in an interview.    “We can’t say no to talks despite a lack of progress or in spite of what’s happening on the ground.”
    Abdullah spoke after he and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House for talks on U.S. military and civilian aid, and issues stemming from the departure of the last U.S. troops nearly 20 years after the U.S.-led invasion.
    The former political rivals’ two-day visit, which included meetings with lawmakers from both parties and the Pentagon leadership, came at a time of surging violence across Afghanistan as government forces struggle to beat back Taliban advances.
    Biden told Ghani and Abdullah that “Afghans are going to have to decide their future” and the “senseless violence has to stop.”
    The fighting, however, has raised grave doubts about long-stalled U.S.-backed peace negotiations between the insurgents and a delegation that includes government officials that began in Doha under the Trump administration in 2020.
    Abdullah said there was “perhaps more optimism” about a peace deal when the negotiations began because “the Taliban said things to different interlocutors that created optimism.”
    Still, Abdullah said, the talks should not be abandoned.
    “Eventually, the last man killed will not be a solution,” he said.    “There has to be a peaceful settlement.”
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

6/26/2021 Top Afghan Leaders Meet With Joe Biden At White House by OAN Newsroom
Joe Biden, right, meets with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, center, and Chairman of the High Council for National
Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah, left, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Friday, June 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
    Joe Biden met with top Afghan leaders at the White House and pledged the U.S. commitment to assisting Afghanistan.    On Friday, Biden held talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah.
    The meeting was centered around the U.S. troop withdrawal from the region, military and civilian aid, and combating growing Taliban advances.    Biden pledged the U.S. would continue to support Afghanistan through political and economic means.
    Although, Abdullah noted the troop drawdown leaves the door open for terrorist threats in the country.
    “We tend to forget that that Al-Qaida had reached a certain level of capacity in Afghanistan, that was an actual danger, a homeland security threat for the United States,” he explained.    “The issue is also today if Afghanistan is abandoned completely, without support, without engagement, that’s the danger that Afghanistan can turn once again into a hub for terrorist groups.”
    Within the next two weeks, about 4,000 troops will be pulled out from Afghanistan.

6/26/2021 Iran Says Nuclear Deal Salvageable But Will Not Negotiate Forever
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said on Saturday it believes a reinstatement of its 2015 nuclear deal with major world powers is possible but warned that Tehran “will not negotiate forever.”
    “Out of a steadfast commitment to salvage a deal that the US tried to torpedo, Iran has been the most active party in Vienna, proposing most drafts,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Twitter, referring to talks aimed at reviving the nuclear deal.
    Iran and the United States have been holding indirect talks on reviving the 2015 agreement between Tehran and six powers that imposed restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear activities in exchange for lifting international sanctions.
    Then U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the agreement in 2018, but President Joe Biden has been seeking to revive it.    Officials on all sides have said there are major issues to resolve before the deal can be reinstated.
    “Still believe a deal is possible, if the US decides to abandon Trump’s failed legacy.    Iran will not negotiate forever,” Khatibzadeh tweeted.
    The U.N. nuclear watchdog on Friday demanded an immediate reply from Iran on whether it would extend a monitoring agreement that expired overnight.    An Iranian envoy responded that Tehran was under no obligation to provide an answer.
    The Vienna talks, which began in April, are now in a pause that had been expected to last until early July, but failure to extend the monitoring accord could throw those negotiations into disarray.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Frances Kerry)

6/27/2021 Iran Says Nuclear Site Images Won’t Be Given To IAEA As Deal Has Expired by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    DUBAI (Reuters) -The speaker of Iran’s parliament said on Sunday Tehran will never hand over images from inside of some Iranian nuclear sites to the U.N. nuclear watchdog as a monitoring agreement with the agency had expired, Iranian state media reported.
    “The agreement has expired … any of the information recorded will never be given to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the data and images will remain in the possession of Iran,” said Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.
    The announcement could further complicate talks between Iran and six major powers on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal.    Three years ago then U.S.     President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact and reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran; Iran reacted by violating many of the deal’s restrictions on its nuclear programme.
    The IAEA and Tehran struck the three-month monitoring agreement in February to cushion the blow of Iran reducing its cooperation with the agency, and it allowed monitoring of some activities that would otherwise have been axed to continue.
    Under that agreement, which on May 24 was extended by a month, data continues to be collected in a black-box-type arrangement, with the IAEA only able to access it at a later date.
    On Friday, the IAEA demanded an immediate reply from Iran on whether it would extend the monitoring agreement, prompting an Iranian envoy to respond that Tehran was under no obligation to provide an answer.
    Iran said on Wednesday the country’s Supreme National Security Council would decide whether to renew the monitoring agreement only after it expires.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that any failure by Tehran to extend the monitoring agreement would be a “serious concern” for broader negotiations.
    Parties involved in the talks on reviving the deal, which began in April in Vienna, have said there are major issues still to be resolved before the nuclear deal can be reinstated.
(Writing by Parisa HafeziEditing by Toby Chopra and Frances Kerry)

6/27/2021 Iran Refuses To Share Data From Nuclear Sites With IAEA by OAN Newsroom
The flag of Iran is seen in front of the building of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Headquarters. (Michael Gruber/Getty Images)
    Iran’s Ayatollah regime has refused to provide the images of its nuclear sites to the International Atomic Energy Agency.    On Sunday, Iranian officials announced they will no longer be sharing data about their nuclear program with the IAEA because a temporary monitoring agreement has expired.
    “The agreement has expired…any of the information recorded will never be given to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the data and image will remain in the possession of Iran,” said Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.
This handout picture provided by the Islamic Consultative Assembly News Agency (ICANA) on May 31, 2020, shows Iranian Parliament
speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (C) chairing a parliament session in the capital Tehran. (ICANA NEWS AGENCY/AFP via Getty Images)
    This comes as Iran is pressuring Joe Biden to restore the failed 2015 nuclear deal and lift economic sanctions.    Tehran said it would resume the sharing of its nuclear data only after the 2015 deal was restored.
    However, experts have said even if the deal is restored, Iran may continue to violate United Nations resolutions.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (D) said a failure of extension would be a “serious concern” for future negotiations.    International inspectors have since reached out to Iran, asking to extend the temporary monitoring accord, but so far have not received a response.

6/28/2021 Russia, China Extend Friendship And Cooperation Treaty - Kremlin
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting on the
sidelines of a BRICS summit, in Brasilia, Brazil, November 13, 2019. Sputnik/Ramil Sitdikov/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Monday announced the extension of a 20-year-old friendship and cooperation treaty between their countries, both of which have strained ties with the West.
    Speaking to Xi via video conference, Putin said the Sino-Russian Treaty of Friendship, signed in 2001, enshrined the two powers’ support for defending national unity and territorial integrity, at a time when both Moscow and Beijing are at odds with Western countries on a wide range of issues.
    “In today’s world, such agreements are of serious importance,” the Kremlin cited Putin as saying.    “In the context of increasing geopolitical turbulence, the dismantlement of arms control agreements and increased potential for conflict in different corners of the world, Russian-Chinese coordination plays a stabilising role in world affairs.”
    Putin said the agreement would be automatically extended for another five years after it expires in February 2022.
    Russia’s relations with the United States and other Western countries linger at post-Cold War lows over issues ranging from Moscow’s annexation of Crimea to allegations of Russian meddling in U.S. elections.
    Putin held a summit earlier this month with U.S. counterpart Joe Biden in which they decided to cooperate in some areas despite their tense relations.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by William Maclean)

6/28/2021 Police Checks And Patriotic Flowers: Beijing Leaves Nothing To Chance Ahead Of Party Centenary by Cate Cadell
Police and security personnel block a road before a rehearsal of a fireworks display near the National Stadium ahead of
the 100th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of China in Beijing, China June 25, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Behind roadblocks and hundreds of police in the Chinese capital of Beijing on Friday, fireworks resembling the national flag bloomed over the city as part of secretive and tightly choreographed rehearsal for the 100th anniversary of China’s Communist Party.
    Beijing has shut down traffic, decked streets in patriotic flower arrangements and national flags, and ramped up surveillance and security this week in preparation for the centenary event on July 1.
    The covert rehearsals represent the final stages of a yearlong planning effort, designed to glorify Party history and cement domestic loyalty to China’s socialist system.
    “Without the Communist Party, there is no new China,” read new propaganda posters throughout the city.
    Plans for the event haven’t been fully revealed, though state media and government agencies have hinted at a large-scale theatrical event in Tiananmen Square.    A performance is scheduled for Monday at the Bird’s Nest stadium, built for the 2008 Olympics.
    The anniversary has been preceded by a clampdown on potential dissident activity, including a spate of arrests this year under a law banning the defamation of national heroes, and an online venue for citizens to report “historical nihilists,” a phrase referring to those sharing unsanctioned versions of Party history.
    Upgraded security and its attendant disruption isn’t unusual ahead of major political events in the capital, but the fanfare has taken on added importance amid new political challenges to the Party at home and abroad.
    “It comes down to legitimacy … what you’re sitting through in those events is an extended performance for the benefit of the domestic public to basically legitimise an unelected government, which is why, in short, these things are so important,” said Graeme Smith, a fellow in the Department of Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University specialising in Chinese politics.
NO ROOM FOR ERROR
    On June 23, residents in the old-style hutongs in Beijing awoke to find alleys decked out in a coordinated display of Chinese national flags, visible by almost every doorway.
    Beginning in May, teams dressed in orange work uniforms became a common sight throughout the city, upgrading roadside decor and creating elaborate floral arrangements made up of 2.3 million seedlings and potted plants, according to state media.
    At the same time, security organs have ramped up surveillance and other restrictions.
    Last week, police officers went door to door in Beijing’s central Dongcheng district checking house registrations and confirming the number of people living at each address, people in the neighbourhood told Reuters.
    A Dongcheng police official told Reuters that such visits were “normal inspections.”
    People on a citywide list of residents suffering from mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, received house calls and phone checks from authorities, a common practice ahead of major political events, according to two people who received the calls and a doctor who said many of their patients had been contacted.
    The Beijing city government did not reply to a request for comment.
    Four merchants on China’s top e-commerce site, Taobao.com, told Reuters they had been banned from shipping items including gas bottles and other flammable products to Beijing residents beginning in June.    Taobao’s owner, Alibaba, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
    “It’s like having an enormous birthday party and not wanting your embarrassing neighbours to spoil it,” said Smith, adding that propaganda around so called “sensitive days” on Beijing’s calendar can also serve as a warning to potential dissidents.
    Throughout China, local state-run institutions, including hospitals, schools and military units will hold special events marking the anniversary, including political-education sessions and party history exhibitions.
    “The whole army will transform the political enthusiasm radiated by the celebrations into practical actions to advance the cause of strengthening the country and the army in the new era,” Ren Guoqiang, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defence, said on June 23.
    Censorship of China’s already tightly controlled cyberspace has intensified.
    Two people working at the Tianjin-based censorship unit of social media firm Bytedance Ltd and one Beijing-based censor for Chinese search engine Baidu.com said they had received new directives in recent months on removing negative commentary about the anniversary. Neither company immediately replied to requests for comment.
    “There’s no room for error,” said one Bytedance staffer, who declined to be named because they are not permitted to speak to foreign media.
    As of Friday, patriotic fervour on display in Beijing’s streets was largely mirrored online.    Despite tight censorship, however, a small number of netizens griped over the road closings and costly events that are closed to the public.
    “My family has lived in Beijing for several generations, I have become accustomed to this,” said one commenter on social media site Weibo.com, venting concerns about pollution from the mass firework displays.    “This city has sacrificed too much for politics.”
(Reporting by Cate Cadell. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

6/28/2021 U.S. Carries Out Air Strikes Against Iran-Backed Militia In Iraq, Syria by Phil Stewart
FILE PHOTO: The Pentagon building is seen in Arlington, Virginia, U.S. October 9, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States said on Sunday it carried out another round of air strikes against Iran-backed militia in Iraq and Syria, this time in response to drone attacks by the militia against U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq.
    In a statement, the U.S. military said it targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq.    It did not disclose whether it believed anyone was killed or injured but officials said assessments were ongoing.
    Iraqi militia groups aligned with Iran in a statement named four members of the Kataib Sayyed al-Shuhada faction they said were killed in the attack on the Syria-Iraq border.    They vowed to retaliate.
    The strikes came at the direction of President Joe Biden, the second time he has ordered retaliatory strikes against Iran-backed militia since taking office five months ago.    Biden last ordered limited strikes in Syria in February, that time in response to rocket attacks in Iraq.
    “As demonstrated by this evening’s strikes, President Biden has been clear that he will act to protect U.S. personnel,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
    The strikes came even as Biden’s administration is looking to potentially revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.    The decision to retaliate appears to show how Biden aims to compartmentalize such defensive strikes, while simultaneously engaging Tehran in diplomacy.
    Biden’s critics say Iran cannot be trusted and point to the drone attacks as further evidence that Iran and its proxies will never accept a U.S. military presence in Iraq or Syria.
    Biden and the White House declined comment on the strikes on Sunday.    But Biden will meet Israel’s outgoing president, Reuven Rivlin, at the White House on Monday for a broad discussion that will include Iran and U.S. efforts to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal.    Those efforts have raised serious concerns in Israel, Iran’s arch-foe.
    U.S. officials believe Iran is behind a ramp-up in increasingly sophisticated drone attacks and periodic rocket fire against U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq, where the U.S. military has been helping Baghdad combat the remnants of Islamic State.
    Two U.S. officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said Iran-backed militias carried out at least five drone attacks against facilities used by U.S. and coalition personnel in Iraq since April.
    The Pentagon said the facilities targeted were used by Iran-backed militia including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada.
    One of the facilities targeted was used to launch and recover the drones, a defense official said.
    The U.S. military carried out strikes with F-15 and F-16 aircraft, officials said, adding the pilots made it back from the mission safely.
    “We assess each strike hit the intended targets,” one of the officials told Reuters.
    Iraq’s government is struggling to deal with militias ideologically aligned with Iran which are accused of rocket fire against U.S. forces and of involvement in killing peaceful pro-democracy activists.
    Earlier in June, Iraq released Iran-aligned militia commander Qasim Muslih, who was arrested in May on terrorism-related charges, after authorities found insufficient evidence against him.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart in WashingtonAdditional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington, John Davison in BaghdadEditing by Matthew Lewis)

6/28/2021 Retrieved COVID-19 Data Details Natural Immunity, Virus Origins by OAN Newsroom
This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). (CDC via AP)
    Retrieved genome data of COVID-19 has confirmed the virus was circulating long before the outbreak was officially announced.
    In a new study conducted by Dr. Jesse Bloom of the Fred Hutchinson Center in Seattle, he found COVID-19 did not originate from a wet market in Wuhan, China.    Dr. Bloom, who is a evolutionary biologist, said the jury is still out on whether the virus jumped from animals to humans.    However, he noted that there is still missing information that may fill in the gaps.
    His assessment came after the doctor recently retrieved data that had been deleted from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) database upon a request by China.    Dr. Bloom found immune systems of younger people recognize and destroy COVID-19, which can only happen after years of exposure.
    Dr. Bloom has asked Chinese officials why they were asking the NIH to delete COVID-19 genome data, but he has not heard back from them as of yet.

6/29/2021 Xi Stresses Loyalty As Chinese Communist Party Prepares For 100th Anniversary by Yew Lun Tian
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at the medal award ceremony marking the 100th founding anniversary of the Communist Party
of China, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China in this still image taken from a video released June 29, 2021.
CCTV via Reuters TV ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
    BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday urged Chinese Communist Party members to remain loyal and continue to serve the people as he awarded a new medal of honour to 29 members as part of the ruling party’s 100th anniversary celebrations this week.
    The medal award ceremony took place in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People with much fanfare and was broadcast live on national television, as the party prepares to mark its 100th birthday on Thursday.
    The “July 1 medal,” announced in 2017 and given out for the first time on Tuesday, is part of Xi’s efforts to shore up the image of one of the world’s most powerful political parties.
    He urged all members to “firmly keep the loyalty and love for the party and the people close to one’s heart, turn that into action, dedicate everything, even your precious life, to the party and the people.”
    Honoured for “outstanding contributions” to the party, the medal recipients included soldiers, community workers and professionals in the arts and science.
    The Chinese Communist Party had 91.9 million members in 2019, or 6.6% of China’s population, and has ruled the country since 1949.
    As part of the anniversary-week celebrations, the party also staged a gala performance on Monday night in the National Stadium, or “Bird’s Nest” as it is commonly called.
    Party leaders and foreign diplomats watched the extravaganza of song, dance and theatre which credited the party with guiding China’s rise into a great power over the past century.
    Darker parts in the party’s history, including a famine in the late 1950s, the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, were omitted from the show.
    The show culminated with the audience singing the song “Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China,” and five minutes of fireworks.
    Many Chinese cheered the celebration by posting online well-wishes for the country and party on social media.
    Some comments were less cheery.
    “Only when housing price falls, can the people start to feel happiness,” read one comment, which received 39 “likes.”
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Beijing newsroom; Editing by Stephen Coates)

6/29/2021 Japan Minister Says Necessary To ‘Wake Up’ To Protect Taiwan by David Brunnstrom
FILE PHOTO: Japan's then-State Minister for Foreign Affairs Yasuhide Nakayama speaks during the White House Summit on
Countering Violent Extremism at the State Department in Washington February 19, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Japan’s deputy defense minister on Monday warned of a growing threat posed by Chinese and Russian collaboration and said it was necessary to “wake up” to Beijing’s pressure on Taiwan and protect the island “as a democratic country.”
    Speaking to the Hudson Institute think tank, State Minister of Defence Yasuhide Nakayama questioned whether the decision of many countries, including Japan and United States, to follow a “one-China” policy that has recognized Beijing over Taipei since the 1970s would stand the test of time.
    “Was it right?” he asked at the online event, referring to how future generations will judge policymakers on the issue.    “I don’t know.”
    Nakayama said democratic countries had to protect each other and noted that he had in the past referred to Taiwan as a “red line.”
    “So we have to protect Taiwan as a democratic country.”
    Nakayama said Japan and Taiwan were geographically close, and added that if something happened in Taiwan it would affect Japan’s Okinawa prefecture, where U.S. forces and their families are based.
    Nakayama highlighted growing threats posed by China in space, in missile technology, in the cyber domain and in nuclear and conventional forces, and said that under President Xi Jinping’s leadership it had “aggressive, aggressive … thought and will.”
    “So wake up.    We have to wake up,” he said.
    China claims democratically governed Taiwan as an integral part of its territory.
    “We deplore the erroneous remarks by the senior official of the Japanese government, and we have lodged solemn representations,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, adding that Nakayama had “falsely accused” China over “normal national defence developments.”
    “This is highly sinister, dangerous and irresponsible.    This politician also openly called Taiwan a country, in serious violation of the China-Japan joint statement,” Wang said at a regular media briefing.
    “We urge the Japanese government to make a clarification and ensure this will not happen again.”
    Nakayama said it was necessary to show deterrence to China and also Russia, which had stepped up exercises in Japanese-claimed territory and near the U.S. territory of Hawaii.
    “You can see China and Russia collaborating together, when they are doing some military exercise around our neighbors,” Nakayama said, adding that he wanted to see the United States “stronger, stronger and stronger.”
    Nakayama referred to Tokyo’s decision to scrap its one-percent-of-GDP cap on defense spending.    He said Japan needed to spend more on weapons, including missiles, and cut costs, given that 50 percent of its budget went on personnel.
    Washington and Tokyo should boost technological collaboration in the face of closer Chinese and Russian cooperation, he said.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Additional reporting by Cate CadellEditing by Sonya Hepinstall and Raissa Kasolowsky)

6/29/2021 U.S. Finalizes Withdrawal Of Bagram Airfield by OAN Newsroom
The flag of the United States flies over Bagram Air Base, in Afghanistan, Friday, June 25, 2021. In 2001 the armies of the world united behind America
and Bagram Air Base, barely an hours drive from the Afghan capital Kabul, was chosen as the epicenter of Operation Enduring Freedom, as the assault
on the Taliban rulers was dubbed. It’s now nearly 20 years later and the last US soldier is soon to depart the base. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
    The U.S. has almost completely abandoned its largest military installation in Afghanistan while it swiftly moves forward with troop withdrawal.    For two decades the U.S. military relied heavily on Bagram Airfield as a strategic location in the Middle East, but it’s now over 50 percent deserted.
    U.S. officials said they have already cleared out over half of the base as it moves forward with plans to hand the airfield over to Afghan forces.    Retired Afghan Army General Safiullah Safi, who served with the U.S. troops in Bagram, said he’s optimistic for the future.
    “Bagram can turn to a very good and strong base for the Afghan Airforce, and they will be able to control the whole country,” stated the Afghan general.    “But if there is no peace and fighting continues, I believe that a second wave of resistance will start from Bagram against the groups, which don’t want peace in Afghanistan.”
    The U.S. exit from Afghanistan has come along side a resurgence of the Taliban.    General Safi warned the U.S. exit needs to be calculated, adding if it’s not handled correctly then the years of sacrificing blood and treasure in Afghanistan will have been a waste.

6/29/2021 Chinese Censorship, Surveillance Found At Australian Universities – Rights Group by Kirsty Needham
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – High numbers of Chinese students at Australian universities have created an environment of self-censorship with lecturers avoiding criticism of Beijing and Chinese students staying silent in fear of harassment, Human Rights Watch said.
    Some parents in mainland China had been questioned by Chinese police about the activities of students in Australia and Hong Kong police had questioned a returning student about pro-democracy activities, the group said in a report released on Wednesday.
    Self-censorship has worsened as universities have adopted online courses during the COVID-19 pandemic, with Chinese students joining class from behind China’s “Great Firewall” system of internet censorship, the group said.
    The trend compromised the academic freedom of all students in the class, the report’s author, Sophie McNeill, told Reuters.
    “It erodes Australia’s academic freedom,” she said.
    In one example, an online course removed references to the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, she said.
    Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 40% of all international students in Australia were from China, or 10% of all university students.    Almost a third of university sector revenue was generated from international student fees.
    Human Rights Watch interviewed 24 students with “pro-democracy” views attending Australian universities, of whom 11 were from mainland China and 13 from Hong Kong.    It also interviewed 22 academics.
    The rights group verified three cases where family in China had been warned by police over a student’s activity in Australia.
    “If you protest against CCP abroad, they will find people you love to make you pay.    Even if you are in Australia,” a student not identified in the report told Human Rights Watch, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
    The student, who said he had posted “anti-government” material on Twitter, said Chinese police had issued his parents with an official warning last year.
    A student from Hong Kong filed a report with Australian police after four men in masks and speaking Mandarin appeared outside his house and chased him with sticks after he spoke at a democracy rally.    The student slept in his car then moved house after the incident. He is seeking asylum in Australia.
    Threats by patriotic Chinese classmates, including exposing address details online, known as doxxing, and threats to report a student’s anti-China views to the embassy, were more common, the report found.
    Human Rights Watch said more than half of students who experienced intimidation did not report it to their universities.
    “They believed their universities cared more about maintaining relationships with the Chinese government and not alienating the students who were supportive of the CCP,” said McNeill.
    Half of academics interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they self-censored in the classroom, the report said.
    “Academic after academic avoided discussing China in the classroom,” McNeill said.
    Human Rights Watch said it wanted the Australian government to report annually of incidents of harassment and censorship and for universities to classify students “reporting on” classmates or staff as harassment and grounds for disciplinary action.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Robert Birsel)

6/30/2021 Afghan Civilians Take Up Arms As U.S.-Led Forces Leave
FILE PHOTO: Armed men attend a gathering to announce their support for Afghan security forces and that they are
ready to fight against the Taliban, on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan June 23, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    PARWAN, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Gun in hand, 55-year-old Dost Mohammad Salangi recites poetry as he leads a small group of men to a look-out post high in the rugged hills of Parwan province, north of the Afghan capital Kabul.
    Heavily bearded and wearing a traditional circular pakol hat to keep off the sun, he has a warning for the Islamist militant Taliban movement, which has increased attacks on Afghan forces and claimed more territory as foreign troops withdraw.
    “If they impose war on us, oppress us and encroach on women and people’s property, even our seven-year-old children will be armed and will stand against them,” he told Reuters.
    Salangi is one of hundreds of former “mujahideen” fighters and civilians who have felt compelled to take up arms to help the army repel a growing Taliban insurgency.
    The group’s ascendancy on the ground comes as the last U.S.-led international forces prepare to leave after two decades of fighting that ended with no clear victory for either side.
    “We have to protect our country … now there is no choice as the foreign forces abandon us,” said Farid Mohammed, a young student who joined a local anti-Taliban leader from Parwan.
    He was speaking as the German military concluded the withdrawal of the second largest contingent of foreign troops after the United States with around 150,000 soldiers deployed over the past two decades, many of them serving more than one tour in the country.
    U.S. President Joe Biden and NATO said in mid-April they would pull out the roughly 10,000 foreign troops still in Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York that prompted the mission.
    The United Nations envoy for Afghanistan said this week the Taliban had taken more than 50 of 370 districts and was positioned to control provincial capitals as the country looked increasingly unstable as foreign military support ended.
    Armed mainly with old assault rifles, pistols and grenade launchers, men like Salangi and Mohammed have joined local shopkeepers and traders as part of a loosely-formed Public Uprising Force trying to reclaim some of those areas.
    Ajmal Omar Shinwari, a spokesman for the Afghan defence and security forces, said Afghans keen to take up arms against the Taliban were being absorbed intro the structure of territorial army forces.
    But some political analysts warn of the growing risk of a return to civil war as more groups took up arms.
    Faced with rising violence, President Ashraf Ghani visited Washington in June to meet Biden, who pledged U.S. support to Afghanistan but said Afghans must decide their own future.
    Talks to try and find a political settlement in Afghanistan have stalled, although the head of the Afghan peace council has said they should not be abandoned despite the surge in Taliban attacks.
(Reporting by Afghanistan bureau, Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

6/30/2021 Hong Kong Security Law ‘A Human Rights Emergency’ – Amnesty
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong exile pro-democracy activist Nathan Law wearing a face mask holds a rally with other activist groups
during China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi's visit in Berlin, Germany September 1, 2020. REUTERS/Michele Tantussi/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) -Amnesty International said on Wednesday that Hong Kong authorities have used a new national security law to target dissent and justify “censorship, harassment, arrests and prosecutions that violate human rights” in the year since it was implemented.
    Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law in June last year that sets out punishment for anything it deems as subversion, secession, colluding with foreign forces and terrorism with up to life in prison, setting the city on a more authoritarian path.
    Authorities have said the law would affect an “extremely small minority” of people and that it had restored stability after months of often-violent protests in 2019.    They have said rights and freedoms in the former British colony remain protected but they are not absolute.
    Most high-profile democratic politicians and activists have been arrested under the new law or for protest-related charges, or are in self-exile.
    “In one year, the National Security Law has put Hong Kong on a rapid path to becoming a police state and created a human rights emergency for the people living there,” said Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra.
    “Ultimately, this sweeping and repressive legislation threatens to make the city a human rights wasteland increasingly resembling mainland China.”
    China foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular news conference that Amnesty’s statements were “purely malicious slander.”
    The Hong Kong government, in a statement late on Wednesday, said it strongly objected to “the grossly misleading and incorrect remarks by some individuals, organisations and countries upon the anniversary of the Law.”
    It did not name those it referred to.
    “We must reiterate, for the record, that any law enforcement actions … are based on evidence, strictly according to the law, for the acts of the persons or entities concerned, and have nothing to do with their political stance, background or occupation,” the statement said.
    In its 47-page report, the international human rights group cited analysis of court judgments, court hearing notes and interviews with activists, concluding the legislation has been used “to carry out a wide range of human rights violations.”
    Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of a high degree of autonomy from Beijing and that wide-ranging rights and freedoms would be protected for at least 50 years.
    Mishra said the law “has infected every part of Hong Kong society and fomented a climate of fear that forces residents to think twice about what they say, what they tweet and how they live their lives.”
    More than 100 people were arrested and more than 60 charged in the first year under the security law, according to a tally by Reuters.
    “Hong Kong’s NSL has been used as a false pretext to curb dissent,” the rights group said.
(Reporting by Pak Yiu; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Marius Zaharia, Robert Birsel and Jonathan Oatis)

6/30/2021 U.N. Chief Urges U.S. To Remove Iran Sanctions As Agreed In 2015 by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres addresses the media as he arrives on the first day of
the European Union summit at The European Council Building in Brussels, Belgium June 24, 2021. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS
    NEW YORK (Reuters) -U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has appealed to U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration to lift or waive all sanctions on Iran as agreed under a 2015 deal aimed at stopping Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.
    In a report to the U.N. Security Council, Guterres also urged the United States to “extend the waivers with regard to the trade in oil with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and fully renew waivers for nuclear non-proliferation projects.”
    The 15-member council discussed on Wednesday the secretary-general’s biannual report on the implementation of a 2015 resolution that enshrines the nuclear deal between Iran, the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China.
    Former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the pact in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions, prompting Tehran to start violating some of the nuclear limits in 2019.    In his report, Guterres described Iran’s violations as “worrying steps” and appealed to Tehran to return to full compliance.
    Guterres’ appeal to Washington and Tehran comes amid talks to revive the deal – known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – under which Iran accepted curbs on its nuclear program in return for a lifting of many foreign sanctions against it.
    “The last few rounds of discussions in Vienna have helped to crystallize the choices that need to be made by Iran and by the United States in order achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA,” deputy U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, told the Security Council on Wednesday.
    A date for the next round of talks in Vienna has yet to be agreed upon, but Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said: “We’re already seeing the profile of a future agreement, there’s a general understanding of how to move forward to the goals set before us.”
    Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi said it was “those who broke their promises” who must make hard decisions, calling for “assurances that all sanctions are removed verifiably and the U.S. will not once again withdraw.”
    China’s deputy U.N. Ambassador Geng Shuang called on the United States to respond to Iran’s request for a guarantee that it would not again quit the deal.
    The European Union is coordinating the Vienna talks and EU Ambassador to the United Nations, Olof Skoog, warned: “It is clear that time is not on our side and that what might be possible still today may prove impossible in the near future. We have a limited diplomatic window ahead of us that we should not miss.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Alistair Bell)

7/1/2021 Security Tight In HK On China Anniversary, As Official Says City Now Stable
Police officers raise Chinese and Hong Kong flags during a flag-raising ceremony marking the 24th anniversary of the former British colony's
return to Chinese rule, on the 100th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of China, in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong deployed a heavy police presence to the streets on Thursday to prevent any protests on the anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule, as its acting leader said a national security law had brought order to the city after “chaos.”
    In many districts there was a palpable security presence, with police vans, water cannon trucks, armoured vehicles and police units patrolling.
    Parts of Victoria Park on Hong Kong island — where the annual march normally kicks off — were shut down to prevent any public processions or public meetings from taking place.
    In the morning, Hong Kong’s acting leader John Lee said in a speech that the authorities would “continue to take a steady stance to protect national security.”
    “Hong Kong absolutely has the conditions to rebound.”
    Beijing imposed the security law just before midnight on June 30 last year to punish anything China deems as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
    The security law was Beijing’s first major step to put the global financial hub onto an authoritarian path, kick-starting a campaign dubbed “patriots rule Hong Kong,” which included moves to reduce democratic representation in the city’s legislature and various screening mechanisms for politicians.
    Lee was speaking for the first time as acting city leader at a flag-raising ceremony marking the 24th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule in 1997, which coincides with the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party.
    Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other senior officials were invited to Beijing for the party celebrations.    Lee was appointed as her No.2 last week after playing a key role in the city’s crackdown over the past year as security secretary.
    Critics of the government say it has used the security law to crush dissent in the former British colony.
    “On the day of July 1, I am nothing more than one of tens of thousands of Hong Kongers who want their voices heard,” tweeted pro-democracy campaigner and barrister Chow Hang-tung, who was re-arrested on the eve of the sensitive anniversary.
    “They want to kill the monkey to scare the chicken, then we must let them know Hong Kongers won’t give up.”
    Officials in Beijing and Hong Kong say the new law has plugged national security “loopholes” exposed by anti-government demonstrations in 2019.
    So far under the law, described as a “birthday gift” by senior Chinese official Zhang Xiaoming when it was introduced last year, authorities have arrested 117 people, mostly democratic politicians, activists, journalists and students.
    Beijing said it was necessary after mass pro-democracy and anti-China protests in 2019 that have been described as acts endangering national security.    Many protesters, however, say they were demanding Beijing respect constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms.
    Usually on July 1, tens of thousands of people take to the streets in Hong Kong to protest against anything from Beijing’s manoeuvres in the city to unaffordable housing.
    That tradition, which set the semi-autonomous city apart from tightly controlled mainland China, is unlikely to be followed by many people this year after police denied permission for a rally, citing coronavirus restrictions.
    “It is crystal clear that under the NSL (national security law), over a year, it does have a chilling effect on Hong Kong people … less people would have the confidence to go on the street to speak out,” said Raphael Wong, an activist with the League of Social Democrats who held a protest with three others in the morning that was hemmed in by dozens of police officers.
    They held up a yellow banner calling on authorities to “Free all political prisoners.”
(Reporting by Sara Cheng, James Pomfret, and Anne Marie Roantree in HONG KONG; Editing by Stephen Coates & Shri Navaratnam)

7/1/2021 Australia’s NSW State Says Delta Outbreak Grows Despite Lockdown by Renju Jose
Commuters wear protective face masks on public transit at Central Station following the implementation of new public health regulations from the state of
New South Wales, as the city grapples with an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, June 23, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) state on Thursday warned that significant numbers of new COVID-19 cases were being found in the community, raising fears of fresh clusters as it reported a rise in new infections for a third straight day.
    With state capital Sydney in the middle of a two-week lockdown to contain an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant, authorities said half of Thursday’s total of 24 new cases had spent time in the community when infectious.
    “(This) is a cause of concern.    That is what we will be looking at in the next few days and beyond as a measure of our success,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters.
    Berejiklian said many people with flu-like symptoms were ignoring lockdown orders and “going about their business.”
    “We can’t allow that to happen … assume that you have the virus or that people you come into contact with have the virus and act accordingly,” she said.
    Australia is battling simultaneous flare-ups of infections in several states and nearly half of all Australians are under stay-at-home orders to prevent any major outbreak of the Delta strain.
    Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Darwin imposed lockdowns in the past few days, following months in which Australia had nearly eliminated the virus.
    The remote outback town of Alice Springs, gateway to UNESCO World Heritage-listed Uluru, was also locked down on Wednesday after an infected traveller spent hours in the city’s airport.
    The total number of cases in the latest outbreak in NSW, the worst affected state, neared 200 since the first case was detected more than two weeks ago in a limousine driver who transported overseas airline crew.
    Queensland state on Thursday detected two new local cases, as it tracks four different virus clusters – three of them the Delta variant.    The Northern Territory detected one new case, South Australia and Western Australia recorded no cases.
    Australia has fared much better than many other developed countries in containing the novel coronavirus through lockdowns, swift contact tracing and strict social distancing, with just over 30,550 cases and 910 deaths.
    However, a sluggish vaccination drive has put the federal government on the back foot.
    The government earlier this week decided to indemnify doctors who administered AstraZeneca’s vaccine shots to people under 60, in an effort to ramp up inoculation.
    But several states have declined to administer AstraZeneca shots to under 60s due to the higher but still low risk of blood-clotting in younger people.
    Lieutenant General John Frewen, the head of the country’s vaccine taskforce, said more than 2,600 people under 40 years had received AstraZeneca shots since Monday.
    “Right now, they would rather have the available vaccine than wait.    I think all Australians have that right,” Frewen told broadcaster Channel Nine.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Stephen Coates)

7/1/2021 Exclusive-Iran Restricts IAEA Access To Main Enrichment Plant After Attack -Diplomats by John Irish and Francois Murphy
FILE PHOTO: A view of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility 250 km (155 miles) south
of the Iranian capital Tehran, March 30, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo
    PARIS/VIENNA (Reuters) -Iran has been restricting U.N. nuclear inspectors’ access to its main uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, citing security concerns after what it says was an attack on the site by Israel in April, diplomats say.
    The standoff, which one official said has been going on for weeks, is in the course of being resolved, diplomats said, but it has also raised tensions with the West just as indirect talks between Iran and the United States on reviving the Iran nuclear deal have adjourned without a date set for their resumption.
    It follows various moves by Iran that breach the 2015 nuclear deal or have angered Washington and its allies, ranging from enriching uranium to close to weapons-grade to failing to explain the origin of uranium particles that the U.N. nuclear watchdog found at several undeclared sites.
    “They are provoking us,” said one Western diplomat who follows the International Atomic Energy Agency closely, adding that inspectors should be able to have full access next week.
    Iranian officials were not immediately available for comment.    The IAEA declined to comment, citing its general policy of not commenting on inspection matters.
    Any reasons for Iran’s move beyond the official security and safety concerns it cited as explanations are unclear, but it has quarreled with the IAEA over access before.    Iran in 2020 denied the IAEA access to two locations for snap inspections.    In 2019, Iran held an IAEA inspector and seized her travel documents.
    The IAEA has so far stopped short of reporting the issue to its member states and calling an emergency meeting of its 35-nation Board of Governors as it did in November 2019 when Iran briefly held the IAEA inspector who diplomats say had sought access to Natanz.
    An explosion and power cut in April at Natanz, the heart of Iran’s uranium-enrichment programme, appears to have damaged centrifuges at the underground, commercial-scale Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) there.    The last quarterly IAEA report on Iran in May showed its enrichment output had slowed.
    “Because of the accident/sabotage in April, certain accesses have been limited for safety and security reasons,” a Vienna-based diplomat said, adding that the move “had very little impact on the agency’s ability to carry out verification
    The IAEA and Iran have discussed the issue “in order to avoid that these limitations become permanent and therefore start eroding the verification capability,” he added.
    A U.S. official declined comment on the dispute but stressed the importance of Iran adhering to its safeguards agreement that enables the IAEA to verify its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty compliance.    The NPT permits Iran to have a civil nuclear program in return for a commitment not to acquire nuclear weapons.
    “We take nothing more seriously than the full implementation of Iran’s obligations under the NPT and its comprehensive safeguards agreement,” said the U.S. official, who requested anonymity.
CALIBRATED MOVE
    Washington and its European partners have been pressuring Iran over its breaches of the 2015 deal, which was built around lengthening the time Tehran would need to produce a nuclear weapon if it chose to.    Iran insists its nuclear aims are entirely peaceful.
    Inspections and monitoring have also been in the spotlight recently as Iran reduced its cooperation with the agency in February, removing the legal basis for snap IAEA inspections at undeclared facilities that had been introduced by the 2015 deal.
    At the same time, Iran ended IAEA monitoring of some nuclear activities that the deal introduced.    A temporary agreement with the IAEA kept that monitoring going in a black-box-type arrangement under which data continues to be collected but the IAEA will only have access to it at a later date.
    That temporary agreement expired last week, however, and the IAEA has said Iran has not responded when asked about the status of that agreement, which the IAEA hopes to extend.
    The Western diplomat said Iran had now agreed to grant inspectors full access to the FEP, which should happen next week.
Another said the move was carefully calibrated by Iran to create a nuisance without causing a major diplomatic incident.
    “The Iranians are being very tactical,” he said.
(Reporting by John Irish in Paris and Francois Murphy in Vienna; Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and by Arshad Mohammed in Washington, Writing by Francois Murphy, Editing by William Maclean and Grant McCool)

7/1/2021 Iran Names Hardline Cleric As Top Judge Amid Calls For Probe Into Past Abuses
FILE PHOTO: Iranian Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei attends the International Conference
of the Prosecutors of Islamic Countries in Tehran April 21, 2009. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo
(Corrects day to Thursday in first paragraph)
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran’s supreme leader promoted a hardline cleric to serve as head of the judiciary on Thursday, amid international calls for investigations into allegations of abuses.
    Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, now the judiciary’s deputy head, will replace Ebrahim Raisi, who takes office in August as president after winning a June 18 election.
    Ejei was put on U.S. and EU sanctions blacklists a decade ago for his role in a crackdown on a popular uprising when he served as intelligence minister during a disputed election.
    The choice of someone with such a high profile as a hardliner could draw further attention to allegations of past abuses by Iran at a time when the new U.S. administration is trying to negotiate a thaw with Tehran.
    This week, a U.N. expert called for a new investigation into Raisi’s alleged role in the deaths of thousands of political prisoners when he served as a judge in the 1980s.    Raisi denies wrongdoing.
    In a statement reported by state media, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on Ejei to “promote justice, restore public rights, ensure legitimate freedoms, and oversee the proper implementation of laws, prevent crime, and resolutely fight corruption.”
    Rights groups have criticised the election of Raisi in a vote in which prominent rivals were barred from standing.
    In a statement, Khamenei urged Ejei to “promote justice, restore public rights, ensure legitimate freedoms, and oversee the proper implementation of laws, prevent crime, and resolutely fight corruption,” state news agency IRNA reported.
    The U.N. investigator on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, told Reuters this week there should be an independent inquiry into allegations of state-ordered executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, and the role played by Raisi as Tehran deputy prosecutor at the time.
    “As I have described in my reports, there is a widespread and systemic impunity in the country for gross violations of human rights, both historically in the past as well as in the present,” he said.    “There are very few if any real avenues for accountability in line with international standards within domestic channels.”
    Iran has repeatedly dismissed the criticism of its human rights record as baseless and a result of a lack of understanding of its Islamic laws.    It says its legal system is independent and not influenced by political interests.
    Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said last month that Raisi’s election was a blow for human rights and called for him to be investigated over his role in the 1988 executions.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Robin Emmot in Brussels and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by William Maclean and Howard Goller)

7/1/2021 U.S., Japan Begin Joint Military Drills Off Senkaku Islands by OAN Newsroom
U.S. Marines watch the U.S. Navy multipurpose amphibious assault ship ‘USS Wasp’ with F-35 lightning fighter jets on the deck during
the amphibious landing exercises as part of the annual joint U.S.-Philippines military exercise. (TED ALJIBE/AFP via Getty Images)
    The U.S. and Japan have begun joint military exercises amid growing Chinese threats to Taiwan.    According to Financial Times, citing Japanese military officials, the joint drills come as preparation for a possible military conflict with China.
    The exercise is taking place near the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, just 200 miles off the Chinese coast.    This comes after Japanese parliament was allowed to use the nation’s defense force in overseas operations for the first time since World War II.
In this April 12, 2018, file photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, the Liaoning aircraft carrier is accompanied
by navy frigates and submarines conducting an exercises in the South China Sea. Despite the COVID-19 outbreak, China is keeping
up with military exercises around Taiwan at the northern edge of the South China Sea. (Li Gang/Xinhua via AP, File)
    Japan’s defense minister said Chinese threats require a new military strategy.    Additionally, Japanese officials say military cooperation with the U.S. is crucial in order to contain the malicious influence by Communist China in Asia-Pacific.

7/2/2021 U.S. Forces Leave Bagram Base In Afghanistan – Official
FILE PHOTO: A Chinook helicopter flies over the Bagram Air Base north of Kabul February 13, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) -American troops pulled out of their main military base in Afghanistan on Friday, a U.S. defence official said, under an agreement with the Taliban allowing for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the country after a two-decade war.
    “All American soldiers and members of NATO forces have left the Bagram air base,” said the senior U.S. security official on condition of anonymity.
    The U.S. military has coordinated its air war and logistical support for its Afghan mission from the Bagram air base, about 60 km (40 miles) north of Kabul, and the withdrawal of the forces symbolises the end of the U.S. military involvement in the country.
    The base is being handed over to the Afghan government as its armed forces face a surging war with the Taliban and questions swirl about their prospects.
    An Afghan official said the base would be officially handed over to the government at a ceremony on Saturday.
    The U.S. defence official said General Austin Miller, the top U.S.commander in Afghanistan “still retains all the capabilities and authorities to protect the force” that are stationed in the capital, Kabul.
    Two other U.S. security officials said this week the majority of U.S. military personnel would most likely be gone by July 4, with a residual force remaining to protect the embassy.
    Last month, U.S. President Joe Biden told his Afghan counterpart, Ashraf Ghani, that “Afghans are going to have to decide their future, what they want.”
    Ghani said his job was now to “manage the consequences” of the U.S. withdrawal.
    The agreement with the Taliban on the U.S. pull-out was struck under the administration of President Donald Trump.
    In exchange for the U.S. withdrawal, the Taliban, fighting to expel foreign forces and oust the U.S.-backed government, have vowed to prevent any international terrorism from Afghan soil.
    They also made a commitment to enter into talks with their Afghan rivals but little progress has been made in negotiations.
‘POSITIVE STEP’
    A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told Reuters said he had received reports that the U.S. forces had evacuated the base, which the Taliban welcomed.
    “We consider this withdrawal a positive step.    Afghans can get closer to stability and peace with the full withdrawal of foreign forces,” he said adding that the withdrawal was also beneficial for the U.S. government.
    The Taliban were ousted weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by al Qaeda militants after the Taliban refused to hand over al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden.
    Most U.S. and other foreign troops arriving at that time on a mission to bring peace and security to war-torn Afghanistan flew in to Bagram. Over subsequent months and years an expanse of prefab facilities, including a U.S. military prison, grew up besides its huge runway.
    The base, on a plain to the south of the snow-capped Hindu Kush mountains, has seen a string of visits by U.S. presidents, other top officials and celebrities visiting troops over the years.
    The final withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, officially set for the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, has not brought a reduction in fighting between the militants and Afghan government forces.
    The insurgents have made advances in several places, particularly in the north, where for years after their ouster, they had a minimal presence.
    Fighting was intensifying between government forces and the Taliban in the northeastern province of Badakshan, officials said on Friday.
(Reporting by Afghanistan bureau, Editing by Jacqueline Wong, Robert Birsel)

7/2/2021 U.S. Troops Vacate Famed Bagram Air Base In Afghanistan by OAN Newsroom
Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain and 101st Airborne Division disembark from their chinook helicopter
March 12, 2002 after returning to Bagram Air Base from the fighting in eastern Afghanistan. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
    All U.S. troops have now vacated the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.    A senior official verified the base had been handed over to Afghan security forces earlier on Friday amid a full-scale U.S. troop withdrawal from the Middle Eastern nation.
    Reports said the air base served as the states’ flashpoint in its war on terror in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attack by Al-Qaeda.    However, after more than 20-years of conflict, which took the lives of around 2,300 U.S. soldiers and more than 100,000 Afghans, many have been worried the country is no more stable than before.
    “For Afghans that is a really big problem, now the war between the Afghan government and the Taliban will be worse,” said Ilyas, a man residing in Kabul who declined to give his last name.
    A total of 650 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan indefinitely, based largely at the U.S. embassy for security.    There have also been discussions around whether 300 additional troops will remain at Kabul’s airport for further security measures.

7/2/2021 Era Ends, Uncertainty Looms As U.S. Forces Quit Main Afghanistan Base
Afghan soldiers stand guard at the gate of Bagram U.S. air base, on the day the last of
American troops vacated it, Parwan province, Afghanistan July 2, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) -American troops pulled out of their main military base in Afghanistan on Friday, leaving behind a piece of the World Trade Center they buried 20 years ago in a country that the top U.S. commander has warned may descend into civil war without them.
    The brisk pace of the U.S. withdrawal comes as the Taliban insurgency ramps up its offensive throughout the country while peace talks in Qatar have failed to make significant progress.
    The Pentagon said the turnover of Bagram airbase to Afghan security forces was a “key milestone” in the withdrawal.
    Despite the rapid pace of the pullout, the U.S. military currently still has the authority to protect Afghan forces.
    “Those authorities still exist,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters, but did not give a timeline for when they might end.
    U.S. President Joe Biden said the withdrawal is on track, but some American forces will still be in Afghanistan in September as part of a “rational drawdown with allies.”
    Even so, the Bagram pullout brought an effective end to the longest war in U.S. history.
    The base, an hour’s drive north of Kabul, was where the U.S. military coordinated its air war and logistical support for its entire Afghan mission.    The Taliban thanked them for leaving.
    “We consider this withdrawal a positive step. Afghans can get closer to stability and peace with the full withdrawal of foreign forces,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
    Other Afghans were more circumspect.    “The Americans must leave Afghanistan and there should be peace in this country,” said Kabul resident Javed Arman.
    But he added: “We are in a difficult situation.    Most people have fled their districts and some districts have fallen.    Seven districts in Paktia province have fallen and are now under Taliban control.”
    For the international forces, more than 3,500 of whom were killed in Afghanistan, the exit came with no pageantry.    A Western diplomat in Kabul said Washington and its NATO allies had “won many battles, but have lost the Afghan war.”
    It was at Bagram, on a plain hemmed in by the snow-capped peaks of the Hindu Kush, that New York City firefighters and police buried a piece of the World Trade Center in December 2001, days after the Taliban were toppled for harboring Osama bin Laden.
‘BLACK SITE’
    It was also here that the CIA ran a “black site” detention center where terrorism suspects were subjected to abuse that President Barack Obama subsequently acknowledged as torture.
    The base later swelled into a sprawling fortified city for a huge international military force, with fast food restaurants, gyms and a cafe serving something called “the mother of all coffees.”    Two runways perpetually roared.    Presidents flew in and gave speeches; celebrities came and told jokes.
    An Afghan official said the base would be officially handed over at a ceremony on Saturday.
    U.S. officials have told Reuters that the vast majority of troops have left Afghanistan, ahead of the timetable set by Biden, who had promised they would be home by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the attack that brought them to Afghanistan.
    Biden said he thinks the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, with whom he held talks at the White House last week, has the capacity to withstand recent Taliban advances.    But he said Ghani’s government should deal with “internal issues,” an apparent reference to infighting among rival political factions.
‘CONSEQUENCES’
    Washington agreed to withdraw in a deal negotiated last year under Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.    Biden rejected advice from generals to hang on until a political agreement could be reached between the insurgents and Ghani’s U.S.-backed government.
    Biden told Ghani in Washington last week the Afghans now must decide their own future.    Ghani said his job was now to “manage the consequences” of the U.S. withdrawal.
    In exchange for the U.S. withdrawal, the Taliban promised not to allow international terrorists to operate from Afghan soil.    They committed to negotiate with the Afghan government, but talks in the Qatari capital Doha made little progress.
    The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan this week said Washington was firmly committed to assisting Afghanistan and would provide security assistance of $3 billion in 2022.
    The Taliban refuse to declare a ceasefire.    Afghan soldiers have been surrendering or abandoning their posts.    Militia groups that fought against the Taliban before the Americans arrived are taking up arms again.
    A senior Western diplomat said the United States has asked three Central Asian nations – Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – to provide a temporary home to about 10,000 Afghans who worked with either U.S. or allied forces.
    Several European nations were also providing refuge to hundreds of Afghan employees and their families as they faced a direct threat from the Taliban.
    Since Biden’s announcement that he would press ahead with Trump’s withdrawal plan, insurgents have advanced across Afghanistan, notably in the north, where for years after their ouster they had a minimal presence.
(Reporting by Afghanistan bureau and Idrees Ali and Jonathan Landay in Washington; Writing by Peter Graff and Patricia Zengerle, Editing by William Maclean, Timothy Heritage and Daniel Wallis)

7/2/2021 From Wasteland To Bustling Base, Last U.S. Forces Say Goodbye To Bagram by Peter Graff
U.S. Army soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division and U.S. contractors prepare Mine Resistant Ambush Protection vehicles, MRAPs, to be transported off
of base in support of the withdrawl mission in Kandahar, Afghanistan, August 21, 2020. U.S. Army/Sgt. Jeffery J. Harris/Handout via REUTERS.
    (Reuters) – This was the moment.    The sky lit up with explosions over Kabul. We could see the headlights of Taliban trucks leaving the capital.
    The Northern Alliance fighters danced in a cloud of hashish smoke.    Their commander grinned.    America had joined the war.
    It was the night of Oct. 7, 2001. We were at the frontline where the Northern Alliance forces had long been separated from their Taliban enemy by a desolate strip of concrete: an abandoned Soviet air base called Bagram.
    Overhead, U.S. war planes had just begun the war that would end on Friday, almost 20 years later, at the exact same spot.
    I’m a New Yorker who had watched the Sept. 11 attacks on TV from Reuters’ Moscow newsroom, and within days was headed on assignment to Afghanistan, where the Taliban government was harbouring Osama bin Laden, the man suspected of masterminding the hijackings.
    The only way in was by helicopter from Tajikistan with the Northern Alliance.    They flew a group of journalists over a high mountain pass to their redoubt, the Panjsher Gorge.    Bagram lay in the fertile plain below, and beyond it were the Taliban.
    Bagram then was a shrapnel-strewn wasteland surrounded by the carcasses of abandoned Soviet planes, bombed-out hangars and watchtowers.    Built in the 1950s by the Soviets, it would serve as their main base after they invaded in 1979, but fell into disuse after they withdrew a decade later.
    When the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, its strategic location below gorges that could shelter guerrillas turned it into the front in a war of attrition between the Taliban and the former mujahideen fighters of the Northern Alliance.
MEMORIES OF 9/11 VICTIMS
    The American bombing whose start I witnessed that night at Bagram would topple the Taliban within weeks.    I left Afghanistan for a few weeks, and by the time I returned to Bagram, soldiers from the U.S. 10th Mountain Division had turned up to guard it.    Special forces operators in beards and Afghan clothing introduced themselves and joked about the steps they had previously taken to hide from reporters covering the war.
    During this period, a plane landed carrying New York City firefighters and police.    They brought with them photos of comrades killed at the World Trade Center, swapped caps with the soldiers, and buried a piece of one of the collapsed towers in unmarked ground at the base.
    I would return to Bagram often in later years, including during a tour as Reuters bureau chief in Kabul.
    Unlike in Iraq, the U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan stayed small for years.    Bagram remained a remote enough outpost the CIA could use it for so-called “enhanced interrogations” of detainees believed to be linked to al Qaeda that years later President Barack Obama would acknowledge was torture.
    But eventually, during the Obama era, the U.S. and NATO contingent in Afghanistan swelled to 130,000 troops.    It was bizarre to see what Bagram would become.
    From Iraq, I had long become used to big American bases, with their Burger Kings and Green Bean Cafes.    But sipping a frappe in Bagram?
    The base became huge and frenetic, with troops from dozens of NATO countries arriving and departing for remote outposts.
    Beyond its walls, U.S. plans to bring “better governance” to remote Afghan provinces were demanding ever more manpower and expense, and hard-fought achievements rarely lasted.
    I left Afghanistan a decade ago and have not been back.    The U.S.-led force was wound down, and for most of the last seven years its mission was more humble: no longer fighting for mountain valleys, just offering enough firepower and support to keep the government in Kabul from falling.
    And now, like the Russians before them, they have gone.
(Reporting by Peter Graff; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

7/2/2021 State Dept. Voices Concern Regarding China’s Growing Nuclear Arsenal by OAN Newsroom
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price is pictured answering questions during a press briefing. (AP Photo)
    U.S. officials are sounding the alarm on China’s growing nuclear arsenal. Specifically, the State Department voiced concern over the rapid expansion.    During a press briefing on Thursday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price urged Beijing to reduce its nuclear arms.
    According to a Washington Post report on Wednesday, Chinese officials have started construction on roughly 100 new missile silos located in a western desert region of the country.    Price said the build-up of China’s nuclear arsenal is concerning and is raising questions on their intentions.
    “These reports and other developments suggests that the PRC’s (People’s Republic of China’s) nuclear arsenal will grow more quickly and to a higher level than perhaps previously anticipated,” stated the U.S. official.    “This buildup, it is concerning.    It raises questions about the PRC’s intents and for us, it reinforces the importance of pursuing practical measures to reduce nuclear risks.”
    Price went on to stress the importance of nuclear power talks between nations in hopes of reducing nuclear dangers and avoiding miscalculations.
    This comes as a report by NBC News alleged the Chinese military has ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.    The report from last week found a chief Chinese scientist at the Wuhan lab, Shi Zhengli, collaborated with at least two officials with the People’s Liberation Army of China.    Her contacts with Chinese military scientists date back to 2018 and 2019.    They were related to gain of function research.
    The mainstream media has long dismissed the Chinese military’s involvement with COVID-19 as a conspiracy theory, but new evidence appears to confirm such assertions.    Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are investigating the Wuhan lab experiments that were reportedly funded by Dr. Anthony Fauci’s National Institutes of Health (NIH) to the tune of $600,000.    If the involvement of Chinese military with Wuhan research is confirmed, Dr. Fauci’s actions may raise a national security concern.
[ITS ABOUT TIME THIS CONTRY HAS STARTED TO LOOK AT THE TRUTH OF WHAT HAPPENED IN WUHAN AND CHINA'S ATTACK WITH THE VIRUS ON THE WORLD AND ANY DEMOCRAT ENTITY WHO IS CONNECTED TO THAT SHOULD BE TARRED AND FEATHERED AND RUN OUT OF THE COUNTRY OR THEY CAN START RUNNING NOW.].

7/3/2021 ‘What Was The Point?’ Afghans Rue Decades Of War As U.S. Quits Bagram
FILE PHOTO: An Afghan National Army soldier stands guard at a check post near Bagram U.S. air base, on the
day the last of American troops vacated it, Parwan province, Afghanistan July 2, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – As American troops left their main military base in Afghanistan on Friday, marking a symbolic end to the longest war in U.S. history, locals living in the shadow of the base and in nearby Kabul were left ruing the past and bracing for what comes next.
    Violence has been raging throughout Afghanistan in the weeks since President Joe Biden announced troops would withdraw unconditionally by Sept. 11.
    With peace talks in Qatar stuttering, and roughly a quarter of the country’s districts having fallen to the Taliban in recent weeks according to one study, many are concerned that chaos looms.
    Malek Mir, a mechanic in Bagram who saw the Soviet Army and then the Americans come and go, said he had was left with a deep sense of sadness at the futility of a foreign presence.
    “They came with bombing the Taliban and got rid of their regime – but now they have left when the Taliban are so empowered that they will take over any time soon,” he said.
    “What was the point of all the destruction, killing and misery they brought us?    I wish they had never come.”
    More than 3,500 foreign troops have been killed in a two- decade war, which has claimed over 100,000 civilians since 2009 alone, according to United Nations records.
    Some, however, say the presence of foreign troops distorted Afghanistan’s economy and that it is time for the country to stand on its own.
    “The Americans leave a legacy of failure, they’ve failed in containing the Taliban or corruption,” said Sayed Naqibullah, a shop owner in Bagram.    “A small percentage of Afghans got so rich, while the vast majority still live with extreme poverty."
    “In a way, we’re happy they’ve gone … We’re Afghans and we’ll find our way.”
    In the nearby capital, the news was a fresh reminder of the growing panic that has been gripping many parts of Afghan society, particularly in urban areas, since Biden announced the withdrawal in April.
    “All the people are worried that if foreign forces leave Afghanistan, the Taliban will take over.    Then what will we do?” asked Zumarai Wafa, a Kabul shopkeeper.
    Wafa and others described a slump in business and signs of many urban residents trying to flee the country, with hundreds lined up outside embassies seeking visas.
    Medical student Muzhda, 22, who asked to be identified by only one name for security reasons, said her family had decided to leave the country because of the deterioration in security.
    She said she wondered what future awaited women if the Taliban came back to power and restricted access to education for women, as they did during their previous time in power.
    The Taliban say they have changed and that they will make provisions for women’s rights in line with cultural traditions and religious rules.
    Still, Muzhda said she feels bereft and let down by the American departure.
    “The withdrawal of foreign troops in the current situation is irrational,” she said.    “It is now clear that the Americans came here for their own purposes, not to help and cooperate with Afghanistan.”
    “I’m very sad and disappointed, I had many dreams that will not come true.”
(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Editing by Euan Rocha and Mike Harrison)

7/3/2021 IAEA Deputy Head To Visit Iran For ‘Routine’ Matters – Iranian Envoy
FILE PHOTO: Iranian flag flies in front of the UN office building, housing IAEA headquarters, amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria, May 24, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The deputy head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog IAEA is to visit Iran for “routine” matters and no talks are planned, Iran’s envoy said on Saturday according to state media, as the agency awaits a reply from Tehran on an expired monitoring deal.
    In late June, the International Atomic Energy Agency demanded an immediate response from Iran on whether it would extend a monitoring agreement that had expired.    Iran said this week it was yet to decide whether to extend the deal.
    “(Massimo) Aparo…will visit Iran this coming week.    His visit is in line with routine safeguards activities and within the framework of a comprehensive safeguards accord,” Kazem Gharibabadi said, according to the state news agency IRNA.
    “Although we are in constant contact with the agency, no talks are planned for him in Tehran,” Gharibabadi said.
    The planned visit by Aparo, the IAEA’s inspections chief, comes days after diplomats said that Iran has been restricting U.N. nuclear inspectors’ access to its main uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, citing security concerns after what it says was an attack on the site by Israel in April.
    This follows various moves by Iran that breach its 2015 nuclear deal with major world powers after the United States abandoned the agreement and re-imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Alex Richardson and Ros Russell)

7/3/2021 Pentagon Approves Of Power Transfer Between Generals In Afghanistan by OAN Newsroom
The Pentagon. (Lolita C. Baldor/AP)
    In a statement on Friday, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the Pentagon approved a plan to transfer authority over the military operations in Afghanistan.
    Command is set to switch from Gen. Scott Miller to Gen. Frank McKenzie later this month.    Meanwhile, officials said the move serves as a “key milestone” in the U.S.’s diminished presence in Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of occupying the Middle East nation.
    This comes as U.S. troops are pulling out of their primary base in the country.    Kirby announced the American troops departure from Bagram Airfield on Friday.
    Control of the base was given to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces despite warnings from military commanders that the removal of troops could lead to a civil war within the country.    However, Kirby said the few remaining U.S. forces will continue helping Afghan troops in four specific ways.
    “One, protecting our diplomatic presence in the country.    Two, supporting security requirements at Hamid Karzai International Airport.    Three, continued advice and assistance to Afghan National Defense and Security Forces as appropriate and four, supporting our counterterrorism efforts,” said Kirby.
    The event marks an end of a significant U.S. military presence in Afghanistan since troops were sent to the area following the 9/11 terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda.    Members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, including Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, testified against Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw troops in May.
    Inhofe cited former President Obama’s 2011 withdrawal from Iraq, which led to terrorist exploitation and instability.
    Additionally, U.S. Commander Gen. Austin Miller said civil war for Afghanistan is possible as Taliban members have returned to areas around the country amid U.S. troops return home.
    In the meantime, an Afghan official said the base is set to be officially transferred to the government at a ceremony on Saturday.


7/5/2021 China’s Xi Tells Macron, Merkel He Hopes To Expand Cooperation With Europe
FILE PHOTO: China's President Xi Jinping speaks while taking part in an event marking the 70th anniversary of the Chinese People's Volunteer
Army's participation in the Korean War at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 23, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday told French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel he hoped China and Europe would expand cooperation to better respond to global challenges, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
    In a three-way video call, Xi also expressed the hope that Europeans can play a more active role in international affairs, achieve strategic independence and offer a fair, transparent and unbiased environment for Chinese companies, CCTV said.
    Merkel’s office confirmed that the three leaders exchanged views on European Union-China relations.
    “They also discussed international trade, climate protection and biodiversity,” her office added in a statement.
    “The conversation also revolved around cooperation in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, global vaccine supply, and international and regional issues.”
    In May, the European Parliament halted ratification of a new investment pact with China until Beijing lifts sanctions on EU politicians, deepening a dispute in Sino-European relations and denying EU companies greater access to China.
(Reporting by Colin Qian, Ryan Woo; and by Paul Carrel in BerlinEditing by Alison Williams and Thomas Escritt)

7/5/2021 France, Germany And China Call On Negotiators To Seize Opportunity In Iran Talks
    PARIS (Reuters) – The leaders of France, Germany and China, after a three-way video call on Monday, called on all parties involved in the Iran nuclear talks to seize a window of opportunity for an agreement, a French presidency source said on Monday.
    The source said that French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping had spoken for more than an hour.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by GV De Clercq; Editing by Alison Williams)

7/5/2021 Fire Rages, Mass Evacuation After Thai Factory Blast
Smoke rises from a plastic factory after an explosion in Samut Prakan, outside Bangkok, Thailand July 5, 2021. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thousands of people on the outskirts of Thailand’s capital were being evacuated on Monday as firefighters battled blazes for hours after a factory explosion that killed a rescue worker and wounded 29 people, officials said.
    Disaster authorities said 70 houses were damaged and fires were still being fought 15 hours after the explosion in Samut Prakan province in the early hours of Monday.
    The cause of the blast at the Taiwanese-owned factory had yet to be determined.    The nearby Suvarnabhumi international airport, Thailand’s main gateway, said its operations were not affected.
    A large cloud of black smoke could be seen from Bangkok and the city’s water authority warned people against drinking potentially contaminated rainwater.
    Samut Prakan residents living within five kilometres (3.1 miles) of the factory were being moved away as a precaution.
    “At first it felt like lightning.    After that, I heard something drop loudly, and for a while the house started shaking like there was an earthquake,” said Baitong Nisarat, a resident.
    The industry ministry said as much as 700 million baht ($21.79 million) of assets could be lost in the fire.
    Reuters could not reach the factory’s operator and its parent company in Taiwan did mot immediately respond to an request by email for comment.
    The 32-year-old factory makes expandable polystyrene foam.    According to the department of industrial works, styrene monomer, a base chemical needed to make foam, is highly flammable and polystyrene releases toxic chemicals when heated.
($1 = 32.1200 baht)
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Additional reporting by Jiraporn Kuhakan; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Martin Petty)

7/5/2021 Vacated By Americans, Kabul’s Bagram Air Base Bustles Again As Afghans Move In
Parked vehicles are seen in Bagram U.S. air base, after American troops vacated it,
in Parwan province, Afghanistan July 5, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – Bagram Air Base, hub of U.S. forces in Afghanistan for 20 years until they withdrew last week, buzzed again with activity on Monday as Afghan forces settled into the vast premises, complete with its runways, barracks, control towers and hospital.
    American troops handed the base over to Afghan security forces to bring an effective end to the longest war in U.S. history, following an agreement with the insurgent Islamist Taliban last year.
    “They (Americans) are completely out now and everything is under our control, including watchtowers, air traffic and the hospital,” a senior Afghan government official told Reuters.
    Reuters journalists on Monday visited the heavily fortified compound, long a symbol of Western forces deployed to shore up the Afghan government against the Taliban’s campaign to regain power after being toppled by a U.S. intervention in 2001.
    Dozens of vehicles left behind by the United States stood on the premises while others zipped around with Afghan officials and personnel looking to come to terms with the magnitude of operating the vast base.
    Radars oscillated as soldiers stood on guard, and hundreds of Afghan security personnel moved into barracks that once housed U.S. soldiers.
    Where American entertainers had once visited to boost the morale of U.S. troops, an Afghan soldier strummed a guitar, singing a Pashto language epic on the Afghan homeland, while other Afghan soldiers toured the grounds on bicycles.
    Outside the walls of the vast base, things are not as serene. The Taliban have ramped up offensives against Afghan government forces across the country, particularly in the north where insurgents have gained territory rapidly.
    On Sunday, hundreds of members of the Afghan security forces fled to refuge in neighbouring Tajikistan.
    Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government remain inconclusive, and many fear the country could descend into a full-blown civil war once again.
    Neighbourhoods and markets in the shadow of the base were left ruing the past and bracing for what comes next.
    “It is not a problem for us if there are foreign forces (here) or they leave, but the fact that the Taliban are taking over districts at any moment affects our work,” Wasim Shirzad, a shopkeeper told Reuters.
    Another shopkeeper Nematullah Ferdaws, agreed: “Most shopkeepers do not invest…because they are hesitant about the country’s future.”
(Reporting by Kabul newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/5/2021 Exclusive-Taliban Aim To Present Written Peace Plan At Talks As Soon As Next Month - Spokesman
FILE PHOTO: Taliban delegates shake hands during talks between the Afghan government and
Taliban insurgents in Doha, Qatar September 12, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem al Omari/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban plan to present a written peace proposal to the Afghan government side as soon as next month, a spokesman for the Islamist insurgents said even as they make major territorial gains in the breach left by departing foreign forces.
    Hundreds of Afghan security force members have fled into neighbouring Tajikistan in the face of Taliban advances since the United States vacated its main Afghan base, centrepiece of U.S. and NATO might for almost two decades in the country, as part of a plan to withdraw all foreign troops by Sept. 11.
    While the transfer of Bagram Air Base to the Afghan army added momentum to a Taliban drive to seize control over new districts, Taliban leaders renewed the long stalled talks with Afghan government envoys in Qatar’s capital Doha last week.
    “The peace talks and process will be accelerated in the coming days…and they are expected to enter an important stage, naturally it will be about peace plans,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters on Monday.
    “Possibly it will take a month to reach that stage when both sides will share their written peace plan,” he said, adding that the latest round of talks were at a critical juncture.
    “Although we (Taliban) have the upper hand on the battlefield, we are very serious about talks and dialogue.”
    The upsurge in fighting and the flight of thousands of members of the tattered Afghan security forces have raised grave doubt about the U.S.-backed peace negotiations, which began last year under the then-President Donald Trump’s administration.
TALIBAN ADVANCES ON THE GROUND
    Western security officials said insurgent forces have captured more than 100 districts but the Taliban say they have control of more than 200 districts in 34 provinces comprising over half the Central Asian country.
    On Sunday, more than 1,000 Afghan security personnel retreated across the northern border into Tajikistan after Taliban advances, the Tajik border guard service said, while dozens of others were captured by the insurgents.
    Diplomats overseeing the intra-Afghan talks have repeatedly sought neighbouring Pakistan’s help to convince Taliban leaders to offer a written peace plan even if it took a maximalist line, such as the restoration of hardline Islamist rule reminiscent of the group’s 1996-2001 period in power.
    Last month the European Union’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Tomas Niklasson, said time was running out and that a written proposal would be a sign of successful Pakistani leverage over the Taliban.
    Najia Anwari, spokeswoman for Afghanistan’s Ministry for Peace Affairs, confirmed that intra-Afghan talks had resumed and said its representatives were “i>very happy” that Taliban envoys were rejecting the process outright.
    “It is difficult to anticipate that the Taliban will provide us with their written document of a peace plan in a month but let’s be positive.    We hope they present (it) so as to understand what they want,” said Anwari.
    Last month the head of Afghanistan’s official peace council called for the long halting talks on a settlement to decades of devastating violence should not be abandoned despite surging Taliban attacks – unless the insurgents themselves pulled out.
    Last week U.S. forces vacated Bagram Air Base as part of an understanding with the Taliban, against whom it has fought since ousting the radical Islamist movement from power after the Sept. 11, 2001 al Qaeda attacks on the United States.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau, editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/5/2021 Chinese Propaganda Pushes ‘Three-Step’ Plan To Seize Taiwan by OAN Newsroom
Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. (Ju Peng/Xinhua via AP)
    The Chinese state media released Beijing’s supposed plan of invading Taiwan, which has sparked concerns in Japan and South Korea.    British Newspaper The Sun cited a Chinese propaganda outlet on Monday reporting Beijing’s plans to invade and defeat Taiwan in three steps.     The first step would be a sudden attack of Taiwanese military bases, followed by the second step of cruise-missile strikes on infrastructure.    The third step was described as a bombardment of Taiwan by Chinese warships.
    Japan, a key ally for Taiwan, warned China’s threats may provoke a war it’ll have to fight.
    “This mean they are trying to surround all the Taiwan islands,” Japan’s State Minister of Defense Yasuhide Nakayama explained.    “…How do we solve this issue?    One thing that we can do is we have to show deterrence towards China.”
    Chinese President Xi Jinping recently threatened to “resolve the problem of Taiwan.”    Taiwan responded by saying Beijing will suffer a major defeat if it attempts to invade.

7/6/2021 China To Move In On Afghanistan After U.S. Troop Removal by OAN Newsroom
A member of the Afghan security forces stands guard after the American military left Bagram air base,
in Parwan province north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, July 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
    China seems to be moving in to fill the void left by America’s withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan.    The U.S. military left its final base in the region on Friday.
    An anonymous source reported Kabul authorities are now working with China toward a deal, which would invest in Afghanistan’s infrastructure.    The deal, through China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is a trillion dollar program that has provided funding for a variety of infrastructure projects.
    Sources report the deal would also extend the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the flagship project of BRI that involves constructing infrastructure that reaches to Afghanistan.    This comes as the former president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, said in an interview Saturday that China can play an important role in shaping Afghanistan’s future.
    “Afghanistan, Pakistan and China are neighbors; we are connected geographically,” Karzai stated.    “China plays a very important role, a significant role, in improving the relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in making sure that a synchronized relationship is established between the two countries.”
    It was also reported that China seeks to connect 60 countries through land and sea using BRI, which would potentially enhance China’s influence globally. Due to Afghanistan’s location, it could also prove to be a strategic base for China.    Afghanistan allegedly hadn’t joined the BRI due to being backed by the U.S.    That could now change since U.S. influence is essentially gone.
    However, reports say China’s overall power in Afghanistan could greatly depend on the Taliban, a group that has been responsible for an increase of mounting attacks since the U.S. announced its removal of troops.    This comes as the Taliban have reportedly been retaking territory across Northern Afghanistan while thousands have tried to combat the insurgents.
    While the Taliban have a strong grip on the country, some residents just want to see peace.    The Taliban may then be one of several problems for China in its quest to take on the war-torn country. Both anti-state and pro-state sources of violence are also an issue in the country.

7/6/2021 Taliban Surges As U.S. Withdraws From Afghanistan by OAN Newsroom
Afghan militia forces stand guard at an outpost as they patrol against the Taliban fighters in the Tange Farkhar
area of Taloqan in northern Takhar province on July 6, 2021. (Photo by NASEER SADEQ/AFP via Getty Images)
    Taliban forces have surged as Joe Biden pulled the last of U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. All troops were set to be fully withdrawn by September 11 as the U.S. Central Command announced on Tuesday the drawdown was 90 percent complete.
    Experts warned of a foreign policy disaster as the Taliban continues to push Afghan government forces out of multiple territories and gain control of weapons.    1,000 Afghan military members fled the country to Tajikistan, but efforts have been made for them to rejoin the fight against the Taliban.
    Afghan security forces continue to surrender military hardware, districts and abandoned military bases since the U.S. troop withdrawal.    Taliban forces have taken control of 120 districts since May 1.
    “There are people coming out ready to recruit, ready to join the forces to defend their country throughout,” Afghan National Security adviser Hamdullah Mohib expressed.    “That support for the ANDSF is quite heart-warming and we will continue to defend our people as best as we can.”
    The last U.S. soldiers are expected to remain protecting the Kabul Airport.    The Taliban has warned any remaining foreign troops in the country after the deadline will face consequences.

7/7/2021 Iran Takes Steps To Make Enriched Uranium Metal; U.S., Europe Powers Dismayed by Francois Murphy, Humeyra Pamuk and Arshad Mohammed
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    VIENNA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Iran has begun the process of producing enriched uranium metal, the U.N. atomic watchdog said on Tuesday, a move that could help it develop a nuclear weapon and that three European powers said threatened talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
    Iran’s steps, which were disclosed by the International Atomic Energy Agency and which Tehran said aimed to develop fuel for a research reactor, also drew criticism from the United States, which called them an “unfortunate step backwards.”
    U.S. and European officials made clear that Iran’s decision would complicate, and potentially torpedo, indirect U.S.-Iranian talks seeking to bring both nations back into compliance with the 2015 deal, which was abandoned by former President Donald Trump.
    The deal imposed curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme to make it harder for Tehran to develop fissile material for nuclear weapons in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.    After Trump withdrew, Iran began violating many of the restrictions.
    Tehran has already produced a small amount of uranium metal this year that was not enriched.    That is a breach of the deal, which bans all work on uranium metal since it can be used to make the core of a nuclear bomb.
    “Today, Iran informed the Agency that UO2 (uranium oxide) enriched up to 20% U–235 would be shipped to the R&D laboratory at the Fuel Fabrication Plant in Esfahan, where it would be converted to UF4 (uranium tetrafluoride) and then to uranium metal enriched to 20% U–235, before using it to manufacture the fuel,” an IAEA statement said.
    A confidential IAEA report seen by Reuters said the agency had confirmed that Iran had taken steps to begin the process of producing enriched uranium metal.
    Britain, France and Germany said on Tuesday they had “grave concern” about Iran’s decision, which violates the nuclear deal, formally named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
    “Iran has no credible civilian need for uranium metal R&D and production, which are a key step in the development of a nuclear weapon,” they said in a joint statement issued by Britain’s foreign ministry.
    “With its latest steps, Iran is threatening a successful outcome to the Vienna talks despite the progress achieved in six rounds of negotiations,” they said, and urged Iran to return to the talks in the Austrian capital, which began in April and adjourned on June 20.brt> No date has been set for a next round.
    U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Washington was not setting a deadline for the talks, but noted “that as time proceeds Iran’s nuclear advances will have a bearing on our view of returning to the JCPOA.”     Price said the United States found it “worrying” that Iran was continuing to violate the agreement “especially with experiments that have value for nuclear weapons research."
    “It’s another unfortunate step backwards for Iran,” he said.
    Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s ambassador to the IAEA, noted the agency’s report on Iran’s latest violation of the 2015 deal as well as the Biden administration’s decision to maintain the Iran sanctions reimposed by Trump, also violations of the accord.
    “The only way out of this vicious circle is resumption of #ViennaTalks without delay and full restoration of #JCPOA,” he wrote on Twitter.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna, and Humeyra Pamuk and Arshad Mohammed in Washington;Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Jonathan Landay and Simon Lewis in Washington and David Milliken in London;Writing by Francois Murphy and Arshad MohammedEditing by Sonya Hepinstall and Leslie Adler)

7/7/2021 Taliban Attacks Northwestern Afghan Province by OAN Newsroom
Afghan soldiers pause on a road at the front line of fighting between Taliban and Security forces, in Badghis province,
northwest of Afghanistan, Wednesday, July, 7 2021. From the early hours of Wednesday morning, battles have raged near the
provincial police headquarters and a Qala-e-Naw army base, said Abdul Aziz beg, head of the provincial council in Badghis.(AP Photo/Mirwis Omari)
    The Taliban has attacked the capital of a Northwestern Afghanistan province. On Wednesday, officials reported that the terrorist group struck three different entry points into the city and are describing the country as a state of panic.
    More than 200 prisoners have reportedly escaped from the central prison, which has led to some disarray among the security forces.    As Afghan forces fight back against the assault, council officials have fled to an army camp in the city.
    Leaders in the region, including Badghis province Governor Hesamuddin Shams, have urged the public to remain calm.
    “I want to assure you that all our security and defense forces, including special units and special forces, are defending the city of Qala-e-Naw,” he stated.    “The enemy that is currently fighting with us, they have suffered casualties in some parts of the city and have also been defeated.”
    This occurred as negotiations between the Taliban and Qatar have continued to dissolve.

7/8/2021 Biden’s Pentagon Says 90% Of Afghan Withdrawal Complete, Taliban Advances Gains On The Ground by OAN Newsroom
Afghan army soldiers patrol after the American military left Bagram air base, in Parwan province north of Kabul, Afghanistan,
Monday, July 5, 2021. The U.S. left Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield after nearly 20 years, winding up its “forever war,”
in the night, without notifying the new Afghan commander until more than two hours after they slipped away. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
    Joe Biden is set to address the ongoing troop withdrawal in Afghanistan as the Department of Defense announces removal is 90 percent complete.
    According to the U.S. Central Command, it has transferred more than 17,000 pieces of military equipment for disposition.    The U.S. military has also transferred seven facilities over to the Afghan forces.
    This comes as the Taliban is gaining control of the ground with Afghan troops fleeing to neighboring Tajikistan.    Afghan officials insist they have the situation under control as their fight with the Taliban continues.
    “Those that went to Tajikistan are coming back and are, once again, going to be in the service of their people and defense of people, in defense of Fayzabad,” stated Afghani National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib.    “People are standing.    It’s war.    There is pressure; sometimes things work in our way and sometimes they don’t.”
    Meanwhile, Biden’s messy Middle East troop withdrawal has hit another snag as looters ransack Bagram Air Base. Afghan officials said the U.S. military left behind 3.5 million items in their abrupt departure.    These items range from bottles of water to cars, laptops and even small weapons as well as ammunition.
    Dozens of looters reportedly raided the facility once Americans left and made off with some of that equipment.    This has prompted concern that U.S. intelligence and weapons may have fallen into the wrong hands.
    The Pentagon said the exact time of the troop withdrawal was not given due to security reasons.    However, afghan officials said the U.S. military lost 20 years of goodwill in one night leaving the way they did.
    The White House has said that Biden will give an update on the situation, but will not announce any new policies.

7/8/2021 Biden To Speak Thursday About Afghanistan Amid Swift U.S. Pullout by Steve Holland
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the
White House, in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on Thursday will offer his most extensive comments to date about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, a pullout that is raising concerns about a civil war there and drawing Republican criticism.
    A White House official said Biden would update the American people on the situation and that no major policy pronouncements were expected.
    The Democratic president, who is due to speak at 1:45 p.m. (1745 GMT), has been under pressure from critics to give a more expansive explanation for his decision to withdraw.
    The United States last weekend abandoned Bagram air base, the longtime staging ground for U.S. military operations in the country, effectively ending America’s longest war. The Pentagon says the withdrawal of U.S. forces is 90% complete.
    Washington agreed to withdraw in a deal negotiated last year under Biden’s Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.    Biden overruled military leaders who wanted to keep a larger presence to assist Afghan security forces and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a staging ground for extremist groups.
    Biden’s order in April to pull out U.S. forces by Sept. 11 after 20 years of conflict has coincided with major gains by the Islamist militant Taliban movement against overwhelmed Afghan forces after peace talks sputtered.
    The commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, General Austin Miller, warned last week that the country may be headed toward a civil war.
    The U.S. intelligence community believes the Afghan military is weak and that the Kabul government’s prospects for survival in the short term are not good, U.S. government sources familiar with official assessments said.
    White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Biden would meet his national security team on Thursday “to receive a periodic update on the progress of our military drawdown from Afghanistan.”
    “Early tomorrow afternoon, the president will make comments on our continued drawdown efforts and ongoing security and humanitarian assistance to the ANDSF and the Afghan people.”
    ANDSF is the acronym for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.
    Some Republicans are criticizing Biden for the pullout, although Trump had also sought to end American involvement in the war.
    Biden met Afghan leaders on June 25 and said U.S. support for Afghanistan would be sustained despite the pullout.
    “Afghans are going to have to decide their future, what they want,” Biden said at the time.
    The United States plans to leave 650 troops in Afghanistan to provide security for the U.S. Embassy.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Ross Colvin and Peter Cooney)

7/9/2021 Biden Accelerates Afghan Troop Withdrawal To End By Aug. 31 by OAN Newsroom
Joe Biden speaks during an East Room event on troop withdrawal from Afghanistan at the
White House July 8, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
    Joe Biden has decided to speed up the already rocky U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, even as the Taliban continues to gain strength in the region.    Speaking from the White House on Thursday, Biden said troops will be home by Aug. 31, which is earlier than the original deadline of Sept. 11.
    He said there will still be a diplomatic and humanitarian presence in the nation moving forward, but the Afghan military will no longer be supported by U.S. forces. He painted a grim outlook of Afghanistan’s future, insisting no amount of American presence could resolve the country’s vast array of issues.
    “Nearly 20 years of experience has shown us that the current security situation only confirms that ‘just one more year’ of fighting in Afghanistan is not a solution, but a recipe for being there indefinitely,” said Biden.
Afghan security personnel stand guard along the road amid ongoing fight between Afghan security forces
and Taliban fighters in Kandahar on July 9, 2021. (JAVED TANVEER/AFP via Getty Images)
    Biden instead argued American resources are better spent elsewhere, such as improving the U.S.’s counterterrorism measures in other regions of the world.
    “We are repositioning our resources and adapting our counterterrorism posture to meet the threats where they are now significantly higher: in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa,” said the Democrat.
    In the meantime, the Taliban has taken over nearly 10 percent of Afghanistan in just the past week alone, raising questions about Biden’s decision to withdrawal American forces.    However, Biden has continued to defend his decision and claims the U.S. did what it needed to do in Afghanistan, but this is in no way a “mission accomplished” moment.
    The U.S. has been in Afghanistan for 20 years and it remains America’s longest running war.

7/9/2021 Biden Appears To Forget Why U.S. Went To Afghanistan In 2001, Takes Credit For Bin Laden Raid In Pakistan by OAN Newsroom
President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Washington. Biden is set
to sign an executive order the White House bills as an effort to target anticompetitive practices in tech, health care
and other parts of the economy while boosting workers’ wages and consumer protections. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
    Joe Biden appeared to lose his train of thought, yet again, while speaking on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan Thursday.    Specifically, he seemed to not remember why U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
    Biden claimed the U.S. never had an objective to help Afghanistan “nation-build.”    His remarks came despite U.S. officials saying for years that helping Afghanistan become a free and prosperous nation would reduce the threat of terror.
    Biden also tried to take credit for the raid to kill Osama Bin Laden.    In reality, Bin Laden was killed in his hideout in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.    In fact, he opposed that operation back in the day.
    Meanwhile, the Taliban is now gaining ground in Afghanistan after 20 years of U.S. presence.    This also contradicts Biden’s claims of a reduced terror threat in the region.

7/11/2021 Afghan Forces Repel Taliban Assault On Provincial Capital, Governor Says
Armed Afghan militias patrol on the outskirts of Takhar province, Afghanistan July 11, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
    KABUL/MUMBAI (Reuters) -Afghan security forces, with the help of air strikes, repelled an assault by Taliban fighters on the provincial centre of a key northern province bordering Tajikistan on Sunday, officials said.
    The Taliban assault was the latest in a string of offensives that has seen insurgents capture territory across Afghanistan as U.S.-led foreign forces are in the final stages of withdrawing troops after almost 20 years of fighting.
    “The enemy’s offensive attacks were repelled, and they suffered heavy and unprecedented casualties, as a result of which 55 enemy soldiers were killed and 90 were wounded,” the governor of Takhar province Abdullah Qarluq said.
    Reuters could not independently confirm his account.
    More than a dozen Taliban fighters were killed in air strikes by the Afghan Air Force on hideouts on the outskirts of Takhar’s provincial center, Taluqan, Afghanistan’s defence ministry said on Twitter.
    “The Taliban attacked Taluqan from four directions last night (Saturday), but were faced with strong resistance from security forces and (local) people,” Khalil Asir, spokesman for Takhar Police Command, told Reuters.
    Taluqan is just the latest provincial capital to come under Taliban pressure.    Earlier this week Taliban fighters entered the capital of the western province of Badghis, seizing police and security facilities and attempting to take over the governor’s office before special forces pushed them back.
    Insurgents have made a fresh push to gain territory in recent weeks, emboldened by the departure of foreign forces.    The Pentagon believes that after taking dozens of district centres, the Taliban will make a push for provincial centres.
    In southern Afghanistan, too, clashes continued.
    India said on Sunday it had temporarily repatriated officials from its consulate in Kandahar, a major city in southern Afghanistan.
    “Due to the intense fighting near Kandahar city, India-based personnel have been brought back for the time being,” Arindam Bagchi, chief spokesperson at India’s foreign ministry, said in a statement.
    “India is closely monitoring the evolving security situation in Afghanistan,” Bagchi said, adding that India’s consulate in Kandahar was being run by local staff temporarily.
    Taliban officials said on Friday that the Sunni Muslim insurgent group had taken control of 85% of Afghanistan’s territory.    Afghan government officials dismissed the assertion as propaganda.
(Reporting by Kabul newsroom, Abhirup Roy and C.K. Nayak; Editing by William Mallard and Daniel Wallis)

7/11/2021 DOD: We’re Looking At Afghanistan With ‘Deep Concern’ by OAN Newsroom
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) talks to reporters follow a House Republican conference meeting in the
U.S. Capitol Visitors Center on May 12, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
    Critics of Joe Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan have been speaking out against the move, claiming it may not last long.    On Sunday, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R), who served in Afghanistan as a lieutenant in the Air Force, said the withdrawal symbolizes the resolve of the Taliban.
    Kinzinger went on to say U.S. troops will likely have to re-enter Afghanistan to quell the Taliban’s offensive in the country.    The terrorist organization recently claimed to have recaptured around 85 percent of the Middle Eastern country.
    This includes the key U.S. Bagram Air Base near Kabul, which was vacated by American troops last week.    Kinzinger added, it’s only a matter of time before we see the collapse of the Afghan government.
An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier stands guard at Bagram Air Base, after all U.S. and
NATO troops left, some 70 Km north of Kabul on July 2, 2021. (ZAKERIA HASHIMI/AFP via Getty Images)
    Former Obama-era Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said he believes Biden should leave troops in the country. Johnson advised the Biden administration to leave around 2,500 troops to work counterterrorism.
    However, he remains confident in America’s ability to respond to terrorist threats in Afghanistan even if operations are outside, its borders.
    Additionally, Department of Defense Spokesperson John Kirby has defended the administration’s decision, stressing the U.S. is not walking away from our relationship with the Afghan government.    He said Biden plans on supporting officials with financial and advisory resources.     He also reflected on the Biden administration’s concern with the Taliban’s momentum and said they are looking into options to deter their rise in the region.    In the meantime, Biden plans to bring forward the full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Aug. 31.

7/12/2021 U.S. Repeats Warning To China Against Attack On Philippine Forces
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a meeting with Tajikistan's Foreign Minister
Sirojiddin Muhriddin at the State Department in Washington, U.S., July 1, 2021. REUTERS/Ken Cedeno/Pool
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Sunday repeated a warning to China that an attack on Philippine armed forces in the South China Sea would trigger a 1951 U.S.-Philippines mutual defense treaty.
    Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the comment in a written statement marking the fifth anniversary of a ruling by an arbitration tribunal repudiating China’s vast territorial claims in the South China Sea.
    China – which lays claim to most of the waters within a so-called Nine Dash Line, which is also contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam – reiterated on Friday that Beijing did not accept the ruling.
    “The United States reaffirms its July 13, 2020 policy regarding maritime claims in the South China Sea,” Blinken said, referring to the rejection by former President Donald Trump’s administration of China’s claims to offshore resources in most of the South China Sea.
    “We also reaffirm that an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments under Article IV of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” Blinken added.
    That article of the treaty says in part that “each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.”
    Blinken has made the point before, including during an April 8 conversation with the Philippine foreign minister in which the State Department said he “reaffirmed the applicability” of the treaty to the South China Sea.
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Peter Cooney)

7/14/2021 China Warns Biden Not To ‘Interfere’ With Hong Kong by OAN Newsroom
Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, shakes hands with then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden as they
pose for photos at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (AP Photo/Lintao Zhang, Pool, File)
    Communist China has added pressure on Joe Biden by warning against U.S. support for the freedom and democracy of Hong Kong.    On Tuesday, Beijing released a statement on Tuesday, which urged the U.S. not to interfere with what it referred to as China’s internal affairs.
    The warning came in response to a report by the Financial Times, which said the U.S. government may inform companies of operational risks they may face in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.    However, China said Hong Kong’s laws would protect the interests of foreign companies operating there.
China also added Biden’s officials had no place in the Hong Kong Debate.
    “We have stated our position on the Hong Kong issue many times and we oppose the U.S. interference in China’s internal affairs through the Hong Kong issue,” Spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of China Zhao Lijian expressed.    “The Hong Kong Basic Law and related laws clearly protect the rights and interests of foreign investors.”
    Meanwhile, Republican officials are calling for sanctions on corporations that use Xinjiang slave labor and enable political repressions in Hong Kong.

7/15/2021 Analysis-Despite Talk Of Options On Iran, U.S. Has Few Good Ones by Arshad Mohammed
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, amid
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden has few real diplomatic alternatives to trying to persuade Iran to resume compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal and all appear harder to achieve, current and former U.S. and European officials said.
    Indirect U.S.-Iranian talks on reviving the deal have been on hold since the last round ended on June 20 and Iran has made clear it is not ready to resume before Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes over in August.
    The hiatus, which U.S. and European officials attribute to the hard-line cleric’s election, has raised questions about next steps if the talks hit a dead end.    The U.S. State Department has acknowledged it may need to rethink its stance.
    The problem is that experts agree there are few options to the 2015 deal under which Tehran limited its nuclear program to make it harder to acquire nuclear weapons – an ambition it denies – in return for relief from economic sanctions.
    “I think all the alternatives are worse for us.    I think they are worse for Iran.    And frankly, I think, at the end of the day, Iran will suffer – I don’t know if they suffer more than we will – but they will be in a bad situation,” a senior U.S. official told     Reuters on condition of anonymity.
    “Which is why we have argued now for some time that the best option is a strict return to compliance with the (deal).     That’s our analysis,” the U.S. official said.
    Washington would do all it could to revive the deal, the official said, but added, “we have to be prepared to live with the alternatives.”
    When former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the agreement, named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), he reimposed U.S. sanctions that largely deprived Tehran of its ability to export oil and have caused economic misery in Iran.
‘MORE FOR MORE, LESS FOR LESS’
    One alternative to the JCPOA, which former U.S. and European officials called “more for more,” would entail Iran accepting greater limits on its nuclear and perhaps other activities in return for greater sanctions relief.
    It will likely be harder to negotiate such a broader deal than to restore the 2015 accord, whose parameters are at least defined, even if they may need tweaking to reflect Iran’s expanded nuclear work since Trump violated the agreement.
    A version of “more-for-more” would limit the negotiation to the tradeoffs between restricting Iran’s nuclear program and easing economic sanctions.
    A wider and thornier version would entail Iran also curbing its ballistic missile program and support for regional proxies, red lines Iranian officials say they will not cross.
    A second alternative, sometimes called less-for-less, might require fewer limitations to Iran’s nuclear program in return for less sanctions relief.
    This might be the worst of both worlds for Biden, however, since he could be criticized for giving Iran economic benefits and getting fewer nuclear limits in return.
    “An agreement weaker than the 2015 one would be politically unsustainable in the U.S.,” said Gerard Araud, France’s former ambassador to the United States.
    “I don’t see an alternative to the JCPOA other than ‘maximum pressure’ but this regime has shown its resilience and I don’t see it caving to it,” he added.
    He was referring to Trump’s policy of increasing economic pressure in the hopes Iran would capitulate.
    Tehran, for its part, has raised pressure on Washington by starting the process to make enriched uranium metal and by talk of enriching uranium to 90 percent, or weapons grade – both steps that could help it make nuclear arms.
    A senior diplomat involved in the talks said it was vital to convince Raisi’s team that hopes they can negotiate fewer nuclear limits for more sanctions relief, the equivalent of “less for more,” were misplaced.
    “They may think time is on their side,” he said on condition of anonymity.    If that’s the case, he said, “they are mistaken.”
    Former U.S. government Middle East specialist Dennis Ross said Tehran was likely to keep pushing Washington by expanding its nuclear program.
    “When they decide the administration has reached the limits of what it (will) concede, I suspect you will see a deal reconstituting the JCPOA,” Ross said.
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Editing by Patricia Zengerle and Sonya Hepinstall)

7/22/2021 Joint Chiefs Chairman Warns Taliban Has ‘Strategic Momentum’ In Effort To Retake Afghanistan by OAN Newsroom
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing concerning the
Department of Defense budget in the Hart Senate Office Building on March 4, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
    The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the Taliban has put pressure on key cities in Afghanistan and has strategic momentum in its efforts to retake the country amid a U.S. troop withdrawal.    In a news conference on Wednesday, Gen. Mark Milley said the coming months would be a test of the will and leadership of the Afghan people, Afghan security forces and the government of Afghanistan.
    Milley said the Taliban now controls about half of the 419 district centers in the country and has put pressure on around half of the country’s 34 provincial capitals.    He added he believes the Afghan military and police have the training and equipment needed to prevent the Afghan government from being overtaken.
    The Pentagon said the U.S. troop withdrawal is 95 percent completed and is expected to be finished by the end of August.     Troops have been transitioning out of Afghanistan since the beginning of May.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (L), and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley walk to greet U.S. Army Gen. Scott Miller,
the former top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, upon his return on July 14, 2021 at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (Alex Brandon – Pool/Getty Images)
    Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the U.S. would keep a close eye on Al-Qaeda operating in Afghanistan, adding the focus going forward is to make sure that terrorism can’t be exported from Afghanistan to the U.S.
    “The Taliban early on committed to not providing a safe haven for Al-Qaeda.    We expect for them to meet that commitment,” said Austin.    “If they want legitimacy going forward, and I think that’s something that they’ll have to consider, that’s one way to earn it.”
    A recent U.N. report warned the Taliban is preparing to forcefully take what they can through negotiations with Taliban deputies, saying they favor a military solution.    This comes after recent talks between Taliban and Afghan government leaders in Qatar failed to reach a ceasefire agreement.
    According to new reports, the Taliban said it now fully controls Afghanistan’s borders with Turkmenistan and Iran.    Additionally, reports in Northern Afghanistan said the Taliban has been forcefully collecting funds from residents and recruiting locals to add to its numbers.
    A watchdog group monitoring the situation has said Afghan troops are deeply demoralized, adding corruption is rampant.
    Troops in many cases have been surrendering to the Taliban rather than fighting.
    The decision to withdraw hasn’t sat well with many Americans who fought in the war, who said they failed in their mission to defeat the enemy and uplift the country.
    Meanwhile, the threat of the Islamic state remains present in the region.    On Tuesday, rockets landed near the Afghan presidential palace in the capital city of Kabul, causing damage, however, no injuries were reported.    The Islamic state has since claimed responsibility for the attack.
[SEND MILLEY OVER THERE TO GO MAKE PEACE WITH THE TALIBAN AND SEE IF THEY GIVE A DAMN ABOUT HIS CRITICAL RACE THEORY CRAP OR WOKENESS AND I WOULD MOST LIKELY SEE HIM RUNNING OUT OF THEIR TENT WITH HIS ASS ON FIRE OR BETTER YET SEND OUR TROOPS THAT KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING AND DEALING WITH.].

7/23/2021 China Retaliates With Sanctions On Former U.S. Commerce Secretary Ross, Others by Tony Munroe and Michael Martina
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross speaks during the third annual U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue
at the State Department in Washington, U.S., September 14, 2020. REUTERS/Erin Scott/Pool/File Photo
    BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -China said on Friday that it has imposed counter-sanctions on U.S. individuals including former U.S. commerce secretary Wilbur Ross in response to U.S. sanctions on Chinese officials in Hong Kong.
    The sanctions are the first imposed by China under its new anti-foreign sanction law, passed in June, and come days before U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is due to visit China amid deeply strained ties.
    China also imposed unspecified “reciprocal counter-sanctions” on current and former representatives of a range of organisations, including the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
    Other institutions named included the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute, Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the Washington-based Hong Kong Democracy Council.
    “The U.S. side concocted the so-called Hong Kong business advisory, baselessly smeared Hong Kong’s commercial environment, and illegally sanctioned Chinese officials in Hong Kong,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
    “These actions seriously violated international law and the basic principles of international relations, and seriously interfered in China’s internal affairs,” the ministry said.
    The White House and State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest Chinese measures, which came after Washington imposed sanctions last week on more Chinese officials over Beijing’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong.
    The U.S. government last week also warned of a deteriorating business conditions in the former British colony that return to Chinese control in 1997.
    Ross could not be immediately reached for comment.
    It was the second time this year that China has imposed sanctions on officials who served under former President Donald Trump, who adopted a tough line on Beijing and confronted it over trade, business practices, human rights and other issues.
    Around the time Biden was sworn in as president in January, China announced sanctions against outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and 27 other top Trump officials.
    The Biden administration called that move “unproductive and cynical.”
    Human Rights Watch’s China director Sophie Richardson, who was sanctioned by China by name on Friday, called the move “hollow.”
    “These are diplomatic tantrums that are designed to distract attention away from Beijing’s complicity in crimes against humanity,” she said, referring to China’s alleged human rights abuses in its western region of Xinjiang.    China has dismissed the accusations.
(Reporting by Tony Munroe in Beijing and Michael Martina, David Shepardson, David Brunnstrom, and Karen Freifeld in Washington; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Peter Graff and Andrew Heavens)

7/23/2021 China’s Xi Urges People In Tibet To ‘Follow The Party’ In Rare Visit by Gabriel Crossley and Yew Lun Tian
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a welcoming ceremony for Greek President
Prokopis Pavlopoulos outside the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, China May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s President Xi Jinping made his first visit to the Tibet Autonomous Region as national leader this week, and urged people there to “follow the party,” the official Xinhua news agency said on Friday.
    Xi’s July 21-22 visit – the first to Tibet by a Chinese leader in three decades – comes as the country faces increased security concerns as a result of clashes with India and the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops from Afghanistan.
    The visit also shows the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s confidence in having established order and gained support in the once-restive region, analysts say.
    Xi flew into the city of Nyingchi on Wednesday and took a train to the Tibetan capital Lhasa the following day along a section of the high-elevation railway being built to link the mountainous border region with Sichuan province.
    In Lhasa, Xi visited a monastery and the Potala Palace Square, and “” and Tibetan cultural heritage protection, according to Xinhua.
    The palace is the traditional home of Tibetan Buddhism’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who is in exile and has been branded a dangerous separatist by Beijing.
    State television network CCTV showed a Tibetan woman wiping away tears as she joined a crowd of people dressed in traditional costume clapping enthusiastically to welcome Xi.
    Xi instructed local provincial officials to work towards making people in Tibet identify more with the “great motherland, Chinese people, Chinese culture, the Chinese Communist Party and socialism with Chinese characteristics,” according to Xinhua.
    He also said that only when the people “follow the party” can the “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” be realised.
CULTURE AND LOYALTY
    Over 80% of the population in Tibet are ethnic Tibetan while Han Chinese are the minority.    Most Tibetans are also Buddhists.    China’s constitution allows for freedom of religion but the party adheres strictly to atheism.
    In Lhasa, Xi watched a cultural performance which showcased Tibetan culture and loyalty to the party through song and dance, including a famous song with the lyric “sing a folk song for the party, the party is like my mother.”
    In Nyingchi, Xi also inspected rural rejuvenation and environmental protection.
    On China’s border with India, Tibet is seen as having critical strategic importance to Beijing.    Last year China and India saw the most serious clash in decades on their disputed border in the Himalayas, with deaths on both sides.
    Photos released by Xinhua show Xi was accompanied by Zhang Youxia, a vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission and a senior general in the People’s Liberation Army.
    Xi was last in Tibet in 2011, when he was vice president.
    Beijing sent troops into Tibet in 1950 in what it officially terms a peaceful liberation and maintains a heavy security presence in the region, which has been prone to unrest.
    A violent clash in 2008 between Chinese police and Tibetan monks commemorating an anniversary of the 14th Dalai Lama’s exit from Tibet, left local authorities unsure for many years if a visiting Chinese leader would be welcomed or safe, said Yang Chaohui, professor of politics at Peking University.
    Tibet’s high altitude, which can take a toll on leaders not accustomed to the climate, is another reason why China’s top leaders rarely visit, he said.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Sam Holmes, Editing by William Maclean and Giles Elgood)

7/23/2021 Taliban: There Won’t Be Peace Until New Govt. Is Formed by OAN Newsroom
Afghan security forces stand near an armoured vehicle during ongoing fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters in
the Busharan area on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the capital city of Helmand province. (Photo by SIFATULLAH ZAHIDI/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Taliban announced there would not be peace in Afghanistan until a new government has been formed and President Ashraf Ghani removed from power.    In an interview this week, a Taliban spokesman said the group would lay down their weapons when a new government has been acceptable to all sides for negotiation.
    The group said they did not believe in a monopolization of power and asserted this strategy had never led to a prosperous ruling body.
    “I want to make it clear that we do not believe in the monopoly of power because any government who wants to monopolize power in Afghanistan in the past, they were not successful governments,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen explained.    “So, we do not want to repeat that failed formula.”
    This as the radical Islamic group claims to have taken back a majority of Afghanistan amid a U.S. troop withdrawal from the war torn nation.

7/23/2021 Afghan Migrants Crossing Into Turkey To Flee Taliban Violence by OAN Newsroom
A volunteer carries an injured youth to hospital, following a bomb blast in Haska Mina district
of Nangarhar Province on October 18, 2019. (NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AFP via Getty Images)
    A growing number of Afghan citizens have begun fleeing to Turkey in order to escape Taliban violence amid the American troop withdrawal.    Reports said Afghan migrants have continued to pour into Turkey, raising concerns over the influx of refugees in the country.
    Turkish Interior Ministry officials said they detained around 1,600 migrants in just two weeks.    In addition, the U.N. Refugee Agency estimated around 270,000 Afghans have been displaced since January.
    Meanwhile, Afghan migrants said they’re making the trek through Iran to Turkey in hopes of finding work in Istanbul.
    “I came here to work.    There is no money in Afghanistan and there is the Taliban,” said one Afghan migrant.    “They are giving weapons, asking people to fight. We came here to flee that.”
    Turkish, Afghan and Iranian officials held talks on migration last month, but have not come up with a specific solution to address the influx of migrants fleeing Afghanistan.
[WELL IT IS OBVIOUS THAT 20 PLUS YEARS OF THE BUSH ADMINISTRATIONS INFLUX INTO AFGHANISTAN TO GET THE PERSONS THAT ATTACKED THE WORLD TRADE CENTER IN NEW YORK AND THE PENTAGON AND WHITE HOUSE IN WASHINGTON HAS TURNED OUT TO BE A TOTAL WAIST OF TIME SINCE TRUMP TRIED TO MAKE A PEACE SYSTEM UNTIL JOE BIDEN DID HIS DEED WHICH HAS TURNED OUT TO BE PART OF THE END OF DAYS AND WILL COME BACK TO HAUNT HIM VERY SOON.].

8/2/2021 Afghan Forces Battle Taliban For Control Of Southern City
FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani attends Central-South Asia trade
Summit in Tashkent, Uzbekistan July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) -Taliban fighters pushed deeper into the southern Afghan provincial capital of Lashkargah on Monday and closed in on government buildings, a senior official said, as the insurgents pressed a rapid advance.
    Heavy fighting was raging close to the National Directorate of Security, the prison and the police headquarters in the main city in Helmand province, the government official said, asking not to be named.
    Taliban fighters have moved in on three provincial capitals in the last few days and seized territory nationwide since Washington said it planned a complete withdrawal of troops by September.
    Most of their advances have focused on rural areas and they have yet to take full control of a major city.
    An Afghan military commander said the government forces managed to beat back the Taliban later in the day.
    “In the afternoon the level of intensity of the fighting (in Lashkargah) decreased as the Taliban suffered heavy casualties following the air and ground operations,” Sayed Sami Sadat, the commander of the Maiwand army corps, told Reuters.
    President Ashraf Ghani on Monday blamed the country’s fast-deteriorating security situation on a “sudden” decision by the United States to withdraw its troops.
    “We have had an unexpected situation in the last three months,” he told the Afghan parliament.
    Ghani added that the Afghan government had a US-backed security plan to bring the situation under control within six months. He also accused the Taliban of keeping up its ties with terrorist groups and of stepping up attacks on women.
    The Taliban rejected Ghani’s accusations.
    “Declarations of war, accusations and lies cannot prolong Ghani’s government’s life; his time has run out, God willing,” the movement’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said on Twitter.
    Peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators started last year in the Qatari capital of Doha, but have not made any substantive progress despite a few rounds.
    The two sides committed to speeding up the talks, at a meeting last month in Doha between a high-level Afghan political delegation and the Taliban.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Andrew Heavens)

8/2/2021 U.S. State Dept.: Taliban Shows Little Regard For Human Life by OAN Newsroom
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district
of Herat province, Afghanistan. (AP Photos/Allauddin Khan, File)
    The U.S. State Department has struggled to keep up with the crumbling situation in Afghanistan.    On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the growing atrocities committed by the Taliban have posed significant problems for diplomats and military personnel in the country.
    “I think it speaks to a larger issue, which is this: the Taliban has repeatedly said that they seek in the future a number of things,” he expressed.    “…None of those things are going to be possible if the Taliban seeks to take the country by force and commits the kind of atrocities that have been reported.”
    This came at the heels of a report from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which detailed the alleged human rights abuses conducted by Taliban militants.    The commission reported the terrorist group killed at least 40 civilians during their capture of the Spin Boldak District of Kandahar Province last month.
    Researchers claimed the group targeted the civilians over suspected current and former ties to the Afghan government.    They added many killed reportedly cheered on Afghan forces who were trying to take back the district.
    In response to the report, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said the Taliban violated international humanitarian laws and the group’s leaders should be held accountable.
    “They show little regard for human life, for the rights of the Afghan people, including the basic right of the Afghan people to live in safety and security,” explained U.S. State Department Spokesman Ned Price.    “The targeted killings, the destruction of buildings and bridges…other violent acts against the people of Afghanistan, we recognize they are in stark contravention to statements from the Taliban leadership.”
    In addition, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani told members of the country’s parliament the situation in the country has worsened over the last three months.    He blamed Joe Biden’s “sudden withdrawal” from the country.
    However, Ghani claimed he would work with American forces to bring the violence under control over the next six months.
    “We are seeking to do all we can to support the arrival at an outcome that is just and then importantly is durable,” Price stated.    “To arrive at a solution and an outcome that is Afghan led, that is Afghan owned, and importantly, a solution that at least in our estimation, has to respect the basic and fundamental rights of the Afghan people.”
    Meanwhile, Secretary Blinken announced a refugee program to help Afghans who have aided the U.S. throughout the 20 year war.    The program has aimed to help the refugees, who have reportedly been under persecution by Taliban forces, resettle in the U.S. with their families.
    Military experts have urged the Biden administration to take significant steps to deter violence from the Taliban.    This includes providing extensive air support, surveillance and intelligence resources as well as not advocating for actions that look like concessions to the terrorist organization.

8/4/2021 Iran-Backed Forces Seize Tanker, Maritime Sources Say; Iran Denies It by Lisa Barrington and Jonathan Saul
FILE PHOTO: Mercer Street, an Israeli-managed oil tanker that was attacked last week
is seen off Fujairah Port in United Arab Emirates, August 3, 2021. REUTERS/Rula Rouhana
    DUBAI/LONDON (Reuters) -Iranian-backed forces are believed to have seized an oil tanker in the Gulf off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, three maritime security sources said, after Britain’s maritime trade agency reported a “potential hijack” in the area on Tuesday.
    Abolfazl Shekarchi, Iran’s senior armed forces spokesman, denounced reports of maritime incidents and hijacking in the Gulf area as “a kind of psychological warfare and setting the stage for new bouts of adventurism,” the Fars News Agency said.
    Two of the maritime sources identified the seized vessel as the Panama-flagged asphalt/bitumen tanker Asphalt Princess in an area in the Arabian Sea leading to the Strait of Hormuz, the conduit for about a fifth of the world’s seaborne oil exports.
    The U.S. State Department said it was concerned and looking into reports of a maritime incident in the Gulf of Oman, but that it was too early to offer a judgment. Britain’s foreign ministry was “urgently investigating” an incident on a vessel off the UAE coast, a spokesperson said.
    U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the United States military was considering repositioning at least one vessel in the general vicinity of the Asphalt Princess to keep a closer eye.
    The officials said this would not be uncommon and would be to monitor the situation rather than to make any imminent military moves.
    Tensions have simmered in the region after an attack last week on an Israeli-managed tanker off the Omani coast killed two crew members and was blamed on Iran by the United States, Israel and Britain.    Iran has denied responsibility.
    The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), in a warning notice based on a third-party source, had earlier reported a “potential hijack” and advised ships to exercise extreme caution due to the incident around 60 nautical miles east of the UAE’s Fujairah emirate.
REPORTS OF HIJACKING
    The Times of London newspaper also reported that the Asphalt Princess had been hijacked, citing British sources as saying they were “working on the assumption Iranian military or proxies boarded the vessel.”
    The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and UAE authorities did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment.
    Alluding to the reports, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister told a U.S. think tank in an online appearance that he sees an emboldened Iran acting in a negative manner in the region, including endangering shipping. [L1N2PA1RV]
    On Tuesday at least five ships in the sea between the UAE and Iran updated their AIS tracking status to “Not Under Command,” according to Refinitiv ship tracking data. Such a status generally indicates a ship is unable to manoeuvre due to exceptional circumstances.
    Nour News, affiliated with Iran’s top national security body, quoted a senior navy official as saying “the movement of commercial vessels is quite normal and no official naval sources or countries in the Persian Gulf have reported any incidents.”
    Iran’s foreign ministry said the reports of maritime incidents were “suspicious” and warned against any effort to create a “false atmosphere” against Tehran.
    The United States and Britain said on Sunday they would work with their allies to respond to last week’s attack on the Mercer Street, a Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned petroleum product tanker managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime.
    Iran denied any involvement in that suspected drone strike and said it would respond to any threat against its security.
    Britain, Romania and Liberia told the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday that it was “highly likely” that Iran used one or more drones to carry out a deadly tanker attack last week off the coast of Oman.
    U.S. officials have said privately they are watching the situation closely but do not expect a military response for now.
    Tensions have risen in Gulf waters and between Iran and Israel since 2018, when then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled its economy.
    Iran and Israel, longtime adversaries, have exchanged accusations of carrying out attacks on each other’s vessels in recent months.
(Additional reporting by Dubai newsroom, Elizabeth Piper in London, Arshad Mohammed, Daphne Psaledakis and Idrees Ali in Washington;Editing by Ghaida Ghantous, Mark Heinrich, Howard Goller and Sandra Maler)

8/5/2021 Hardline Cleric Raisi Sworn In As Iran President Amid Tensions With West by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Iran's President-elect Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a news conference in
Tehran, Iran June 21, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi took the oath of office before parliament on Thursday, with the Islamic Republic’s clerical rulers facing growing crises at home and abroad.
    The mid-ranking Shi’ite cleric formally started his four-year term on Tuesday when supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed his victory in the June election, when most prominent rivals were barred from standing.
    With Raisi’s presidency, all branches of power in Iran will be controlled by anti-Western hardliners loyal to Khamenei.
    “In the presence of the holy Koran and before the nation, I swear to the omnipotent God to safeguard the official religion of the country and the Islamic Republic as well as the country’s constitution,” Raisi told parliament and foreign dignitaries in a ceremony broadcast live on state television.
    Raisi, who is under U.S. sanctions over allegations of human rights abuses when he was a judge, has pledged to take steps to lift broader sanctions that have cut Iran’s oil exports and shut it out of the international banking system.
    “The Iranian people expect the new government to improve their livelihoods … All illegal U.S. sanctions against the Iranian nation must be lifted,” Raisi said after being sworn in, vowing to serve the nation and improve ties with its neighbours.
    Iran has been negotiating with six major powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal abandoned three years ago by then U.S. President Donald Trump, who said it was too soft on Tehran.
    Under the deal, Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of international sanctions, but Trump withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.    Tehran has since breached limits imposed on its nuclear activities under the agreement.
    Like Khamenei, Raisi has endorsed the nuclear talks, but he is widely expected to adopt a tougher line in talks that have stalled.    The supreme leader has the last say on all state matters including nuclear policy.
    Iranian and Western officials have said significant gaps remain in the nuclear talks and have yet to announce when the talks will resume.
    With economic misery palpable at home and signs of growing anger among Iranians over economic hardships, breaking free of the U.S. sanctions will be Raisi’s top economic goal, political analysts say.
    “The new government will work to improve the economy to resolve the nation’s problems,” Raisi said.
    Tensions have simmered between Iran and the West after a suspected drone attack last week on an Israeli-managed tanker off the Omani coast that killed two crew members.
    The United States, Israel and Britain blamed the incident on Iran.    Tehran has denied responsibility, and warned it would respond promptly to any threat to its security.
    Iran has also denied involvement in a hijacking incident in the Arabian Sea on Tuesday.    Maritime security sources said they suspected Iranian-backed forces were behind the attack on a Panama-flagged tanker and Washington said it believed Iranians hijacked the vessel but was not in a position to confirm.
    Appointed by Khamenei to run the judiciary in 2019, Raisi was placed under U.S. sanctions a few months later for the role he allegedly played in the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. Iran has never acknowledged the killings.
    Raisi, a protege of Khamenei, has said the U.S. sanctions were imposed on him for doing his job as a judge.    Dissidents fear his presidency could usher in more repression in Iran.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage and Giles Elgood)

8/5/2021 Taliban Target Provincial Afghan Cities In Response To U.S. Strikes, Commanders Say
FILE PHOTO: Afghan security forces keep watch at a checkpoint in the Guzara district
of Herat province, Afghanistan July 9, 2021. REUTERS/Jalil Ahmad/File Photo
    KABUL/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – Taliban militants have switched strategy from targeting rural areas of Afghanistan to attacking provincial cities, in response to increased U.S. air strikes after the United States said it was ending its longest war, three militant commanders said.
    The Taliban have stepped up their campaign to defeat the U.S.-backed government as foreign forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of conflict.
    A regional U.S. commander said late last month the United States had increased air strikes to counter growing Taliban attacks, a move condemned by the Islamist group.
    Fighting has been particularly heavy inside the city of Herat, near the western border with Iran, Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province in the southwest, and Kandahar in the south.
    The three Taliban commanders, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that they were focused on capturing Herat and Kandahar, with Lashkar Gah in their sights.
    “Mullah Yaqoob argued that when U.S. didn’t fulfil their commitment why should Taliban be made to follow the accord?” said one of the commanders, based in Kandahar, referring to the group’s military chief.
    “Mullah Yaqoob has decided to capture Kandahar and Herat and now Helmand and then it could be Kunduz, Khost or any other province,” said the commander, saying the military leader’s arguments had won over the group’s political office.
    A Taliban spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.    Taliban negotiator Suhail Shaheen told Reuters the group was continuing its policy of seizing control of rural areas and implementing Islamic Sharia there, rather than focusing on cities.
    The Taliban, who ruled with an iron hand from 1996 until 2001, had said previously they would focus on lucrative border crossings and large rural areas, though they have encircled and at times entered provincial capitals.
    The group has been waging a massive nationwide offensive since April when President Joe Biden announced troops would withdraw by September and as officials warned peace talks in Doha were failing to make substantive progress.
    In recent weeks, there have been sustained attacks on Herat, Kandahar and Lashkar Gar, stretching Afghan special forces thin and killing dozens of civilians.
FIGHTING ‘NOT LIMITED TO PERIPHERIES’
    “The operations in Kandahar and Herat are very much important to us and our priority is to capture the two crucial airports or airbases in Kandahar and Herat,” the Taliban commander in Kandahar said.
    Officials and experts said they saw signs of a change in strategy last month.
    “Taliban are pushing against the provincial capitals … not just to exert pressure but to capture them,” said Asfandyar Mir, a South Asia analyst from Stanford University.
    “The main evidence is the extent of their breach of these cities.    Fighting is not limited to the peripheries any more.    This switch in Taliban strategy has been formalised after Eid, though Taliban forces were putting serious pressure on Kandahar even before Eid.”
    The Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha was celebrated last month.
    Kandahar and Herat are the second- and third-largest cities of Afghanistan by population. Experts said their loss would be a major political blow to the government and could potentially trigger major realignments in favour of the Taliban.
    “Capture of Kandahar means a lot to the Taliban.    It was their capital and occupying the city is great morale boost for the Taliban…    This is something they cherish and for Kandahar, Taliban can risk international ire,” said an Asian diplomatic source closely following the Taliban.
    A Western security official said: “The fact they are attacking (cities) is a sharp reaction to air support offered by the U.S. … The Taliban have proven that now they will not just stop with controlling trading points.”
    It is not clear whether U.S. airstrikes would continue after foreign forces complete their withdrawal.
    A spokesperson for U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the U.S. embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    Experts and officials say that for now a military takeover of Kabul would be much more difficult for the Taliban than provincial capitals, but that the group could increase bombings and attacks to undermine security and public morale.
    The Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack at the acting defence minister’s residence on Tuesday and warned of further violence.
(Reporting by Kabul/Peshawar newsrooms; Additional reporting by India newsroom; Editing by Nick Macfie)

8/6/2021 Taliban Target Provincial Afghan Cities In Response To U.S. Strikes, Commanders Say
FILE PHOTO: Afghan security forces keep watch at a checkpoint in the Guzara district
of Herat province, Afghanistan July 9, 2021. REUTERS/Jalil Ahmad/File Photo
    KABUL/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – Taliban militants have switched strategy from targeting rural areas of Afghanistan to attacking provincial cities, in response to increased U.S. air strikes after the United States said it was ending its longest war, three militant commanders said.
    The Taliban have stepped up their campaign to defeat the U.S.-backed government as foreign forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of conflict.
    A regional U.S. commander said late last month the United States had increased air strikes to counter growing Taliban attacks, a move condemned by the Islamist group.
    Fighting has been particularly heavy inside the city of Herat, near the western border with Iran, Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province in the southwest, and Kandahar in the south.
    The three Taliban commanders, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that they were focused on capturing Herat and Kandahar, with Lashkar Gah in their sights.
    “Mullah Yaqoob argued that when U.S. didn’t fulfil their commitment why should Taliban be made to follow the accord?” said one of the commanders, based in Kandahar, referring to the group’s military chief.
    “Mullah Yaqoob has decided to capture Kandahar and Herat and now Helmand and then it could be Kunduz, Khost or any other province,” said the commander, saying the military leader’s arguments had won over the group’s political office.
    A Taliban spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.    Taliban negotiator Suhail Shaheen told Reuters the group was continuing its policy of seizing control of rural areas and implementing Islamic Sharia there, rather than focusing on cities.
    The Taliban, who ruled with an iron hand from 1996 until 2001, had said previously they would focus on lucrative border crossings and large rural areas, though they have encircled and at times entered provincial capitals.
    The group has been waging a massive nationwide offensive since April when President Joe Biden announced troops would withdraw by September and as officials warned peace talks in Doha were failing to make substantive progress.
    In recent weeks, there have been sustained attacks on Herat, Kandahar and Lashkar Gar, stretching Afghan special forces thin and killing dozens of civilians.
FIGHTING ‘NOT LIMITED TO PERIPHERIES’
    “The operations in Kandahar and Herat are very much important to us and our priority is to capture the two crucial airports or airbases in Kandahar and Herat,” the Taliban commander in Kandahar said.
    Officials and experts said they saw signs of a change in strategy last month.
    “Taliban are pushing against the provincial capitals … not just to exert pressure but to capture them,” said Asfandyar Mir, a South Asia analyst from Stanford University.
    “The main evidence is the extent of their breach of these cities. Fighting is not limited to the peripheries any more.    This switch in Taliban strategy has been formalised after Eid, though Taliban forces were putting serious pressure on Kandahar even before Eid.”
    The Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha was celebrated last month.
    Kandahar and Herat are the second- and third-largest cities of Afghanistan by population. Experts said their loss would be a major political blow to the government and could potentially trigger major realignments in favour of the Taliban.
    “Capture of Kandahar means a lot to the Taliban.    It was their capital and occupying the city is great morale boost for the Taliban…    This is something they cherish and for Kandahar, Taliban can risk international ire,” said an Asian diplomatic source closely following the Taliban.
    A Western security official said: “The fact they are attacking (cities) is a sharp reaction to air support offered by the U.S. … The Taliban have proven that now they will not just stop with controlling trading points.”
    It is not clear whether U.S. airstrikes would continue after foreign forces complete their withdrawal.
    A spokesperson for U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the U.S. embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    Experts and officials say that for now a military takeover of Kabul would be much more difficult for the Taliban than provincial capitals, but that the group could increase bombings and attacks to undermine security and public morale.
    The Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack at the acting defence minister’s residence on Tuesday and warned of further violence.
(Reporting by Kabul/Peshawar newsrooms; Additional reporting by India newsroom; Editing by Nick Macfie)

8/6/2021 Resurgent Taliban Take Provincial Capital, Kill Afghan Govt Spokesman
FILE PHOTO: A general view of green zone in Kabul, Afghanistan March 13, 2019.
Picture taken March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban insurgents captured an Afghan provincial capital and killed the government’s senior media officer in Kabul on Friday amid a deteriorating security situation as U.S. and other foreign troops withdraw.
    A police spokesman in southern Nimroz province said the capital Zaranj had fallen to the hardline Islamists because of a lack of reinforcements from the Western-backed government.
    Fighting to reimpose a strict Islamic regime 20 years after they were ousted from power by U.S.-led forces, the Taliban have intensified their campaign to defeat the government.
    The insurgents have taken dozens of districts and border crossings in recent months and put pressure on several provincial capitals, including Herat in the west and Kandahar in the south, as the foreign forces pull out.
    In New York, U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons questioned the Taliban’s commitment to a political settlement, telling the U.N. Security Council the war had entered a deadlier and more destructive phase “reminiscent of Syria, recently, or Sarajevo, in the not-so-distant past.”
    Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the prospects of Afghanistan slipping into full-scale and protracted civil war “is a stark reality.”
    Senior U.S. diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis urged the Taliban to halt their offensive, pursue a political settlement and protect Afghanistan’s infrastructure and people.
    Zaranj was the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban since the United States reached a deal with it in February 2020 for a U.S. troop pullout.    A local source said the Taliban had seized the governor’s office, the police headquarters and an encampment near the Iranian border.
    Taliban sources said the group was celebrating and Zaranj’s fall would lift the morale of their fighters.    A Taliban commander, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Zaranj has strategic importance as it is on the border with Iran.
    In Kabul, Taliban attackers killed Dawa Khan Menapal, head of the Government Media and Information Centre, in the latest in a series of killings aimed at weakening President Ashraf Ghani’s democratically elected government.
‘AN AFFRONT’
    U.S. Charge d’Affaires Ross Wilson said he was saddened and disgusted by the death of Menapal, whom he said provided truthful information to all Afghans.
    “These murders are an affront to Afghans’ human rights & freedom of speech,” he said in a Tweet.
    Scores of social activists, journalists, bureaucrats, judges and public figures fighting to sustain a liberal Islamic administration have been killed by Taliban fighters in a bid to silence voices of dissent.
    An official in the federal interior ministry said “savage terrorists” killed Menapal during Friday prayers.
    “He (Menapal) was a young man who stood like a mountain in the face of enemy propaganda, and who was always a major supporter of the (Afghan) regime,” said Mirwais Stanikzai, an Interior Ministry spokesperson.
    Elsewhere Taliban fighters stepped up clashes with Afghan forces and attacked militias allied with the government, officials said, stretching their dominance of border towns.
    At least 10 Afghan soldiers and a commander of armed members belonging to the Abdul Rashid Dostum militia group in the northern province of Jowzjan were killed.
    Deputy governor of Jowzjan province Abdul Qader Malia said the Taliban attacked the outskirts of provincial capital Sheberghan this week.
(Reporting by Afghanistan bureau, Writing by William Maclean; Editing by Nick Macfie, Andrew Cawthorne and Angus MacSwan)

8/6/2021 UN: Evidence Shows Iran Behind Deadly Attack On Israeli Tanker by OAN Newsroom
This Jan. 2, 2016 photo shows the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street off Cape Town, South Africa.
The oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire reportedly came under attack off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea,
authorities said Friday, July 30, 2021, as details about the incident remained few. (Johan Victor via AP)
    The UN Security Council said evidence shows Iran was behind a deadly attack on an Israeli managed tanker ship in the Gulf of Oman.    That’s according to the council on Friday, which said the attack was carried out by a drone loaded with military grade explosives.
    Both the drone and the munitions used are only manufactured in Iran. The attack on the Mercer Street on July 29 claimed the lives of two crew members.    The UN has criticized Iran’s disregard for international law.
    “The U.K. knows that Iran was responsible for this attack.    We know it was deliberate and targeted,” said UN Ambassador for the U.K., Barbara Woodward.    “There is no justification for what happened, a state sanctioned attack on a civilian vessel passing peacefully through international waters.”
    In the meantime, the State Department released a statement from the G-7 calling it a deliberate and targeted attack and a clear violation of international law.    This comes after hijackers stormed a second tanker in the gulf earlier this week with crew members recorded saying armed Iranians had boarded the ship.

8/6/2021 Taliban Kills Top Afghan Govt. Spokesman, Takes Control Of Provincial Capital by OAN Newsroom
Afghan Taliban militants and villagers attend a gathering. (NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Taliban has continued to gain strength as it assassinated a top Afghan government spokesman and has taken control of a key region.    Reports on Friday said the terror group took responsibility for murdering the director of Afghanistan’s Government Information Media Center.
    The Taliban also took control of a provincial capital, which is the first since the U.S. troop withdrawal.    Witnesses said the state media director was gunned down while driving his car during Friday prayers.
    Mahmood Sharifi, an eyewitness, said Dawa Khan Menapal got out of his armored vehicle and then moved into a taxi where he believed both him and the driver were shot.    “People who were there to attend prayers tried to stop the attackers, but the attackers said ‘let us go or we will shoot you too.’    When people saw the weapons, they got out of their way,” said Sharifi.
    U.S. Ambassador Ross Wilson condemned the killing, saying the victim was a friend and colleague who dedicated his life to providing truthful information to all Afghans.
    The slaying came just days after the unsuccessful bombing assassination attempt on Afghanistan’s acting defense minister, which killed eight people and wounded 20.    In the meantime, the Taliban has taken over more than half of Afghanistan’s 421 districts.

8/8/2021 Afghan Air Force Pilot Killed In Kabul Bombing, Attack Claimed By Taliban
FILE PHOTO: Youths take pictures next to an Afghan flag on a hilltop overlooking
Kabul, Afghanistan, April 15, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) - An Afghan Air Force pilot was killed by a bomb in Kabul on Saturday, officials said, in an attack claimed by the Taliban.
    The pilot, Hamidullah Azimi, died when a sticky bomb attached to his vehicle detonated, officials said, adding that five civilians were wounded in the explosion.
    Azimi was trained to fly U.S.-made UH60 Black Hawk helicopters and had served with the Afghan Air Force for almost four years, the force’s commander, Abdul Fatah Eshaqzai, told Reuters.
    He had moved to Kabul with his family a year ago due to security threats, Eshaqzai added.
    Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Muhajid said in a statement that the Taliban carried out the attack.
    Reuters was first to detail a Taliban campaign to assassinate pilots off-base that Afghan officials say claimed the lives of at least seven Afghan pilots before Saturday’s killing.
    The Taliban has confirmed a program that would see U.S.-trained Afghan pilots “targeted and eliminated.”
    U.S. and Afghan officials believe it is a deliberate effort to destroy Afghanistan’s corps of U.S.- and NATO-trained military pilots as fighting escalates across the country.
    The Taliban – who have no air force – want to level the playing field as they press major ground offensives that have seen them swiftly seize territory since May.
    Emboldened by Washington’s announcement that it was ending its military mission by the end of August, the Taliban has launched a military blitz across the country which has gained momentum in recent days.
    On Friday the insurgents captured their first provincial capital in years when they took control of Zaranj, on the border with Iran in Afghanistan’s southern Nimroz province.
    As the Taliban eye other cities, the Afghan Air Force has played a crucial role in holding them back.
    Azimi’s death came just days after the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in a report to the U.S. Congress, said the targeting of pilots detailed by Reuters was another “worrisome development” for the Afghan Air Force as it reels from a surge in fighting.
    In its quarterly report covering the three-month period through June, SIGAR described an air force increasingly under strain and becoming less ready to fight.
    Its fleet of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters had a 39% readiness rate in June, about half the level of April and May.
    “All aircraft platforms are overtaxed due to increased requests for close air support, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance missions and aerial resupply now that the (Afghan military) largely lacks U.S. air support,” the report said.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Christina Fincher and Daniel Wallis)

8/8/2021 Taliban Overrun Northern Afghan Cities Of Kunduz, Sar-E Pul, Taloqan
Afghan security forces patrol at the Kunduz, Afghanistan April 30, 2015. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) -Taliban fighters overran three provincial capitals including the strategic northeastern city of Kunduz on Sunday, local officials said, as the insurgents intensified pressure on the north and threatened further cities.
    The insurgents have taken dozens of districts and border crossings in recent months and put pressure on several provincial capitals, including Herat in the west and Kandahar in the south, as foreign troops withdraw.
    The offensive has gathered momentum in recent days after the United States announced it would end its military mission in the country by the end of August.
    Taliban fighters seized key government buildings in Kunduz, leaving government forces hanging onto control of the airport and their base, a provincial assembly lawmaker said on Sunday, raising fears it could be the latest to fall to the Taliban.
    The city of 270,000, is regarded as a strategic prize as it lies at the gateway to mineral-rich northern provinces and Central Asia.
    “Heavy clashes started yesterday afternoon.    All government headquarters are in control of the Taliban, only the army base and the airport is with ANDSF (Afghan security forces) from where they are resisting the Taliban,” the lawmaker, Amruddin Wali, said.
    A security forces spokesman said on Sunday evening that government forces would launch a large scale operation to retake lost areas of the province as soon as possible.
    Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the group had largely captured the province and were close to the airport.
TAKING GROUND
    Health officials in Kunduz said that 14 bodies, including those of women and children, and more than 30 injured people had been taken to hospital.
    The Taliban have also taken government buildings in the northern provincial capital of Sar-e Pul, driving officials out of the main city to a nearby military base, Mohammad Noor Rahmani, a provincial council member of Sar-e Pul province, said.
    On Friday, they captured their first provincial capital in years when they took control of Zaranj, on the border with     Iran in Afghanistan’s southern Nimroz province.
    In recent days they have escalated attacks on northern provinces, which lie outside their traditional strongholds in the south but where the group has been quickly taking ground, often along the border of Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours and trading partners Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
    On Sunday evening, Ashraf Ayni, representative in parliament for Takhar province, said its capital Taloqan had fallen to the Taliban who had freed prisoners and taken control of all government buildings, driving officials to a nearby district.
    On Saturday, heavy fighting took place in Sheberghan, the capital of northern Jawzjan province. The Taliban said they had captured the entire province.
    Jawzjan provincial council member Shir Mohammad said most of Sheberghan, including provincial government buildings, had fallen to the Taliban.    An Afghan security forces spokesman on Saturday had denied the Taliban had taken the city, saying forces were working to defend Sheberghan without causing civilian casualties.    On Sunday, he did not immediately respond to request for comment for an update on the situation.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Edmund Klamann, Raissa Kasolowsky and Emelia Sithole-Matairse)

8/8/2021 Hong Kong Minister Signals Path To Adopting China Anti-Sanctions Law
Hong Kong and Chinese national flags are flown behind a pair of surveillance cameras
outside the Central Government Offices in Hong Kong, China July 20, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s justice secretary said on Sunday that a mainland Chinese law to counter foreign sanctions could also be adopted in the China-ruled city by writing it into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, pending a decision by the Chinese parliament.
    Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng’s comments are the strongest official indication so far that Hong Kong would embrace the mainland law, passed in June to counter foreign sanctions as the U.S. and EU step up pressure over trade, technology, Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
    Under the law, individuals or entities involved in making or implementing discriminatory measures against Chinese citizens or entities could be put on an anti-sanctions list by relevant departments in the Chinese government.
    Cheng wrote in an official blog entry that the “most natural and appropriate way” to introduce the anti-sanctions law into Hong Kong would be to add it to an annex of the Basic Law, or Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.
    She added that such a move needed first to be approved by the highest organ of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress.    Local media have reported that a decision would likely be made during a meeting in Beijing on Aug 17-20.
    Critics have warned that the anti-foreign sanctions law could undermine Hong Kong’s reputation as a global financial hub, and tarnish sentiment among foreign firms.
    Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 with a guarantee of a high degree of autonomy and freedoms.
    The U.S. government issued a business advisory last month warning firms that they are subject to the territory’s laws, including a China-imposed national security law, under which foreign nationals, including one U.S. citizen, have been arrested.
    The U.S. government has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Hong Kong and Chinese officials over Beijing’s crackdown on the city’s freedoms under the sweeping security legislation.
    Without naming the United States directly, Cheng wrote that countermeasures were acceptable.
    “Unilateral coercive measures are without a doubt at odds with the principle of non-intervention, unbecoming of any civilised nation,” she wrote.
    “In the face of international illegal acts, a State is justified in deploying any countermeasures as a response.”
    Under China’s anti-foreign sanctions law, individuals could be denied entry into China or be expelled.    Their assets within China may be seized or frozen.    They could also be restricted from doing business with entities or people within China.
(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Edmund Klamann)
[SEE WHAT THEY HAVE DONE TO HONG KONG AND BE AWARE THAT THE BIDEN AND DEMOCRAT PARTY IS LETTING CHINA DO THE SAME THING TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.].

8/8/2021 Fmr. Ambassador To Afghanistan: We Are In Moment Of Crisis by OAN Newsroom
An Afghan security personnel gestures as he stands guard at the site a day after a
car bomb explosion in Kabul. (Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)
    A retired top diplomat warned Afghanistan would soon slide into a “prolonged civil war.”    On Sunday, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker told ABC News the Taliban has been successfully creating a climate of fear and panic.
    In addition, former Afghan interpreter for the U.S. Janis Shinwari sounded off a similar tune by saying the situation was especially dangerous for Afghans who helped American forces throughout the 20-year war.
    “The Taliban will kill everybody and they will torture them in front of their family and kill them,” he expressed.    “…When the Taliban took control of a couple cities, they were going and knocking door by door asking for those people who were supporting the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and they were trying to kill them.”
    This comes as Taliban forces recently took over three key cities as U.S. troops have retreated from the country.    Although the Taliban seized similar in the past and were swiftly kicked out, residents have still expressed worry militants would remain in the country’s key provinces for the long haul.
    In response to the rampant violence, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul demanded all U.S. citizens leave the country immediately as diplomats looked for safe haven for Afghan allies to U.S. forces.    Shinwari warned the Biden administration was not acting fast enough on this front as the Taliban has gained immense strength.
    “This process has been too slow and I’ve been in contact with a lot of people in Afghanistan,” Shinwari stated.    “They are waiting for their visas.    Some of them they even did not receive their approval for SIV program.    It means that this program is very slow so far and we should expedite this program.”
    Meanwhile, both Crocker and Shinwari urged Biden to ramp up efforts to evacuate U.S. and Afghan personnel who have been in danger.    They said more planes were needed to get people out and stressed the Taliban has gained control of the narrative.
    In addition, the diplomats said they worried no one would be safe in the country if the violence continued and Taliban forces gained more ground.

8/9/2021 Taliban Capture Sixth Afghan Provincial Capital As U.S. Troops Withdraw
Tanks arrive at battlefield, in Kunduz, Afghanistan July 7, 2021 in this
still image taken from a video. REUTERS TV via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) -Taliban militants captured a sixth provincial Afghan capital on Monday, a lawmaker said, after they ousted Afghan security forces from border towns and trade routes as U.S.-led foreign forces pull out.
    The Taliban, fighting to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster, have stepped up their campaign to defeat the government as foreign forces withdraw after 20 years of war.
    On Monday, they took Aybak, capital of the northern province of Samangan.
    “Right now the Taliban are fighting with Afghan forces to capture the police headquarters and compound of the provincial governor,” said Ziauddin Zia, a lawmaker in Aybak.
    “Several parts of the capital have fallen to the Taliban.”
    The insurgents took three provincial capitals over the weekend – Zaranj in the southern province of Nimroz, Sar-e-Pul, in the northern province of the same name, and Taloqan, in northeastern Takhar province.
    They had already taken the northern provincial capital of Kunduz and Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province.
    The Taliban gains have sparked recriminations over the withdrawal of foreign forces.    British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the Daily Mail that the accord struck last year between the United States and the Taliban was a “rotten deal.”
    Wallace said his government had asked some NATO allies to keep their troops in Afghanistan once the U.S. troops departed, but failed to garner enough support.
    “Some said they were keen, but their parliaments weren’t.    It became apparent pretty quickly that without the United States as the framework nation it had been, these options were closed off,” Wallace said.
    Germany’s defence minister rejected calls for its soldiers to return to Afghanistan after Taliban insurgents took Kunduz where German troops were deployed for a decade.
    Afghan commandoes had launched a counter-attack to try to beat back Taliban fighters who overran Kunduz, with residents fleeing the conflict describing the almost constant sound of gunfire and explosions.
    A Taliban spokesman warned the United States on Sunday against intervening following U.S. air strikes to support beleaguered Afghan government forces.    The United States has vowed to pull out most troops by the end of the month, ending its longest war.
    In the West, near the border with Iran, security officials said heavy fighting was under way on the outskirts of Herat. Arif Jalali, head of Herat Zonal Hospital, said 36 people had been killed and 220 wounded over the past 11 days.    More than half of the wounded were civilians, and women and children were among the dead.
    UNICEF said 20 children were killed and 130 children had been injured in southern Kandahar province in the last 72 hours.
    “The atrocities grow higher by the day,” said Hervé Ludovic De Lys, UNICEF’s representative in Afghanistan.
    In Helmand, a hotbed of Taliban activity, security officials reported a loud explosion in Lashkar Gah on Monday morning.
    The insurgents have taken dozens of districts and border crossings in recent months and put pressure on several cities.
    U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that while the military had warned President Joe Biden earlier this year that provincial capitals would fall with a withdrawal of troops, they were still surprised at how quickly some of them were being taken by the Taliban.
    The United States carried out less than a dozen strikes over the weekend as the Taliban overran the provincial capitals, in one instance simply destroying equipment.
    The U.S. officials said they had little expectation that American air strikes alone could halt the Taliban gains, especially once insurgents entered densely populated cities.
FAMILIES FLEE
    In Kunduz, many desperate families, some with young children and pregnant women, abandoned their homes, hoping to reach the relative safety of Kabul, 315 km (200 miles) to the south – a drive that would normally take around ten hours.
    Ghulam Rasool, an engineer, was trying to hire a bus to get his family to the capital as the sound of gunfire reverberated through the streets of his hometown.
    “We may just be forced to walk till Kabul, but we are not sure if we could be killed on the way … ground clashes were not just stopping even for 10 minutes,” Rasool told Reuters.
    He and several other residents, and a security official, said Afghan commandoes had launched an operation to clear the insurgents from Kunduz.
    In Kabul itself, suspected Taliban fighters killed an Afghan radio station manager, government officials said, the latest in a long line of attacks targeting media workers.
    Thousands were trying to enter Kabul, even after the city has witnessed attacks in diplomatic districts.
    Speaking to Al-Jazeera TV on Sunday, Taliban spokesman Muhammad Naeem Wardak warned the United States against further intervention to support government forces.
(Reporting by Afghanistan bureau, Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Nick Macfie and Giles Elgood)

8/9/2021 U.S., China Trade Barbs At U.N. Over South China Sea by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media prior a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign
Minister Dmytro Kuleba at the State Department in Washington, DC, U.S. August 5, 2021. Saul Loeb/Pool via REUTERS
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called out bullying in the South China Sea on Monday and warned the U.N. Security Council that a conflict “would have serious global consequences for security and for commerce,” sparking a strong rebuke from China.
    The South China Sea has become one of many flashpoints in the testy relationship between China and the United States, with Washington rejecting what it calls unlawful territorial claims by Beijing in the resource-rich waters.
    “Conflict in the South China Sea, or in any ocean, would have serious global consequences for security, and for commerce,” Blinken told a Security Council meeting on maritime security.    “When a state faces no consequences for ignoring these rules, it fuels greater impunity and instability everywhere.”
    China claims vast swaths of the South China Sea which overlap with the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines.    Trillions of dollars in trade flow every year through the waterway, which also contains rich fishing grounds and gas fields.
    “We have seen dangerous encounters between vessels at sea and provocative actions to advance unlawful maritime claims,” said Blinken, adding that Washington was concerned by actions that “intimidate and bully other states from lawfully accessing their maritime resources.”
    China’s deputy U.N. Ambassador Dai Bing accused the United States of “stirring up trouble out nothing, arbitrarily sending advanced military vessels and aircraft into the South China Sea as provocations and publicly trying to drive a wedge into regional countries.”
    “This country itself has become the biggest threat to peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Dai said.
    Blinken said it was the responsibility of all countries, not just claimants to the islands and waters of the South China Sea, to defend the rules they had all agreed to follow to peacefully resolve maritime disputes.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

8/10/2021 Russia Showcases New Arms At Drill Near Afghan Border
Russian servicemen participate in joint military drills involving Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, at the Harb-Maidon training
ground, located near the Tajik-Afghan border in the Khatlon Region of Tajikistan August 10, 2021. REUTERS/Didor Sadulloev
    HARB-MAIDON TRAINING GROUND, Tajikistan (Reuters) – Soldiers from Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan used new Russian firearms, flamethrowers and surface-to-air missile launchers in military drills which concluded on Tuesday just 20 km (12 miles) from the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border.
    Moscow and its Central Asian ex-Soviet allies have held two separate sets of military exercises close to Afghanistan this month as Taliban militants overran much of the country’s northern provinces directly adjacent to Central Asia.
    Tajik Defence Minister Sherali Mirzo told reporters at the training grounds the drills were being held with Afghanistan in mind.
    “The situation in Afghanistan is unpredictable,” he said.
    Shukhrat Khalmukhamedov, chief of the general staff of the Uzbek armed forces, said that “this situation requires us to remain vigilant and to maintain our combat readiness.”
    The drills involved 2,500 servicemen, hundreds of armoured vehicles and 25 aircraft.    The Russian forces involved came from the military base located in Tajikistan – Moscow’s biggest facility abroad.
    Russian Central military district commander Alexander Lapin said the showcased weaponry would remain at the Tajik base.
    Taliban fighters tightened their control of captured territory in northern Afghanistan on Tuesday as residents hid in their homes and a pro-government commander vowed to fight to the death to defend Mazar-i-Sharif, the biggest city in the north.
(Reporting by Nazarali Pirnazarov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Nick Macfie)

8/10/2021 U.S. Says It Is Up To Afghans To Defend Country As Taliban Take More Territory
Tanks arrive at battlefield, in Kunduz, Afghanistan July 7, 2021 in this still image
taken from a video. REUTERS TV via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) -The United States said it was up to Afghan security forces to defend the country after Taliban militants captured a sixth provincial capital on Monday, along with border towns and trade routes.
    President Joe Biden has said the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan will end on Aug. 31, arguing that the Afghan people must decide their own future and that he would not consign another generation of Americans to the 20-year war.
    U.S. envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has left for Qatar where he will “press the Taliban to stop their military offensive and to negotiate a political settlement,” the State Department said on Monday.
    In talks over three days, representatives from governments and multilateral organizations will press for “a reduction of violence and ceasefire and a commitment not to recognize a government imposed by force,” the State Department said.
    The Taliban, fighting to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster, have stepped up their campaign to defeat the government as foreign forces withdraw.
    On Monday, they took Aybak, capital of the northern province of Samangan.
    “Right now the Taliban are fighting with Afghan forces to capture the police headquarters and compound of the provincial governor,” said Ziauddin Zia, a lawmaker in Aybak.
    “Several parts of the capital have fallen to the Taliban.”
    The insurgents took three provincial capitals over the weekend – Zaranj in the southern province of Nimroz, Sar-e-Pul, in the northern province of the same name, and Taloqan, in northeastern Takhar province.
    They had already taken the northern provincial capital of Kunduz and Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province.
    Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States was deeply concerned about the trend but that Afghan security forces had the capability to fight the insurgent group.
    “These are their military forces, these are their provincial capitals, their people to defend and it’s really going to come down to the leadership that they’re willing to exude here at this particular moment,” Kirby said.
    Asked what the U.S. military can do if the Afghan security forces are not putting up a fight, Kirby said: “Not much.”
    U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that while the military had warned Biden earlier this year that provincial capitals would fall with a withdrawal of troops, they were still surprised at how quickly some of them were being taken by the Taliban.
    The United States carried out less than a dozen strikes over the weekend as the Taliban overran the provincial capitals, in one instance simply destroying equipment.
    One official said the Afghan forces did not ask for any support as Kunduz was being overtaken.
RECRIMINATIONS
    The Taliban gains have sparked recriminations over the withdrawal of foreign forces. British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the Daily Mail that the accord struck last year between the United States and the Taliban was a “rotten deal.”
    Washington agreed to withdraw in a deal negotiated last year under Biden’s Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.
    Wallace said his government had asked some NATO allies to keep their troops in Afghanistan once the U.S. troops departed, but failed to garner enough support.
    “Some said they were keen, but their parliaments weren’t.    It became apparent pretty quickly that without the United States as the framework nation it had been, these options were closed off,” Wallace said.
    Germany’s defence minister rejected calls for its soldiers to return to Afghanistan after Taliban insurgents took Kunduz where German troops were deployed for a decade.
    Afghan commandoes had launched a counterattack to try to beat back Taliban fighters who overran Kunduz, with residents fleeing the conflict describing the almost constant sound of gunfire and explosions.
    In the west, near the border with Iran, security officials said heavy fighting was under way on the outskirts of Herat.    Arif Jalali, head of Herat Zonal Hospital, said 36 people had been killed and 220 wounded over the past 11 days. More than half of the wounded were civilians.
    UNICEF said 20 children were killed and that 130 children had been injured in southern Kandahar province in the past 72 hours.
    “The atrocities grow higher by the day,” said Hervé Ludovic De Lys, UNICEF’s representative in Afghanistan.
FAMILIES FLEE
    In Kunduz, many desperate families, some with young children and pregnant women, abandoned their homes, hoping to reach the relative safety of Kabul, 315 km (200 miles) to the south – a drive that would normally take around 10 hours.
    Ghulam Rasool, an engineer, was trying to hire a bus to get his family to the capital as the sound of gunfire reverberated through the streets of his hometown.
    “We may just be forced to walk till Kabul, but we are not sure if we could be killed on the way.    … Ground clashes were not just stopping even for 10 minutes,” Rasool told Reuters.
    He and several other residents, and a security official, said Afghan commandoes had launched an operation to clear the insurgents from Kunduz.
    In Kabul itself, suspected Taliban fighters killed an Afghan radio station manager, government officials said, the latest in a long line of attacks targeting media workers.
    Thousands were trying to enter Kabul, even after the city has witnessed attacks in diplomatic districts.
    Speaking to Al Jazeera TV on Sunday, Taliban spokesman Muhammad Naeem Wardak warned the United States against further intervention to support government forces.
(Reporting by Afghanistan bureau and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Giles Elgood and Peter Cooney)

8/10/2021 Biden Admin.: Up To Afghanistan To Defend Own Country, Taliban Takes Control Of 6 Provincial Capitals by OAN Newsroom
An Afghan National Army commando stands guard on top of a vehicle along the road in Enjil district of Herat province
as skirmishes between Afghan National Army and Taliban continues. (Photo by HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Biden administration defended the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan as the Taliban has accelerated its gains within the region.    On Monday, Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby acknowledged the terrorist organization captured six provincial capitals in just four days, but claimed it was not the United State’s responsibility to engage in further combat to protect the Afghan people.
    “This is their country.    These are their military forces.    These are their provincial capitals, their people to defend,” he asserted.    “It’s really going to come down to the leadership that they’re willing to exude here at this particular moment.”
    Kirby noted the U.S. would occasionally assist Afghan forces by using air strikes where and when it was feasible.
    However, it has not been clear if the United States would continue with the strikes after Biden’s August 31 deadline to exit the country.
    Kirby added the Biden administration wanted the Afghan people to use their own resources more effectively.    He then listed out a set of advantages Afghan forces have over the terrorist organization.
    “They have an air force.    The Taliban doesn’t.    They have modern weaponry and organizational skills.    The Taliban doesn’t,” he stated.    “They have superior numbers to the Taliban and so, again, they have the advantage, advantages.    It’s really now their time to use those advantages.”
    Even though Afghanistan may have advantages on paper, Afghan officials continue to criticize the Biden administration for pulling out U.S. forces too quickly. They argue the decision has caused the recent surge in violence throughout the country.

8/11/2021 Taliban Fighters Capture Eighth Provincial Capital In Six Days
Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani arrives in Mazar-i-Sharif to check the security situation of
the northern provinces, Afghanistan August 11, 2021. Afghan presidential palace/Handout via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban fighters took control of another city in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, an official said, the eighth provincial capital to fall to the insurgents in six days as U.S.-led foreign forces complete their withdrawal.
    The Taliban capture of Faizabad – the capital of the northeastern province of Badakhshan – came as President Ashraf Ghani landed in Mazar-i-Sharif to rally its defenders as Taliban forces closed in on the biggest city in the north.
    After a long battle in Faizabad, government forces retreated to a neighbouring district, Jawad Mujadidi, a provincial council member from Badakhshan, told Reuters.
    He said Taliban fighters had taken most of the province and laid siege to Faizabad before launching an offensive on Tuesday.
    The far northeastern province of Badakhshan borders Tajikistan, Pakistan and China.
    The loss of the city is the latest setback https://graphics.reuters.com/AFGHANISTAN-CONFLICT/FLASHPOINTS/lbpgnrazjvq/index.html for the beleaguered government, which has been struggling to stem the momentum of Taliban assaults https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-cities-taken-over-or-contested-by-taliban-2021-08-10 in the last few months https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/talibans-rapid-advance-across-afghanistan-2021-08-10.
    The Taliban are battling to defeat the U.S-backed government and reimpose strict Islamic law. The speed of their advance has shocked the government and its allies.
    Taliban forces now control 65% of Afghanistan, have taken or threaten to take 11 provincial capitals and seek to deprive Kabul of its traditional support from national forces in the north, a senior European Union official said on Tuesday.
    U.S. President Joe Biden urged Afghan leaders to fight for their homeland, saying on Tuesday he did not regret his decision to withdraw, noting that the United States had spent more than $1 trillion over 20 years and lost thousands of troops.
    The United States was providing significant air support, food, equipment and salaries to Afghan forces, he said.
    The north was for years Afghanistan’s most peaceful region, with only a minimal Taliban presence.
    During their 1996 to 2001 rule, the Taliban were never completely in control of the north but this time, they seem intent on securing it before closing in on the capital.
REGIONAL APPEAL
    Government officials have appealed for pressure on Pakistan to stop Taliban reinforcements and supplies flowing over the border.    Pakistan denies backing the Taliban.
    The government has withdrawn from hard-to-defend rural districts to focus on holding population centres.    In some places, government forces have given up without a fight.
    Ghani is now appealing for help from the old regional powerbrokers he spent years sidelining as he attempted to project the authority of his central government over traditionally wayward provinces.
    He will meet key regional leaders in Mazar-i-Sharif.
    “President Ghani is scheduled to meet local government and security officials, political and jihadi leaders, tribal elders and influential people,” the presidential office said on Twitter.
    In the south, government forces government forces are battling Taliban fighters trying to reach Kandahar province’s main prison to release detained comrades, officials there said.
    Fighting is also taking place in city of Farah in the west, near the Iranian border, Tolo News reported.
    In Geneva on Tuesday, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said reports of violations that could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity were emerging, including “deeply disturbing reports” of the summary execution of surrendering government troops.
    Six EU member states warned the bloc’s executive against halting deportations of rejected Afghan asylum seekers arriving in Europe, fearing a possible replay of a 2015-16 crisis over the arrival of more than a million migrants, mainly from the Middle East.
    The United States will complete the withdrawal of its forces this month in exchange for Taliban promises to prevent Afghanistan being used for international terrorism.    The Taliban promised not to attack foreign forces as they withdraw but did not agree to a ceasefire with the government.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Editing by Robert Birsel)

8/11/2021 Factbox-Afghan Cities Taken Over Or Contested By Taliban
FILE PHOTO: Members of Afghan Special Forces climb down from a humvee as they arrive at their base after heavy clashes with Taliban during
the rescue mission of a police officer besieged at a check post, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, July 13, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    (Reuters) -Taliban insurgents have made rapid advances across Afghanistan in recent months as U.S. and other foreign forces withdraw.
    Following is a list of provincial capitals that have fallen to, or are being contested by the Islamist militants, who are fighting to reimpose strict Islamic law after they were ousted in 2001.    Afghanistan has 34 provinces in total.
    For a graphic click on: https://tmsnrt.rs/3jGaX8M
PROVINCIAL CAPITALS FALLING TO THE TALIBAN:
– Aug. 6 – ZARANJ. The Taliban take over the city in Nimroz province in the south, the first provincial capital to fall to the insurgents since they stepped up attacks on Afghan forces in early May.
– Aug. 7 – SHEBERGHAN. The Taliban declare they have captured the entire northern province of Jawzjan, including its capital Sheberghan.    Heavy fighting is reported in the city, and government buildings are taken over by the insurgents.    Afghan security forces say they are still fighting there.
– Aug. 8 – SAR-E-PUL. The insurgents take control of Sar-e-Pul, capital of the northern province of the same name.    It is the first of three provincial centres to fall on the same day.
– Aug. 8 – KUNDUZ. Taliban fighters seize control of the northern city of 270,000 people, regarded as a strategic prize as it lies at the gateway to mineral-rich northern provinces and Central Asia.    Government forces say they are resisting the insurgents from an army base and the airport.
– Aug. 8 – TALOQAN. The capital of Takhar province, also in the north, falls to the Taliban in the evening.    They free prisoners and force government officials to flee.
– Aug. 9 – AYBAK. The capital of the northern province of Samangan is overrun by Taliban fighters.
– Aug. 10 – PUL-E-KHUMRI. The capital of the central province of Baghlan falls to the Taliban, according to residents.
– Aug. 11 – FAIZABAD. The capital of the northeastern province of Badakhshan is under Taliban control, a provincial council member says. PROVINCIAL CAPITALS BEING CONTESTED AS OF AUG. 11:
– FARAH. Capital of the western province of Farah.
– HERAT. Capital of Herat province in the west.
– LASHKARGAH. Capital of Helmand in the south.
– KANDAHAR. Capital of Kandahar province in the south.
(Compiled by Kabul bureau; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

8/11/2021 Taliban Could Take Afghan Capital In 90 Days After Rapid Gains - U.S. Intelligence
Taliban fighters record a message after seizing Pul-e- Khumri, capital of Baghlan province, Afghanistan,
in this still image taken from a social media video, uploaded August 10, 2021. Taliban Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON/KABUL (Reuters) -Taliban fighters could isolate Afghanistan’s capital in 30 days and possibly take it over in 90, a U.S. defence official cited U.S. intelligence as saying, as the resurgent militants made more advances across the country.
    The official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity on Wednesday, said the new assessment of how long Kabul could stand was a result of the Taliban’s rapid gains as U.S.-led foreign forces leave.
    “But this is not a foregone conclusion,” the official added, saying that the Afghan security forces could reverse the momentum by putting up more resistance.
    The Islamists now control 65% of Afghanistan and have taken or threaten to take 11 provincial capitals, a senior EU official said on Tuesday.    Faizabad, in the northeastern province of Badakhshan, on Wednesday became the eighth provincial capital to be seized by the Taliban.
    A doctor based in southern Kandahar said the city was receiving scores of bodies of Afghan forces, and some injured Taliban fighters were also seeking medical support.    The fighting was extremely intense in Kandahar city, he said, with constant rocket attacks.
    All gateways to Kabul, which lies in a valley surrounded by mountains, were choked with civilians entering the city and fleeing violence elsewhere, a Western security source there said. It was hard to tell whether Taliban fighters were also getting through, the source said.
    “The fear is of suicide bombers entering the diplomatic quarters to scare, attack and ensure everyone leaves at the earliest opportunity,” he said.
    Foreign countries are trying to ensure their staff leave Kabul quickly, five foreign security officials told Reuters.    One said international airlines were also being asked to evacuate staff.
    The Taliban want to defeat the U.S-backed government and reimpose strict Islamic law.    The speed of their advance https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-cities-taken-over-or-contested-by-taliban-2021-08-10 has shocked the government and its allies.
    U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the attacks were against the spirit of a 2020 agreement.
    The Taliban committed to talks on a peace accord that would lead to a “permanent and comprehensive ceasefire,” Price said on Wednesday.    “All indications at least suggest the Taliban are instead pursuing a battlefield victory.”
    “Attacking provincial capitals and targeting civilians is inconsistent with the spirit of the agreement,” he said.
    The Taliban deny targeting civilians.
    Price said the United States was working to forge an international consensus behind the need for a peace accord.
    He spoke as envoys from the United States, China, Russia and other countries met in Doha with Taliban and Afghan government negotiators in a bid to break a months-long deadlock in peace talks.br>     The loss of Faizabad was the latest setback https://graphics.reuters.com/AFGHANISTAN-CONFLICT/FLASHPOINTS/lbpgnrazjvq/index.html for the government of President Ashraf Ghani, who flew to Mazar-i-Sharif to rally old warlords to the defence of the biggest city in the north as Taliban forces closed in.
    Jawad Mujadidi, a provincial council member from Badakhshan, said the Taliban had laid siege to Faizabad before launching its offensive on Tuesday.
    “With the fall of Faizabad, the whole of the northeast has come under Taliban control,” Mujadidi told Reuters.
HOMELAND
    U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he did not regret his decision to withdraw and urged Afghan leaders to fight for their homeland.
    Washington had spent more than $1 trillion over 20 years and lost thousands of U.S. troops, and continued to provide significant air support, food, equipment and salaries to Afghan forces, he said.
    White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to comment about assessments that Kabul could be overtaken by the Taliban in 90 days, which were first reported by the Washington Post.
    “We are closely watching the deteriorating security conditions in parts of the country, but no particular outcome, in our view, is inevitable,” she said.
    Psaki said the plan to withdraw troops by Aug. 31 held and reiterated the administration’s view that Afghan forces have the U.S. support they need to fight back.
    The Afghans “need to determine … if they have the political will to fight back and if they have the ability to unite as leaders to fight back,” she said.
    But the head of the Afghan reconciliation committee said it was clear the Taliban did not believe in a political solution, Al Jazeera reported on Twitter.
    “We support reaching a political solution through negotiation and appointing a mediator or mediators to organize the negotiations,” Abdullah Abdullah said.
REGIONAL APPEAL
    The Taliban advances have raised fears of a return to power of the hardline militants who formed in 1994 from the chaos of civil war.    They controlled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when they were ousted by a U.S.-led campaign for harbouring al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
    A new generation of Afghans, who have come of age since 2001, fears the progress made in areas such as women’s rights and media freedom will be squandered.
    Afghan officials have appealed for pressure on Pakistan to stop Taliban reinforcements and supplies flowing over the border. Pakistan denies backing the Taliban.
    Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said Taliban leaders told him earlier this year that they will not negotiate with the Afghan government as long as Ghani remains president.
    Ghani is appealing for help from the regional warlords he spent years sidelining as he tried to project the authority of his central government over wayward provinces.
    The Taliban have captured districts bordering Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Pakistan and China, heightening regional security concerns.
(Reporting by Kabul and Islamabad bureaus; Reporting by Jonathan Landay, Idrees Ali, Jeff Mason and Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington, Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Robert Birsel, Nick Macfie, Timothy Heritage and Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Jon Boyle and Cynthia Osterman)

8/12/2021 Taliban Take Ghazni City On Road To Afghan Capital
Taliban fighters stand guard at a check point in Farah, Afghanistan August 11, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    KABUL (Reuters) -Taliban insurgents captured the city of Ghazni on Thursday, the ninth provincial capital they have seized in a week, as U.S. intelligence said the capital, Kabul, just 150 km to the northeast, could fall to the insurgents within 90 days.
    The speed of the Taliban advance https://graphics.reuters.com/AFGHANISTAN-CONFLICT/FLASHPOINTS/lbpgnrazjvq/index.html has sparked widespread recriminations over U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops and leave the Afghan government to fight alone.
    The Taliban control about two-thirds of Afghanistan, with the last of the U.S.-led international forces set to leave by the end of the month, and their guerrilla army has waged war on multiple fronts, resulting in thousands of families fleeing the provinces in hope of finding safety in Kabul and other cities.
    A senior security official said the Taliban had captured Ghazni, which is on the highway between Kabul and the second city of Kandahar, and had occupied all of its government agency headquarters after heavy clashes.
    “All local government officials, including the provincial governor, have been evacuated towards Kabul,” said the official who declined to be identified.
    Fighting has also been intense in the southern city of Kandahar.    The city hospital had received scores of bodies of members of the armed forces and some wounded Taliban, a doctor said late on Wednesday.
    The Taliban said they had captured Kandahar’s provincial prison.
    “Fighting did not stop until 4 a.m. and then after the first prayers it started up again,” said an aid worker in Kandahar.
    The Taliban also said they had seized airports outside the cities of Kunduz and Sheberghan in the north and Farah in the west, making it even more difficult to supply beleaguered government forces.
    The Taliban said they had also captured the provincial headquarters in Lashkar Gah, the embattled capital of the southern province of Helmand, a hotbed of militant activity.
    Government officials there were not immediately available for comment.    Fighting had also flared in the northwestern province of Badghis, its governor said.
    Bordering Pakistan, Kandahar and other southern and eastern provinces have long been Taliban heartlands but it has been in the north where they have made their biggest gains in recent weeks.
    Even when the Taliban ruled the country they never controlled all of the north. This time, they appear to be determined to secure it fully before turning their attention to Kabul.
    Government forces have withdrawn from hard-to-defend rural districts to focus on holding main population centres.
    Desperate to stem the Taliban advance, President Ashraf Ghani flew to Mazar-i-Sharif to rally old warlords he had previously tried to sideline, now needing their support to defend the biggest city in the north as the enemy closed in.
RAPID GAINS
    In Washington, a U.S. defence official on Wednesday cited U.S. intelligence as saying the Taliban could isolate Kabul in 30 days and possibly take it over within 90, following their recent rapid gains.
    “But this is not a foregone conclusion,” the official said, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, adding that the Afghan security forces could reverse the momentum by putting up more resistance.
    Biden said on Tuesday he did not regret his decision to withdraw and urged Afghan leaders to fight for their homeland.
    All gateways to Kabul, which lies on a plain surrounded by mountains, were choked with civilians fleeing violence, a Western security source said, adding that there was a risk Taliban fighters could be among them.
    “The fear is of suicide bombers entering the diplomatic quarters to scare, attack and ensure everyone leaves at the earliest opportunity,” he said.
    The Taliban, who controlled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when they were ousted for harbouring al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden after Sept. 11, wants to defeat the U.S-backed government and reimpose strict Islamic law.
    A new generation of Afghans, who have come of age since 2001, is worried that the progress made in areas such as women’s rights and media freedom will be lost.
    The United Nations said more than 1,000 civilians had been killed in the past month, and the International Committee of the Red Cross said that since Aug. 1 some 4,042 wounded people had been treated at 15 health facilities.
    The Taliban denied https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-denies-killing-civilians-calls-independent-inquiry-2021-08-11 targeting or killing civilians and called for an independent investigation.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

8/12/2021 Factbox-Some Key Leaders Of Afghanistan’s Taliban
FILE PHOTO: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's deputy leader and negotiator, and other delegation members attend
the Afghan peace conference in Moscow, Russia March 18, 2021. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    (Reuters) – The Taliban are a hardline Islamist movement in Afghanistan that has been fighting an insurgency against the Western-backed government in Kabul since being ousted from power in 2001.
    It originally drew members from so-called “mujahideen” fighters who, with support from the United States, repelled Soviet forces in the 1980s.
    The group emerged in 1994 as one of the factions fighting a civil war and went on to control most of the country by 1996, when it imposed strict Islamic law.    Opponents and Western countries accused it of brutally enforcing its version of sharia and suppressing religious minorities.
    Its founder and original leader was Mullah Mohammad Omar, who went into hiding after the Taliban was toppled by U.S.-backed local forces following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
    So secretive were his whereabouts that his death, in 2013, was only confirmed two years later by his son.
    The Taliban are once again in the ascendancy militarily in Afghanistan.    Since foreign troops began to withdraw they have seized most of the country’s territory and now control the capitals of eight of 34 provinces.
    Following are some of the key figures in the movement. – Haibatullah Akhundzada
    Known as the “Leader of the Faithful,” the Islamic legal scholar is the Taliban’s supreme leader who holds final authority over the group’s political, religious, and military affairs.
    Akhundzada took over when his predecessor, Akhtar Mansour, was killed in a U.S. drone strike near the Afghan-Pakistan border in 2016.    For 15 years, until his sudden disappearance in May, 2016, Akhundzada taught and preached at a mosque in Kuchlak, a town in southwestern Pakistan, associates and students have told Reuters.
    He is believed to be aged around 60 years old, and his whereabouts are unknown. – Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob
    The son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, Yaqoob oversees the group’s military operations, and local media reports have said he is inside Afghanistan.
    He was proposed as overall leader of the movement during various succession tussles, but he put forward Akhundzada in 2016 because he felt he lacked battlefield experience and was too young, according to a Taliban commander at the meeting where Mansour’s successor was chosen.
    Yaqoob is believe to be in his early 30s.
Sirajuddin Haqqani
    The son of prominent mujahideen commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, Sirajuddin leads the Haqqani network, a loosely organized group that oversees the Taliban’s financial and military assets across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
    The Haqqanis are believed by some experts to have introduced suicide bombing to Afghanistan and have been blamed for several high-profile attacks in Afghanistan including a raid on Kabul’s top hotel, an assassination attempt on then-President Hamid Karzai and a suicide attack on the Indian embassy.
    Haqqani is believed to be in his late 40s or early 50s.    His whereabouts are unknown.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar
    One of the co-founders of the Taliban, Baradar now heads the political office of the Taliban and is part of the negotiating team that the group has in Doha to try and thrash out a political deal that could pave the way for a ceasefire and more lasting peace in Afghanistan.    The process has failed to make significant headway in recent months.
    Baradar, reported to have been one of Mullah Omar’s most trusted commanders, was captured in 2010 by security forces in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi and released in 2018.
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai
    A former deputy minister in the Taliban’s government before its ouster, Stanekzai has lived in Doha for nearly a decade, and became the head of the group’s political office there in 2015.
    He has taken part in negotiations with the Afghan government, and has represented the Taliban on diplomatic trips to several countries.
Abdul Hakim Haqqani
    He is head of the Taliban’s negotiating team. The Taliban’s former shadow chief justice heads its powerful council of religious scholars and is widely believed to be someone whom Akhundzada trusts most.
(Reporting by Umar Farooq; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

8/12/2021 U.S., British Troops To Aid Afghan Evacuation As Taliban Poised To Take Key Cities
Taliban fighters gather on main road intersection in city of Ghazni, Afghanistan in this screen grab
taken from a video released by the Taliban on August 12, 2021. Taliban Handout/via REUTERS
(Inserts dropped letter in headline)
    KABUL (Reuters) -The United States and Britain said on Thursday they would send thousands of troops to Afghanistan to protect and help evacuate civilians, as the Taliban stood poised for their two biggest military victories since they began a broad offensive in May.
    In response to the militants’ swift and violent advances https://graphics.reuters.com/AFGHANISTAN-CONFLICT/FLASHPOINTS/lbpgnrazjvq/index.html that are further loosening the Afghan government’s hold on the country, the Pentagon said it would temporarily send about 3,000 extra troops within 48 hours to help evacuate embassy staff.
    Britain said it would deploy around 600 troops to help its nationals and local translators get out.
    While it is common for the U.S. military to send in troops to evacuate personnel in combat zones, the reinforcements will fly in just weeks before the departure of the last of the U.S.-led international force that has had a core role in maintaining security in the country.
    Meanwhile, south and west of Kabul, the country’s second and third largest cities were on the verge of being seized by the Taliban.
    The Islamist group claimed control over Herat close to the Iranian border, and a diplomatic source and a witness said it also appeared close to capturing Kandahar in the south, the spiritual home of the group that now controls about two-thirds of the country.
    Earlier in the day, the Taliban established a bridgehead within 150 km (95 miles) of Kabul.
    As the United Nations warned that a Taliban offensive reaching the capital would have a “catastrophic impact on civilians,” the United States, as well as Germany, urged their citizens to leave Afghanistan immediately.
    In Qatar, international envoys to Afghan negotiations called for an accelerated peace process as a “matter of great urgency,” and for an immediate halt to attacks on cities.
‘WE ARE RETURNING TO A DARK TIME’
    If its capture is confirmed, Herat would be the 10th provincial capital – and the most significant – that the Taliban have taken in the past week.
    The group’s spokesperson, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, said the city governor’s office had been seized, and government forces were surrendering.
    “As you can see, we are inside the Herat police headquarters right now,” a Taliban fighter said in a video that Ahmadi shared.
    In Kandahar, most parts of the city were under the group’s control but fighting was still going on, a Taliban commander told Reuters.
    A women’s rights activist there, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said heavy clashes were under way and only the city’s military bases and airport remained under government control.
    She felt certain that restrictions imposed on women by the Taliban when the group ruled the country from 1996-2001 would return.
    “We can no longer talk about women’s rights.    We are returning to a dark time where there is no hope,” she said.
    Earlier on Thursday the Taliban captured Ghazni, situated on the Kandahar to Kabul road some 150 km (90 miles) southwest of the capital.
    On Wednesday, a U.S. defence official cited U.S. intelligence as saying the Taliban could isolate Kabul in 30 days and possibly take it over within 90.
    With phone lines down across much of the country, Reuters was unable to contact government officials to confirm which of the cities under attack remained in government hands.
URGED TO LEAVE
    The speed and violence of the Taliban offensive have sparked recriminations among many Afghans over President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops and leave the government to fight alone.
    President Ashraf Ghani flew to northern Mazar-i-Sharif on Wednesday to rally old warlords he had previously tried to sideline, now needing their support.
    Al Jazeera reported a government source saying it had offered the Taliban a share in power if the violence stopped.    It was not clear to what extent the reported offer differed from terms already discussed in Qatar.
    Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said he was unaware of any such offer but ruled out sharing power.
    “We won’t accept any offer like this because we don’t want to be partner with the Kabul administration.    We neither stay nor work for a single day with it,” he said.
U.N. URGES SETTLEMENT
    In a deal struck with the United States last year, the insurgents agreed not to attack U.S.-led foreign forces as they withdraw.    The Taliban also made a commitment to discuss peace.
    But intermittent talks with representatives of the U.S.-backed government have made no progress, with the insurgents apparently intent on a military victory.
    The United Nations said more than 1,000 civilians had been killed in the past month.    On Wednesday, the Taliban denied targeting or killing civilians and caled for an investigation.
    The group, which ruled the country from 1996-2001, said it had seized airports outside the cities of Kunduz and Sheberghan in the north and Farah in the west, making it even more difficult to supply government forces.
(Reporting by Kabul bureauWriting by John StonestreetEditing by Nick Macfie, Frances Kerry and Cynthia Osterman)

8/12/2021 EU Foreign Policy Chief Urges Afghan Government To Work With Taliban by Foo Yun Chee
FILE PHOTO: European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks at the presidential
palace in Baabda, Lebanon June 19, 2021. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The Afghan government should engage with the Taliban to reach an inclusive settlement, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Thursday as the militant group made rapid gains amid spiralling violence and worries of a refugee crisis.
    “We encourage the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to settle political differences, increase representation of all stakeholders and engage with the Taliban from a united perspective,” Borrell said in a statement.
    He said a peaceful and inclusive settlement and respect for the fundamental rights of all Afghans, including women, youth and minorities, were key to the European Union’s continued support for Afghanistan.
    The Taliban, since beginning a broad offensive in May, have made swift and violent advances that are further loosening the Afghan government’s hold on the country.
    Borrell called on the Taliban to immediately resume substantive, regular and structured talks, an immediate halt to the violence and a comprehensive, permanent ceasefire.
    “These continued attacks are causing unacceptable suffering to Afghan citizens and are increasing the number of internally displaced and those leaving Afghanistan in search of safety,” he said.
    Borrell warned that the Taliban would face non-recognition, isolation, lack of international support and the prospect of continued conflict and instability in Afghanistan if they take power by force and re-establish an Islamic Emirate.
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Peter Cooney)

8/13/2021 Taliban Capture Afghanistan’s Kandahar, Herat; Embassies Getting Staff Out
Taliban fighters gather on main road intersection in city of Ghazni, Afghanistan in this screen grab
taken from a video released by the Taliban on August 12, 2021. Taliban Handout/via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) -The Taliban have captured Afghanistan’s second and third biggest cities, officials said on Friday, fuelling fears the U.S.-backed government could fall to the insurgents as international forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of war.
    The capture of the second-biggest city of Kandahar in the south and Herat in the west after days of clashes are a devastating setback for the government as the deadly Taliban insurgency turns into a rout of the security forces.
    “The city looks like a front line, a ghost town,” provincial council member Ghulam Habib Hashimo said by telephone from Herat, a city of about 600,000 people near the border with Iran.
    “Families have either left or are hiding in their homes.”
    A government official told Reuters: “Following heavy clashes late last night, the Taliban took control of Kandahar city.”
    Of Afghanistan’s major cities, the government still holds Mazar-i-Sharif in the north and Jalalabad, near the Pakistani border in the east, as well as Kabul. But a U.S. defence official cited U.S. intelligence as saying this week that the Taliban could isolate     Kabul in 30 days and possibly take it within 90.
    In response to the Taliban advances https://graphics.reuters.com/AFGHANISTAN-CONFLICT/FLASHPOINTS/lbpgnrazjvq/index.html, the Pentagon said it would send about 3,000 extra troops https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/exclusive-us-evacuate-significant-number-employees-embassy-kabul-officials-2021-08-12 within 48 hours to help evacuate U.S. embassy staff.
    Britain said it would deploy about 600 troops https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/britain-sends-troops-afghanistan-help-evacuate-staff-citizens-2021-08-12 to help its citizens leave while other embassies and aid groups said they too were getting their people out.
    “I think we are heading towards a civil war,” British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the BBC.
    The United Nations has warned that a Taliban offensive reaching the capital would have a “catastrophic impact on civilians” but there is little hope for negotiations to end the fighting with the Taliban apparently set on a military victory.
    The Taliban also https://tmsnrt.rs/3jGaX8Mcaptured the towns of Lashkar Gah in the south and Qala-e-Naw in the northwest, security officers said on Friday. Firuz Koh, capital of central Ghor province, was handed over without a fight, officials said.
    The militants, fighting to defeat the government and impose their strict version of Islamic rule, have taken control of 14 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals since Aug. 6.
    The fall of so many major cities was a sign that Afghans welcomed the Taliban, a spokesperson for the group said, according to Al Jazeera TV.
HEAVY BLOW
    The speed of the offensive has sparked recriminations among many Afghans over President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops, 20 years after they ousted the Taliban in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
    Biden said this week he did not regret his decision, noting Washington has spent more than $1 trillion in America’s longest war and lost thousands of troops.
    Kandahar will be a particularly heavy blow to the government.    It is the heartland of the Taliban, ethnic Pashtun fighters who emerged in the province in 1994 amid the chaos of civil war to sweep through most of the rest of the country over the next two years.
    Government forces were still in control of Kandahar’s airport, which was the U.S. military’s second biggest base in Afghanistan during their 20-year mission, an official said.
    Hashimo, the provincial council member in Herat, said government forces were clinging on to the airport and to an army camp, but the Taliban controlled the rest of the city.
    Lashkar Gah is the capital of the southern opium-growing province of Helmand, where British, U.S. and other foreign forces battled the insurgents for years.
    The U.S. State Department said Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday and told him the United States “remains invested in the security and stability of Afghanistan.”    They also said the United States was committed to supporting a political solution.
    U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the exit strategy was sending the United States “hurtling toward an even worse sequel to the humiliating fall of Saigon in 1975,” urging Biden to commit to providing more support to Afghan forces.
    “Without it, al Qaeda and the Taliban may celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks by burning down our Embassy in Kabul.”
    In the deal struck with former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration last year, the insurgents agreed not to attack U.S.-led foreign forces as they withdrew.
    They also made a commitment to discuss peace but intermittent meetings with government representatives have proved fruitless.    International envoys to Afghan negotiations in Qatar called for an accelerated peace process as a “matter of great urgency” and for a halt to attacks on cities.
    A Taliban spokesman told Al Jazeera: “We will not close the door to the political track.”
    Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said this week the Taliban had refused to negotiate unless Ghani resigned from the presidency.    Many people on both sides would view that as tantamount to the government’s surrender, leaving little to discuss but terms.
    Pakistan officially denies backing the Taliban but it has been an open secret that Taliban leaders live in Pakistan and recruit fighters from a network of religious schools in Pakistan.
    Pakistan’s military has long seen the Taliban as the best option to block the influence of arch rival India in Afghanistan.
    Afghans, including many who have come of age enjoying freedoms since the Taliban were ousted, have vented their anger on social media, tagging posts #sanctionpakistan, but there has been little criticism from Western capitals of Pakistan’s role.
(Reporting by Kabul, Islamabad and Washington bureaus; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

8/13/2021 Afghanistan Spiralling Into Failed State Where Al Qaeda Will Thrive – UK Says by Sarah Young and Guy Faulconbridge
FILE PHOTO: British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace leaves after the service marking Armistice Day
at Westminster Abbey in London, Britain November 11, 2020. Aaron Chown/PA Wire/Pool via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) -Afghanistan is spiralling into a failed state and a civil war in which militant groups such as al Qaeda will thrive and likely pose a threat again to the West, Britain’s defence minister said on Friday.
    After a 20-year war in Afghanistan, the United States has withdrawn most of its troops, allowing Taliban forces to sweep across the country in what diplomats have cast as a humiliation for the world’s preeminent superpower.
    “I’m absolutely worried that failed states are breeding grounds for those types of people,” Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky when asked about Afghanistan. “al Qaeda will probably come back.”
    “Britain found that out in the 1830s, that it is a country led by warlords and led by different provinces and tribes, and you end up, if you’re not very careful in a civil war, and I think we are heading towards a civil war,” he told the BBC.
    Wallace cautioned that the Taliban was not a single entity but rather a title that encompassed “all sorts of different interests.”
    The speed of the Taliban advance has shocked the Afghan government and its Western allies.
    The Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when it was ousted for harbouring al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
    Wallace said the West had to understand that it could not instantly fix countries such as Afghanistan but should manage situations.
    He said that if the Taliban started to harbour al Qaeda, then “we could be back.”
    Wallace said that Afghanistan’s second biggest city of Kandahar and the town of Lashkar Gah was “pretty much now in the hands of the Taliban.”
(Reporting by Sarah Young and Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Kate Holton)

8/13/2021 Factbox-Afghan Cities Taken Over Or Contested By Taliban
FILE PHOTO: Members of Afghan Special Forces climb down from a humvee as they arrive at their base after heavy clashes with Taliban during
the rescue mission of a police officer besieged at a check post, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, July 13, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    (Reuters) -Taliban insurgents have made rapid advances across Afghanistan in recent months as U.S. and other foreign forces withdraw.
    Following is a list of provincial capitals that have fallen to, or are being contested by the Islamist militants, who are fighting to reimpose strict Islamic law after they were ousted in 2001.    Afghanistan has 34 provinces in total.
    For a graphic click on: https://tmsnrt.rs/3jGaX8M
PROVINCIAL CAPITALS FALLING TO THE TALIBAN:
– Aug. 6 – ZARANJ. The Taliban take over the city in Nimroz province in the south, the first provincial capital to fall to the insurgents since they stepped up attacks on Afghan forces in early May.
– Aug. 7 – SHEBERGHAN. The Taliban declare they have captured the entire northern province of Jawzjan, including its capital Sheberghan.    Heavy fighting is reported in the city, and government buildings are taken over by the insurgents.    Afghan security forces say they are still fighting there.
– Aug. 8 – SAR-E-PUL. The insurgents take control of Sar-e-Pul, capital of the northern province of the same name.    It is the first of three provincial centres to fall on the same day.
– Aug. 8 – KUNDUZ. Taliban fighters seize control of the northern city of 270,000 people, regarded as a strategic prize as it lies at the gateway to mineral-rich northern provinces and Central Asia.    Government forces say they are resisting the insurgents from an army base and the airport.
– Aug. 8 – TALOQAN. The capital of Takhar province, also in the north, falls to the Taliban in the evening.    They free prisoners and force government officials to flee.
– Aug. 9 – AYBAK. The capital of the northern province of Samangan is overrun by Taliban fighters.
– Aug. 10 – PUL-E-KHUMRI. The capital of the central province of Baghlan falls to the Taliban, according to residents.
– Aug. 11 – FAIZABAD. The capital of the northeastern province of Badakhshan is under Taliban control, a provincial council member says.
– Aug. 12 – GHAZNI. The insurgents take over the city, capital of the province of the same name, a senior security officer says.
– Aug 12 – FIRUS KOH. The capital of Ghor province, was handed over to the Taliban on Thursday night without a fight, security officials said.
– AUG 13 – QALA-E-NAW. The Taliban have captured the capital of the northwestern province of Badghis, a security official and the Taliban said.
– Aug 13 – KANDAHAR. The Taliban have captured Afghanistan’s second biggest city of Kandahar, government officials and the Taliban said.
– Aug 13 – LASHKAR GAH. The Taliban have captured the capital of the southern province of Helmand, police said.
– Aug 13 – HERAT. Capital of Herat province in the west was under Taliban control after days of clashes, a provincial council member said.
PROVINCIAL CAPITALS BEING CONTESTED AS OF AUG. 13:
– FARAH. Capital of the western province of Farah.
– PUL-E-ALAM. Capital of Logar province in the east.
(Compiled by Kabul bureau; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

8/13/2021 Taliban Seize More Afghan Cities, Assault On Capital Kabul Expected
A Taliban fighter walks in Shaheedan Square, as fighting is heard in the distance, in the city
of Kandahar, Afghanistan in this screen grab taken from an undated video from social media uploaded
on August 12, 2021. TALIBAN HANDOUT/via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
    KABUL (Reuters) -Taliban insurgents have seized Afghanistan’s second- and third-biggest cities, local officials said on Friday, as resistance from government forces crumbled and fears grew that an assault on the capital Kabul could be just days away.
    A government official confirmed that Kandahar, the economic hub of the south, was under Taliban control as U.S.-led international forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of war.
    Herat in the west also fell to the hardline Islamist group.
    “The city looks like a frontline, a ghost town,” provincial council member Ghulam Habib Hashimi said by telephone from the city of about 600,000 people near the border with Iran.
    “Families have either left or are hiding in their homes.”
    A U.S. defence official said there was concern that the Taliban – ousted from power in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States – could make a move on Kabul within days.
    Washington on Thursday announced plans to send 3,000 additional troops to help evacuate U.S. embassy staff, and the Pentagon said most would be in Kabul by the end of the weekend.    Britain also confirmed the start of a military operation to support the evacuation of its nationals.
    “Kabul is not right now in an imminent threat environment, but clearly… if you just look at what the Taliban has been doing, you can see that they are trying to isolate Kabul,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Friday.
    The U.S. embassy in the Afghan capital informed staff that burn bins and an incinerator were available to destroy material including papers and electronic devices to “reduce the amount of sensitive material on the property,” according to an advisory seen by Reuters.
    A State Department spokesperson said the embassy was following standard procedure to “minimize our footprint.”
    The United Nations has said it would not evacuate its personnel from Afghanistan but was relocating some to Kabul from other parts of the country.    Many other Western embassies and aid groups said they were bringing some staff home.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the Taliban to immediately halt the offensive.    Warning that “Afghanistan is spinning out of control,” he urged all parties to do more to protect civilians.
    “This is the moment to halt the offensive.    This is the moment to start serious negotiation.    This is the moment to avoid a prolonged civil war, or the isolation of Afghanistan,” Guterres told reporters in New York.
    Afghan First Vice President Amrullah Saleh said after a security meeting chaired by President Ashraf Ghani that he was proud of the armed forces and the government would do all it could to strengthen resistance to the Taliban.
‘HUMANITARIAN CATASTROPHE’
    The explosion in fighting has raised fears of a refugee crisis and a rollback of gains in human rights.    Some 400,000 civilians have been forced from their homes since the start of the year, 250,000 of them since May, a U.N. official said.
    Families were camping out in a Kabul park with little or no shelter, having escaped violence elsewhere in the country.
    “The situation has all the hallmarks of a humanitarian catastrophe,” the U.N. World Food Programme’s Thomson Phiri told a briefing.
    Under Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, women could not work, girls were not allowed to attend school and women had to cover their face and be accompanied by a male relative if they wanted to venture out of their homes.    In early July, Taliban fighters ordered nine women to stop working in a bank.
    Of Afghanistan’s major cities, the government still holds Mazar-i-Sharif in the north and Jalalabad, near the Pakistani border in the east, in addition to Kabul.
    The Taliban has taken the towns of Lashkar Gah in the south and Qala-e-Naw in the northwest, security officials said.    Firuz Koh, capital of central Ghor province, was handed over without a fight, officials said.
    Kandahar’s loss is a heavy blow to the government.    It is the heartland of the Taliban – ethnic Pashtun fighters who emerged in 1994 amid the chaos of civil war.
    The militants have taken control of 14 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals since Aug. 6.
    After seizing Herat, the insurgents detained veteran commander Ismail Khan, an official said.    They had promised not to harm him and other captured officials.
    A Taliban spokesman confirmed that Khan, who had been leading fighters against the insurgents, was in their custody.    Al-Jazeera later reported Khan had boarded a plane to Kabul bearing a message from the Taliban.    The report could not immediately be confirmed.
    The speed of the Taliban offensive has led to recriminations over President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw American troops.
    Biden said this week he did not regret his decision, noting Washington has spent more than $1 trillion in the country’s longest war and lost thousands of troops, and calling on Afghanistan’s army and leaders to step up.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Ghani on Thursday the United States remained “invested” in Afghanistan’s security.
    Opinion polls showed most Americans back Biden’s decision to withdraw the troops.    But opposition Republicans criticized the Democratic president’s decision.
    U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the exit strategy was sending the United States “hurtling toward an even worse sequel to the humiliating fall of Saigon in 1975,” referring to Hanoi’s victory in the Vietnam war.
(Reporting by Kabul, Islamabad, Geneva, United Nations and Washington bureaus, Writing by Robert Birsel, Nick Macfie, Gareth Jones and Patricia Zengerle;Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Frances Kerry, Mark Heinrich, Angus MacSwan and Sonya Hepinstall)

8/13/2021 U.S. To Send 3K Troops To Afghanistan To Help Evacuate Embassy Officials by OAN Newsroom
FORT DRUM, NEW YORK – DECEMBER 10: U.S. Army soldiers return home from a 9-month deployment
to Afghanistan on December 10, 2020 at Fort Drum, New York. (John Moore/Getty Images)
    The U.S. announced it would be sending thousands of troops back to Afghanistan despite a troop withdrawal underway. As the Biden administration aims to pullout troops from Afghanistan, the State Department said it would also be decreasing it’s staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
    Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby confirmed during a press briefing on Thursday that the Biden administration would be sending 3,000 troops to Afghanistan to help evacuate U.S. Embassy officials after key cities in the country were taken over by the Taliban.    Despite the thousands of troops being sent to Kabul, Kirby said they still plan to pullout the remaining American troops.
    “Again, what I said was, we are aiming to facilitate the reduction of the civilian personnel by Aug. 31. So, it’s all lining up on the same timeline,” said Kirby.    “I won’t speculate on what the footprint is going to look like post Aug. 31 because there is this additional mission set of helping process special immigrants so, we’re just gonna have to wait and see.”
    Kirby added that the 3,000 troops have a specific and narrow focus to safely remove officials amidst growing conflict in the region.    Additionally, spokesperson Ned Price said only “core diplomatic presence” would remain, as safety in the region continues to decline.    Price called the move a “reduction in the size of our civilian footprint.”

8/14/2021 U.S. Troops Arrive In Afghan Capital To Assist Evacuations
General view of the consular section at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 30, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    KABUL (Reuters) – American troops have flown into Kabul to help evacuate embassy personnel and other civilians in the Afghan capital, a U.S. official said on Saturday, a day after Taliban insurgents seized the country’s second- and third-biggest cities.
    The Pentagon has said two battalions of Marines and one infantry battalion will arrive in Kabul by Sunday evening, involving about 3,000 troops.
    “They have arrived, their arrival will continue ’til tomorrow,” the U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
    An infantry brigade combat team will also move out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Kuwait to act as a quick reaction force for security in Kabul if needed, the Pentagon has said.
    Britain and several other Western nations are also sending troops as resistance from Afghan government forces crumbles and fears grow that an assault on Kabul could be just days away.
    An Afghan government official confirmed on Friday that Kandahar, the economic hub of the south, was under Taliban control as U.S.-led international forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of war.
    Herat in the west, near the border with Iran, also fell to the hardline Islamist group.
    Kandahar’s loss is a heavy blow to the government. It is the heartland of the Taliban https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/kandahar-southern-hub-key-control-afghanistan-2021-08-13 – ethnic Pashtun fighters who emerged in 1994 amid the chaos of civil war – and is close to the town of Spin Boldak, one of the two main entry points into Pakistan and a major source of tax revenues.
    A U.S. defence official said there was concern that the Taliban – ousted from power in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States – could make a move on Kabul within days.
    “Kabul is not right now in an imminent threat environment, but clearly … if you just look at what the Taliban has been doing, you can see that they are trying to isolate Kabul,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
    Some embassies have begun to burn sensitive material ahead of evacuating, diplomats said.
    The U.S. embassy in the Afghan capital informed staff that burn bins and an incinerator were available to destroy material including papers and electronic devices to “reduce the amount of sensitive material on the property,” according to an advisory seen by Reuters.
‘SPINNING OUT OF CONTROL’
    United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/un-says-evaluating-afghanistan-security-hourly-no-staff-evacuation-2021-08-13 “Afghanistan is spinning out of control” and urged all parties to do more to protect civilians.
    “This is the moment to halt the offensive.    This is the moment to start serious negotiation.    This is the moment to avoid a prolonged civil war, or the isolation of Afghanistan,” Guterres told reporters in New York.
    Many people in the capital were stocking up on rice and other food as well as first aid, residents said. Visa applications at embassies were running in the tens of thousands, officials said.
    Afghan First Vice President Amrullah Saleh said after a security meeting chaired by President Ashraf Ghani that he was proud of the armed forces and the government would do all it could to strengthen resistance to the Taliban.
    The explosion in fighting has raised fears of a refugee crisis and a rollback of gains in human rights.    Some 400,000 civilians have been forced from their homes this year, 250,000 of them since May, a U.N. official said.
    Of Afghanistan’s major cities, the government still holds Mazar-i-Sharif in the north and Jalalabad, near the Pakistani border in the east, in addition to Kabul.
    The speed of the Taliban’s gains has led to recriminations over the U.S. withdrawal, which was negotiated last year under the administration of President Joe Biden’s Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.
    Biden said this week he did not regret his decision to follow through with the withdrawal.    He noted Washington has spent more than $1 trillion and lost thousands of troops over two decades, and called on Afghanistan’s army and leaders to step up.
    Opinion polls showed most Americans back Biden’s decision, but Republicans criticized the Democratic president’s handling of the U.S. withdrawal.
    Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called the situation in Afghanistan “a debacle” but said it was not too late to stop the Taliban overrunning the capital by providing air and other support for Afghan forces.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by William Mallard)

8/14/2021 Analysis-As Taliban Advances, China Lays Groundwork To Accept An Awkward Reality by Yew Lun Tian
FILE PHOTO: Taliban delegates speak during talks between the Afghan government and Taliban
insurgents in Doha, Qatar September 12, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem al Omari/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – A series of photos published last month by Chinese state media of Foreign Minister Wang Yi standing shoulder to shoulder with visiting Taliban official decked out in traditional tunic and turban raised eyebrows on the country’s social media.
    Since then, China’s propaganda machinery has quietly begun preparing its people to accept an increasingly likely scenario that Beijing might have to recognize the Taliban, the hard line Islamist movement that is rapidly gaining territory in Afghanistan, as a legitimate regime.
    “Even if they can’t control the whole country, they would still be a significant force to reckon with,” an influential social media commentator known to be familiar with China’s foreign policy thinking wrote on Thursday.    The commentator, who goes by the pen name Niutanqin, or “Zither-Playing Cow,” made the remarks on his WeChat channel.
    On Friday, the Global Times, a major state-backed tabloid, published an interview with the leader of an Afghan opposition party who said “the transitional government must include the Taliban.”
    The Taliban’s momentum as U.S. forces withdraw is awkward for China, which has blamed religious extremism as a destabilizing force in its western Xinjiang region and has long worried that Taliban-controlled territory would be used to harbour separatist forces.
    But China also hews to a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
    It has also drastically tightened security in Xinjiang, hardening its borders and putting what UN experts and rights groups estimate were at least a million ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims in detention centres that China describes as vocational training facilities to help stamp out Islamist extremism and separatism.
    Last month’s meeting in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin followed a similar visit by a Taliban delegation in 2019, but comes as the group is much more powerful, with Wang saying he hoped Afghanistan can have a “moderate Islamist policy
    “Isn’t this the same Taliban that blew up the Buddhas of Bamiyan in front of world media?    Shouldn’t we have a bottom line?” a Chinese netizen commented on the Twitter-like Weibo below a news clip showing Wang standing next to a Taliban official.
PRAGMATIC CHINA
    In dealing with the Taliban, an increasingly powerful China may be able to leverage the fact that, unlike Russia or the United States, it has never fought them.
    When the Taliban were last in power between 1996-2001, China had already suspended relations with Afghanistan, having pulled out its diplomats in 1993 following the outbreak of civil war.
    “This is us being pragmatic. How you want to rule your country is largely your own business, just don’t let that affect China,” said Lin Minwang, a South Asia expert with Shanghai’s Fudan University.
    “When a major Asian power like China shows it recognizes Taliban’s political legitimacy by meeting them so openly, it is giving the Taliban a big diplomatic win,” Lin said.
    State media published at least two analytical stories this week highlighting that Afghanistan had been the “graveyard of empires” and cautioning China not to be mired in the “Great Game,” reinforcing a message that China harbours neither the intentions of sending troops into Afghanistan nor the illusion that it can fill the power vacuum left by the United States.
    After their meeting with Wang, the Taliban said they hope China can play a bigger economic role.
    “This shows that China might have dangled promises of economic aid and investment to a post-war Afghanistan as a carrot to encourage both sides to stop fighting and reach a political settlement,” said Zhang Li, a professor of South Asian studies at Sichuan University.
    The risks to China of regional instability were highlighted last month when 13 people, including nine Chinese workers, were killed in Pakistan in a suicide bombing on a bus.    China is building massive infrastructure projects in Pakistan under its Belt & Road initiative.
    “China’s number one priority is for the fighting to stop, as chaos breeds religious extremism and terrorism,” Zhang said.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Tony Munroe and Kim Coghill)

8/14/2021 Taliban Capture Major City In Northern Afghanistan, Draw Closer To Kabul
Taliban forces patrol a street in Herat, Afghanistan August 14, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
    KABUL (Reuters) -Taliban forces captured a major city in northern Afghanistan on Saturday, sending Afghan forces fleeing, and drew closer to Kabul, where Western countries scrambled to evacuate their citizens from the capital.
    The fall of Mazar-i-Sharif, confirmed by a provincial council official, was another major capture for the hardline militants, who have swept through the country in recent weeks as U.S.-led forces withdrew.
    The United States and Britain are now rushing several thousand troops back into the country to evacuate citizens amid concern Kabul could soon be overrun.
    Security forces from Mazar-i-Sharif were escaping towards the border, Afzal Hadid, head of the Balkh provincial council, told Reuters.
    “The Taliban have taken control of Mazar-I-Sharif,” he said.    “All security forces have left Mazar city.”    The city appeared to have fallen largely without a fight, although sporadic clashes were continuing nearby, he said.
    Earlier in the day, the rebels seized a town south of Kabul that is one of the gateways to the capital.
    Many Afghans have fled from the provinces to the capital, driven out by fighting and fearful of a return to hardline     Islamist rule, as resistance from Afghan government forces crumbles.
    As night fell on Saturday, hundreds of people were huddled in tents or in the open in the city, by roadsides or in carparks, a resident said.    “You can see the fear in their faces,” he said.
    President Ashraf Ghani held urgent talks with local leaders and international partners but gave no sign of responding to a Taliban demand that he resign as a condition for any ceasefire.
    His focus was “on preventing further instability, violence, and displacement of my people,” he said in a brief televised address, adding that security and defence forces were being consolidated.
    Qatar, which has been hosting so-far inconclusive peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, said it had urged the insurgents to cease fire during a meeting with their representatives on Saturday.
    Earlier the Taliban, facing little resistance, took Pul-e-Alam, capital of Logar province and 70 km (40 miles) south of Kabul, according to a local provincial council member, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
    Police officials however denied reports that the Taliban had advanced closer to Kabul from Pul-e-Alam, which is a staging post for a potential assault https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/what-watch-taliban-inch-closer-kabul-2021-08-14 on the capital.     The town’s capture came a day after the insurgents took the country’s second- and third-biggest cities.    The Taliban says it is close to capturing Maidan Shahr, another town close to Kabul.
    An Afghan government official confirmed on Friday that Kandahar, the biggest city in the south and the heartland of the Taliban, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/kandahar-southern-hub-key-control-afghanistan-2021-08-13 was under the militants’ control as U.S.-led forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of war.
    The U.S.-led invasion, which ousted the Taliban from power, was launched after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.
    Herat in the west, near the border with Iran, also fell to the group.    The Taliban said on Saturday it had overrun the capitals of Kunar, Paktika and Paktia provinces on Afghanistan’s eastern border, although this could not be immediately confirmed.
EMBASSY EVACUATIONS
    American troops have begun flying in to Kabul to help in the evacuation of embassy personnel and other civilians, a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.
    The Pentagon has said two battalions of Marines and an infantry battalion will arrive in Kabul by Sunday evening, involving about 3,000 troops.    An infantry brigade combat team will move to Kuwait to act as a quick reaction force for security in Kabul if needed.
    The Czech Republic said it was evacuating its two diplomats on Saturday and Germany said it would deploy https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/germanys-laschet-wants-army-get-local-helpers-out-afghanistan-2021-08-14 troops to get its diplomats out as soon as possible.
    Some embassies have begun to burn sensitive material ahead of evacuating, diplomats said.    Residents said many people in the capital were stocking up on rice, other food and first aid.
    Visa applications at embassies were running in the tens of thousands, officials said, and Washington was asking countries to temporarily house Afghans https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/desperation-us-scours-countries-willing-house-afghan-refugees-2021-08-13 who worked for the U.S. government.
THOUSANDS WOUNDED
    Hospitals were struggling to cope with the numbers of people wounded in the fighting, with 17,000 treated in July and the first week of August in facilities supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the aid agency said.
    The explosion in fighting has raised fears of a refugee crisis and a rollback of gains in human rights, especially for women.    Canada said it would resettle more than 20,000 vulnerable Afghans https://www.reuters.com/world/canada-accept-20000-vulnerable-afghans-such-women-leaders-human-rights-workers-2021-08-13/#:~:text=REUTERS%2FStephane%20Mahe%20OTTAWA%2C%20Aug%2013%20%28Reuters%29%20-%20Canada,reprisals%2C%20Immigration%20Minister%20Marco%20Mendicino%20said%20on%20Friday including women leaders, human rights workers and reporters to protect them from Taliban reprisals.
    As well as Kabul, the government now still holds the city of Jalalabad, near the Pakistani border in the east.
    The speed of the Taliban’s gains has led to recriminations over the U.S. withdrawal, which was negotiated last year under the administration of President Joe Biden’s Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.
    Biden said this week he did not regret his decision to follow through with the withdrawal.    He noted Washington has spent more than $1 trillion and lost thousands of troops over two decades, and called on Afghanistan’s army and leaders to step up.
(Reporting by Kabul bureauWriting by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Alasdair PalEditing by William Mallard, Philippa Fletcher and Frances Kerry)

8/14/2021 Analysis-Taliban Gains Give Investors Cause For Concern Beyond Afghanistan by Marc Jones
A Taliban fighter looks on as he stands at the city of Ghazni, Afghanistan August 14, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    LONDON (Reuters) – The Taliban’s rapid advance towards Kabul is not only causing concern about Afghanistan’s future but also about the impact on other countries in the region and their economies.
    Iran and then Iraq lie to the west of Afghanistan.    Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are to the north.    But the immediate focus for financial markets and investors is Pakistan to the east
.
    Pakistan has a large public debt, a sizeable equity market and is dependent on a $6-billion IMF programme.    The prospect of years of violence and waves of refugees will add pressure to its fiscal repair plans.
    “It is a very troubling situation and unfortunately has set the region back many years,” said Shamaila Khan, head of emerging market debt at AllianceBernstein.    “I think the neighbouring countries will have to deal with an influx of refugees in the coming months/years.”
(Graphic: Taliban flashpoints in Afghanistan, https://graphics.reuters.com/AFGHANISTAN-CONFLICT/FLASHPOINTS/egvbkndqqpq/chart.png)
    The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR estimates 400,000 Afghans have fled their homes this year. Only a few hundred of these displaced persons are known to have fled Afghanistan but the UNHCR estimates there are 2.6 million Afghan refugees worldwide, with 1.4 million in Pakistan and 1 million in Iran.
    Pakistan’s bond prices have already fallen nearly 8% this year, though many financial analysts think this has probably had more to do with delays in it obtaining its latest tranche of IMF money than with the security situation.
    Nearly 10,000 Pakistani civilians were killed in attacks between 2010 and 2015 South Asia Terrorism Portal figures show.    Those numbers have fallen since then but there are concerns they will now rise again.
    “Another influx of refugees and the spillover of violent groups motivated to destabilise urban areas and infrastructure, particularly, on the western side of Pakistan… could set Pakistan’s recovery and reform story back,” said Hasnain Malik, an analyst at research firm Tellimer.
    He suggested risk might be reduced if the Taliban were included in the Afghan government.
(Graphic: Pakistan bond spreads rising faster than elsewhere, https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/xmvjoogedpr/Pasted%20image%201628898752162.png)
STRATEGICALLY IMPORTANT
    Pakistan’s IMF programme is its thirteenth in 30 years and is needed to help the government tackle a public debt of about 90% of GDP.
    Any Taliban attacks inside Pakistan could raise security concerns and make it harder for Islamabad to meet targets set by the IMF.    At the same time, some investors say, they could increase Pakistan’s strategic important for the West.
    “The IMF is carefully watching the fast-moving situation on the ground in Afghanistan,” a Fund spokesperson said on Friday, adding that it was premature to speculate about what impact the security situation could have on Pakistan.
    “If the Taliban takes control (of Afghanistan), Pakistan becomes even more strategically important to the U.S.,” said Kevin Daly, a portfolio manager at ABRDN.
    This, he said, could help keep IMF money flowing.
    Kay Van-Petersen, a global macro strategist at Saxo Capital Markets in Singapore, said the impact of the crisis in Afghanistan could ultimately spread far wider.
    Many Afghan refugees could seek refuge in Europe, he said, following an earlier influx of migrants, mostly fleeing war or persecution in Syria, other Middle Eastern countries and Afghanistan.
    If the refugees travel via Turkey, he said, they could help Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan make political or financial demands of the European Union.
    “Basically it’s a lever for Erdogan to pull with the European Union …’Pay us to take care of these refugees, or we are just going to let them through’,” he said.
    This could weigh on the euro and lift Turkey’s lira, he said.
    Emerging market watcher Tim Ash at BlueBay Asset Management said that the Taliban’s advances as NATO troops withdrew had damaged U.S. credibility and fed into the growing rivalry between Washington and China.
    “Comparisons with Vietnam abound,” Ash said, recalling the evacuation of the last Americans and many South Vietnamese via from the roof of the U.S. embassy as Saigon fell in 1975.    “With that feeling of a Saigon moment and the last U.S. helicopter out.”
(Graphic: Pakistan debt to GDP, https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/gdpzyyrbqvw/Pasted%20image%201628886054238.png)
(Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook in Singapore, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

8/14/2021 Factbox-What To Watch For As The Taliban Inch Closer To Kabul
FILE PHOTO: A general view of green zone in Kabul, Afghanistan March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
    (Reuters) – The insurgent Taliban have captured Afghanistan’s second-and third-largest cities, and a town just south of Kabul, and now have their sights set on the capital.
    Here are some facts about the city and previous assaults:
CURRENT SITUATION
– U.S. officials have said the insurgents could make a move within days on the city, whose population of 5 million people has been swollen with thousands fleeing other parts of the country.    Thousands of troops from the United States and Britain are flying in to secure the airport and their embassies as foreign missions start evacuating personnel.
– The Afghan army has vowed to defend the capital.
– Kabul covers an area of about 1,000 square km (400 sq miles) and is ringed by mountains.    There are four main roads into the city: from Maidan Shahr in the southwest, Pul-e-Alam in the south, Surobi in the east and Bagram in the north.
– The Taliban took Pul-e-Alam on Saturday without much resistance, a local provincial council member said.
– The Taliban say they are close to capturing Maidan Shahr.
– They have already taken Ghazni, down the road from Maidan Shahr, and have a strong presence in surrounding areas.    They are comparatively less strong in the east and north, although the situation could change rapidly.
PAST ASSAULTS ON KABUL
– In 1996, the Taliban conquered Kabul from the Mujahedin alliance with an assault through Surobi in the east.    At the time the Taliban had taken Jalalabad, an eastern city near the border with Pakistan and mounted the assault from there.    After winning a battle at Surobi, the Taliban marched unchecked into Kabul.    For now, Jalalabad is still with Afghan government forces.
– In 2001, U.S.-backed forces re-took Kabul with an attack from the north, entering the city via Bagram after a barrage of air strikes killed hundreds of entrenched Taliban fighters who had formed a defensive ring.
– Bagram airbase, 64 km (40 miles) north of Kabul, is the country’s most significant military asset and was the seat of the U.S. military during the 20-year-long Afghan war before they vacated it just a month ago.    The base is now in the hands of the Afghan military.
POWER AND TALKS
– The Taliban have no air power and have used artillery and rockets followed by ground assaults while capturing other cities and provincial capitals in recent weeks.
– A bloody battle for Kabul could be avoided if a political solution is struck between the government and the Taliban.
– The insurgents have insisted they will not negotiate with a government headed by President Ashraf Ghani
– Ghani has shown no inclination to move.    On Saturday, he said he was in urgent talks with local leaders and international partners and that “re-integration of the security and defence forces is our priority.”
(Reporting by Kabul bureau and James Mackenzie; Additional reporting by Gibran Peshimam; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Frances Kerry)

8/14/2021 Taliban Seize Afghanistan’s 2nd-Largest City, Continue To Put Pressure On Capital Of Kabul by OAN Newsroom
Taliban fighters patrol inside the city of Ghazni, southwest of Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Gulabuddin Amiri)
    The Taliban has taken control over the second-largest city in Afghanistan amid a push to retake the entire country.
    Reports on Friday detailed the seizure of Kandahar, saying the Taliban had already taken 12 of the country’s 34 provincial capitals.
    Residents said they are shocked at how quickly the city fell, stating they were sold out by the government who put up no resistance.
    The Taliban has also taken the city of Ghazni, cutting off a highway linking the capital of Kabul to the country’s southern provinces.    U.S. military intelligence said Kabul could come under insurgent pressure within a month, with the Taliban taking full control of Afghanistan in a few months.
    In the meantime, the U.S. has announced a plan to send 5,000 troops to help evacuate personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
Map shows areas controlled by Taliban. (AP)

8/15/2021 Taliban At Door Of Afghan Capital After Eastern City Falls, US Starts Evacuating Embassy
Taliban forces patrol a street in Herat, Afghanistan August 14, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    KABUL (Reuters) -Taliban insurgents captured the key eastern Afghanistan city of Jalalabad without a fight on Sunday, leaving the territory controlled by the crumbling government to little more than the capital Kabul.
    The United States started evacuating its diplomats and was sending more troops to help secure Kabul airport and the embassy after the Taliban’s lightning advances brought the Islamist group to the door of the capital in a matter of days.
    Just last week, a U.S. intelligence estimate https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-fighters-capture-eighth-provincial-capital-six-days-2021-08-11 said Kabul could hold out for at least three months.
    “We have a small batch of people leaving now as we speak, a majority of the staff are ready to leave,” a U.S. official told Reuters on Sunday.    “The embassy continues to function.”
    The fall of Jalalabad gives the insurgents control of a road leading to the Pakistan city of Peshawar, one of the main highways into landlocked Afghanistan.
    It followed the Taliban’s seizure of the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif late on Saturday, also with little fighting.
    “There are no clashes taking place right now in Jalalabad because the governor has surrendered to the Taliban,” a Jalalabad-based Afghan official told Reuters. “Allowing passage to the Taliban was the only way to save civilian lives.”
    A second security official in the city said the Taliban had agreed to give safe passage to government officials and security forces while they leave Jalalabad.    The decision to surrender was taken to avoid “casualties and destruction,” the official said.
    After U.S.-led forces withdrew the bulk of the their remaining troops in the last month, the Taliban campaign accelerated as the Afghan military’s defences appeared to collapse https://www.reuters.com/article/afghanistan-conflict-failure/taliban-surge-exposes-failure-of-us-efforts-to-build-afghan-army-idUSL8N2PL043.
    President Joe Biden on Saturday authorised https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-approves-additional-forces-help-drawdown-personnel-kabul-2021-08-14 the deployment of 5,000 U.S. troops to help evacuate citizens and ensure an “orderly and safe” drawdown of military personnel.    A U.S. defence official said that included 1,000 newly approved troops from the 82nd Airborne Division.
    Taliban fighters entered Mazar-i-Sharif virtually unopposed as security forces escaped up the highway to Uzbekistan, about 80 km (50 miles) to the north, provincial officials said.    Unverified video on social media showed Afghan army vehicles and men in uniforms crowding the iron bridge between the Afghan town of Hairatan and Uzbekistan.
    Two influential militia leaders supporting the government – Atta Mohammad Noor and Abdul Rashid Dostum – also fled https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-militia-leaders-atta-noor-dostum-escape-conspiracy-2021-08-14.    Noor said on social media that the Taliban had been handed control of Balkh province, where Mazar-i-Sharif is located, due to a “conspiracy.”
POPULARLY ACCEPTED
    In a statement late on Saturday, the Taliban said its rapid gains showed it was popularly accepted by the Afghan people and reassured both Afghans and foreigners that they would be safe.
    The Islamic Emirate, as the Taliban calls itself, “will, as always, protect their life, property and honour, and create a peaceful and secure environment for its beloved nation,” it said, adding that diplomats and aid workers would also face no problems.
    As the capital looked increasingly isolated as a government stronghold, Afghans streamed into Kabul, fleeing the provinces and fearing a return to hardline Islamist rule https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-women-bankers-forced-roles-taliban-takes-control-2021-08-13.
    Early on Sunday, refugees from Taliban-controlled provinces were seen unloading belongings from taxis and families stood outside embassy gates, while the city’s downtown was packed with people stocking up on supplies.
    Hundreds of people slept huddled in tents or in the open in the city, by roadsides or in car parks, a resident said on Saturday night.    “You can see the fear in their faces,” he said.
    Western governments were accelerating plans to evacuate their embassy staff, citizens and Afghans who had worked for them.    The British ambassador will leave the country by Sunday evening, UK media reported.
    An Iranian official said the embassy in Kabul would be evacuated by Monday.
    The State Department was contacting advocates to request names of Afghans in Kabul who have worked with the Americans and needed to be evacuated, two sources familiar with the matter said.    The list of names could include journalists and human rights activists.
    Biden said his administration had told Taliban officials in talks in Qatar that any action that put U.S. personnel at risk “will be met with a swift and strong U.S. military response.”
CLOSING IN ON KABUL
    The Taliban, facing little resistance, took Pul-e-Alam, capital of Logar province and 70 km (40 miles) south of Kabul on Saturday, said a local provincial council member, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
    Police officials, however, denied reports that the Taliban had advanced closer to Kabul from Pul-e-Alam, which is a staging post for a potential assault https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/what-watch-taliban-inch-closer-kabul-2021-08-14 on the capital.
    Kandahar, the biggest city in the south and the heartland of the Taliban, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/kandahar-southern-hub-key-control-afghanistan-2021-08-13 fell to the militants’ control on Friday.    Herat, the biggest city in the west and near the border with Iran, also fell on Friday.
    Biden has faced rising domestic criticism as the Taliban have taken city after city far more quickly than predicted.    The president has stuck to a plan, initiated by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, to end the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan by Aug. 31.
    Biden said it is up to the Afghan military to hold its own territory.    “An endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me,” Biden said on Saturday.
    Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday held talks with local leaders and international partners, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.    Ghani and Blinken discussed urgent efforts to reduce violence in Afghanistan, the State Department said.
    Qatar, which has been hosting so-far inconclusive peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, said it had urged the insurgents to cease fire.    Ghani has given no sign of responding to a Taliban demand that he resign as a condition for any ceasefire.
(Reporting by Kabul and Washington bureaus, Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Alasdair Pal, Cynthia Osterman; Editing by William Mallard)

8/15/2021 Taliban Surge Exposes Failure Of U.S. Efforts To Build Afghan Army by Jonathan Landay and Idrees Ali
FILE PHOTO: Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers keep watch at a checkpoint in the
Guzara district of Herat province, Afghanistan July 9, 2021. REUTERS/Jalil Ahmad/File Photo
    KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The rout of Afghan forces as Taliban fighters take one provincial city after another provides a stark answer to anyone wondering about the success of two decades of U.S.-led efforts to build a local army.br>     Despite about $89 billion budgeted for training the Afghan army, it took the Taliban little more than a month to brush it aside. Over the last few days, the insurgents have seized every major city in Afghanistan – from Kandahar in the south to Mazar-i-Sharif in the north, Herat in the west to Jalalabad in the east.
    They now stand almost at the gates of Kabul.
    Afghan President Ashraf Ghani praised Afghan security and defense forces in a brief televised address on Saturday, saying they had “a strong spirit to defend their people and country.”
    But still, there has been shock at the lack of resistance put up by many Afghan army units.    Some abandoned their posts and others reached agreements with the Taliban to stop fighting and hand over their weapons and equipment.
    In some instances, U.S. officials say, provincial governors asked security forces to surrender or escape, perhaps in order to avoid further bloodshed because they believed defeat was unavoidable.
    Where deals were not cut, Afghan forces still appear to have melted away.
    “Once morale goes, it spreads very quickly, and that is at least partly to blame,” a U.S. official said.
    American officers have long worried that rampant corruption, well documented in parts of Afghanistan’s military and political leadership, would undermine the resolve of badly paid, ill-fed and erratically supplied front-line soldiers – some of whom have been left for months or even years on end in isolated outposts, where they could be picked off by the Taliban.
    Over many years, hundreds of Afghan soldiers were killed each month. But the army fought on, without any of the airborne evacuation of casualties and expert surgical care standard in Western armies, as long as international backing was there.    Once that went, their resolve evaporated.
    “Would you give your life for leaders who don’t pay you on time and are more interested in their own future?” a second U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, asked.
    It is an analysis shared by some in the Taliban movement itself.
    One Taliban commander in the central province of Ghazni said the government forces’ collapse started as soon as U.S. forces started withdrawing “as they didn’t have any ideology except fleecing the Americans.”
    “The only reason for this unexpected fall of provinces was our commitment and the withdrawal of U.S. troops,” he said.
‘REALISTIC’
    The defeat highlights the failure of the United States to create a fighting force in the image of its own highly professional military with a motivated, well-trained leadership, high-tech weaponry and seamless logistical support.
    On paper, Afghan security forces numbered around 300,000 soldiers.    In reality, the numbers were never that high.
    Dependent on a small number of elite Special Forces units that were shunted from province to province as more cities fell to the Taliban, the already high rate of desertion in the regular army soared.
    As government forces started to fall apart, hastily recruited local militias, loyal to prominent regional leaders such as Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum in the northern province of Faryab or Ismail Khan in Herat, also rushed in to fight.
    Western countries had long been wary of such militias. Though more in line with the realities of traditional Afghan politics where personal, local or ethnic ties outweigh loyalty to the state, they were also open to corruption and abuse and ultimately proved no more effective than conventional forces.
    Dostum fled to Uzbekistan as the Taliban advanced and Khan surrendered to the insurgents.
    But whether it was ever a realistic goal to create a Western-style army in one of the world’s poorest countries, with a literacy rate of 40% and a social and political culture far from the developed sense of nationhood underpinning the U.S. military, is an open question.
    U.S. army trainers who worked with Afghan forces struggled to teach the basic lesson of military organization that supplies, maintaining equipment and ensuring units get proper support are key to battlefield success.
    Jonathan Schroden, an expert at the CNA policy institute, who served as an advisor to U.S. central command CENTCOM and the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan, said the Afghan army functioned as much as a “jobs program” as a fighting force “because it’s the source of a paycheck in a country where paychecks are hard to come by.”
    But the chronic failure of logistical, hardware and manpower support to many units, meant that “even if they want to fight, they run out of the ability to fight in relatively short order.”
    Afghan forces have been forced repeatedly to give up after pleas for supplies and reinforcements went unanswered, either because of incompetence or the simple incapacity of the system to deliver.
    Even the elite Special Forces units that have borne the brunt of the fighting in recent years have suffered.    Last month, at least a dozen commandos were executed by Taliban fighters in the northern province of Faryab after running out of ammunition and being forced to surrender.
    Richard Armitage, the former U.S. diplomat who organized a flotilla of South Vietnamese Navy ships to carry some 30,000 refugees out of Saigon before it fell in April 1975, has watched as the threat of a similar disaster unfolds in Kabul.
    As deputy Secretary of State under former President George W. Bush when the United States invaded in 2001, he was deeply involved in Afghanistan diplomacy.    He said the Afghan army’s collapse pointed to the wider failures of two decades of international efforts.
    “I hear people expressing frustration in the press that the Afghan army can’t fight a long fight,” he said.    “I can assure you the Afghan army has fought, can fight and if it’s got a trigger and something comes out of the barrel, they can use it.”
    “The question is, is this government worth fighting for?” he said.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau, Idrees Ali and Jonathan Landay in Washington, Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad, Rupam Jain in Mumbai, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

8/15/2021 Factbox-What To Watch For As The Taliban Encircle Kabul
FILE PHOTO: A general view of green zone in Kabul, Afghanistan March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
    (Reuters) – The insurgent Taliban have captured almost all of Afghanistan, leaving the government in control of little more than the capital Kabul and its immediate surroundings.
    Here are some facts about the city and previous assaults:
CURRENT SITUATION
– The city’s population of 5 million people has been swollen with thousands fleeing other parts of the country.    Thousands of troops from the United States and Britain are flying in to secure the airport and their embassies as foreign missions start evacuating personnel.
– The Afghan army has vowed to defend the capital.
– Kabul covers an area of about 1,000 square km (400 sq miles) and is ringed by mountains.    There are four main roads into the city: from Maidan Shahr in the southwest, Pul-e-Alam in the south, Surobi in the east and Bagram in the north.
– The Taliban took Pul-e-Alam on Saturday without much resistance, a local provincial council member said.
– The Taliban say they are close to capturing Maidan Shahr.
– They have already taken Ghazni, down the road from Maidan Shahr, and have a strong presence in surrounding areas.
– On Sunday, the Taliban took the eastern city of Jalalabad without a fight.    The main highway from there to Kabul passes through Surobi.
PAST ASSAULTS ON KABUL
– In 1996, the Taliban conquered Kabul from the Mujahedin alliance with an assault through Surobi.    After winning a battle at Surobi, the Taliban marched unchecked into Kabul.
– In 2001, U.S.-backed forces re-took Kabul with an attack from the north, entering the city via Bagram after a barrage of air strikes killed hundreds of entrenched Taliban fighters who had formed a defensive ring.
– Bagram airbase, 64 km (40 miles) north of Kabul, is the country’s most significant military asset and was the seat of the U.S. military during the 20-year-long Afghan war before they vacated it just a month ago.    The base is now in the hands of the Afghan military.
POWER AND TALKS
– The Taliban have no air power and have used artillery and rockets followed by ground assaults while capturing several cities and provincial capitals in recent weeks.    Some areas have fallen without a fight as provincial leaders sought to avoid bloodshed and surrendered.
– A bloody battle for Kabul could be avoided if a political solution is struck between the government and the Taliban.
– The insurgents have insisted they will not negotiate with a government headed by President Ashraf Ghani.
– Ghani has shown no inclination to move. On Saturday, he said he was in urgent talks with local leaders and international partners and that “re-integration of the security and defence forces is our priority.”
(Reporting by Kabul bureau and James Mackenzie; Additional reporting by Gibran Peshimam; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Kim Coghill)

8/15/2021 The Taliban’s Rapid Advance Across Afghanistan
A Taliban fighter looks on as he stands at the city of Ghazni, Afghanistan August 14, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Taliban insurgents now control all of Afghanistan’s major cities apart from Kabul, after making rapid advances against local forces who are largely fending for themselves as foreign troops withdraw.
    Following are some of the major milestones in the Islamist militant movement’s advance in recent months.    Other deadly attacks occurred, some blamed on the Taliban and some on other jihadist groups including an offshoot of Islamic State.
    Talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government on a political understanding that could lead to a peace deal, backed by the United States and its allies, have failed to make significant progress.
– April 14 – President Joe Biden announces U.S. troops will withdraw from Afghanistan starting on May 1 and ending on Sept. 11, bringing America’s longest war to a close.    It was an extension of the previous withdrawal deadline of May 1 agreed between the United States and the Taliban.
– May 4 – Taliban fighters launch a major offensive on Afghan forces in southern Helmand province.    They also attack in at least six other provinces.
– May 11 – The Taliban capture Nerkh district just outside the capital Kabul as violence intensifies across the country.
– June 7 – Senior government officials say more than 150 Afghan soldiers are killed in 24 hours as fighting worsens.    They add that fighting is raging in 26 of the country’s 34 provinces.
– June 22 – Taliban fighters launch a series of attacks in the north of the country, far from their traditional strongholds in the south.    The UN envoy for Afghanistan says they have taken more than 50 of 370 districts.
– July 2 – American troops quietly pull out of their main military base in Afghanistan – Bagram Air Base, an hour’s drive from Kabul.    It effectively ends U.S. involvement in the war.
– July 5 – The Taliban say they could present a written peace proposal to the Afghan government as soon as August.
– July 21 – Taliban insurgents control about a half of the country’s districts, according to the senior U.S. general, underlining the scale and speed of their advance.
– July 25 – The United States vows to continue to support Afghan troops “in the coming weeks” with intensified airstrikes to help them counter Taliban attacks.
– July 26 – The United Nations says nearly 2,400 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in May and June in escalating violence, the highest number for those months since records started in 2009.
– Aug. 6 – Zaranj in the south of the country becomes the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban in years.    Many more are to follow in the ensuing days, including the prized city of Kunduz in the north.
– Aug. 13 – Four more provincial capitals fall in a day, including Kandahar, the country’s second city and spiritual home of the Taliban.    In the west, another key city, Herat, is overrun and veteran commander Mohammad Ismail Khan, one of the leading fighters against the Taliban, is captured.
– Aug. 14 – The Taliban take the major northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and, with little resistance, Pul-e-Alam, capital of Logar province just 70 km (40 miles) south of Kabul.    The United States sends more troops to help evacuate its civilians from Kabul as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says he is consulting with local and international partners on next steps.
– Aug. 15 – The Taliban take the key eastern city of Jalalabad without a fight, effectively surrounding Kabul.
(Compiled by Kabul bureau; Editing by Mike Collett-White and William Mallard)

8/15/2021 Taliban Enter Afghan Capital, President And Diplomats Flee
An Afghan soldier stands in a military vehicle on a street in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    KABUL (Reuters) -Taliban insurgents entered Kabul and President Ashraf Ghani left Afghanistan on Sunday, bringing the Islamist militants close to taking over the country two decades after they were overthrown by a U.S.-led invasion.
    It was not yet clear where Ghani was headed or how exactly power would be transferred following the Taliban’s lightning sweep https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/talibans-rapid-advance-across-afghanistan-2021-08-10 in recent weeks across Afghanistan.    Their advance accelerated as U.S. and other foreign troops withdrew in line with President Joe Biden’s desire to end America’s longest war, launched in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
    By evening, the Taliban said they had taken control of most of the districts around the outskirts of the capital.
    The U.S. Embassy said there were reports the capital’s airport, where diplomats, officials and other Afghans had fled, had come under fire.
    “The security situation in Kabul is changing quickly including at the airport.    There are reports of the airport taking fire; therefore we are instructing U.S. citizens to shelter in place,” an embassy security alert said.
    Hundreds of Afghans, some of them government ministers and government employees and also other civilians including many women and children, crowded in the terminal desperately waiting for flights out.
    “The airport is out of control… the (Afghan) government just sold us out,” said an official at the scene who declined to be named for security reasons.
    American diplomats were flown from their embassy by helicopter to the airport as Afghan forces https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-surge-exposes-failure-us-efforts-build-afghan-army-2021-08-15, trained for years and equipped by the United States and others for billions of dollars, melted away.
    Ghani’s destination was uncertain: a senior Interior Ministry official said he had left for Tajikistan, while a Foreign Ministry official said his location was unknown and the Taliban said it was checking his whereabouts.
    Some local social media users branded him a “coward” for leaving them in chaos.
    Taliban fighers reached Kabul “from all sides,” the senior Interior Ministry official told Reuters and there were some reports of sporadic gunfire around the city.
    A Kabul hospital said more than 40 people wounded in clashes on the outskirts were being treated, but there did not appear to be major fighting.
    Insurgents entered the presidential palace and took control of it, two senior Taliban commanders in Kabul said.    The Afghan government did not confirm this.
    During Sunday, the government’s acting interior minister, Abdul Sattar Mirzakawal, said power would be handed over to a transitional administration.    He tweeted: “There won’t be an attack on the city, it is agreed that there will be a peaceful handover
    However, two Taliban https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-key-facts-islamic-militant-group-2021-08-15 officials told Reuters there would be no transitional government.    The Taliban said earlier it was waiting for Ghani’s Western-backed government to surrender peacefully.
SHARIA
    Many Afghans fear the Taliban will return to past harsh practices in their imposition of sharia, or Islamic religious law.    During their 1996-2001 rule, women could not work and punishments such as stoning, whipping and hanging were administered.
    The militants sought to project a more moderate face https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-seek-present-moderate-face-they-take-control-afghanistan-2021-08-15, promising to respect women’s rights and protect both foreigners and Afghans.
    “We assure the people, particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told the BBC, saying a transfer of power was expected in days.
    Many of Kabul’s streets were choked by cars and people either trying to rush home or reach the airport, residents said.     “Some people have left their keys in the car and have started walking to the airport,” one resident told Reuters. Another said: “People are all going home in fear of fighting.”
    Early on Sunday, refugees from Taliban-controlled provinces were seen unloading belongings from taxis and families stood outside embassy gates, while the city’s downtown was packed with people stocking up on supplies.
    U.S. officials said diplomats were being ferried by helicopters to the airport from its embassy in the fortified Wazir Akbar Khan district. A NATO official said several European Union staff had moved to a safer location in Kabul.
    U.S. troops were still arriving at the airport, amid concern heavily armed Afghan security contractors could “mutiny” because they have not been assured Washington is committed to evacuating them, a person familiar with the issue said.
    European nations, including France, Germany and the Netherlands, also said they were moving their diplomats to the airport and working to get citizens as well as some Afghan employees out of the country.
    NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he had discussed the rapidly evolving situation with Britain, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands.
AMERICAN EVACUATION
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier in Washington that the embassy was being moved to the airport and has a list of people to get out of harm’s way.
    Asked if images of helicopters ferrying personnel were evocative of the United States’ departure from Vietnam in 1975, Blinken told ABC news: “Let’s take a step back.    This is manifestly not Saigon.”
    A NATO official said the alliance was helping to secure the airport and that a political solution was “now more urgent than ever.”
    Russia said it saw no need to evacuate its embassy for the time being.
    Earlier on Sunday, the insurgents captured the eastern city of Jalalabad without a fight, giving them control of one of the main highways into landlocked Afghanistan.    They also took over the nearby Torkham border post with Pakistan, leaving Kabul airport the only way out of Afghanistan still in government hands.
    “Allowing passage to the Taliban was the only way to save civilian lives,” a Jalalabad-based Afghan official told Reuters.
    A video clip distributed by the Taliban showed people cheering and shouting “Allahu Akbar” – God is greatest – as a convoy of pickup trucks entered Jalalabad with fighters brandishing machine guns and the white Taliban flag.
    Iran said it had set up camps along the Afghan border to provide temporary refuge to Afghans fleeing their country.
    Biden on Saturday authorised https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-approves-additional-forces-help-drawdown-personnel-kabul-2021-08-14 the deployment of 5,000 U.S. troops to help evacuate citizens and ensure an “orderly and safe” drawdown of military personnel.
    Biden said his administration had told Taliban officials in talks in Qatar that any action that put U.S. personnel at risk “will be met with a swift and strong U.S. military response.”
    He has faced rising domestic criticism after sticking to a plan, initiated by his Republican predecessor Donald Trump, to end the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan by Aug. 31.
    “An endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me,” Biden said on Saturday.
(Reporting by Kabul and Washington bureausWriting by Andrew Cawthorne and Philippa FletcherEditing by William Mallard, Andrew Cawthorne and Frances Kerry)

8/15/2021 Ashraf Ghani: Departing Afghan President Who Failed To Make Peace With Taliban
FILE PHOTO: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks at the parliament in Kabul, Afghanistan August 2, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    KABUL (Reuters) – Ashraf Ghani, who left Afghanistan on Sunday following the Taliban’s rapid advance through the country and into Kabul, was twice elected Afghan president, as well as being one of the country’s best-known academics.
    President Ghani left the country hours after the Taliban entered the capital, government officials said.    It was not yet clear where he was headed, or how power would be transferred.
    First elected president in 2014, Ghani took over from Hamid Karzai, who led Afghanistan after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, and oversaw the conclusion of the U.S. combat mission, the near-complete withdrawal of foreign forces from the country, as well as a fractious peace process with the insurgent Taliban.
    He made the effort to end decades of war his top priority, despite continuing attacks on his government and security forces by the Taliban, and began peace talks with the insurgents in the Qatari capital of Doha in 2020.
    However, Ghani, known for his quick temper alongside his deep thinking, was never accepted by the Taliban and peace talks made little headway.
    Foreign governments were frustrated by the slow progress of talks, and calls grew for an interim government to replace his administration.
    During his presidency, he managed to appoint a new generation of young, educated Afghans into leadership positions at a time the country’s power corridors were occupied by a handful of elite figures and patronage networks.
    He promised to fight rampant corruption, fix a crippled economy and transform the country into a regional trade hub between Central and South Asia – but was unable to deliver on most of these promises.
LONG ROAD
    A U.S.-trained anthropologist, Ghani holds a doctorate from New York City’s Columbia University and was named one of the “World’s Top 100 Global Thinkers” by Foreign Policy magazine in 2010.
    His road to the presidency was hard-fought.
    He spent almost a quarter of century outside Afghanistan during the tumultuous decades of Soviet rule, civil war and the Taliban years in power.
    During that period, he worked as an academic in the United States and later with the World Bank and the United Nations across East and South Asia.
    Within months of the events of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, he resigned from his international posts and returned to Kabul to become a senior advisor to newly-appointed President Karzai.
    He served as Afghan finance minister in 2002, but fell out with Karzai, and, in 2004, was appointed chancellor of Kabul University, where he was seen as an effective reformer as well as forming a Washington-based thinktank that worked on policies to empower some of the world’s most impoverished people.
    In 2009, Ghani, who belongs to Afghanistan’s majority Pashtun ethnicity like Karzai, ran for president but came in fourth, securing about 4% of the national vote.
    He continued to work in important roles in Afghanistan, including as Afghanistan’s “transition czar,” chairing a body overseeing security transition from NATO to Afghans.
    With Karzai barred by the Afghan constitution from standing for a third time, Ghani mounted a successful second campaign in 2014.    He was re-elected in 2019.
    His relationship with Washington and other Western capitals was uneasy.
    He was a vocal critic of what he termed wasted international aid in Afghanistan and often did not see eye to eye with the West’s Afghan strategy, particularly as they looked to fast-track a slow and painful peace process with the Taliban.
    In an interview with the BBC, Ghani said: “the future will be determined by the people of Afghanistan, not by somebody sitting behind the desk, dreaming.”
(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Editing by Gibran Peshimam, Alasdair Pal, Philippa Fletcher and Susan Fenton)

8/15/2021 Afghan Pres Ghani Leaves For Tajikistan – Interior Ministry Official
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks at the parliament in Kabul, Afghanistan August 2, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani has left the capital Kabul for Tajikistan, a senior Afghan Interior Ministry official said on Sunday.
    Asked for comment, the president’s office said it “cannot say anything about Ashraf Ghani’s movement for security reasons
    A representative of the Taliban, which entered the capital Kabul earlier on Sunday, said the group was checking on Ghani’s whereabouts.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau, Writing by Timothy Heritage, Editing by Hugh Lawson)

8/15/2021 Factbox: Blood And Billions Of Dollars: NATO’s Long War In Afghanistan
Taliban militants waving a Taliban flag on the back of a pickup truck drive past a crowded street at Pashtunistan Square area in
Jalalabad, Afghanistan in this still image taken from social media video uploaded on August 15, 2021. Social media website/via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Taliban fighters entered Kabul on Sunday and an official said President Ashraf Ghani left the Afghan capital for Tajikistan, capping the militants’ lightning push for power.
    Here are some facts about NATO’s military involvement in support of the United States:
* On Sept. 12, 2001, NATO allies invoked their mutual defence clause for the first, and so far only time in the Western alliance’s seven-decade history, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by al Qaeda militants.
* After U.S.-led forces defeated Taliban leaders harbouring al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, the architect of the Sept. 11 attacks, NATO took command of an international coalition in 2003.    It aimed to restore peace to Afghanistan and build up Afghan security forces.    In 2015, the mission, known as ISAF, was replaced by a training operation, Resolute Support.    As of April, it numbered around 10,000 troops from 36 nations.
* The international military coalition has suffered over 3,500 fatalities since 2001, among them around 2,400 Americans, according to U.S. Congress data.    More than 20,000 U.S. troops were wounded in action.    The website http://www.icasulaties.org puts the total number of fatalities at 3,577.    Tens of thousands of Afghan police and soldiers were killed.
* NATO’s troop presence peaked in 2011, with more than 130,000 foreign troops from 51 allied and partner countries in Afghanistan.    Since 2003, NATO has trained hundreds of thousands of Afghan troops and police officers, including establishing an Afghan air force.
* Germany deployed the second largest military contingent in Afghanistan after the United States.    In the northern Afghan province of Kunduz, a stronghold of the Taliban, Germany lost more of its troops in combat there than anywhere else in the world since the end of World War Two.
* The United States alone spent more than $140 billion in overall aid for Afghanistan since 2002, according to U.S. Congress data.    The Pentagon estimated the cost of U.S. combat operations, including support for the Afghan forces, at more than $820 billion for the same period.
* Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world.    It ranks 169 of 189 countries in the Human Development Index published by the United Nations Development Programme, with an average life expectancy of 64 years and a gross national income per capita of $2,200.
    Sources: NATO, U.S. Congressional Research Service, U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), United Nations Development Programme, www.icasualties.org
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Robin Emmott; Editing by Alistair Bell and Daniel Walis)

8/15/2021 Afghan Women Forced From Banking Jobs As Taliban Take Control by Rupam Jain
FILE PHOTO: Afghan women wait to receive free wheat donated by the Afghan government during a quarantine, amid concerns
about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Kabul, Afghanistan April 21, 2020. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
    (Reuters) -In early July, as Taliban insurgents were seizing territory from government forces across Afghanistan, fighters from the group walked into the offices of Azizi Bank in the southern city of Kandahar and ordered nine women working there to leave.
    The gunmen escorted them to their homes and told them not to return to their jobs. Instead, they explained that male relatives could take their place, according to three of the women involved and the bank’s manager.
    “It’s really strange to not be allowed to get to work, but now this is what it is,” Noor Khatera, a 43-year-old woman who had worked in the accounts department of the bank told Reuters.
    “I taught myself English and even learned how to operate a computer, but now I will have to look for a place where I can just work with more women around.”
    The incident is an early sign that some of the rights won by Afghan women over the 20 years since the hardline Islamist militant movement was toppled could be reversed.
    The Taliban have steadily overrun the country since U.S. troops began withdrawing in May and the insurgents entered the capital on Sunday.
    When they last ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women could not work, girls were not allowed to attend school and women had to cover their face and be accompanied by a male relative if they wanted to venture out of their homes.
    Women who broke the rules sometimes suffered humiliation and public beatings by the Taliban’s religious police under the group’s strict interpretation of Islamic law.
    During hitherto fruitless talks over a political settlement in recent years, Taliban leaders made assurances to the West that women would enjoy equal rights in accordance with what was granted by Islam, including the ability to work and be educated.
‘THE WORLD SHOULD HELP US’
    Two days after the episode at Azizi Bank, a similar scene played out at a branch of another Afghan lender, Bank Milli, in the western city of Herat, according to two female cashiers who witnessed it.
    Three Taliban fighters carrying guns entered the branch, admonishing female employees for showing their faces in public.    Women there quit, sending male relatives in their place.
    Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid did not respond to a request for comment about the two incidents.    Spokespeople for the two banks did not respond to requests for comment.
    On the broader question of whether women would be allowed to work in banks in areas it controls, Mujahid added that no decision had yet been made.
    “After the establishment of the Islamic system, it will be decided according to the law, and God willing, there will be no problems,” he said.
    The United States and others Western powers fear https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-would-roll-back-afghan-womens-rights-us-intelligence-report-2021-05-04 that the Taliban will roll back many of the freedoms won by women.
    Gains made in women’s right have been touted as one of the biggest accomplishments during the 20 years that U.S.-led forces have been deployed in Afghanistan, although they have mostly been made in urban centres.
    Afghan women working in fields including journalism, healthcare and law enforcement have been killed in a wave of attacks since peace talks began last year between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government.
    The government blames most targeted killings on the Taliban, who deny carrying out assassinations.
    “The Taliban will regress freedom at all levels and that is what we are fighting against,” an Afghan government spokesperson said.
    “Women and children are suffering the most and our forces are trying to save democracy.    The world should understand and help us.”
    Scores of educated Afghan women took to social media to appeal for help and express their frustration.
    “With every city collapsing, human bodies collapse, dreams collapse, history and future collapse, art and culture collapse, life and beauty collapse, our world collapses,” Rada Akbar wrote on Twitter.    “Someone please stop this.”
(Reporting by Rupam Jain in Mumbai; Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Mike Collett-White and Philippa Fletcher)

8/15/2021 Reactions As The Taliban Entered Kabul
A general view of the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Following are international reactions after the Taliban entered Kabul on Sunday having taken control of much of the rest of Afghanistan:
PAKISTANI FOREIGN OFFICE SPOKESMAN ZAHID HAFEEZ CHAUDHRY
    “We’re concerned about the increasingly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan…We have not taken any decision to close our embassy,” he told Geo News TV
AUSTRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ALEXANDER SCHALLENBERG
    “Conflict and instability in the region will sooner or later spill over to Europe and thus to Austria,” Austria’s APA news agency quoted him as saying in announcing an aid conference to support Afghanistan’s central Asian neighbours.
EU COMMISSIONER MARGARITIS SCHINAS
    “The clock has run out on how long we can wait to adopt the complete overhaul of Europe’s migration and asylum rules we need,” Schinas said in a tweet, citing his comments in Italian paper La Stampa.
U.S. PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN, IN A STATEMENT ON SATURDAY BEFORE THE TALIBAN ENTERED KABUL
    “One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country. And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me.”
(Reporting by Reuters bureaux)

8/15/2021 U.S. Embassy In Kabul Suspends All Operations, Urges Americans In Afghanistan To Shelter In Place by OAN Newsroom
The closed entrance gate of the US embassy is pictured after the US evacuated its personnel
in Kabul on August 15, 2021. (WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)
    The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has urged U.S. citizens in Afghanistan to shelter in place, warning them not to come to the building or airport in the city.    In a security alert on Sunday, the embassy said the security situation at Hamid Karzai International     Airport was changing rapidly amid reports of gunfire.
    This comes as the airport has been being used to evacuate U.S. diplomats and Afghans who helped the U.S. during the war.
    According to the alert, Americans seeking help leaving the country should not contact the embassy and should instead register through a repatriation form.    The embassy has reportedly suspended all operations amid an effort to evacuate U.S. personnel from the country.

8/15/2021 Reports: Bagram Air Base Falls To Taliban by OAN Newsroom
A general view of the Bagram U.S. Air Base is pictured after all U.S. and NATO troops left,
some 70 Km north of Kabul on July 5, 2021. (WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Bagram Air Base in Kabul, Afghanistan has reportedly surrendered to the Taliban.    According to reports on Sunday, the Afghan military handed the base to the Taliban after militant forces entered Kabul.
    The base is known to house prisoners from both Taliban and Islamic State groups who have been classified as terrorist fighters and who have now been freed since the invasion.    The Taliban has suggested it’s trying to take over the capital and claimed they want to bring peace once they do.
    Bagram was built by the Soviet Union in the 1950s and occupied by U.S. and NATO forces until July.    According to the Afghan military, the U.S. pulled its forces from the base in the middle of the night without notifying Afghan officials beforehand.br>

8/15/2021 Taliban Spokesman Says “War Is Over In Afghanistan” – Al Jazeera
FILE PHOTO: Mohammad Naeem, spokesman for the Taliban's political office, speaks during a joint news
conference in Moscow, Russia March 19, 2021. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) -The spokesman for the Taliban’s political office on Sunday declared the war was over in Afghanistan and called for peaceful relations with the international community.
    Spokesman Mohammad Naeem said in interviews with Al Jazeera TV the Taliban did not want to live in isolation and the type of rule and the form of regime would be clear soon.
    The group respected women’s and minorities’ rights and freedom of expression within Sharia law, Naeem added.
    Naeem said the Taliban wanted to have peaceful relations and was keen to develop several channels of communication it had already opened with foreign countries.
    “We ask all countries and entities to sit with us to settle any issues,” he said in an interview with Al Jazeera TV.
    Taliban insurgents entered Kabul on Sunday and President Ashraf Ghani left Afghanistan saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed, bringing the Islamist militants close to taking over the country two decades after they were overthrown by a U.S.-led invasion.
    Naeem said that no diplomatic body or headquarters was targeted in the Taliban’s approach and the group would provide safety for citizens and diplomatic missions.
    Ghani’s escape was unexpected and “even those close to him did not expect it,” Naeem said.
    “We are ready to have a dialogue with all Afghan figures and will guarantee them the necessary protection,” he told Al Jazeera Mubasher TV.
    The Taliban was seeing the fruits of its efforts and sacrifices for 20 years, he said, and would adopt a policy of non-interference in others’ affairs in return for non-interference in Afghanistan.
    “We have reached what we were seeking, which is the freedom of our country and the independence of our people,” he said.    “We will not allow anyone to use our lands to target anyone, and we do not want to harm others.”
    “We do not think that foreign forces will repeat their failed experience in Afghanistan once again.”
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah, Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Diane Craft and Jane Wardell)

8/16/2021 Afghanistan Is Peaceful, Taliban Say, Chaos Engulfs Airport
An Afghan soldier stands in a military vehicle on a street in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    KABUL (Reuters) -Peace prevailed across Afghanistan on Monday, Taliban officials said, as the militants declared the war over a day after seizing the capital, while Western nations scrambled to evacuate their citizens from an increasingly chaotic Kabul airport.
    President Ashraf Ghani fled from the country on Sunday as the Islamists entered Kabul virtually unopposed, saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed.
    “Today is a great day for the Afghan people and the mujahideen.    They have witnessed the fruits of their efforts and their sacrifices for 20 years,” Mohammad Naeem, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, told Al Jazeera TV.
    “Thanks to God, the war is over in the country.”
    It took the Taliban just over a week to seize control of the country after a lightning sweep https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/talibans-rapid-advance-across-afghanistan-2021-08-10 that ended in Kabul as government forces https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-surge-exposes-failure-us-efforts-build-afghan-army-2021-08-15, trained for years and equipped by the United States and others at a cost of billions of dollars, melted away.
    Al Jazeera broadcast footage of what it said were Taliban commanders in the presidential palace with dozens of armed fighters.
    Naeem said the form of the new regime in Afghanistan would be made clear soon, adding the Taliban did not want to live in isolation and calling for peaceful international relations.
    “We have reached what we were seeking, which is the freedom of our country and the independence of our people,” he said.     “We will not allow anyone to use our lands to target anyone, and we do not want to harm others.”
    Many Afghans fear the Taliban will return to past harsh practices in their imposition of sharia religious law. During their 1996-2001 rule, women could not work and punishments such as stoning, whipping and hanging were administered.
    Both the United Nations and the United States said last week they had received reports that Taliban fighters were executing surrendering government soldiers.
    A Taliban leader told Reuters the insurgents were regrouping from different provinces, and would wait until foreign forces had left before creating a new governance structure.
    The leader, who requested anonymity, said Taliban fighters had been “ordered to allow Afghans to resume daily activities and do nothing to scare civilians.”
    Taliban officials said they had received no reports of any clashes anywhere in the country: “The situation is peaceful,” one official said.
    The Taliban controlled 90% of state buildings and fighters had been told to prevent any damage, the official said.    Central Kabul streets were largely deserted early on a sunny Monday as waking residents pondered their future.
    “I’m in a complete state of shock,” said Sherzad Karim Stanekzai, who spent the night in his carpet shop to guard it.    “I know there will be no foreigners, no international people who will now come to Kabul.”
    The militants sought to project a more moderate face https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-seek-present-moderate-face-they-take-control-afghanistan-2021-08-15, promising to respect women’s rights and protect both foreigners and Afghans.
    New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called for the Taliban to uphold human rights and said the world was watching: “It’s going to be all about the actions, not the words.”
SHAME
    A U.S. State Department spokesperson said early on Monday that all embassy personnel, including Ambassador Ross Wilson, had been transferred to Kabul airport, mostly by helicopter, to await evacuation and the American flag had been lowered and removed from the embassy compound.
    Hundreds of Afghans invaded the airport’s runways in the dark, pulling luggage and jostling for a place on one of the last commercial flights to leave before U.S. forces took over air traffic control on Sunday.
    “This is our airport but we are seeing diplomats being evacuated while we wait in complete uncertainty,” said Rakhshanda Jilali, a human rights activist who was trying to get to Pakistan, told Reuters in a message from the airport.
    Crowds thronged into the airport as morning broke and U.S. forces fired into the air to stop people surging onto the tarmac to try to board a military flight, a U.S. official said.
    Dozens of men tried to clamber onto an overhead departure gangway to board a plane while hundreds of others milled about, a video posted on social media showed.
    There was the prospect of chaos in the skies over Afghanistan too. Its civil aviation authority advised transit aircraft to reroute saying its airspace was uncontrolled.
    The Pentagon on Sunday authorized another 1,000 troops to help evacuate U.S. citizens and Afghans who worked for them, expanding its security presence on the ground to almost 6,000 troops within the next 48 hours.
    Western nations, including France, Germany and New Zealand said they were working to get citizens as well as some Afghan employees out.    Russia said it saw no need to evacuate its embassy for the time being while Turkey said its embassy would continue operations.
    In a Facebook post, Ghani said he had left the country to avoid clashes with the Taliban that would endanger millions of Kabul residents.    Some social media users branded Ghani, who did not disclose his location, a coward for leaving them in chaos.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all parties to exercise the utmost restraint, and expressed particular concern about the future of women and girls.
    In Washington, opponents of President Joe Biden’s decision to end America’s longest war, launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said the chaos was caused by a failure of leadership.
    Biden has faced rising domestic criticism after sticking to a plan, initiated by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, to end the U.S. military mission by Aug. 31.
    Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell blamed Biden for what he called a “shameful failure of American leadership.”
    Naeem said the Taliban would adopt an international policy of two-way non-interference.    “We do not think that foreign forces will repeat their failed experience.”
(Reporting by Kabul and Washington bureaus; Writing by Jane Wardell, Robert Birsel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

8/16/2021 Shops Close, Security Guards Flee In Afghan Capital
Taliban fighters ride on a police vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    KABUL (Reuters) -Kabul’s streets were deserted early on Monday, a day after Taliban insurgents took over the Afghanistan capital without a fight, but the airport was jammed with hundreds of civilians trying to flee.
    Video posted social media showed hundreds of people scampering with their luggage toward the safety of the airport terminal with the sound of gunfire breaking out.
    U.S. troops deployed at the airport to safeguard the evacuation of U.S. troops had fired in the air to deter hundreds of civilians running onto the tarmac to try to board a plane.
    “The crowd was out of control,” a U.S. official told Reuters by phone. “The firing was only done to defuse the chaos.”
    The nearby Wazir Akbar Khan embassy district was deserted with almost all diplomats and their families either flown out of the city or at the airport awaiting a flight.
    Government offices were also empty, residents said.
    There were few guards left at the checkpoints in the usually heavily fortified area – some motorists were getting out of their cars to lift barriers at the checkpoints before driving through.
    “It is strange to sit here and see empty streets, no more busy diplomatic convoys, big cars with guns mounted,” said Gul Mohammed Hakim, one the city’s ubiquitous naan (bread) makers who has a shop in the area.
    “I will be here baking bread, but will earn very small amounts of money.    The security guards who were my friends, they are gone.”
    He had no customers yet, said, and was still heating his tandoor (clay oven) in anticipation.
    “My first concern was to grow my beard and how to grow it fast,” Hakim added.    “I also checked with my wife if there were enough burqas for her and the girls.”
    During the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule, men were not permitted to trim their beards and women were required to wear the all-enveloping burqa cloak in public.
    In the city’s Chicken Street, the scores of shops for Afghan carpets, handicraft and jewellery, as well as small cafes, were closed.
    Sherzad Karim Stanekzai, who owns a carpet and textiles store, said he decided to sleep inside his shuttered shop to protect his goods.
    “I am in a complete state of shock. The Taliban entering that scared me, but (President Ashraf) Ghani leaving all of us in this situation has been the worst,” he said.
    “I lost three brothers in seven years in this war, now I have to protect my business.”
    He said had no idea where his next customers would come from.    “I know there will be no foreigners, no international people who will now come to Kabul,” he said.
    A Taliban leader said his fighters had been “ordered to allow Afghans to resume daily activities and do nothing to scare civilians.”
    “Normal life will continue in a much better way, that’s all I can say for now,” he told Reuters via Whatsapp.
(Reporting by Rupam Nair, Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

8/16/2021 Profits And Poppy: Afghanistan’s Illegal Drug Trade A Boon For Taliban by Jonathan Landay
FILE PHOTO: An Afghan man works on a poppy field in Nangarhar province,
Afghanistan April 20, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States spent more than $8 billion over 15 years on efforts to deprive the Taliban of their profits from Afghanistan’s opium and heroin trade, from poppy eradication to airstrikes and raids on suspected labs.
    That strategy failed.
    As the United States wraps up its longest war, Afghanistan remains the world’s biggest illicit opiate supplier and looks certain to remain so as the Taliban is on the brink of taking power in Kabul, said current and former U.S. and U.N. officials and experts.
    Widespread destruction during the war, millions uprooted from their homes, foreign aid cuts, and losses of local spending by departed U.S.-led foreign troops are fueling an economic and humanitarian crisis that is likely to leave many destitute Afghans dependent on the narcotics trade for survival.
    That dependence threatens to bring more instability as the Taliban, other armed groups, ethnic warlords, and corrupt public officials vie for drug profits and power.
    Some U.N. and U.S. officials worry Afghanistan’s slide into chaos is creating conditions for even higher illicit opiate production, a potential boon to the Taliban.
    “The Taliban have counted on the Afghan opium trade as one of their main sources of income,” Cesar Gudes, the head of the Kabul office of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), told Reuters.    “More production brings drugs with a cheaper and more attractive price, and therefore a wider accessibility.”
    With the insurgents entering Kabul on Sunday, “these are the best moments in which these illicit groups tend to position themselves” to expand their business, Gudes said.
    The Taliban banned poppy growing in 2000 as they sought international legitimacy, but faced a popular backlash and later mostly changed their stance, according to experts.
    Despite the threats posed by Afghanistan’s illicit drug business, experts noted, the United States and other nations rarely mention in public the need to address the trade – estimated by the UNODC at more than 80% of global opium and heroin supplies.
    “We’ve stood by on the sidelines and, unfortunately, allowed the Taliban to become probably the largest funded non-designated terrorist organization on the globe,” said a U.S. official with knowledge of Afghanistan’s drug trade.
    “The U.S. and international partners have continued to pull out and not addressed poppy cultivation,” the official said on condition of anonymity.    “What you’re going to find is that it has exploded.”
    Asked for comment, a State Department official said the United States would continue to support the Afghan people, “including our ongoing counternarcotics efforts,” but declined to say how aid would continue should U.S. assistance stop if the Taliban seize power.
POPPY CULTIVATION SOARS
    Afghan farmers weigh myriad factors in deciding how much poppy to plant.    These range from annual precipitation and the price of wheat, the main alternative crop to poppy, to world opium and heroin prices.
    Yet even during droughts and wheat shortages, when wheat prices rocket, Afghan farmers have grown poppy and extracted opium gum that is refined into morphine and heroin. In recent years, many have installed Chinese-made solar panels to power deep water wells.
    Three of the last four years have seen some of Afghanistan’s highest levels of opium production, according to the UNODC.    Even as the COVID-19 pandemic raged, poppy cultivation soared 37% last year, it reported in May.     Illicit narcotics are “the country’s largest industry except for war,” said Barnett Rubin, a former State Department adviser on Afghanistan.
    The estimated all-time high for opium production was set in 2017 at 9,900 tons worth some $1.4 billion in sales by farmers or roughly 7% of Afghanistan’s GDP, the UNODC reported.
    When the value of drugs for export and local consumption are taken into account, along with imported precursor chemicals, the UNODC estimated the country’s overall illicit opiate economy that year at as much as $6.6 billion.
    The Taliban and public officials have long been involved in the narcotics trade, experts said, although some dispute the extent of the insurgents’ role and profits.
    The United Nations and Washington contend the Taliban are involved in all facets, from poppy planting, opium extraction, and trafficking to exacting “taxes” from cultivators and drug labs to charging smugglers fees for shipments bound for Africa, Europe, Canada, Russia, the Middle East, and other parts of Asia.
    Some of those shipments are hurled across the heavily patrolled border to traffickers in Iran with rudimentary catapults, reported David Mansfield, a leading researcher into Afghanistan’s illicit drug trade.
    U.N. officials reported that the Taliban likely earned more than $400 million between 2018 and 2019 from the drug trade.    A May 2021 U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan (SIGAR) report quoted a U.S. official as estimating they derive up to 60% of their annual revenue from illicit narcotics.
    Some experts dispute that data.
    Mansfield says his field studies show the most the Taliban can earn from illicit opiates is about $40 million annually, predominantly from levies on opium production, heroin labs and drug shipments.
    The insurgents, he said, make more money exacting fees on legal imports and exports at roadside checkpoints.
    Washington spent an estimated $8.6 billion between 2002 and 2017 to throttle Afghanistan’s drug trade in order to deny the Taliban funds, according to a 2018 SIGAR report.    Apart from poppy eradication, the United States and allies backed interdiction raids and alternative crop programs, airstrikes on suspected heroin labs and other measures.
    Those efforts “didn’t really have much success,” retired U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, who commanded U.S. Central Command from 2016-2019, told Reuters.
    Instead, experts said, they stoked anger against the government in Kabul and its foreign backers – and sympathy for the Taliban – among farmers and laborers who depend on opium production to feed their families.
    The Taliban learned that lesson from their ban on poppy growing in 2000, said Brookings Institution scholar Vanda Felbab-Brown.
    Despite a steep decline in production, the ban ignited “a huge political storm against the Taliban and it was one reason why there were such dramatic defections after the U.S. invasion,” she said.
    Therefore, experts said, it is unlikely the Taliban will prohibit poppy cultivation should they gain power.
    “A future government,” said Mansfield, “will need to tread carefully to avoid alienating its rural constituency and provoking resistance and violent rebellion.”
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Arshad Mohammed, Mary Milliken and Daniel Wallis)

8/16/2021 Taliban Report No Clashes In Afghanistan Day After They Capture Kabul
People walk at the entrance gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport in
Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban officials said on Monday they had received no reports of any clashes from across the country a day after the militants seized the capital, Kabul, and the U.S.-backed government collapsed.
    “The situation is peaceful, as per our reports,” one of the senior members of the Taliban said.    They declined to be identified.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Editing by Robert Birsel and Christopher Cushing)

8/16/2021 Afghanistan Aviation Authority Advises Transit Aircraft To Reroute by Jamie Freed
FILE PHOTO: A United Airlines passenger jet takes off with New York City as a backdrop,
at Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey, U.S. December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Helgren
    (Reuters) -The Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority (ACAA) said on Monday that Kabul airspace had been released to the military and that it advised transit aircraft to reroute, according to a notice to airmen on its website, hastening some airline route switches.
    United Airlines, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic had already stopped using Afghanistan airspace after insurgents took control of the presidential palace in Kabul as U.S.-led forces departed and Western nations scrambled on Monday to evacuate their citizens.
    ACAA said any transit through Kabul airspace would be uncontrolled and it had advised the surrounding flight information regions that control airspace.
    Kabul’s flight information region covers all of Afghanistan.
    Flight tracking website FlightRadar24 said on its Twitter account that an Air India flight from Chicago to Delhi had changed course and exited Afghanistan’s airspace shortly after entering, while a Terra Avia flight from Baku to Delhi was also changing course.
    Airlines and governments have paid more attention to the risks of flying over conflict zones in recent years after two deadly incidents involving surface-to-air missiles.
    A Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board, and an Ukraine International Airlines jet was downed by Iran’s military in 2020, killing all 176 passengers and crew.
    The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in July imposed new flight restrictions over Afghanistan for U.S. airlines and other U.S. operators.
    The FAA said flights operating below 26,000 feet were prohibited in the Kabul Flight Information Region, which largely covers Afghanistan, unless operating in and out of Hamid Karzai International Airport, citing the risk “posed by extremist/militant activity.”
    The restrictions do not apply to U.S. military operations.
    Other countries, including Canada, Britain, Germany and France had also advised airlines to maintain an altitude of at least 25,000 feet over Afghanistan, according to website Safe Airspace, which tracks such warnings.
    Commercial flights set to land in Afghanistan have also been affected by the chaos on the ground.    Emirates has suspended flights to Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, until further notice, the airline said on its website.
(Reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney; additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington, Costa Pitas in London, Heekyong Yang in Seoul, Ben Blanchard in Taipei and Alexander Cornwell in Dubai; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

8/16/2021 Britain Says Taliban Control Afghanistan – We’re Not Going Back
British Forces from 16 Air Assault Brigade arrive in Kabul, Afghanistan, to provide support to British nationals
leaving the country, as part of Operation PITTING after Taliban insurgents took control of the presidential
palace in Kabul, August 15, 2021. Leading Hand Ben Shread/RAF/UK Ministry of Defence 2021/Handout via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) -The Taliban are in control of Afghanistan and British and NATO forces will not be returning to fight the insurgents, Britain’s defence minister said on Monday.
    “I acknowledge that the Taliban are in control of the country,” Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News.    “I mean, you don’t have to be a political scientist to spot that’s where we’re at.”
    Asked if Britain and NATO would return to Afghanistan, Wallace said: “That’s not on the cards… we’re going to go back” Wallace said the military side of Kabul airport was secure and that Britain was doing everything it could to evacuate British citizens and Afghans with links to Britain.
    “Our target is … about 1200 to 1500 exit a day in the capacity of our aeroplanes, and we’ll keep that flow,” he said.
    Britain has relocated its embassy to Kabul airport from the city.    Asked what he would feel to see the Taliban flag flying over the former British embassy building in Kabul, Wallace said:
    “Symbolically, it’s not what any of us wanted.”
    Wallace said it was not yet the right time to decide on whether to recognise the Taliban as the Afghan government.
    “I think there is a lot of more to come before those decisions are made,” he said.    “The proof of the pudding will be obviously in their actions rather than their rhetoric.”
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Michael Holden)

8/16/2021 Taliban Claims ‘Inclusive’ Future Govt. & Touts Popular Support by OAN Newsroom
A Taliban fighter sits on the back of a vehicle with a machine gun in front of the main gate leading to the Afghan
presidential palace, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.    The U.S. military has taken over Afghanistan’s
airspace as it struggles to manage a chaotic evacuation after the Taliban rolled into the capital. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
    The Taliban claims it wants to form a “reconciliation” government following its takeover of Afghanistan.    In a statement Sunday, the group said a future Afghan government must be “inclusive” by representing all political viewpoints.
    The terrorist group said although the future government will be based off the principles of “political Islam,” it will not discriminate against any parts of the Afghan society.    U.S. security officials warned the Taliban can not be trusted, but the Islamist group insists it’s holding talks with other political forces in the Middle Eastern country.
    “I think an Afghan inclusive government, this is the demand, the will and the want of the people of Afghanistan,” stated Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen.    “They want this government and you may have seen that whenever we entered a provincial city people thronged along the roads and queued up along the roads and they were welcoming our forces. So it is a popular uprising.”
    The Taliban seized control of most of Kabul on Sunday and is now expected to rename the country as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
    Meanwhile, the Taliban made its first statement on future foreign relations of their new so-called government.    The terrorist group claimed Sunday that it’s not seeking confrontation with its neighbors or major powers.    The Taliban also urged the international community to recognize the legitimacy of its future government.
    This came after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he opposes a diplomatic recognition of the Taliban regime.
    However, the group claims to be representing the majority of Afghans.
    “Before we didn’t have as much responsibility as we do today because now we are all tested by God,” stated senior Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.    “Day by day, we will get involved in the service of our nation in providing them with security and hope for their future.”
    The Taliban is reportedly planning to install a fundamentalist Islamic rule in Afghanistan, which may put it at odds with Iran and China.

8/16/2021 Frantic Scenes At Kabul Airport As Afghans Try To Flee Taliban
A man pulls a girl to get inside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 16, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) - Several Afghans clung to the side of a U.S. military plane at Kabul’s airport on Monday as it taxied through crowds of people desperate to flee the Taliban-controlled capital, a video widely shared on social media showed.
    The footage posted by Afghanistan’s largest private broadcaster, Tolo news, highlighted the chaos at Hamid Karzai International Airport after Taliban fighters https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/talibans-rapid-advance-across-afghanistan-2021-08-10 entered Kabul following the withdrawal of foreign forces.
    Reuters was not immediately able to verify the footage or reports that some people were killed falling from aircraft.     At least five people died as the chaos mounted at the airport, according to witnesses, though one person waiting for a flight told Reuters it was unclear whether those killed had been shot or trampled in a stampede.
    U.S. troops fired warning shots to stop people getting on flights taking out diplomats and embassy employees, and two gunmen were also shot at the airport, U.S. officials told Reuters.
    The flights were later halted because of the chaos, with Germany saying it had to divert its first of three planned evacuation flights to the Uzbek capital Tashkent because it could not land due to the throngs of people on the tarmac.
    Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said U.S. forces were working with Turkish and other international troops to clear Kabul airport to allow evacuation flights to resume.    He said several hundred people had been flown out so far.
    Videos and photos posted on social media showed hundreds of civilians invading the airport’s single runway, jostling to climb stairs onto overhead gangways and sitting on the top of passenger jets in the hope of getting a flight out.
    “This is our airport but we are seeing diplomats being evacuated while we wait in complete uncertainty,” Rakhshanda Jilali, an Afghan human rights activist who was trying to get to Pakistan, told Reuters in a message from the airport.
    A U.S. State Department spokesperson said all embassy personnel, including Ambassador Ross Wilson, had been transferred to the airport to await evacuation.
    One video showed a military helicopter flying low to pave a path for a plane trying to take off through crowds of people.
    Local news agency Asvaka reported that some people who had clung to the outside of a plane plunged to their deaths after it took off.    Reuters could not verify the report or footage shared by the agency.
    One witness said he had seen five bodies piled up in a vehicle.    A video posted on social media showed three bodies on the ground near what appeared to be an airport side entrance.    Tolo news reported at least 10 people had died at the airport.
    Reuters could not verify the footage or the report.
(Writing by John Geddie; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Timothy Heritage and Jonathan Oatis)

8/16/2021 Chinese Propaganda Exploits Biden’s Afghan Fail To Threaten Taiwan by OAN Newsroom
In this picture taken at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Hong Kong, a visitor poses
for photos at an exhibition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China
in front of a large screen showing Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Photo by ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images)
    Chinse state propaganda seized on Joe Biden’s failure in Afghanistan as it claimed the U.S. would not defend Taiwan.    In an op-ed on Monday, Chinese state-controlled newspaper the Global Times claimed Taiwan would fall to a Chinse offensive within hours and the U.S. would not come to help.
    The article added it made such a conclusion after watching Biden’s inaction as the U.S.-backed Afghan government fell to Taliban.    Taiwan announced it would not surrender to a communist invasion and Japan has been ready to deploy its military to repel China.
    Experts have warned Biden’s Afghan failure has made China more assertive.
    “If we get into a failed and failing state situation in Afghanistan, just think about the the regional situation of Afghanistan.    It’s between Iran.    It’s between China.”    Former U.K. Chief of General Staff Richard Dannatt expressed.    “Russia is not very far away. Into a vacuum, other forces will flow and we will see greater instability.”
    Meanwhile, Taiwan announced this week large scale military drills were set to take place next month in response to the latest security threat posed by China.

8/17/2021 China Holds Drills In Taiwan Strait After Biden’s Afghan Fail, Deploys Warships And Jets by OAN Newsroom
Chinese President Xi Jinping n Qingdao, in eastern China’s Shandong province. ( MARK SCHIEFELBEIN/AFP via Getty Images)
    Communist China has sent warships to the Taiwan Strait in an act of aggression against both Taiwan and the U.S. According to Tuesday reports, China has been holding assault drills involving warships and military jets near its maritime border with Taiwan.
    Beijing claimed the drills came in response to unspecified “provocations” and “external interference.”    In addition, Chinese state media reported Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan suggested the U.S. would not be willing to defend Taiwan from a potential Chinese invasion.
    China also reiterated its intent to seize Taiwan sooner or later.
    “No one should underestimate the strong determination, will and ability of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” expressed Spokesperson Hua Chunying of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, China.    “No matter how much weaponry the U.S. provides to Taiwan, it will never change the general trend of cross-strait relations, let alone stop the process of China’s reunification.”
    Officials in Taipei said Chinese warplanes entered Taiwan’s airspace in effort to intercept its electronic communications with U.S. and Japanese forces. Taiwan will hold it own military drills next month.

8/18/2021 Evacuations From Afghanistan Gather Momentum As Taliban Promise Peace
A handout photo obtained from Twitter via @Bw_Einsatz on August 17, 2021 shows evacuees from Afghanistan as they arrive in an Airbus A400>
transport aircraft of the German Air Force Luftwaffe in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Marc Tessensohn/Twitter @Bw_Einsatz/Handout via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) – More than 2,200 diplomats and other civilians have been evacuated from Afghanistan on military flights, a Western security official told Reuters on Wednesday, as efforts gathered pace to get people out after the Taliban seized the capital.
    The Taliban have said they want peace https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-show-conciliatory-face-first-kabul-news-conference-2021-08-17, will not take revenge against old enemies and would respect the rights of women https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/times-have-changed-some-afghan-women-defiant-taliban-return-2021-08-17 within the framework of Islamic law.    But thousands of Afghans, many of whom helped U.S.-led foreign forces over two decades, are desperate to leave.
    “We are continuing at a very fast momentum, logistics show no glitches as of now and we have been able to remove a little over 2,200 diplomatic staff, foreign security staff and Afghans who worked for embassies,” the Western security official said.
    It was unclear when civilian flights would resume, he said.
    The official did not give a breakdown of how many Afghans were among the more than 2,200 people to leave nor was it clear if that tally included more than 600 Afghan men, women and children who flew out on Sunday, crammed into a U.S. military C-17 cargo aircraft.
    The Taliban, fighting since their 2001 ouster to expel foreign forces, seized Kabul on Sunday after a lightning offensive as U.S.-led Western forces withdrew under a deal that included a Taliban promise not to attack them as they leave.
    U.S. forces running the airport had to stop flights on Monday after thousands of frightened Afghans swamped the facility looking for a flight out.    Flights resumed on Tuesday as the situation came under control.
    As they consolidated power, the Taliban said one of their leaders and co-founders, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, had returned to Afghanistan for the first time in more than 10 years.    A Taliban official said leaders would show themselves to the world, unlike in the past when they lived in secret.
    “Slowly, gradually, the world will see all our leaders, there will be no shadow of secrecy,” the senior Taliban official told Reuters.
    As Baradar was returning, a Taliban spokesman held the movement’s first news briefing since their return to Kabul, suggesting they would impose their laws more softly than during their earlier time in power, between 1996-2001.
    “We don’t want any internal or external enemies,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s main spokesman, told reporters.
    Women would be allowed to work and study and “will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam,” he said.
    During their rule, also guided by sharia religious law, the Taliban stopped women from working.    Girls were not allowed to go to school and women had to wear all-enveloping burqas to go out and then only when accompanied by a male relative.
    Ramiz Alakbarov, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan, told Reuters in an interview the Taliban had assured the United Nations it can pursue humanitarian work https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/un-aid-chief-afghanistan-warns-hunger-caused-by-drought-2021-08-17 in Afghanistan, which is suffering from a severe drought.
    The European Union said it would only cooperate with Taliban authorities if they respected fundamental rights, including those of women.
‘WALK THE TALK’
    Within Afghanistan, women expressed scepticism.
    Afghan girls’ education activist Pashtana Durrani, 23, was wary of Taliban promises.    “They have to walk the talk.    Right now they are not doing that,” she told Reuters.
    Several women were ordered to leave their jobs during the Taliban’s rapid advance across Afghanistan.
    Mujahid said the Taliban would not seek retribution against former soldiers and government officials, and were granting an amnesty for ex-soldiers as well as contractors and translators who worked for international forces.
    “Nobody is going to harm you, nobody is going to knock on your doors,” he said, adding that there was a “huge difference” between the Taliban now and 20 years ago.
    He also said families trying to flee the country at the airport should return home and nothing would happen to them.
    Mujahid’s conciliatory tone contrasted with comments by Afghan First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who declared himself the “legitimate caretaker president” after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, and vowed not to bow to Kabul’s new rulers.
    Saleh appears to have gone underground, and it is unclear how much support he can muster in a country exhausted by decades of conflict.
    U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said they had agreed to hold a virtual meeting of Group of Seven leaders next week to discuss a common strategy and approach to Afghanistan.
    The decision by Biden, a Democrat, to stick to the withdrawal deal struck last year by his Republican predecessor Donald Trump has stirred widespread criticism at home and among U.S. allies.
    Biden said he had to decide between asking U.S. forces to fight endlessly or follow through on Trump’s withdrawal deal.    He blamed the Taliban takeover on Afghan leaders who fled and the army’s unwillingness to fight.
(Reporting by Kabul newsroom; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

8/18/2021 Leaders Of Afghan Taliban Will Not Stay In ‘Shadow Of Secrecy’ – Group Official
FILE PHOTO: Taliban fighters ride on a police vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    KABUL (Reuters) – The leaders of Afghanistan’s Taliban will show themselves to the world, an official of the Islamist movement said on Wednesday, unlike during the past 20 years, when its leaders have lived largely in secret.
    “Slowly, gradually, the world will see all our leaders, there will be no shadow of secrecy,” the senior Taliban official, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.
    The official said Taliban members had been ordered not to celebrate their recent sweep of the country, which brought them to the capital, Kabul, on Sunday, and added that civilians should hand over weapons and ammunition.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez)

8/18/2021 Taliban Tries To Appear Inclusive In First Press Conference Since Taking Control by OAN Newsroom
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid looks on as he addresses the first press conference in Kabul on
August 17, 2021 following the Taliban stunning takeover of Afghanistan. (HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP via Getty Images)
    After spending the last three and a half months blazing their way across Afghanistan, seizing cities and killing their opponents, the Taliban held a press conference to share their message with the international community. On Tuesday, the terrorist group’s head spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, spoke before a group of reporters gathered in what previously was the briefing room of the Afghanistan government.
    Of the various networks that attended the conference, many conveyed the same message.    That message was that the Taliban is trying to come off as more moderate and less violent than before.
    Mujahid attempted to paint a picture of a simple bureaucratic shift as if the last several weeks of bloodshed was merely a political procedure used in place of democratic elections.    “A new government is about to be founded,” said Mujahid.
    “After completing a series of political procedures, we will hold a meeting with the leaders of various political factions and witness the birth of a political agreement.    Then a strong Islamic government acceptable to everyone shall be established.”
    He went on to claim that things would be different this time around and that the people of Afghanistan had nothing to fear.    However, the people of Afghanistan and the rest of the nation have begged to differ.
    Mujahid also claimed the treatment of women in the Afghan society would be different, stating they would not be subjected to violence and would be given the opportunity to even participate in the Taliban’s new government.    Although, a former family court judge who fled the Taliban, Marzia Babakarkhail, said those are empty promises.
    Mujahid also promised amnesty for all Afghan allies who helped U.S. and NATO foces.    However, his words are in stark contrast to the message of Afghans who recently managed to escape the county, like Central Bank Gov. Ajmal Ahmady.
    When asked about concrete plans for the future, Mujahid had little to offer.    The only thing he said was “give us time.”

8/18/2021 Three Killed As Afghan Protests Test Taliban’s Promise Of Peaceful Rule
People carry Afghan flags as they take part in an anti-Taliban protest in Jalalabad, Afghanistan
August 18, 2021 in this screen grab taken from a video. Pajhwok Afghan News/Handout via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) -At least three people were killed in anti-Taliban protests in the Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday, witnesses said, as the Islamist group moved to consolidate power and Western countries ramped up evacuations from a chaotic Kabul airport.
    Thousands of people are trying to flee the country, fearing a return to the austere interpretation of Islamic law imposed during the previous Taliban rule that ended 20 years ago.
    Witnesses said armed members of the Taliban were preventing people from getting into the airport compound, including those with the necessary documents to travel.
    “It’s a complete disaster.    The Taliban were firing into the air, pushing people, beating them with AK47s,” said one person who was trying to get through.
    A Taliban official said commanders and soldiers had fired into the air to disperse crowds outside Kabul airport, but told Reuters: “We have no intention to injure anyone.”
    U.S. officials have told the Taliban “that we expect them to allow all American citizens, all third-country nationals, and all Afghans who wish to leave to do so safely and without harassment
,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters in Washington.
    But the 4,500 U.S. troops in Kabul cannot help bring people to the airport for evacuation because they are focused on securing the airfield, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a Washington news conference, acknowledging that evacuations had not reached targets.
    General Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said security at the Kabul airport was stable and the Taliban were not interfering with U.S. military operations.
    Foreign ministers of the Group of Seven nations are due to discuss the evacuation effort and seek to coordinate flights at a virtual meeting on Thursday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.
    Some 150 km (90 miles) east of the capital in Jalalabad, protests against the Taliban provided an early test of the group’s promise of peaceful rule.
    After seizing power over the weekend, the Taliban said they would not take revenge against old enemies and would respect the rights of women https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/times-have-changed-some-afghan-women-defiant-taliban-return-2021-08-17 within the framework of Islamic law.
    Two witnesses and a former police official told Reuters that Taliban fighters opened fire when residents tried to install Afghanistan’s national flag at a square in the city, killing three and injuring more than a dozen.
    Taliban spokespeople could not be reached for comment.
NOT A DEMOCRACY
    A new government to replace that of President Ashraf Ghani, who is in exile in the United Arab Emirates, may take the form of a ruling council, with Taliban supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada in overall charge, a senior member of the group said.
    But Afghanistan would not be a democracy.    “It is sharia law and that is it,” Waheedullah Hashimi told Reuters.
    Ghani, who has been bitterly criticised by former ministers for leaving Afghanistan as Taliban forces swept into Kabul on Sunday, said he had followed the advice of government officials.    He denied reports he took large sums of money with him.
    “If I had stayed, I would be witnessing bloodshed in Kabul,” Ghani said in a video streamed on Facebook, his first public comments since it was confirmed he was in the UAE.
    About 5,000 diplomats, security staff, aid workers and Afghans have been evacuated from Kabul in the past 24 hours and military flights will continue around the clock, a Western official told Reuters.
    “Everyone wants out,” said a member of an Afghan family after they arrived in Germany.    “Every day is worse than the day before.    We saved ourselves but we couldn’t rescue our families.”
(For a graphic on the airport chaos, click on: https://tmsnrt.rs/3stVpcj)
    The Taliban have suggested they will impose their laws less severely than during their former rule, and a senior official said on Wednesday that the group’s leaders would be less reclusive than in the past.
    “Slowly, gradually, the world will see all our leaders,” the senior Taliban official told Reuters.
‘DEEDS NOT WORDS’
    Hashimi, who has access to the Taliban’s decision-making, said the role of women, including their right to work and education and how they should dress, would ultimately be decided by a council of Islamic scholars.
    “They will decide whether they should wear hijab, burqa, or only (a) veil plus abaya or something, or not.    That is up to them,” he told Reuters.
    Under the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule, women were prevented from working, girls were not allowed to go to school and women had to wear all-enveloping burqas to go out.
    Echoing comments by world leaders, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Taliban would be judged “by its actions rather than by its words.”
    Many Afghans are sceptical of the Taliban promises.
    “My family lived under the Taliban and maybe they really want to change or have changed, but only time will tell and it’s going to become clear very soon,” said Ferishta Karimi, who runs a tailoring shop for women.
    The Taliban seized Kabul on Sunday as Western forces withdrew under a deal that included a Taliban promise not to attack them as they leave.
    U.S. President Joe Biden has faced a barrage of criticism about the withdrawal, including from British lawmakers on Wednesday who called Afghanistan’s collapse into Taliban hands a failure of intelligence, leadership and moral duty.
    Biden has said he had to decide between asking U.S. forces to fight endlessly or follow through on the withdrawal deal of his predecessor, Donald Trump.
    U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, during an appearance in his home state of Kentucky, pledged to keep the “heat” on Biden to rescue U.S. allies in Afghanistan and said Congress would consider allocating more money to help if needed.
    He also dismissed the idea of a “new” Taliban, calling the militants “barbarians.”
(Reporting by Kabul and Washington newsrooms; Writing by Catherine Evans and Cynthia Osterman; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Mike Collett-White and Peter Cooney)

8/18/2021 Exclusive-Council May Rule Afghanistan, Taliban To Reach Out To Soldiers, Pilots - Senior Member
Waheedullah Hashimi (C), a senior Taliban commander, gestures as he speaks with Reuters during an
interview at an undisclosed location near Afghanistan-Pakistan border August 17, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Afghanistan may be governed by a ruling council now that the Taliban has taken over, while the Islamist militant movement’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, would likely remain in overall charge, a senior member of the group told Reuters.
    The Taliban would also reach out to former pilots and soldiers from the Afghan armed forces to join its ranks, Waheedullah Hashimi, who has access to the group’s decision-making, added in an interview.
    How successful that recruitment is remains to be seen. Thousands of soldiers have been killed by Taliban insurgents over the last 20 years, and recently the group targeted https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-pilots-assassinated-by-taliban-us-withdraws-2021-07-09 U.S.-trained Afghan pilots because of their pivotal role.
    The power structure that Hashimi outlined would bear similarities to how Afghanistan was run the last time the Taliban were in power from 1996 to 2001.    Then, supreme leader Mullah Omar remained in the shadows and left the day-to-day running of the country to a council.
    Akhundzada would likely play a role above the head of the council, who would be akin to the country’s president, Hashimi added.
    “Maybe his (Akhundzada’s) deputy will play the role of ‘president’,” Hashimi said, speaking in English.
    The Taliban’s supreme leader has three deputies https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/some-key-leaders-afghanistans-taliban-2021-08-11: Mawlavi Yaqoob, son of Mullah Omar, Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the powerful militant Haqqani network, and Abdul Ghani Baradar, who heads the Taliban’s political office in Doha and is one of the founding members of the group.
    Many issues regarding how the Taliban would run Afghanistan have yet to be finalised, Hashimi explained, but Afghanistan would not be a democracy.
    “There will be no democratic system at all because it does not have any base in our country,” he said.    “We will not discuss what type of political system should we apply in Afghanistan because it is clear.    It is sharia law and that is it.”
    Hashimi said he would be joining a meeting of the Taliban leadership that would discuss issues of governance later this week.
    On recruiting soldiers and pilots who fought for the ousted Afghan government, Hashimi said the Taliban planned to set up a new national force that would include its own members as well as government soldiers willing to join.
    “Most of them have got training in Turkey and Germany and England.    So we will talk to them to get back to their positions,” he said.
    “Of course we will have some changes, to have some reforms in the army, but still we need them and will call them to join us.”
    Hashimi said the Taliban especially needed pilots because they had none, while they had seized helicopters and other aircraft in various Afghan airfields during their lightning conquest of the country after foreign troops withdrew.
    “We have contact with many pilots,” he said.    “And we have asked them to come and join, join their brothers, their government.    We called many of them and are in search of (others’) numbers to call them and invite them to their jobs.”
    He said the Taliban expected neighbouring countries to return aircraft that had landed in their territory – an apparent reference to the 22 military planes, 24 helicopters and hundreds of Afghan soldiers who fled to Uzbekistan https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/uzbekistan-says-hundreds-afghan-soldiers-flee-over-border-with-dozens-aircraft-2021-08-16 over the weekend.
(Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

8/18/2021 Taliban Go Door-To-Door Telling Fearful Afghans To Work
FILE PHOTO: Members of Taliban forces sit at a checkpost in Kabul, Afghanistan August 17, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Armed Taliban members knocked on doors in cities across Afghanistan on Wednesday, witnesses said, telling fearful residents to return to their jobs a day after the militants announced they wanted to revive the country’s battered economy.
    Widespread destruction during a 20-year war between U.S.-backed government forces and the Taliban, the drop in local spending due to departing foreign troops, a tumbling currency and lack of dollars are fuelling economic crisis in the country.
    In their first press conference since seizing the capital Kabul, the Taliban on Tuesday promised peace, prosperity, and appeared to depart from previous rules of banning women from work. But many people remain wary.
    Wasima, 38, said she was shocked when three Taliban members with guns visited her home in the western city of Herat on Wednesday morning. They took down her details, enquired about her job at an aid organisation and her salary and told her to resume working, she said.
    A dozen people told Reuters there had been unannounced visits from the Taliban in the past 24 hours, from the capital Kabul to Lashkar Gah in the south and northern Mazar-i-Sharif.
    They did not wish to give their full names, for fear of reprisals.
    As well as encouraging people to work, some said they also felt the checks were designed to intimidate and instil fear of the new leadership.
    A Taliban spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the visits.
    Many businesses in the capital Kabul remain closed and large parts of the city have been deserted since the Taliban captured it on Sunday at the end of a lightning sweep across the country.
    The only major traffic in the usually congested capital was at the airport, where people are trying to flee the country aboard diplomatic evacuation flights, residents said.
    Seventeen people were injured in a stampede https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/stampede-gate-airport-afghan-capital-injures-17-nato-official-2021-08-18 there on Wednesday, and the Taliban said they fired in the air to disperse crowds.
    At Tuesday’s press conference, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the Islamist movement was seeking good relations with other countries to allow economic revival and “prosperity to come out of this crisis.”
    But some are sceptical of the Taliban, who during their previous rule from 1996-2001 dictated that women could not work and girls were not allowed to attend school, and imposed punishments such as public stoning.
    Presenter Shabnam Dawran said in a video shared on Twitter on Wednesday that she was turned away from her job on Afghanistan’s state-owned Radio Television Afghanistan.
    “They told me that the regime has changed.    You are not allowed, go home,” she said.
    The Taliban and the news organisation did not immediately comment on the incident.
    Wasima, who watched the Taliban’s news briefing with her two daughters, said she feared that opportunities for women would diminish under the Taliban, even if they were now urging her back to work.
    “The Taliban say women should work but I know for a fact that opportunities will shrink,” she said.
(Reporting by Kabul newsroom and Rupam Jain; Writing by John Geddie; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

8/18/2021 Reports: Top Taliban Leader Previously Freed By Obama In 2014 by OAN Newsroom
Khairullah Khairkhwa, former western Herat Governor and one of five Taliban released from the
U.S. prison on Guantanamo Bay in exchange for U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl, gestures during a joint news conference
in Moscow, Russia, Friday, March 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)
    A Taliban leader playing a large part in the takeover of Afghanistan turns out to be a prisoner released by former President Barack Obama.    Khairullah Khairkhwa was found to have been previously released from Guantanamo Bay Detention Center during the Obama administration.
    According to reports Tuesday, he was released back in 2014 along with four other Taliban leaders.    However, the Pentagon had classified Khairkhwa as “too dangerous to release.”
    The group was exchanged for a U.S. soldier who was captured by the Taliban after deserting his post in Afghanistan, a charge he plead guilty to and was dishonorably discharged for.    At the time, Obama assured Americans the released Taliban leaders would not take action against the U.S.
    When asked about Obama’s freeing of the terror leaders, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki attempted to blame 45th President Donald Trump instead.
    Since his release in 2014, Khairkhwa has become a part of the Taliban regime in exile in Qatar and is now reportedly the mastermind of the present Afghanistan regime change.
    Meanwhile, Joe Biden has continued the policy of his Democrat predecessor after releasing Guantanamo prisoner Abdul Latif Nasser in July.

8/19/2021 Taliban Urge Afghans To Leave Kabul Airport After Days Of Deadly Chaos
People carry Afghan flags as they take part in an anti-Taliban protest in Jalalabad, Afghanistan
August 18, 2021 in this screen grab taken from a video. Pajhwok Afghan News/Handout via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) -The Taliban on Thursday urged crowds of Afghans waiting outside Kabul airport in the hope of fleeing the country to go home, saying they did not want to hurt anyone, a day after Taliban fighters fired at protesters, killing three, witnesses said.
    The United States and other Western powers pressed on with the evacuation of their nationals and some of their Afghan staff from the airport on Afghanistan’s Independence Day, which could trigger more protests against the Islamists.
    While Kabul has been generally calm since Taliban forces entered on Sunday after a week of stunning advances across the country, the airport has been in chaos as people rushed for a way out of Afghan capital.
    Twelve people have been killed in and around the airport since Sunday, a NATO and a Taliban official said.    The deaths were caused either by gun shots or by stampedes, the Taliban official said.
    He urged people who do not have the legal right to travel to go home.    “We don’t want to hurt anyone at the airport,” said the Taliban official, who declined to be identified.
(For a graphic on the airport chaos, click on: https://tmsnrt.rs/3stVpcj)
    About 8,000 people have been flown out since Sunday, a Western security official said.    The U.S. military is in charge of the airport while Taliban fighters patrol outside its walled and fenced perimeter.
    On Wednesday, witnesses said Taliban gunmen prevented people from getting into the airport compound.
    “It’s a complete disaster.    The Taliban were firing into the air, pushing people, beating them with AK-47s,” said one person trying to get out on Wednesday.
    A Taliban official said commanders and soldiers had fired into the air to disperse the crowd.    The situation was more calm on Thursday, witnesses said.
    Under a pact negotiated last year by former President Donald Trump’s administration, the United States agreed to withdraw its forces in exchange for a Taliban guarantee they would not let Afghanistan be used to launch terrorist attacks.
    The Taliban also agreed not to attack foreign forces as they left.
    President Joe Biden said U.S. forces would remain until the evacuation of Americans was finished, even if that meant staying past a Aug. 31 U.S. deadline for withdrawal.
    The Taliban have been putting on a moderate face, saying they have changed since their 1996-2001 rule when they severely restricted women, staged public executions and blew up ancient Buddhist statues.
    They now say they want peace https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-show-conciliatory-face-first-kabul-news-conference-2021-08-17, will not take revenge against old enemies and would respect the rights of women https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/times-have-changed-some-afghan-women-defiant-taliban-return-2021-08-17 within the framework of Islamic law.
    But there are serious doubts about their assurances.
‘MY FLAG’
    Demonstrations in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Wednesday marked the first major display of collective defiance of the Taliban takeover.
    In normal times, the country would celebrate Afghanistan’s 1919 independence from British control on Aug. 19, but scenes in Jalalabad raised the prospect that people could use the patriotic occasion to protest.
    Two witnesses and a former police official told Reuters Taliban fighters opened fire when protesters in Jalalabad tried to raise the national flag, killing three and wounding more than a dozen.
    Video footage posted online and aired by media showed hundreds of people in Jalalabad with the black, red and green tricolour flying from rooftops and carried by some protesters.    Media reported they had torn down the white Taliban flag.     “I will sacrifice my life for this flag.    This is my flag.    My government will soon be back, God willing,” said one protester wrapped in the tricolour in a report from Sky News.
    The centre of opposition to the Taliban is the Panjshir Valley, an ethnic-Tajik stronghold to the northeast of Kabul.
    In an op-ed https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/08/18/mujahideen-resistance-taliban-ahmad-massoud for the Washington Post, Amad Massoud, the Panjshiri leader of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan called for Western support to fight the Taliban.
    “I write from the Panjshir Valley today, ready to follow in my father’s footsteps, with mujahideen fighters who are prepared to once again take on the Taliban,” wrote Massoud, the son of Amhad Shah Massoud, a veteran guerrilla leader assassinated by suspected al Qaeda militants on behalf of the Taliban in 2001.
    Other former Afghan leaders including ex-president Hamid Karzai, have been holding talks with the Taliban as they put together a new government.
    The Taliban government may take the form of a ruling council with supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada in overall charge, said Waheedullah Hashimi, a senior member of the group.
    Afghanistan would not be a democracy.    “It is sharia law and that is it,” he told Reuters.
(Reporting by Kabul and Washington newsrooms; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

8/19/2021 Biden Says Aug. 31 Deadline In Afghanistan Might Have To Be Extended by Idrees Ali
FILE PHOTO: Crowds of people are seen on the tarmac at Kabul's airport in Afghanistan
August 16, 2021. SATELLITE IMAGE 2021 MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES/Handout via REUTERS.
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. troops may stay in Afghanistan past an Aug. 31 deadline to evacuate Americans, President Joe Biden said on Wednesday, and the Pentagon said the U.S. military does not currently have the ability to reach people beyond the Kabul airport.
    “If there’s American citizens left, we’re going to stay until we get them all out,” Biden told ABC News in an interview conducted on a day many U.S. lawmakers pressed him to extend the deadline that he had set for a final pullout.
    Biden has come under fierce criticism for his handling of the withdrawal, which in recent days has been dominated by scenes of chaos https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/evacuations-afghanistan-gather-momentum-taliban-promise-peace-2021-08-18 in and around the Kabul airport with people desperately trying to get out of the country.
    Biden defended his decisions, saying problems were inevitable in ending the 20-year U.S. involvement there.
    “The idea that somehow, there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens,” he said.
    He also said the Taliban is cooperating for now in helping get Americans out of the country but “we’re having some more difficulty” in evacuating U.S.-aligned Afghan citizens.
    The speed with which Taliban forces retook Afghanistan, as U.S. and other foreign forces withdrew, has led to chaotic scenes at the airport with diplomats, foreign citizens and Afghans trying to flee but they are being impeded by crowds and Taliban checkpoints.
    “We’re going to do everything we can to continue to try and deconflict and create passageways for them to get to the airfield.    I don’t have the capability to go out and extend operations currently into Kabul,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters at the Pentagon.
    A top U.S. diplomat separately said on Wednesday the United States expects the Taliban to allow Afghans who wish to leave Afghanistan to depart safely.
NOT SATISFIED
    Austin said the United States was not satisfied with how many people were being evacuated.
    “It’s obvious we’re not close to where we want to be in terms of getting the numbers through,” he said.
    Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris discussed ways to accelerate evacuations of Americans and refugees from Afghanistan with his national security team on Wednesday, a White House official said.
    Biden did not take questions after delivering a White House speech about coronavirus vaccine booster shots, turning his back and walking away as reporters shouted.
    Reuters reported on Tuesday increasing concern from officials about how many at-risk Afghans https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/bidens-vow-airlift-afghan-allies-meets-ticking-clock-risky-rescue-2021-08-17 could be evacuated.
    U.S. troops guarding the evacuation effort fired some shots in the air overnight to control crowds, but there were no indications of casualties or injuries, the Pentagon said earlier on Wednesday.
    Austin said there are about 4,500 U.S. military personnel in Kabul and there “have been no hostile interactions with the Taliban, and our lines of communication with Taliban commanders remain open.”
    Speaking to reporters alongside Austin, General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there had been no intelligence to indicate that the Afghanistan security forces and government would collapse in 11 days, as they did.
    Milley said intelligence had “clearly indicated, multiple scenarios were possible,” including a Taliban takeover following a rapid collapse of Afghan security forces and the government, a civil war or a negotiated settlement.
    “The timeframe of rapid collapse – that was widely estimated and ranged from weeks to months and even years following our departure,” Milley said.
    The two top Republicans in the U.S. Congress, Kevin McCarthy of the House of Representatives and Mitch McConnell of the Senate, requested a classified briefing for the “gang of eight” – the top eight relevant lawmakers – for a status report on the evacuation.
    “It is of the utmost importance that the U.S. government account for all U.S. citizens in Afghanistan and provide the necessary information and means of departure to all those Americans who desire to leave the country,” they wrote in a letter to Biden.
    Both Austin and Milley, who have served in Afghanistan, acknowledged that troops and veterans were finding the images from the evacuation troubling.
    “I’m hearing strong views from all sides on this issue … what’s important is that each of us will work our way through this in our own way,” Austin said.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali, David Brunnstrom, Patricia Zengerle and Eric Beech; Writing by Michelle Nichols and Steve Holland, Editing by Will Dunham, Philippa Fletcher and Grant McCool)

8/19/2021 Taliban Urge People To Leave Airport In Afghan Capital After 12 Killed Since Sunday
People gathered outside the airport react to gunfire, in Kabul, Afghanistan
August 18, 2021 in this still image taken from video. ASVAKA NEWS via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) – A total of 12 people have been killed in and around the airport in the Afghan capital, Kabul, Taliban and NATO officials said, since the Taliban seized the city on Sunday, triggering a rush of fearful people trying to leave.
    The deaths were caused either by gun shots or in stampedes, the Taliban official said on Thursday, and he urged people still crowded at the gates of the facility to go home if they did not have the legal right to travel.
    “We don’t want to hurt anyone at the airport,” said the Taliban official, who declined to be identified.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Editing by Robert Birsel)

8/19/2021 Protests Erupt In Jalalabad & Asadabad, At Least 3 Dead by OAN Newsroom
A man holds the flag of Afghanistan during a protest in Jalalabad on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. Taliban militants have
attacked protesters in eastern Afghanistan who dared to take down their banner and replace it with the country’s flag.
At least one person was killed in the attack that fueled fears about how the insurgents would govern this fractious nation. (AP Photo)
    Protesters chanted out “our flag, our identity” against the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, which has already killed and injured civilians. A Taliban source said on Wednesday that the protests erupted in Jalalabad in Eastern Afghanistan and in Asadabad, a province of Kunar, after local residents took to the streets with an Afghan flag.
    Protesters demanded that the Taliban form a government that includes all of the country’s political forces and ethnic groups.    The demonstrators said they would like to see the Taliban convince civilians they have changed and will not go back to their old ways.
    The Taliban attempted to disperse the protests, in turn, killing at least 3 people and injuring dozens of others. Security experts warned the Taliban is ready to use violence to solidify its grip on power.
    “But what we absolutely have to remember is that they are not a homogenous organization,” stated Gen. Sir Nick Carter, head of the British Army.    “You know the Taliban is a group of disparate tribal figures that come from all over rural Afghanistan and some of the behavior that we are hearing reported at the moment may not be in line with what the political commission wants its country to be in the future, but of course the reality is often different in different parts of the ground.”
    Security officials said the Taliban may not be able to enforce its political agenda and it may plunge Afghanistan into “tribal warfare,” which would eventually pull the Middle Eastern country apart.

8/19/2021 Afghan Women Fear For Their Lives Amid Taliban Takeover by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Aug. 19, 2021 file photo, Taliban fighters display their flag on patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan.
When U.S. President Joe Biden took office early this year, Western allies were falling over themselves to welcome
and praise him and hail a new era in trans-Atlantic cooperation. The collapse of Kabul certainly put a stop to that.
Even some of his biggest fans are now churning out criticism. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)
    The State Department released a joint statement with a group of 20 countries calling to protect the rights of women in Afghanistan.    In the statement Wednesday, U.S. diplomats said the Taliban must not violate the human rights of women and young girls after its takeover of the country.    The department added, the Taliban must also respect women’s rights to education, work and freedom of movement.
    The statement is co-signed by top diplomats from the Australia, the U.K. and the EU among others.    This comes amid reports that claim the Taliban has committed atrocities and sex crimes against women in the past few days.
    Taliban fighters have reportedly killed several women for not wearing an Islamic veil and pulled multiple women from their jobs while asserting only their male relatives could work.    This violence is to be expected, according to women in the country who are fearful of the danger they now face.
    Niloofar Rahmani, the first female pilot of the country’s Air Force, made a harrowing prediction during an interview this week.    Namely, that she does not believe the Taliban will maintain their promise to respect the rights of women there.    The former Afghan pilot escaped from Afghanistan in 2015 after garnering acclaim worldwide, which led to scrutiny and death threats from the Taliban.
    Rahmani said the Taliban now sees the U.S. departure as a golden opportunity to control the entire nation.
    “All of a sudden, they’re seeing these evils in the city and they’re just waiting for America to evacuate completely,” she stated.    “And then they’ll know that Afghanistan is completely under their control and they’ll start the violence and laws, and it’ll be the same laws they had 20 years ago, maybe even stronger.”
    The terrorist group promised to honor women’s rights, but that promise has yet to be believed by the rest of the international community.

8/19/2021 Taliban Urge Afghan Unity As Protests Spread To Kabul
People march with the Afghan national flags in Kabul, Afghanistan in this still image
taken from a video August 19, 2021. Courtesy Sada e Jameya News Agency/via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban called on Afghanistan’s imams to urge unity when they hold their first Friday prayers since the Islamist group seized control of the country, as protests against the takeover spread to more cities on Thursday, including the capital Kabul.
    Several people were killed when Taliban militants fired on a crowd in the eastern city of Asadabad, a witness said.    Another witness reported gunshots near a rally in Kabul, but they appeared to be Taliban firing into the air.
    On the day Afghanistan celebrates its independence from British control in 1919, a social media video showed a crowd of men and women in Kabul waving black, red and green national flags.    “Our flag, our identity,” they shouted.
    At some protests elsewhere, media reported people tearing down the white flag of the Taliban.
    A Taliban spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
    Some demonstrations were small, but combined with the desperate scramble of thousands of people seeking to flee the country they underline the challenge the Taliban face in governing.
    The group had conquered Afghanistan at lightning speed as foreign troops withdrew, surprising even their own leaders and leaving power vacuums to fill in many places.
    The Taliban urged unity ahead of Friday prayers, and they called on all imams to persuade people not to leave the country.
    Since seizing Kabul on Sunday, the Taliban have presented a more moderate face, saying they want peace https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-show-conciliatory-face-first-kabul-news-conference-2021-08-17, will not take revenge against old enemies and will respect the rights of women https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/times-have-changed-some-afghan-women-defiant-taliban-return-2021-08-17 within the framework of Islamic law.
    When in power from 1996-2001, they severely restricted women’s rights, staged public executions and blew up ancient Buddhist statues.
CASUALTIES
    It was unclear if the casualties in Asadabad resulted from Taliban firing or from a stampede.
    “Hundreds of people came out on the streets,” witness Mohammed Salim said.    “At first I was scared and didn’t want to go but when I saw one of my neighbours joined in, I took out the flag I have at home."
    “Several people were killed and injured in the stampede and firing by the Taliban.”
    Protests flared in the city of Jalalabad in Paktia province, also in the east.    On Wednesday, Taliban fighters fired at protesters waving flags in Jalalabad, killing three, witnesses and media reported.
    First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who is trying to rally opposition to the Taliban, said on Twitter: “Salute those who carry the national flag and thus stand for dignity of the nation.”
    Saleh said on Tuesday he was the “legitimate caretaker president” in Afghanistan after President Ashraf Ghani fled.
    Ahmad Massoud, leader of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan and the son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, a veteran guerrilla leader killed by suspected al Qaeda militants in 2001, called for Western support to fight the Taliban.
    “I write from the Panjshir Valley today, ready to follow in my father’s footsteps, with mujahideen fighters who are prepared to once again take on the Taliban,” Massoud wrote in an op-ed https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/08/18/mujahideen-resistance-taliban-ahmad-massoud for the Washington Post.
    Qatar could host fresh talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government as soon as next week to reach an agreement over power sharing and government transition, said two sources familiar with the process and two foreign diplomats.
    Former Afghan leaders, including ex-president Hamid Karzai, have already held talks with the Taliban.
    G7 foreign ministers called for a united https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-conflict-g7/g7-calls-for-international-shared-mission-to-limit-afghan-crisis-idUSKBN2FK1UNinternational response to prevent the crisis escalating further, in comments echoed by countries including Russia.    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-conflict-russia-italy/russias-putin-italys-draghi-and-frances-macron-discuss-afghanistan-idUSKBN2FK1PH China https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/senior-chinese-diplomat-says-afghanistan-should-not-be-geopolitical-battleground-2021-08-19 said the world should support, not pressure, Afghanistan.
    U.S. President Joe Biden said the Taliban must decide if they want international recognition.
    “Do they want to be recognised by the international community as being a legitimate government?    I’m not sure they do,” Biden said in TV interview.
AIRPORT CHAOS
    At the border with Pakistan, traders and officials said commercial traffic was starting to return to normal https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-conflict-trade/trucks-rolling-across-afghanistan-border-as-trade-resumes-idUSKBN2FK1XY
    Kabul has been largely calm, but 12 people have been killed in and around the airport, a NATO and a Taliban official said.
    A Taliban official said they could not be blamed for the chaos at the airport.    In one scene captured on social media https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/small-afghan-girl-is-lifted-crowd-capturing-desperation-flee-kabul-2021-08-19 a small girl was hoisted over the airport’s perimeter wall and handed to a U.S. soldier.
    The Taliban were “keeping their word” by providing foreign powers with support in evacuations, another Taliban official told Reuters.    “We are facilitating safe exit passage not just for foreigners but also to Afghans.”
(For a graphic on the airport chaos, click: https://tmsnrt.rs/3stVpcj)
    Afghanistan’s Ariana News reported that an Afghan national team https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/afghan-footballer-dies-fall-plane-kabul-ariana-2021-08-19footballer died in a fall from a U.S. plane at Kabul airport on Monday, when crowds of people were seen trying to board a moving aircraft.
    U.S. Army Major General William Taylor said more than 5,200 U.S. troops were guarding Kabul airport, where multiple gates are now open.
    U.S. fighter jets are flying over the city to ensure security for the evacuation operation, the Pentagon said.
    Under a pact negotiated by former President Donald Trump’s administration, the United States agreed to withdraw its forces in exchange for a Taliban guarantee not to attack departing foreign forces or let Afghanistan be used for terrorist attacks.
    Biden said U.S. forces would remain until all Americans were evacuated, even if that meant staying past an Aug. 31 U.S. deadline for withdrawal.
(Reporting by Kabul and Washington newsrooms; Writing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel and Catherine Evans; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Jane Merriman, Nick Macfie, Mike Collett-White and Hugh Lawson)

8/19/2021 Biden Dismisses Concerns About Afghans Trying To Flee The Taliban by OAN Newsroom
President Joe Biden speaks from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug 18, 2021, on the COVID-19 response
and vaccination program. U.S. health officials Wednesday announced plans to offer COVID-19 booster shots to all Americans to shore up
their protection amid the surging delta variant and signs that the vaccines’ effectiveness is falling. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
    Joe Biden dismissed concerns about fatalities of fleeing Afghans during a heated interview about the Taliban takeover.    On Wednesday, Biden was asked about recently surfaced videos, which show residents falling to their death as they cling to evacuation planes.    The Democrat brushed this off as something that happened “four-to-five days ago'” when it was, in fact, only two.
    Biden was then grilled for his judgment in July when he predicted a tragedy like this was highly unlikely.     “The idea that the Taliban would takeover was premised on the notion that somehow the 300,000 troops we had trained and equipped was gonna just collapse, they were gonna give up,” he previously stated.    “I don’t think anybody anticipated that.”
    Biden went on to say he does not believe there was a better way his administration could have withdrawn troops from Afghanistan.    However, a Trump-era program, which could quickly airlift Americans from Afghanistan, was found to have been scrapped by his administration.
    According to the National Pulse on Wednesday, Biden shut down the State Department’s Contingency and Crisis Response Program earlier this year.    The program, implemented by the Trump administration, was designed to provide diplomatic, medical and logistical support to Americans abroad to prevent Benghazi-style situations.    Biden’s officials reportedly defunded that program in June as part of its reversals of President Donald Trump’s policies.

8/19/2021 Biden Says Taliban Must Decide If It Wants International Recognition – Interview
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response and vaccination program
during a speech in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 18, 2021. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Taliban must decide whether it wants to be recognized by the international community, U.S. President Joe Biden said in an ABC interview aired on Thursday, adding that he did not think the group had changed its fundamental beliefs.
    Asked if he thought the Taliban had changed, Biden told ABC News, “No.”
    “I think they’re going through a sort of existential crisis about: Do they want to be recognized by the international community as being a legitimate government?    I’m not sure they do,” he said, adding that the group appeared more committed to its beliefs.
    But, he added, the Taliban also had to grapple with whether it could provide for Afghans.
    “They also care about whether they have food to eat, whether they have an income that … can run an economy, they care about whether or not they can hold together the society that they in fact say they care so much about,” Biden said in the interview, taped on Wednesday.    “I’m not counting on any of that.”
    He also added that it would take economic and diplomatic pressure — not military force — to ensure women’s rights.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Chizu Nomiyama)
[JOE I DARE YOU TO GO TO AFGHANISTAN AND ASK THEM IF IT WANTS INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION AND I WILL GET TO SEE THEM SPREAD YOUR BODY PARTS INTERNATIONALLY.].

8/20/2021 China Marks Tibet Anniversary With Call To Accept Communist Party Rule by Yew Lun Tian
Wang Yang, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee,
arrives at an airport before the celebration marking the 70th anniversary of China's control over Tibet,
in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China August 18, 2021. cnsphoto via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China marked the 70th anniversary of its control over Tibet on Thursday, with a celebration in Lhasa, to drive home the message to accept the rule of the Communist Party.
    Beijing has ruled the remote western region since 1951, after its People’s Liberation Army marched in and took control in what it calls a “peaceful liberation.”
    “Tibet can only develop and prosper under the party’s leadership and socialism,” Wang Yang, who heads a national organisation responsible for uniting all races and all parties under the leadership of the Communist Party, said at the event in the region’s capital, Lhasa.
    The celebration, attended by almost 10,000 people, was held at the foot of the iconic Potala Palace, a sacred Buddhist site associated with the Dalai Lamas.
    A nationwide live telecast of the celebration prominently featured a four-storey high portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping towering over the audience.
    Propagandists in the 1950s and 1960s used to extensively display Mao Zedong’s portraits at rallies and celebrations to whip up a personality cult around him and cultivate loyalty.
    Most leaders after Mao forbade the practice, although under Xi’s rule, his solo portraits as well as those with him and four previous leaders have been placed extensively in Tibet.
    The party’s atheist Han leaders in Beijing have also made extra efforts to cultivate loyalty among Tibetans, many of whom are devout Buddhists and traditionally view the Dalai Lamas as their spiritual leaders.
    Beijing brands the current Dalai Lama, exiled in neighbouring India, as a dangerous separatist and instead recognises the current Panchen Lama, put in place by the party, as the highest religious figure in Tibet.
    As a mark of the party’s rule over Tibetan Buddhism, Wang presented the Panchen Lama with a commemorative plaque at the ceremony.
(This story corrects anniversary event to control over Tibet from founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region, in first paragraph)
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

8/20/2021 Over 18,000 People Evacuated Since Sunday From Kabul Airport - NATO Official
FILE PHOTO: Spanish citizens residing in Afghanistan and Afghans board a military plane as part of their evacuation, at the
Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 18, 2021. Ministry of Defense of Spain/Handout via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) – More than 18,000 people have been evacuated from Kabul airport since the Taliban took over the Afghanistan capital, a NATO official told Reuters on Friday.
    However, crowds continued to throng outside the airport, desperate to flee, said the official, who declined to be identified.    The Taliban took over Kabul on Sunday.
(Reporting by Rupam Jain, Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

8/20/2021 China Can Contribute To Afghan Development - Taliban Spokesman
FILE PHOTO: Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen leaves after a news conference in Moscow, Russia July 9, 2021. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    BEIJING (Reuters) -China has played a constructive role in promoting peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan and is welcome to contribute to the rebuilding of the country, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Chinese state media.
    Taliban militants seized control over the weekend in an upheaval that sent thousands of civilians and Afghan military allies fleeing for safety.    Many fear a return to the austere interpretation of Islamic law imposed during the previous Taliban rule that ended 20 years ago.
    In dealing with the Taliban, an increasingly powerful China may be able to leverage the fact that unlike Russia and the United States, it has not fought in Afghanistan.
    “China is a big country with a huge economy and capacity – I think they can play a very big role in the rebuilding, rehabilitation, reconstruction of Afghanistan,” Shaheen told CGTN television in an interview late on Thursday.
    During Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s meeting with a Taliban delegation in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin last month, he said he hoped Afghanistan could adopt a moderate Islamist policy.
    China has cited religious extremism as a destabilizing force in its western Xinjiang region and has long worried that Taliban-controlled territory would be used to harbour separatist forces.
(Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Peter Cooney)

8/20/2021 Taliban Urge Afghan Unity As Protests Spread To Kabul
People march with the Afghan national flags in Kabul, Afghanistan in this still image
taken from a video August 19, 2021. Courtesy Sada e Jameya News Agency/via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) -The Taliban called on Afghanistan’s imams to urge unity when they hold their first Friday prayers since the Islamist group seized control of the country, as protests against the takeover spread to more cities on Thursday, including the capital, Kabul.
    Several people were killed when Taliban militants fired on a crowd in the eastern city of Asadabad, a witness said.
    Another witness reported gunshots near a rally in Kabul, but they appeared to be Taliban firing into the air.
    On the day Afghanistan celebrates its independence from British control in 1919, a social media video showed a crowd of men and women in Kabul waving black, red and green national flags.
    “Our flag, our identity,” they shouted.
    At some protests elsewhere, media reported people tearing down the Taliban’s white flag.
    A Taliban spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
    Some demonstrations were small, but combined with the desperate scramble of thousands of people seeking to flee the country they underline the challenge the Taliban face in governing.
    Kabul has been largely calm, but 12 people have been killed in and around the airport, NATO and Taliban officials said.
    The U.S. military said https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-fighter-jets-flying-over-kabul-ensure-evacuation-security-pentagon-2021-08-19 more than 5,200 American troops were guarding Kabul airport, where multiple gates to the facility are now open, while U.S. fighter jets were flying over the city to ensure security for the evacuation operation for diplomats and civilians including some Afghan citizens.
    State Department spokesman Ned Price said https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-conflict-usa-state-depart-idUSKBN2FK23N 6,000 “fully processed” people were currently at the Kabul airport and would soon be boarding planes.    A source told Reuters that White House officials told a congressional briefing that the United States already had evacuated 6,741 people, including 1,792 American citizens and legal permanent residents.
    The Taliban swiftly conquered Afghanistan as U.S. and other foreign troops withdrew, surprising even their own leaders and leaving power vacuums in many places.
    The Taliban urged unity ahead of Friday prayers, calling on imams to persuade people not to leave Afghanistan.
    Since seizing Kabul on Sunday, the Taliban have presented a more moderate face, saying they want peace https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-show-conciliatory-face-first-kabul-news-conference-2021-08-17, will not take revenge against old enemies and will respect the rights of women https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/times-have-changed-some-afghan-women-defiant-taliban-return-2021-08-17 within the framework of Islamic law.
    When in power from 1996-2001, they severely restricted women’s rights, staged public executions and blew up ancient Buddhist statues.    They were ousted in a 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
BLACKLIST
    A report by a Norwegian intelligence group said the Taliban had begun rounding up Afghans on a blacklist https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-are-rounding-up-afghans-blacklist-private-intel-report-2021-08-19 of people linked to Afghanistan’s previous administration or U.S.-led forces that supported it. Complaints by some Afghan journalists https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/actions-or-words-afghan-journalists-question-talibans-free-press-pledge-2021-08-19 have cast doubt on assurances that independent media would be allowed.
    A U.S. lawmaker said the Taliban were using files from Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, to identify Afghans who worked for the United States.
    “They are methodically ramping up efforts to round those folks up,” said Representative Jason Crow, who has been leading efforts in the U.S. Congress to accelerate the evacuation of American-affiliated Afghans.    “I’ve had people send me pictures of Taliban outside their apartment complexes, searching for them.”
    Crow voiced concern that the U.S. government may end the evacuation operation on Aug. 31, leaving more than 100,000 at-risk Afghans and family members in danger of Taliban reprisals.
    Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn said they had moved to secure the accounts of Afghan citizens to protect them from being targeted amid the Taliban’s takeover.
    It was unclear if the Asadabad casualties resulted from Taliban firing or from a stampede.
    “Hundreds of people came out on the streets,” witness Mohammed Salim said.    “At first I was scared and didn’t want to go, but when I saw one of my neighbours joined in, I took out the flag I have at home.    Several people were killed and injured in the stampede and firing by the Taliban.”
    Protests flared in the city of Jalalabad and in Paktia province, also in the east.
    First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who said on Tuesday he was the “legitimate caretaker president” after President Ashraf Ghani fled, wrote on Twitter: “Salute those who carry the national flag and thus stand for dignity of the nation.”
    Ahmad Massoud, son of guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was killed by suspected al Qaeda militants in 2001, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/son-slain-afghan-hero-massoud-vows-resistance-seeks-support-2021-08-19 that he is “ready to follow in my father’s footsteps, with mujahideen fighters who are prepared to once again take on the Taliban.”
LIMITED LEVERAGE
    U.S. President Joe Biden said the Taliban must decide if they want international recognition.
    “Do they want to be recognized by the international community as being a legitimate government?    I’m not sure they do,” Biden said in TV interview.
    White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in an interview with NBC News that the United States is “laser-focused” on “the potential for a terrorist attack” by a group like Islamic State amid the evacuation.
    “We will get any American who wants to get to the airport and who we get in contact with who says: ‘I want to get out and get on a plane,’ we will make that happen,” Sullivan said.
    About two dozen U.S. diplomats in Afghanistan sent an internal cable last month warning Secretary of State Antony Blinken of the potential fall of Kabul to the Taliban as U.S. troops withdrew from the country, The Wall Street Journal reported.
    G7 foreign ministers called for a united https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-conflict-g7/g7-calls-for-international-shared-mission-to-limit-afghan-crisis-idUSKBN2FK1UN international response to prevent the crisis from worsening, in comments echoed by countries including Russia.    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-conflict-russia-italy/russias-putin-italys-draghi-and-frances-macron-discuss-afghanistan-idUSKBN2FK1PH China https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/senior-chinese-diplomat-says-afghanistan-should-not-be-geopolitical-battleground-2021-08-19 said the world should support, not pressure, Afghanistan.
    A Taliban official said they could not be blamed for the chaos at Kabul airport.    In one scene captured on social media https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/small-afghan-girl-is-lifted-crowd-capturing-desperation-flee-kabul-2021-08-19, a small girl was hoisted over the airport’s perimeter wall and handed to a U.S. soldier.
    Under a pact negotiated by former President Donald Trump’s administration, the United States agreed to withdraw its forces in exchange for a Taliban guarantee not to attack departing foreign forces or let Afghanistan be used for terrorist attacks.
(Reporting by Kabul and Washington newsrooms; Writing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel, Will Dunham and Catherine Evans; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)

8/21/2021 U.S. Embassy Warns Americans To Stay Away From Kabul Airport by OAN Newsroom
U.S. soldiers stand guard behind barbed wire as Afghans sit on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on
August 20, 2021, hoping to flee from the country after the Taliban’s military takeover of Afghanistan. (Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)
    The U.S. Embassy has warned American citizens in Afghanistan to stay away from the Kabul airport.    In a security alert on Saturday, the embassy advised any American hoping to escape the nation through the airport in Kabul to wait.
    The embassy went on to cite security concerns near the airport’s gates.    Embassy officials did not elaborate on the potential threat, but added the embassy would contact registered American citizens with updates on the situation.
    The security alert comes just hours after Joe Biden promised to retrieve American citizens and Afghans who helped the U.S. and bring them to the states safely.
.
8/23/2021 Germany Says Firefight Involving Western Forces Erupts At Kabul Airport
A soldier assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division provides security at Hamid Karzai International
Airport, Afghanistan, August 21, 2021. U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Davis Harris/Handout via REUTERS
    KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A firefight broke out between unidentified gunmen, Western security forces and Afghan guards at Kabul airport on Monday, Germany’s armed forces said, as thousands of Afghans and foreigners thronged the airport, seeking to flee Taliban rule.
    One Afghan guard was killed and three were wounded in the battle at the airport’s north gate, which involved U.S. and German forces, the German military said on Twitter.
    While the Taliban have deployed fighters outside the airport, where they have tried to help enforce some kind of order, there are Afghan guards helping U.S. forces inside the airport.
    CNN reported that a sniper outside the airport had fired at Afghan guards inside the facility and they had returned fire but U.S. forces had fired back at the Afghan guards.
    Two NATO officials at the airport said the situation was under control and all airport gates had been closed.
    The airport has been in chaos since the Taliban seized the capital on Aug. 15 as U.S. and international forces try to evacuate citizens and vulnerable Afghans.
    On Sunday, Taliban fighters beat back crowds at the airport a day after seven Afghans were killed https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/seven-people-killed-crowd-near-kabul-airport-uk-ministry-defence-2021-08-22 in a crush at the gates as the deadline for the withdrawal of foreign troops approaches.
    Foreign forces in Afghanistan have not sought to extend the Aug. 31 deadline to leave, a Taliban official said, after President Joe Biden said U.S. troops might stay longer to oversee a “hard and painful” evacuation.
    The Taliban seized power just over a week ago as the United States and its allies withdrew troops after a 20-year war launched in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as U.S. forces hunted al Qaeda leaders and sought to punish their Taliban hosts.
    The administration of Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, struck a deal with the Taliban last year allowing the United Sates to withdraw its forces in exchange for Taliban security guarantees.
    Foreign forces were working towards the end-August deadline to leave and had not sought to extend it, a senior legal adviser to the Taliban leadership told Reuters on Monday.
    Biden said on Sunday the security situation in Afghanistan was changing rapidly and remained dangerous.
    “Let me be clear, the evacuation of thousands from Kabul is going to be hard and painful” and would have been “no matter when it began,” Biden said in a briefing at the White House.
    “We have a long way to go and a lot could still go wrong.”
    Biden said he had directed the State Department to contact stranded Americans.
    “We’re executing a plan to move groups of these Americans to safety and to safely and effectively move them to the airport compound … I will say again today what I’ve said before: Any American who wants to get home will get home.”
    Afghan allies of the West and vulnerable Afghans such as women activists and journalists would be helped too, he said.
CIVILIAN AIRCRAFT
    Panicked Afghans have clamoured to board flights out of Kabul, fearing reprisals and a return to a harsh version of Islamic law that the Sunni Muslim group implemented when it held power.
    The United States on Sunday sought the help of six commercial airlines https://www.reuters.com/world/biden-administration-use-commercial-airlines-carry-afghan-evacuees-2021-08-22 to transport people after their evacuation from Afghanistan.    Biden said people fleeing Afghanistan were being assisted by more than two dozen countries in four continents.
    Japan said it will send a military aircraft https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japan-send-military-aircraft-repatriate-citizens-afghanistan-2021-08-23 to Afghanistan on Monday to bring back its citizens. More flights are expected to repatriate     Japanese citizens as well as Afghans working at the Japanese embassy or with Japanese missions, a government spokesperson said.
    A U.N. flight took 120 people from Kabul to Kazakhstan on Sunday, a U.N. spokesman said. Passengers included U.N. personnel and members of non-governmental organizations who work with the United Nations in Afghanistan, he said, adding that it was the second such flight in a week.
OPPOSITION
    Leaders of the Taliban, who have sought to show a more moderate face since capturing Kabul, have begun talks on forming a government.
    They face opposition from forces in northern Afghanistan, which said this weekend https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/anti-taliban-forces-say-theyve-taken-three-districts-afghanistans-north-2021-08-21 they had taken three districts close to the Panjshir valley, an old stronghold of Taliban opponents.
    Anti-Taliban leader Ahmad Massoud https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/anti-taliban-leader-massoud-says-negotiation-only-way-forward-2021-08-22 said on Sunday he hoped to hold talks with the Islamist movement but his forces in the Panjshir – remnants of army units, special forces and militiamen – were ready to fight.     “We want to make the Taliban realise that the only way forward is through negotiation,” he said.    “We do not want a war to break out.”
    The Taliban said hundreds of their fighters were heading towards Panjshir, showing a video on Twitter of a column of captured trucks with the white Taliban flag but still bearing government markings on a highway.
    But overall, peace has prevailed in recent days.
    Reuters spoke to eight doctors in hospitals in several cities who said they had not heard of any violence or received any casualties from clashes since Thursday.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau, Rupam Jain, Caroline Copley, Michelle Nichols, Simon Lewis, Ju-min Park; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

8/23/2021 Biden Says U.S. Unwavering In Afghanistan Evacuations; Taliban Beat Back Crowd At Airport
A U.S. Marine provides a meal ready-to-eat to a child during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport,
Kabul, Afghanistan, August 21, 2021. Picture taken August 21, 2021. U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/Handout via REUTERS
    KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States has an unwavering commitment to getting U.S. citizens and at-risk Afghans out of Afghanistan, President Joe Biden said, as Taliban fighters beat back thousands desperate to flee outside Kabul airport on Sunday.
    Biden said the security situation in Afghanistan was changing rapidly and his administration was under no illusions about the threat from Islamic State militants in Afghanistan known as ISIS-K (for Khorasan).
    The Taliban, which seized power in Afghanistan last week as the United States and its allies withdrew troops after a 20-year war, fired in the air and used batons to force people to form queues outside the airport, witnesses said. On Saturday, seven Afghans were killed https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/seven-people-killed-crowd-near-kabul-airport-uk-ministry-defence-2021-08-22 in a crush at the gates.
    A NATO official said at least 20 people had died in the past seven days in and around the airport. Some were shot and others died in stampedes, witnesses have said.
    “Let me be clear, the evacuation of thousands from Kabul is going to be hard and painful” and would have been “no matter when it began,” Biden said in a briefing at the White House.
    “We have a long way to go and a lot could still go wrong.”
    Biden said he had directed the State Department to contact Americans stranded in Afghanistan by phone, email and other means, and the United States had a plan to move them to the airport.
    “We’re executing a plan to move groups of these Americans to safety and to safely and effectively move them to the airport compound.    For security reasons, I’m not going to go into detail … but I will say again today what I’ve said before: Any American who wants to get home will get home.”
    Afghan allies of the West and vulnerable Afghans such as women activists and journalists would be helped too, he said.
    On Sunday, there were no major injuries as gunmen beat back the crowds, according to witnesses.    The Taliban had been “cooperative” about extending the airport perimeter, Biden said.
    Asked by a reporter whether the United States would extend an Aug. 31 deadline for evacuations, Biden replied: “Our hope is we will not have to extend but there are going to be discussions I suspect on how far along we are in the process.”
CIVILIAN AIRCRAFT
    The United States on Sunday sought the help of six commercial airlines https://www.reuters.com/world/biden-administration-use-commercial-airlines-carry-afghan-evacuees-2021-08-22 to transport people after their evacuation from Afghanistan. Biden said people were being assisted by more than two dozen countries in four continents.
    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called a virtual meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy nations for Tuesday to “ensure safe evacuations, prevent a humanitarian crisis and support the Afghan people.”
    Britain plans to push world leaders to consider new sanctions on the Taliban when the G7 meets, sources told Reuters.     Biden said he would support that effort, depending on the conduct of the Taliban.
    Panicked Afghans have tried to board flights out of Kabul since last weekend, fearing reprisals and a return to a harsh version of Islamic law the Sunni Muslim group exercised while in power two decades ago.
    Leaders of the Taliban, who have sought to show a more moderate face since capturing Kabul, have begun talks on forming a government.
OPPOSITION
    They face opposition from forces in northern Afghanistan, which said this weekend https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/anti-taliban-forces-say-theyve-taken-three-districts-afghanistans-north-2021-08-21 they had taken three districts close to the Panjshir valley.
    Anti-Taliban leader Ahmad Massoud https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/anti-taliban-leader-massoud-says-negotiation-only-way-forward-2021-08-22 said on Sunday he hoped to hold peaceful talks with the Islamist movement but that his forces in the Panjshir – remnants of army units, special forces and militiamen – were ready to fight.
    “We want to make the Taliban realise that the only way forward is through negotiation,” he said.    “We do not want a war to break out.”
    The Taliban said hundreds of their fighters were heading towards Panjshir, showing a video on Twitter of a column of captured trucks with the white Taliban flag but still bearing their government markings moving along a highway.
    The United States and other countries including Britain have brought in several thousand troops to help evacuate foreign citizens and at-risk Afghans from Kabul, but have been careful to avoid clashes with the Taliban.
    A Taliban official said: “We are seeking complete clarity on foreign forces’ exit plan.”
    Taliban political office spokesman Mohammed Naeem told Saudi-owned Al Hadath TV that talks are ongoing with the United States and other countries.    He said al Qaeda is not present in Afghanistan and the Taliban has no relationship with it.
    Afghans who fled in the past week have spoken about https://www.reuters.com/world/afghans-speak-despair-uncertainty-after-evacuation-qatar-2021-08-21 their despair at leaving loved ones behind.    “It was very difficult to leave,” a veiled woman told Reuters in Qatar.    “I love my country.”
    The World Health Organization and U.N. children’s agency UNICEF called for a humanitarian air bridge to deliver aid to Afghanistan to help more than 18 million people in need.
    U.S. Army Major General William Taylor said on Saturday that the United States https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-says-2500-americans-evacuated-kabul-past-week-2021-08-21 in the past week had evacuated 17,000 people, including 2,500 Americans, from Kabul.
    On one of the flights, an Afghan woman gave birth on board moments after landing at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Saturday, the U.S. Air Force said on Twitter.    The woman delivered a baby girl in the cargo bay of a C-17 aircraft.    The mother and baby were in good condition, the tweet said.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau, Rupam Jain, Idrees Ali, Simon Lewis, Andrea Shalal, Susan Heavey; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Clarence Fernandez, Raissa Kasolowsky, Giles Elgood, Grant McCool and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Jan Harvey, Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)

8/23/2021 Taliban Not Willing To Extend August 31 Withdrawal Deadline by OAN Newsroom
Evacuees from Afghanistan disembark from an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at the Sigonella U.S. air base in Sicily, southern Italy,
Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021. People fleeing Afghanistan arrived at the U.S. naval air base in Sicily as Washington tried to ramp up evacuations following
the Taliban takeover of the country by using overseas military bases as temporary transit points. (Daniel Young/U.S. Navy via AP)
    The Taliban has refused to extend the deadline for international troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.    During an interview Sunday, a spokesman for the terrorist group warned if foreign troops remain past August 31 it will “provoke a reaction.”
    The Taliban said the deadline is a “red line” as the Biden administration considers leaving some personnel in the region past the date.    The spokesman said this would cause “distrust” between the Taliban and the U.S. while claiming anyone who says they are afraid are exaggerating.    It’s currently unclear whether the Biden administration will hold to the deadline.
    Meanwhile, the Taliban closed in on the last province of Afghanistan that has not fallen under their control.    The terrorist group said on Sunday that hundreds of its fighters were headed to the Panjshir Valley, northeast of Kabul, where ex-government troops have gathered to join other resistance groups.
    The leader of the National Resistance Front (NRF) of Afghanistan, Ali Nazary, has said his group wants to pursue peaceful negotiations.    However, he also said that if that fails then the NRF are not going to accept any sort of aggression and has thousands ready to fight.
    The Panjshir region is famous for having successfully fought off invasions from the Soviets in the 80s and the Taliban in the 90s.

8/23/2021 Amid Kabul Evacuation Chaos, Biden Under Pressure To Extend Deadline
U.S. Marines and Norwegian coalition forces assist with security at an Evacuation Control Checkpoint
ensuring evacuees are processed safely during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport,
Kabul, Afghanistan, August 20, 2021. U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla
    KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -With thousands of desperate Afghans and foreigners crowding into Kabul airport in the hope of fleeing Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers, pressure grew on U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday to extend the deadline for the evacuation operation.
    Biden on Sunday warned that the evacuation was going to be “hard and painful” and said a lot could still go wrong. U.S. troops might stay beyond their Aug. 31 deadline to oversee the evacuation, he said.
    Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that while the final decision was Biden’s, the expectation was that the United States would continue evacuations past Aug. 31.
    The difficulties at the airport were underlined on Monday morning when a firefight erupted between Afghan guards and unidentified gunmen.    German and U.S. forces were also involved, the Germany military said.
    The security situation around Kabul airport has become increasingly dangerous, a senior Canadian government official told reporters.
    “Crowds are intense, violence is becoming more common and Taliban checkpoints in surrounding areas are preventing many from reaching the airport area,” said the official, who spoke on the condition he not be identified.
    Canadian special forces are operating outside the airport in an effort to bring as many eligible people as possible through security gates, the official added.
    Britain and France were among those calling for the deadline to be eased.    But a Taliban official said foreign forces had not sought an extension and it would not be granted if they had.
    And a local Taliban militant, speaking to a large crowd in Kabul, urged Afghans to remain in the country.
    “Where has our honour gone to?    Where has our dignity gone to?” the unidentified militant said.    “We will not let the Americans continue to be here.    They will have to leave this place.    Whether it is a gun or a pen, we will fight to our last breath.”
    The Taliban seized power just over a week ago as the United States and its allies were withdrawing troops after a 20-year war launched in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States by al Qaeda in 2001.
    Panicked Afghans and foreigners have thronged the airport for days, clamouring to catch a flight out.    Many fear reprisals and a return to a harsh version of Islamic law that the Taliban enforced while in power from 1996 to 2001.
    Twenty people have been killed in the chaos, most in shootings and stampedes, as U.S. and international forces try to bring order.    One member of the Afghan forces was killed and several wounded in Monday’s clash, the U.S. military said.
    A flight carrying evacuated at-risk Afghans will arrive in the United States later on Monday from Ramstein air base in Germany, a senior State Department official said, adding that the pace of flights from transit hubs housing evacuees will ramp up.
    The official dismissed reports that only Americans could get through to Kabul airport while others were blocked.
    Germany said it had airlifted almost 3,000 people originating from 43 countries from Kabul, including 1,800 Afghans.
G7 TALKS
    Biden said the security situation was changing rapidly and remained dangerous.
    “Let me be clear, the evacuation of thousands from Kabul is going to be hard and painful,” Biden said on Sunday.
    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will urge Biden https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/uks-johnson-push-biden-afghan-deadline-extension-2021-08-23 to extend the deadline.    His spokesperson said Britain still wanted to fly out thousands of people, but British evacuations could not continue once U.S. troops leave.
    France’s foreign minister said more time was needed.    “We are concerned about the Aug. 31 deadline set by the United States,” Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
    German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said a virtual summit of the Group of Seven wealthy nations on Tuesday needed to agree on whether to extend the deadline and how to improve access to the airport.
    The airport chaos is also disrupting aid shipments.
    Some 500 tonnes of medical supplies were stuck because Kabul airport was closed to commercial flights, Richard Brennan, World Health Organization regional emergency director for the Eastern Mediterranean Region, told Reuters.
    He said empty planes should divert to Dubai to collect the supplies on their way to pick up evacuees in Afghanistan.
    Leaders of the Taliban, who have sought to show https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-seek-present-moderate-face-they-take-control-afghanistan-2021-08-15 a more moderate face since capturing Kabul, have begun talks on forming a government, while their forces focus on the last pockets of opposition.
    Taliban fighters had retaken three districts in the northern province of Baghlan which opposition forces briefly captured and had surrounded opposition forces in the Panjshir valley, an old stronghold of Taliban opponents northeast of Kabul.
    “The Islamic Emirate is trying to resolve the problems peacefully,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid Zabihullah said on Monday.    But his statement suggested there was no fighting for the moment.
    Anti-Taliban leader Ahmad Massoud https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/anti-taliban-leader-massoud-says-negotiation-only-way-forward-2021-08-22 said on Sunday he hoped to talk with the Taliban but his forces in Panjshir were ready to fight.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau, Rupam Jain, Caroline Copley, Michelle Nichols, Simon Lewis, Ju-min Park, Emma Farge, David Ljunggren, Idrees Ali; Writing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel and Giles Elgood; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Nick Macfie, Angus MacSwan and Grant McCool)

8/23/2021 Analysis: China, Pakistan, India Jockey For Position In Afghanistan’s New Great Game by Sanjeev Miglani, Asif Shahzad and Yew Lun Tian
FILE PHOTO: Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during an interview with
Reuters in Islamabad, Pakistan June 4, 2021. REUTERS/Saiyna Bashir
    (Reuters) – The Russian and British empires battled over Afghanistan in the 19th century, and the United States and the Soviet Union in the 20th.    As the Taliban takes over in the strategic, landlocked nation, the new Great Game has Pakistan in control, with its ally China looking to cement its grip on the region.
    Pakistan has deep ties with the Taliban and has been accused of supporting the Islamist group as it battled the U.S.-backed government in Kabul – charges denied by Islamabad. When the Taliban captured Kabul last week, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said Afghans had broken the “shackles of slavery,”
    As the Taliban holds discussions to decide on its government model, media reports have said some Pakistani officials are involved.
    A Foreign Office spokesperson in Islamabad said Pakistan wanted an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan that ensured peace and stability in the region but added the “key role remains with the Afghans.”
    China, with no previous involvement in Afghanistan but a strong alliance with Pakistan, has held out an olive branch https://www.reuters.com/world/china/taliban-advances-china-lays-groundwork-accept-an-awkward-reality-2021-08-14 to the Taliban, enticed by the country’s mineral wealth https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/what-are-afghanistans-untapped-minerals-resources-2021-08-19, including its large reserves of lithium, a key component for electric vehicles.    China is also looking at the prospect of extra security for its narrow land route through the Karakoram mountains into Pakistan.
    And then there is India – Pakistan’s old enemy, which has been locked in a military standoff with China along their disputed border for more than a year.    India was a key supporter of the ousted regime in Kabul and as both Pakistan and China become key players in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, New Delhi’s nervousness in increasing.
    China however says its main aim in reaching out to the Taliban is to protect its western Xinjiang region from anti-Beijing East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) militants, who could seek sanctuary within Afghanistan.
    “While Pakistan might be thinking of leveraging on Afghanistan against India, this is not necessarily the case for China,” said Zhang Li, a professor of South Asian studies at Sichuan University.
    “China’s primary concern now is for the Taliban to … build an inclusive and moderate regime so that terrorism would not spill over to Xinjiang and the region.    Any other calculus further to that remains to be seen.”
    The U.S. government says ETIM no longer exists as a formal organization and is instead a broad label China uses to oppress a variety of Muslim ethnic groups, including Uyghurs, in its Xinjiang region.    China denies all accusations of abuse.
    China has dangled the prospect of providing the two things the Taliban needs to govern Afghanistan: diplomatic recognition and much-needed infrastructure and economic assistance, said Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.
    “An opportunistic China is certain to exploit the new opening to make strategic inroads into mineral-rich Afghanistan and deepen its penetration of Pakistan, Iran, and Central Asia,” he said.
BITTER MEMORIES
    There was much cheering in Pakistan over India’s discomfiture at the turn of events, said Raza Ahmad Rumi, a political commentator, who teaches at Ithaca College in New York.    The two countries have fought three wars since they became independent nations when the subcontinent was divided in 1947.
    “The jubilation in Pakistan witnessed on social media and TV screens was largely linked to the undoing of Indian influence as conventional policy circles viewed (Afghan President Ashraf) Ghani’s close links with India as a threat,” Rumi said.
    India has bitter memories of the previous Taliban stint in power from 1996 to 2001 and the group’s links to Pakistan.
    An Indian Airlines plane was hijacked in 1999 and ultimately landed in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.    New Delhi freed three senior Pakistani militants in its jails in exchange for the return of the passengers and the Taliban allowed the hijackers and the released prisoners to go to Pakistan.
    “Our position today is one of adjusting to reality.    We have to play the long game in Afghanistan. We don’t have a contiguous border but we have stakes there,” said Jayant Prasad, a former Indian ambassador to Kabul.
    Over the past year as the Taliban emerged as a dominant force and U.S.-brokered negotiations began in Doha, Indian diplomats had opened a line with the group, diplomatic sources in New Delhi said.
    “We are talking to all stakeholders,” one of them said, but did not want to get to the specifics of the discussions.    There has been criticism at home that India put all its eggs in the basket of the Ghani government when the United States itself had begun talks with the Taliban, and that New Delhi left it too late.
‘NOT A RE-RUN’
    Still, India as a major economic player can be attractive to the Taliban, looking to avoid an over-dependence on China, the source said.
    India has development projects in every one of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, small and big, including the parliament building in Kabul that it built, which was over-run by gun-toting Taliban men after sweeping into the city last week.
    Myra MacDonald, author of three books on South Asia and a former Reuters journalist, said while the Taliban takeover was a setback for India, it was not game over for New Delhi.
    “This is not a re-run of the past.    Everyone is going to be much more careful this time about letting Islamist terrorism in Afghanistan explode as in the pre-9/11 days.”
    “Plus in relative terms, India is much more economically stronger than Pakistan this time around.”
    A senior member of the Taliban has told Reuters that impoverished Afghanistan needs help from countries in the region, including Iran, as well as the United States and Russia.
    “We expect them to help us, to support our people, especially the health sector and especially the business sector and mining sector,” said Waheedullah Hashimi, who has access to the group’s decision-making.
    “Our job is to convince them to accept us.”
(Additional reporting by Gibran Peshiman; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

8/23/2021 New Flight Carrying At-Risk Afghans Arriving In U.S. Later On Monday
U.S. citizens and their families board a departure flight on their way to the United States as part of Operations Allies
Refuge, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, August 23, 2021. Airman Edgar Grimaldo/U.S. Air Force/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A new flight carrying evacuated at-risk Afghans will arrive in the United States later on Monday from Ramstein air base in Germany, a senior State Department official said, adding that the pace of flights will ramp up from transit hubs temporarily housing those evacuated from Kabul.
    Speaking at a briefing with reporters, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were currently eight transit hubs across six countries that were hosting more than 17,000 people.
    “The transit hubs that we have arranged in Germany, Italy and Spain will have the combined capacity to process approximately 15,000 people on a rolling basis, which in turn will enable us to keep evacuating people continuously from Kabul,” the official said.
    “Today the first onward flight of SIV applicants took off from Germany to the United States and we expect those to continue to ramp up,” the official added, in reference to the Special Immigrant Visa, designed for issuing visas to people who worked with the U.S. military.
    The Taliban seized power just over a week ago as the United States and its allies were withdrawing troops after a 20-year war launched in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States by al Qaeda militants in 2001.
    Panicked Afghans and foreigners have thronged the airport for days, clamoring to catch a flight out before the U.S.-led forces complete their pullout by the end of the month.
    The official said the U.S. commitment to at-risk Afghans would not end on Aug. 31, but did not elaborate on how Washington could continue its efforts to airlift people if it withdraws completely from the country.
    U.S. President Joe Biden has said that the United States expects to evacuate between 50,000 and 65,000 people from Afghanistan.    That is fewer than the number eligible for safe harbor, according to estimates by advocates.
    The official also dismissed reports that only Americans were able to get through to Kabul airport and that others had been blocked.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Simon Lewis and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by David Holmes)

8/23/2021 Exclusive-Iran Resumes Fuel Exports To Neighbouring Afghanistan by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin and Julia Payne
FILE PHOTO: A car pasts behind a oil prices board d at Ahmad Yar Group fuel station
shows on outskirt of Kabul, Afghanistan January 27, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    LONDON (Reuters) - Iran resumed fuel exports to Afghanistan a few days ago following a request from the new Afghan government, which feels empowered by the U.S. withdrawal to buy the sanctioned nation’s oil more openly, an Iranian official told Reuters.
    The Sunni Muslim group seized power in Afghanistan last week as the United States and its allies withdrew troops after a 20-year war.
    The price of gasoline in Afghanistan reached $900 per tonne as many Afghans drove out of cities, fearing reprisals and a return to a harsh version of Islamic law the Taliban imposed when in power two decades ago.
    To counter the price spike, the new Taliban asked Shi’ite Iran to keep the borders open for traders.
    “The Taliban sent messages to Iran saying ‘you can continue the exports of petroleum products’,” Hamid Hosseini, board member and spokesperson of Iran’s Oil, Gas and Petrochemical Products Exporters’ Union, in Tehran, told Reuters.
    The Taliban sent messages to Iranian traders and to an Iranian chamber of commerce, which has close links to the government.
    As a result, the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration (IRICA), which is a part of the government, lifted a ban on fuel exports to Afghanistan, which had been in place since Aug. 6 because of Iran’s concerns about the safety of trading in the country.
    Those concerns have been eased by the Taliban’s attitude, Hosseini said.
    He also cited the Taliban’s decision to cut tariffs on imports of fuel from Iran and other neighbouring countries and shared with Reuters an official document issued by Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – the name by which the Taliban refers to itself.
    The document specified a 70% discount on tariffs on imports of gasoline, diesel and LPG from the neighbouring countries to Afghanistan.
IRAN-TALIBAN COOPERATION
    Iran sits on the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves, but the latest round of U.S. sanctions imposed by former U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018, has significantly reduced Iranian oil exports.
    Iran has nevertheless managed some trade, notably by trucking fuel to neighbours such as Afghanistan, and the U.S. troop withdrawal has made leaders of both Iran and Afghanistan less nervous about dealing more openly, Hosseini said.
    The main Iranian exports to Afghanistan are gasoline and gasoil.    Iran exported about 400,000 tonnes of fuel to its neighbour from May 2020 to May 2021, according to a report published by PetroView, an Iranian oil and gas research and consultancy platform.
    Iranian fuel flows have been vital to Afghanistan in the last few years, according to traders and an Afghan government report, seen by Reuters.
    Between March 2020 and March 2021, Iran accounted for $367 million of imports, mostly of fuel, according to the report compiled by the Afghan ministry of finance, chambers of commerce and data from private enterprises.
    The next two most important oil suppliers are Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan with trade, mostly oil, valued at $257 million and $236 million respectively.
    A source with direct knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be named, said more than 1 million tonnes per year, or over 20,000 barrels per day, of Iranian fuel goes to Afghanistan.
EXPANDING COOPERATION?
    The main destinations of Iran’s fuel have been eastern provinces near the Iranian border, and southern regions like Kandahar and Nimrooz where the Taliban had a strong influence even before the push of recent weeks, Hosseini said.
    “I think the new Iranian government will significantly expand cooperation with the Taliban government. Iran can easily double its trade with Afghanistan.    The government of (Ashraf) Ghani was always trying to limit cooperation with Iran since Iran was under U.S. sanctions,” Hosseini said.
    Afghanistan has not developed an oil industry of its own.    The country has six mini-refineries that only produce several thousand barrels per day of refined products each.
    They run on light oil from Turkmenistan whose two refineries also directly supply diesel and jet fuel.
    Uzbekistan’s two main refineries also supply refined products by rail and truck.
    The source with direct knowledge said supplies of Turkmen condensate (light crude oil) has ceased a month ago because of the security situation, but predicted it would resume in about two weeks’ time.
    “The problem is the banks stopped working three days ago so we might be back to bags of cash,” the source said.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin and Julia Paynein London; Editing by Edmund Blair and Barbara Lewis)

8/23/2021 Taliban Near Panjshir After Retaking Three Northern Afghan Districts
FILE PHOTO: Members of Taliban forces gesture as they check a vehicle
on a street in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) - The Taliban were in position near the Panjshir valley and had retaken three districts in northern Afghanistan that fell to local militia groups last week, a spokesman said on Monday, though there were no confirmed reports of further fighting.
    The districts of Bano, Deh Saleh, Pul e-Hesar in the northern province of Baghlan were taken by local militia groups last week in one of the first signs of armed resistance to the Taliban since their seizure of the capital Kabul on Aug. 15.
    By Monday, Taliban forces had cleared the districts and were established in Badakhshan, Takhar and Andarab near the Panjshir valley, according to the Twitter account of spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
    Forces loyal to Ahmad Massoud, son of the late mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, have established themselves in his Panjshir stronghold, which resisted both the Soviets and the Taliban before 2001.
    Massoud, whose forces include remnants of regular army and special forces units, has called for negotiations to form an inclusive government for Afghanistan but has promised to resist https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/anti-taliban-leader-massoud-says-negotiation-only-way-forward-2021-08-22 if Taliban forces try to enter the valley, north of Kabul.
    Late on Sunday, the Taliban’s Alemarah information service said hundreds of fighters were heading towards Panjshir.    There has been no confirmation of any fighting, but an aide to Massoud said both sides were standing ready for military action.
    Zabihullah Mujahid said the Salang Pass, on the main highway running from southern Afghanistan to the north, was open and enemy forces were blockaded in the Panjshir valley. But his statement suggested there was no fighting for the moment.
    “The Islamic Emirate is trying to resolve the problems peacefully,” Zabihullah said.
(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Nick Macfie and Bernadette Baum)

8/23/2021 Harris Travels To Singapore, Confronted With Afghanistan Chaos by OAN Newsroom
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to troops as she visits the USS Tulsa
in Singapore, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool Photo via AP)
    Kamala Harris flew to Singapore to “deepen ties” with the Southeast Asian nation and it appears as though she brought all of the Biden administration’s geopolitical baggage with her.
    On Sunday, Harris was greeted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien with the intent to discuss China’s ongoing encroachment into the South China Sea and the threat posed to countries in the region like Singapore.
    “I am standing here in Singapore because of our commitment to a long standing relationship, which is an enduring relationship with the Indo-Pacific region, with Southeast Asian countries and, in particular, with Singapore,” she stated.    “The agreements that the prime minister and I have reached today are evidence of that enduring relationship and commitment.”
    Harris went on to commend Singapore for managing to keep the most recent COVID surge at bay.
    “We discussed the importance of working together to end this pandemic, but also to prevent future pandemics,” she continued.    “Singapore’s approach to managing the pandemic has been commendable, but we all must do more to not only end the current pandemic but to invest in what we know will be more.”
    Though she tried to steer the conversation elsewhere, Afghanistan quickly became the only thing at the bilateral meeting anyone seemed interested in discussing.
    “So, I understand and appreciate why you ask the question and I think there’s going to be plenty of time to analyze what has happened and what has taken place in the context of the withdrawal from Afghanistan,” Harris stated.    “But right now, we are singularly focused on evacuating American citizens, Afghans who worked with us and Afghans who are vulnerable, including women and children.”
    Even Prime Minister Lee seemed to hang on the subject while offering to lend the support of the island’s military to try and help get Americans and Afghans to safety.
    “And on Afghanistan specifically, I mentioned to the Vice President that we knew that the U.S. was conducting an evacuation operation of refugees from Afghanistan and Singapore would offer, would like to offer to the U.S., the use of the RSAF Republic of Singapore Air Forces Airbus 330 multi-role tanker and transporter aircraft in order to help with the air lift,” he stated.
    Lee went on to warn that he and all foreign leaders are watching the situation closely.     “Well, countries all over the region, and I’m sure all over the world, are watching developments in Afghanistan very closely,” he asserted.    “Foremost in everybody’s minds is the safety and security of the civilians.    And I hope all sides will work to ensure this.”

8/23/2021 Taliban Closes In On Resistance Fighters In Panjshir by OAN Newsroom
Afghan men wave a flag above the portrait of late Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, right, in Paryan district of
Panjshir province on August 23, 2021, as the Taliban said their fighters had surrounded resistance forces holed up in the valley,
but were looking to negotiate rather than take the fight to them. (Photo by AHMAD SAHEL ARMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Taliban closed in on the last province of Afghanistan that has not fallen under their control.    The terrorist group said on Sunday hundreds of its fighters were headed to the Panjshir Valley, which stands 78 miles northeast of Kabul, where ex-government troops have gathered to join other resistance groups.
    Ex-Afghan Vice President Amrullahsaleh declared himself the acting president of Afghanistan after Ashrafghani fled the country as the Taliban moved into Kabul last week.    On Monday, Saleh tweeted he would never and under no circumstances bow to Taliban terrorists.
    Amrullahsaleh has relocated to Panjshir and called on his followers to gather in the region to fight the Taliban.    The Panjshir Valley has been famous for successfully fighting off invasions from the Soviets in the 80’s and the Taliban in the 90’s, with lead from Ahmad Shaha Massoud.
    His 32-year-old son Ahmad Massoud has since taken the reigns of the National Resistance Front.
    “We are not fighting a geography, we not fighting one province, we are defending the whole country in one province,” he expressed.    “That’s what’s happening and we want to make the Taliban realize that the only way forward is through negotiation and talk and we are talking to them and we do not want war to break out and happen.”
    Massoud added his group wants to pursue peaceful negotiations, but he would follow in his father’s footsteps and never surrender.    He made it clear the NRF was not going to accept any sort of aggression and had thousands ready to fight.
    “The people of the Panjshir Valley are very much united and they want to defend and they want to fight,” he explained.    “They want to resist against any totalitarian regime, against any belief that wants to enforce their own belief and ideology upon the people.”
    Massoud has called for an inclusive and broad-based government to represent Afghanistan’s different ethnic groups.    He said a totalitarian regime such as the Taliban should not be recognized by the international community.    To this end, he said his group has essentially defending the whole country in one province.
    “The people here are just a small portion of the people of Afghanistan and the geography of Panjshir is the smallest province in the whole of Afghanistan,” he stated.    “What we are standing for right now is for the whole country, is for sovereignty, is for peace, is for people, is for inclusively and tolerance and acceptance and moderation.”
    Massoud mentioned to have stores of ammunition and arms they have patiently collected over the past 20-years because they knew this day would come.    He added although his resistance was more than 6,000 strong, they would need international support.
    “We asked from national community for reconciliation and for helping with the peace process as soon as possible for stopping this catastrophe and this problem,” he explained.    “If the war breaks out, in that scenario of course the international community should take side with Afghans and should not recognize an illegitimate government, which is not in favor of Afghanistan, the region and the world.”

8/24/2021 Afghan Evacuation On ‘War Footing’ As G7 Meets On Taliban Deadline
A family walks towards a U.S. Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International
Airport, Afghanistan, August 22, 2021. Picture taken August 22, 2021. U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/Handout via REUTERS
    KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Western countries worked at a “war-footing pace” on Tuesday to get people out of Afghanistan, a NATO country diplomat said, as U.S. President Joe Biden looked set to come under pressure from other G7 leaders to seek more time to complete the airlift.
    Widespread chaos punctuated by sporadic violence has gripped Kabul’s airport, with Western troops and Afghan security guards driving back crowds desperate to flee following the Taliban’s take over of the Afghan capital on Aug. 15.
    Countries conducting the evacuations are trying to meet a Aug. 31 deadline agreed earlier with the Taliban for the withdrawal of foreign forces, a NATO diplomat told Reuters.
    “Every foreign force member is working at a war-footing pace to meet the deadline,” said the official, who declined to be identified.
    Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) countries – Britain, Canada, France Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States – will meet virtually later on Tuesday to discuss the crisis.
    Biden, who has said U.S. troops might stay beyond the deadline, has warned the evacuation was going to be “hard and painful” and much could still go wrong.
    Democratic U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, told reporters after a briefing on Afghanistan by intelligence officials that he did not believe the evacuation could be completed in the eight days remaining.
    “I think it’s possible but I think it’s very unlikely given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated,” Schiff said.
    A Taliban official said on Monday an extension would not be granted, though he said foreign forces had not sought one.    Washington said negotiations were continuing.
    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said ahead of the G7 meeting: “I will ask our friends and allies to stand by the Afghan people and step up support for refugees and humanitarian aid.”
    “The Taliban will be judged by their deeds and not their words.”
    Britain’s defence minister, Ben Wallace, told Sky News he was doubtful there would be an extension “not only because of what the Taliban has said but also if you look at the public statements of President Biden, I think it is unlikely.”
‘DOES IT STILL HURT? YES’
    Many Afghans fear reprisals and a return to a harsh version of Islamic law that the Taliban enforced while in power from 1996 to 2001, in particular the repression of women and freedom of speech.
    There have been isolated but numerous incidents of Taliban aggression and intolerance reported on social media, as well as reports of Taliban searches for old enemies, fanning those fears.br>     Nevertheless, thousands of Afghans have returned to their homes in the provinces after learning that the situation there was “relatively calm,” said the NATO diplomat, while cautioning that scant intelligence and security reports were coming in from remote districts.
    Australia evacuated more than 50 female Afghan Paralympians, athletes and their dependents after securing visas for them, the Australian Broadcasting Corp reported on Tuesday.
    The G7 leaders could discuss taking a united stand on the question of whether to recognise a Taliban government, or alternatively renew sanctions to pressure the Islamist militant movement to comply with pledges to respect women’s rights and international relations.
    “The G7 leaders will agree to coordinate on if, or when to recognise the Taliban,” said one European diplomat.    “And they will commit to continue to work closely together.”
    Leaders of the Taliban, who have sought to show https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-seek-present-moderate-face-they-take-control-afghanistan-2021-08-15 a more moderate face since capturing Kabul, have begun talks on forming a government, that have included discussions with some old enemies from past governments, including a former president, Hamid Karzai.
    Recognition of a Taliban government by other countries would have important consequences, like allowing the Taliban access to foreign aid that previous Afghan governments have depended upon.
    Biden will face pressure from other leaders to extend the Aug. 31 deadline for evacuations.    France has said more time was needed, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Monday the G7 needed to consider whether to remain beyond that date.
    Biden has faced widespread criticism over the withdrawal, which was initiated by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, under a deal struck with the Taliban, and his opinion poll ratings have slipped.
    For its part, the powerful U.S. military has been grappling with the collapse of U.S.-backed Afghan forces after 20 years of training.    https://www.reuters.com/world/us/was-it-worth-it-pain-anger-inside-pentagon-after-afghanistan-crumbles-2021-08-23 “Was it worth it?    Yes.    Does it still hurt? Yes,” General David Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps, wrote in a memo to Marines.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

8/24/2021 Taliban Warns Biden Admin. To Not Extend Withdrawal Deadline by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this March 19, 2021 file photo, Suhail Shaheen, Afghan Taliban spokesman and a member of the negotiation team gestures while speaking during a joint news conference in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool, File)
    The Taliban has warned the Biden administration to not extend the deadline to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan while Americans remain stranded in the country.    The White House has been scrambling to get a grip on the crisis with the Taliban continuing to apply pressure to the situation.
    While speaking to Sky News on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Taliban, Suhail Shahee, said August 31 is a “red line.”    He directly told Joe Biden to not extend the deadline.
    “It’s a red line,” Shahee stated.    “President Biden announced that on August 31 they would withdraw all their military forces, so if they extend it that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that.”
    The Taliban spokesperson then issued a stern warning to the U.S. by suggesting a reaction will be provoked if it fails to withdraw by the end of the month.
    On Monday, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby gave a vague response stating the U.S. intends to meet its goal of August 31.    He said their are currently no talks of extending the deadline.
    “We are well aware of of of the stated desire by the Taliban to have this mission completed by the 31st of August,” Kirby stated.    “I would tell you that we, too, are still planning on completing it by the 31st of August.    That is the mission that we have been signed by the commander-in-chief assigned to us and that’s what we’re trying to execute.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, speaks about the situation in Afghanistan during a briefing
at the Pentagon in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
    However, even Democrats are beginning to cast doubt on the Biden administration’s goal. When speaking to reporters on Monday, House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said he believes it’s unlikely the U.S. will be able to evacuate all of its personnel by the end of the month.
    “I think it’s very unlikely given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated, the number of SIV (Special Immigrant Visas), the number of others who are members of the Afghan press, civil society leaders, women leaders,” he stated.    “It’s hard for me to imagine all of that can be accomplished between now and the end of the month.”
    Even Biden can’t stay on the same page as his cabinet with the Democrat stating over the weekend that officials are looking at extending the deadline.
    “There is discussions going on among us and the military about extending,” Bi