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Report of negotiations with Israel ‘a joke’: Iran

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Tehran :The Iranian Foreign Ministry has dismissed as “a joke” allegations that Russia has mediated indirect talks between Iran and Israel.
“Claims of this nature can never be true,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi told reporters in a press briefing .
“News like this sound more like a joke to those who are familiar with Iran’s foreign policy,” he added.
Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida claimed Friday that Moscow had arranged indirect talks between Tehran and Tel Aviv over a number of issues, including Iran’s peaceful nuclear program and its military presence in Syria.
The paper claimed that the recent trips to Moscow of senior Iranian official Ali Akbar Velayati and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were arranged by the Russian government to facilitate the alleged talks.
“Russia passed the Israeli demands to Tehran and asked [the Iranian government] to dispatch a representative with full power to reach a solution for the Iranian issue with Syria,” the paper quoted an unnamed diplomat as saying.
Velayati, a senior adviser to Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, traveled to Moscow on Wednesday to convey a message from Ayatollah Khamenei to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s written letter.
A senior Iranian official conveys a message from Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
Israel is worried by the presence of Iranian military advisers whose help has been crucial to the Syrian army advances and Netanyahu has on several occasions asked Putin to arrange for them to leave the Arab country.
Iranian troops are in Syria at the request of the Syrian government but US troops are there illegally, with Damascus saying they did not have a benign agenda and repeatedly calling for their exit.
The Kuwaiti paper went a step further, claiming that Velayati had set out Iran’s conditions for accepting US President Donald Trump’s demands regarding the Iranian nuclear program and asked Putin to discuss them with the US leader in their upcoming meeting in Finland on Monday.
Senior Iranian official Ali Akbar Velayati says Iran and Russia’s presence in Syria will continue to protect the country against terrorist groups and US aggression.
Qassemi said in his press briefing that the claim also was a lie and that Iran had in no way had discussed the content of the summit between the two heads of state.
“The meeting between the American and Russian presidents has been planned in advance and we have had no communications with Russia in this regard whatsoever,” he asserted.
“We have not sent any messages to Trump via Putin and talks about this issue are pure speculation by the media,” he added.
The spokesman also denied speculations about similar meetings between Iranian and American officials in Oman, in the wake of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s recent trip to the country.
“There is nothing secretive about Zarif’s trip to Oman,” Qassemi said, noting that Omani and Iranian delegations had held regular meetings in both countries shortly before the trip.


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International

Trump to meet Kim Jong-un again in late February: White House

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WASHINGTON: The White House announced that US President Donald Trump will hold a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in late February.

During the meeting, the two leaders will hold talks over the steps taken by Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear and missile programmes. It may be recalled that the first meeting between the two leaders was held on June 12, 2018 in Singapore. The White House, however, did not reveal where the two leaders will meet in February.

The White House made the announcement shortly after Trump held a meeting with North Korean envoy, Kim Yong Chol, on Friday for a discussion that included talk about Kim Jong-un’s unfulfilled pledge to dismantle nuclear weapons programmes of North Korea.

 

“President Donald J Trump met with Kim Yong Chol for an hour and half, to discuss denuclearization and a second summit, which will take place near the end of February. The president looks forward to meeting with Chairman Kim at a place to be announced at a later date,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

The press secretary told reporters: “We continue to make progress, we continue to have conversations. The US is going to continue to keep “pressure and sanctions” on North Korea until “we see fully and verifiable denuclearization”. We had very good steps and very good faith from the North Koreans with the release of hostages and other moves and so we’ll continue this conversation.And the President looks forward to it next February.”

Kim yong Chol arrived at the White House after meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun at a hotel in Washington.

“The Secretary, Special Representative Biegun, and Vice Chairman Kim discussed efforts to make progress on the commitments President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un made at their summit in Singapore. At the conclusion of the Secretary’s meeting with Vice Chairman Kim, the two sides held a productive first meeting at the working level,” State Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino said.

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Blast targets Al Qaeda ally in Syria, kills 11

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BEIRUT: An explosion outside an office belonging to an Al Qaeda-linked group in Syria’s northwest killed at least 11 people and wounded several others, opposition activists said.

The blast comes a week after members of the Al Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee, or HTS, took over control of wide parts of Idlib province and the surrounding countryside after forcing rival insurgents to accept a deal for a civil administration run by HTS in their areas.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Smart news agency, an activist collective, said the blast occurred on the southern edge of the rebel-held city of Idlib.

 

The observatory said 11 people were killed in the blast, including seven HTS members. Smart said 12 people were killed, many of them militants.

In the country’s east, an air strike in the last area held by the militant Islamic State group killed at least 20 people.

State news agency SANA said 20 people were killed in the air strike on the IS-held village of Baghouz, while the observatory said 23 people were killed including 10 IS members.

They both blamed the US-led coalition that has been providing air cover to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in their monthslong offensive to capture the area from extremists near the Iraqi border.

The SDF has intensified its offensive over the past weeks on the IS-held area.

Meanwhile in Turkey, President Tayyip Erdogan met with US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham to discuss the situation in Syria as the United States prepares to withdraw troops.

Graham, a prominent voice on foreign affairs in the US, met with Erdogan and other Turkish officials on Friday for talks that were also expected to include a proposal for the creation of a “safe zone” in northeast Syria.

The visit comes days after a suicide bombing, claimed by IS, killed two US service members and two American civilians in the northeastern town of Manbij.

Graham has said he is concerned that US President Donald Trump’s troop withdrawal announcement had emboldened IS militants and created dangerous uncertainty for American allies.

The Pentagon identified three of the four Americans killed in the suicide bomb attack in Manbij Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida, who was based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent, 35, from upstate New York and based at Fort Meade, Maryland; and a civilian, Scott A. Wirtz, from St. Louis.

The Pentagon hasn’t identified the fourth casualty, a civilian contractor.

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Pakistan rules out India’s role in Afghan peace process

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Islamabad: Pakistan has ruled out any role for India in the Afghan peace process, the media reported on Friday.

“India has no role in Afghanistan,” Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said at the weekly media briefing on Thursday while responding to a query about Islamabad’s position on New Delhi’s part in the reconciliation process.

Faisal acknowledged that Pakistan has a difficult relationship with India, saying that despite Pakistan’s efforts for normalisation, no concrete progress could be achieved in ties with India, Dawn news reported.

 

“You all know that India is not willing to engage with Pakistan,” he reminded.

Faisal’s remarks were in sharp contrast to what Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had told the National Assembly last month.

“Since India is present in Afghanistan, its cooperation in this regard (facilitating a negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict) will also be required,” he had told legislators.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan on Thursday to discuss with the senior civil and military leadership the latest efforts to bring peace to the war-torn country.

Khalilzad, who met Taliban representatives last month in Abu Dhabi, is leading an inter-agency delegation to India, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan from January 8-21 to “facilitate a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan”.

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