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Talks over a nuclear deal with Iran are in their final stages before Tuesday’s self-imposed deadline. Progress has been reported on several issues, including limiting centrifuges at Iran’s main nuclear facility to around 6,000. But Iran has reportedly backed off a key pledge to enrich its atomic fuel overseas. Iranian officials are said to have previously agreed to sending uranium stockpiles to Russia, but now want to keep the fuel inside the country. The demand could still be overcome by agreements on regular inspections and sufficiently diluting the fuel. The talks continue in the Swiss town of Lausanne. If a preliminary deal is reached by Tuesday, a final agreement would follow by the end of June.
Saudi Arabia says it will continue military strikes on Yemen until Houthi rebels lay down their arms. There is intense fighting in the coastal city of Aden, the stronghold of deposed President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. The Yemeni Health Ministry says at least 60 people have been killed and more than 500 wounded since the bombing began last week. On Sunday, the Saudi ambassador to the United States said his government had discussed the military campaign with the White House for months.
Adel al-Jubeir: “We have talked about the possible options of using force with the United States for many months. This option became much more serious in the last few weeks. And in the run-up to making the decision and putting together the coalition, we were in constant touch with the White House and other U.S. government agencies about this. The decision to use military force was made at the last moment because of the developments that were happening with regards to the Houthis’ potential occupation of Aden.”
The Saudi government says it has not ruled out sending in ground troops if the Houthis refuse to surrender. Over the weekend, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a Houthi ally ousted in the 2011 Arab Spring, called for talks based on resuming a political transition. Saleh also proposed that neither he nor Hadi seek the presidency, but Hadi’s foreign minister dismissed the suggestion as “the talk of losers.”
The Saudi-led campaign comes as the Arab League has reportedly agreed to form a united military force. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said the regional army would stage around 40,000 troops to confront regional “challenges.” But the force will reportedly be voluntary, and only two nations have signed on so far. Iraq has expressed reservations about the ongoing strikes on Yemen. Speaking at the Arab League summit in Egypt, Iraqi President Fouad Massoum said the operation “further complicates the conflicts between all parties, which will lead to more threats in the region. Foreign interventions will not help the Yemeni people.”
New figures show Israel killed more Palestinians last year than in any other since occupying the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. The United Nations says Israel was responsible for more than 2,300 Palestinian deaths and 17,000 injuries in 2014. The bulk of the casualties came from Israel’s 50-day assault on the Gaza Strip, which killed at least 551 children. According to Defense for Children International-Palestine, Israeli forces have shot at least 30 children in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during protests in the first three months of this year.
France has announced plans to put forward a U.N. Security Council measure aimed at encouraging peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the measure would include “parameters” for negotiations, presumably based on an Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories.
Laurent Fabius: “France has been supporting a resolution of the U.N., defining the parameters and helping and accompanying the necessary negotiation between the two parties. We have not changed our mind. And in the coming weeks, in relation with the different parties, France will be part and parcel of proposing a resolution in the U.N.”
The Obama administration has signaled it might not block a U.N. resolution in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pre-election rejection of Palestinian statehood and his anti-Arab fear mongering. In an apparent bid to reduce tensions with the United States, Netanyahu has announced he will release three months of tax revenue to the Palestinian Authority. Israel began withholding the funds in response to the Palestinian effort to join the International Criminal Court. Palestinian officials had recently warned the denial of their tax revenue threatened economic collapse.
A Syrian rebel coalition that includes an offshoot of al-Qaeda has captured the city of Idlib. It is the second major Syrian city to fall to the rebels after Raqqa, which is now under control of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. The rebel coalition in Idlib includes the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate. Thousands of residents have reportedly fled the city out of fear of government reprisals as well as militant attacks on Assad regime supporters.
Tens of thousands of people marched against violent extremism in Tunis on Sunday following this month’s shooting rampage at the Bardo museum. The rally came one day after the Tunisian government said it killed an al-Qaeda member it identified as the attack’s main suspect.
Millions of people have voted in Nigeria’s presidential elections amidst new violence from the Boko Haram. More than a dozen people were killed in several attacks around the country. The race pits President Goodluck Jonathan against former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. Final results are expected today.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is facing protests over a new measure that could sanction anti-LGBT discrimination. The so-called religious freedom law prevents state and local governments from imposing a “substantial burden” on those following their religious beliefs. That could allow businesses to refuse services to LGBT customers. On Saturday, thousands of people marched in Indianapolis calling for Pence’s resignation. Critics have called for a boycott, and some, including former NBA star Charles Barkley, are calling for the upcoming Final Four college basketball championship to be moved out of state. Speaking to ABC News, Pence refused to answer whether it will be illegal to discriminate against LGBT people.
Gov. Mike Pence: “This is not about discrimination. This is about empowering people”—
George Stephanopoulos: “But let me try to pin you”—
Gov. Mike Pence: “—to confront government overreach, George.”
George Stephanopoulos: “Let me try to pin you down here, though, on it, because your supporters say it would. And so, yes or no, if a florist in Indiana refuses to serve a gay couple at their wedding, is that legal now in Indiana?”
Gov. Mike Pence: “George, this is—this is where this debate has gone, with misinformation. And frankly”—
George Stephanopoulos: “It’s just a question, sir. Yes or no?”
Gov. Mike Pence: “Well, well, there’s been shameless rhetoric about my state and about this law and about its intention all over the Internet. People are trying to make it about one particular issue, and now you’re doing that, as well”
In response to the criticism, Pence says he will seek a new measure to “clarify the intent” of his new law, though he added that LGBT protections are “not on my agenda.”
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada has announced he will not seek re-election next year. Reid has already endorsed New York Senator Chuck Schumer as his replacement. The choice of Schumer has drawn criticism from progressives over his close ties to Wall Street and hawkish stance on Iran.
In New York City, thousands of teachers, parents and students rallied Saturday to call for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to boost funding for public education and curb the expansion of charter schools. The protest comes as New York state lawmakers consider Cuomo’s proposal to link more than $1 billion in school funding to a new teacher evaluation system which focuses heavily on standardized testing. The protesters say Cuomo’s policies are influenced by his billionaire backers. According to The Hedge Clippers campaign, Cuomo has received nearly $5 million in donations from hedge fund managers, including major backers and founders of charter schools.
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