West asks whether Iran is serious or stalling as talks set to resume

West asks whether Iran is serious or stalling as talks set to resume
The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 November 2021

West asks whether Iran is serious or stalling as talks set to resume

West asks whether Iran is serious or stalling as talks set to resume

VIENNA: Iran and world powers will meet in Vienna on Monday to try to salvage their 2015 nuclear deal, but with Tehran sticking to its tough stance and Western powers increasingly frustrated, hopes of a breakthrough appear slim.
Diplomats say time is running low to resurrect the pact, which then-US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, angering Iran and dismaying the other powers involved — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
Six rounds of indirect talks were held between April and June. The new round begins after a hiatus triggered by the election of hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi in June as Iran’s president.
Tehran’s new negotiating team has set out demands that US and European diplomats consider unrealistic, Western diplomats say.
“Our demands are clear. Other parties and especially Americans should decide whether they want this deal to be revived or not. They abandoned the pact, so they should return to it and lift all sanctions,” an Iranian official close to the talks told Reuters.
Iran’s demands include the dropping of all US and European Union sanctions imposed since 2017, including those unrelated to Iran’s nuclear program, in a verifiable process.
Iran’s foreign ministry ruled out the possibility of direct meeting between Iranian and US officials in Vienna. Talks between Iran and world powers will resume at 1300 GMT on Monday.
In parallel, Tehran’s conflicts with the UN atomic watchdog, which monitors the nuclear program, have festered.
Iran has pressed ahead with its uranium enrichment program and the IAEA says its inspectors have been treated roughly and refused access to reinstall monitoring cameras at a site it deems essential to reviving the deal.
“If Iran thinks it can use this time to build more leverage and then come back and say they want something better, it simply won’t work. We and our partners won’t go for it,” US envoy Robert Malley told BBC Sounds on Saturday.
He warned that Washington would be ready to ramp up pressure on Tehran if talks collapse.
Iranian officials have insisted in the run-up to Monday that their focus is purely the lifting of sanctions rather than nuclear issues. Highlighting that, its 40-strong delegation mostly includes economic officials.
“To ensure any forthcoming agreement is ironclad, the West needs to pay a price for having failed to uphold its part of the bargain. As in any business, a deal is a deal, and breaking it has consequences,” Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani said in defiant column in the Financial Times on Sunday.
“The principle of ‘mutual compliance’ cannot form a proper base for negotiations since it was the US government which unilaterally left the deal.”
Diplomats have said Washington has suggested negotiating an open-ended interim accord with Tehran as long as a permanent deal is not achieved.
Failure to strike a deal could also prompt reaction from Israel which has said military options would be on the table.
“The talks can’t last forever. There is the obvious need to speed up the process,’ Moscow’s envoy, Mikhail Ulyanov, said on Twitter. 


Sweden extends virus restrictions; Danes likely to end them

Sweden extends virus restrictions; Danes likely to end them
Updated 1 min 12 sec ago

Sweden extends virus restrictions; Danes likely to end them

Sweden extends virus restrictions; Danes likely to end them
COPENHAGEN, Denmark: Sweden announced Wednesday that several coronavirus restrictions will be extended for another two weeks.
Meanwhile neighboring Denmark was expected to announce that it no longer considers COVID-19 as “a socially critical disease” as of next month and will remove most restrictions.
“We have an extremely record high spread of infection,” Sweden’s Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said. “The assessment is that existing measures need to remain in place for another two weeks.”
“If the situation allows it, the restrictions will be lifted after that,” she said.
Karin Tegmark Wisell, head of Sweden’s Public Health Agency, said the reasoning for extending the restrictions is that they expect a decline in cases in a couple of weeks. She said the Scandinavian country had 270,000 new infections in the past seven days and that “our assessment is that, during this period, at least half a million can fall ill per week.”
In Sweden which has previously stood out among European nations for its comparatively hands-off response to the pandemic, has ordered cafes, bars and restaurants to close at 11 p.m., urged people to work from home when possible and said distance learning was an option in higher education to try to combat rising COVID-19 infections.
Denmark, meanwhile, is heading in the opposition direction.
In a letter Tuesday to the Danish lawmakers, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said he wants to follow the recommendations by Parliament’s Epidemic Commission so that the “categorization of COVID-19 as a socially critical disease will be abolished as of Feb. 1.”
The letter said “this is a new epidemic situation in which a high and increasing infection does not to the same extent as previously translate into hospitalizations.” The letter was obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday ahead of a planned press conference with Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.
It was not immediately clear what restrictions Danes will end but they likely will include the digital health pass, which now must be used to enter museums, nightclubs, cafes, party buses and to be seated indoors in restaurants.
In Denmark, people above 15 must also flash the pass when attending outdoor events where the capacity exceeds 2,000.
In Finland, Prime Minister Sanna Marin tweeted that “the government will assess the necessity of (the) restrictions” and “should consider opening low-risk cultural and sports events with a COVID pass and extending the opening hours of restaurants on a quicker schedule than was previously estimated.”

Oman partners with Virgin Orbit for satellite launch platform 

Oman partners with Virgin Orbit for satellite launch platform 
Updated 2 min 54 sec ago

Oman partners with Virgin Orbit for satellite launch platform 

Oman partners with Virgin Orbit for satellite launch platform 

RIYADH: Oman-based International Emerging Technologies Co. signed an agreement with the US-based Virgin Orbit to prepare satellite launch platforms in Oman.

Oman’s Ministry of Transport, Communications and Information Technology has supported the agreement to reinforce the Sultanate’s interest in the space science sector and related logistics services, it said in a statement. 

As per the agreement, the establishment of satellites in low Earth orbit will be studied to conduct scientific research, capture high-resolution images of space, and use the latest solutions to digitally analyse data and images collected from orbit.

The partnership will empower local talents and open investment opportunities for universities through academic exchange programs, according to the statement. 

This happens as Oman seeks to accelerate the space industry in the Sultanate. 


Saudi Arabia gaming consumption expected to hit $6.8bn by 2030: BCG report

Saudi Arabia gaming consumption expected to hit $6.8bn by 2030: BCG report
Updated 9 min 35 sec ago

Saudi Arabia gaming consumption expected to hit $6.8bn by 2030: BCG report

Saudi Arabia gaming consumption expected to hit $6.8bn by 2030: BCG report

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is poised to take a leading role in the gaming and Esports industry as consumption is projected to reach $6.8 billion by 2030, up from $959 million in 2020, according to a Boston Consulting Group report.

The report expected an average annual compounded growth rate of 22 percent for the Saudi gaming consumption.

“Despite the Kingdom being a relatively recent entrant to this space, the industry is vibrant and fast-growing, nevertheless,” Povilas Joniskis, a partner at BCG, said.

“Passionate gamers are primarily powering its growth and popularity at present, and it is more than feasible for them to embark on full-time careers and become involved on the international stage,” he added.

Saudi Arabia accommodates 23.5 million gaming enthusiasts, amounting to 67 percent of the national population, the report showed.

Despite the growth potential of the Kingdom, challenges await due to the landscape being in an early development stage compared to other international markets.

The report also revealed that lack of funding to compete full-time, scarcity of local competition, no clear pathway for gamers to become professional, and social stigma associated with choosing a career in gaming and Esports, constitute key barriers to the industry.


Saudi NEOM, Jordan seeks cooperation to run projects across vital sectors

Saudi NEOM, Jordan seeks cooperation to run projects across vital sectors
Updated 1 min 12 sec ago

Saudi NEOM, Jordan seeks cooperation to run projects across vital sectors

Saudi NEOM, Jordan seeks cooperation to run projects across vital sectors

The Saudi Arabian planned city NEOM is seeking cooperation with Jordan to propel the advancement of economically feasible projects across vital sectors, the Jordanian agency Petra reported, citing a statement following a visit by NEOM Co.'s CEO Nahdmi Al-Nasr to Jordan's Prime Minister.

Under the terms of the collaboration, both parties will work side by side to establish projects and partnerships that could potentially benefit both sides across crucial and strategic sectors, especially the energy and water desalination sectors on the Red Sea.

This will follow further research from the concerned ministers in Saudi Arabia and Jordan along with officials of NEOM regarding the scope and economic feasibility of the projects.

Established in 2019 and owned by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, NEOM Co. aims to develop the relevant area residing northwest of the Kingdom.  


X44 retains Loeb, Gutierrez for championship challenge in Extreme E Season 2

X44 retains Loeb, Gutierrez for championship challenge in Extreme E Season 2
Updated 25 min 3 sec ago

X44 retains Loeb, Gutierrez for championship challenge in Extreme E Season 2

X44 retains Loeb, Gutierrez for championship challenge in Extreme E Season 2
  • Duo narrowly missed Season 1 title in electric SUV series while driving for team founded by Lewis Hamilton

LONDON: Extreme E Season One runners-up X44 have retained their driver lineup for the forthcoming campaign, with Sebastien Loeb and Cristina Gutierrez back behind the wheel for the team founded by seven-time Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton.

Loeb and Gutierrez were narrowly denied championship honors in the inaugural season of Extreme E, when victory at the Jurassic X Prix in December saw them finish level on points with overall winners Rosberg X Racing, but lose out after a countback of victories (three to one).

X44 finished as the fastest qualifier at all five X Prix raced in 2021, and they will be determined to maintain that imperious form on course as they bid for title glory in the second season of Extreme E, which begins next month in NEOM, Saudi Arabia, from Feb. 19.

Loeb is one of the greatest rally drivers of all time with a record nine World Rally Championships and 80 race wins to his name. His 26-year career in motor sports has seen him achieve podium finishes in races as varied as the Dakar Rally, World Rallycross and 24 Hours of Le Mans.

He has also achieved three Race of Champions wins in which he competed against the world’s best racing and rally drivers. The Frenchman has already had a busy start to 2022, finishing second overall in the Dakar Rally before taking his 80th WRC win last weekend with victory in the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo.

“I’m very happy to be driving for X44 again in Season Two of Extreme E,” Loeb said. “Last year was very challenging for us. We had a lot of struggles with the car and some bad luck too, but we came top of qualifying at every race and finished the year with a win and level on championship points — so we are feeling optimistic!

“I think the other teams are very strong, but Cristina and I have shown that we know how to win races in some of the toughest terrains in the world, so we will give our all to secure more podiums. Our fans have been very supportive ever since our first race, so I hope we can repay them with a championship win in 2022.”

Gutierrez is a promising talent who is rewriting the rulebook for women racers. In addition to finishing the notoriously difficult Dakar Rally six times, she made history as the first woman to ever win the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, the second to win a stage in the Dakar Rally (2021) and the third to stand on a podium in the Dakar Rally (2022). Gutierrez has all the hallmarks of a great driver, showing grit and a natural talent, and has had a huge passion for the sport since she started racing aged four.

“I’m so excited to be returning to race for X44. We came very close to winning the championship last year and now we’re even more motivated and excited to drive well and push to take first place in 2022,” she said.

“Since I first joined the team, I have learned so much and feel stronger and faster with every race, so I’m excited to get back in the car and show what I can do. I’m also looking forward to exploring the planet and learning more about the places where we are racing,” she added.

“By highlighting the climate change challenges faced by the remote environments where we race, I hope to further educate myself on what we can do to help.”