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Diplomat rebukes ‘economic leverage’ policy against Iran

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Diplomat rebukes 'economic leverage' policy against Iran

In a tweet on Saturday, Russia’s Permanent Representative to International Organizations in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov addressed the Europeans who have been toeing the US’ hawkish policies toward Iran, and wrote, “Reduced tension in the region can only be achieved through a wise and skillful diplomacy which should replace totally failed ‘economic leverage’.”

His comment came in response to a tweet by Andrea Stricker, a member of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who wrote, “If Obama contends sanctions pressure was necessary to produce the nuclear deal, how could Biden ever negotiate far more restrictions on Iran with far less economic leverage?”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has also urged rational decisions for the next US administration regarding Iran and leave the defeated US president’s past and avoid his “lawless” attitude.

In a tweet on Friday, Zarif said those who promote the notion that US President-elect Joe Biden should use outgoing US President Donald Trump’s array of economic sanctions against Iran as “leverage” in any future interactions with the country must learn from the defeated US president’s past and avoid his “lawless” attitude.

He wrote, that those who succumbed to Trump’s lawless bullying for four years to protect their skin at the Iranian people’s expense should gain foresight for their own sake, and do not use the US’ economic terrorism against Iran as “leverage”.

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White House begins talks with senators on Covid relief package

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Senior aides to US President Joe Biden have started talks with Republicans and Democrats over a 1.9 trillion dollar (£1.4 trillion) coronavirus relief package.

It comes as Mr Biden, inaugurated last week, faces increasing problems in his effort to win bipartisan backing for the initial legislative effort of his presidency.

Politicians on the right question the wisdom of racking up bigger deficits while those on the left are urging Mr Biden not to spend too much time on bipartisanship when the pandemic is killing thousands of Americans each day.

At least a dozen senators met virtually for more than an hour with White House National Economic Council director Brian Deese and other senior White House officials on Sunday.

Many hope to approve a relief package before former president Donald Trump’s trial, which is set to begin in two weeks, overtakes Washington’s attention.

Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine, called the opening talks a “serious effort”.

“There was not a hint of cynicism or lack of commitment to at least trying to work something out,” he said.

The White House did not seem to budge on breaking up the package or reducing the overall price tag, even as it pushes for bipartisan support.

There was also no discussion of pushing it through with a procedural move that could be done without Republicans, Mr King said.

President Joe Biden has said tackling the pandemic is a priority (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Senators from both parties raised questions about the economic aid provisions, particularly making direct 1,400 dollar (£1,020) payments to Americans more tailored to recipients based on need.

They also wanted more data on how the White House reached the 1.9 trillion dollar figure.

Many of the senators are from a bipartisan group that struck the contours of the last Covid-19 deal approved late last year.

Out of the gate, Mr Biden has made clear that quickly passing another round of coronavirus relief is a top priority as he seeks to get the surging pandemic and the related economic crisis under control, while demonstrating he can break the gridlock that has ailed Congress for much of the last two presidencies.

Mr Biden and his aides have stressed that his plan is a starting point and that finding common ground on relief should be attainable considering the devastating impact the pandemic is exacting on Democratic and Republican states alike.

With more than 412,000 dead and the economy again losing jobs, Mr Biden has argued there is no time to lose.

“We’re going to continue to push because we can’t wait,” said White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

“Just because Washington has been gridlocked before doesn’t mean it needs to continue to be gridlocked.”

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Joe Biden to reinstate Covid travel restrictions on travellers from UK

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President Joe Biden is set to reinstate Covid-19 travel restrictions on non-US travellers from Brazil, Ireland, the UK and 26 other European countries that allow travel across open borders.

White House officials said that South Africa would also be added to the restricted list on Monday because of concerns about a variant of the virus that has spread beyond that nation.

Mr Biden is reversing an order from Donald Trump in his final days in office that called for the relaxation of the travel restrictions as of Tuesday.

President Joe Biden is reversing Donald Trump’s order (Evan Vucci/AP)

The decision to reverse the order is not surprising but the addition of South Africa to the restricted travel list highlights the new administration’s concern about mutations in the virus.

The South Africa variant has not been discovered in the United States but another variant — originating in the UK — has been detected in several states.

Last week, Mr Biden issued an executive order directing federal agencies to require international air passengers to quarantine upon arrival in the US.

The order also requires that all US-bound passengers aged 2 and above get negative Covid-19 test results within three days before travelling.

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Portugal’s president wins second term after Covid-hit election

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Portugal’s president has been returned to office for a second term in an election held amid a devastating Covid-19 surge that has made the country the worst in the world for cases and deaths.

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa captured around 61.5% of the vote. He had been widely expected to win.

In a stunning development, newly arrived right-wing populist Andre Ventura was in a close race for second place with Socialist candidate Ana Gomes, with both polling around 12%.

Such a showing for Mr Ventura would have been unthinkable until recently and will send a shudder through Portuguese politics.

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (Manuel de Almeida/ via AP)

Four other candidates ran for president.

One of the re-elected president’s first tasks will be to decide next month whether to approve a new law allowing euthanasia.

Parliament has passed the Bill but the head of state could try to block it or send it to the Constitutional Court for vetting.

The turnout was less than 40% — significantly lower than in recent elections and apparently confirming concerns that some people would stay away for fear of becoming infected with Covid-19.

Political leaders say that when the pandemic began to worsen there was no longer enough time to change the Portuguese constitution to allow a postponement.

Portugal has the world’s highest rates of new daily infections and deaths per 100,000 population, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, and its public health system is under huge strain.

Mr Rebelo de Sousa, 72, has long been viewed as the clear front-runner in the contest. He is an affable law professor and former television personality who as president has consistently had an approval rating of 60% or more.

To win, a candidate must capture more than 50% of the vote.

Right-wing populist presidential candidate Andre Ventura casts his ballot at a polling station in Lisbon (Armando Franca/AP)

Mr Rebelo de Sousa, a former leader of the centre-right Social Democratic Party, has worked closely with the centre-left minority Socialist government, supporting its pandemic efforts.

He also has endeared himself to the Portuguese with his easy-going style. Photographs taken by passers-by of him in public places, such as one last year of him standing in line at a supermarket wearing trainers and shorts, routinely go viral.

With the country in lockdown, the election campaign featured none of the usual flag-waving rallies but restrictions on movement were lifted for polling day.

Authorities increased the number of polling stations and allowed for early voting to reduce crowding on election day. In other precautions, voters were asked to bring their own pens and disinfectant to polling stations. Everyone voting wore a mask and kept a safe distance from each other.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa urged people to turn out for the ballot, saying that “unprecedented planning” had gone into ensuring that the vote could take place safely.

Portugal has 10.8 million registered voters, around 1.5 million of them living abroad.

Every Portuguese president since 1976, when universal suffrage was introduced following the departure of a dictatorship, has been returned for a second term. No woman or member of an ethnic minority has ever held the post.

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