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US negotiator for defence cost-sharing talks arrives in Seoul

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Seoul, May 18 (IANS) The US negotiator for defence cost-sharing talks with South Korea arrived here on Saturday, ahead of a new round of negotiations set for next week.

The arrival of the delegation, led by Linda Specht, lead negotiator for security agreements at the US State Department, came as the allies are set to hold their second round of talks on determining how much Seoul should shoulder for the upkeep of the 28,500-strong US Forces Korea (USFK), Yonhap news agency reported.

“This is really about the importance of our alliance, our relationships as two countries and the support we give one another,” Specht told reporters upon arriving at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul.

“I’m looking forward to a good set of talks,” she said.

The talks will take place in Seoul from Tuesday through Thursday, between Specht and her South Korean counterpart, Lee Tae-woo, the chief negotiator from Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.

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Seoul and Washington launched the negotiations in Hawaii last month, at an earlier time than planned, amid a view that South Korea seeks to strike a new deal sooner to avoid the risk of facing tough bargaining from the US for a big increase in its share if former President Donald Trump is re-elected in November.

The two sides had gruelling negotiations for the latest deal, known as the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), as Washington under Trump’s presidency had demanded more than a fivefold increase in Seoul’s payment to $5 billion.

The negotiations had hit a deadlock, placing South Koreans working for the US military here under a temporary furlough amid the absence of an agreement.

The current 11th SMA was signed soon after the launch of the Joe Biden administration.

Under the six-year deal, due to expire at the end of 2025, South Korea agreed to raise the payment by 13.9 per cent from 2019 to $1.03 billion for 2021.

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Seoul has called for a new deal to come at a “reasonable level” to ensure the conditions for the “stable stationing of the USFK and to strengthen the allies’ combined defence posture”.

Washington has said it seeks to pursue “a fair and equitable” outcome in the talks, as most of Seoul’s contributions to the SMA are expended in South Korea’s domestic economy, representing a “powerful investment” in the bilateral alliance.

Since 1991, Seoul has partially shouldered costs under the SMA for Korean USFK workers; the construction of military installations, such as barracks, and training, educational, operational and communications facilities; and other logistical support.

–IANS

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Energy vouchers for 1.3 mn S. Korean vulnerable households this summer

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Seoul, June 16 (IANS) The ruling People Power Party (PPP) and government officials on Sunday agreed to provide energy vouchers to 1.3 million vulnerable households as the country braces for a hotter-than-average summer.

The support scheme was announced during a meeting of senior officials of the government, the presidential office and the PPP, according to Rep. Jang Dong-hyuk, the PPP’s chief spokesperson.

The decision to provide support of up to 53,000 won ($38), up 10,000 won from last year, comes as South Korea’s weather agency has forecast this summer to be hotter than average, reports Yonhap news agency.

The officials also decided to extend an electricity freeze for 3.6 million households in vulnerable groups.

–IANS

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Zelensky calls for second event as Ukraine peace summit ends

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Vienna, June 16 (IANS/DPA) The two-day Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland should be quickly followed up with a second meeting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday towards the close of proceedings.

Preparations would take only months and not years, Zelensky said after representatives of some 100 countries and organisations came together at the Burgenstock mountain hotel resort near Lucerne.

Some countries had already signalled their willingness to host such a summit, according to Zelensky.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that a prerequisite for Russia’s participation would be Moscow’s commitment to the UN Charter.

The final declaration of the summit, which was signed by 80 of the countries present, makes no mention of a follow-up conference.

Swiss President Viola Amherd acknowledged diverse perspectives at the conference but emphasized that it marked the first high-level discussion on a peace process. Some substantive prerequisites for a path to an end to the war in Ukraine had been created, she said.

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The fact that the vast majority of the states present agreed on the Burgenstock Communique shows what diplomacy can achieve through patient work, Amherd added.

Russia had not been invited to the event and showed no interest in participating. The summit was also an attempt by the West to involve other countries in South America, Asia and Africa in peace efforts based on international law.

Ukraine is calling for a “just and lasting” peace.

–IANS/DPA

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Iran condemns G7 claims against its nuclear activities

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Tehran, June 16 (IANS) Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanaani slammed on Sunday the claims of the Group of Seven (G7) over the country’s nuclear activities as “anti-Tehran”.

Reacting to a G7 communique issued on Friday, Kanaani stressed in a statement that Iran’s nuclear programme is “exclusively peaceful”, reported Xinhua News Agency.

He said Iran would carry forward its “peaceful” nuclear projects and plans in line with the Non-Proliferation Treaty and safeguards agreement, regardless of political pressures and “propaganda campaigns.” He said the communique’s mention of an anti-Iran resolution of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was another proof of “the political approach pursued by those behind the resolution” and certain governments’ “abuse” of international mechanisms against independent states.

The communique called on Tehran to “cease and reverse nuclear escalations”, stop the continuing “uranium enrichment activities”, engage in serious dialogue, provide convincing assurances that its nuclear programme is exclusively peaceful, fully cooperate with the IAEA, and comply with the agency’s monitoring and verification mechanism, “including the Board of Governors’ resolution of June 5”.

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The IAEA Board of Governors’ resolution urged Iran to “step up cooperation with the IAEA and reverse its recent barring of inspectors.”

Kanaani regretted that some countries with “political motivations” made baseless and unproven claims to continue the failed policy of sanctions on Iran, advising the G7 members to refrain from using outdated, “destructive” policies. He stressed that the United States and the E3 group of France, Britain and Germany should give proof of their goodwill and refrain from taking “futile politically-motivated” measures against Iran.

Iran signed a nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), with world powers including the United States and the E3 group in July 2015, accepting restrictions on its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. However, the United States withdrew from the agreement in May 2018, reinstating sanctions and prompting Iran to scale back some of its nuclear commitments. Efforts to revive the JCPOA commenced in April 2021 in Vienna, but despite multiple rounds of negotiations, no substantial progress has been reported since the last talks in August 2022.

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–IANS

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2 killed, multiple injured in shooting in Texas

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San Francisco, June 16 (IANS) A shooting left two people dead and several wounded on Saturday night near the capital city of the US state of Texas, local police said.

The shooting took place before 11 p.m. Saturday (4 a.m. GMT Sunday) during a Juneteenth celebration at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock, about 19 miles (30.4 km) north of Austin, reported Xinhua News Agency.

An altercation began between two groups during a concert at the event and resulted in the shooting, Round Rock Police Chief Allen Banks said during a news conference at the scene. The two victims who died at the scene were not involved in the altercation, Allen said, adding that multiple wounded victims were transported to local hospitals.

An investigation was going on. Police did not know how many shooters were involved, and no suspect was yet in custody, he said.

–IANS

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Final document at Ukraine peace summit backed by 80 countries

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Vienna, June 16 (IANS/DPA) The final declaration of the Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland was approved by 80 of the 93 participating states at the close of the two-day event on Sunday.

Countries that did not sign include six states from the G20 group of the world’s most important economic powers — Brazil, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, India and Indonesia, according to a list published by the Swiss hosts.

Armenia, Bahrain, Thailand, Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Colombia and the Vatican also did not back the document released at the Burgenstock mountain hotel resort near Lucerne.

Brazil, India, South Africa and the UAE are united with Russia in the so-called BRICS group and maintain a friendly relationship with Russia despite its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The draft of the final declaration took this into account and does not explicitly condemn Moscow for its actions.

Instead, it recalls the Charter of the United Nations: “In particular, we reaffirm our commitment to refraining from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,” the text reads.

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The principles of sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all states, including Ukraine, must be respected, it stated.

The signatories also favour protecting the Ukrainian nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhya, which is occupied by Russia, and agree that any threat to use nuclear weapons should be condemned.

They also call for unhindered grain exports from Ukraine, which are particularly important for impoverished countries in Africa and other parts of the world.

The declaration also advocates the exchange of prisoners of war and the return of children and other civilians abducted from Ukraine to Russia.

Earlier in the day, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer anticipated an incomplete backing of the document, while downplaying the significance of this.

This was only because of its exact wording, according to Nehammer, rather than reflecting a lack of support for efforts to broker peace in Ukraine.

The basic common position would not be affected, he said: “That’s why I’m not so worried if not everyone signs now.”

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The question of the scope of a follow-up conference was also still difficult to answer. Before Russia also takes a seat at the negotiating table, another conference in a different format is conceivable, Nehammer added.

“You really have to see it as a process,” he said.

According to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, the conference as such brought significant progress.

Kuleba said that all countries that were not present were also aware of the impetus provided by the meeting. Overall, the process that has been initiated is very welcome. He said: “We are on the right track.”

Kuleba again stressed the need to support Ukraine militarily with the highest quality weapons possible. The stronger Ukraine is, the more willing Moscow will be to negotiate peace, according to him.

The aim of the event was to initiate a peace process in which Russia would also be involved in the long term. Officials from Moscow were not invited on this occasion and did not express a wish to attend.

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–IANS/DPA

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