Iran is serious in seeking a comprehensive nuclear deal with world powers despite lingering differences, President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday, insisting negotiations could succeed before a July 20 deadline expires. But Rouhani added that should Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany not strike a deal next month, the process will continue until all differences are resolved. The P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States plus Germany) talks with Iran resume in Vienna on Monday with the aim of transforming an interim deal into a lasting accord. The West wants to ensure that Iran's nuclear activities are purely peaceful.
Both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and jihadist groups battling to oust him stand to benefit from a lightning offensive by militants across the border in Iraq, analysts believe. Fighters from the powerful jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant began an offensive in Iraq on Monday, taking a swathe of mostly Sunni Arab territory in the north. The attack led by ISIL, which operates in both countries, has brought Iraq's army to the brink of collapse. Analysts say their advance could deliver not just a military boost to jihadists in Syria, but also political gains for Assad.
The United States condemned an attack on Russia's embassy in Kiev on Saturday and called on Ukraine to provide adequate security for the diplomatic mission. The US reaction came after a crowd, inflamed by the downing of a Ukrainian military transport plane, tore down the embassy's flag and overturned vehicles as a dozen police looked on. "The United States condemns the attack on the Russian Embassy in Kiev, and calls on Ukrainian authorities to meet their Vienna convention obligations to provide adequate security," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Nine top officers from the moderate Free Syrian Army resigned Saturday over shortages and mismanagement of military aid from donor countries to their uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. Some Western military aid has trickled into Syria in recent weeks, but overall the United States has been reticent to arm rebels over fears advanced weapons could end up in jihadist hands. Weapons shipped to Syria from the West, but more significantly from Gulf countries, are usually sent to specific groups, rather than to the Supreme Military Council, which was meant to coordinate the rebel military effort. Lieutenant-Colonel Mohammad Abboud told AFP he and the eight other rebel officers resigned because the "SMC has no role any more.
Italian sailors have recovered 10 bodies of migrants after a rubber dinghy sank off the Libyan coast, Italy's navy said Saturday. Thirty-nine migrants were rescued after the vessel sank Friday some 40 nautical miles from the Libyan coast, the navy said, adding that the search for survivors continued on Saturday. An Italian resupply ship, which has picked up some 700 migrants from stricken vessels in recent days, along with the 10 bodies, is headed towards Sicily where it is expected early Sunday, the navy said. A Libyan navy spokesman said Friday's shipwreck occurred outside Libyan waters and came under Italian jurisdiction.
Soldiers armed with shovels are digging in just 25 kilometres (15 miles) north of Baghdad as others man new checkpoints, bolstering the Iraqi capital's defences against a militant assault. A major militant offensive launched on Monday, spearheaded by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group but also involving supporters of executed dictator Saddam Hussein, has overrun a large chunk of northern and north-central Iraq. The advance swept to within less than 100 kilometres (60 miles) of the capital, raising fears among residents that the city itself would be next, though militants have since been pushed back by security forces in areas farther north, making an assault on Baghdad appear less likely. ISIL spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani has vowed its fighters would press on to Baghdad and Karbala, a city southwest of the capital that is considered one of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam.
France announced Saturday that it has deported a Tunisian who was accused of recruiting young jihadists to fight in Syria, deeming him a threat to national security. The interior ministry said the 28-year-old was expelled to Tunisia on Thursday "as a matter of absolute urgency in view of the threat that his presence posed for public safety and state security." A French official said the Tunisian "played a central role in the recruitment of young jihadists" in the southeastern French city of Grenoble. He is suspected of having taken part in the recruitment of young jihadists who were trained in Tunisia before being sent to Syria.
The United States has ordered an aircraft carrier, the USS George H.W. Bush, into the Gulf in response to the crisis in Iraq, the Pentagon said Saturday. "The order will provide the commander-in-chief additional flexibility should military options be required to protect American lives, citizens and interests in Iraq," Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said. US President Barack Obama said Friday the United States would not send in US ground troops but that he was weighing all other options.
The White House Saturday welcomed Afghanistan's presidential elections as a "significant step" for the country's democracy, but emphasized the need for electoral commissions to legitimize the vote. "The work of the electoral commissions in the weeks ahead will be particularly important," the White House said in a statement, commending "the voters, electoral bodies, and security forces for their commitment to the democratic process." On Saturday, millions of Afghans defied Taliban threats in a run-off vote to decide whether former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah or ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani will lead the country into a new era of declining international military and civilian assistance. "These elections are a significant step forward on Afghanistan’s democratic path, and the courage and resolve of the Afghan people to make their voices heard is a testament to the importance of these elections to securing Afghanistan’s future," the White House said.
Zanzibar (Tanzania) (AFP) - Tanzanian police on Saturday hunted for suspects amid tightened security a day after an explosion at a mosque in the busy capital of Zanzibar killed a Muslim preacher and wounded several people. The blast area in Zanzibar's Stone Town was cordoned off Saturday as police scoured the area for clues. Police named the victim as Sheikh Mohammed Abdalla Mkombalaguha, who had recently arrived from the Tanga region on the Tanzanian mainland. Senior police chief Yussuf Ilembo said several suspects had been questioned but none arrested.
Iran may consider cooperating with its arch-foe the United States to fight Sunni extremist militants in Iraq, but has not yet received a request to intervene militarily across the border. In the clearest indication so far that Iran may be pulled into the conflict, President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday admitted that turmoil caused by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant's (ISIL) advance towards Baghdad could have calamitous dimensions for the whole region. Acknowledging his country's "close and intimate" relations with Iraq, Rouhani left the door open to some form of intervention when asked if mutual interest could possibly bring Iran and the US together. "If we see that the United States takes action against terrorist groups in Iraq, then one can think about it," he said.
Security forces drove back 1,000 African migrants who tried to scramble over a border fence from Morocco into the Spanish territory of Melilla on Saturday, officials said. "Anti-climbing mesh and the collaboration of the Moroccan forces with the (Spanish) civil guard managed to stop an attempt to cross by about a thousand migrants," the Spanish government delegation in Melilla said in a statement. Moroccan forces saw off many of the migrants and those who managed to get past them to the fence failed to climb into Melilla partly due to the new type of mesh, it said. Melilla is one of two Spanish-held cities on the northern coast of Africa, along with Ceuta to the east.