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US welcomes 'good steps' by Iran on nuclear drive

The United States on Wednesday welcomed Iran's recent efforts to alleviate concerns about its nuclear programme, but urged it to increase the pace of cooperation. A recent report by the UN atomic watchdog IAEA found Iran was sticking to its agreements with the agency and implementing all newly agreed measures, even addressing matters related to bomb-making for the first time in six years. "You can't see steps taking place and say it's not sufficient, those are good steps," the US delegate to the IAEA, Ambassador Joseph Macmanus, told journalists Wednesday on the sidelines of an IAEA board of governors meeting. Addressing member states earlier, Macmanus however highlighted that Iran's engagement was "long overdue," according to a copy of his address.

Torture in Northen Ireland sanctioned by minister

Torture methods used during internment of Irish nationalists at the height of the Northern Irish Troubles were sanctioned by the British government minister, an Irish television documentary claimed Wednesday. In 1971, as violence intensified in the sectarian conflict, internment â or imprisonment without trial â was introduced by the British state as they tried to bring order to the province. The men were subjected to five techniques of deprivation: hooding, wall standing in stress positions for hours, sleep deprivation, water and food deprivation and subjection to noise, according to the report.

Iran says optimistic on nuclear deal by July 20

A major nuclear deal between world powers and Iran can still be achieved by next month as planned, Tehran said Wednesday as lack of progress recently raised fears the talks had hit a wall. Iran and the so-called P5+1 -- the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany -- are trying to draft a potentially historic nuclear agreement by July 20. "We believe that we can meet the deadline set out in the Geneva agreement and we work toward that aim," Iran's ambassador to the UN atomic watchdog IAEA, Reza Najafi, said Wednesday in Vienna.

Snowden wants to extend Russia refugee status: lawyer

Fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden is seeking to extend his refugee status in Russia, his lawyer said Wednesday, despite Snowden saying recently he wants to move to the United States or Brazil. We are working on the questions of extending his status, so everything is normal," Anatoly Kucherena told the Interfax news agency. Snowden flew into Russia from Hong Kong in June last year after shaking the intelligence establishment to its core with a series of leaks on mass surveillance in the United States and around the world. He was only able to leave Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on August 1 after obtaining temporary refugee status, which lasts for one year.

Kerry calls for more special Afghan visas

Secretary of State John Kerry urged lawmakers Wednesday to increase the number of special visas for Afghans who worked with the US government to avoid "stranding hundreds" as America withdraws. "This is not a partisan issue.

Lawmakers rush to craft bill on veterans health crisis

By Susan Cornwell and David Lawder WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers engaged in rare bipartisan talks on Wednesday about legislation to address delays in the delivery of health care for military veterans. The discussions sparked optimism that Republicans and Democrats can quickly strike a deal for a bill that would ensure immediate care for veterans and give the Obama administration greater authority to fire employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Aides to Senate Democrats said a vote on a compromise measure could come as early as Thursday. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who chairs the chamber's Veterans Affairs Committee, met with Republican Senator John McCain and Representative Jeff Miller to try to work out differences between competing proposals to fix widespread problems in the VA's health care system.

Was Bergdahl Reluctant to Be Freed?

As debate simmers on the manner of Bowe Bergdah’s release from the Taliban, an expert in non-verbal communication claims that the American and his Afghan handler behaved in a manner that would be consistent with a sad farewell or a grieving goodbye.

Fallout from Snowden affair still rocks US one year on

A year after Edward Snowden revealed the vast scope of the US data dragnet, America is still reeling from the fallout, which damaged ties abroad and triggered fears of "Big Brother" government. In the latest twist since Snowden handed over thousands of US intelligence secrets last June, Germany has launched a criminal probe into snooping on Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone. The timing is embarrassing, just as US President Barack Obama is in Europe for Friday's events marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day, also being attended by Merkel. Former intelligence contractor Snowden, 30, remains on the run from US espionage charges, having been given temporary political asylum in Russia.

Russia, friend or foe for NATO?

Russian intervention in Ukraine has set off an anguished debate within NATO over how to deal with a newly assertive Moscow ready to defy the West. For some, President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea in March shows Russia has ditched the post-Cold War rulebook, redrawing borders by intimidation and force. For others, the Ukraine crisis is a one-off in which Russia's legitimate interests must be dealt with to avoid a lasting confrontation which will poison relations and require massive additional defence spending for years. NATO leaders will meet at a September summit in Britain now dominated by events in Ukraine, with the US-led military alliance reviewing options to reassure its nervous east European members that they will not be abandoned if Russia goes for broke.

South Dakota candidate charged in election case

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota authorities on Wednesday arrested defeated U.S. Senate candidate Annette Bosworth and charged her with multiple counts of perjury and filing false election documents, saying she fraudulently attested to gathering voter signatures when she was really on a Christian mission trip to the Philippines.

G7 to focus on Syria foreign fighters after Brussels attack

Leaders of the Group of Seven powers are hoping to draw up plans Wednesday on how to guard against the threat of attacks by European jihadists returning home from the Syrian front, diplomats said. In the wake of a fatal shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels just days ago, British and French diplomatic sources said the matter would be raised when G7 leaders kick off a two-day summit with talks over dinner. The gunman suspected of the May 24 attack in Brussels, who killed three people outright and left a fourth clinically dead, spent more than a year fighting in Syria. Europe can expect further "small-scale attacks" like the Brussels shooting, the EU's anti-terror chief Gilles de Kerchove said this week.

G7 tells Russia to end Ukraine destabilisation or face more sanctions

Leaders of the Group of Seven powers on Wednesday urged Russia to end continued actions to destabilise eastern Ukraine or face stiffer sanctions. "Actions to destabilise eastern Ukraine are unacceptable and must stop," the group said in a statement after talks in Brussels. "We stand ready to intensify targeted sanctions and to implement significant additional restrictive measures to impose further costs on Russia should events so require." The G7 countries urged Moscow to recognise the results of Ukraine's May 25 presidential election, won by Petro Poroshenko.

Diplomacy best way to allay Merkel spying concerns: US

German concerns over the alleged US tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone are best dealt with through diplomatic channels, a US official said Wednesday. US President Barack Obama had discussed the allegations "in depth" with Merkel when she visited Washington in April, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said when asked about the launch of a German criminal probe into the accusations. "We believe it's important to talk about this in the diplomatic channels," Harf told reporters, adding the issue had been raised directly with the German government.

Canada unveils new prostitution law

Canada's attorney general unveiled a law Wednesday that makes it legal to sell sex to individuals but illegal to buy it, after the high court struck down an anti-prostitution law. "We're targeting Johns and pimps, those that treat sexual services as a commodity," Justice Minister and Attorney General Peter MacKay. The Supreme Court in December struck down key provisions of the original law that effectively criminalized prostitution, saying that they endangered prostitutes. The legal challenge was brought by three sex workers who argued that Canada's restrictions on prostitution -- criminalizing keeping a brothel, living off prostitution or soliciting sex in public -- put their safety at risk.

Putin calls Hillary Clinton a 'weak' woman

Russian President Vladimir Putin waded into US politics Wednesday describing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- and possible 2016 presidential candidate -- as "weak" in some sarcastic comments about women. In an interview with French television, Putin was asked about Clinton's recent remarks that the Russian leader was trying to redraw the boundaries in eastern Europe just like Adolf Hitler did in the 1930s. "It's better not to argue with women," Putin replied, adding: "But Mrs. Clinton has never been too graceful in her statements." Putin remarked that he met Clinton when she was the US top diplomat "and had cordial conversations at various international events.

Child star, Kennedy family member vie for powerful LA post

By Sharon Bernstein SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - A touch of glamour could spice up a normally humdrum race for Los Angeles County supervisor next fall, as a former child star squares off against a member of the Kennedy family for a seat on the five-member board following a primary election. Former Democratic state Senator Sheila Kuehl, a Harvard University graduate and longtime lawmaker who appeared on the TV show "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" in the 1950s and 1960s, will face Bobby Shriver. Shriver, a lawyer, former mayor and fellow Democrat, is the brother of former California first lady Maria Shriver and a nephew of slain U.S. President John F. Kennedy. His father was Sargent Shriver, who worked in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and whose wife was Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Will it be 'lights out' for Thad Cochran?

National Republicans find themselves in a political jam over the looming Senate runoff in Mississippi, with some establishment operatives now wishing that tea party challenger Chris McDaniel had just won outright or that six-term incumbent Thad Cochran hadn’t run at all. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is in the most uncomfortable spot, as the top institutional defender of incumbents. It is pledging its full support to Cochran while also having to grapple with the reality that McDaniel, who may well win the nomination, is a political figure it can’t control, and giving Democrats reason to dream about a seat in Mississippi for the first time since Dixiecrats fell out of vogue.

Bergdahl swap may make closing Guantanamo harder

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's goal of closing the Guantanamo Bay prison is facing re-energized opposition from Republicans and increased questioning from fellow Democrats amid widespread anger in Congress over the swap of five Taliban detainees for the last American prisoner of war in Afghanistan.