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Philippines to resume talks with communist rebels

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Philippines to resume talks with communist rebels

The Philippines is set to resume peace negotiations with communist insurgents, four years after long-running talks were suspended, the two sides announced Wednesday.

Norway is to host the talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) at a still unspecified date, said President Gloria Arroyo’s chief aide, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.

Chief rebel negotiator Luis Jalandoni said in a statement to reporters here that formal talks will resume in Oslo “some time in August 2009.”

Ermita said the government would suspend arrest warrants against rebel leaders who take part in the talks, giving them immunity starting July 17 until the conclusion of talks aimed at ending the 40-year Maoist rebellion.

“We have enough good reason to agree to the resumption of the talks facilitated by the Norwegian government,” Ermita told reporters.

Talks were suspended in 2004 after Arroyo refused communist demands that she ask the West — including the United States and the European Union — to cancel the rebels’ designation as terrorists.

Many of the communists’ top leaders, including Jalandoni, live in exile in the Netherlands.

Their designation as “terrorists” on international lists led to the freezing of their assets and bank accounts, including those held by Jose Maria Sison, the group’s exiled leader based in the Dutch city of Utrecht.

Ermita said the government peace panel was in “continuous contact” with Jalandoni and Sison.

“We hope with this statement we will be able to move forward,” he said.

Arroyo has previously vowed to end long-running communist and Muslim separatist insurgencies by the time her six-year term ends in 2010.

However, a wave of deadly bombings that left about a dozen dead and over 100 injured has clouded any prospect of resuming talks with Muslim insurgents in the south anytime soon.

The CPP and its 5,000-strong military wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), has been waging a Maoist rebellion since 1969, in one of Asia’s longest running communist insurgencies.

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Top powers meet Iran over nuclear program

APTOPIX Mideast Iran Iraq

Top powers meet Iran over nuclear program

GENEVA – The United States and five other world powers have begun high-stakes talks with Iran to demand a freeze of its nuclear activities.

A senior U.S. official says Washington is open to rare one-on-one talks with Iranian diplomats.

The EU’s Javier Solana, who is formally heading the negotiations Thursday with chief Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili, was upbeat before the start of the talks in an 18th century villa in the suburbs of Geneva.

But he declined to comment on the atmosphere of the talks and told reporters only, “It’s a very nice day.”

The U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the talks, briefed reporters in Geneva. Such a move reflects Washington’s determination to get results from the meeting.

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Israel, Palestinians hold ‘positive’ talks

AMMAN: Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held a “positive” first face-to-face meeting in more than 15 months on Tuesday, saying they remain committed to a two-state solution but that full-blown talks are still some way off.

“The talks and atmosphere were positive,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told reporters after the talks in Amman between Israel’s chief negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, his Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erakat and Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh.

Washington too welcomed what it described as a “positive development” after months of deadlock in peace talks over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal in 2010 to renew a freeze on most settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

Judeh, who hosted the meeting in the Jordanian capital, voiced cautious optimism. “The two sides expressed their commitment to a two-state solution. We do not want to raise the level of expectations, but at the same time we do not want to minimise the importance of this meeting,” he said.

“The Palestinians submitted a paper on borders and security. The Israeli side received it, promising to study it and respond,” he said.

The minister said Jordan, which has a 1994 peace treaty with Israel, will host further talks between the two sides.

“Any announcement about the meetings will be made by Jordan. You might hear about the meetings and you might not,” he said, expecting “progress and things to be positive by the end of this month.”
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said on Tuesday the outcome of the meeting would soon be clear.

“We will know today or in the coming two days,” he said, indicating that they were looking to find “the right foundation” to resume talks with Israel.
“This is a good thing and we hope Jordanian efforts work,” he was quoted as saying by Jordan’s state-run Petra news agency.
Earlier this week, Israeli cabinet minister Dan Meridor said the fact that a meeting was taking place was “a positive development” but that it did not in itself constitute a return to direct talks.Erakat made the same point in an interview with Voice of Palestine radio.
“This meeting will be devoted to discussing the possibility of making a breakthrough that could lead to the resumption of negotiations. Therefore, it will not mark the resumption of negotiations,” he said on Monday.

Direct talks ground to a halt in September 2010, when an Israeli freeze on new West Bank settlement construction expired and Netanyahu declined to renew it.

“We will see what the quartet’s position will be in this meeting and if it is willing to seriously address the obstacles to the peace process and negotiations put by Israel,” PLO secretary general Yasser Abed Rabbo told Voice of Palestine.

Abbas met with US envoy David Hale in Ramallah late on Monday and told him there would be no resumption of talks unless Israel froze settlement construction and accepted the 1967 borders as the basis for peace talks, a Palestinian official told AFP.

The Quartet, which comprises the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States, has been trying to draw the two sides back to the negotiating table, asking them for comprehensive proposals on territory and security.

White House spokesman Jay Carney acknowledged the difficulties President Barack Obama faced in getting a resumption of talks.

“He is doing everything he can to bring them together at the table,” Carney said.

“And this is obviously a challenging issue — it has been so for a long time. But the president’s very focused on doing what he can to make it happen.”

Abed Rabbo said Washington wanted the talks to restart “without any preconditions or promises on settlement expansion.
“This does not fulfil the conditions for a resumption of negotiations nor does it enable any negotiations to succeed,” he said.
The meeting sparked an angry reaction from the Hamas movement which has controlled the Gaza Strip since ousting Abbas’s forces in 2007.
“Going to such a meeting is only betting on failure,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP on Monday.
The leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine also criticised the meeting, calling it a “fatal error” which would force the Palestinians back into another pointless waiting game. (AFP)

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