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The Media Line Daily News Focus

1. EUROPE OFFERS TIME TO HAMAS…The European Union will not immediately cut off aid to the Palestinians. A meeting of EU foreign ministers has decided to give Hamas three to four weeks to renounce terrorism and recognize Israel. The EU is the largest provider of aid to the Palestinian Authority, granting some $604 million in 2005.

2. ‘ABBAS PLEDGES TO ADVANCE PEACE…The domestically-isolated Palestinian leader Mahmoud ‘Abbas says he has no intention of resigning and will stay in office until his term ends in three years. He made the comment, despite a pre-election promise to resign in the event that an anti-peace government would be formed. ‘Abbas is expected to meet Hamas representatives within two weeks to try to finalize the line-up of the new cabinet. ‘Abbas said the Palestinian Authority remains committed to the peace process. He was speaking to reporters after talks in Ramallah with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday.

3. U.S. AND OTHERS PUSH IRAN TOWARDS SECURITY COUNCIL…A meeting of top representatives of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council has pushed Iran one step closer to sanctions, but has given Tehran some breathing space as part of a compromise deal. China and Russia have agreed to the demands of the Western powers to send the Iran nuclear file on to the Security Council, but for the next month or so, no action will be taken, until a report is published on the issue by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Until now, Beijing and Moscow had said they would block any move towards sanctions against Tehran.

4. IRAN OFFERS ‘NOTHING NEW’…Officials in France, Germany and the United Kingdom are expressing their disappointment after a meeting with Iranian representatives to discuss Tehran’s nuclear program. “Nothing new” came out of Monday’s talks, according to several officials. The Iranians have been suggesting there is a need for compromise. The meeting came as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice both said they are against Iran continuing its nuclear-development program. A meeting of the European Council offered a detailed statement on the issue: “The European Union is gravely concerned at the removal of seals at several nuclear installations, including at Natanz, and Iran’s decision to resume enrichment related activities. The EU calls on Iran to re-instate the seals and to re-establish full, sustained and verifiable suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities as called for repeatedly in IAEA Board of Governors’ resolutions as an essential confidence building measure. In line with the requests made in IAEA Board of Governors Resolutions the EU emphasizes the need for Iran to refrain from all enrichment related and reprocessing activities until international confidence is restored. This is not a dispute between Iran and Europe, but between Iran and the international community. The EU does not question the right of Iran to the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in conformity with its obligations under the NPT, a right which we have consistently reaffirmed. The dispute is about Iran’s failure to build the necessary confidence as to the exclusively peaceful nature of its programme. This confidence has further eroded as a result of the unilateral steps Iran has taken contrary to its commitments. The Council noted with concern that the Director General has reported that the IAEA is not yet in a position to clarify some important issues after two and a half years of intensive inspections and investigation and that Iran’s full transparency is indispensable and overdue. In the light of recent Iranian actions, which run counter to IAEA-Resolutions and which are a rejection of the efforts to explore whether a basis can be agreed for resuming negotiations, the European Union Member States will closely coordinate and work for the forthcoming extraordinary meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna to involve the UN Security Council to reinforce the authority of the IAEA in line with these conclusions. This is a necessary and appropriate step, fully in line with the IAEA Board of Governors’ resolution of September 2005, which found that Iran had been non-compliant with its Safeguards Agreement and that the history of concealment of Iran’s nuclear activities and the nature of these activities had given rise to questions within the competence of the Security Council. The EU believes that the issue can still be solved by negotiations; but this will require a cooperative and transparent approach on the part of the Iranian government with the IAEA, and the return to full suspension. The EU remains committed to a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue in which the IAEA should play a central role. Involvement of the Security Council does not end the IAEA’s responsibilities; on the contrary it strengthens them. The EU will remain fully engaged in this issue. The EU Member States will closely coordinate their action both in the framework of the IAEA in Vienna and of the United Nations in New York, in coordination also with international partners. The Council recalls in this context its support for the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, including their means of delivery. The Council recalls that in its Conclusions of 7 November 2005 it repeated that the evolution of its long-term relationship with Iran would depend on action by Iran to address effectively all the EU’s areas of concern. The Council regards Iran’s resumption of enrichment-related activities as a negative development that will impact on the overall relationship which we will review in the light of actions taken by Iran. The Council reiterates that it is up to Iran to determine, through its actions, whether its long-term relationship with the EU will improve or deteriorate.”

5. SECOND MIDEAST COUNTRY REPORTS BIRD FLU…A young Kurdish girl from Iraq has died after being infected with bird flu, doctors have confirmed after a second batch of tests. Initially, medics ruled she had not contracted the deadly strain of the disease, that so far has only been transmitted to humans who have come into contact with infected fowl. Several cases have already been reported in nearby Turkey.