By Lesley Wroughton GENEVA (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif for six hours on Saturday trying to overcome obstacles to a final nuclear agreement, a month ahead of a deadline for a deal between Tehran and six world powers. They were the first substantive talks since Iran struck an interim accord with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China on April 2. "Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif, along with their teams, had a thorough and comprehensive discussion of all of the issues today," a senior State Department official said, without elaborating. One of the issues still to be resolved is the push by the world powers for international access to Iran's military sites and its team of atomic experts. For its part, Tehran wants sanctions to be lifted immediately after a deal is reached. A senior U.S. official said earlier there had been substantial progress in negotiations in Vienna in recent weeks on drafting a political agreement and three technical annexes on curbing Tehran's nuclear program. The United States has said it will not extend the talks beyond the June 30 deadline. "We really do believe we can get it done by (June) 30th and we're not contemplating an extension. We just aren't," said the official traveling with Kerry to Geneva, adding that Kerry's schedule for June had been cleared to focus on the talks. But France, which has demanded more stringent restrictions on the Iranians, has indicated discussions are likely to slip into July. Iran's senior nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi also warned that the deadline might need to be extended. Kerry was due to visit Paris on Monday after a quick trip to Madrid on Sunday. INSPECTIONS A Western diplomat said inspections of military sites by U.N. watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and access to Iran's scientists were critical to checking whether Iran was pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons program. "If the IAEA can't have access to (the scientists) or the military sites then its a problem," the Western diplomat said. "The IAEA needs sufficient access quickly to those sites to ensure things don't just disappear." The State Department official took a similar view, saying without access "we're not going to sign" a deal. Iran denies any ambition to develop a nuclear weapon and says its program is purely peaceful. "The issue of interviews with nuclear scientists is generally off the table as well as the inspection of military sites," Araqchi told reporters as he arrived for the talks with Kerry. "How additional protocol would be implemented is still a matter of disagreement that we are still talking about." Iran's demand that sanctions be rescinded immediately after a deal is also holding up a settlement as the powers' have said they can only be removed in staggered phases. Tehran-based analyst Saeed Laylaz said he expected a deal to be finalised despite resistance from opponents in Iran and the United States. "Neither America nor Iran have a choice but to reach a deal," he told Reuters. "Failure to reach a deal will fuel tension in the region." Mark Fitzpatrick, a former State Department official now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said an agreement was likely some time in July. "The most difficult compromises have already been made," he said. "But the Iranians could overplay their hand on the incorrect assumption that (U.S. President Barack) Obama needs a deal more than they do." (Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Ankara, John Irish in Paris and Lou Charbonneau at the United Nations Editing by Pravin Char and Crispian Balmer)
- NBC News
First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
- Associated Press
A federal judge on Sunday blocked the release of a Tennessee man who authorities say carried flexible plastic handcuffs during the riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month. U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell for the District of Columbia set aside an order by a judge in Tennessee concerning the release of Eric Munchel of Nashville. After testimony at a detention hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Frensley for the Middle District of Tennessee determined Friday that Munchel wasn’t a flight risk and didn’t pose harm to the public.
- The Independent
First family orders sesame bagels with cream cheese
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced Monday he will not run for a third term in the U.S. Senate in 2022, citing "partisan gridlock."Why it matters: It's a surprise retirement from a prominent Senate Republican who easily won re-election in 2016 and was expected to do so again in 2022, creating an open Senate seat in a red-leaning swing state.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.Between the lines: Portman was one of the Republican senators who said that former President Trump "bears some responsibility" for the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. His decision not to seek re-election will free him from the political constraints of voting to convict Trump in his upcoming impeachment trial, though it's not yet clear whether he will choose to do so.What they're saying: "I don’t think any Senate office has been more successful in getting things done, but honestly, it has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy, and that has contributed to my decision," Portman said in a statement. * “We live in an increasingly polarized country where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left, and that means too few people who are actively looking to find common ground." * "This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but a problem that has gotten worse over the past few decades."Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
- The Telegraph
The acrimonious split within Republican ranks widened over the weekend as Donald Trump made his foray back into politics, backing the re-election of a hard-line supporter as chair of the party in Arizona. His wholehearted support for Kelli Ward was seen by allies as the former president firing a warning shot across the bows of any Republican senators considering backing his impeachment. Underlining Mr Trump’s grip on the Republican grassroots, the Arizona party also voted to censure John McCain’s widow, Cindy, former senator Jeff Flake and governor Doug Ducey, who refused to back the former president’s claims of election fraud. Mr Trump’s intervention came amid reports that he is considering setting up a “Patriot Party” which would spearhead primary challenges to his opponents in the 2022 mid-term elections. The former president has already amassed a massive war chest with his Save America political action committee declaring last month that it had raked in $207.5 million in donations.
- Associated Press
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel will be closing its international airport to nearly all flights, while Israeli police clashed with ultra-Orthodox protesters in several major cities and the government raced to bring a raging coronavirus outbreak under control. The entry of highly contagious variants of the virus, coupled with poor enforcement of safety rules in ultra-Orthodox communities, has contributed to one of the world's highest rates of infections. It also has threatened to undercut Israel's highly successful campaign to vaccinate its population against the virus.
- The Week
Senate Democrats are drawing a line at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) demand that a power-sharing agreement in the 50-50 Senate include a pledge to retain the legislative filibuster. "If we gave him that, then the filibuster would be on everything, every day," Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) told NBC's Chuck Todd on Sunday's Meet the Press. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) offered McConnell "word for word" the same power-sharing agreement used in the first half of 2001, and McConnell's insistence on adding the filibuster pledge is "a non-starter."But until Schumer and McConnell reach agreement on the Senate's operating rules, Republicans still retain much of the majority they lost last Wednesday."Without an organizing accord, Republicans remain in the majority of most Senate committees," and "veteran Democrats eager to seize the gavels and advance their long dormant agendas can only wait and wonder," The Washington Post explains. "Newly sworn-in Democratic senators cannot get committee assignments until an organizational deal is struck," leaving the old GOP-majority structures in place, and "Democrats can't unilaterally impose an organizing agreement because they would need Republican support to block a filibuster."The filibuster has evolved into a sclerotic de facto requirement for a 60-senator supermajority on all legislation. Frustration with obstruction by the minority led Senate Democrats to end the filibuster for some presidential appointees and lower-court judges in 2013, and McConnell continued eroding the filibuster as majority leader, killing it for Supreme Court nominees and further easing the confirmation of presidential appointees.A handful of Democratic centrists would prefer to keep the filibuster — for now. But there is mounting pressure from inside and outside the chamber. "There is absolutely no reason to give Sen. McConnell months and months to prove what we absolutely know — that he is going to continue his gridlock and dysfunction from the minority," said Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for the anti-filibuster liberal coalition Fix Our Senate.More stories from theweek.com Josh Hawley knows exactly what he's doing Colleagues shocked that 'nerdy' Justice Department official joined Trump's election overthrow effort Trump must be prosecuted
- Yahoo News Video
Israeli authorities on Monday extradited a former teacher accused of sexually abusing her former students in Australia, capping a six-year legal battle that had strained relations between the two governments and antagonized Australia's Jewish community.
- The Telegraph
Italy’s interior minister has intervened in a row in Naples over the painting of giant murals that pay tribute to the blighted lives and violent exploits of teenage criminals. Italians have adopted a curious English phrase, “baby bosses”, to describe the young gangsters, who frequently lose their lives in confrontations with police on the streets of the southern city. Such “bosses” are said to be members of “baby gangs” – another curious Italo-English invention that denotes groups of delinquents and drifters. Authorities in Naples want to scrub out or paint over two large murals which adorn the sides of buildings. They depict two young men, Ugo Russo and Luigi Caiafa, who were shot dead in separate incidents last year by police officers during robbery attempts. A mural dedicated to Russo depicts his face and the words Verità e Giustizia – Truth and Justice. He was killed when he tried to rob an off-duty police officer last year.
Guyana said late on Saturday that a Venezuelan navy vessel detained two vessels that were fishing in Guyana's exclusive economic zone, the latest dispute in a long-running border conflict between the two South American nations. Caracas says much of eastern Guyana is its own territory, a claim that is rejected by Georgetown. The conflict has flared up in recent years as Guyana has started developing oil reserves near the disputed area.
- Associated Press
Federal law enforcement officials are examining a number of threats aimed at members of Congress as the second trial of former President Donald Trump nears, including ominous chatter about killing legislators or attacking them outside of the U.S. Capitol, a U.S. official told The Associated Press. The threats, and concerns that armed protesters could return to sack the Capitol anew, have prompted the U.S. Capitol Police and other federal law enforcement to insist thousands of National Guard troops remain in Washington as the Senate moves forward with plans for Trump's trial, the official said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), incoming chair of the Senate Budget Committee who caucuses with the Democrats, told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that Democrats plan to push a coronavirus relief package through the chamber with a simple majority vote. Why it matters: "Budget reconciliation" would allow Democrats to forgo the Senate's 60-vote requirement and could potentially speed-up the next relief package for millions of unemployed Americans. Democrats hold the the 50-50 split in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote.Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.What he's saying: "What we cannot do is wait weeks and weeks and months to go forward. We have got to act now," Sanders said. * "We're going to use reconciliation — that's 50 votes in the Senate, plus the vice president — to pass legislation desperately needed by working families in this country right now." * When asked if he wants a relief bill passed before former President Trump's impeachment trial begins the week of Feb. 8, he said: "We've got to do everything. This is not — you don't have the time to sit around, weeks on impeachment and not get vaccines into the arms of people."Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.
California Governor Gavin Newsom's office has decided to lift the orders as ICU availability in the regions that remained under the stay-at-home order, including the Bay area and Southern California are projected to rise above the 15% threshold that triggered the lockdown measures, according https://bit.ly/3sSPOfp to San Francisco Chronicle. California has reported over 3.1 million cases and 36,745 deaths so far, a Reuters tally showed. Strict stay-at-home orders were renewed for much of California in December to avert a crisis in hospitals.
- Associated Press
President Joe Biden is set to issue an executive order to reverse a Pentagon policy that largely bars transgender individuals from joining the military, dumping a ban ordered by President Donald Trump in a tweet during his first year in office, a person briefed on the decision tells The Associated Press. Biden has been widely expected to overturn the Trump policy in his early days in office. The White House could announce the move as early as Monday, according to the person briefed on the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the order.
- NBC News
A motive wasn't immediately known. Mayor Joe Hogsett said the shooting had brought "terror to our community."
The will-he-or-won't-he speculation surrounding a possible gubernatorial run by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell is destined to continue at least a bit longer.What he's saying: Lindell told Axios that his focus is currently on proving his (baseless) claims of election fraud. He won't make a decision until that fight is resolved.Get smarter, faster with the news CEOs, entrepreneurs and top politicians read. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here. * "Why would anybody want to run if they had the same machines with the election fraud?" Lindell said Friday. * "It will all get out there, and when it does, we'll see what elections are going to have to be done with paper ballots and no machines. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense to put in everybody's resources and time."Between the lines: While he's leaving the door open, Lindell's comments create a path for bowing out.Why it matters: If Lindell runs, name recognition and his ties to Trump could give him an edge among GOP voters. * Many top Republican officials and consultants think having the unpredictable pillow salesman at the top of the ticket would spell disaster for their efforts to win statewide in 2022.How we got here: Lindell has been flirting with a bid for months, but his commitment to promoting conspiracy theories about the 2020 election — including a much-covered White House visit — has triggered legal backlash and trouble for his business. * Last fall, Lindell said he'd run if Trump won another term. Then, in early January, he told the Star Tribune he was "90-95%" sure he'd jump in and would decide "once we know Donald Trump is our president."Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
- The Week
U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations have plateaued, but ICUs are full and struggling in much of the country
After a post-holiday surge, new COVID-19 cases are starting to decline across the U.S. But hospital intensive care units, where the people hit hardest by COVID-19 end up, are "running out of space and supplies and competing to hire temporary traveling nurses at soaring rates," especially in the South and West, The Associated Press reports, citing federal data. "Since November, the share of U.S. hospitals nearing the breaking point has doubled. More than 40 percent of Americans now live in areas running out of ICU space, with only 15 percent of beds still available."> More than 40% of Americans live in areas running out of ICU beds. Since November, the share of U.S. hospitals nearing the breaking point has doubled. https://t.co/Py74NQLxAE pic.twitter.com/P4Fn5pLFXe> > — AP Graphics (@APGraphics) January 24, 2021The U.S. surpassed 25 million total recorded COVID-19 cases on Sunday — the number was 25.1 million as of Monday morning — and 419,215 Americans have died of the disease, according to Johns Hopkins University's count. "Encouragingly, hospitalizations appear to have either plateaued or are trending downward across all regions," AP reports. "It's unclear whether the easing will continue with more contagious versions of the virus arising and snags in the rollout of vaccines."> Our daily update is published. States reported 1.7M tests, 143k cases, and 1,940 deaths. 110,628 people are currently hospitalized in the U.S., the fewest since December 14. pic.twitter.com/RW31vtEu5m> > — The COVID Tracking Project (@COVID19Tracking) January 24, 2021> Except for Christmas day, today's case number is the lowest since December 1. Cases are now declining across all regions of the country. pic.twitter.com/NimnHTORQ6> > — The COVID Tracking Project (@COVID19Tracking) January 24, 2021Along with full ICUs, hospitals are running out of supplies and trying to manage nursing shortages, after nearly a year of grueling, draining working trying to keep COVID-19 patients alive and recovering. "You can't push great people forever. Right? I mean, it just isn't possible," said Dr. Marc Boom, CEO of Houston Methodist, which recently paid staff nurses $8,000 retention bonuses. Agencies pay "absolutely ridiculous sums of money" for traveling nurses, he tells AP. "They go to California, which is in the midst of a surge, but they poach some ICU nurses there, send them to Texas, where they charge inordinate amounts to fill in gaps in Texas, many of which are created because nurses in Texas went to Florida or back to California."More stories from theweek.com Josh Hawley knows exactly what he's doing Colleagues shocked that 'nerdy' Justice Department official joined Trump's election overthrow effort Trump must be prosecuted
Barely 1.6% of 1.44 million people with refugee status who were prioritised for resettlement in another country of asylum last year found new homelands through the U.N. refugee agency, the lowest number in nearly two decades, it said on Monday. The drop to 22,770 admissions was due to lower quotas set by recipient countries, limited flights and delays in processing during the coronavirus pandemic, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said. In 2019, it resettled 63,696 refugees in need of transfer from one asylum country to another.
- The Independent
Biden news: Experts find major ‘gaps’ in Trump pardons as White House scrambles to rollout vaccine plan
Latest developments from Washington DC and beyond
- Associated Press
A 34-year-old grizzly bear captured in southwestern Wyoming has been confirmed as the oldest on record in the Yellowstone region, Wyoming wildlife officials said. Grizzly bear 168 was captured last summer after it preyed on calves in the Upper Green River Basin area. Biologists learned of the bear’s longevity after euthanizing the bruin, which had preyed on cattle and then finally, calves.