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Iranian negotiators reject hardline criticism of nuclear talks

By Michelle Moghtader ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Iranian hardliners stepped up criticism of Tehran's negotiations with world powers over its nuclear program on Wednesday, but negotiators defended the planned deal that could lead to an end to economic sanctions. The hardliners, unsettled by the shift to a more moderate foreign policy since President Hassan Rouhani took office in August, have repeatedly criticized the talks in recent months but Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei backs them.

Iran foreign minister to visit Russia next week

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will travel to Russia next week for a meeting of the countries that border the Caspian Sea, the official IRNA news agency reported. "Mr Zarif will arrive in Russia on Tuesday,' for the gathering of the Caspian Sea littoral states, Iran's ambassador to Russia, Mehdi Sanaei, wrote on his Facebook page. Since the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, the nations that border the Caspian (Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) have failed to agree on the sea's legal status.

Iran says has up to 60 percent agreement with six powers over final nuclear deal

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday that the Islamic Republic and major powers had reached agreement on up to 60 percent of the issues regarding the country's disputed nuclear activities. "We have agreement over 50 to 60 percent of the (final) draft ... but the remaining parts are very important and contain various issues," Zarif told reporters.

Iran hits out at EU parliament over rights resolution

Iran has criticised a European Parliament human rights resolution, saying the body lacks the "legitimacy" to advise countries on such matters, media reported on Monday. The resolution passed on Thursday condemned Iran over "continued, systematic violation of fundamental rights," and said its 2013 presidential election was not "held in accordance with the democratic standards". It also said "any future parliament delegations to Iran should be committed to meeting members of the political opposition and civil society activists, and to having access to political prisoners."

Iran hits out at EU parliament over rights resolution

Iran has criticised a European Parliament human rights resolution, saying the body lacks the "legitimacy" to advise countries on such matters, media reported on Monday. The resolution passed on Thursday condemned Iran over "continued, systematic violation of fundamental rights," and said its 2013 presidential election was not "held in accordance with the democratic standards". It also said "any future parliament delegations to Iran should be committed to meeting members of the political opposition and civil society activists, and to having access to political prisoners."

Iran urges UN action over abducted soldiers

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has urged the United Nations help to secure the release of Iranian border soldiers abducted by Sunni extremists, media reported Thursday. Zarif sent a message to UN chief Ban Ki-moon Wednesday evening demanding action from the international community, saying "mere condemnation of acts of terrorism is not enough". His urgent plea to the UN chief came after Jaish-ul Adl, the rebel group operating in southeast Iran, claimed to have killed one of the five abducted soldiers and threatened further executions.

Iran warns Pakistan after abducted soldier feared executed

Tehran on Wednesday issued a warning to Islamabad after reports emerged that an Iranian soldier abducted and taken across the border into Pakistan by Sunni extremists had been executed. Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif expressed "grave concern" about the fate of Jamshid Danayifar, who was kidnapped along with four other border guards on February 6 by rebel group Jaish-ul Adl. "We did all we could to secure their release," Zarif told state television after a cabinet meeting.

Austrian MPs grill Iranian foreign minister over rights

By Michael Shields VIENNA (Reuters) - Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif defended Iran's human rights record to Austrian members of parliament on Wednesday but acknowledged there was room for improvement, according to people who took part in the meeting. In Vienna for Iran's nuclear negotiations with big powers, Zarif met members of parliament's foreign affairs committee for talks on Iranian relations with the West, its nuclear program, human rights and the situation in Syria, participants said.

Iran's Zarif sees 'signs' of reaching final nuclear deal

Iran's foreign minister said Wednesday he sees "signs" of reaching a comprehensive nuclear agreement with world powers, Fars news agency reported. "There are signs that an understanding is possible that respects the rights of the Iranian nation," Mohammad Javad Zarif said after the latest round of talks ended in Vienna. str-sgh/cyj/al

Iran's Zarif optimistic about July deadline for nuclear deal

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said on Wednesday he was optimistic that Tehran and six world powers can reach a broad settlement in their nuclear dispute by a July 20 deadline. Speaking on the second day of talks with the six nations in Vienna, he said negotiations were going "well", so far. Asked whether he expected negotiators to meet their deadline, he told Reuters: "yes, I do ... I am optimistic about July 20".
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