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Pompeo ‘declines’ to sign Afghan deal: TIME Magazine

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Washington, Sep 5 : The fragile peace negotiations between the US, Afghanistan and the Taliban may have hit a snag as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reportedly refused to sign on to a draft of the peace deal as it currently stands, the media reported.

Under the proposed draft the US would withdraw some 5,000 troops from Afghanistan – with TIME Magazine reporting that number could be as high as 5,400 – and shutter five bases within 135 days.

Additionally, the deal would require the Taliban commit to not allowing Afghanistan to be used as a base from which militant groups, such as the Islamic State or Al Qaeda, could plan attacks on the US and its allies.

Throughout the negotiations Taliban officials insisted that all foreign forces must leave the country, which has fuelled concerns that if the US were to fully withdraw it would leave the US-backed government of Afghanistan vulnerable, especially with its security forces already stretched thin, mired in allegations of corruption and suffering losses.

Pompeo might be having issues with the deal as it does not ensure several crucial things, those familiar with the discussions told the magazine. It does not guarantee the continued presence of US counter terrorism forces to battle Al Qaeda, the survival of the pro-US government in Kabul, or even an end to the fighting in Afghanistan.

“That may explain why Pompeo is declining to put his name on the deal,” according to the report, which cited senior American, Afghan and European officials.

The report said that Pompeo was asked by the Taliban to sign an agreement with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – the name of the government founded by the Taliban in 1996 until its ouster in 2001 – which would put the Secretary of State in the position of officially recognizing the Taliban as a legitimate political entity, rather than an insurgency.

Ironically, the Taliban’s push for international recognition of its “Emirate” blew up any chance of peace negotiations back in 2013.

Still, Pompeo’s apparent reluctance to sign on the dotted line doesn’t mean a deal was totally dead.

According to TIME, chief US negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad could just sign it himself, or Washington and Taliban may issue a joint statement supported by the Kabul government and other countries.

Pompeo’s office declined to comment before publication of this story. After it was published, Pompeo said through a spokesperson that he might sign if US President Donald Trump and all parties struck a deal.

“There is no agreement to sign yet. If and when there is an agreement that is approved by all parties, including President Trump and if the Secretary is the appropriate signatory, he will sign it,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus emailed TIME.

US military and intelligence officers and diplomats who served in Afghanistan worry that once a withdrawal is underway, it will be irreversible, given Trump’s promise to end the US involvement in the war there, the fast-approaching 2020 US elections and the absence of public support for the war.

The price of peace, they fear, might include reversing much of the hard-won progress towards building a stable country over nearly two decades of war.

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Confusion over Trump’s Ashram visit

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Gandhinagar, Feb 20 : Two Tweets, one from the Ministry of External Affairs and the other from Ajay Tomar (Special Commissioner of Police, Crime Branch Ahmedabad) contradicting each other on Thursday created confusion about the possibility of the US President Donald Trump’s visit to the Gandhi Ashram at Sabarmati.

The MEAIndia tweet states that the US President and First Lady Melania Trump accompanied by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be going to the Motera Stadium for the ‘Namaste Trump’ event directly from the Ahmedabad airport.

However, an official tweet from Ajay Tomar, the Special CP, Crime Branch Ahmedabad says that the US President will arrive at Ahmedabad on February 24 and to welcome him, PM Narendra Modi will be here. Both of them will go to Sabarmati Ashram first, then they will go to Motera Stadium to attend ‘Namaste Trump’ event.’

Following the expected visit four days from now, the preparations were underway at the famous Gandhi Ashram. Apart from turning the place into a fortress and getting all the security aspects covered, there were also some infrastructure changes put in place at the Ashram.

The Trump couple was expected to spend half an hour at the Ashram. A new parking space was being created at the place. To the rear side of the ashram, a platform was being built so that PM Modi could show the entire Sabarmati riverfront to the visiting dignitaries from one place.

A special room was also being prepared at the Ashram, where the dignitaries would be spending some time. Sources said all that ongoing work has been halted for now.

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2 die in Iran after testing positive for COVID-19

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Tehran, Iranian health authorities have confirmed that two men have died after testing positive for the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19), making it the first fatalities in the country and the second outside Asia.

An informed source said on Wednesday that the two old men died in a hospital in Qom city after being tested positive for coronavirus earlier in the day, reports Press TV.

The source said one of the two had been suffering from chemical weapons injuries sustained during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. He described the other victim as a 65-old man, without elaborating.

The news of the deaths came hours after authorities confirmed first two cases for coronavirus in Iran. In response, Deputy Health Minister Qassem Janbabaei visited Qom on Wednesday to supervise preparations to curb the spread of the disease.

Janbabaei said the two men were from two separate neighbourhoods of Qom, a city of close to one million people, adding that they had never been out of the province let alone to any foreign country.

“How they contracted coronavirus is not clear and the issue is being probed,” he told the state-run IRNA news agency.

The development came nearly a month after authorities evacuated 57 Iranian students from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, reports Press TV.

The students were released from a 14-day quarantine in Tehran on Tuesday.Hong Kong (two), the Philippines (one), Japan (one) and France (one) have each reported deaths.

The overall death toll in China increased to 2,118 on Thursday, with a total of 74,576 confirmed cases.

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9 die in German bar shootings, suspect’s body found

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The body of the suspected perpetrator of the two shootings in the German city of Hanau that left at least nine people dead, has been found in his house along with another one, police said on Thursday.

In a tweet, police said the “alleged perpetrator” was found “lifeless” at his home in Hanau, and special police officers also found another body there, reports Efe news.

In a statement, the state police said they had received witness information about a fleeing vehicle.The home address was blocked off extensively and searched by special police forces… One of the dead people is most likely the culprit,” said the statement, which also confirmed the new shooting death toll as nine, bringing the total to 11 deaths.

“Investigations into the identity of the victims and the suspected perpetrator are ongoing,” it said, adding that “there are currently no indications of other perpetrators”.

The suspect is a German national with a hunting weapons license, in whose car ammunition was found, according to a report in the German Bild newspaper.

In the consecutive shootings on Wednesday night in two shisha bars, nine people were killed and at least five others were believed to have been seriously injured.

The first attack took place at around 10 p.m. in a bar called Midnight, followed by the second shooting at the Arena Bar & Cafe, a similar establishment in the city’s Kesselstadt neighbourhood.

The shots were allegedly fired from a car, according to regional public broadcaster Hessischer Rundfunk. Local police deployed a large search operation for the attacker over several hours.

Hanau MP Katja Leikert said it was a “horrific scenario for us all” and sent her “heartfelt condolences” to those close to the victims.

Several local media outlets also reported another alleged attack at a third location in the city, but police did not confirm this.The city of Hanau – home to some 100,000 people – is located 25 km east of Frankfurt.

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