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Feb. 2, 2013 at 6:05 PM   |   Comments

Biden sets conditions for talks with Iran

MUNICH, Germany, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- The United States is willing to hold direct talks with Iran under specific conditions, Vice President Joe Biden said Saturday in Munich, Germany.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Biden said the United States is ready to meet "bilaterally" with Iranian leaders, CNN reported.

Observing there is a standing offer for talks, the vice president said "there has to be an agenda that they are prepared to speak to. We are not just prepared to do it for the exercise."

Indirect talks with Iran through the five members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany have been stalled for months.

Iran has expressed optimism that incoming U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will work toward softening Washington's toward Iran.

New U.S. sanctions imposed on Tehran last month targeted companies and individuals the United States says are supplying materials and technology to Iran.

Western nations have put an embargo on purchases of Iranian oil and placed sanctions on the country's banks and many of its businesses.


Russia defends Syrian chemical weapons

MUNICH, Germany, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Syrian government maintains control of chemical weapons and won't use them against rebels in their civil war.

"We have reliable information that so far the Syrian government controls the situation" with the chemical weapons, Lavrov said Saturday at an international conference in Munich, Germany.

He maintained Russian support for embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose crackdown on anti-government rebels has lasted nearly two years.

Lavrov said the only way Syria's chemical weapons would be dangerous is if they were to fall into rebel hands, RIA Novosti said Saturday. Otherwise, "the situation doesn't give any grounds for serious worries," he said.

Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib and Larov met on the sidelines of the conference Friday, RIA Novosti reported, citing sources.

Khatib, a leader of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, had said he would be willing to talk to Lavrov, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden and Lakhdar Brahimi, the special envoy of the United Nations and Arab League, RIA Novosti said. The foreign ministry said there were no plans for a four-way discussion.

At the conference, Lavrov maintained Russia's position on Assad.

"The persistence of those who say that priority number one is the removal of President Assad -- I think it's the single biggest reason for the continued tragedy in Syria," he said.

The U.N. estimates 60,000 people have been killed in Syria since large-scale demonstrations against Assad began in 2011.


Egyptian PM: Stop the violence

CAIRO, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil demanded Saturday that protesters stop violence, but conceded the government is not meeting "the demands of youth."

At least one person was killed Friday in front of the presidential palace as thousands of people were on the streets in Cairo and other cities calling for a new government.

Qandil spoke in a prerecorded address broadcast to the country hours after another day of widespread protests, Ahram Online reported.

"The government, as well as all political forces, has failed to accommodate the demands of the youth," he said.

Some people threw bottles at the prime minister's motorcade Saturday when he visited Tahrir Square in Cairo -- the center of protests that brought down President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and of more recent demonstrations against President Mohamed Morsi.

Qandil said the opposition should condemn violence and focus on upcoming elections.

"Whenever we face a problem during the transitional phase, political forces demand sacking the government and dissolving the parliament," he said. "They ask that we knock down the institutions which we built ourselves."

Yasser Ali, a Morsi spokesman, said Saturday the government has begun an investigation into attacks on the presidential palace, al-Masry al-Youm reported.


'Accident' believed cause of Pemex blast

MEXICO CITY, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- An explosion that blew apart the Pemex headquarters in Mexico City, killing dozens, most likely was an accident, the director of Mexico's oil monopoly said.

Emilio Lozoya said, "It appears from what one can observe that this is part of what the experts view as an accident," the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

He said no line of investigation had been ruled out.

At least 33 people have been reported killed and more than 120 injured by a blast that ripped through four floors of the company's building Thursday. An undetermined number of people were missing.

There was no fire after the blast, which occurred in an underground parking garage, senior officials said.

Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam warned that emergency workers had entered the most dangerous phase of the work because of the risk of structural collapse in the last two of the 39 areas damaged by the blast, CNN reported.

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