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Iraqi Shi'ite Leader Orders No Attacks On U.S. Troops Ahead Of Pullout

Supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr march in the street and trample on the Israeli, British, and U.S. flags in Baghdad in May.
The radical Iraqi Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his followers to desist from attacking U.S. forces before their scheduled withdrawal from Iraq by the end of this year.

In a statement quoted by AFP, Sadr said that for Iraq to recover its independence, it was "indispensable to halt all armed resistance operations until the complete withdrawal" of U.S. forces.

The statement said that military operations of Sadr's followers "will end definitively" if the pullout was completed to a point where not a single U.S. soldier remained.

But the anti-American cleric, whose Imam al-Mahdi Army militia fought U.S. forces until 2008, warned that if they did not depart on time, military operations would resume and be "very severe."

"Because of my eagerness to accomplish the independence of Iraq and have the invader forces withdraw from our holy land, it has become imperative for me to stop military operations...until the invader forces complete their withdrawal," Sadr said in a statement read out by his spokesman, Salah al-Ubaidi.

"If not, the military operation will start again and with new approaches, and it will be very severe."

The statement follows a warning from the new U.S. Army chief, General Ray Odierno, against leaving too large a force in Iraq after the year-end deadline. He said too many remaining boots on the ground could feed the perception of a U.S. "occupation."

U.S. troops are scheduled to withdraw fully by December 31, but Iraq's leaders are currently negotiating with the United States on whether to retain U.S. military trainers beyond 2011.

Sadr warned last month that U.S. military trainers who stayed in Iraq after the end of the year would be targets.

About 43,000 remaining troops are due to leave Iraq under a security agreement between the two countries.

compiled from agency reports

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Casualties Feared In Russian Rocket Attack On Ukrainian Shopping Center

Rescuers work at a site of a shopping mall hit by a Russian missile strike in Kremenchuk on June 27.

A Russian missile attack has reportedly hit a crowded shopping center in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk, leaving an unknown number of casualties.

"The missile strike on Kremenchuk came in a very crowded place, which is 100 percent irrelevant to hostilities. There are dead and injured," Mayor Vitaliy Maletskiy wrote on his Facebook page, adding that he had arrived at the scene.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy posted a video on the Telegram messaging app showing what appeared to be a shopping center in flames with clouds of black smoke billowing out of the roof. The video could not be independently verified.

He said the attack hit a shopping mall where "more than 1,000 people were gathered."

He also didn't give any estimate for casualties but said, "it is impossible to even imagine the number of victims."

"No danger to the Russian Army. No strategic value. Only an attempt on the people who try to live a normal life, which so angers the [Russians]," he wrote.

Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, Russia has claimed repeatedly that it is not targeting civilians in the unprovoked war it launched on Ukraine just over four months ago.

Ukrainian Billionaire Akhmetov Sues Russia Over Losses Caused By War

Rinat Akhmetov (file photo)

Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, has filed a lawsuit against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), demanding compensation for losses caused by Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Akhmetov's System Capital Management (SCM) holding company said in a statement on June 27 that the tycoon had lost billions of dollars in business since Russia launched the war more than four months ago.

"As the owner of Azovstal and many other industrial facilities that have been targeted by the invading Russian armed forces, Mr. Akhmetov seeks to ensure that Russia is held accountable for the destruction it is wreaking across Ukraine," the statement said.

Russian troops took over the Azovstal steelworks in the southeastern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol in May after a siege that lasted weeks as Ukrainian fighters held out inside the massive plant.

Akhmetov is also seeking an order from the court "preventing Russia from engaging in further blockading, looting, diversion, and destruction of grain and steel" produced by his companies, the statement said.

"Evil cannot go unpunished. Russia's crimes against Ukraine and our people are egregious, and those guilty of them must be held liable," SCM quoted Akhmetov as saying.

The statement said Akhmetov was seeking compensation from Russia for the "trampling of his property rights." It also said that while the precise amount of damages cannot yet be assessed, "it is anticipated that Mr. Akhmetov is due billions of dollars from the Russian Federation for its violation of his human rights."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, responding to a question regarding Akhmetov's lawsuit, told reporters in Moscow that Russia was no longer under the jurisdiction of the ECHR, which is in Strasbourg, France.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 11 signed a law under which Russia will not follow ECHR rulings made after March 15.

With reporting by Interfax, Reuters, RIA Novosti, and TASS

Moldovan President Visits Kyiv, Will Meet Zelenskiy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (right) with his Moldovan counterpart, Maia Sandu, in Kyiv (file photo)

President Maia Sandu traveled to Ukraine on June 27 in her first trip to Moldova's neighbor since start of the war and visited the towns of Bucha and Irpin -- sites of alleged Russian atrocities against civilians.

“No matter the economic costs, no matter the political costs we have to stop war and we have to make sure that these kinds of atrocities will never repeat,” Maia Sandu said. She said it was “heartbreaking” to hear accounts from witnesses and victims of the war.

"Was left speechless by the level of violence & destruction we saw," Sandu wrote separately in English on Twitter. "It’s an unimaginable tragedy & we wholeheartedly wish the brave selfless Ukrainian people peace, freedom & prosperity, & life of their own choosing."

Sandu was expected to meet with her Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, during her visit, her office said on social media.

Her visit to Ukraine comes just days after both Ukraine and Moldova obtained the status of EU candidate countries -- a historic move for both former Soviet republics.

Moldova absorbed one of the largest numbers of Ukrainian refugees after the start of Russia's unprovoked invasion of its neighbor on February 24.

With reporting by AP

In Tit-For-Tat Move, Russia Places Sanctions On 43 Canadians

The head of the Liberal Party of Canada, Suzanne Cowan, is among the Canadian citizens who have been hit by Russian sanctions. (file photo)

Russia says it is placing sanctions on 43 Canadians, including federal and regional officials, members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal party, and public figures, in retaliation for similar steps taken by Ottawa in May against leaders of large Russian companies and members of their families.

The Foreign Ministry in Moscow said on June 27 that it had banned the Canadian citizens, including Suzanne Cowan, head of the Liberal Party of Canada, from entering Russia.

Last month, Canada imposed sanctions on dozens of Russian individuals, including oligarchs and people close to the Kremlin and Russia's Defense Ministry, as well as several Russian companies, over Moscow's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

After Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to pro-Western Ukraine on February 24, many Western countries, including Canada, slapped wide-ranging sanctions on Moscow.

These measures include the exclusion of several Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system, embargoes on Russian exports, restrictions on investments, asset freezes for government officials and their families, and travel bans for many senior Russian officials.

Putin To Meet Tajik Counterpart Rahmon In Dushanbe As War In Ukraine Continues

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmon (file photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold talks with his Tajik counterpart, Emomali Rahmon, in Dushanbe on June 28 as Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, launched more than four months ago, continues to raise concerns in Central Asia.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on June 27 that the talks will be held in a face-to-face format. He did not elaborate.

Putin's visit to the Tajik capital will take place three days after he told another ally, Belarus's authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka, that Moscow will supply Minsk with an Iskander-M mobile missile system with a range of up to 500 kilometers as the standoff between Russia and the West over the war in Ukraine escalates.

Russia, Belarus, and Tajikistan, along with Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

Earlier this month, President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev of Kazakhstan, attending an economic forum in Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, pushed back against Moscow's narrative in the invasion of Ukraine, rejecting recognition for "quasi-states" like the Russia-backed-separatist-controlled territories of eastern Ukraine.

He also vowed that Kazakhstan wouldn't break international sanctions imposed against Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

Moscow has stationed about 7,000 troops from Russia’s 201st Motor Rifle Division at three facilities that are considered part of a Russian base in Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic.

Based on reporting by TASS and Interfax

With Russia A 'Direct Threat,' Stoltenberg Says NATO To Boost Troops On 'High Readiness'

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (file photo)

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the western military alliance will boost its high readiness forces to "well over 300,000" in response to Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking ahead of a NATO summit in Madrid, Stoltenberg said on June 27 that the alliance will enhance its battle groups on its eastern flank up to brigade levels.

"We will strengthen our forward defenses...We will transform the NATO Response Force and increase the number of our high readiness forces to well over 300,000," Stoltenberg told reporters.

The NATO Response Force, currently has about 40,000 troops.

The Madrid summit, which runs from June 28 to 30, will also change NATO's language on Russia that says the alliance sees Moscow as a strategic partner. That language dates back to 2010.

"That will not be the case in the strategic concept that we will agree in Madrid," Stoltenberg said.

"I expect that allies will state clearly that Russia poses a direct threat to our security, to our values, to the rules-based international order."

Jailed In Belarus, Russian Sapega Asks Lukashenka For Clemency

Russian citizen Sofia Sapega attends a court hearing in Hrodna in May.

Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen who is serving a six-year prison term in Belarus after being arrested along with her then boyfriend Raman Pratasevich after their commercial flight was forced to land in Minsk last year, has asked Belarusian authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka for clemency.

Sapega's lawyer, Anton Hashynski, told the BBC on June 27 that his client officially filed her clemency request last week. Relatives had said that Sapega asked Lukashenka for clemency in December as well, though there was no further information given on that request.

Sapega and Pratasevich, a dissident blogger, were detained after their commercial flight from Athens to Vilnius was forced to land in Minsk in May 2021.

They were immediately detained upon leaving the aircraft and Sapega was accused of administering a channel on the Telegram messenger app that published the personal data of Belarusian security forces. She was sentenced on May 6, and three days later, Pratasevich announced that he had married another woman.

'Wrong Place, Wrong Time'? The Woman Detained With Belarusian Activist After Flight Diverted To Minsk
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Belarus said it had ordered the plane to land after an anonymous bomb threat. Evidence later revealed that Belarusian officials conspired to fake the bomb threat as a pretense for diverting the plane so they could detain the two.

Pratasevich, who fled Belarus in 2019, worked as an editor at the Poland-based Nexta Live channel on Telegram. He has yet to go on trial and the status of the investigation against him is unclear.

He faces charges in connection with civil disturbances that followed a disputed presidential election in August 2020, an offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison. He was a key administrator of the Telegram channel Nexta-Live, which covered mass protests denouncing the official results of the election, which the opposition said was rigged.

Pratasevich, who was transferred to house arrest after his initial detention, made several appearances on Belarusian state television last year, which prompted the opposition and Western officials to accuse Lukashenka's regime of extracting video confessions under torture and called for his and Sapega's immediate release.

In January, Pratasevich said in a televised interview that he was not under house arrest, though again it was not clear if he made the statement freely.

Lukashenka has denied stealing the election and has since cracked down hard on the opposition, whose leading members have been jailed or forced to flee the country fearing for their safety.

With reporting by the BBC

Iranian Steel Firm Halts Production After Cyberattack

The Khuzestan Steel Company said it was unable to continue production "due to technical problems" following "cyberattacks." (file photo)

One of Iran's biggest steel companies said on June 27 that it was forced to halt its operations until further notice after being targeted by a cyberattack.

The Khuzestan Steel Company said in a statement that experts had determined that the firm was unable to continue production “due to technical problems" following “cyberattacks.” The company's website appeared to be out of service.

A purported hacking group called "Predatory Sparrow" claimed responsibility for the cyberattack in a message and video on social media. It said that two other state-owned steel companies -- Mobarekh and Hormozgan -- had been targeted in the attack, adding that all three companies were affiliated with Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

"These companies continue to operate despite international sanctions against them," the message said.

The company did not blame any specific group for the assault.

Iran has previously accused the United States and Israel for cyberattacks that have targeted and crippled the country's infrastructure.

With reporting by AP

G7 Leaders Look To Adopt Price Cap On Russian Oil To Limit Moscow's Energy Revenues

G7 and EU leaders pose for a family photo during the summit at Bavaria's Schloss Elmau castle, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on June 26.

Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) nations, meeting for a second day at a summit in Germany, are expected to agree to a price cap on Russian oil to limit Moscow's energy revenues as the centerpiece of new sanctions on Russia for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Several international media outlets quoted U.S. officials on June 27 as saying details of how the price cap would work are being ironed out during the summit, which ends on June 28.

"The dual objectives of G7 leaders have been to take direct aim at [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's revenues, particularly through energy, but also to minimize the spillovers and the impact on the G7 economies and the rest of the world," Reuters quoted a U.S. official as saying in a background briefing on the sidelines of the annual G7 summit.

The group of wealthy Western nations has been looking to ratchet up pressure on Moscow while trying to minimize any harm that could be done to their own economies. Oil prices have jumped since Russia launched its war against Ukraine on February 24 as sanctions limit Russian crude exports.

Many Western nations and the European Union already have imposed several rounds of sweeping sanctions against Moscow to isolate President Vladimir Putin and cripple Russia's economy to try and force the Kremlin to end the war.

The White House said leaders at the summit will also make an "unprecedented, long-term security commitment to providing Ukraine with financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support as long as it takes," including the timely provision of advanced weapons.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters and The New York Times.

Finland, Sweden Will Talk NATO Bid With Turkey's Erdogan On June 28, Says Finnish Presidency

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (left), Finnish President Sauli Niinisto (center), and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson (composite file photo)

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson will discuss their stalled NATO bids with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on June 28 ahead of a summit of the 30-member alliance in Madrid, Helsinki said on June 27.

"President Niinisto will meet tomorrow in Madrid with Turkish President Erdogan, Swedish Prime Minister Andersson and NATO Secretary General [Jens] Stoltenberg," the Finnish presidency tweeted.

It said the meeting "will be preceded today (June 27) by a round of talks between Finnish, Swedish, and Turkish officials hosted by NATO in Brussels."

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted Finland and Sweden to apply to join NATO.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he is against the accession of the two Nordic countries because of what he called their support for "terrorist organizations," a reference to the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Kurdish militia People's Defense Units (YPG) in Syria.

The Turkish leader has also called on Sweden and Finland to lift arms embargos imposed against Turkey in 2019 over Ankara's military offensive in Syria.

Erdogan indicated on June 25 that no progress had been made in Sweden's bid to join NATO, urging Stockholm to take "concrete actions" to meet Ankara's concerns, his office said.

Turkish officials said Ankara does not view the summit as a final deadline for resolving its objections.

With reporting by Reuters
Updated

Zelenskiy Tells G7 That War Needs To End By Winter As Russia Continues Assault On Lysychansk

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addresses Group of Seven leaders and EU representatives via video link at the G7 summit in Germany on June 27.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has urged Group of Seven (G7) leaders to do everything in their power to end Russia's invasion of his country by the end of the year as Ukraine's military says it continues to fend off an attempted encirclement in the eastern city of Lysychansk.

Addressing the G7 summit in Germany via video link on June 27, Zelenskiy told the leaders of the West's most advanced economies that he wanted the war to end before the winter sets in and battle conditions will make it tougher for his troops as they mount their fightback, several diplomats were quoted as saying by international media outlets after the speech.

Zelenskiy also asked for antiaircraft defense systems, more sanctions on Russia, and security guarantees as he addressed the summit at the Schloss Elmau in Bavaria, diplomats said, adding that the Ukrainian leader stressed the necessity to keep applying "heavy" punitive actions on Russia and "not lower the pressure" following multiple rounds of sanctions that Western allies have imposed on Moscow.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's ongoing invasion, how Kyiv is fighting back, the plight of civilians and refugees, and Western aid and reaction. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war, click here.

Zelenskiy also asked for help to export grain from Ukraine and for reconstruction aid, they said.

The White House said on June 27 that the United States and its G7 allies planned further action to support Ukraine and sanctions against Russia over its invasion of its neighbor.

The G7 group of rich nations is expected to issue a statement of support for Ukraine, including new sanctions commitments, before the summit ends on June 28.

The White House said it would implement sanctions on hundreds of individuals and entities, adding to the more than 1,000 already sanctioned. It also said it would target companies in several countries and impose tariffs on hundreds of Russia products.

The Ukrainian military command said on June 27 that it had repelled Russian attacks west of Lysychansk and prevented an encirclement of the strategically important Donbas city.

"Near Verkhnyokamyanka, the defense forces inflicted significant losses on the enemy and forced them to retreat," the Ukrainian General Staff reported. Verkhnyokamyanka is located on an important supply road only a few kilometers west of Lysychansk.

Serhiy Hayday, the head of the military administration of Luhansk where Lysychansk is located, urged inhabitants of the city to leave immediately as Russian forces level large swaths of the town, where about 100,000 people lived before the invasion.

"The disastrous 'Russian World' is trying to wipe from the world's map our history by destroying the cultural institutions and architectural monuments of the Luhansk region," Hayday wrote on the Telegram messaging network, accusing Russian forces of already destroying more than 60 such institutions and monuments in the city.

The military command separately said on June 27 that a missile strike had hit the Odesa region in southern Ukraine, a day after Russia launched strikes against the capital, Kyiv, and other Ukrainian cities.

The command said the missile, which was fired from a Russian-type Tu-22 strategic bomber, caused six casualties including a child. It was not clear whether the authorities were reporting injuries or deaths.

"The strike in a residential area of a civilian settlement destroyed several residential and farm buildings over around 500 square meters," the command said, adding that firefighters were still battling the flames.

Ukrainian Firefighters Rescue Residents, Clear Rubble As Russian Missiles Hit Housing Area
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On June 26, Ukraine reported an increase in Russian missile attacks across the country over the weekend, with a number of areas hit far behind the front line -- from the western Ukrainian region of Lviv to Khmelnytskyi, Zhytomyr, Chernihiv, and Kyiv.

Russian missile attacks on Kyiv and the central city of Cherkasy on June 26 killed at least two people and injured 11 others, including a 7-year-old girl pulled from the rubble, with more blasts reported later in the first major strikes against either city in weeks.

Russia said its strike on Kyiv had hit a weapons factory, dismissing as "fake" reports that it had struck a residential area.

Meanwhile, the United States plans to announce as soon as this week that it has purchased an advanced, medium-to-long range surface-to-air missile defense system for Ukraine, CNN and AP reported on June 27, citing sources familiar with the issue.

Ukrainian officials have asked for the missile defense system known as NASAMS that can hit targets more than 160 kilometers away, the sources said.

Washington last week announced an additional $450 million in military assistance for Ukraine, giving it four more multiple launch rocket systems and artillery ammunition for other systems.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration said it was providing an additional $1 billion military aid package to Ukraine that will include additional howitzers, ammunition, and coastal defense systems.

More and more analysts envision a protracted battle in the eastern part of Ukraine, with high human and equipment losses on both sides.

Britain's Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence bulletin on June 27 that, in the following weeks, Russia, which has reportedly suffered a high rate of casualties, is "highly likely" to rely increasingly on reservists.

However, British intelligence suggested that the Russian leadership "likely remains reluctant to order a general mobilization," despite a permanent shortfall in the number of reservists who can be deployed in Ukraine.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, TASS, and AFP

G7 Announces Infrastructure Program To Counter China's Belt And Road Initiative

A working dinner during the first day of the G7 summit at Bavaria's Schloss Elmau castle, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on June 26.

The Group of Seven (G7) has formally launched a global infrastructure and investment partnership aimed at countering a Chinese program that has been embraced by many developing countries.

The G7 program seeks to raise $600 billion in investment to boost infrastructure development in lower- and middle-income nations, the White House said in a statement on June 26.

Unlike China's program, known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the one proposed by the G7 would provide funding largely from private investors.

Western officials have argued that China’s BRI uses strong-arm tactics that trap countries in debt and employs investments that benefit China more than the countries participating in the program. Among the countries that have signed long-term BRI deals are Afghanistan, Iran, and Hungary.

The United States says the G7-backed effort, announced during a summit taking place in Germany, promotes responsible investments that aim to benefit the communities that receive the investment.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the G7 is offering “sustainable, quality infrastructure” and will be “listening closely to the recipient countries.”

The plan, a relaunch of a program unveiled during last year's G7 summit, will target countries desperately needing everything from roads to harbors that until now often relied on China’s BRI.

Among the first initiatives are a $2 billion solar farm investment in Angola, a $320 million investment for hospital construction in Ivory Coast, and a $40 million investment to promote regional energy trade in Southeast Asia.

The $600 billion investment target is only aspirational, but a senior U.S. official who briefed reporters denied that China has a real advantage.

"There's no doubt that the Belt and Road Initiative has been around for several years and it's made a lot of cash disbursements and investments -- and that we're coming to this after years of their investments," the official said. "But I would argue that it is definitely not too late. And I'm not even sure that it is late."

The official also said that many countries that have partnered with China come to regret it and conclude that Beijing is more interested in establishing economic and geostrategic footholds than helping them develop.

The G7 program, on the other hand, will offer to make investments that "have lasting effects” on the countries’ economies and population, the official said.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and dpa
Updated

Iran Reports Test Of Satellite Launcher As Diplomats Announce Restart Of Nuclear Talks

Video footage released on June 26 by Iran state TV shows an Iranian satellite-carrier rocket, called Zuljanah, blasting off from an undisclosed location in Iran.

Iran says it has tested its Zuljanah satellite launcher for a second time ahead of the expected start of talks to revive the Iran nuclear deal.

State-run media on June 26 broadcast footage of the rocket blasting off, and Ahmad Hosseini, spokesman for Iran's Defense Ministry, said the 25.5-meter-long rocket was capable of carrying a satellite that would ultimately gather data in low-Earth orbit and promote Iran's space industry.

"The second launch of the Zuljanah satellite carrier has taken place in order to achieve the predetermined research objectives," said Hosseini, according to state news agency IRNA.

It was not clear when or where the rocket was launched. Earlier this month, Hosseini said the ministry planned three test launches, including one that had already been carried out.

The White House said it was aware of Iran’s announcement and criticized the move as “unhelpful and destabilizing.”

The launch comes a day after European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell traveled to Tehran in a push to resuscitate negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

Borrell announced on June 25 that talks over the nuclear deal would resume in the coming days in a Persian Gulf country.

Borrell did not name the country, but RFE/RL reported on June 26 that the Secretariat of the Supreme National Security Council had reported that "given Qatar's continued efforts to resume talks on lifting sanctions, Doha has a chance to host future talks."

Iranian media also reported that Qatar would likely host the negotiations.

Tehran has long asserted that its satellite program is aimed at scientific research and civilian goals and does not breach the 2015 nuclear deal. But Western critics are skeptical of the claims because some of the same technology used in satellite launches can be used in the development of long-range missiles.

A previous test of the Zuljanah took place in February 2021. At the time, Iran said the new satellite-carrying rocket could reach an altitude of 500 kilometers.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on June 25 repeated his hopes that Tehran could successfully negotiate in EU-brokered talks an end to international sanctions, including through restoration of the nuclear pact with world powers.

During his visit to Tehran, Borrell met with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who described the meeting as "long, but positive," but said Iran was prepared to resume talks with world powers in the coming days.

"What is important for Iran is to fully receive the economic benefits of the 2015 accord," he said.

Under the deal, Iran agreed to limits on its controversial nuclear program in exchange for relief from punitive sanctions imposed by the West. But the arrangement began to fall apart when the U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018.

Washington subsequently reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran, while the Iranian government, which denies that its nuclear program seeks to build a bomb, backed away from some of the commitments laid out in the deal.

Iran has been engaged for more than a year in negotiations with Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and China directly -- and the United States, indirectly -- to revive the deal.

Negotiators were reportedly close to a new agreement but the talks in Vienna abruptly stalled in April, with Tehran and Washington blaming each other for failing to take the necessary political decisions to settle remaining issues.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Reuters, AP, and AFP

Lithuania's President Vows To Stick To Kaliningrad Restrictions

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda: "It is absolutely clear that Lithuania must implement and will implement EU sanctions." (file photo)

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda has stressed that his Baltic country "must" and "will" enforce EU sanctions on Russian goods amid harsh rhetoric from Moscow over Vilnius's recent restrictions affecting the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

He called for an "urgent" start to consultations with the European Commission to protect Lithuania's interests and international obligations in the shadow of sanctions against Ukraine's "aggressor."

Russia this week summoned an EU envoy to "strongly" protest and threaten unspecified "retaliation" over the overland curbs on shipments to its sliver of land between Poland and Lithuania.

"It is absolutely clear that Lithuania must implement and will implement EU sanctions," Nauseda, whose country was reoccupied by Soviet forces at the end of World War II and regained independence in 1990, said via Facebook.

"Lithuania must maintain and will maintain control of goods transported through its territory and there can be no talk of any 'corridors' as well as any thoughts of degrading Russia in response to Kremlin's threats," he said.

Vilnius shut the route for transport of steel and other ferrous metals, which it says it is required to do under EU sanctions that took effect on June 18. The EU imposed the punitive measures on Russia after it launched its ongoing invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Kaliningrad's Moscow-backed leadership has said more than half of the exclave's imports are affected by the Lithuanian blockage, which is most acutely felt on rail routes.

Lithuanian officials have rejected Moscow's language of a blockade, as Kaliningrad is Russia's only ice-free port year-round and goods can be shipped there by sea.

"The government must urgently begin consultations with the European Commission so that the implementation of sanctions do not harm Lithuanian interests or international agreements," Nauseda said. "Only by acting together will we achieve that sanctions are painful for the aggressor country."

Russia's Foreign Ministry said on June 21 that EU Ambassador to Moscow Markus Ederer was informed of the "inadmissibility of such actions" and warned "retaliation will follow" if the restrictions aren't removed immediately.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said it was "ironic to hear rhetoric about alleged violations of international treaties" from Russia, which she accused of violating "possibly every single international treaty."

Updated

Biden Calls Missile Strike On Kyiv 'Disgusting Barbarism' As G7 Summit Gets Under Way In Germany

G7 leaders pose for a family photo during the summit at Bavaria's Schloss Elmau castle, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on June 26.

U.S. President Joe Biden called a Russian missile attack on Kyiv ahead of the start of a Group of Seven (G7) summit "disgusting barbarism" as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy expressed gratitude for the assistance provided thus far, but said more is needed.

The missile attack hit at least two residential buildings in Kyiv, killing one person and injuring six others, including a 7-year-old girl and her mother, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.

The strikes on June 26 -- the first to target the Ukrainian capital in three weeks -- also damaged a nearby kindergarten. Another missile strike hit the city of Cherkasy, southeast of Kyiv, that until now had not come under attack.

“It’s more of their barbarism," Biden said, speaking alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and other leaders attending the summit at Schloss Elmau in the German Alps.

Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ignat said the Russians launched the missiles from warplanes over the Caspian Sea more than 1,500 kilometers away.

Russia dismissed reports that its missiles struck a residential area, saying the air strikes hit a weapons factory.

Biden, speaking earlier at the summit, emphasized Western unity.

“We have to stay together, because [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has been counting on, from the beginning, that somehow NATO and the G7 would splinter, but we haven’t and we’re not going to,” Biden told Scholz during a bilateral meeting.

“We can’t let this aggression take the form it has and get away with it," he added.

Other leaders echoed Biden’s praise of coalition unity.

The G7 leaders were set to announce the latest in a long series of international economic steps to pressure and isolate Russia over its war in Ukraine.

Even before the G7 summit got under way, U.S. and U.K. officials announced that member countries would be imposing a ban on purchases of Russian gold in another blow aimed at elite Russians' wealth.

The missile strikes on Kyiv and on Cherkasy highlighted Ukrainian officials' pleas for more assistance to beat back the 4-month-old Russian invasion.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba shared an image of a 7-year-old girl being rescued from the rubble of her Kyiv apartment building hours before and called for "more sanctions on Russia and more heavy arms for Ukraine" from the G7.

Zelenskiy said late on June 26 that he had a call with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and he thanked him for the assistance and "comprehensive support" to counter Russian aggression.

He said on Twitter that he and Trudeau "coordinated positions on the eve of important international events" and "discussed further increase in defense support for Ukraine."

The gathering of the leaders from the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan is the first of two key summits in the upcoming week amid growing global emergencies, with Putin's war in Ukraine and related food and fuel crises high on the list.

After the G7 meeting, NATO leaders will gather for a summit in Madrid on June 28-30.

Zelenskiy is scheduled to speak virtually to the two summits and ask for more arms and air-defense systems.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the G7 and NATO “will continue to do collectively everything we can to make sure that the Ukrainians have what they need in their hands to repel the Russian aggression.’’

Western sanctions on Russia over its invasion are having “a profound impact,” he added in an interview with CNN at the G7 summit.

“Even as [Russia] gets oil revenues with higher prices, it’s unable to spend them because of the export controls,” he said. Russia “can’t acquire what it needs to modernize its defense sector, to modernize its technology, to modernize its energy exploration, which means that over time each of these areas is going to go in decline.”

With reporting by AFP, AP, CNN, and dpa

G7 To Ban Russian Gold In A 'Strike At The Heart' Of Putin's War Effort

Wealthy Russians have been purchasing gold bullion recently to ease the sting of international financial punishments.

Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized democracies gathering for a two-day summit in the German Alps on June 26 will announce a ban on new imports of Russian gold to boost sanctions, according to British and U.S. officials.

Wealthy Russians have been purchasing gold bullion recently to ease the sting of international financial punishments put in place since Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24, the British government said in a statement.

"The measures we have announced today will directly hit Russian oligarchs and strike at the heart of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's war machine," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in the statement.

London said Russian gold exports totaled more than $15 billion last year.

The ban should be announced on June 27, will come into force quickly, and will apply to newly mined or refined gold, officials said.

U.S. President Joe Biden said via Twitter that the gold ban represents further "unprecedented costs on Putin to deny him the revenue he needs to fund his war against Ukraine."

Biden called gold a "major export that rakes in tens of billions of dollars for Russia."

The G7 comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

G7 leaders will meet beginning on June 26 at a castle in Germany's Alps, with a NATO summit to follow on June 29 in Madrid.

Based on reporting by Reuters

Russia Shows Shoigu Awarding Troops For Ukraine Fighting

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu awards a soldier during an inspection of Russian troops reportedly engaged in the Ukraine invasion at an unknown location and date.

Russia's Defense Ministry released a video on June 26 that showed Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu among troops and said he had inspected Russian forces involved in the fighting in Ukraine, but it was unclear when or where the video was made.

Shoigu was shown in military fatigues getting off a plane and speaking with military officials.

"At the command posts of Russian units, Army General Sergei Shoigu heard reports from the commanders on the current situation and actions of the Russian Armed Forces in the main operational areas," the ministry said.

There was no indication of Shoigu's specific location.

The ministry said Shoigu had awarded soldiers with medals for their actions in a full-scale invasion that Russia officially calls a "special military operation" following years of support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Shoigu's effectiveness was questioned early in the 4-month-old invasion amid Russian setbacks, retreats, and evidence of conscripts sent into the fighting, despite denials from Moscow.

Based on reporting by dpa and Reuters
Updated

Deadly Strikes On Kyiv, Cherkasy Residents Prompt Fresh Ukrainian Pleas For G7 Help

Rescuers work at a residential building damaged by a Russian missile strike in Kyiv on June 26.

KYIV -- Russian missile attacks on the Ukrainian capital and the central city of Cherkasy on June 26 killed at least two people and injured 11 others, including a 7-year-old girl pulled from the rubble, with more blasts reported later, in the first major strikes against either city in weeks.

Ukrainian officials who have pledged to retake lost cities responded with a fresh plea for more weapons to fight the Russian invasion as G7 leaders opened a two-day summit at which they are expected to announce further punishing sanctions on Russia.

The bombardments against Kyiv and Cherkasy came as Ukraine's defense forces battled to regroup after the loss of a strategic town to Russian forces on the front lines hundreds of kilometers to the southeast, where some of the most intense fighting is raging four months into Russia's full-scale invasion.

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Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko went to the scene in one of that city's historic northern neighborhoods, known as the Shevchenko district, after at least two buildings were affected by the early morning explosions blamed on up to four Russian missiles.

Klitschko said one person was killed and six were injured, including the 7-year-old, who was in stable condition after surgery. The condition of her mother, who was also hospitalized, was much more serious, Klitschko said on Telegram.

Russia said its strike on Kyiv had hit a weapons factory, dismissing as "fake" reports that it had struck a residential area. The Artyom factory "was the target, as military infrastructure," the Russian Defense Ministry said. It claimed in a statement that damage to a nearby residential building had been caused by a Ukrainian air- defense missile.

Klitschko called the attacks on Kyiv an attempt by Russia to "intimidate Ukrainians" ahead of a NATO summit slated for Madrid on June 28-30.

Others suggested they and other bombardments -- including near Ukraine's border with Poland -- might also be an effort to send a message to G7 leaders gathering near Munich to discuss pro-Ukraine measures on June 26.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba responded to the fresh Kyiv attacks with an image of the 7-year-old being lifted from the apartment building rubble and urging "more sanctions on Russia and more heavy arms for Ukraine" from the G7.

Also on June 26, current and former officials in central Ukraine said explosions had rung out in the city of Cherkasy, which had so far avoided being targeted by Russia's worst attacks on Ukrainian cities.

Later, Cherkasy Regional State Administration Chairman Ihor Taburets blamed two Russian missiles for the blasts and said one person had been killed and five more injured.

"Today, the enemy launched missile attacks on the Cherkasy region," Taburets said via Telegram. "There are 2 strikes near the regional center. One dead and five wounded. Infrastructure damaged."

Ukrainian Firefighters Rescue Residents, Clear Rubble As Russian Missiles Hit Housing Area
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Cherkasy has not been targeted previously by major attacks by Russian forces.

Farther to the southeast, Ukrainian forces said a day earlier that they had made a "tactical withdrawal" from the city of Syevyerodonetsk in a blow that could shape the fighting in the east.

But President Volodymyr Zelenskiy vowed in his nighttime video address that Ukraine would eventually retake the cities it has lost since Russia's all-out invasion began on February 24.

Zelenskiy said the biggest ground war in Europe since World War II had taken a heavy toll on Ukrainians and their defenders but spoke of eventually winning the war.

"We don't have a sense of how long it will last, how many more blows, losses, and efforts will be needed before we see victory is on the horizon," Zelenskiy said.

Zelenskiy is due to remotely address the G7 on June 27 to urge further international support for Ukraine's defense.

On June 25, Ukraine's military said defense forces had withdrawn from Syevyerodonetsk after weeks of intense battles to fight from higher ground in nearby Lysychansk, across the Siverskiy Donets River.

Ukrainian military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov said his forces were carrying out a "tactical regrouping" by pulling its forces out of Syevyerodonetsk.

Syevyerodonetsk, a city in the Luhansk district of around 100,000 residents before the war, has been devastated as Russian forces sought to concentrate gains in the two eastern districts known collectively as the Donbas.

Russia-backed separatists have controlled swaths of that region since Russia annexed Crimea and helped kick off the eastern Ukrainian fighting in 2014.

Meanwhile, fears mounted of a widening war since Ukrainian officials reported "massive bombardment" from rockets "fired from the territory of Belarus and from the air" and Moscow said it would provide Belarus with an advanced missile system.

In Belarus, strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka's dependence on Moscow has increased since a crackdown over protests that began when he claimed a sixth presidential term in flawed elections two years ago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka in St. Petersburg on June 25.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka in St. Petersburg on June 25.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised meeting with Lukashenka on June 25 that Moscow plans within months to supply Belarus with Iskander-M missile systems, a nuclear-capable, mobile guided-missile system with a range of up to 500 kilometers.

"Today's strike is directly linked to Kremlin efforts to pull Belarus as a co-belligerent into the war in Ukraine," the Ukrainian intelligence service said of the missiles launched from Russian warplanes over Belarusian territory.

Lukashenka allowed thousands of Russian troops to stage attacks on Ukraine from the earliest stage of the invasion.

A representative of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry's Main Intelligence Directorate, Vadym Skibitskiy, told RBC-Ukraine on June 25 that Belarus is maintaining 4,000-6,000 of its own troops near the Ukrainian border.

He estimated that Russia has around 1,500 of its troops in Belarus to help with air, special forces, and missile components of the invasion.

With additional reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, and AFP

Ukraine Says It Uncovered Russian Spy Network Involving U.S.-Sanctioned Lawmaker

Andriy Derkach (file photo)

Ukrainian authorities said they have uncovered a Russian spy network involving Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach, who has previously been accused by Washington of being a Russian agent.

The State Security Service (SBU) on June 24 alleged that Derkach set up a network of private security firms to help facilitate the entry of Russian units into cities during Moscow's February 24 invasion.

Derkach could not immediately be reached for comment, but he has previously denied wrongdoing, claiming he was being targeted for exposing corruption. His whereabouts are unknown.

The SBU cited testimony from Derkach's parliamentary aide, Ihor Kolykhayev. It said Kolykhayev had been arrested at the beginning of the war, accused of being a go-between between Derkach and Russian military intelligence.

Derkach was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in September 2020 for what it said were attempts to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

The Treasury Department alleged at the time that Derkach -- a member of the Ukrainian parliament who studied at the KGB school in Moscow -- had been "an active Russian agent for over a decade."

Based on reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and Reuters

Putin Says Russia To Supply Belarus With Iskander-M Missile Systems

The Iskander-M is a mobile guided-missile system with a range of up to 500 kilometers.

Russia will supply ally Belarus with Iskander-M missile systems, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised meeting with Belarusian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Putin said in the June 25 remarks that delivery of the weapons systems would take place within a few months.

The Iskander-M is a mobile guided-missile system with a range of up to 500 kilometers.

Putin and Lukashenka are meeting in St. Petersburg to mark 30th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The talks come as Ukraine said it had come under "massive bombardment" from rockets "fired from the territory of Belarus and from the air" targeting the village of Desna in the northern Chernihiv region.

The Ukrainian military said infrastructure was hit but that no casualties had yet been reported.

"Today's strike is directly linked to Kremlin efforts to pull Belarus as a co-belligerent into the war in Ukraine," the Ukrainian intelligence service said.

Belarus is not a direct participant in the war in Ukraine, but it has provided logistical support to Russia's invasion that began on February 24, with some Russian forces entering Ukraine across the Belarus border.

Western nations have slapped Belarus, like Russia, with an ever-increasing list of financial sanctions in response to the Kremlin war on Ukraine and for Belarus’s efforts to aid the Russian invasion.

Based on reporting by Reuters

Earthquake Measuring 5.6 Strikes Iran's Hormozgan Province

At least one person was killed in the earthquake.

An earthquake of 5.6-magnitude struck the Langeh area of Iran’s southern Hormozgan Province early on June 25, killing at least one person and injuring dozens of others.

The quake was centered 22 kilometers northeast of Kish Island in Hormozgan Province, according to Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency. Kish Island is located in the Persian Gulf, about 1,025 kilometers south of Tehran.

Several earthquakes have shaken parts of Hormozgan Province over the past two weeks ago. Previously, the largest was of 5.2-magnitude near Maqam Harbor.

Iran, which sits on major fault lines, is the 10th most earthquake-prone country in the world.

Many aid organizations, officials, and experts have warned that there is insufficient preparedness to manage a crisis in the event of major earthquakes in the country.

Based on reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, AP, and Reuters

Russia Removes Polish Flag From Katyn WWII Memorial Amid Tensions Over Ukraine Invasion

Russia has removed the Polish flag from a memorial in the Katyn Forest.

Russian authorities have removed a Polish flag from a memorial in the Katyn Forest marking the area where the mass killings of Polish officers by Soviet forces took place in April-May 1940.

Local officials on June 25 confirmed that the flag had been removed amid tensions between Russia and Poland, which has vocally backed Kyiv and provided assistance following the Kremlin’s decision to invade Ukraine.

Andrei Borisov, the mayor of Smolensk, said on social media the decision was made by the Ministry of Culture.

“I will express my general opinion: There can be no Polish flags on Russian memorials! And after the frank anti-Russian statements of Polish politicians, even more so,” he posted on the social media platform VKontakte, along with a photo.

"The Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation made the right decision by removing the Polish flag. Katyn is a Russian memorial," he added.

After the Nazis triggered World War II by invading Poland on September 1, 1939, the Soviets occupied the eastern part of the country, eventually massacring more than 20,000 Polish officers that they had taken prisoner at Katyn.

The Soviet Union originally blamed the Nazis for the killings, but in 1990 ended decades of denials and admitted the truth.

Based on reporting by AFP and The Telegraph

Iraqi PM Traveling To Iran, Saudi Arabia In Bid To Revive Talks Between Bitter Rivals

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi (file photo)

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi is traveling to Saudi Arabia and Iran in an effort to broker new talks between the two bitter rivals, officials said.

Kadhimi is scheduled to first visit Riyadh for meetings on June 25, then move on to the Iranian capital, Tehran, the following day.

Kadhimi “will visit the Islamic republic and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia back-to-back, within days,” the Iraqi News Agency quoted sources as saying.

The Iraqi prime minister is seeking to revive Baghdad-mediated talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told AP.

A previous round of talks held in Baghdad in April were suspended amid raised tensions in the region.

Shi’ite-majority Iran and Sunni-led Saudi Arabia have long been rivals competing for influence in the Middle East.

The Saudis broke ties with Iran in 2016 after Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran following the execution of a Shi’ite cleric in Saudi Arabia.

A bloody war in Yemen is considered by many to be a proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran. The conflict has led to one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters, while Iran-aligned Huthi rebels have fired missiles toward Saudi airports and oil facilities.

When he took office in May 2020, Kadhimi said Iraq was seeking to have balanced relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Based on reporting by AP and The National
Updated

Tens Of Thousands Rally As Warsaw Hosts Ukraine's Largest Pride Parade

Tens of thousands took part in the joint equality march in Warsaw on June 25.

Tens of thousands of people joined in Ukraine's largest LGBTQ rights parade, held in the Polish capital, Warsaw, after organizers determined they could not hold the event in Kyiv due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

KyivPride, which would have been staging the 10th Equality March in Ukraine, instead merged this year with gay-pride events in Warsaw on June 25.

“We are marching for political support for Ukraine, and we’re marching for basic human rights for Ukrainian people,” KyivPride director Lenny Emson was quoted as saying on June 25. “It is not a celebration. We will wait for victory to celebrate.”

Emson said the introduction of martial law in the Ukrainian capital following the Russian invasion prevents large gatherings such as KyivPride.

“We are marching for political support for Ukraine, and we’re marching for basic human rights for Ukrainian people,” KyivPride director Lenny Emson said.
“We are marching for political support for Ukraine, and we’re marching for basic human rights for Ukrainian people,” KyivPride director Lenny Emson said.

Organizers have said they expect about 80,000 participants at the Warsaw event, and KyivPride in May called on "people around the world to join the march in Warsaw and stand with us against aggression, for freedom and peace."

Emson said that the defeat of Ukraine by Russia, where LGBTQ people have no legal protection from discrimination or hate crimes, would be a tragedy for the Ukrainian people as a whole, but that LGBTQ people would risk being “erased completely."

KyivPride has called on people to realize that Ukraine's geographical borders with Belarus and Russia are "not just a separation line between the states, but also a boundary between the territory of freedom and a zone of oppression.”

With reporting by AP and dpa
Updated

Talks On Reviving Stalled Iranian Nuclear Deal To Resume

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (right) and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borell in Tehran on June 25.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said that negotiations aimed at reviving the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal will resume shortly.

"We expect to resume talks in the coming days and break the impasse," Borrell said during a joint news conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. "It has been three months and we need to accelerate the work."

Describing his meeting with Borrell as "long, but positive," Amir-Abdollahian said that Iran was prepared to resume talks with world powers in the coming days.

"What is important for Iran is to fully receive the economic benefits of the 2015 accord," he said.

Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to limits on its controversial nuclear program in exchange for relief from punitive sanctions imposed by the West. But the arrangement began to fall apart when the U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018.

Washington subsequently reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran, while the Iranian government, which denies that its nuclear program seeks to build a bomb, backed away from some of the commitments laid out in the deal.

Iran has been engaged for more than a year in negotiations with Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and China directly -- and the United States, indirectly -- to revive the deal.

Negotiators were reportedly close to a new agreement in March, but the talks in Vienna abruptly stalled in April, with Tehran and Washington blaming each other for failing to take the necessary political decisions to settle remaining issues.

In early June, Tehran said it had started removing 27 surveillance cameras from nuclear sites across the country, further reducing the West's ability to monitor Iran's nuclear program.

The EU's nuclear talks envoy, Enrique Mora, posted a photo late on June 23 of a dinner he was attending in Brussels with Borrell and Robert Malley, the U.S. special envoy to the talks.

Mora said Malley reiterated Washington's "firm commitment to come back to the deal."

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