PHOTO: European Union’s Helga Schmid and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi in Lausanne, Switzerland on March 26


Iran and the 5+1 Powers, represented by the European Union, held eight hours of talks in New York on Thursday in an effort to advance the draft of a comprehensive nuclear agreement.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Ministers Arash Araqchi and Majid Takht-e Ravanchi and the EU’s deputy foreign policy head Helga Schmid negotiated for five hours, then resumed in the afternoon after a four-hour break.

State news agency IRNA gives no details of the discussions, but says Friday will begin with a discussion among the technical experts of Iran and the 5+1 (US, Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia), followed by a meeting of political deputies.

The two sides have been convening since Monday in New York, following preparatory talks last week in Vienna. Araqchi said then that the two sides were beginning work on the final text of a deal.

The key issue appears to be the timing of sanction removal in return for Iran’s limits on its uranium enrichment and confirmation of inspections and supervision by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

See Iran Daily, April 30: Foreign Minister Zarif to New York Audience — “US Will Isolate Itself in World If It Breaks Nuclear Agreement”

US Navy to Accompany American-Flagged Cargo Ships Near Iranian Coast

US Navy warships will accompany some American-flagged commercial vessels that pass through the Strait of Hormuz near Iran’s southern coast.

The decision follows Iran’s seizure of the US-owned Maersk Tigris on Tuesday.

See Iran Developing: Iranians Force US-Owned Cargo Ship Into Port of Bandar Abbas

Pentagon officials said Thursday afternoon that the Navy may not accompany every ship under the classified plan approved earlier in the day. However, they presented the decision as a significant change in military posture in the Strait, with an armed warship required to be in the narrow channel between Iran and Oman when a US commercial vessel passes.

Iranian officials repeated on Thursday that the Marshall Islands-flagged Maersk Tigris was ordered to port, following a warning shot by Tehran’s patrol boats, over unpaid debts by its owner to the Iran Ports and Maritime Organization.

US Writers Honor Iranian Blogger Killed in Prison in 2012

Sattar Beheshti, the Iranian blogger who was reportedly abused and killed in prison after his arrest in October 2012 by Iranian cyber-police, has been posthumously honored by an American branch of the writers organization PEN International.

Beheshti was given the 2015 Pen New England Vasyl Stus Freedom to Write Award, named after a prominent Ukrainian poet, which recognizes writers persecuted for expressing their views in the face of censorship.

Among those in the ceremony at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge were a group of Iranian artists and activists. A video message from Beheshti’s mother was shown.

Beheshti was arrested over his criticism of the regime. He died a few days after his arrest, with witnesses reporting signs of torture on his body.

Iranian officials initially denied any abuse, but later admitted Beheshti had been mis-treated, although they insisted that he died of natural causes.

See Iran Feature: The Last Blog of Sattar Beheshti, Murdered by Security Forces in Prison

FM Zarif Responds to US Senator Cotton’s “Coward” Blast on Twitter: “Serious Diplomacy, Not Macho Personal Smear, Needed”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has responded to the Twitter attack by Senator Tom Cotton following Zarif’s question-and-answer session in New York on Wednesday.

Cotton rose to prominence in March when he organized a letter by 47 Republican Senators warning Tehran that President Obama could not establish a lasting nuclear deal without Congressional approval.

On Wednesday night, he challenged Zarif to a debate on the US Constitution and then accused the Iranian Foreign Minister of “cowardly character”:

In the tweet just before his volley against Zarif, Cotton introduced his newborn son: