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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

News in Brief

French Premier to Visit

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin visits Moscow on Monday for talks that are expected to be dominated by Moscow's efforts to negotiate a solution to the Iranian nuclear standoff and to reach out to Hamas after its victory in Palestinian elections.

De Villepin, who will meet President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, is also expected to discuss Russia-EU ties and energy issues, said an official close to the French prime minister, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Iranian-Russian talks are to take place in Moscow on Thursday on a plan proposed by Russia to shift Iran's uranium enrichment activities to Russian territory. (AP)

Fewer U.S. Diplomats

WASHINGTON -- China and India have emerged as the big winners -- and Russia and Germany as the top losers -- in the first round of a broad restructuring of U.S. diplomatic posts ordered by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Of 61 positions slated for elimination in the initial batch, 10 will fall in Russia and seven in Germany. U.S. embassies in several other countries -- Belgium, Poland, Italy, Spain, Ukraine, Japan and Brazil -- will lose two or three posts.

On the plus side, of 74 new U.S. diplomatic positions, China will get 15, including a dozen at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. India ranks second, with 12 new posts, seven of them in New Delhi. And Indonesia is third, with five new slots in Jakarta. Other countries that are to receive at least three more U.S. diplomatic slots include Nigeria, Israel, Lebanon, Vietnam, Tajikistan, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua. (WP)

Ivanov Reassures NATO

TAORMINA, Sicily -- Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on Friday sought to reassure NATO that Moscow's decision earlier in the week to deploy missiles to Belarus was not directed against the western alliance.

"I can't see any problem at all between Russia and NATO," Ivanov said at a news conference after meeting his NATO counterparts.

He said the S-300PS missile units were "purely defensive" and had been sold to dozens of countries around the world. Russia announced Thursday that President Vladimir Putin ordered the missile units be sent to Belarus' western border in late March. (AP)

Lukashenko Predicts Win

MINSK -- Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko predicted on Friday that he would easily win a March election and had no need to cheat.

"There is no point in using undemocratic means or public funds. Even polls conducted by my rivals give the president a rating of 60 percent," Lukashenko said in the Mogilyov region, in eastern Belarus, the state BelTA news agency reported.

"The opposition has 5 to 7 percent. So why should Lukashenko cheat if he stands to get 76 to 78 percent? Why would anyone in my place rig the election and risk accusations?" he said.

Nikolai Lazovik, Belarus's top election official, said that registration of candidates would be completed by next Friday. (Reuters)

Black Sea Rent Hike

The Foreign Ministry said Sunday that Ukraine did not have the right to demand that Russia pay more money to base Russia's Black Sea Fleet in a Ukrainian port.

Ukraine said Friday that it planned to start charging a market rate for the Black Sea Fleet base. Some officials suggest Moscow could be asked to pay up to 20 times as much.

The Foreign Ministry said a 1997 agreement that divided up the Soviet Black Sea Fleet between Ukraine and Russia and granted Moscow a 20-year lease on the base until 2017 could not be violated. (AP)

Kaczynski Ready for Putin

WARSAW -- New Polish President Lech Kaczynski said Saturday that he was ready to meet President Vladimir Putin, preferably on neutral ground, in an effort to improve strained bilateral ties.

Kaczynski, who took office in December, said he would soon talk to senior Russian officials about organizing a meeting and express hoped there would be a "significant possibility" of holding it outside Moscow.

"I am ready to have this first meeting, but not in Warsaw either," Kaczynski told TVN24 during a visit to the United States, where he met with President George W. Bush. (AP)

Russia on Turkmen Pensions

The Foreign Ministry expressed concern Friday about new legislation in Turkmenistan that stripped thousands of retirees, including Russians, of their pensions.

In a statement, the ministry said Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin spoke by telephone with his Turkmen counterpart, Rashid Meredov, about the law that came into force this month and stripped pensions from more than 100,000 people nationwide.

Many ethnic Russians living in Turkmenistan hold dual citizenship, but it was unclear exactly how many were affected. (AP)

Georgia Tells 3 to Leave

TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgian authorities freed three Russian military officers from custody and gave them 24 hours to leave Georgia, Defense Minister Irakly Okruashvili said Friday.

Police detained the three Wednesday for entering Georgia without visas, further ratcheting up already high tension with Moscow.

Russia's Defense Ministry said the officers were investigating a serious incident around a week ago when Georgian police impounded a Russian peacekeepers' truck involved in a traffic accident near South Ossetia, sparking fistfights. (AP)

No Nagorno-Karabakh Deal

RAMBOUILLET, France -- The presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan failed to reach agreement after two days of intense talks on how to end the bloody conflict over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

"Despite intensive discussions, the positions of the parties on some difficult principles remained as they have been for some months," U.S., French and Russian mediators said in a statement Saturday.

Hopes have been building in recent months for progress toward settling the 18-year dispute, in which at least 30,000 people have been killed and 1 million made refugees. (AP)

Party Leaves Azeri Bloc

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- A party in Azerbaijan's main opposition bloc said it was quitting the alliance Friday, days after it broke ranks and ended a boycott of the new parliament elected in disputed polls.

Musavat won four of the six seats awarded to the Azadliq bloc in the 125-member assembly. The party in a statement accused the other two parties in the bloc of mounting "a large-scale campaign of criticism and insults" against it following its decision to take up its parliamentary seats. (AP)