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*Regional and International Headlines:

1.     Delay Foreseen in Removing Syrian Chemicals

2.     U.N. to launch first airlift of aid to Syria via Iraq: UNHCR

3.     UN inspectors to assess Libya's uranium stockpiles

4.     US-Led Pacific Trade Zone Talks End Without Deal

5.     New project to create drinking water from the Red Sea will also boost shrinking Dead Sea

6.     Pakistan to push forward gas project with Iran

7.     Ukraine president to discuss crisis with former leaders

8.     Economic experiment shows limits of NKorean change

9.     Thailand protests: PM Yingluck rejects resignation call

 *Regional and International Headlines:

 1.     Delay Foreseen in Removing Syrian Chemicals

The leader of the global monitoring group that is helping oversee the eradication of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal raised the strong possibility on Monday of a delay in the timetable, saying it would be “quite difficult” to meet a deadline three weeks from now for transporting the most dangerous materials out of the country by sea.

Such a delay, broached by Ahmet Uzumcu, the director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, would be the first in the timetable of the eradication program, which began more than two months ago and is considered so far to be an extraordinary and conspicuous success in a country at war.

 2.     U.N. to launch first airlift of aid to Syria via Iraq: UNHCR

The United Nations is launching its first airlift of food and other aid supplies from Iraq to the Kurdistan region of northern Syria this week with permission from both governments, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Tuesday.

The airbridge using commercial cargo Ilyushin 76 planes to Hassakeh, Syria, from Erbil, Iraq, will begin on Thursday and up to 12 flights are scheduled through Sunday, Amin Awad, director of the Middle East and North Africa Bureau of the UNHCR said.

"This is the first time aid goes through Iraq," Awad told Reuters in Geneva. "The number of vulnerable in al Hassakeh is estimated at 50,000-60,000 but we are still doing assessments. Al Hassakeh has been out of reach for a long time."

 3.     UN inspectors to assess Libya's uranium stockpiles

The United Nations says nuclear inspectors will visit Libya to assess its uranium stockpiles, amid concerns about fragile security in the country.

The UN envoy to Libya, Tarek Mitri, told the Security Council that the IAEA team would arrive later this month.

He said 6,400 barrels of concentrated uranium, or yellowcake, were stored at a former military base in southern Libya, guarded by an army battalion.

Yellowcake is used in the production of nuclear fuel and weapons.

Mr Mitri, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative to Libya, said an inspection team from the International Atomic Energy Agency would "visit this month to verify existing stockpiles and conditions of storage" at the former military facility near Sabha, in southern Libya.

"They are under the control of an army battalion," he said.

The IAEA visited the Sabha site in 2011, shortly after the end of Libya's civil war.

 4.     New project to create drinking water from the Red Sea will also boost shrinking Dead Sea

The Dead Sea has been rapidly disappearing for 50 years, one of the world’s natural wonders careening toward ecological collapse in a region more often focused on political conflict.

Yesterday, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority agreed on an ambitious plan to begin refilling the ancient salt lake with briny water pumped from the Red Sea — and relieve local shortages of fresh water at the same time.

In the first stage of what could become a massive joint initiative, private investors will be asked to finance construction of a large desalination plant in Jordan, on the Gulf of Aqaba. The plant would suck billions of gallons from the Red Sea and convert it to drinking water that would be shared by Israel and Jordan. Israel, in turn, would increase the amount of water it sells to the Palestinian Authority by as much as 30 million cubic meters a year.

 5.     Pakistan to push forward gas project with Iran

Pakistan says it’s pushing ahead with a planned pipeline to import natural gas from neighboring Iran, a project that is opposed by the U.S.

Today’s statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says Pakistani and Iranian oil officials decided during a meeting Monday in Tehran to fast track the project.

The pipeline will link Iranian gas fields to energy-starved Pakistan. Gas is supposed to start flowing by the end of 2014, but the project has been beset by repeated delays.

The U.S. opposes the Iran-Pakistan pipeline, supporting instead an alternative pipeline proposal that would run from the gas fields of Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Also, if Pakistan goes ahead with the pipeline, it could trigger U.S. and international sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program.

 6.     US-Led Pacific Trade Zone Talks End Without Deal

The United States and 11 other nations negotiating a free trade zone stretching from Chile to Japan have failed to reach a final agreement at talks in Singapore.

The U.S.-led deal is a major part of President Barack Obama's foreign policy shift toward Asia but has been snagged by disagreements between countries on market access, environmental protections and intellectual property.

Washington had said it hoped the trade agreement would be completed by the end of the year.

After four days of meetings in Singapore, ministers issued a statement Tuesday saying that "substantial progress" had been made on finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

It said talks would continue next month.

 7.     Ukraine president to discuss crisis with former leaders

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is expected to hold talks with three former presidents over the political crisis which began when Ukraine decided not to sign an EU free-trade deal.

The talks come as protesters remain encamped in a central square in the capital Kiev. On Monday, security forces cleared some activists from government buildings.

The stand-off follows weeks of unrest.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will also be in Kiev.

Baroness Ashton will hold talks with government officials, opposition activists and civil society groups "to support a way out of the political crisis", her office said in a statement.

The European Commission says the EU's offer of an association agreement with Ukraine remains on the table, provided Ukraine meets the conditions - and they cannot be renegotiated.

 8.     Economic experiment shows limits of NKorean change

Many of the ways in which this dusty, windswept area differs from most of North Korea are easiest to see at night.

Although there are traffic lights in other cities, the ones in Rason actually light up. The avenues are broad and paved, and along the main street, colorful, decorative lights outline the edges of buildings. Foreign-owned or funded industries and businesses including a casino — one of only two in the whole country — have helped create an oasis of light in an otherwise inky black and largely empty countryside.

This special economic zone, some two decades old, is intended to be a petri dish of capitalism, and North Korea’s leaders plan to expand the experiment all over the country. It isn’t the only one of its kind in North Korea, but it’s the oldest, most vibrant and, experts say, the most promising.

 9.     Thailand protests: PM Yingluck rejects resignation call

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has rejected protesters' demands that she resign before February's snap elections.

Demonstrators have been calling for Yingluck Shinawatra to resign and be replaced with a "people's prime minister".

Ms Yingluck won the last polls in 2011, but protesters say ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra remains in charge.

Thailand is facing its largest political turmoil since 2010.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Ms Yingluck urged protesters to stop and "use the electoral system to choose who will become the next government."

"I must do my duty as caretaker prime minister according to the constitution," she said, adding: "I have retreated as far as I can give me some fairness."

On Monday, around 150,000 protesters had converged around the government headquarters in what they had described as a final push to unseat the government.

On the same day, Ms Yingluck announced that she would dissolve parliament and call elections, now set for 2 February.

 

 

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