US, Russia reach deal on Syrian chemical weapons

September 14, 2013

Geneva, Sep 14: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reached agreement on Saturday on a framework for Syria to destroy all of its chemical weapons, and said they would seek a U.N. Security Council resolution that could authorize sanctions short of military action if President Bashar Assad's government fails to comply.

Kerry-Lavrov

The deal announced by the diplomats on the third day of intense negotiations in Geneva includes what Kerry called “a shared assessment” of Syria's weapons stockpile, and a timetable and measures for Syria to comply.

The deal calls for international inspectors to be on the ground in Syria by November and to complete their initial work by the end of that that month. All of Syria's chemical weapons stocks, material and equipment would have to be destroyed or removed by mid-2014.

But the stakes have been especially high in Geneva, because the negotiations between the United States and Russia on securing Syria's chemical weapons also are considered key to breaking the international stalemate that has so far blocked a resumption of peace talks to end the Syrian civil war, now in its third year.

“We have committed to a standard that says, verify and verify,” Mr Kerry told a packed news conference in the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva, where he has been staying and the negotiations were conducted since Thursday night.

Among the highlights of the agreement is that the U.S. and Russia would agree to work together on a new, binding Security Council resolution that would ensure verification of the agreement to secure and destroy Syria's chemical weapons stocks and remove its capability to produce such weapons.

The resolution would allow for punitive measures for non-compliance, but stop short of military action, if the 16-nation Security Council approves them. The U.S. and Russia are two of the five permanent Security Council members with a veto. The others are Britain, China, and France.

Another major feature of the agreement is that the U.S. and Russia plan to give Syria one week, until Sept. 21, to submit “a comprehensive listing, including names, types and quantities of its chemical weapons agents, types of munitions, and local and form of storage, production, and research and development facilities.”

In addition, the U.S. and Russia have agreed that international inspectors should be on the ground in Syria by November and complete their initial work by the end of the month. They must be given “immediate and unfettered” access to inspect all sites.

Notably, Mr Kerry said they had agreed on grounds under which they might request a Security Council “Chapter 7” resolution at the United Nations, which is a measure that could include military and non-military sanctions.

But Mr Lavrov, who said the agreement was “based on consensus and compromise and professionalism,” indicated there would be limits to using a Chapter 7 resolution, which Russia would almost certainly veto if it specifically authorized a military strike such as what President Barack Obama has threatened.

“Any violations of procedures ... would be looked at by the Security Council and if they are approved, the Security Council would take the required measures, concrete measures,” Mr Lavrov said.

“Nothing is said about the use of force or about any automatic sanctions. All violations should be approved by the Security Council,” he added.

Mr Kerry also said any violations will result in “measures” from the Security Council, while Mr Lavrov said the violations must be sent to the Security Council from the board of the chemical weapons convention before sanctions short of the use of force would be considered.

Mr Kerry said the pair and their teams of experts had come to agreement on the exact size of Syria's weapons stockpile, which had been a sticking point before their meetings in Geneva. But in marathon sessions into early morning hours, the U.S. and Russia succeeded in narrowing their differences.

The agreement over the Russian proposal to inventory, isolate and eventually destroy Syria's chemical weapons stocks comes as the Obama administration warned that there is a timetable for a diplomatic resolution of the weapons issue.

DPA adds

Meanwhile, the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) has rejected a U.S.-Russian deal on dismantling Syria's chemical weapons and has vowed to continue fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

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Agencies
September 15,2020

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Washington, Sept 15: Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has said India's willingness to play a "big role" in manufacturing Covid-19 vaccine and allow it to supply to other developing countries will be a critical part in containing the coronavirus pandemic globally.

In an exclusive interview to PTI, Gates, whose foundation is focusing on fighting the pandemic, called it the "next biggest thing" the world has been confronted with after the World War.

The Microsoft co-founder said the world is looking to India for large scale production of Covid-19 vaccine once it is rolled out.

"Obviously, all of us want to get a vaccine out in India as fast as we can, once we know that it's very effective and very safe, and so the plans are coming into focus that sometime next year, it's very likely that roll-out will take place and take place in fairly big volume," he said.

"The world is also looking to India for some of that capacity to be available to other developing countries. Exactly what that allocation formula looks like will have to be figured out," Gates added.

Scientists and pharmaceutical companies globally are racing against time to find a vaccine for the coronavirus pandemic which has killed about 9,32,000 people and infected around 24 million. Some of the vaccine candidates have entered the third and final phase of testing.

"This is not like a world war, but it's the next biggest thing after that that we've ever had," he said.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the world's largest charities, has been involved in global efforts to contain the pandemic. In India, the foundation has entered into a partnership with the Serum Institute to accelerate the manufacturing and delivery of Covid-19 vaccines.

"India's willingness to play a big role in the manufacturing and to allow some of those vaccines to go to other developing countries will be an absolutely critical part of that," said Gates.

"India will be helping to make sure we have equity. We have a model that shows that getting the vaccine out to those who need it the most will save half the lives that you'd lose if you only send it out to the rich countries," he said.

In the telephonic interview, the Microsoft co-founder who has donated billions of dollars to fight poverty and diseases, talked extensively about India's strength in production of vaccines and referred to companies like Serum Institute, Bio E and Bharat Biotech.

"We've been brokering the idea of taking a vaccine and manufacturing it in India, even if it comes from AstraZeneca, Oxford or Novavax or Johnson & Johnson. We've publicly talked about the arrangement where a Serum will be able to make very high volume of the AstraZeneca and the Novavax vaccine," said Gates.

"There's discussions with Bio E, their connection with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and whether they'll be able to ramp that up," he said.

Gates also said that the foundation has been having "great discussions" with India's NITI-Aayog, adding the ICMR is looking at the regulatory aspects of the Covid-19 vaccines.

"I'm actually very impressed with how our discussions with the government on these issues and the companies, including the Western companies collaborating with these new companies, that's all gone very well," Gates said.

The American business magnate said he was optimistic that by the first quarter of next year, that several of these vaccines will reach the phase three emergency licence approval.

"We still could be disappointed in that. But we have a variety of constructs and the early data from the phase one and phase two, for example the antibody levels, looks pretty promising for quite a few of these vaccines," he said.

He said the focus should be to keep the cost of the vaccines low and it should be ensured that they can be made in very high volume.

"We have to remember that even once a vaccine is approved, the bar for that vaccine in terms of the effectiveness was set as 50 per cent, and so we still may want to continue with other vaccines to get higher effectiveness," he said.

Gates also complimented India's digital cash transfer scheme.

"Getting payments out through digital cash transfers, that has been a fantastic thing, and obviously, India has done that at a scale that no other country ever has," he said.

"The whole Aadhaar digital financial system in India has proven to be once again a huge asset," he said, adding it can be extended to all the countries of the world.

The philanthropist also referred to the foundation's annual Goalkeepers report saying it normally takes stock of the ongoing progress on things like economic growth, literacy, child survival and average lifespan.

"This year's report, unfortunately, we're unable to say that there's been progress. In fact, we talk about the setback, and one way we dimensionalise that for like vaccine coverage globally, which went from 84 per cent to 70 per cent, is we say that's a 25-year setback," he said.

Asked whether India's economic downturn will impact implementation of social welfare schemes, Gates said the foundation is a huge believer that investments in health pay off very strongly.

"It's tragic that all health activities have been so disrupted, and that will lead to increased deaths from other diseases, not just COVID," he said.

"In fact, in many places, and I'm not sure if India will be included in this, but there's a chance that there would be more deaths from other diseases because of the health disruption than from COVID itself," he said.

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News Network
September 16,2020

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Paris, Sept 16: The world has lost nearly 100 million hectares of forests in two decades, marking a steady decline though at a slower pace than before, a UN agency reported Tuesday.

The proportion of forest to total land area fell from 31.9 per cent in 2000 to 31.2 per cent in 2020, now some 4.1 billion hectares, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.

It marks "a net loss of almost 100 million hectares of the world's forests," the FAO said.

Deforestation has hit particularly hard sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, where it has accelerated in the last decade, but also Latin and Central America, where it has nonetheless slowed down.

Forests are being cut down mainly to make way for crops or farm animals, especially in less developed countries.

In southeast Asia, the forest now covers 47.8 per cent of the land compared to 49 per cent in 2015. In sub-Saharan Africa, it covers 27.8 per cent compared to 28.7 per cent five years ago.

In Indonesia, it is 50.9 per cent, down from 52.5 per cent. In Malaysia, it is 58.2 per cent, down from 59.2 per cent five years ago.

A country strongly focused on agriculture like the Ivory Coast has seen forests reduced to 8.9 per cent of the total land area from 10.7 per cent in 2015. Kenya, Mali and Rwanda have largely held firm against forest loss.

In Latin and Central America, forest covers only 46.7 per cent of the total land, compared to 47.4 per cent five years ago.

In Brazil, forests declined to 59.4 per cent of the country's territory in 2020 from 60.3 per cent in 2015. In Haiti, deforestation has continued apace -- falling to 12.6 per cent of the total land area from 13.2 per cent in 2015.

In contrast, in many parts of Asia, Europe and North America forest area has increased or stayed the same in the last five years with policies to restore woodland and allow forests to expand naturally.

In China, forests make up 23.3 per cent, up from 22.3 per cent in 2015. In Japan, they account for 68.4 per cent, the same as it was five years ago.

In France, forests cover 31.5 per cent of the land in 2020, up from 30.7 per cent in 2015. In Italy, they make up 32.5 per cent of the national territory, up from 31.6 five years ago.

In Britain, they make up 13.2 per cent, up from 13 per cent five years ago.

In Canada, it is unchanged at 38.2 per cent, and in the United States, unchanged at 33.9 per cent.

In Australia, the figure rose from 17.3 to 17.4 per cent and in New Zealand from 37.4 per cent to 37.6 per cent over the five years.

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News Network
September 16,2020

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Moscow, Sept 16: Russia's sovereign wealth fund has agreed to supply 100 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik-V, to Indian drug company Dr Reddy's Laboratories, the fund said on Wednesday, as Moscow speeds up plans to distribute its shot abroad.

The deal comes after the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) reached agreements with Indian manufacturers to produce 300 million doses of the vaccine in India, which is a major consumer of Russian oil and arms.

Dr Reddy's, one of India's top pharmaceutical companies, will carry out Phase III clinical trials of the vaccine in India, pending regulatory approval, RDIF said in a statement.

Deliveries to India could begin in late 2020, it said, adding this was subject to the completion of trials and the vaccine's registration by regulatory authorities in India.

Russia was the first country to license a novel coronavirus vaccine before large-scale Phase III trials were complete, stirring concern among scientists and doctors about the safety and efficacy of the shot.

The Phase I and II results had shown promise, G V Prasad, co-chairman of Dr Reddy's, was cited in the RDIF statement as saying.

"Sputnik V vaccine could provide a credible option in our fight against COVID-19 in India," he said.

There was no detail about the price of the vaccine but RDIF has said previously it was not aiming at making a profit, just covering costs.

The agreement comes as India's coronavirus cases surged past 5 million on Wednesday, piling pressure on hospitals grappling with unreliable supplies of oxygen that they need to treat tens of thousands of critical patients.

India is only the second country in the world to cross the grim milestone and said this week it is considering granting an emergency authorisation for a vaccine, particularly for the elderly and people in high-risk workplaces.

The RDIF has already reached vaccine supply deals with Kazakhstan, Brazil and Mexico. It has also signed a memorandum with the Saudi Chemical company.

Russia has billed Sputnik-V as the first vaccine against the coronavirus to be registered in the world. Phase III trials, involving at least 40,000 people, were launched in Russia on Aug. 26 but have yet to be completed.

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