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World Headlines: Guarded Optimism As Iran, West Meet Again

Iran, Press TV

There's guarded optimism as the second round of talks between Iran and international powers over the Islamic republic's nuclear program got under way in Geneva.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met for an hour with Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, ahead of Thursday's talks. A tweet from Ashton's spokesman Michael Mann described the meeting as "good."

The two-day talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – as well as Germany will focus on the nuclear program that Tehran says is civilian in nature.

The West suspects Iran of building nuclear weapons – a charge Tehran denies. The BBC reports that the West wants Iran to agree on a first step to stop advancing its nuclear program further.

"The Geneva talks are a test for assessment of the 5+1 group, and in these negotiations their political will to reach a solution will be put to the test," Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told the official Islamic Republic News Agency on Wednesday.

A previous round of talks held last month was described as "substantive and forward-looking." The talks were the first since President Hassan Rouhani, who is seen as a relative moderate, assumed office in August.

Colombia, Vanguardia

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos lauded a partial agreement with the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and said negotiations in Havana would continue ahead of elections in May.

"We must continue. We must persevere," he said on television Wednesday following the announcement of the partial deal struck by negotiators in Havana. "Failure to do so would be to betray the hopes of millions of Colombians and future generations."

The government and rebels are trying to end a five-decade armed conflict that has claimed more than 200,000 lives and displaced thousands of others.

At talks in Havana, where negotiations have been ongoing since November, the two sides agreed on guarantees, conditions and support for new political parties, the BBC reported. FARC also agreed to lay down its weapons and become a political movement, The Associated Press reports.

Talks are centered on a six-point agenda: land reform, political participation, disarmament, illicit drugs, rights of the victims and peace deal implementation.

Previous attempts at peace talks failed, but FARC was weakened by operations conducted by former President Alvaro Uribe.

Tajikistan, Khovar

Longtime Tajik President Emomali Rahmon was re-elected for a seven-year term with more than 83 percent of the vote.

Rahmon, who has been president of the former Soviet republic since 1994, faced five challengers. The official news agency reported that Olimjon Boboev, candidate of the Party of Economic Reforms, won 3.8 percent of the vote, while Tolibbek Bukhoriev of the Agrarian Party received 4.5 percent.

The BBC reports that human rights activists Oynihol Bobonazarova, who was widely seen as the only genuine opposition candidate, wasn't allowed to contest the polls as the country's electoral commission said she failed to get the necessary 21,000 signatures to be a candidate.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which monitored the elections, said in a statement that the vote was peaceful, "but lacking in pluralism and genuine choice."

The electoral commission declared the results valid.

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