- The Washington Times - Monday, December 21, 2009

IRAQ

Iran pulls back; oil workers return

BAGHDAD - A standoff between Iraq and Iran over a remote oil well ended peacefully Sunday as Iranian forces pulled back from the disputed site.

In Iraq’s southern Maysan province, soldiers escorted about a dozen oil workers back to well No. 4 on the al-Fakkah oil field after Iranian forces withdrew overnight. Iraqi soldiers planted the Iraqi flag on the well where Iran’s flag had flown during the dispute that began last Thursday.

Well No. 4 stopped producing oil in the 1980s as a result of the Iran-Iraq war, but “Iranian harassment” started in 2007 after Iraq worked to get the well operational again, he said.

Both Iran and Iraq claim parts of al-Fakkah as their own. Located about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, the oil field has an estimated 1.5 billion barrels in reserves.

In Tehran, the office of Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said he and his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari, discussed the case in a phone conversation late Saturday.

LEBANON

Hariri visit signals some reconciliation

DAMASCUS | Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri called on Sunday for a renewal of ties with Syria to the benefit of both states at the end of a fence-mending visit to his country’s former powerbroker.

It was Mr. Hariri’s first trip to Damascus since the 2005 assassination of his father, ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri - a killing that he and his U.S.-backed allies in Beirut blamed on Syria.

Regional commentators, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, have hailed the visit as an icebreaker and step toward healing decades of turbulent ties between the two neighbors.

Syria dominated its tiny neighbor for nearly three decades until April 2005 when it pulled out its troops from Lebanon under international and regional pressure, two months after the assassination of Rafik Hariri.

CYPRUS

Rival leaders push for deal

NICOSIA | Rival Cypriot leaders are to meet on Monday to agree a series of dates for intensified talks in January as the United Nations raises hopes of a reunification deal in 2010.

President Demetris Christofias, a Greek Cypriot, and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat are seeking ways to step up the pace after 15 months of sluggish United Nations-brokered negotiations.

In their last meeting of the year on Monday, the two leaders are expected to agree on how to intensify the process as the international community urges the momentum to be stepped up.

U.N. envoy Alexander Downer said he is confident that the two leaders on the divided island can reach a deal next year and said the intensified period in January is key to reaching the end game.

KAZAKHSTAN

Astronauts head to space station

BAIKONUR | A Russian rocket blasted off from a cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and hurtled toward space Monday, shuttling an American, a Russian and a Japanese to the International Space Station.

The Soyuz TMA-17’s early-hours launch was the first blastoff of a Soyuz rocket on a winter night.

Timothy J. Creamer, Soichi Nohuchi and Oleg Kotov will take the orbiting laboratory’s permanent crew to five, joining American Jeff Williams and Russian Maxim Surayev, who have been alone on the space station for three weeks.

A NASA television Webcast showed the crew giving a thumbs up sign as the vessel thundered skyward.

The Soyuz will travel for about two days before docking with the space station 220 miles above Earth.

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