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US Assistant Secretary for International Security Christopher A. Ford attends the 2nd Preparatory session of the 2020 Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference at the United Nations in Geneva

Iran may be interested in joining a key nuclear treaty if the United States withdraws its threat to rip up an existing deal on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, the head of the CTBTO nuclear watchdog said on Monday.

Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, was speaking on the sidelines of a nuclear non-proliferation conference in Geneva, where many diplomats are concerned about U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to quit the Iran nuclear deal known as the JCPOA.

While the United States distrusts Iran and says the JCPOA is too weak, Zerbo said that if Iran was trusted, he was hopeful it might ratify the CTBT, a total ban on nuclear explosions.

“I think any support of the JCPOA would get Iran to consider the CTBT,” he told Reuters. “The only way to leverage (the situation) is to see trust and confidence in Iran that will push them into considering the comprehensive test ban treaty, and this is my hope and this is what I’m working for.”

Zerbo told a meeting of diplomats that he had met Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran’s parliament, in St Petersburg in October 2017 and asked him why Iran was not considering ratification of the CTBT.

“He said they have nothing against the CTBT but they are looking at the JCPOA and his point was ‘How do we come to the CTBT when there is doubt on the JCPOA?’ That was his answer to me,” Zerbo said.

“Let’s see what the JCPOA brings, and that could open up opportunity to consider the CTBT by the Iran parliament, by the Iran authorities, and then to gather more consensus in civil society.”

Asked how seriously he took Larijani’s comments, Zerbo told Reuters that he regarded Larijani as a sincere and honest person who had not been under any obligation to hold such a discussion.

“We spent nearly 40 minutes discussing views, which I would say is unprecedented because we never had this kind of high level discussion from the CTBT perspective with high-level officials,” he said.

“This was a deep discussion between my team and speaker of the parliament Larijani’s team in St Petersburg.”

Larijani had discussed the work done to get the JCPOA accepted in Iran, and Iran wanted to see the benefit of that before considering any other treaty, Zerbo said.

An Iranian delegate at the meeting, Tehran’s former ambassador in Vienna, declined to comment.

U.S. Assisant Secretary Christopher Ford, Washington’s nuclear non-proliferation envoy, was sceptical about Zerbo’s hopes and the prospects for Iran’s ratification.

“I remain to be convinced,” Ford told Reuters.

Iran and the United States have signed but not ratified the CTBT. They are among eight nuclear technology states whose ratification is needed for it to come into force.
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Firemen cover a victim after a van ploughed through a busy Toronto sidewalk on Monday

A white van killed at least nine people and injured 16 when its driver ploughed through a busy Toronto sidewalk on a sunny Monday afternoon, according to police, hospital officials and a Reuters witness.

The incident occurred just before 1:30 p.m. (1730 GMT) as large crowds of office workers were on lunch breaks. At least one witness described the driver as appearing to deliberately target victims on his roughly mile-long rampage. The driver was in custody, police said.

A Reuters witness said there were at least two bodies at the site of the incident. At least seven people were brought to nearby Sunnybrook Health Services Centre’s trauma centre, the hospital said on Twitter.

It was not immediately clear if the incident was a deliberate act by the driver or a traffic mishap in a mixed commercial and residential area.

Canada’s public safety minister, Ralph Goodale, told a news conference there had been casualties but provided no further details.

“The investigation is at a stage where no further information can be confirmed at this point,” Goodale said. “The police are conducting obviously their thorough investigation to determine what happened and why it happened, the motivations involved.”

There have been a string of deadly vehicle attacks in the United States and Europe, including an Oct. 31 attack in New York that killed eight. Toronto is hosting a Group of Seven foreign ministers meeting about 30 kms (18 miles) away.

The crash occurred at the corner of Yonge Street and Finch Avenue in the north end of the city, where a van drove onto the sidewalk and hit several people, said Toronto Police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray.

A man who gave his name as Ali told CNN he saw the van and that the driver appeared to have been targeting people.

“This person was intentionally doing this, he was killing everybody,” the man said. “He kept going, he kept going. People were getting hit, one after another.”

He said a number of the victims were older people and at one point he saw a stroller fly into the air.

At least one person was struck outside on the sidewalk outside an Anglican church, north of where the van came to rest in front of a currency exchange in a condominium tower.

Buildings and workplaces in the area where the van struck pedestrians in Toronto were locked down, and a nearby subway station was closed and service suspended.

Yonge Street is large, divided boulevard at the point where the incident occurred, its center meridian dotted with planter boxes and sculptures.

Some of the victims were struck in a public square popular with office workers on lunch breaks. Aerial photos of the scene posted on social media showed a food truck parked just a few feet away from where emergency workers busily transferred people onto stretchers.

There was no noticeable change in security around the Intercontinental Hotel where the ministers of Canada, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan were meeting on Monday.
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File photo: Italian Northern League leader Matteo Salvini shows a rosary as he speaks during a political rally in Milan

Italy’s president has asked the head of the lower house of parliament to see whether the 5-Star Movement and centre-left Democratic Party (PD) could form a coalition government, a presidential official said on Monday.

President Sergio Mattarella, who is struggling to end seven weeks of political deadlock following inconclusive elections last month, asked the lower house speaker Roberto Fico to report back to him on Thursday with his findings.

“I will start work immediately,” said Fico, who faces an almost impossible mission given fierce misgivings within the two camps about any possible tie-up.

Senate leader Elisabetta Casellati last week failed to broker a deal between 5-Star and an alliance of rightist parties after receiving a similar, highly focused mandate from the president, whose options are rapidly diminishing.

The bloc of conservative parties, including the far-right League, won the most seats at the March 4 vote, while the 5-Star emerged as the largest single party. Both fell well short of a parliamentary majority.

5-Star has said it is willing to work with the League, but not its allies, who include former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. The League has so far rejected this demand, but continues to repeat its hope for a coalition deal.

The PD, which had governed Italy since 2013, lost heavily last month as voters snubbed it over the slow pace of economic recovery and over fears of rising immigrant numbers from Africa.

It has said repeatedly that it wants to move into opposition, but the party is divided and some of its leaders have said it should be open-minded about its old foe 5-Star.


Mattarella announced his latest effort to end the deadlock the day after the centre-right won local elections in the tiny southern region of Molise, giving the bloc a boost as jostling continues in Rome over coalition building.

“An important national signal has emerged from Molise. A united centre-right has the ability to win the backing of Italians to rule both the regions and the country,” Berlusconi said in a statement on Monday.

The centre-right candidate backed by nine parties won 43 percent of the vote in Molise, ahead of the candidate for the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, with 38 percent.

The result was a setback for 5-Star, which had hoped to gain control of its first regional government after emerging as the largest party at the national ballot.

In Molise it was again by far the biggest party, with no other group reaching 10 percent, but it fell back markedly from the 44 percent it took in the same region in March.

If all efforts to break the Rome stalemate fail, Mattarella could try to put together a government of technocrats with a limited mandate, including electoral reform, to prepare for early elections in the spring of 2019.

Failing that, his last option would be to call elections in the autumn of this year.
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"There should be no punishment for doing the right thing," Commission Vice President Francs Timmermans said.

Whistleblowers exposing fraud, tax evasion, data breaches and other misdeeds will be given more protection from retaliation under new rules proposed by the European Commission on Monday.

The move by the EU executive comes in the wake of criticism from transparency campaigners about the lack of protection granted to individuals who report such breaches in EU laws.

They cite the example of two former accounting firm employees who were prosecuted in 2016 for leaking data about Luxembourg’s tax deals with large corporations. The conviction of one was overturned by Luxembourg’s highest court this year.

Critics also point to British regulators’ relatively lenient treatment of Barclays’ chief Executive Jes Staley last week who was allowed to keep his job after trying to uncover an informant at the bank.

The European Commission said its proposal was a game changer since it will require companies setting up internal channels for whistleblowers and also shield them from reprisals such as sackings, demotion and even litigation.

There are also safeguards against malicious or abusive reports.

“There should be no punishment for doing the right thing,” Commission Vice President Francs Timmermans said.

“In addition, today’s proposals also protect those who act as sources for investigative journalists, helping to ensure that freedom of expression and freedom of the media are defended in Europe.”

The EU executive said the proposed rules would protect those who unmask illegal activities in public procurement, financial services, money laundering, nuclear safety, food safety, privacy and data protection among others.

The proposal requires approval from EU countries and the European Parliament before it can become law. Currently only 10 EU countries offer full protection to whistleblowers.

Transparency International said the proposal was a bold step in recognising the importance and rights of informants.

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) said increasing whistleblower protection will help businesses.

“Companies have to see speak-up as something that would help them manage risks and avoid more serious issues such as violation of law, inappropriate conduct, crime or any type of harms,” ACCA head of corporate governance Jo Iwasaki said.