Middle East Updates / Iran Warns West to Keep Expectations Realistic on Nuclear Deal

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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrives for a press briefing in Vienna, June 20, 2014.Credit: AP

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Latest updates:

7:01 P.M. Iran warns West to keep expectations realistic on nuclear compromise

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has warned Western powers to curb their demands on limiting his country's nuclear activities in order to guarantee a landmark settlement, which he said was "within reach."

Iranian newspapers said on Wednesday that Zarif had written separate letters to his Western counterparts explaining Tehran's position ahead of the next round of talks in January.

"I am confident that a comprehensive agreement is within reach," he wrote, according to the Mehr news agency. "But we will firmly resist any humiliating illegitimate demands."

Zarif said Iran's goal was "a long-term comprehensive agreement guaranteeing its right to an exclusively peaceful nuclear program in return for full removal of all sanctions." (Reuters)

2:14 P.M. Moscow, Damascus discuss prospects for Syria peace talks

Russia's Foreign Ministry says a senior Russian diplomat and the Syrian ambassador have discussed prospects for talks in Moscow between the Syrian government and the opposition.

The ministry said Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov met with Syrian Ambassador Riyad Haddad on Wednesday to discuss a political settlement of the Syrian crisis, and, in particular, Russia's proposal to host negotiations between the conflicting parties. The ministry wouldn't say when the talks could take place.

Haddad was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency that the consultations are continuing and the date hasn't been set yet. (AP)

1:34 P.M. Kurdish rebels threaten to renew violence in Turkey

A Kurdish rebel commander has warned that fighting in Turkey's southeast could resume by June if efforts to end a 30-year insurgency make no progress by then, news reports said Wednesday.

Murat Karayilan's comments came days after Turkish and Kurdish officials declared a "new phase" in the peace process after widespread protests by Kurds in October had threatened to derail the talks.

Karayilan told Iraq-based Roj News that imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan would be freed from prison by April and wiykd attend a congress of his Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, if the talks progress according to a plan drawn up by Ocalan himself. However, Karayilan threatened to resume hostilities before Turkey's June elections if the government fails to advance the peace process by then. His comments were carried by Turkish and Kurdish media on Wednesday.

"If steps are not taken, we will start the war before the elections," Karayilan was quoted as telling Roj News. (AP)

1:20 P.M. Two relatives of the Jordanian pilot said they were notified by the head of the Jordanian air force that he was indeed being held captive after his plane was shot down. This was the first time a coalition plane had been shot down by ISIS fighters since the U.S. led-airstrikes began. (Reuters)

11:12 A.M. ISIS-affiliated social media accounts publish pictures of reported capture

Islamic State-affiliated social media accounts published pictures purportedly of the pilot being held by Islamic State fighters.

It was not possible to verify the images. (Reuters)

10:51 A.M. Jordanian pilot reportedly captured by ISIS in Raqqa, Syria

Islamic State militants on Wednesday shot down a fighter jet in Syria, believed to belong to the US-led military coalition, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the jihadists targeted the plane with an anti-aircraft missile near the city of al-Raqqa, a stronghold of Islamic State in north-eastern Syria.

The Britain-based Observatory said the plane's Arab pilot was captured. Other activists said the pilot is Jordanian. There was no official comment from Jordan.

The United States and Arab allies launched airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria in September.  (DPA and Haaretz)

10:38 A.M. Suicide bomber kills at least 17 people south of Baghdad, Iraq

A suicide bomber killed 17 people and wounded 33 others in Madaen, 45 km (15 miles) south of Baghdad on Wednesday, Iraq police and medical officials said.

The dead were 14 Sunni pro-government fighters and three soldiers. The bomber blew himself up near a line of pro-government fighters waiting for their salaries, the official said, adding they expected the toll to rise. (Reuters) 

10:18 A.M. Warplane crashes in Syria's Raqqa province in ISIS-controlled territory; cause and identity unconfirmed

A warplane crashed in Syria's Raqqa province in territory controlled by Islamic State militants, a monitoring group said on Wednesday.

The cause of the crash and the identity of the aircraft were unclear. Events in Syria are difficult to confirm because of restricted media access to conflict zones. (Reuters)

2:45 A.M. Australian FM hopeful Egypt will release Al Jazeera journalist

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Wednesday the case of jailed Australian journalist Peter Greste is "under consideration" by high levels of the Egyptian government and she is hopeful of his release by the end of the year.

"I urged (the Egyptian foreign minister) to consider releasing Peter Greste for Christmas, we wanted him out and home as soon as possible," Bishop told the Seven Network. "We've got our fingers crossed, we don't know whether we have secured this yet."

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi suggested in November he was considering pardoning Greste and two other journalists of Qatar-based Al Jazeera television who have been in jail for a year.

The three journalists were sentenced in June to between seven and 10 years jail on charges including spreading lies to help a "terrorist organisation", an allusion to the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Greste and possibly Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy could be pardoned. However, the third journalist, Baher Mohamed, is Egyptian, so would not be expected to benefit.

An appeal for Greste is due to be heard on January 1.

"It would be very exciting if there were some steps taken before then," Bishop said. (AP) 

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