TIME Hong Kong

Fresh Clashes in Hong Kong Between Police and Pro-Democracy Protesters

A pro-democracy protester chants at an occupied area before the barricade is removed in Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on Nov. 25, 2014.
A pro-democracy protester chants at an occupied area before the barricade is removed in Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on Nov. 25, 2014 Kin Cheung—AP

Dozens were arrested including a prominent lawmaker

Hong Kong police charged, and used pepper-spray cannons, on peaceful pro-democracy protesters Tuesday night local time in a bid to clear streets in the Mong Kok district, location of one of city’s three protest areas.

Dozens of people, including firebrand lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, were arrested in clashes that took place in the vicinity of the luxurious Langham Place Hotel, popular with international visitors.

Colorful umbrellas, symbol of what has been termed the Umbrella Revolution, were hurriedly unfurled as mostly young protesters sought to protect themselves from pepper spray.

The atmosphere at the Mong Kok site, in the heart of the teeming Kowloon peninsula, had been tense for several hours after bailiffs dismantled barricades at a key intersection earlier in the day. The bailiffs were enforcing a civil injunction brought by transport companies objecting to the two-month occupation of the area by protesters, who are demanding free elections for this city of 7.2 million.

Scuffles broke out and arrests were made after police accused protesters of obstructing the court order and instructed the crowd — among them high school students still in school uniform — to disperse.

Police in riot gear then spent hours attempting to contain running groups of protesters, who attempted to erect fresh barricades in the densely populated narrow streets leading off Nathan Road, Kowloon’s main north-south thoroughfare. Pepper-spray cannon, mounted on mobile towers, were deployed and used liberally on the crowd.

After a tense standoff on Shantung Street, officers then charged, scattering demonstrators and arresting some who were unable to escape.

Just one block away, hundreds of tents where protesters have been sleeping for weeks remained untouched. A clearance action is expected Wednesday and is almost certain to lead to further clashes. For now, however, the mood on the streets is defiant.

“Police can’t take this all back,” 31-year-old protester Ryan Cheung told TIME. “They don’t have the right and they know they don’t have the right. They say it’s the law but that’s just an excuse.” Cheung said he would remain on the streets “as long as it goes on.”

Besides the Mong Kok site, protesters also occupy a significant portion of the downtown Admiralty district — the city’s largest protest area — with their tents pitched beneath the looming headquarters of the People’s Liberation Army and Central Government Offices. A small site in the Causeway Bay shopping district, popular with tourists, is also occupied.

With reporting by Elizabeth Barber / Hong Kong

TIME Italy

Shakespeare’s City of Love Plans to Build High-Rise Cemetery

The futuristic tower would be Verona's tallest building

An Italian company is planning to build the country’s first high-rise cemetery — a 33 storey tower with space for 24,000 graves — in Verona, the city where Shakespeare set Romeo and Juliet.

Council officials have given initial approval to plans submitted by Cielo Infinito (Infinite Sky), the company which offered €11.5 million ($14.3 million) for a plot of land on the eastern outskirts of the city.

Verona’s main cemetery has been completely encircled by buildings and can no longer expand, a city spokesman told The Times, explaining why the plan won support.

As cities around the world expand and space to bury bodies decreases, other countries have turned to high-rise cemeteries as a solution: the tallest currently stands at 32 storeys in Santos, Brazil, while Israel and India are also planning their own vertical graveyards.

[The Times]

TIME ebola

The U.N. Says It Cannot Meet Its Dec. 1 Target Date for Containing Ebola

TOPSHOTS-SLEONE-HEALTH-EBOLA-WAFRICA
A cemetery at the Kenama Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone run by the Red Cross Society on Nov. 15, 2014 Francisco Leong—AFP/Getty Images

"Intense" transmission of the virus in West Africa, especially in Sierra Leone, continues to bedevil efforts

The U.N. mission responsible for responding to the Ebola outbreak will miss its Dec. 1 target for containing the disease because of rising transmission rates in the West African countries of Sierra Leone and Mali.

Anthony Banbury, the head of the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), told Reuters that though progress has been made in some areas — including in Liberia, one of the countries hardest hit by the current outbreak — setbacks elsewhere have put the mission off its target.

UNMEER said in September that it hoped to have 70% of Ebola patients in treatment, and 70% of Ebola victims safely buried, by the start of next month. But just 13% of Ebola patients have been isolated in Sierra Leone, according to a UNMEER statement.

“Progress is slow and we are falling short, and we need to accelerate our efforts,” said Amadu Kamara, the U.N.’s Ebola crisis manager for Sierra Leone, in a statement.

The Ebola virus has killed some 5,459 people worldwide, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The most recent World Health Organization situation report, released on Friday, describes transmission rates in all three countries as “intense.”

Mali, which was believed to be Ebola-free after a toddler’s death from the virus there in October, said on Monday that an eighth person in the nation had tested positive for the disease.

Still, UNMEER said that it is hopeful that efforts to stop the virus in Mali will benefit from lessons learned in the three nations still reeling from Ebola.

Banbury also told Reuters that Liberia was a bright point in the mission’s efforts to contain the virus.

Liberia’s President expressed optimism at a ceremony on Monday that her country, whose economy has been gutted by the outbreak, could still reach its goal of no new Ebola cases by Christmas.

“We’ve set a pretty tough target,” said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Associated Press reports. “But when you set a target, it means that you stay focused on that target and on that goal.”

TIME Crime

Mexican Cartel Drug Trafficker Sentenced to 22 Years

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman
This Feb. 22, 2014, file photo shows Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, being escorted to a helicopter in Mexico City following his capture overnight in the beach resort town of Mazatlan Eduardo Verdugo—AP

Prosecutors say Alfredo Vasquez-Hernandez is a lieutenant for Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman

Vowing to send a message to drug traffickers around the world, a U.S. judge sentenced Alfredo Vasquez-Hernandez, 59, to 22 years in prison for his role in a billion dollar narcotics trafficking conspiracy.

Hernandez, reputed to be a lieutenant in a Mexican drug cartel led by Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, asked for “forgiveness and pity” moments before the sentence was read out, reports the Associated Press.

Chief U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo was unmoved, however. “I tell you on behalf of all citizens of Chicago … we are tired of this drug trafficking,” he said.

Hernandez pleaded guilty of possessing heroin and cocaine with intent to distribute. However, his attorney, Paul Brayman, requested the minimum 10-year sentence, maintaining that “anything more … is a death sentence,” considering his client’s advanced years.

The prosecution relied primarily on the testimony of twins Pedro and Margarito Flores, former associates of the Sinaloa cartel turned government witnesses. They portrayed Hernandez as a close aide who helped Guzman move tons of illicit drugs from Mexico to Chicago within furniture cargo.

In mitigation, Brayman said Hernandez was merely an auto-mechanic caught in a one-off drug deal while the testimony of the Flores twins could not trusted, as they had to have cut a deal with prosecutors.

Castillo maintained that while the legitimacy of what the twins said could be called into question, it was not the ranking of Hernandez within the cartel that mattered. The judge also questioned the portrayal of Hernandez as an hapless auto-repairman caught in the act for which he was extradited to Chicago in 2012.

“I am not going to sit here … and think for one second this was the first time you happened to do this,” said Castillo.

After hearing the sentence, Gabriel Vasquez, the 43-year-old son of Hernandez, told reporters his father was “not the monster that everyone says he is,” and that the sentence was too harsh.

[Associated Press]

TIME Asia

More Barricades Come Down at Hong Kong Democracy Protests

City bailiffs encounter no major opposition

Hong Kong bailiffs dismantled barricades at a major intersection in the Mong Kok protest area on Tuesday.

The site, on the teeming Kowloon peninsula, is one of three urban locations that have been occupied for almost two months by protesters demanding free elections for this city of 7.2 million.

Workers in white hard hats started taking down barricades at the intersection of Nathan Road and Argyle Street on Tuesday morning. Many activists did not resist but simply retreated with their tents and belongings to the main part of the site, which stretches for several blocks down Nathan Road and remains untouched. However, scuffles also broke out, pepper spray was used and about a dozen protesters were arrested for obstructing the bailiffs in their work, including Liberal Hong Kong politician Leung “Long hair” Kwok-Hung.

One-way traffic has now resumed on Argyle Street, but protesters and onlookers have spilled into adjoining roads. Police presence remains high in the area, with officers warning people to leave. Further clearance operations are expected in the coming days.

This morning’s action was taken in order to enforce a civil injunction granted to a bus company and two taxi companies, who successfully argued in court that the barricades at the intersection were obstructing their business.

Similar legal means were used last week to force the removal of some barricades at the fringes of the main protest site in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong Island.

Critics of the authorities say the reliance on private litigation to restore order is a sign of the government’s weakness.

“I think this is a political problem that the government is not solving with politics,” said a 50-year-old retiree, who only identified himself by his surname Lim.

Unique among Hong Kong’s three protest sites, Mong Kok is not just a commercial area but a high-density residential neighborhood as well.

Currently dozens, perhaps hundreds, of colorful tents still festoon both sides of Nathan Road, completely blocking the main thoroughfare through the district. Protesters have set up a study area, makeshift library, supply tents, first-aid posts and even an elaborate altar to the martial deity Guan Yu.

Many of the area’s mostly blue-collar residents have complained bitterly about the disruption the protest is causing to their daily lives, generating heated arguments and scuffles with the protesters on a daily basis. The area is thus seen as the “front line” of the Hong Kong protests and attracts a more radical brand of demonstrator than the other protest zones, as well as their more vociferous opponents.

For these reasons, any attempt to clear the Mong Kok site completely could easily spill over into clashes.

On Oct. 17, police cleared the site in the morning, only for thousands of supporters to reclaim it after nightfall. That night, and ones before that, were marred with scattered violence.

“If they remove this roadblock, we will come back soon,” said a nurse who identified himself as Siu at the protest site in Mong Kok.

While recent polls have shown that a majority of the city’s residents now think that the occupations should end, it appears that large numbers of protesters have no intention of withdrawing.

With reporting by Helen Regan and David Stout / Hong Kong

TIME Military

New Defense Secretary, Same Old Strategy

Obama Announces Resignation Of Chuck Hagel As Defense Secretary
President Obama listens as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announces he is resigning after less than two years as defense chief. Alex Wong / Getty Images

Hagel's sudden departure fixes the wrong problem—the lack of a clear, achievable ISIS strategy

Last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel declared that the U.S. war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria was on track. “There’s no official review of any of the decisions that the President has made, or strategy,” Hagel told Charlie Rose.

This week, he’s out of his Pentagon job, even as the same old Obama Anti-ISIS Express continues barreling down that track.

So how much change can be expected following Hagel’s announcement Monday that he is leaving the Defense Department’s top civilian post after 20 months? Or, by handing Hagel his walking papers, is President Obama now suggesting his ISIS strategy is fine?

Washington immediately began debating the reasons for Hagel’s surprising departure. Obama supporters argued that Hagel’s low-key demeanor made him a good choice two years ago, when the issues were winding down wars and budget cuts, but ill-fitted to the offensive U.S. military push ISIS now needs. His backers blamed an insular National Security staff that shut him out of key decisions that led to bad blood between the White House and Pentagon.

Current and former Obama Administration officials say the problem was more policy than personnel. The roots of the problem, they say, are closer to the Oval Office—involving close-hold decision-making by Obama, Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough and National Security Adviser Susan Rice—than at the Pentagon.

“Not sure what kind of Kool-Aid they are drinking if they think that getting rid of Hagel—and not the National Security Advisor who’s flailing to handle the [ISIS] problem—is going to make things better,” one former Obama Administration official says.

Hagel’s leaving “is not an obvious fix for what seems to be ailing the administration,” says Peter Feaver, a civil-military relations expert at Duke University. When President George W. Bush eased out Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2006 (also following a White House drubbing in midterm elections), it included changing strategy by sending a surge of U.S. troops into Iraq.

“But there doesn’t seem to be any interest in the Obama administration to change the strategy,” Feaver adds. “What we have here is a change in personnel, without a change in policy.”

Retired Army general Jack Keane, who advocated for the surge in Iraq, says the White House has meddled with Pentagon prerogatives as the ISIS threat has grown over the past year, including videotaped beheadings of five Westerners, three of them American. “The policy is wrong and Hagel was pushing back on it,” Keane says, confirming what some Pentagon officials say privately.

Defense officials say White House meetings on dealing with ISIS often ended without a decision, which would be made later by Obama, aided by National Security Advisor Susan Rice and her deputy, Ben Rhodes. “That’s very frustrating for a secretary of defense,” Keane adds, “who feels on the outside when it comes to issues that are in their domain.”

Rice has long been a target inside the administration, even as she garnered sympathy as a Congressional scapegoat in the post-Benghazi hullaballoo. “The problems reach much higher than the secretary of defense,” a second Obama national-security aide said.

Much of Capitol Hill concurs. “The President needs to realize that the real source of his current failures on national security more often lie with his Administration’s misguided policies and the role played by his White House in devising and implementing them,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said. He’s the likely next chairman of the Armed Services Committee, which will confirm Hagel’s successor. “That is the real change we need right now,” McCain said in a statement.

Hagel fought for a tougher approach in Syria, and wrote a recent memo to Rice calling for more clarity about dictator Bashar Assad’s fate. Assad’s continued hold on power has bedeviled U.S. strategy toward ISIS, which is one of several rebel groups seeking to overthrown him. “Hagel had been a bit more hawkish on Syria,” Feaver says. “Perhaps replacing him is an indication that the President’s not going to be moving in a more hawkish direction there.”

Fat chance. Republican lawmakers are making clear following Hagel’s announcement that they want a new strategy for dealing with ISIS, as well as a new secretary of Defense.

– With reporting by Zeke Miller

TIME Iran

Why Iran and the U.S. Need Each Other More Than Ever

Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif before a meeting in Vienna, Nov. 23, 2014.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif before a meeting in Vienna, Nov. 23, 2014. Ronald Zak—Reuters

Once, each needed the other to be their defining enemy. Now, both sides need the other to help resolve a freshly delayed nuclear deal

Even in the absence of a deal, word that talks between Iran and six world powers will continue for another seven months make plain a startling new reality: Iran and the United States now need each other.

That has been true for three decades, of course, but during that time what each found in the other was a reliable enemy. After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the ayatollahs who took control in Iran built their entire world view around opposition to the United States, which had propped up the Shah the masses sent packing (and helped engineer a coup against an elected Iranian government in 1953). The presence of the Great Satan allowed the mullahs’ vision to emerge – of a world defined by the teachings of Islam, as interpreted by themselves alone, and free of “Western toxification.” From the U.S. side, the 444-day takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, and holding of 52 American hostages, has made the Islamic Republic the country’s go-to villain for more than a generation.

But grudges aren’t all there is to politics. Interests often trump feelings, and Tehran and Washington share a deep interest in reconciling the future of Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

The stakes for the U.S. are plain enough: Barring Iran from the means to develop a nuclear weapon undetected would not only keep a doomsday weapon from a historically radical regime, but also prevent a nuclear arms race in the world’s most reliably volatile region. And now that U.S. troops are back in Baghdad, and poised to remain in Afghanistan past the original Dec. 31, 2014 deadline, the Obama administration needs a clear foreign policy “win” more than ever.

Iran’s interests are not hard to see either – at least some of them aren’t. It wants to avoid being drawn into conflict, and, more immediately, wants relief from the devastating economic sanctions that Obama marshaled to coerce Tehran to the bargaining table. In an economy 80% controlled directly by the state, the estimated $100 billion lost so far has been a body blow to the regime. Among the losers is the financially rapacious Revolutionary Guard, an ideological military wrapped up with economic interests. Iran’s treasury is also stretched supporting its Hizballah and its ally Syria in that country’s civil war while oil prices plummet.

Iran may be wondering whether it even needs to become a nuclear state. It is coming off a string of battlefield successes, including a little-noticed takeover of Yemen by the Shiite al-Haouthi tribe supported by Tehran, and is fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in Iraq, where it wields huge influence. “We in the axis of resistance are the new sultans of the Mediterranean and the Gulf,” the Iranian analyst Sadiq Al-Hosseini said on state television Sept. 4. At this rate, getting The Bomb might seem like an unnecessary hassle.

At the same time, pressure for a deal only builds among Iran’s youthful population—over 60% of whom are aged 30 or under—and the mullahs fear their own people as any government does. That’s been in evidence since the surprise first-round election of Hassan Rouhani as president last year, on a platform of ending Iran’s international isolation, and could be seen as recently as mid-November, when hundreds of thousands of young people gathered to mourn a pop singer, in a potent reminder of the lasting potential for spontaneous demonstrations and the appetite of youth for connection.

“If that is not a big referendum on the status quo, I don’t know what is,” says Abbas Milani, head of Iranian studies at Stanford University. “Things like this happen on a daily basis, and I think Rouhani has recognized that the society has already moved.”

Other observers see the glass as half empty, or even less. Ray Takeyh, who follows Iran for the Council on Foreign Relations, agrees that, unlike previous negotiations, the mullahs have signaled ownership of the process: “This negotiating team is not called ‘the negotiating team,’” he notes. “It’s called ‘children of the Revolution.’’’ But whatever interests the U.S. and Iran may share, he says, are overwhelmed by those they don’t.

“Arms control agreements are based on trust,” Takeyh says. “Each side has to trust the other. When they don’t trust each other, they both demand reversible steps that prevent years-old enmity from evaporating. I think that’s the reason you can’t get an arms control agreement. I think they both want to solve the nuclear issue, but at this point on terms that are unacceptable to each other.”

Still, they are talking, and holding to the terms of their previous agreement for seven more months. That might not be long enough to repair three decades of mistrust — but it might yet be enough to find that elusive patch of common ground on which to build a deal.

Read next: Iran Nuclear Talks to Be Extended Until July

TIME Turkey

Turkish President Says Men and Women Are Not Equal

It's not the first time he's publicly said something offensive

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has caused a controversy by saying women and men are not equal—at a women’s justice summit.

“You cannot put women and men on an equal footing,” Erdogan said. “It is against nature. They were created differently. Their nature is different. Their constitution is different.”

He went on to say that feminists do not understand how the Muslim faith honors mothers: “Our religion regards motherhood very highly. Feminists don’t understand that, they reject motherhood.”

This is not the first time Erdogan has gotten attention for saying something offensive about women. In the past, he has said that women should have least three kids, and he has tried to outlaw abortion, the Associated Press reports.

He also recently caused a stir by arguing that Muslims were the first to discover the Americas.

[AP]

Read next: Vote Now: Who Should Be TIME’s Person of the Year?

TIME South Africa

South Africa’s Ruling ANC Looks to Learn from Chinese Communist Party

Then-South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing last year. Motlanthe has been announced as the principal of the planned ANC leadership school.
Then-South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing last year. Getty Images

The party of Nelson Mandela has chosen the site for a new school that will be based on Chinese Communist Party political education

Most South Africans don’t visit Venterskroon, a former gold-mining town, unless they are going there on vacation. It was the site of an inconclusive battle between the British and the Boers in 1900 but today the handful of mostly white landowners harvest pecan nuts or raise cattle while vacationers trek in the bush and fish in the Vaal River.

But the sleepy Afrikaner village is about to be transformed. It is slated to become the home of the African National Congress’ (ANC) new political leadership school, a project inspired and financed by the Communist Party of China, a burgeoning partnership of ruling parties on different continents that is causing concern in South Africa and beyond.

The ANC Political School and Policy Institute, which will include a swimming pool, halls, a fitness center, a pharmacy and a small shopping center, is due to be built on what is now a farm, which the ANC bought in 2010. Construction has been postponed while funding and planning issues are addressed.

The ANC says the institute will be modelled on the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong in Shanghai, one of the Communist Party’s leadership and governance schools where party members and foreign guests attend classes on “revolutionary traditions,” learning everything from Marxist theory to media management.

In July, a Chinese delegation led by Tian Xuejun, China’s ambassador to South Africa, travelled to Venterskroon to see the site. They met with ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe and Nathi Mthethwa, South Africa’s Minister of Arts and Culture and the ANC’s Chairman of Political Education, to discuss $75 million in funding. (The Chinese embassy in South Africa did not respond to requests for comment.)

“We’ve been talking to people around the world, our friends; the Communist Party of China is one of those,” says Mthethwa. “We said to them, ‘Now look, we know that you have a political school, how did you start it?'”

The ANC’s courting of China has caused concern in the West. “In the worst case scenario, Chinese money in significant amounts and influence could tip the ANC in the wrong direction,” says Peter Pham, Africa analyst at the Washington-based Atlantic Council. “With the ANC being the way it is, if there is a heavy hand in the support, potentially it could result in shifts in governmental policy.”

The domination of South African politics by the ANC, and its members, known as cadres, can make South Africa seem like a one-party state, says Patrick Heller, international studies professor at Brown University. “Like any party in power for too long — the ANC has won every election since 1994 with over 60% of the vote — the ANC has amassed a tremendous amount of power. That power is increasingly centralized. That party itself is increasingly less accountable,” says Heller. “It’s hard to think of any better example of a cadre-based political party than the Chinese Communist Party but it’s the wrong model because at the end of the day it’s an authoritarian one,” he says. “Developing close personal relationships between the ANC and the Communist Party of China means you’re basically greasing the wheels and making it easier for the Chinese state and Chinese entrepreneurs. That is definitely not good. You want good bureaucratic management of these issues, not crony capitalism.”

As far as China is concerned, says Alexander Beresford, African politics lecturer at the University of Leeds, funding the ANC’s political school does not violate its non-interference policy, as the relationship is at a party-to-party level. “It’s not necessarily regular state-to-state relationships, Pretoria to Beijing style, but having other channels of influence,” says Beresford. “Exploiting these party-to-party channels gives it a strategic advantage over Western powers.”

China has been reaching out to ruling parties in other African countries also. In his book China and Africa: A Century of Engagement, former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn chronicles how China has offered political education training for parties including Tanzania’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, Zimbabwe’s ZANU-PF and Namibia’s SWAPO. “It is provided at the request of African ruling parties,” says Shinn. “They may still prefer elements of Marxist-Leninist organizational structure, or at a minimum, the once-popular philosophy of African socialism.” The arrangement is usually an exclusive one. “China does not provide similar training for African opposition political parties,” says Shinn. In return, China wins friends and favors, he says, gaining “influence at the highest levels of government.”

The school is part of a bigger ANC strategy to counter the widespread corruption and nepotism the party has seen since Nelson Mandela was elected the country’s first black president in 1994. The ANC declared 2013-2023 the “decade of the cadre,” with the goal of putting every party member through some kind of political school. “Every cadre of the movement must have integrity for our people to have confidence,” said Mantashe in a 2013 ANC newsletter. “We must be bold in dealing with deviant behaviour.”

Whether the political training will help South Africa and other African governments end corruption in government is a different question. China has a network of political schools and yet it is still experiencing massive graft scandals involving senior officials.

The ANC is prepared to take that risk. And it will do so no matter what its critics say. The ANC’s partnership with China’s Communist Party, Mthethwa says, is its own business: “Nobody will dictate to us who our friends are.”

TIME

Iran Nuclear Talks to Be Extended Until July

Officials sit around the negotiations table during their meeting in Vienna
Officials sit around the negotiations table during their meeting in Vienna on Nov. 24, 2014. Joe Klamar—Reuters

The move gives both sides breathing space to work out an agreement but may be badly received by domestic skeptics

(VIENNA) — Facing still significant differences between the U.S. and Iran, negotiators gave up on last-minute efforts to get a nuclear deal by the Monday deadline and extended their talks for another seven months.

The move gives both sides breathing space to work out an agreement but may be badly received by domestic skeptics, since it extends more than a decade of diplomatic efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear prowess.

International negotiators are worried that Iran is using its nuclear development program as a cover for developing nuclear weapons and they have imposed economic sanctions on Tehran. Iran denies the charge, saying it is only interested peaceful nuclear programs like producing power.

After a frenetic six days of diplomacy in Vienna, negotiators agreed Monday to nail down by March 1 what needs to be done by Iran and the six world powers it is negotiating with and by when. A final agreement is meant to follow four months later.

Comments by key players in the talks suggested not much was agreed on in Vienna beyond the decision to keep talking. The next negotiating round was set for early December but the venue is unclear.

The decision appears to benefit Iran. Its nuclear program is left frozen but intact, without any of the cuts sought by the U.S. And while negotiations continue, so will dole-outs of monthly $700 million in frozen funds that began under the temporary nuclear deal agreed on late last year that led to the present talks.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the sides were giving themselves until March to agree on a text “that sets out in layman’s language what we have agreed to do.” Experts then will be given another four months to “translate that into precise definitions of what will happen on the ground,” he told reporters.

Even the new deadline for a final deal was not immediately clear, with negotiators saying it was July 1, and Hammond fixing it at June 30.

Past talks have often ended on an acrimonious note, with each side blaming the other for lack of a deal. But mindful of hard discussions ahead, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry focused on praise, in an apparent attempt to maintain a relatively cordial atmosphere at the negotiating table.

Kerry, who arrived Thursday and met repeatedly with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif, said Zarif “worked diligently and approached these negotiations in good faith.”

“We have made real and substantial progress and we have seen new ideas surface,” he told reporters. “Today we are closer to a deal that will make the whole world, especially our allies in Israel and the Gulf, safer.”

Hammond and other foreign ministers of the six powers also sought to put a good face on what was achieved. Hammond spoke of “significant progress,” while German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said only differences about “technical details” remained.

But the length of the extension suggested that both sides felt plenty of time was needed to overcome the disputes on how much Iran needed to restrict nuclear activities that could be used to make weapons in exchange for relief from sanctions imposed over its nuclear program.

“All the people involved here feel that there really is a chance to find out a way to each other and we are going to take that chance,” Steinmeier said about the decision to extend.

But obstacles far from the negotiating table could complicate the process.

Members of the new Republican-controlled U.S. Congress that will be sworn in in January have already threatened to impose additional sanctions on Iran and may well have enough votes to overturn an expected veto of such legislation by President Barack Obama.

New sanctions could very well derail the talks, as Iran has signaled they would be a deal breaker, and Kerry appealed to Congress to “support … this extension.”

In Tehran, hardliners fearful that their country could give away more than it gets under any final deal could increase pressure on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to break off talks. The talks extension, however, appears to have the approval of Khamenei, who is the ultimate arbiter in his country.

Among other issues, the two sides are haggling over how many — and what kind — of centrifuges Iran should be allowed to have. The machines can enrich uranium from low, reactor-fuel level, up to grades used to build the core of a nuclear weapon, and their output grows according to how modern they are.

Washington wants deeper and more lasting cuts in the program than Tehran is willing to give.

Suggesting some movement on enrichment differences, Kerry told reporters, “Progress was made on some of the most vexing challenges that we face.”

An extension was widely expected as the deadline approached with neither side having the appetite for new confrontation that would renew the threat of military action against Iran by Israel and potentially the U.S. as well as tighten the sanctions regime on Tehran.

Alluding to that alternative, Kerry declared: “We would be fools to walk away.”

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