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Sanctions removal talks

The remaining parties to the 2015 agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), are set to resume negotiations in an effort to revive it. This will be the eighth round of talks in Vienna between Iran and the P4+1 group, Britain, France, Russia, and China plus Germany, since April. The US, an initial party to the JCPOA, is not directly involved in the talks. Washington says it wants to rejoin the agreement after unilaterally abandoning it in 2018. Iran, however, says this is only possible if the US verifiably removes all sanctions imposed against it after Washington's withdrawal from the deal. Tehran also wants assurances that the other side will not leave the agreement again. The Iranian foreign minister says the issues of guarantees and verification are the main points of the new discussions.

Missile crisis warning

Russia again warns about a missile crisis amid a standoff with Western powers over Ukraine. Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, says Moscow considers the threat of a new missile crisis as serious. The warning comes just after Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country has different options in response to NATO’s eastward expansion. The tensions over Ukraine have been simmering as the US and NATO accuse Russia of preparing to invade the country. Moscow blames NATO for the border tensions. Earlier this month, Russia said it may be forced to deploy mid-range nuclear missiles in Europe in response to what it sees as NATO's plans to do the same. 

COVID-19 cases surge among children in US

The US state of New York reports a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations among children as the Omicron variant of the disease spreads rapidly across the country. The State Department of Health says there is a four-fold increase in hospital admissions for children below 18 in New York City alone. It also says children under five account for half of the admissions there. This comes as the United States has seen a rise in daily infections, registering an average of around 190,000 new cases over the last week. The spike, which is largely blamed on Omicron, has been intensified by family gatherings and travels during the holiday season. Meanwhile, the country is grappling with a shortage of COVID-19 tests. The testing problem has also put the government under fire as many tests are unavailable until January.

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