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Iranian Foreign Minister Says Nuclear Talks 'Accomplished Quite a Bit'

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images(LAUSANNE, Switzerland) -- The foreign minister of Iran said Tuesday night negotiators "accomplished quite a bit" and he hopes that the process of drafting an agreement can begin Wednesday.

"We've accomplished quite a bit, but people needed to get some rest and start over early in the morning," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said. "And I hope we can finalize the work on Wednesday -- and hopefully begin the process of drafting tomorrow."

Zarif has previously stumped for compromise between Iran and the P5 1 nations.

 

In negotiations, both sides must show flexibility.We have, and are ready to make a good deal for all.We await our counterparts' readiness.

— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) March 28, 2015

 

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Iraqi PM Celebrates 'Liberation' of Tikrit from ISIS Control

State Dept photo(TIKRIT, Iraq) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi announced on his Twitter account Tuesday that Iraqi Security Forces had retaken the city of Tikrit from ISIS forces.

In his tweet, Abadi called the city's "liberation" a "historic milestone." He also congratulated Iraqi forces and volunteers for their work to retake Tikrit.

 

PM Al-Abadi announces the liberation of Tikrit and congratulates Iraqi security forces and popular volunteers on the historic milestone

— Haider Al-Abadi (@HaiderAlAbadi) March 31, 2015



Just last week, the U.S.-led coalition had agreed to conduct airstrikes and offer additional support near the city.

The U.S. Department of Defense did not confirm the city's liberation in its statement, saying only that it could "confirm [Iraqi Security Forces'] advancement into Tikrit to liberate the city center as well as other parts of the city from [ISIS]."

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WHO, Iraq Ministry of Health Deny Report of Ebola in Iraq

Marcio Silva/iStock/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) -- The World Health Organization and the Iraqi Ministry of Health on Monday denied reports of an Ebola case in Iraq.

"The World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health of Iraq did not verify the information appeared in BASNews on 28 March alluding to the appearance of an Ebola case in Abu Gharib," a WHO press release read. After investigating, the WHO and the MOH Iraq "denied the presence of Ebola in Iraq."

The release further denies the report from BASNews, saying that no laboratory in Iraq has the technical capacity to confirm Ebola, the release reads.

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NASA Shows Off Mars Flying Saucer Technology

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech(NEW YORK) -- A flying saucer could one day help a manned mission to Mars make a gentle landing on the surface of the Red Planet.

NASA showed off its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator Tuesday during a live broadcast from its Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Weighing in at 7,000 pounds and measuring 15 feet wide, the spacecraft underwent a spin test on a table to show off its capability.

Spinning an object keeps it pointed in one direction, and the saucer is equipped with a rocket to slow it down.

The technology could be crucial for Mars exploration since it will decelerate heavy landers traveling at supersonic speeds through Mars' thin atmosphere. The drag device could one day help humans, their cargo and their return rockets safely reach the Red Planet.

After Tuesday's test, the next step for the vehicle will be in June when it will blast off on a test into near-space from the Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, NASA officials said.

Testing the vehicle in the thin air of Earth's stratosphere this summer is the nearest "local" test to see how the flying saucer fares in Martian-like conditions.

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Reports of NASA, Russia Cooperation to Build New Space Station Are False

NASA(NEW YORK) -- Reports that Russia and NASA would work together to build a new space station are untrue, the space agency said in a statement Tuesday.

Over the weekend, reports had surfaced that indicated that Russia and NASA would work together to build a new space station by the time the International Space Station is set to be retired in 2024. NASA seemed to deny those reports on Tuesday, saying that the agency is "pleased Roscosmos wants to continue full use of the International Space Station through 2024...and expressed interest in continuing international cooperation for human space exploration beyond that."

The NASA statement also mentioned a planned human mission to Mars in the 2030s, for which the recently launched one-year mission involving astronaut Scott Kelly will help the agency prepare.

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Germanwings Co-Pilot Told Airline He Had 'Previous Episode of Severe Depression'

Flight Aware / ABC News(COLOGNE, Germany) -- Lufthansa issued a statement Tuesday afternoon confirming that the co-pilot of the crashed Germanwings plane had informed them of his medical history during his training.

The airline said they handed those files over to investigators.

In the statement, Lufthansa confirmed that Andreas Lubitz had taken a break "for several months" during his training and when he returned in 2009, he submitted forms "about a 'previous episode of severe depression.'"

In spite of that admission, he went on to receive "the medical certificate confirming his fitness to fly" and he went on to complete his training and earn a spot as a co-pilot for Germanwings, a subsidiary of Lufthansa.

Lubitz's medical history is one of the main areas of inquiry for investigators after he allegedly locked his captain out of the cockpit and proceeded to crash a plane into the French Alps.

All 150 on board, including Lubitz, died.

Lufthansa also said that the medical and training documents have been submitted to the Dusseldorf Public Prosecutor.

The extent of Lubitz's psychological issues has not been fully revealed, though Dusseldorf prosecutor Christoph Kumpa said on Monday that Lubitz had been treated by a psychotherapist prior to the completion of his flight training for suicidal tendencies.

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Here's How Bad Internet Access Is in Cuba

Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesREPORTER'S NOTEBOOK by Serena Marshall

(HAVANA) -- The Internet in Cuba is bad -- really, really bad.

Imagine you are back in 2001 and set your computer up to download one, single song off Napster while you are at school all day. It's that kind of bad.

I just got back from Cuba for ABC News’ continuing coverage following the announcement of the renewal of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the island nation. One of the first things I expected to see changed, even before the embargo gets lifted, was Internet access.

Just to illustrate how bad it seems for an American used to fast connectivity: I was uploading a photo to send to our digital team -- a beautiful photo of the historic city we wanted to use for one of our digital stories. The file was around 30 MB. It took nearly an hour to upload it to Google Drive.

When I returned home, that same file took less than five seconds to upload.

It’s no surprise Cuba is considered the “least connected” country in the Americas, with the Geneva-based ITU ranking the country 125th out of 166 countries worldwide in telecommunications development.

But officials want to change that. With the new U.S. diplomatic relations working toward normalization, a senior U.S. State Department official told members of the media on Monday that Cuba has "real potential" and that, as a member of the United Nations International Communications Union, wants to see 50 percent of households have Internet access by 2020.

“There is real potential here as long as there is a will on the Cuban side,” the official said. "So as long as the Cubans create an environment that's attractive to investment and attractive to deployment and attractive to the delivery of services, I believe that services will reach the island."

In early March, executives from Google visited Cuba for the second time.

Currently, roughly 5 percent of Cubans can access the Internet from home. The only way to get Internet access for most Cubans is to visit a government-run Internet location and pay $5 per hour -- prohibitively expensive for most in the island nation. Those who can afford it often wait for hours to gain access to one of the government-run sites.

The U.S. sent a delegation to Cuba to discuss telecommunications as part of the talks last week. And President Obama announced connectivity as a priority, naming telecommunications equipment, technology and services among the first exemptions to the embargo.

While Internet connectivity moves forward slowly, this American reporter is most looking forward to Internet on a cellphone -- you know, being able to read email on the iPhone.

Hopefully, by the time we go back next month, Internet speeds will be a little better. Probably not, but here is looking to the future.

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Iran's Influence: Far Beyond Its Borders

iStock/Thinkstock(TEHRAN, Iran) -- Whether it's the Iranian-backed Houthis now in direct conflict with a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, or taking the lead of the Shia militias fighting the militant group ISIS in Iraq, the complexity of the relationship between the United States and Iran stretches far beyond the negotiating table in Switzerland.

As headlines continue to surface detailing Iranian intervention in conflicts throughout the Middle East, its relationship with the U.S. grows further complicated.

To learn more about Iran’s heightened activity in the region, watch the ABC News Global Affairs digital original video below:

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Stage Set for Historic Meeting Between Obama and Raul Castro

FEDERICO PARRA/AFP/Getty Images/ Pete Souza / The White House(WASHINGTON) -- The United States and Cuba are set to mark a historic milestone next week with President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro poised to share the stage at the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama.

It will be the first scheduled meeting between leaders of the two countries in nearly 60 years.

In advance of the historic meeting, ABC News sat down with Josefina Vidal, the head diplomat representing Cuba in negotiations with the United States in the months following Obama’s announcement in December that the U.S. would normalize relations with the Communist island.

In what she described as a “new era” of relations between the two neighboring countries, Vidal said one of the biggest challenges is to move beyond the distrust that was built over 54 years of severed ties.

"We still have to overcome it, so it's a process,” Vidal said, “because we haven't had that confidence for many years…But the idea is to get there.”

While Obama has publicly stated that one of the United States’ primary goals in engaging anew with Cuba and more directly affect change in the Communist country, which according to the U.S. government is riddled with human rights abuses, Vidal said she does not view the stated American goal as a threat.

“We know that this is the way the United States government presents its policy toward Cuba, but what we believe is that we can respect each other's differences and at the same time work together on issues of common interest as neighbors,” Vidal said.

"The best way to achieve this kind of new relationship is that we both open up,” Vidal added.

It’s a perspective shared by former Cuban President Fidel Castro, Vidal said, while qualifying with a laugh that he has “many reasons to have suspicions” of the U.S. government.

“He has said very clearly that the president of Cuba [Raul Castro] has the prerogative to do what he has been doing on matters concerning U.S.-Cuban relations,” Vidal said of the retired president. “He believes…that confidence has to be built between Cuba and the United States, because this is what has been lacking.”

Obama called on Congress to lift the trade embargo with Cuba in his State of the Union Address in January. And though the Congress has resisted the president’s call, Vidal said Cuba is preparing to attract investment within its existing Communist framework once its embargo is lifted.

“We need investment in Cuba,” Vidal said. “We have been studying what a small country like Singapore has been doing…but in summary, it’s going to be a Cuban Model.”

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WATCH: Sheepdog Drone Keeps Sheep in Line

Hemera/Thinkstock(CARLOW, Ireland) -- Drones are making headlines in the U.S. for possibly being able to deliver your Amazon products to your door but in Ireland, the 21st century technology is being used to solve an age-old task: sheep herding.

A video with over 290,000 views on YouTube shows what is billed as the “world’s first drone sheepdog” herding a flock of sheep in Carlow, Ireland.

The video shows the sheep following the drone, named “Shep,” in every direction as it flies just above their heads.

The nearly one-minute video was posted by Paul Brennan.

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Massive Blackout Plunges Turkey into Darkness

Ali Atmaca/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(ISTANBUL) — A massive nationwide power-outage has struck Turkey, causing travel chaos in major cities and leaving roughly three-quarters of the country with limited electricity.

The blackout -- the worst in Turkey for over a decade -- has affected around 40 provinces. In Istanbul traffic lights and much of the city’s subway went dark after power stopped around 10:30 a.m. Local airports were forced to close and flights are disrupted.

Engen Bas, an Istanbul-based journalist working for ABC News, said that most major public facilities were running on backup generators and that internet coverage was also down in some places.

The reason for the blackout is so far unexplained. With officials only able to speculate, rumors of cyber-attacks and terror threats quickly appeared. Turkish prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said that the most likely cause was problems with transmission lines but said he could not rule out terrorism.

“This is not an incident we see frequently,” said energy minister, Yaner Yildiz, currently on an official visit to Slovakia.

“Whether or not terrorism is a high possibility or a low I can’t say at this stage. I can’t say either whether it’s a cyber-attack,” he told Turkish TV.


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Iran Nuclear Talks: As Deadline Nears, Sticking Points Fester

iStock/Thinkstock(LAUSANNE, Switzerland) -- With just over 24 hours until the deadline for negotiating parties to come to a political understanding about ending Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the most contentious issues within the talks have yet to be resolved.

Negotiators still have not reached an agreement on how many centrifuges might remain online at Iran’s deep-buried Fordo nuclear reactor, whether or not Iran will be allowed to continue nuclear research and development for scientific purposes, and what to do with the stockpile of enriched uranium it already owns, officials said Monday.

In what many observers see as a downgrade from the optimistic outlook at the end of last week, State Department spokesman Marie Harf said there’s a "50/50" chance a tentative deal could be reached. Speaking to reporters Monday in a teleconference from Lausanne, Switzerland, Harf said the mood is “serious” but that “there is still a path” to a deal.

“It’s like moving puzzle pieces around,” Harf said. “We have to find the right combination.”

Though the next deadline expires Tuesday, there is nothing that says the talks would have to stop if that deadline passes, according to the State Department. The November Joint Plan of Action technically extends through June 30.

“On April 1st, it’s not like something happens,” Harf said.

It's unclear, however, that talks would continue if a tentative deal is not reached by March 31.

Secretary of State John Kerry is in Switzerland leading the negotiations. State Department officials said he had hoped to be back in Boston on Monday for a dedication ceremony at the new Edward Kennedy Institute, honoring the late senator from Massachusetts, who was a close colleague and friend of Kerry’s.

President Obama explained Kerry’s absence at the ceremony, then quoted John F. Kennedy in summing up the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

"Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate," Obama said.

Meanwhile, at the White House, spokesman Eric Schultz addressed some of the sticking points in the negotiations, pushing back on reports that Iran has reneged on its pledge to export much of its stockpile.

“The idea that there had been an agreement that Iran backed away from is not true,” Schultz said. “Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.”


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Turkish Airlines Flight Diverted Over Threat

Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images(ISTANBUL) -- A Turkish Airlines flight was diverted on Monday over a false bomb threat.

The flight, TK15 from Istanbul to Sao Paulo, was diverted to Casablanca, Morocco, after the threat was made, according to a spokesperson for the airline.

While at the airport, passengers were taken off the plane while an explosives search was carried out.

The plane was later cleared by authorities and allowed to continue on to Brazil.

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Pack of Stray Dogs Stand Guard at Animal Lover's Funeral

Patricia Urrutia(NEW YORK) -- A woman who spent her life caring for stray dogs received an unexpected -- and surprising -- tribute from the animals when she died.

At the funeral for Margarita Suárez in Cuernavaca Morelos, Mexico, there was a pack of stray dogs who came inside the funeral home to stand guard.

Suárez's daughter, Patricia Urrutia, told ABC News that they were shocked but delighted by the appearance of the canine celebrants.

Adding to the other-worldliness of the situation was the fact that these stray dogs were not even the same ones that her 71-year-old mother had helped during her lifetime. Suárez lived in Merida Yucatan, but her funeral service was in a town more than 830 miles away, her daughter said.

"They stayed with my mother all day, and then at night they all stayed -- but in the morning when we planned to move my mother for cremation all that remained was one, but then when we arrived at the location to cremate my mother they all came again," Urrutia told ABC News.

She said that the dogs do not normally hang around the funeral home, and that workers there had never seen anything like it before.

"My mom has always been good with all animals and people," Urrutia said. "Always fed the dogs on her block and the 20 stray cats that lived there."

Urrutia posted photos of the scene on her Facebook profile on March 15 and the moving images have been shared across the Internet. As of Monday morning, the post has been shared more than 50,000 times on Facebook and has received more than 192,100 likes.

Urrutia said that the dogs' presence helped her through the difficult day, and it was an unexpected message that she will always remember.

"When I was in a moment of so much pain these dogs that came, they showed me that everything was going to be okay," Urrutia told ABC.

"Because of them we were happy," Urrutia added. "They made a sad situation an incredible one."

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Germanwings Co-Pilot Previously Had Suicidal Thoughts, Prosecutor Says

ABC News / Flight Aware(DUSSELDORF, Germany) — Prosecutors in Germany said Monday that the co-pilot of the downed Germanwings plane had been treated by a psychotherapist because of previous suicidal tendencies.

Dusseldorf prosecutor Christoph Kumpa's update came six days after authorities say Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately flew the jetliner into a mountain. Kumpa said that they still do not know the motive of the crash and they have not found a suicide note.

"We have found medical documentation that showed no organic medical illness," Kumpa said.

Few details have been revealed about the psychotherapy in question except that it reportedly occurred before Lubitz received his pilots license, which happened in 2013.

The data and documents that investigators have found, Kumpa said, "don't show any hint of being suicidical [sic] or being aggressive towards other people."

Investigators are focusing on the psychological state of Lubitz, 27, and a 100-person special commission -- dubbed "Alps" -- to investigate his life and collect evidence to identify more than 70 German victims. All told, the plane was carrying 150 people including Lubitz, all of whom died.

Germanwings CEO Olivier Wagner, speaking at a press conference in Marseille, called the crash “The saddest day of my life. The families are always asking me, 'Why had this happened?’ I cannot give them an answer,” Wagner said.

Authorities have said Lubitz hid evidence of an illness from his employers, including a sick note that was found torn up inside his apartment in Dusseldorf dated from the day of the crash.

Frank Woiton, a Germanwings pilot, told German TV station WDR that he saw nothing unusual about Lubitz when he flew with him less than a month ago.

"The impression that I got was that he was a normal guy," Woiton said. "He had plans for the future. He wanted to fly long distance flights for Lufthansa."

A Lufthansa spokesman said the FBI has questioned Lufthansa flight trainers in the U.S. who worked with Lubitz at the Airline Training Center in Arizona. The spokesman would not comment on whether the questioning revolved around trying to reconstruct Lubitz's mental state during his time there.

Philip Bramley, the father of one of the victims in the plane crash, said airlines should take better care of their pilots' welfare.

"I believe the airlines should be more transparent and our finest pilots looked after properly," Bramley said. "We put our lives and our children's lives in their hands."

His 28-year-old son, Paul Bramley, was one of the 150 people killed. Bramley called Lubitz's motive irrelevant while speaking near the site of the crash.

"What is relevant, is that it should never happen again; my son and everyone on that plane should not be forgotten, ever," he said.

In addition to the findings suggesting Lubitz was hiding an illness, a search of his apartment in Dusseldorf yielded no suicide note and the city's prosecutor announced that there was no evidence that political or religious factors were involved in the crash.

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