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BERLIN (Reuters) - The European Union's most senior administrator said she would happily receive AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine as officials rushed to find ways of ensuring doses refused by skittish Germans did not go to waste.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen's remarks came amid growing concerns that unfavourable comments by top European officials including French President Emmanuel Macron had slowed take-up of one of only three vaccines currently approved EU-wide.

Earlier this month, Macron said Britain had taken a risk in authorising AstraZeneca so rapidly. A German official study also found evidence that, though effective, the vaccine has more severe side effects than its two main rivals.

"I would take the AstraZeneca vaccine without a second thought, just like Moderna's and BioNTech/Pfizer's products," von der Leyen told the Augsburger Allgemeine.

The endorsement is all the more striking for coming a month after the European Commission that she heads entered into sharp correspondence with AstraZeneca over suggestions, denied by the company, that the British-Swedish company had prioritised Britain over the EU in delivering the vaccine.

The Commission has been criticised over the slow pace of vaccination across the 27-member-bloc, with critics saying it failed to secure sufficient early supply of the vaccines that leaders are banking on to bring an end to the pandemic that has devastated the continent's economy.

In Germany, where a widespread preference for the German-designed BioNTech vaccine has led to a growing number of unused AstraZeneca doses, officials and politicians competed to suggest ways of making sure they did not go to waste.

Berlin's Social Affairs Senator Elke Breitenbach said unused doses should be given to the 3,000 homeless living in the city's emergency accommodation. "We shouldn't forget those who don't have a loud lobby behind them," she told Funke Media Group.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer had earlier said unused vaccines should go to the police.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.

Tags: Sweden, vaccines, United States, India, United Kingdom, Europe, Germany

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Iran says it will not meet US for informal talks on saving nuclear deal

Iranian flag – Leonhard Foeger/REUTERS

Iran said Sunday it does not consider the time to be “suitable” for an informal meeting – proposed by Europe and involving the US – on the embattled 2015 nuclear deal.

The European Union’s political director earlier this month proposed the informal meeting involving Iran and the United States. US President Joe Biden’s administration has accepted in principle.

Following Biden’s election, Washington, the European parties to the deal – France, Germany and Britain – and Tehran have been trying to salvage the 2015 nuclear accord, which granted Iran international sanctions relief in return for restrictions on its nuclear programme.

The accord has been nearing collapse since former president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran.

“Considering the recent positions and actions of the United States and the three European countries, (Iran) does not consider the time suitable to hold the informal meeting proposed by the European coordinator”, foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement.

“There has still been no change in the US positions and behaviour yet,” he added, saying the Biden administration has continued “Trump’s failed policy of maximum pressure”.

Biden has signalled readiness to revive the deal, but insists Iran first return to all its nuclear commitments, most of which it suspended in response to the sanctions, while Tehran demands Washington take the first step by scrapping the sanctions.

The US “has not even announced its commitment to fulfilling its responsibilities” under the deal and the United Nations Security Council resolution that enshrined it, Khatibzadeh said.

He added: “America must end its illegal and unilateral sanctions and return to its (deal) commitments. This needs neither negotiations nor resolutions.”

Iran “will answer action with action, and just as it will return to (deal) commitments in accordance with the lifting of sanctions, it will respond to hostile actions and behaviours in the same way”.

Iran last Tuesday started to restrict some site inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog, in continuation of suspended nuclear commitments in response to the US failure to lift its sanctions.

Khatibzadeh said Tehran would continue to consult with other parties to the nuclear agreement, and European Union Foreign Minister Josep Borrell “in his capacity as the (deal) coordinator, both bilaterally and multilaterally”.

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