World Wrap: November 12, 2013
Khamenei’s corporation eased sanctions strain, Iran blames nuclear impasse on Western leaders, and China’s meager Philippines aid could further harm ties with Southeast Asia. Today is Tuesday, November 12, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.
Ayatollah’s assets protected him from sanctions squeeze
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a meeting with high-ranking officials in Tehran, August 31, 2011. REUTERS/www.khamenei.ir/Handout
Spotlight: Iran → Sanctions sidestep. A six-month Reuters investigation found that Setad, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Ayatollah Khamenei’s land-grab firm, has provided the leader with the economic backing needed to remain in control. Setad has also been key in allowing Iran tomaintain independence despite tough Western sanctions, and has managed to avoid restrictions:
In July 2010, the European Union issued a 12-page list of Iranian individuals and entities it was sanctioning. Among them: Mohammad Mokhber, president of Setad, which the EU described as “an investment fund linked to Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader.” Mokhber and the others were cited for alleged links to Iran’s nuclear or missile programs, but the EU gave no further details. The action didn’t target Setad itself. The broader sanctions effort grew tougher. That same month, Washington enacted its strictest measures so far, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act, which targeted Iran’s oil and gas sector. The Act, and a series of EU and U.S. sanctions over the following two years, increased pressure on Iran, in particular its energy exports and its banks. Growth slowed to 3 percent in 2011, and the economy shrank 1.9 percent in 2012. Oil exports have fallen by around 60 percent in the past two years as European and most Asian buyers reduced imports because of U.S. and EU sanctions. Iran now earns around $100 million from oil sales a day, down from $250 million two years ago. Setad itself, however, managed to evade the tightening noose. In October 2012, without any explanation, the EU removed Mokhber from its sanctions list.
In June of last year, the U.S. sanctioned Setad and several companies it oversees. Though an official from the U.S. Treasury department told a Senate committee that Khamenei controls Setad, the Ayatollah was not specifically targeted because the U.S. did not want to be seen as motivated by regime change. Explore Setad’s corporate holdings in an interactive chart, and click through forparts one and two of the special report on the Ayatollah’s assets. Stay tuned for part three tomorrow.
Spotlight: Iran → Geneva flop. Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed Western leaders for the impasse during last week’s nuclear negotiations in Geneva, contradicting Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement that Iran held up proceedings. On Monday, Kerry said that major powers had drafted a proposal over the weekend: “There was unity, but Iran couldn’t take it at particular moment.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry leaves after a news conference following nuclear talks in Geneva, November 10, 2013. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
On Twitter, Zarif responded: “Mr. Secretary, was it Iran that gutted over half of U.S. draft Thursday night?” Russia agreed that it was not Iran’s fault that representatives from France, the U.S., the U.K., Germany, China, and Russia could not agree over the future of Iran’s disputed nuclear program with representatives from that country. Hopes were high for the Geneva meeting, which followed a warming of ties between Tehran and Washington.
Beijing backlash. China’s relatively meager offering of aid to the super typhoon Haiyan-devastated Philippines could harm any chance of goodwill between Beijing and Southeast Asia, long engaged in a dispute over claims to the South China Sea.
Residents cover their noses as they walk past devastated houses after super typhoon Haiyan hit Tacloban city, central Philippines, November 11, 2013. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco. See more images here.
China has promised $100,000 in aid to the Philippines – a paltry commitment compared to Japan’s $10 million and relief team, or Australia’s $9.6 million donation. Manila and Beijing have sparred over access to the energy-rich region. Click here for up-to-date information on the aftermath of the storm that left an estimated 10,000 people dead, and here to learn how to help Haiyan’s survivors.
Nota Bene: The Japanese government is completing plans to borrow another $30 billion towards cleaning up Fukushima.
“Let’s get it on” - Toronto Mayor Rob Ford prepares to face motion urging him to take a leave. (The Star)
Fructose fallacy - Mexican Coke is more American than you may think. (Bloomberg Businessweek)
Dope drive - The leader of Liberia’s presidential motorcade is arrested for smuggling 654 pounds of marijuana in an official vehicle. (BBC)
Bridesmaid brigade - Sri Lankan couple breaks record for most bridesmaids in a wedding party. (Huffington Post)
Rice regrets - Thailand admits its rice subsidy program may have been a mistake. (Quartz)
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World Wrap: November 11, 2013
Super typhoon survivors seek aid, Khamenei’s economic power comes from property seizures, and Fukushima residents face the prospect of never going home. Today is Monday, November 11, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.
Typhoon leaves an estimated 10,000 dead, and survivors begging for help
Residents walk past a cargo ship washed ashore four days after super typhoon Haiyan hit Anibong town, Tacloban city, central Philippines, November 11, 2013. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
Three days after the typhoon made landfall, residents of Tacloban told terrifying accounts of being swept away by a wall of water, revealing a city that had been hopelessly unprepared for a storm of Haiyan’s almost unprecedented power. Most of the damage and deaths were caused by waves that inundated towns, washed ships ashore and swept away villages in scenes reminiscent of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
According to the U.N., more than 600,000 people have been displaced by the storm. Roughly 2,000 people are missing in Basey, a seaside town destroyed by Haiyan. Tacloban, which was hit hard by the storm on Friday, reported a mass grave containing 300-500 bodies, the U.N. said. Three military transport planes are providing supplies to and evacuating survivors from Tacloban. Several countries are sending funds, personnel, and supplies to the Philippines for as aid. Officials expect the death toll to rise once access to remote areas is reestablished. Click here for live coverage of the storm’s aftermath, here for aerial shots of the destruction and here for information on how to help.
A man takes a break from salvaging reusable woods from his damaged house after super Typhoon Haiyan hit Tabogon town in Cebu Province, central Philippines, November 11, 2013. REUTERS/Charlie Saceda.
Khamenei’s capital. Setad, an Iranian company that manages and sells property on order from the Imam, is one of the most powerful firms in Iran – and a key means for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to maintain power.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sits next to a portrait of late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini while taking part in a television live programme in Tehran on the occasion of the Iranian New Year, March 21, 2011. REUTERS/Leader.ir/Handout
The company seized thousands of properties from Iranian citizens, including members of the historically persecuted Baha’ai minority. According to the investigation, Setad’s assets are worth $95 billion – 40 percent more than Iran’s total 2012 oil exports. Click through to read the first of a three-part report on the assets of the Ayatollah.
Long way home. Fukushima evacuees are anxious to go back home, but would settle for acknowledgement from the government that some may never return. Japanese lawmakers on Monday said the government should scale back cleanup goals.
Norio Horiuchi, an evacuee from the town of Tomioka speaks during an interview with Reuters in his unit in a temporary housing estate, where 200 former Tomioka town residents also have been evacuated to, in Iwaki, Fukushima prefecture, November 8, 2013. REUTERS/Sophie Knight
The government may offer compensation to residents whose homes were in the most contaminated regions and will not be able to return. So far, 1,539 displaced Fukushima residents have died due to illness associated with prolonged evacuation. Japan is dealing with fallout from the faulty nuclear plant, which was wrecked by earthquake and tsunami in 2011 and is currently leaking nuclear radiation.
Nota Bene: The chief financier of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network was killed in Islamabad.
Gold no-go - Romania thwarts a massive Canadian gold mining plan. (Associated Press)
Dreamscapes - A photographer captures images of Europe’s forgotten nuclear bunkers and hippodromes. (The Atlantic Cities)
Painful protest - A naked artist is detained after nailing his scrotum to Red Square. (BBC)
Shopping police - Venezuelan soldiers occupy stores accused of price gouging. (New York Times)
Fishy solution - An EU ban on discarding edible fish may not be all that helpful. (The Guardian)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
Setad has become one of the most powerful organizations in Iran, though many Iranians, and the wider world, know very little about it. In the past six years, it has morphed into a business juggernaut that now holds stakes in nearly every sector of Iranian industry, including finance, oil, telecommunications, the production of birth-control pills and even ostrich farming.
The organization’s total worth is difficult to pinpoint because of the secrecy of its accounts. But Setad’s holdings of real estate, corporate stakes and other assets total about $95 billion, Reuters has calculated. That estimate is based on an analysis of statements by Setad officials, data from the Tehran Stock Exchange and company websites, and information from the U.S. Treasury Department.
Just one person controls that economic empire – Khamenei. As Iran’s top cleric, he has the final say on all governmental matters. His purview includes his nation’s controversial nuclear program, which was the subject of intense negotiations between Iranian and international diplomats in Geneva that ended Sunday without an agreement. It is Khamenei who will set Iran’s course in the nuclear talks and other recent efforts by the new president, Hassan Rouhani, to improve relations with Washington. Read Part I of this Special Report.
Photo: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, shown at a 2009 clerical gathering, oversees an organization called Setad that has assets estimated at about $95 billion. REUTERS/Khamenei.ir/Handout
World Wrap: November 7, 2013
Xi’s inability to close labor camps indicates limits to his political clout, Russia scales back its economic growth prediction, and world powers meet with Iran to discuss its nuclear program. Today is Thursday, November 7, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.
Xi Jinping’s power cuts
China’s President Xi Jinping lets Jordan’s King Abdullah (not pictured) leave first after a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of People in Beijing, September 18, 2013. REUTERS/Feng Li/Pool
Failure to launch. Chinese President Xi Jinping, expected to usher in reforms when he took office last year, has so far failed to shutter China’s labor camps in an indication of weakness:
Despite holding the three top posts in the country – president, party chief and head of the military – [Xi] is not as strong as he seems, said at least half a dozen sources in the party and government. His two immediate predecessors as president, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, wield considerable clout through allies and protégés they promoted, as do powerful factions within the Communist Party. Xi must keep the two former presidents on his side, but this means an erosion of his power… despite being obstructed on major political and social change, Xi has implemented considerable economic reform in recent months – on interest rate policy, the banking system and converting Shanghai into a free trade zone – in the face of opposition from powerful ministries and state banks, two of the sources said. However, failure to address some of the political and social ills in China – including regional tensions, the rich-poor gap, corruption and degradation of the environment – could affect stability.
Last week, a car drove into a crowd and burst into flames in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, killing five including three in the vehicle. China blamed the attack on members of the Xinjiang region’s Muslim minority, calling it part of a holy war against the country. Many Uighur Muslims are upset by official controls on their culture and religion, despite official claims that the group is not oppressed by Chinese policy. Chinese citizens also struggle with housing prices which continue to rise despite a four-year government effort to stabilize rates – perhaps because local governments rely on revenue from property sales for income. Xi has continued cracking down on corruption, currentlytargeting a top executive in the shipping industry, following the high-profile sentencing of ousted politician Bo Xilai. The fate of Xi’s plans for reform plans will likely be determined during the Communist party’s Central Committee’s third plenum meeting from November 9 to 12, when Chinese leaders determine their term agendas. Below, Chinese officials target corruption.
Men look at a screen displaying a picture of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai standing trial on the website of a court’s microblog, in Jinan, Shandong province, September 22, 2013. REUTERS/Aly Song
Yang Dacai, a former provincial official, listens to a verdict at a court in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, September 5, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer
Putin backtrack. Russia lowered its growth expectations on Thursday, admitting in public for the first time that its economy would trail behind global growth over the next twenty years. According to Russia’s Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev, Russia’s economy will grow 2.5 percent on average in that time period, compared to 5.2 percent average growth in Brazil, China, India, and South Africa.
Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on before an award ceremony to mark National Unity Day at the Kremlin in Moscow, November 4, 2013. REUTERS/Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool
The revision could cost Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has promised to make Russia one of the top five economies by 2020, credibility and power in the future. In an effort to increase patriotism among young people, Putin today asked parliament to pass a law to increase displays of Russia’s flag.
Nuclear negotiations. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meets with representatives of six world powers – the U.S., Russia, China, France, Germany, and Britain – in Geneva to discuss his country’s contentious nuclear program, calling the negotiations “tough,” but adding that “the talks went well.” He added, “I’m hopeful that we can move forward.”
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (L) leaves with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif after a photo opportunity before the start of two days of closed-door nuclear talks at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, November 7, 2013. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
The leaders seek a “first step” towards a solution over the nuclear dispute. Western powers fear that Iran is developing nuclear capabilities but Iran maintains it is using its nuclear program for energy and science alone. Reuters learned that Iran has offered to ship crude oil to India for free, in a sign that Western sanctions on Iran have taken a toll. Talks continue through tomorrow.
Murderers into martyrs - Reuters columnist David Rohde argues that covert drone strikes are counterproductive. (Reuters)
Femme retail - Voluptuous Venezuelan mannequins reflect plastic surgery trend. (New York Times)
Meteoric warning - Fireball that exploded over Russian city could be a sign of greater risk from meteors. (Associated Press)
Christmas cuts - Spain has cut holiday spending by over 40 percent over the past five years. (Quartz)
Biker ban - Liberia forces hundreds to walk to work with motorcycle taxi ban. (BBC)
Full-time students - French children might have to start going to school on Wednesdays. (Los Angeles Times)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: October 15, 2013
Nuclear talks with Iran begin in Geneva, powerful quake strikes Philippines, and Russia increases Moscow security during Eid. Today is Tuesday, October 15, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.
Iranian leaders present a nuclear plan
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (L) speaks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during a photo opportunity before the start of two days of closed-door nuclear talks at the United Nations offices in Geneva, October 15, 2013.REUTERS/Fabrice Coffrini/Pool
Nuclear PowerPoint. Iran used a PowerPoint presentation to outline what it called a “logical” nuclear plan to representatives from the six world powers. Details of the plan are not available, but Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain, and Germany “welcomed” the proposal, adding that the plan to solve the nuclear standoff ”has the capacity to make a breakthrough.” But global leaders have tempered expectations:
A spokesman for the European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who oversees diplomacy with Iran on behalf of the powers, described the Iranian presentation as “very useful” in a carefully-worded comment that appeared to signal Iran has gone further than in the past in its willingness to engage. A senior U.S. State Department official said negotiators would be “looking at further details” of the Iranian proposal in an afternoon session on Tuesday, hinting that it was being treated as incomplete by Western diplomats… Western diplomats have said their demands related to 20-percent uranium must be addressed before further progress is made. But some diplomats acknowledged ahead of the Geneva talks that their initial offer to Iran might be changed substantially depending on what concessions Iran offers.
Relations between Iran and the U.S. have apparently warmed since moderate-backed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took office in August. Iran is keen to escape increasingly harsh sanctions, issued against the country for its disputed nuclear program which Western powers fear is intended to develop arms capability. Israel, Iran’s long-time foe, warned Western powers not to give up on sanctions before Iran agrees to abandon its program, saying “It would be an historic mistake not to take full advantage of the sanctions, by making concessions before ensuring the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” The statement, notably, stopped short of making a veiled military threat against Iran – as it has in the past. The talks will conclude Wednesday.
Residents walk along huge cracks in a road after an earthquake struck Bohol province, central Philippines, October 15, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer
Philippine islands struck by quake. A magnitude-7.2 earthquake killed at least 74 people and injured 260 when it hit islands in the quake-prone Philippines. At least 65 were killed in collapsed structures, including low-rise buildings and historic churches, and mudslides in Bohol, and nine more were killed in Cebu and Siquijor Island, according to a report from the regional National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council:
The death toll looks bound to rise. Dennis Agustin, Bohol provincial police director, said in a radio interview as many as 77 people had died in 11 towns on the island, much of which was left without power and communications. Four bridges and some government buildings collapsed in Bohol. Roads cracked, with many declared impassable due to landslides, prompting the authorities to declare a state of calamity in the province, along with Cebu.
Nearly 300 aftershocks were recorded after the earthquake. The islands struck were popular with tourists, though no foreign visitors were reported dead.
Interior Ministry members walk in a line while persuading people to leave after an Eid al-Adha mass prayer in Moscow, October 15, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
Eid defense. Russian authorities increase security in Moscow following the most violent racial clashes in three years as Muslims celebrate the holiday of Eid al-Adha:
Outside Moscow’s main mosque, police set up barriers and metal detectors to control the flow of people. Ethnic tension is often higher during the Islamic holiday because crowds spill out into the streets around the city’s few mosques. Crowds of residents in southern Biryulyovo district have called for tougher policing of migrants and roamed the streets hunting for men who matched a police description of a suspect in the stabbing death last week of Yegor Shcherbakov, 25. On Sunday, rioters smashed shop windows, clashed with police and stormed a market in Biryulyovo where many migrants work. In an apparent move to appease residents, Moscow’s police chief fired the senior police officer in the neighborhood district on Tuesday.
On Monday, over 1,600 migrants were detained following the riots, apparently to appease residents of the southern Moscow neighborhood where the protests were located.
Nota Bene: Typhoon Nari hits Vietnam, displacing 122,000 people.
Crying capture - A woman accused of staging her own kidnapping is arrested in Nigeria. (BBC)
This little piggy… - A Chinese official is fired for accepting a piggy-back ride from a constituent. (Quartz)
Moving on up - Hong Kong’s trams catch up to its subways. (New York Times)
Instajail - Rihanna’s tweets lead to another arrest in Thailand. (Time)
Ruins ruined - Egypt’s artifacts are a casualty of its political unrest. (Al Jazeera)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: October 14, 2013
Indian officials halt search for stampede victims after weekend of disaster, Iranian leader says nuclear talks in Geneva could be productive, hopefully, and migrants are rounded up in Moscow after a violent protest targeted them this weekend. Today is Monday, October 14, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.
India weathers weekend storm, but questions remain on pilgrims’ stampede
A woman cries next to the body of a victim killed in a stampede near Ratangarh temple in Datia district in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, October 13, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer
Stampede, cyclone plague India. Indian officials counted at least 115 pilgrims dead in a stampede that broke out among 150,000 pilgrims gathered at India’s Ratangarh temple in the central state of Madhya Pradesh on Sunday before announcing the end of their search:
Devotees thronging towards the temple across a long, concrete bridge panicked when some railings broke, triggering the stampede, Dilip Arya, a deputy inspector general of police, told Reuters. Many victims were crushed by the crowd while others drowned when they fell or jumped into the fast-flowing Sindh river, swollen by heavy rain. “The death toll has increased to 115 and the rescue operation is over,” Arya said. Most of the dead were women and children. Many pilgrims were injured and in hospital, Arya said. Rescuers had combed the river in the hunt for victims.
Sunday’s incident marks the second deadly stampede at the holy site in seven years. In February, 36 Hindu pilgrims were killed in a charge at the world’s largest religious festival. Some victimsblamed police for fuelling the panic by using sticks in an effort to control the crowd. Indian officials were praised for their handling of another disaster that hit India over the weekend:
Cyclone Phailin, India’s fiercest storm in 14 years, smashed into the coastline of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha states over the weekend, flooded swathes of farmland and ripped part tens of thousands of mud-and-thatch homes – but surprisingly, only 15 people have been reported dead. Early warnings which started five days before the storm’s arrival, the pre-positioning of food rations and packaged drinking water in shelters, and the orderly – and sometimes forceful – evacuation of close to one million people saved many lives, said aid workers.
A 1999 cyclone which left more than one million homeless served as a wake-up call for authorities. Reuters reported that roughly 76 percent of India’s coastline is vulnerable to cyclones and tsunamis, 59 percent of the country to earthquakes, and 68 percent to droughts. Authorities still fall short in emergency preparedness, however, as demonstrated by the catastrophe caused by unprecedented rainfall in Uttarakhand in June, which has left 6,000 missing and presumed dead.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) are seated during a meeting of the Foreign Ministers representing the permanent five member countries of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly at the UN Headquarters in New York, September 26, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Cautious optimism on nuclear talks. Iranian Foreign Minister and chief negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif said he is hopeful that global negotiations over Iran’s disputed nuclear program – slated to begin in Geneva on Tuesday – will lead to a means of solving the standoff, adding that the process will be complicated:
“Tomorrow is the start of a difficult and relatively time-consuming way forward. I am hopeful that by Wednesday we can reach agreement on a road map to find a path towards resolution,” Zarif said in a message posted on his Facebook account late on Sunday. “But even with the goodwill of the other side, to reach agreement on details and start implementation will likely require another meeting at ministerial level.”… Zarif’s deputy on Sunday rebuffed the West’s demand that Iran send sensitive nuclear material abroad but signaled flexibility on other aspects of its atomic activities, including the degree of uranium enrichment, that worry global powers.
The nuclear conference is the first since Rouhani’s election in June, and onlookers hope that the president’s apparent openness to dialogue over the program will make these talks more fruitful than previous efforts. Western leaders contend that Iran’s uranium enrichment program is designed to develop nuclear arms capability for the nation, an outcome Western leaders would find unacceptable. Iranian leaders say their program is focused solely on producing energy and medical advances.
Russian police detain migrant workers during a raid at a vegetable warehouse complex in the Biryulyovo district of Moscow, October 14, 2013. REUTERS/Ivan Stolpnikov
Moscow migrants detained. Russian police rounded up roughly 1,200 migrants a day after violent protests erupted over the death of a Russian man who was allegedly killed by a migrant from the largely Muslim Caucasus region:
The detainees were taken to police stations and police will seek to determine whether they were involved in any crimes, he said. Televised footage showed detainees standing against walls or lined up in front of camouflage-clad police. By rounding up migrants, authorities seemed to be trying to appease residents who had rallied in the Biryulyovo district to demand police find the killer of Yegor Shcherbakov, 25, and take more action to prevent crimes by migrants… On Sunday, a mob in the southern neighborhood smashed shop and vending stalls, fought with police and stormed the vegetable market in the biggest outbreak of anti-migrant violence in Moscow in three years.
Police arrested at least 380 people involved in the riots in an attempt to contain violence. The outbreak highlights tension between Moscow residents and migrants from North Caucasus and the ex-soviet states of the Caucasus and Central Asia, who have played a key role in Russia’s economic transformation since Russian President Vladimir Putin took office in 2000.
Nota Bene: Three Americans have been awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in economics for their work on asset price forecasting.
African leaders lose - The Mo Ibrahim prize for good governance in Africa is awarded to nobody for the fourth time in five years. (BBC)
Home-grown - Russia’s Side by Side LGBT festival wins appeal against its ‘foreign agent’ classification. (The Guardian)
Professional smoker - A Chinese tobacco appraiser has been smoking up to 30 cigarettes a day over a 21-year career. (Quartz)
Criminal campaign - Indian politicians wear jail time as a badge of honor. (New York Times)
Journey to Mount Arafat - Muslim pilgrims start Hajj in Saudi Arabia. (Associated Press)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: October 9, 2013
Riyadh upset with Washington’s moves in the Middle East, Mursi’s trial set for November, and businessmen stay away from dangerous investments in Russia. Today is Wednesday, October 9, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.
Saudi Arabia simmers over U.S.-Iran communication
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (L) has coffee with Saudi Deputy Minister of Defense Prince Fahd bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Abdulrahman upon his arrival at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, April 23, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Watson/Pool
Keep your friends close. Washington’s overtures to Tehran could shake the U.S.’s longstanding friendship with Saudi Arabia, which adds the recent direct communications between President Obama and his Iranian counterpart to a long list of grievances against its Western ally:
Engaged in what they see as a life-and-death struggle for the future of the Middle East with arch-rival Iran, Saudi rulers are furious that the international body has taken no action over Syria, where they and Tehran back opposing sides… The alliance between the United States, the biggest economy and most powerful democracy, and Saudi Arabia, the Islamic monarchy that dominates oil supplies, is not about to break. But, as happened 40 years ago next week when an OPEC oil embargo punished U.S. war support for Israel, Riyadh is willing – albeit without touching energy supplies – to defy Washington in defense of its regional interests.
On Monday, King Abdullah denounced the Muslim brotherhood in a rare TV appearance, indirectly criticizing the U.S. for not protecting then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak against the mass 2011 protests which led to his ouster. Saudi Arabia is primarily concerned with Shi’ite Muslim clerics who call for revolution in Iran and, they believe, contribute to anti-Sunni sentiment in the region at large. Iran has rejected any U.S. condition for participating in the Syria peace conference, effectively refusing to consider cease support for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Iran will discuss its disputed nuclear program with world leaders next week, a meeting one former nuclear negotiator said should be used as an opportunity to build confidence between respective leaders.
University students and members of the Muslim Brotherhood shout slogans against the military in front of Cairo University in Cairo, October 8, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Brotherhood trial set. An Egyptian court set a November 4 date for deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi’s trial. Mursi and other Brotherhood leaders were charged with inciting violence during a protest that left dozens dead last December:
Mursi has been held in a secret location since his overthrow in early July. If he is brought before the court, it will be his first appearance in public since then. The trial could further inflame tensions between the Islamist movement and the army-backed government and deepen the political instability that has decimated tourism and investment in the most populous Arab state. Judge Nabil Saleeb said Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood members had been charged with “inciting the killing and torture of protesters in front of the Etihadeya (presidential) palace.”
A U.S. official said Washington will likely stick to an earlier decision to withhold most military aidfrom Egypt, as it walks the line between supporting the democratic process that led to Mursi’s election and maintaining ties with Egypt’s powerful army.
Private security officers guard the Georgian restaurant Khachapuri in Moscow, September 3, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
Risky business. Men in hoods and balaclavas chased staff out of a restaurant with metal rods, beat employees, and smash furniture in a Moscow raid that exemplifies why investors are discouraged from Russia’s business landscape, where property laws offer little protection and corruption is pervasive:
Putin made improving Russia’s investment climate a priority when he returned to the Kremlin last year for a third term. He has since pushed through an amnesty on some economic crimes that has seen hundreds of entrepreneurs released from jail. Critics say the changes are cosmetic and that the weak rule of law and collusion between corrupt law enforcement and justice officials still mean that victims of corporate raids lack adequate recourse to defend their rights. Several small and medium-sized businesses in Moscow polled by Reuters for this article described an insecure environment with movable laws, weak enforcement and the threat of being targeted by government or law enforcement officials on the make.
One foreign businessman said he felt his interests were safe after seeking protection from local, well-connected investors, and one restaurant owner said, “You are protected as long as your property is not of any interest to the people in power.”
Nota Bene: Isolated Hamas struggles to meet its payroll in Gaza strip.
Not the worst - The U.S. debt disaster is still better than Japan’s. (Bloomberg Businessweek)
Donut-muffin wars - An English bakery is disputing Starbucks’ proprietary claim to the “duffin.” (The Atlantic Cities)
Maduro-man - Maduro asks parliament for special powers to fight corruption. (BBC)
E-OK - The European Parliament rejects strict restrictions on e-cigarettes. (New York Times)
Virtual kidnap - Spanish band told by phone they could be shot at any time. (The Guardian)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: October 2, 2013
t Rouhani gets thumbs up from parliament, Obama cuts short Asia trip, and Nigeria’s economy is in danger ahead of presidential elections. Today is Wednesday, October 2, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.
Iranian parliament backs Rouhani’s push for dialogue, Israel remains wary
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani takes questions from journalists during a news conference in New York, September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Stamp of approval. The Iranian Parliament supported President Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic push for open dialogue with the U.S. over his country’s disputed nuclear program during the U.N. General Assembly talks in New York. Of 290 parliamentarians, 230 signed a statement of supportfor the leader, lauding Rouhani’s portrayal of a “powerful and peace-seeking Iran which seeks talks and interaction for the settlement of regional and international issues”:
The backing from the assembly, controlled by political factions deeply loyal to Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is a further sign that Rouhani has the support of the Iranian establishment, though there are some rumblings from hardliners. Khamenei, the most powerful figure in Iran, has yet to publicly comment on Rouhani’s trip… Inside Iran, even as conservatives fall in line behind Rouhani who secured a landslide election win in June with promises of moderation in foreign policy, there were signs that some feared the president was going too fast, too soon.
Last week, Presidents Obama and Rouhani spoke on the phone in a historic instance of direct communication. On Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency met with Iran over their nuclear plan. Though both sides said the talks were constructive, diplomats reported no real progress in resolving the standoff. The U.S. and Israel fear that Iran is attempting to develop nuclear arms, a charge Iran strongly denies. During his speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated concerns over Rouhani’s sincerity:
“Rouhani doesn’t sound like Ahmadinejad,” Netanyahu said, referring to Rouhani’s hardline predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose annual U.N. addresses were stridently anti-Western and anti-Israel. “But when it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the only difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing, Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community,” Netanyahu said.
The U.S. Senate it likely won’t impose new sanctions on Iran until after another round of nuclear talks in mid-October.
U.S. President Barack Obama finishes a statement to the media about the government shutdown in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, September 30, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing
Pivot pullback. President Obama will truncate a scheduled trip to Asia in light of the U.S. government shutdown, cutting meetings with the presidents of Malaysia and the Philippines and calling into question visits to Indonesia and Brunei:
“We will continue to evaluate those trips based on how events develop throughout the course of the week,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said. Obama was originally due to leave the United States on Saturday and return a week later. Not only must the president deal with the budget impasse and its effects, but he faces an even bigger crunch in Congress, which will put the United States at risk of defaulting on its debts if it does not raise the U.S. public debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said the United States will exhaust its borrowing authority no later than October 17.
The Asia trip was designed to signal Washington’s continuing commitment to the region. Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel warned that the shutdown, which started early on Tuesday and remains in effect, could harm U.S. credibility abroad.
A sign advertising the sale of a house is pasted on a wall in the Victoria Island district in Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos, September 10, 2013. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye
Economy on the line. As campaigning heats up ahead of Nigeria’s 2015 presidential elections, the country anticipates an economic hit:
Nigerian elections always cost the country billions of dollars and, often, many hundreds of lives, especially when they ignite ethnic rivalries or regional tensions between the largely Muslim north and mostly Christian south. This cycle could be especially costly, in terms of blood and treasure. A feud is bubbling between President Goodluck Jonathan and rivals in his ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) over his assumed intention to run for another term, which is distracting from vital economic reforms. A bill to reform the oil industry, which feeds 80 percent of government revenue, is stuck in parliament and unlikely to pass before the elections. Thanks largely to the feud, unofficial campaigning has begun almost two years early, so politicians will need to sustain spending on patronage for longer.
Central bank governor Lamido Sanusi said he suspects an increase in dollar demand means politicians are money laundering to cover financial trails ahead of what looks to be an intense race.
Nota Bene: Russian authorities charge Greenpeace activists with piracy.
Foreshadowing war - Months of sectarian strife in Iraq could lead to civil war. (Time)
Killer kitties - House cats are the number one killers of birds in Canada. (Quartz)
Fighter fish - Tilapia help Pakistan battle Dengue virus. (The Guardian)
Elephant graveyard - Poachers in Zimbabwe poison 19 elephants. (Associated Press)
Operation: Jellyfish - A jellyfish attack forces Swedish nuclear plant to shut down. (Bloomberg Businessweek)
Internat-Americans - Former Americans say why they gave up their citizenship. (BBC)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
Iran’s parliament strongly endorsed President Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic bid to dispel mistrust at the United Nations last week during a visit which ended with an historic phone call with President Barack Obama, Iranian media said. http://reut.rs/16XhUU4
The backing from the assembly, controlled by political factions deeply loyal to Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is a further sign that Rouhani has the support of the Iranian establishment, though there are some rumblings from hardliners.
Read more: http://reut.rs/16XhUU4
Photo: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani. REUTERS/Keith Bedford