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How Energy Concerns Drive the Nuclear Deal

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Welcome to the Caspian Daily, where you will find the 10 most important things you need to know on Caspian Sea Region. We appreciate ideas, reports, news and interesting articles. Send along to Caspian[at]moderndiplomacy.eu or on Twitter: @DGiannakopoulos

1Tehran’s Power Lobby. “Iran has a track record of lobbying energy firms to put pressure on the West. In 1991, Tehran reached a pre-agreement with Conoco, granting the U.S.-based oil company the right to develop gas and oil fields in Iran. Through these efforts, Iran sought to entice U.S. oil companies to pressure U.S. authorities into altering their approach toward Tehran’s leadership. These efforts resulted in a discreet campaign by oil giants to improve Iran’s public image in the United States and led to lobbying efforts to get Washington to promote business with Iran. When Mohammad Khatami began his term as Iranian president in 1997, he sought to soften Western attitudes toward Iran. His policies prompted the creation of a number of lobby groups across the United States. At the same time, the National Foreign Trade Council, a representative group for major U.S. corporations, started its own lobbying initiative called USA*Engage. Other major U.S. business lobbies followed suit, establishing the American Iranian Council (AIC) with a governing board comprised of former U.S. diplomats and executives from Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and Halliburton” By Tara Shirvani and Siniša Vuković for the Foreign Affairs.

2Russia’s Hybrid War in Ukraine: Breaking the Enemy’s Ability to Resist. “The form of warfare Russia employed in Ukraine in 2014, often called hybrid war, has been aimed at defeating the target country by breaking its ability to resist without actually launching a full-scale military attack. In line with contemporary Russian military thinking on ‘new generation warfare’, hybrid war is built on the combined use of military and non-military means, employing basically the whole spectrum of a state’s policy inventory, including diplomatic, economic, political, social, information and also military means” new report by András Rácz and The Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

3China, Kazakhstan agree to integrate growth strategies. Chinese vice Premier Zhang Gaoli and Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov met Thursday and agreed to align their countries’ growth strategies and boost bilateral cooperation on production capacity. China and Kazakhstan are indeed comprehensive strategic partners, said Zhang, who arrived in Astana on Wednesday for a three-day visit to Kazakhstan.The Silk Road Economic Belt initiative brought up by Xi and the “Path of Light” economic strategy proposed by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev enjoy a high degree of compatibility, Zhang pointed out. [China Daily]

4Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services had lowered its long-term insurer financial strength and counterparty credit ratings on Kazakhstan-based JSC Oil Insurance Co. (NSK) to ‘B’ from ‘B+’. The outlook is stable. At the same time, we lowered the Kazakhstan national scale rating to ‘kzBB+’ from ‘kzBBB’. The downgrade reflects our view that the company’s capital adequacy, liquidity, and financial flexibility have significantly weakened following a large claim recognized in May 2015. We note that the company currently plans to restore its financial standing by generating sufficient net income. We don’t factor in any capital support provided by shareholders, because we have no clear view on their willingness to provide it or of the possible timing, the statement said.

5Islamic State may threaten Russia’s Caucasus. “The head of Russia’s Security Council has identified Islamic State (IS) as the greatest threat to world peace and security, and it seems the danger could be getting closer to home. The militant Islamist group has proclaimed the establishment of a wilayaat, or province, in Russia’s mainly-Muslim North Caucasus, suggesting it may be gaining the upper hand in a battle for control over radical forces there. The statement follows an anonymous audio message posted online pledging allegiance to IS on behalf of militants in four regions. But it remains unclear how far – and high – that support may reach among militants previously loyal to the banned, al-Qaeda-affiliated group Caucasus Emirate, which has long sought to carve out an Islamist state in the region” writes Sarah Rainsford for the BBC.

6Brzezinski’s full recipe for solving the yearlong Ukrainian crisis:”Ukraine must have a right to freely choose its political identity and forge closer ties with Europe. At the same time, Russia must be reassured that Ukraine will never become a NATO member,” Brzezinski said, as quoted by Spiegel Online. In other words, Ukraine needs to become Finland of sorts. Brzezinski’s ideas echo those of Henry Kissinger. In an opinion piece for the Washington Post published in March 2014, the former secretary of state urged the West to understand Russia’s concerns and its attachment to Ukraine. “Ukraine should have the right to choose freely its economic and political associations, including with Europe,” Kissinger stated, adding that Kiev should not join NATO and “should pursue a posture comparable to that of Finland.” [SputnikNews]

7During the scientific and practical conference “National press of Azerbaijan – 140: “Ekinchi” traditions and modern journalism,” Ali Hasanov, Azerbaijani president’s aide for public and political affairs said that some great powers want to control certain countries and naturally, Azerbaijan is among such countries.“Today, Azerbaijan has its resources, policy and own interests,” he said, adding that in order to fulfill these interests, Azerbaijan should say “no” to someone’s wishes. “When it is not to their advantage, they come down on Azerbaijan. Big states want to control Azerbaijan. However, President Ilham Aliyev’s independent policy which is literally based on Azerbaijani people’s will, is not to their advantage and they stand against it,” said Ali Hasanov.

8Kazakhstan Infrastructure Report. The Kazakh infrastructure sector is facing severe challenges stemming from falling oil revenues cuts to government expenditure and weak credit conditions. However preparations for the 2017 World Expo the country’s rich natural resource endowment a desire for economic diversification and sovereign wealth-backed infrastructure development will provide for distinct investment opportunities some growth relief and continued investments. Following a generally weakening domestic economy including falling loan and private consumption levels we nonetheless expect infrastructure and construction growth to remain far below previously expected levels. [Fast Market Research]

9Azerbaijan signs agreement for Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Representatives from 57 Prospective Founding Members (PFMs) of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), including Azerbaijan, gathered on June 29 in Beijing for a Signing Ceremony of the Bank’s Articles of Agreement at the Great Hall of the People. From Azerbaijan, the Minister of Finance of Azerbaijan Samir Sharifov, who is currently on a visit to China, signed the financial agreement. The AIIB, which will be headquartered in Beijing, will initially have an authorized capital stock of $100 billion, said the message published on the website of the bank. Reflecting the regional character of the bank, its regional members will be the majority shareholders, holding approximately 75 percent of shares.

10Mehriban Aliyeva: “Azerbaijan once again demonstrated its power to the world through successful organization of the Baku 2015 first European Games. Each victory of the independent Azerbaijan is based on President Ilham Aliyev’s will and knowledge”

Journalist, specialized in Middle East, Russia & FSU, Terrorism and Security issues. Founder and Editor-in-chief of the Modern Diplomacy magazine.

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Rise of disinformation a symptom of ‘global diseases’ undermining public trust

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Societies everywhere are beset by “global diseases” including systemic inequality which have helped fuel a rise in disinformation, or the deliberate spreading of falsehoods, said the UN human rights chief on Tuesday, addressing the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Michelle Bachelet said the restoration of public trust was essential, as disinformation should really be seen as a symptom of diseases such as systemic inequality, which has seen “deep-seated discrimination” flourish, along with fragile institutions, a loss of trust in effective governance, and “limited rule of law”.

She said those countries impacted by inequality were now threatened with instability and frayed co-existence within society.

Flourishing amid discontent

“Disinformation spreads when people feel that their voices are not heard. It arises in contexts where political disenchantment, economic disparity or social unrest flourish”, she said.

“It flourishes when civil society, journalists, human rights defenders and scientists cannot work, assemble and speak freely. When civic space is limited or closed. When the human rights to freedom of expression and access to information are threatened.”

It can be fuelled by governments and public officials, potentially leading to hate crimes and violence.

But she warned governments against trying to “officially ordain what is false, and what is true, and then attach legal consequences to those determinations. Our human right to access and impart information, is not limited to only what is deemed by the State as ‘accurate’”.

She called for a focus on “assessing how communications are being revolutionized by technology and on unpacking who is responsible for what.

“We need to look at how best to contain the harms caused by disinformation, while addressing the underlying causes that give disinformation life and allow it to gain traction.”

She said the sheer speed and volume of information circulating online, meant that it could be easily manipulated, with campaigns using automatic tools, rapidly creating a “false impressions of broad popular support for or against certain ideas, or be used to counter and marginalise dissident voices and ideas.”

Organized disinformation campaigns are also being used to silence rights defenders, journalists, and minority voices, “and as a result of repeated attacks, women, minority communities and others can be deterred from participating in the public sphere.”

Fighting back

The international response has to be consistent with universal rights obligations, she warned.

“When we debate the best ways to respond, we need to understand that censorship is not only an ineffective medicine – it can actually harm the patient.” Freedom of expression and the right to access information are essential, she underscored.

“I therefore call on States to uphold their international obligation to promote and protect these rights, whatever the social ill they seek to mitigate. Maintaining a vibrant and pluralistic civic space will be crucial in this endeavour.”

She called for policies which support independent journalism, pluralism in media, and digital literacy, which can help citizens “navigate” the online world and boost critical thinking.

“States must also ensure wide and free access to information so that it reaches all communities and constituencies…Trust can never be achieved without genuine government transparency.”

Social media regulation ‘insufficient’

The human rights chief said that social media businesses have transformed the way information circulates, “and they have a clear role to play.”

“To start with, we must understand better how they affect our national and global debates. While platforms have taken welcome steps to enhance their own transparency, and redress channels, progress remains insufficient.

She called for independent auditing of social media companies’ services and operations, and more clarity on the way advertising and personal data is being handled.

“And we need access for researchers and others to the data within companies, that can help us better understand and address disinformation.”

Two steps

Ms. Bachelet told the Human Rights Council that there are two “critical needs” in the battle against rising disinformation.

First, we need to deepen our understanding and knowledge: we need more research on how the digital sphere has transformed media and information flows; on how best to build public trust within this environment; and on how different actors can contribute to countering disinformation operations.”

Secondly, she said all discussions had to be framed within human rights norms. “Shortcuts do not work here: censorship and broad content take-downs are an ineffective and dangerous response.”

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Abu Akleh shooting: fatal shot came from Israeli forces

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Veteran Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh spent a quarter century covering life under Israeli military rule. Photo: Al Jazeera

Israeli forces were behind the fatal shooting of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank – not indiscriminate Palestinian firing – the UN human rights office, OHCHR, alleged on Friday.

Ms. Akleh – an experienced television journalist familiar with reporting in the Occupied Palestinian Territories – was killed on 11 May, as she attempted to report on an arrest operation by Israeli Security Forces and clashes in Jenin refugee camp in the northern occupied West Bank.

‘Deeply disturbing’

“More than six weeks after the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and injury of her colleague Ali Sammoudi in Jenin on 11 May 2022, it is deeply disturbing that Israeli authorities have not conducted a criminal investigation,” said OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani.

Following OHCHR’s own probe into the incident, Ms. Shamdasani added that “this monitoring from our Office is consistent with many findings out there that the shots that killed her came from Israeli Security Forces”.

Rejecting that conclusion, a statement issued by the Israeli mission in Geneva insisted that it was not yet possible to conclude who was responsible, in view of the Palestinian Authority’s “refusal to conduct a joint investigation and hand over the bullet”.

Final moments

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, Ms. Shamdasani described Ms. Akleh’s final moments, with her colleague, Ali Sammoudi.

“At around half past six in the morning, as four of the journalists turned into the street leading to the camp, wearing bulletproof helmets and flak jackets with ‘PRESS’ markings, several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets were fired towards them from the direction of the Israeli Security Forces. One single bullet injured Ali Sammoudi in the shoulder, and another single bullet hit Abu Akleh in the head and killed her instantly.”

Highlighting how the OHCHR probe had followed the methodology used in many other country situations, Ms. Shamdasani explained that there was no evidence of activity by armed Palestinians close by.

Ms. Akleh and her colleagues “had proceeded slowly in order to make their presence visible to the Israeli forces deployed down the street”, Ms. Shamdasani said. “Our findings indicate that no warnings were issued and no shooting was taking place at that time and at that location.”

Every angle

She added: “We’ve inspected photo, video, audio material, we’ve visited the scene, we’ve consulted with experts, and we’ve looked at official communications; we’ve interviewed people who were also on the scene when Abu Akleh was killed…Based on this very vigorous monitoring, we find that the shots that killed Abu Akleh came from Israeli Security Forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians.”

After Ms. Abu Akleh was shot, “several further single bullets were fired as an unarmed man attempted to approach her body and another uninjured journalist sheltering behind a tree,” the OHCHR official continued. “Shots continued to be fired as this individual eventually managed to carry away Abu Akleh’s body.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has urged the Israeli authorities to open a criminal investigation into the killing of Ms. Abu Akleh and into all other killings and serious injuries by Israeli forces in the West Bank.

Since the beginning of the year, OHCHR said that it had verified that Israeli Security Forces had killed 58 Palestinians in the West Bank, including 13 children.

“International human rights law requires prompt, thorough, transparent, independent and impartial investigation into all use of force resulting in death or serious injury,” said Ms. Shamdasani. “Perpetrators must be held to account.”

Israel has rejected the findings of the OHCHR probe, adding that the Palestinian Authority has not handed over the bullet that killed Ms. Abu Akleh.

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EU-UNIDO projects highlight gender equality as key to climate action

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Ensuring that women and girls equally lead, participate in and benefit from environmental action are key priorities for the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Speaking at an event held in connection with the Stockholm+50 conference, three women who participate in EU-UNIDO projects around the world told their stories. 

Opening the event, Gerd Müller, UNIDO Director General, and Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, both underlined that a healthy planet is impossible if gender inequalities persist. Therefore, women’s voices as leaders of circular economy, climate technologies and environmental preservation must be recognized and amplified.

Three projects from the EU-UNIDO cooperation portfolio were highlighted during the event.

Amira Saber, Member of the Egyptian Parliament and Secretary General of the Foreign Relations Committee, participates in the Parliamentary action on climate and energy project, which helps catalyze greater engagement of women MPs in renewable energy, energy access and sustainable transport issues. She said that “voices of women are not well represented in the issue of climate change, neither as negotiators, nor as policymakers. Through my NGO, which was founded to close the gap between civil society organizations and policymakers, we’ve been helping with many trainings to build the capacity of women-led organizations, to train women, to give them data and to help implement their projects on the ground.”

She continued, “I want all the women figures in senior policymaking who are influential in their countries and in their surroundings to understand and to stand very solid on the importance of the critical issues, which we’re talking about: climate change.”

Lep Mary, a Cambodian business owner, is part of the CAPFISH project, which supports the Cambodian government’s efforts to achieve sustainable development, climate resilience and inclusivity of the country’s freshwater and marine fisheries resources. Mary noted that “with the support of the UNIDO-CAPFish project, we are able to address most of our challenges related to food safety compliance while enhancing capacity of our suppliers along the value chain on food safety practices. The support will also help to improve environment plans regarding waste management and the safety of workers.”

The Youth Rising project supports vocational education and training for young people in Liberia. Esther Gheh Isatta Javillie, who is part of the project, said that ”the local carpenter producers are all-male. We have this stereotype in Liberia that technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is really for males”.

The event was organized by UNIDO and the EU in association with the Stockholm+50 conference, which commemorates the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment and celebrates 50 years of global environmental action. It was moderated by Cecilia Ugaz Estrada, Director of UNIDO’s Office for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women.

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