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Is this the moment of truth for an Iran 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

1“One of the most difficult disputes appears to deal with conventional, not nuclear weapons – the arms embargo enshrined in the UN Security Council Resolutions on Iranian sanctions adopted in 2006. Iran argues that ending the ban is central to its quest to end its pariah status in the region and restore its national pride.But the P5+1 is clearly divided. Western countries, mindful of significant regional tensions, have opposed lifting a ban which would allow Tehran to buy and sell arms. “We have always said this would one of the most sensitive issues,” said one senior Western diplomat last week.Russia and China are known to back Iran’s view that the embargo should now end. Russia’s foreign ministry even spelled it out in a tweet: “#Lavrov: The arms embargo on Iran must be one of the first sanctions to be lifted.” Writes Lyse Doucet for BBC.

2Russia, China benefit from Iran nuclear deal. US Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina has criticized Russia and China over nuclear negotiations with Iran, saying those countries will benefit from a possible agreement with Tehran.“China and Russia have not been negotiating on our side of the table,” she told ABC News on Sunday.“It is in those two countries’ interests that Iran’s economy is open,” she said. “And so in many ways they have been negotiating on Iran’s side of the table.”The former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard software company also attacked American negotiators for caving in to President Barack Obama’s goals.“I would have walked away because if you can’t walk away from the negotiating table, the other side just keeps negotiating,” Fiorina said.“We have caved on every major goal that President Obama set,” she claimed.The Obama administration’s critics have voiced concern as Washington and its negotiating partners are in talks with the Islamic Republic in Vienna to finalize a nuclear deal.

3The U.S., a strategic partner and friend of Azerbaijan, will continue cooperating on the Southern Gas Corridor project and other projects to be implemented in the future. This remark was made by Amos Hochstein, a Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs at the U.S. Department of State on July 11. “Today, the delegation has met with President Ilham Aliyev,” he told reporters. “We have discussed the energy security and the role of Azerbaijan and the U.S. in partnership, Azerbaijani gas supply to Europe. This is part of the solution to the energy security problem of Europe.” Hochstein noted under the leadership of President Aliyev, Azerbaijan has played an important role in transforming an idea into reality.

4Kazakh President Nurusltan Nazarbayev underlined Iran’s important role in regional and international security, Irna reported.’The Islamic Republic of Iran has a high status in restoration of regional and international security,’ the Kazakh president said, addressing the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Ufa, Russia, on Friday. The Kazakh president also highlighted Iran’s role in SCO’s economic and trade cooperation structure, and said, ‘I hope the ongoing negotiations between Iran and the Group 5+1 would end successfully and final agreement would be struck by the negotiating sides.’ President Nazarbayev pointed to the complicated and tense situation of the Middle East, and said, ‘The conditions of Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq is the cause of concern and there are still differences between the Palestinians and Israel.’

5Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a visit to Turkmenistan yesterday backed stronger energy ties with the gas-rich ex-Soviet state. Meeting Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov for talks in Ashgabat, the premier backed an ambitious project to build a pipeline from Turkmenistan to deliver its vast energy resources to India. The long-planned gas pipeline project, named TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India), would be “a key pillar of economic engagement between the two countries” and have a “transformational impact,” the leaders said in a joint statement. The leaders “reaffirmed their strong commitment towards timely implementation of this strategic project for the common benefit of peoples of the four countries.” Berdymukhamedov said after the talks that the gas pipeline project “is already entering the final stage and soon we will start the practical implementation.We are standing on the threshold of a remarkable event,” the Turkmen leader said.

6Normalization of Georgian-Russian relations. Russian State Secretary, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and Georgian prime minister’s special representative for relations with Russia Zurab Abashidze will discuss the issues of cooperation between the two counties in transport sphere, Sputnik reported. The announcement about the discussions was made by Karasin himself. The diplomat said the results of normalization of Georgian-Russian relations are obvious for everyone. “Bilateral trade between the two countries has increased by 1.5 times over two years and reached $850 million,” said Karasin. “Georgia’s export to Russia has increased more than fivefold as a result of lifting the restrictions on supply of wine and agricultural products.”Furthermore, he said that the two countries have resumed cooperation in the international road transport sphere.

7Real estate prices decrease in Azerbaijan. Real estate expert Rashad Aliyev believes there are several reasons leading to the price decrease in Azerbaijan’s real estate market.”First, oil prices have decreased, and this factor has affected the whole economy: government expenditures reduced, revenues from abroad decreased,” he said. “Low liquidity also played a role. Also, flow of capital in the real estate market has reduced. This was due to the fact that many banks have restricted the allocation of loans in manat, which led to a shortage of funds.” [AzerNews]

8South Africa nuclear energy deal with Moscow. South Africa has given its clearest indication yet of a possible nuclear energy deal with Moscow, with the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two countries that would see 200 locals going to Russia for training. The Department of Energy last week revealed that a deal with Russia was signed on the sidelines of the Brics summit in Russia, where Moscow would provide training for South African nuclear power plan personnel, engineers and construction workers in preparation for the launch of South Africa’s nuclear power plants. The deal that is expected to cost South Africa more than R1.2 trillion will see Russia build South African nuclear power plants to alleviate the electricity crisis in the country. South Africa put a six-month deadline to award the contracts.

9What Azerbaijan and Central Asia Have in Common. “While not nearly as remittance-dependent as Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan, Azerbaijan nonetheless maintains warming relations with Russia, both due to general autocratic consolidation as well as Russia’s swelling arms trade with Baku’s regime. Azerbaijan doesn’t maintain quite the level of relations that Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan know with China, though with the ever-expanding breadth of China’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, Baku’s relations with Beijing will only continue to swell.” Writes Casey Michel for The Diplomat.

10The 2016 Formula One season could start nearly a month later than usual and feature a record 21 races, with Azerbaijan hosting one for the first time, the sport’s governing body said on Friday. Azerbaijan’s capital Baku was chosen to host its first race on July 17, while Germany is due to return to the fold on July 31 after abruptly dropping out of the 2015 schedule.

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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