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Iran nuclear talks: agreement reached in Vienna

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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

1World powers have reached a deal with Iran on limiting Iranian nuclear activity in return for the lifting of international economic sanctions.US President Barack Obama said that with the deal, “every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off” for Iran. His Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, said it opened a “new chapter” in Iran’s relations with the world. The accord will keep Iran from producing enough material for a nuclear weapon for at least 10 years and impose new provisions for inspections of Iranian facilities, including military sites. And it marks a dramatic break from decades of animosity between the United States and Iran, countries that alternatively call each other the “leading state sponsor of terrorism” and the “the Great Satan.” The breakthrough came after several key compromises. Diplomats said Iran agreed to the continuation of a UN arms embargo on the country for up to five more years, though it could end earlier if the International Atomic Energy Agency definitively clears Iran of any current work on nuclear weapons. A similar condition was put on UN restrictions on the transfer of ballistic missile technology to Tehran, which could last for up to eight more years.

2The Fate of the Turkish Stream Pipeline after the 7 June Elections in Turkey. “Russia and Turkey move closer together over the last 10 years may experience a slowdown. The increased political risks accompanied on the one hand by a rapidly changing political situation and on the other by Russia’s strategic interests and Moscow’s updated energy policy, are making their mark on the implementation of the Turkish Stream pipeline. It may therefore be helpful to classify the main political risks for Ankara under the headings of “internal” and “external” writes Kerim Has for RIAC.

3US ambassador: Azerbaijan is the example of tolerance. Since arriving in Azerbaijan, I have learned about many things Azerbaijan can offer to the world. One such thing is the example of tolerance and the history of people of different religions living together and respecting each other, the US ambassador to Azerbaijan Robert Cekuta told during iftar ceremony on the occasion of the holy month of Ramadan at his residency. He also mentioned that today 2.6 million Muslims live in the United States. US value friendship with the countries of the Muslim world and wish to expand these ties.

4Kazakhstan: Economic Crisis, State Companies, And The Nation’s Image. “Due to Kazakhstan’s close economic relationship with Russia, and the country’s dependence on oil exports, which accounted for 70 percent of 2014’s exports, Kazakhstan’s economy has been one of the hardest hit in Central Asia. The government has already been forced to revise the budget twice since last year, first to refigure finances based on oil being $80 per barrel, then again early in 2015 to base the budget on the price of oil being $50 per barrel. In February 2015, the government warned that 120,000 workers could be laid off due to economic difficulties” writes Qishloq Ovozi for RFE/RL.

5Turkmenistan sees growth in oil production. Oil production in Turkmenistan has increased by 7.8 percent in Jan.-June 2015, compared to the same period of 2014, the country’s Ministry of Oil and Gas Industry and Mineral Resources said July 13. Positive changes have been observed in many spheres of economy in H1 of 2015, according to the ministry.During the reporting period, gasoline production has increased by 1.1 percent, kerosene – 0.2 percent, oil bitumen – 19.8 percent, petroleum coke – 0.2 percent, liquefied gas – 0.5 percent, polypropylene – 0.2 percent.Turkmenistan plans to bring the capacity of the refining industry to 20 million metric tons of oil by 2020, 22 million metric tons by 2025 and 30 million metric tons by 2030.

6Cossacks Seek Greater Role in Southern Russia’s Economic and Political Life. “On June 26, the ideologue of free Cossakia Grigory Kuznetsov (a. k. a. Vladlen Alyabyev), reiterated his vision of an independent Cossack territorial entity in a brief manifesto. The Cossack leader did not explicitly state that Cossakia should seek independence from the Russian Federation, but strongly suggested the need to explore this route. Cossacks should have their own “national leaders who are elected at the Cossack Council and who depend on the choice of the nation, not on the decrees of the aliens from the bordering state,” the activist wrote” writes Valery Dzutsev for the Jamestown.

7China may replace Russia as gas partner for Turkmenistan. Much of Turkmenistan’s future stability will hinge on the specific partner that will replace Gazprom, who was recently declared by the Central Asian country as an insolvent one, Luca Anceschi, lecturer at the British University of Glasgow believes.“Much of Turkmenistan’s future stability will hinge on the specific partner that will replace Gazprom. It might be China, but I think that it is in the interest of the Turkmen government to finalise as soon as possible a new set of energy deals with other partners, located in both Asia and the West,” Anceschi told Trend.az on July 13. Recently Turkmenistan said that Russia’s Gazprom has become insolvent on its contracts for sale and purchase of natural gas due to the ongoing world economic crisis and the economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the West.

8General Tanasak Patimapragorn, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, begins an official visit to Russia on July 14. Patimapragorn will participate in the Sixth Meeting of the Thai-Russia Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation, which will be held on July 15 in Moscow. The Russian part of the Commission is headed by Minister of Industry and Trade of Russia Denis Manturov. Barsky said that several new agreements are planned to be reached during the visit, and some documents may be signed in the areas of agriculture, customs, and environmental protection.

9New Market Research Report: Herbal Traditional Products in Azerbaijan. Traditional herbal therapy is a strong part of Azerbaijani culture. More often people turn to herbal/traditional products or products with such positioning as they are perceived as being gentle and less harmful than standard products. Although these remedies are mostly consumed to eliminate minor symptoms they are gaining more popularity thanks to the growing belief that most OTC’s cause addiction. Finally in some cases the price of such remedies is more accessible and thus remains an. Euromonitor International’s Herbal/Traditional Products in Azerbaijan report offers a comprehensive guide to the size and shape of the market at a national level. It provides the latest retail sales data 2010-2014 allowing you to identify the sectors driving growth. Forecasts to 2019 illustrate how the market is set to change. [Euromonitor]

10Azerbaijan among most travel-worthy countries. Azerbaijan, which is turning into one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, is listed among the countries for the “National Geographic Traveler Awards 2015” contest. The competition, conducted by National Geographic Magazine, is being held to determine the best tourist destinations of 2015 by a range of popular leisure activities.

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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Safer roads, a global development challenge for all

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Every 24 seconds someone is killed in traffic, making safety on the world’s roads a global development challenge for all societies, especially for the most vulnerable, a senior UN official has said, ahead of the first ever High-level General Assembly Meeting on Improving Road Safety. 

Nneka Henry, who heads the United Nations Road Safety Fund (UNRSF) Secretariat, noted that 500 children die in crashes every day, and that of the older population, women are 17 times more likely to be killed during a car crash than men, even when wearing seatbelts. 

Challenge for all 

Despite these statistics, road safety is not just a challenge for women or for young people. It is “for each and every one of us who walk, ride, cycle or drive on our roads,” Ms. Henry told Diedra Sealey, a young diplomat in the President of the General Assembly’s HOPE Fellowship programme. 

The interview took place ahead of the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on Improving Road Safety, which gets underway at UN Headquarters in New York on Thursday and Friday, organized by the President of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, and the World Health Organization (WHO).  

Coinciding with the meeting, is the UN Road Safety Fund pledging conference. The Fund was established in 2018 with a vision to “to build a world where roads are safe for every road user, everywhere.” It specially finances projects in low- and middle- income countries, where some 93 per cent of road deaths and injuries take place. 

“I am here in New York to remind all 193 Member States of their commitment to the Fund’s mandate and success,” Ms. Henry said.  

Those successes include the announcement that as of 1 July, all vehicles imported in East Africa need to be below the Euro 4/IV emission standard and no more than eight years old. 

The Fund has been working with the Economic Community of West African States’ 15 members, to harmonize vehicle standard resolutions.  

Major benefits 

“This will have major air quality and road safety benefits,” Ms. Henry said about the latest announcement.  

Some of the other achievements by the Fund include legislation in Azerbaijan to help emergency post-crash response, help to increase enforcement of the speed limits and other road traffic rules in Brazil and Jordan, as well as improving data collection in Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, and training urban planners on making safer school zones in Paraguay.  

Vision for the future 

As part of the High-level meeting this week, UN Member States will adopt a political declaration, to lay out a “vision for the future of mobility as one that promotes health and well-being, protects the environment, and benefits all people,” according to a press release. 

The interconnected targets are part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that show how road safety is also integrated into the SDGs, from allowing safer access to education, to allowing people access to groceries and reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere. 

Halving traffic deaths and injuries by 2030 is a target under the third SDG, on good health and well-being. 

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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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