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Will Jonathan Pollard’s release sooth U.S.-Israel tensions over Iran?

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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

1Congress is due to finish its review of the deal and vote on it in September. If that process gets completed, by November — when Pollard will go free — Netanyahu’s calculations might be different.”If Netanyahu wanted to climb down from the tree, if he wanted to make amends with the U.S., the Pollard … release would be a great way to do it,” Sachs, a fellow with the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy said. [CNN]

2Why the Iran deal is huge for Obama’s legacy. “From the moment he took office, the Obama doctrine — to the extent that one exists — basically boiled down to this: Diplomacy with so-called enemy countries can be effective, said Jeremy Shapiro, a foreign policy fellow at Brookings Institute and former State Department aide. Obama has been testing that theory on Iran literally since Day One, in part because nuclear nonproliferation has also been a central focus of his presidency. He became the first U.S. president to use the word “Muslim” in his inaugural address, offering to extend a hand to world leaders “if you are willing to unclench your fist.” [Washington Post]

3If Russia breaks up. “If Mr Putin goes and the money runs out, Chechnya could be the first to break off. This would have a dramatic effect on the rest of the north Caucasus region. Neighbouring Dagestan, a far bigger and more complex republic than Chechnya, could fragment. A conflict in the Caucasus combined with the weakness of the central government in Russia could make other regions want to detach themselves from Moscow’s problems” [Economist]

4Kazakhstan trade likely to bloom. A full picture of the Kazakhstani market and its business opportunities was unveiled at a forum held in Ha Noi yesterday. Viet Nam and Kazakh-stan signed a number of framework agreements on economic, trade, diplomatic, education, investment, labour and energy co-operation in recent years, said Vice Chairman of the Viet Nam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) Doan Duy Khuong. According to Viet Nam’s General Department of Customs, trade between the two countries was almost US$230 million in 2014, with $219 million from Viet Nam’s exports, up 42 percent year-on-year. Exports consisted primarily of cell phones and electronic spare parts, machinery and farm produce. Imports, meanwhile, doubled, including ore and minerals.

5Navies of Azerbaijan, Russia and Kazakhstan has set to hold trilateral naval drills, RIA Novosti reported on July 30 with a reference to Igor Dygalo, the representative of the press service of Russian Defense Ministry on Navy.”As part of the preparations for the “Cup of the Caspian Sea – 2015″ competition, the ships of the Navies of Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan will conduct a number of preparatory artillery shooting on small maritime targets, on air targets and on a floating mine,” Dygalo noted.Holding joint naval drills among the CIS member-states’ navies was agreed in Astrakhan on November 9, 2014. An international competition called “Cup of the Caspian Sea – 2015” is the first ever joint exercises in the Caspian Sea.

6Turkey is ready to distribute gas not only from Russia but also from Azerbaijan and Iran in Europe, general director of Russia’s National Energy Security Fund Konstantin Simonov said in an interview aired by the Rossiya-24 TV news channel on Thursday.”Turkey also plans to transit gas from Azerbaijan and Iran. It appears that it may take the same position regarding this gas,” he said when speaking about the intergovernmental agreement between Russia and Turkey on 2-4 lines of the Turkish Stream to deliver Russian gas to European states.

7President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhammadov and President of Russia Vladimir Putin expressed confidence in the prospects of intensifying mutually advantageous cooperation during a telephone conversation. As part of the conversation, which was held in a businesslike, constructive manner, the highest attention was paid to the discussion of the implementation of earlier agreements, designed to serve the deepening of partnership built on principles of equality, trust and mutual respect.Among the significant vectors of cooperation, the sides mentioned the trade and economic sphere, transport and communication, urban development, agroindustrial complex and other spheres.

8Russia is modernizing its S-300 missile system to supply to Iran, an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday, RIA news agency reported. “It has partially been updated, separate elements are still being updated,” said Vladimir Kozhin, a presidential adviser on military matters, referring to the S-300 system. “It will be that very S-300 complex that Iran wanted to receive.” Russia says it canceled a contract to deliver the advanced missile system to Iran in 2010 under pressure from the West. But Putin lifted that self-imposed ban in April following an interim nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

9The commissioning of Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway will further increase the importance of Azerbaijan Railways CJSC and Georgian Railway JSC in freight transportation within the region and will enhance their business profiles, said Fitch Ratings July 30.Fitch said that the freight rail transportation volumes continued to decline in most former Soviet Union (FSU) countries over the first five months of 2015 and it is expected that the rail volumes are to remain weak in the second half of this year on the back of lower GDP growth across the region.“FSU rail transport companies that are reliant on crude oil transportation are also under competitive pressure as crude oil traffic continues to switch to pipelines from rail,” said the ratings agency.

10Seven start-up projects from Kazakhstan along with two start-up projects from Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine have become winners of Technation acceleration program for start-up teams from CIS (post-soviet space), Europe and Asia. The winners will travel to Silicon Valley – a land of innovation and start-ups – in the United States in October 2015 for a one-month internship.

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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Development

Report Underlines Reforms to Support Fiscal Federalism, Green Growth in Nepal

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Nepal has made significant strides in implementing fiscal federalism while key reforms are needed to support fiscal sustainability and Nepal’s transition towards green, resilient, and inclusive development states the World Bank’s Public Expenditure Review (PER) Report on Fiscal Policy for Sustainable Development launched today.

With the country’s transition to federalism, expenditure responsibilities have been devolved to subnational governments that are predominantly financed through intergovernmental transfers and revenue sharing. These now account for between 8 and 9 percent of GDP per year (or close to 30 percent of the annual budget). While federalism is helping bring policymaking closer to the people, it has also increased fiscal spending and (exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic) led to a sharp rise in fiscal deficits and public debt, states the report.

“This report provides an analytical basis to inform our reform efforts to strengthen federalism and create fiscal space to support our new focus on a green, resilient, and inclusive development (GRID) model,” statedMr. Madhu Kumar Marasini, Finance Secretary. “This complements our ongoing efforts to refine the fiscal transfer system put in place the systems for monitoring and reporting for a more results oriented and accountable delivery of local services.”

The PER identifies key reforms to help Nepal strengthen fiscal sustainability and initiate a shift to a GRID pathway. It identifies the following five top priority reforms: (i) Encouraging the update of subnational spending responsibilities through the intergovernmental grants system; (ii) supporting exports and job creation through reforms to import duties; (iii) strengthening domestic revenue, for example by reviewing VAT exemptions; (iv) enhancing public capital spending by rolling out the National Project Bank; and (v) providing fiscal incentives for a green growth transition.

“The World Bank will continue to support government reforms to improve fiscal sustainability and the implementation of fiscal federalism, drawing on the recommendations of the PER Report,” said Faris Hadad-Zervos, World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. “This report complements our human development PER, both of which will help inform the design of World Bank support to Nepal, including through our ongoing support through our various Development Policy Credits.”

The report also stresses the importance of strengthening investment processes and fiscal policies for green growth, and fiscal policy reforms to enable Nepal to use its green electricity surplus to mitigate air pollution to protect the health of people and the economy.

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Development

Philippines: Boosting Private Sector Growth Can Strengthen Recovery, Create More Jobs

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Rebounding from a deep contraction in 2020, the Philippine economy is forecast to grow 5.3 percent this year before accelerating to an average of 5.8 percent in 2022-23 on the road to recovery, according to the Philippines Economic Update (PEU) titled Regaining Lost Ground, Revitalizing the Filipino Workforce, released today by the World Bank.

Government spending on infrastructure is expected to buoy growth, aided by the steady progress in vaccination leading to greater people mobility and the revival of businesses. Barring a new uptick in COVID-19 cases, household consumption is projected to recover, anchored on rising remittances and improving incomes as more people regain or find new jobs.

“The new variant has added a layer of uncertainty but economic reopening, along with progress in vaccination, is clearly strengthening domestic dynamism and market confidence,” said Ndiame Diop, World Bank Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand. “As the recovery gains traction, it will be important to enhance private sector participation in the recovery by deepening current efforts to make the country’s business environment favorable to job creation while upskilling the workers so that they can benefit from new or emerging job opportunities.”

Reforms that open more sectors to foreign investments, streamline administrative procedures to facilitate market entry and encourage firms to adopt new technology are measures that can boost private sector growth, create more jobs, and strengthen recovery, Diop added.

The nearly two-year long pandemic, however, has forced the closures of many firms, leading to losses of jobs and incomes, alongside health insecurities and disruptions in children’s education.

The Philippines underwent two surges of COVID-19 infections this year, first in March-April and in August-September due to the more infectious Delta variant. In both instances, the authorities reinstated strict mobility restrictions in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, and key metropolitan areas.

Nonetheless, the recent surge and mobility restrictions have not severely hampered economic activity. As a result, the economy expanded by 4.9 percent in the first three quarters of 2021, rebounding from a 10.1 percent contraction over the same period in 2020.

In 2022, the phased economic reopening is expected to benefit the services sector especially transportation, domestic tourism, and wholesale and retail trade. Sustained public investment will continue to support construction activities.

The PEU flags that despite encouraging trends, the COVID-19 pandemic remains a major risk to the country’s growth prospects.

The report notes that even in countries with high vaccination rates, infections have continued to spread, albeit with greatly reduced severity of illness, hospitalization, and mortality. Variants of concern, breakthrough cases, and waning vaccine efficacy have highlighted the complexity of economic reopening.

“Speeding up vaccination especially in areas outside the National Capital Region and sustaining the observance of health protocols including masking and maintaining social distancing are measures that remain important as the country navigates the challenges of reviving the economy,” said Kevin Chua, Senior World Bank Economist.

Social protection measures, Chua added, including the country’s cash transfer programs remain important measures to mitigate the adverse impact of the pandemic on livelihoods, health, and education, especially among poor families.

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Africa Today

United States COVID-19 vaccine delivery to Mozambique

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In an effective effort to make tremendous and recognizable contributions to help fight the spread of coronavirus, the United States Embassy in Mozambique has announced the arrival of more than two million doses of the Johnson & Johnson coordinated through COVAX in Maputo, Mozambique.

This is the United States’ fourth and largest bi-lateral COVID-19 vaccine delivery to Mozambique, bringing the total number of U.S.-donated vaccines to nearly 3.5 million, and maintaining the United States as Mozambique’s largest bi-lateral vaccine donor.

“The United States remains committed to sharing vaccines equitably, around the world,” U.S. Ambassador to Mozambique Dennis W. Hearne said. “No one is protected from COVID-19 until everyone is vaccinated. As more vaccines become available to all nations around the world, we have a shared interest in getting everyone who is eligible vaccinated.”

The U.S. Government has provided early and ongoing support for the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Mozambique, including assistance valued at $62.5 million. This assistance includes the recent donation of 60 oxygen cylinders and a PSA oxygen plant, 50 ventilators, personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, laboratory and oxygen equipment, training, and funding for increased medical staff, among other initiatives.

In close collaboration with the Government of the Republic of Mozambique, the U.S. Government provides more than $500 million in annual assistance to improve the quality of education and healthcare, promote economic prosperity, and support the overall development of the nation.

The Mozambican government’s target is to vaccinate about 16.8 million people. Excluded from the vaccination are pregnant women and children under 15 years of age. According to the latest figures from the Health Ministry, the number of people fully vaccinated against the disease now stands at 3,324,849, and 6,158,360 have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Mozambique shares borders with South Africa where a new COVID variant (B.1.1.529), renamed Omicron, is currently spreading. Travellers from the region are monitored. The United States, Europe and Asian States have restricted flights from southern African region, and that include Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

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