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Iran deal signals a radical shift in U.S. approach to the Mideast

Dimitris Giannakopoulos

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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

1At least since 9/11 and arguably for two decades before that, two propositions have informed U.S. policy in the Mideast. The first is that U.S. interests there are best served by the United States establishing a position of unquestioned preeminence. The second is that military might, wielded unilaterally if necessary, holds the key to maintaining that dominant position. Call it the Big Enchilada policy, with attitude. As implemented, however, that approach has yielded almost uniformly unfavorable results. Iraq and Afghanistan provide exhibits A and B, of course. But Libya, Somalia and Yemen don’t look much better. Even so, some hawkish types argue that trying a little harder militarily will produce better outcomes. Their ranks include a platoon of Republican presidential candidates vowing if elected to get tough on the ayatollahs, Andrew J. Bacevich for the Los Angeles Times.

2India Opens Gateway to Central Asian Gas Riches After Iran Deal. With U.S. sanctions easing, India is racing to build a port in Iran that will get around the fact that its land access to energy-rich former Soviet republics in Central Asia has been blocked by China and its ally Pakistan.“We’re seeing the latest manifestation of the Great Game in Central Asia, and India is the new player,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “It’s had its eyes on Central Asia for a long time.” While the world focuses on what Iran’s opening means for Israel and Arab nations, the ramifications are also critical for Asia. Closer Iran-India ties would allow New Delhi’s leaders to secure cheaper energy imports to bolster economic growth and reduce the influence of both China and Pakistan in the region. Natalie Obiko Pearson for Bloomberg.

3Turkmenistan’s government-owned TurkmenGaz will lead a consortium of the national oil companies of the four nations that will build and operate the ambitious Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, the petroleum ministry said without clarifying whether foreign private companies can still participate in the $7.6 billion project.

4Kazakhstan will establish an energy efficiency fund, which will become a tool for supporting energy service companies by allocating them credits and loans on preferential terms, said Albert Rau, Kazakhstan’s Deputy Investment and Development Minister.”Currently, works on the establishment of an energy efficiency fund are already being conducted together with the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program,” he said. “This will give additional impetus for the development of this sector in Kazakhstan. In this regard, we should follow the example of Europe, in particular Germany, which has made significant progress in the field of energy saving.” According to the “100 concrete steps” plan voiced by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, one of the important directions of Kazakhstan’s industrial development is the reduction of energy intensity in the gross domestic product of the country.

5A sophisticated cyber-attack on an email network at the Pentagon affected 4,000 military and civilian personnel working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the network was shut down for two weeks. It was a so-called spear-phishing attack in which people are tricked into opening bogus emails which then infect the network.US officials did not say whether the attack has been linked to individuals or the Russian government but said it was “sophisticated.”One official said: “It was a spear-phishing attack traced to that country (Russia),” Another told NBC News: “It was clearly the work of a state actor.” No classified information was obtained but the Pentagon decided to shut the email system down.

6S-400 Triumf missile defense systems have entered service in the Russian Armed Forces on the Kamchatka Peninsula, the head of the Defense Ministry’s press service for the Eastern Military District said Friday.“The S-300 missile defense systems that were deployed earlier reliably defended the airspace for over a quarter of a century. The capabilities of the new technology will allow for the detection of air targets at more than 600 kilometers away and are several times better than the military efficiency of anti-air defense of foreign states,” Roman Martov said. The S-400 Triumf (SA-21 Growler) is a Russia’s next-generation anti-aircraft weapon system, carrying three different types of missiles capable of destroying aerial targets at short-to-extremely long range.

7A Business Incubation Center at Mingachevir Tech Park will be created before the end of this year, says executive director of the High Tech Park Seymur Agayev. Currently, the general plan of progress for selected areas and the very structure of the Mingachevir Tech Park is under development, he said.“There are a number of measures concerning the activities of the Mingachevir technology park that will be adopted, and the business incubator is one of them. We are developing a comprehensive program that will at once launch the activity of the Tech Park. In addition, discussions are underway with potential investors and members,” Agayev said.

8Will Vladimir Putin save Russia’s ailing firms, like EkoNiva, Rosneft, Gazprom? Including the money in the sovereign wealth funds, the government has $US358 billion in foreign currency reserves and gold. So why not put some to work aiding businesses? One problem is that some banks and companies are poorly managed and deserve to go under, says Bernie Sucher, a longtime US investor in Russia who serves on the board of Moscow-based UFG Asset Management. Bailing them out only delays the day of reckoning, he says. That’s what happened in the 2008 financial crisis in Russia, when “the government sprayed liquidity all over the economy”, he says. “The big miss in 2008 was the failure to use the crisis to pursue deep structural reforms.” Carol Matlack for Sydney Morning Herald.

9Kazakhstan government has revised the decree that made many popular resorts a special border zone requiring special passes. Foreigners will no longer have to obtain permits to visit them. It greatly widened the strip of nearborder land considered a special zone not supposed to be visited by foreigners without obtaining a prior permit from the local authorities. A lot of popular destinations, including Big Almaty Lake, Medeo high altitude skating rink, Shymbulak skiing resort, Lake Alakol, Kolsay Lakes and Charyn Canyon ended up in that zone.

10An agreement to build “Wind Parks” in the vicinities of the Iranian city of Khaf has been reached. According to the agreement, the project will be implemented by LLC “Azalternativenerji”. The project will be implemented within the framework of the Memorandum of Understanding, which was held in Baku in October 2014.

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

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COVID-19: Countries support ‘one-stop shop’ to share science and research

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Thirty countries and numerous international partners have underlined the need to make tests, treatments and other technologies to fight COVID-19, available to people everywhere.

They have signed up to support the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), a “one-stop shop” for sharing scientific knowledge, data and intellectual property in efforts to beat back the disease.

“Tools to prevent, detect and treat COVID-19 are global public goods that must be accessible by all people”, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization (WHO), speaking at the virtual launch held on Friday.

Equal access to technology critical

C-TAP is a sister initiative to the ACT Accelerator, established last month, to speed up development of vaccines and other tools against the pandemic.

It was first proposed in March by President Carlos Alvarado of Costa Rica.

“The promise of sure and safe and effective affordable health care solutions, such as treatments and vaccines, must be the guide for our actions, and it will allow us to overcome a crisis which has left behind so much pain in so many communities throughout the world”, he said, speaking through an interpreter.

“Nevertheless, there is no point in achieving these amazing technological developments if we cannot guarantee affordable access to technology.”

Voluntary ‘one-stop shop’

The UN health agency has described C-TAP as “a one-stop shop” that will be voluntary and based on the principle of solidarity.

WHO said it builds on the success of the Medicines Patent Pool in expanding access to treatments for HIV and the debilitating inflammatory liver disease, hepatitis.

There are five key elements to the initiative, starting with public disclosure of gene sequences and data, as well as clinical trial results.

Governments and research funders are also encouraged to include clauses in contracts with pharmaceutical companies that stress equitable distribution and publication of trial data.

Additionally, treatments and vaccines should be licensed to both large and small producers.

C-TAP also promotes open innovation models and technology transfers that increase local manufacturing and supply.

“Through C-TAP, we are inviting companies or governments that develop an effective therapeutic to contribute the patent to the Medicines Patent Pool, which would then sub-license the patent to generic manufacturers”, said Tedros.

WHO, Costa Rica and all the countries that have sponsored the initiative also issued a ‘Solidarity Call to Action’ urging other stakeholders to join C-TAP.

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ADB Study Maps Supply Chains for Key Products in COVID-19 Response

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has released a landmark study which maps supply chains for critical products in the global response to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, clearing the way for the identification and removal of blockages in their production and distribution.

The interactive maps will enable banks, investors, governments, and healthcare professionals to pinpoint key companies in the supply of portable ventilators, N95 respirators, face shields, goggles, aprons, surgical masks, and gowns. The maps consider the elements of each product down to its component metals and fabrics.

“To fix any supply chain problems, we need an in-depth description of what goes into these products and which companies are involved,” said ADB’s Head of Trade and Supply Chain Finance Steven Beck. “Mapping these supply chains means that if help is needed, banks, investors, and governments can use the data to quickly relieve bottlenecks and ramp up supplies.”

The mapping project feeds data that already exists from many sources into an algorithm that sorts the information by applying various industry and product codes. Until now, that data has existed in multiple forms on a variety of separate databases, but never brought together in a user-friendly format. A future phase of this initiative will look at blockages at ports, tariff requirements, and other impediments to the efficient functioning of supply chains for these critical goods.

ADB announced on 13 April a tripling in the size of its response to the pandemic to $20 billion. The package expands on the $6.5 billion initial response announced on 18 March, adding $13.5 billion in resources to help ADB’s developing member countries counter the severe macroeconomic and health impacts caused by COVID-19.

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More ‘can and must be done’ to eradicate caste-based discrimination in Nepal

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People walk down a street of shops in Kathmandu, Nepal. (file) photo World Bank/Peter Kapuscinski

Shocked over the killing last weekend of five men in Nepal, who had planned to escort home one of their girlfriends from a higher caste, the UN human rights chief on Friday stressed that ending caste-based discrimination is “fundamental” to the overall sustainable development vision of leaving no one behind.

“It is distressing that caste-based prejudices remain deeply entrenched in our world in the 21st century, and I am filled with sadness for these two young people who held high hopes of building a life together despite the obstacles presented by their accident of birth” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, referring to the couple at the centre of the tragedy.

Last Saturday, a 21-year-old man from the ‘untouchable’ Dalit caste, known as Nawaraj BK, and his friends, traveled some 32 km from Jajarkot district, to Western Rukum district, the home of the man’s girlfriend, who belongs to a higher social caste.

They intended to escort the young woman back to their home district, reportedly at her request, but were attacked and chased into a river. Five men, four of whom were also Dalits, were later found dead, while another is still missing.

“Caste-based discrimination remains widespread, not only in Nepal but other countries, and often leads to serious harm and, as in this case, even loss of life”, lamented Ms. Bachelet. 

Dalits under attack

Nawaraj’s case is not an isolated one.

Dalits, formerly known as “untouchables”, have suffered for generations of public shaming at the hands of upper-caste Hindus and continue to face widespread atrocities across the country, with any seeming attempts at upward social mobility, violently shut down.

In a similar case, disturbing reports have also emerging about a 12-year-old Dalit girl who was killed in a separate attack in the village of Devdaha, in the Rupandehi district in southern Nepal.

She is said to have been forcibly married to her alleged rapist from a dominant caste. The girl’s body was reportedly left hanging from a tree on Saturday.

The High Commissioner called for an independent investigation into the attacks, underscoring that the victims and their families have the right to justice, truth and reparations.

Searching for justice

The killings have triggered outrage in Nepal, prompting the federal Ministry of Home Affairs to establish a five-member “high-level investigation committee” to look into the incident. 

On Tuesday, police reportedly filed a complaint against 20 alleged perpetrators. 

“Despite constitutional guarantees, impunity for caste-based discrimination and violence remains high in Nepal”, according to the UN human rights office (OHCHR). 

And while the country has taken “big strides to address this scourge”, she maintained that “so much more can and must be done, to eradicate this blight on society”.

The Nepali Parliament’s Law, Justice and Human Rights Committee has asked authorities to immediately investigate two cases of gang-rape of Dalit women, as well as other caste-based cases involving murder, enforced disappearances and forced abortion.

Although Nepal is party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Committee tasked with monitoring the treaty observed that despite the abolition of “untouchability” in Nepal, Dalits continue to face deep-rooted discrimination, including issues surrounding inter-caste marriages.

Discrimination at every turn

And the risks for this vulnerable caste has only increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On Monday, the parliamentary committee directed the Government to investigate all incidents of caste-based discrimination and violence during the coronavirus lockdown. 

Dalits in Nepal and other countries experience discrimination at every level of their daily lives, limiting their employment and educational opportunities, the places where they can collect water or worship, and their choice of who to marry, says OHCHR.

Structural barriers and discrimination force Dalits to continue low-income and dehumanizing employment, such as manual scavenging, disposing of dead animals, digging graves or making leather products.

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