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Iran is ready to boost science diplomacy

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

1The Iranian minister of science, research and technology says the Islamic Republic is ready to boost “science diplomacy” with other countries following the removal of anti-Iran sanctions with the implementation of an agreement between the country and the P5+1.Mohammad Farhadi said in an interview with IRNA on Thursday night that Iran has, over the past few months, made arrangements for cooperation with a number of regional and European universities. He said that among the priorities of his ministry in the post-sanctions era is shoring up scientific collaboration with other countries through professor and student exchange programs, holding joint scientific courses, and if necessary, establishing foreign university branches in Iran, including in free zones.

2A landmark gas deal between China and Russia that has been years in the making looks set to be finalized, as the countries prepare to mark the 70th anniversary of victory in World War II.”The gas deal looks very likely to be confirmed at the final moment because of its large scale and importance due to international practices,” Andrey Denisov, the Russian ambassador to China said, adding that he was sure that there will be an agreement but that the details won’t be disclosed until the last minute. In May 2014, after 20 years of negotiations, China and Russia agreed to build a natural gas supply line, known as the “eastern route”, that is supposed to deliver 38 billion cubic meters of gas to Beijing and Northeast China annually, starting in 2018. Chen Yurong, an expert with the China Institute of International Studies, said that the Russian ambassador might have been referring to the “western route”.Negotiations on the western route, a 2,800-kilometer supply line to deliver 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually to China’s Xinjiang Ugyur autonomous region over 30 years, began in 2006. [ChinaDaily]

3OSCE Minsk Group plans to organize a meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in September, the group’s U.S. Co-chair said. In an interview with Azerbaijani news agency APA, James Warlick stated that the Co-chairs plan to travel to the region, but failed to mention certain dates. He also noted that it is highly necessary to reaffirm the sides’ commitment to the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.The American diplomat once again stated that “the return of Artsakh adjacent areas is one of the key elements of negotiations.”

4The International Atomic Energy Agency and Kazakhstan signed an agreement on Thursday to locate the world’s first bank of low-enriched uranium (LEU) in the ex-Soviet nation to ensure fuel supplies for nuclear power stations and encourage nuclear non-proliferation.The $US150 million ($209 million) bank, containing the raw material for making fuel for nuclear power plants, will be built in Ust-Kamenogorsk in northeastern Kazakhstan. It will be governed by Kazakhstan’s laws but will be fully managed and operated by the IAEA.The storage facility, set to become fully operational in 2017, is intended to provide IAEA member states with confidence in a steady and predictable supply of fuel for nuclear power stations even if other supply mechanisms are disrupted.

5Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has discussed trade, economic, energy, and transport cooperation with his visiting Turkmen counterpart, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. The Turkmen state news agency reported that the talks in Kabul on August 27 touched upon the project to build the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.The sides also discussed the construction of a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan (TAT) railway, which is currently under construction. Ghani’s office quoted the Afghan president as saying plans to transfer electricity to Pakistan via Afghanistan were also discussed.

6The evolution of negative Western narrative on Russia. “Russia made significant changes from the Soviet totalitarian system, but instead of acknowledging this progress, Russia is characterized by exploiting misleading historical analogies as ‘closed’, associated with the KGB, the Soviet Union, ‘relentless propaganda’, ‘government control’. The opinions of the Russian citizens on their political system or their president as well as the actions by the Russian state that do not fit the description of ‘dictatorial power’ are typically omitted from the Western media coverage. The result of this “selection bias” builds up over time to make an overall negative image of the country and the president” Angela Borozna for OpEdNews.

7Russia and China are developing drones that could make stealth aircraft obsolete. According to Zarchary Keck writing in The National Interest, both Beijing and Moscow have begun development of unmanned aerial vehicles that have the goal of finding, detecting, and possibly even eliminating enemy stealth aircraft. China’s stealth detection drone, called the Divine Eagle, is believed to be specially built to counter stealth aircraft while they are still far from the Chinese mainland. Popular Science notes that the drone’s “long range anti-stealth capabilities can be used against both aircraft, like the B-2 bomber, and warships such as the DDG-1000 destroyer … the Chinese air force could quickly intercept stealthy enemy aircraft, missiles and ships well before they come in range of the Mainland.” The Divine Eagle features multiple different radar systems, including X/UHF low band radar systems, according to Popular Science. These systems could be used to track stealth aircraft like the F-35 at long distances, as most stealth technology is created to avoid high band radar systems, thereby eroding one of the key advantages of the fifth-generation plane. [Business Insider]

8Azerbaijan is one of Italy’s main trade partners, Manuela Traldi, Italy-Azerbaijan Trade Institute ITAZERCOM head, said at a presentation entitled “Investments in Azerbaijan: Business Environment and Opportunities.” The presentation was held as part of the EXPO-2015 international exhibition in the Italian city of Milan. AZPROMO head Rufat Mammadov made a presentation on the investment environment and business opportunities of Azerbaijan. He informed the participants about the economy of the country and Azerbaijan-Italy economic and trade relations. He said that as a result of the successfully carried out socio-economic policy, Azerbaijan has achieved sustainable economic growth. The country has created a favorable investment and business environment, which led to its becoming a foreign investor.

9Troubles in Russia, China slow Kremlin’s pivot to Asia. A growing economic crisis in Russia and a growth slowdown in China that has rattled world markets means about $113 billion worth of joint projects ranging from gas pipelines to power grids have been stalled or delayed.With a major crackdown on corruption also in progress in China, and Russia hit by sanctions, falling oil prices and a collapsing currency, some joint Russian-Chinese projects may be delayed indefinitely, industry sources and analysts say. The developments represent a major challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s strategy of a pivot to Asia, spurred last year by the imposition of Western sanctions on Moscow for its role in the Ukraine crisis” Katya Golubkova and Denis Pinchuk for The Japan Times.

10Under the annual military cooperation plan between Azerbaijan and Turkey, a new group of the aircraft of Turkey’s Air Force has arrived in Azerbaijan to participate in the TurAz Falcon 2015 exercises being held between the two countries’ air forces. More than 30 means of aviation as well as MiQ-29, F-16 fighters jets, Su-25 strike assault, F-4E bomber, C-130 Hercules military transport planes, Mi-35 combat, Mi-17 and Sikorski UH-60 combat transport, Cougar AS532 search and rescue helicopters are participating in the exercises, the Defense Ministry said.

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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ADB Operations Reach $32.2 Billion in 2017- ADB Annual Report

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) Annual Report 2017, released today, provides a clear, comprehensive, and detailed record of ADB’s operations, activities, and financial results over the past year.

Annual operations of ADB reached a record $32.2 billion in 2017, as the bank continues to meet Asia and the Pacific’s growing development needs, according to the Annual Report. This was a 26% increase from the year before.

ADB’s total operations of $32.2 billion last year consisted of $20.1 billion in loans, grants, and investments from its own resources (up 51% from 2016) including nonsovereign operations of $2.3 billion (a 31% increase from 2016); $11.9 billion in cofinancing from bilateral and multilateral agencies and other financing partners; and $201 million in technical assistance (a 11% increase from 2016).

These figures are based on ADB’s new performance measure of “commitments,” or the amount of loans, grants, and investments signed in a given year. ADB introduced this measure in 2017 to promote project readiness at approval stage, expedite post-approval steps, and get closer to project disbursement, by placing more emphasis on when the projects are signed, rather than when they are approved by ADB’s Board of Directors.

“We began a new chapter in meeting development needs across Asia and the Pacific in 2017,” said ADB President Takehiko Nakao. “With the merger of the bank’s concessional Asian Development Fund lending operations with the ordinary capital resources balance sheet from the start of 2017, ADB has a solid capital base to support our operations going forward.”

Mr. Nakao added, “We continue to combine finance with innovative solutions to respond better to the region’s diverse and specific challenges and needs, such as rapid urbanization, climate change, and growing demand for water and energy.”

ADB’s financing of climate mitigation and adaptation reached a record $4.5 billion in 2017, a 21% increase from the previous year. The bank is now in a good position to achieve its $6 billion annual climate financing target by 2020. ADB also mobilized an additional $606 million from external financing, bringing total climate financing to $5.2 billion last year.

The Annual Report emphasizes the importance of partnerships for ADB in scaling up project financing, and for sharing development knowledge and expertise. With the support of donors, ADB established five new trust funds in 2017 that will unlock capital for climate investments through innovative financial products, increase private sector participation in climate change mitigation and adaptation projects, help cities prepare high-priority urban infrastructure investments, increase mobilization of domestic resources, and integrate high-level technology into infrastructure project designs.

On the downside, ADB’s disbursements decreased to $11.1 billion in 2017 from $12.3 billion in 2016, according to the Annual Report. Cofinancing also fell short of ADB’s targets.

“We will come up with concrete measures to increase disbursements and cofinancing, building on the new ADB procurement policy approved in April 2017 and ongoing efforts to leverage the bank’s resources,” said Mr. Nakao.

The Annual Report 2017 presents a more comprehensive picture of ADB operations than the previous annual reports in terms of numbers and institutional data. It provides expanded sections on financial highlights, sector and thematic work, and knowledge. ADB’s specific assistance to countries and regional programs, lists of trust funds and corporate reports, and organizational structure are also added.

The figures in the report update the provisional operations numbers released by ADB in January.

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New Funding for Mindanao Trust Fund to Strengthen Peace and Development in Southern Philippines

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Efforts to bring peace and progress in Mindanao were reaffirmed today following the signing of a new agreement that will build more socioeconomic infrastructure and improve literacy in conflict affected areas.

The new Program Partnership Agreement signed by the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA) – the development arm of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – and humanitarian organization Community and Family Services International (CFSI) entrusts the two parties to implement the USD 3.2 million grant with financing from the Mindanao Trust Fund for Reconstruction and Development (MTF).

The Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) also provided complementary funding amounting to 1 million euro to support similar activities.

“This new partnership agreement strengthens Normalization under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. It will help improve the quality of life of people in conflict-affected areas through community participation and the pursuit of sustainable livelihood within a peaceful, deliberative society,” said Secretary Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. “For four years, we have been reaching out to our fellow Filipinos in the south, touching lives and taking ‘peace by piece’ steps towards a developed Bangsamoro.”

Established in 2006 with support from development partners including the Australia, Canada, European Union, Sweden, New Zealand, and the United States, and administered by the World Bank, the MTF consolidates international development assistance for the socioeconomic recovery of conflict-affected communities in Mindanao and seeks to build confidence in the normalization process with the MILF.

From 2006 to 2017, development partners have provided PHP 1.4 billion (USD 28.9 million) to the program. Within this period, results delivered by the MTF-Reconstruction and Development Project include 573 projects that improved infrastructure, strengthen livelihoods and functional literacy in 315 conflict-affected communities across 75 municipalities. Nearly 650,000 people now benefit from clean water, better roads, and more post-harvest facilities and access to farming and fishing equipment.

“The support of the Philippine government and development partners towards projects that strengthen the Bangsamoro’s capacities to improve their socioeconomic conditions reinforce people’s trust on the Bangsamoro peace process and the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” said MILF Peace Implementing Panel Chair Mohagher Iqbal.

The project also supported activities to improve livelihoods, infrastructure, and basic literacy in the Six Acknowledged MILF Camps: Camps Abubakar, Omar, Rajamuda, Badre, Bushra, and Bilal. The decision of Secretary Dureza of OPAPP, the MILF, and development partners to further intensify these efforts through the MTF highlight the partners’ commitment to peace and development in Mindanao.

“Greater economic opportunity and access to basic services foster hope in conflict-affected areas, which can build understanding and collaboration among community members. The World Bank is committed to supporting efforts that enhance the prospects for peace in Mindanao,” said Mara K. Warwick, World Bank Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand.

“Australia is a longstanding supporter of peace and development in Mindanao, and is proud to be a partner for change in the second phase of the Mindanao Trust Fund,” said Australian Ambassador Amanda Gorely. “As the first phase has already shown, the socio-economic infrastructure and literacy projects it will provide can have a remarkable impact for communities in Muslim Mindanao.”

“One of the biggest challenges for development policies is to tackle the most vulnerable communities affected by multiple conflicts and threats; to not leave them behind. This complex aim needs joint resources from national and international stakeholders following a sound local leadership. MTF has acted as a valuable driver of such efforts,” said Juan Pita, General Coordinator of AECID.

The MTF has a steering committee that oversees the implementation and evaluation of the program. It is chaired by OPAPP, BDA, and the World Bank, which also serves as the trust fund secretariat.

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Bangladesh: World Bank Increases Support for Clean, Renewable Energy

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The World Bank today approved $55 million to expand use of clean renewable energy in rural areas of Bangladesh where grid electricity cannot reach easily.

The additional financing to the Second Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development (RERED II) Project will install 1,000 solar irrigation pumps, 30 solar mini-grids, and about 4 million improved cookstoves in rural areas. The project, including the additional financing, will enable about 10 million people living in villages, shoals, and islands to access electricity and use energy efficient cookstoves. These interventions will help the country reduce carbon emissions.

We are proud to be helping Bangladesh increase access to clean electricity through solar power. Today, the country has one of the world’s largest domestic solar power programs, covering 14 percent of the population,” said Qimiao Fan, World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal. “Building on its success in using solar energy to provide electricity in rural areas, this financing will also scale up other clean renewable energy options.”

The project has already built 10 solar mini-grids in remote areas, including islands and shoals to provide grid quality electricity. This additional financing will help construct another 30 solar mini-grids. These will provide about 28,000 connections to households and businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises.

The financing will also help increase use of solar irrigation pumps, a low-cost technology that is well suited to the country’s flat terrain and abundant sunshine. This switch from diesel pumps will decrease greenhouse gas emissions and save foreign exchange by reducing the government’s subsidy on diesel imports.

“In Bangladesh, indoor air pollution causes 107,000 deaths per year, mostly women and children. Traditional cookstoves used in rural areas is a major contributor to this,” said Amit Jain, World Bank Team Leader for the project. “This project will scale up use of improved stoves. Their energy-efficient design will emit 90 percent less carbon monoxide and use half as much firewood as a traditional stove. A major thrust of the project will be to increase use of affordable-fuel efficient cookstoves by the poor and extreme poor.”

Since 2002, the World Bank has been helping the government expand renewable energy programs. In the energy sector, the World Bank has ongoing support of over $1.6 billion in Bangladesh covering generation, transmission, distribution, and renewable energy.

In addition, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) Board has on February 27, 2018 approved an additional $20 million to support the energy efficient cookstoves project, which is their first approved cookstoves project.

The credit from the World Bank’s International Development Association, which provides grants or zero-interest loans, has a 38-year term, including a 6-year grace period, and a service charge of 0.75 percent.

The World Bank was among the first development partners to support Bangladesh following its independence. Since then, the World Bank has committed nearly $28 billion in grants and interest-free credits to the country. In recent years, Bangladesh has been among the largest recipients of the World Bank’s interest-free credits.

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