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Saudi Arabia Plans to Build Canal to Bypass Strait of Hormuz

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

1Saudi Arabia is planning to construct a water canal in Yemen named Salman to use it as a link between the Persian Gulf and the Arabian instead of the Strait of Hormuz.”Studies are underway on the construction of a waterway which starts from a part of Saudi Arabia’s water border in Khour al-Adid area between the UAE and Qatar and stretches 950km to the Arabian Sea,” Sa’ad Ibn Omar, the head of Arab Studies Center in Riyadh, revealed on Wednesday. Omar said that the Salman Canal is due to be built so that Qatar, the UAE and Kuwait can export their oil to other world states through this canal instead of the Strait of Hormuz which is controlled by Iran.”Saudi Arabia has also considered two other alternative paths for the canal which include Oman to replace Yemen if necessary,” Omar said.

2Reports say Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will meet with the French and German leaders in Paris in early October to discuss efforts to resolve the Ukraine conflict. The meeting would be the first face-to-face talks by the four since they met in mid-February to forge a cease-fire agreement in Minsk. The Elysee Palace said in a statement that the four leaders had spoken via phone on September 9 for about 90 minutes and that they agreed that a general cease-fire in eastern Ukraine between government troops and Russian-backed separatist fighters has generally held since September 1.

3Greece and Iran have reportedly granted Russia permission to fly over their territory when supplying aid to Syria. The Interfax news agency quoted a Russian Embassy official in Tehran as saying on September 9 that Iran approved all of Moscow’s requests on flights delivering humanitarian aid to Syria. Separately, a Russian Embassy official in Athens told TASS that Greece granted Russia the right to use its airspace for humanitarian flights to Syria on August 31. Greece said this week that the United States had asked it to close its airspace to Russian aid flights to Syria because of concerns that Moscow might be building up military forces to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

4A conference titled “Religious tolerance: the culture of coexistence in Azerbaijan” has been organized in the French capital as part of the “Azerbaijan in the heart of Paris” project implemented by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. Azerbaijan’s First Lady, President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Mehriban Aliyeva, as well as representatives from Azerbaijani and French religious organizations attended the conference.Addressing the event, Mehriban Aliyeva said Azerbaijan is located at the crossroads of civilizations and cultures, serving as a bridge between Asia and Europe, and this plays an important role in the development of cultural diversity.“Traditions of tolerance are alive in our country today. Azerbaijan is a member of both the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Council of Europe. We are proud of our cultural and historical heritage,” the first lady said.

5In January-August 2015, Kazakhstan produced 30.2 billion cubic meters of natural gas, which is 6 percent more than in the same period last year, Deputy Minister of Energy of Kazakhstan Uzakbai Karabalin said during a press conference at the office of the Central Communications. He said that the growth of gas production in Kazakhstan has been observed not for the first time. Last year, gas production in the country amounted to 43.2 billion cubic meters, which is 2.2 percent more than the same period of 2013. The main growth of gas production is provided by such large mining companies as Karachaganak Petroleum Operating, Tengizchevroil, CNPC-Aktobe.

6Turkmenistan has seen a 8.3 percent GDP growth in social and economic development from January to August of this year, according to a recent meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers. Summarizing the results from various sectors of the national economy for the first eight months of the current year, production was cited to have grown by 7.2 percent, reported Review.uz website. The high economic potential and stable GDP growth will allow the government to provide a wide range of additional social benefits to citizens of Turkmenistan.

7NATO and the United States have expressed concern over reports of growing Russian military activity in Syria. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that, if confirmed, Russia’s involvement would “not contribute to solving the conflict.”U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to reiterate his concerns. Spokesman John Kirby said Kerry made clear to Lavrov that if the reports were true “it could lead to greater violence and are not helpful at all” to efforts by the international community to end the conflict.The Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov “highlighted the significance of a consolidated response to terrorist groupings that have seized a sizable part” of Syria.” Russia acknowledges it has sent military experts to assist with Russian arms deliveries.

8Azerbaijan is ready to continue supporting fraternal Afghanistan in developing the transport, energy, information and communication technologies, Ashraf Shikhaliyev, the head of the Azerbaijan International Development Agency (AİDA) under the Azerbaijani foreign ministry, said Sept. 9. He said that the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway and new Baku International Sea Trade Port will create favorable opportunities for Afghanistan to enter the world markets. This will revive and contribute to the sustainable development of the economy of Afghanistan.

9The depreciation of Kazakhstan’s national currency, the tenge, after the abolition of the currency corridor has put additional pressure on the balance sheets of the country’s banks, but the entire market implements prudential and other regulations, and the situation in the banking sector is under control. This remark was made by the Deputy Chairman of the National Bank of Kazakhstan, Kuat Kozhahmetov at a press-conference in Almaty on September 9. The official also said that the conducted stress tests showed that “the adequacy of the capital is good.” For several months the National Bank has developed a package of legal acts aimed at facilitating conditions for banks in the current economic situation.

10The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has prepared a new bill ‘On tourism’ for improvement of legislative base in the sphere of tourism. In line with the sources in the ministry, the new bill ‘On tourism’ which reflected proposals and recommendations of the Twinning project experts of the World Tourism Organization and European Union, features the major institutional, regulatory and advanced experience for a more effective control of the tourism sphere. According to the ministry, application of this bill will promote further development of the tourism potential of Azerbaijan, raising effectiveness of business processes, regulation of tourism activity by the state and creation of broad opportunities on support of tourism industry.

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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EU Politics

PES Europe Ministers call for a European Budget that rises to the challenge

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President of FEPS Maria João Rodrigues MEP, First Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, and Germans Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth photo: PES

Europe needs ambitious short- and long-term planning, the Ministers of European Affairs from the PES agreed today during their discussion of the European budget for 2021-2027.

The chair of the network, German Minister for Europe Michael Roth, called for a European budget that promotes social wellbeing, innovation and sustainability across Europe.

Roth said:“The fundamental role of the European budget is to ensure cohesion, convergence and growth. It is the main tool Europe has to invest in the future, to bring countries closer together, and to make sure our children and grandchildren have a good life. When negotiating the European Budget both the short and long term must be kept in mind. Our ambition today, shapes the Europe of tomorrow. I want a bright Europe for tomorrow.”

The Ministers continued their discussion on the state of the rule of law in Europe.

Roth added:“Democracy and the rule of law cannot be interpreted freely. All Member States have to abide to the same clear set of rules. We will continue keeping a close eye on the issue. And we will continue supporting the great work that the EU Commission’s First Vice President Frans Timmermans is carrying out.”

The meeting was attended by:

  • Michael Roth, Minister of State for Europe, Chair, Germany
  • Helena Dalli, Minister for European Affairs and Equality, Malta
  • Ana Paula Zacarias, Secretary of State for European Affairs, Portugal
  • Hans Dahlgren, Minister for EU Affairs, Sweden
  • Frans Timmermans, First Vice President of the European Commission, European Commission
  • George Katrougalos, Foreign Affairs Ministers, Greece (observer)
  • Maria Joao Rodrigues, Vice President of the S&D Group, chair of the PES FEN Network, European Parliament
  • Javier Moreno, Secretary General of the S&D Group, European Parliament
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EU Politics

Migration and asylum: EU funds to promote integration and protect borders

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MEPs backed on Tuesday increasing the EU budget for migration and asylum policies and to reinforce borders.

The Civil Liberties Committee endorsed the renewed Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), the 2021-2027 budget of which will increase up to €9.2 billion (€10.41 billion in current prices, 51% more than in the previous financial framework). It also backed the creation of a new Integrated Border Management Fund (IBMF) and agreed to allocate €7.1 billion (€8 billion in current prices) to it.

The AMIF should contribute to strengthen the common asylum policy, develop legal migration, in line with the member states’ economic and social needs, contribute to countering irregular migration and ensure effective, safe and dignified return, readmission and reintegration in non-EU countries.

But it should also ensure “solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility between the member states, in particular towards those most affected by migration challenges, including through practical cooperation”, MEPs state.

MEPs also want to make sure that funds can be allocated to local and regional authorities, and to international and non‑governmental organisations, working in the field of asylum and migration.

Integrated Border Management Fund to secure EU’s external borders

IBMF will provide funding to build and enhance member states’ capacities in border management and visa policy. The funding dedicated to member states (60 % of the total envelope) will reflect their needs and take into account additional pressures. Furthermore, a new EU thematic facility (40% of the total envelope) will ensure flexibility to channel emergency funding to member states and EU-level projects when urgent action is needed.

MEPs also added safeguards to ensure that actions and measures funded through the Instrument comply with the EU’s fundamental rights obligations, in particular with the principles of non-discrimination and non-refoulement.

Both funds will operate in full synergy. They will also work closely with the reinforced Internal Security Fund (ISF) focusing on tackling terrorism, organised crime and cybercrime.

Next steps

The draft proposal on the renewed AMIF passed with 31 votes to 23 and 1 abstention. The new IBMF was backed by 41 MEPs, 9 voted against and 2 abstained. The full House will have to confirm its position in the first March plenary, ahead of the negotiations with the Council of the EU.

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Trade negotiations with US can start under certain conditions

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The Trade Committee on Tuesday endorsed the mandate to start limited EU-US trade talks, but set conditions on the conclusion of a deal.

Starting talks is in the interest of European citizens and companies, as it would ease current tensions in EU-US trade relations, brought about by the US administration’s actions, said International Trade Committee MEPs in the report adopted by 21 votes to 17, with one abstention.

They nevertheless note that the conclusion of a trade agreement based on the current negotiating mandate can only be successful if the following conditions are met:

  • the US must lift tariffs on aluminium and steel;
  • a comprehensive consultation process with civil society and a sustainability impact assessment are carried out;
  • the EU insists on including cars and car tariffs in the talks, and on excluding agriculture;
  • talks will be suspended if the US levies another tariff;
  • more clarity on how rules of origin (which lock in how much of the value of a product must be created locally for trade preferences) are handled during the talks.

Background

The European Commission submitted its draft negotiating mandates to the Council for approval on 18 January. The mandates will authorise the Commission to negotiate with the US on eliminating tariffs on industrial goods and on harmonising conformity assessment.

Next steps

Parliament will vote on its stance on the mandates in March. EU Council of Ministers is expected to adopt the draft negotiating mandates in the same month. The Commission will start negotiations on the basis of the final mandate.

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