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Resurrecting the Reneged Deal

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Standing tall as a key negotiator, the U.S. has parlayed most of the initial dialogues into historical successes. Whether it comes to sowing seeds of diplomacy with the European Union (EU) or leading efforts to strengthen frayed relations in the Middle East, there are only a few instances where the world power has fallen short in its agenda. What’s congruent in these failures, however, is the lack of flair, overconfidence, and rescinding of the promises made. These pitfalls have costed the U.S. more than the dividends gained. Whether it’s the untimely invasion of Afghanistan, interference in Iraq and Syria, or the economic revolt against the People’s Republic of China, the U.S. failed to capitalize on the gains once envisioned. The otherwise pristine record of the United States’ diplomatic successes, however, is tainted by the infamous rift with the Islamic Republic of Iran: once a valuable ally and now a staunch enemy. A passage of the resolution was missed a few years ago and now it’s more than essential to restore the sour relations. The time, however, stands short.

The Nuclear Deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was a landmark accord signed in July 2015 between Iran and core regional and global powers including the United States. The democrat regime, then led by President Barak Obama, forged the deal along with other countries making up the lobby known as P5+1: five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (Russia, France, UK, China, and the U.S.) and Germany. The deal negotiated a bargain of up to $100 billion in revenue through relaxation in sanctions imposed over Iran. In exchange, Iran committed to forgo its Nuclear Program to the point that if it were to direct efforts to generate nuclear weaponry, it would take at least a year to complete. This would allow the P5+1 ample time to respond. The restriction program under the JCPOA agreement mandated Iran to restrict its Uranium and Plutonium enrichment to a maximum limit of 3.67% whilst simultaneously dismantling its nuclear centrifuges. Moreover, the agreement urged Iran to allow the United Nations’ watchdog, known as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), unfettered access to its nuclear facilities; both declared and undeclared. This clause was intended to ensure that Iran was complying with the limits and restrictions dictated by the JCPOA agreement. With the representatives of the P5+1 making up the review teams of the IAEA inspections, the review allowed the parties to monitor and inspect Iran’s nuclear potential and safeguard against any violation.

The intention underlying the agreement was more urgent than many originally fathomed. What was initially perceived as collusion against Iran was a plan to reform the relations before it was too late. With Iran’s nuclear activity ramping up since 2003, it was only a matter of months before Iran achieved nuclear ammunition, had it intended to build one. Any effort or even a rumour of nuclear activation within Iran could reignite the havoc the world witnessed in the civil wars of Iraq and Syria. A nuclear expedition by Iran could birth a whole new spiral of crises laced with regional disparity. Starting with Israel, the Zionist state would have left very little discretion in its efforts to thump down the nuclear threat. Similar to how Israel has launched drone attacks over the years against the alleged nuclear facilities in Iraq and Syria, it would have most probably opted to decimate the facilities had Iran so much as insinuated inching towards nuclear nukes. Unlike Iraq and Syria, however, Iran would have retaliated with a far destructive power-play of tensile resistance. The possibility of the escalation alone could have tumulted the region to the brink of disaster.

Moreover, the proxy factions, arguably financed by the state of Iran, could have developed into a far graver threat had Iran ventured through to develop nuclear weaponry. Whether it comes to Hezbollah in Lebanon or Irani rebels in Syria, even an inkling of nuclear capability could have plunged the region into another bout of chaotic warfare, deadlier than the aftermath of the Arab spring. Lastly, with Iran sauntering towards nuclear arms, its regional rival i.e., the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, insinuated multiple times of developing nuclear weapons as a safeguard against the Iranian offensive. All in all, letting Iran sail through towards nuclear weaponry could have paved a gully towards catastrophe in the Middle East, potentially morphing the world into warfare similar to the World Wars.  These sinister possibilities made the agreement ever more urgent and significant.

Under the reformist vision of the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, Iran agreed to the deal after years of defiance and outright refusal of a dialogue. Not only Iran limited its Uranium enrichment to the set standards but it also took remedial steps in its nuclear facilities in Arak, Fordow, and Natanz to comply with the set agreement. The nuclear limits were claimed to be used for medical and industrial use whilst controlling the centrifuges from accumulating refined levels of Uranium and Plutonium. It is notable to observe that Iran never officially claimed to be pursuing a nuclear weapon in the first place. The eerie capabilities of refinement, however, implied a heavier truth than the words gave away.

Moreover, Iran reluctantly allowed the IAEA teams to inspect its nuclear facilities and publish quarterly review reports. The unhindered access to the United Nations Security Council was frowned upon in the echelons of Iranian politics, particularly by the right-wing factions of the Iranian parliament. However, President Hassan Rouhani played a crucial role in persuading the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to decree the clauses of the deal for the sake of the welfare of the citizens of Iran living a destitute lifestyle due to the exacerbated sanctions imposed on Iran. The deal reaped sanctions relief for Iran both from the United States and the European Union. While many of the sanctions imposed by the U.S. remained in effect, primarily targeting Iran’s Ballistic Missile program and its alleged involvement in terror financing activities in the region, economic relief flowed through when the U.S. and EU unfroze the $100 billion worth of Iranian assets whilst simultaneously lifting trade embargoes off the oil and weaponry trade. The economic relief allowed a breathing room to Iran and a mark of prosperity to the reformist factions within Iran.

The diplomatic strike of president Rouhani, however, was short-lived as President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Nuclear Deal in 2018, leaving the remaining parties of the P5+1 in utter dismay and disappointment. Coupled with the exit from the JCPOA, the U.S. slammed excessive sanctions on Iran as an offensive to bring down the already dismal economy and rattle the state to the point of submission. The vision, however, backfired. Iran retaliated by boasting its nuclear enrichment from the agreed 3.67% to a whopping 20%. With 90% refinement necessary for a nuclear weapon, Iran hinted to attempt its development by building new centrifuges in the Fordow and Arak facilities. While the EU trend to bypass the U.S. banking system to facilitate Iranian transactions to keep the agreement afloat, the system failed to offer coverage to any ambit besides food and medicine: areas already exempted from the U.S. sanctions.

The situation deteriorated further when the U.S. attacks killed one of the most revered figures of the Iranian Military, Qassim Soleimani, in an airstrike in Iraq. Coupled with expanding sanctions imposed on countries trading with Iran including blacklisting Chinese oil companies dealing with Iran, the Iranian oil exports were brought back to zilch. Iran, in response, rebuked the EU for bowing down to the U.S. unilateralism. Iran played the last straw by impeding the IAEA inspections whilst continuing the refinement of Uranium in its facilities. This brought the world back to the fears that originally framed the need for the JCPOA agreement.

While President Biden was part of the Obama administration, which originally forged the JCPOA in 2016, the time and temperament have significantly shifted. President Biden repeatedly emphasized the importance of returning to the deal if Iran pulled back from the retaliations and violations from the agreement. The Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, clearly stated that “The ball is in their [Iran] court” i.e., if Iran returns to the standards set by the JCPOA, the U.S. would agree to join the deal again. Iran, however, has made it clear that it would only comply once the U.S. lifts the unfair sanctions imposed by the former president. President Rouhani stated: “America was first in breaking with the agreement and it should be the first to return to it”. With the dilemma looming the Nuclear Deal, the time is short. As the clock ticks, president Rouhani is inching towards his departure. Not long before President Rouhani leaves office in June 2021. President Hassan Rouhani would want to forge the deal before his exit since his political acumen was tainted when the U.S. pulled out of the deal and proved the far-right factions right, who even accused Rouhani of betrayal. Thus, the window of dialogue could purge president Rouhani from the failure attributed to his name.

On the other hand, the hard-liners in Iran are expected to ascend to the office in September. Unlike President Rouhani, however, the deal would be intercepted by the right-wing factions in power given their distaste for the U.S. especially after the violations and murders committed by the United States. President Biden could have a hard time negotiating a lucrative deal with the hard-liners as so implied by Mohammad Javed Zarif, Iranian Foreign Minister: “A lot of things can happen between now and September. So, it is advisable for the United States to move fast”. President Biden, however, faces excessive pressure from the echelons of the Republican Party to negotiate a broader agreement providing coverage over Iran’s ballistic missile program and terror financing along with the initial nuclear deal. However, with time running short, President Biden has to reach an agreement in the house fairly quickly and assume the role of a facilitator to reap the trust of Iran to return to the deal. Either a disagreement in the house or failure to bargain a deal by June 2021, the U.S. could potentially run into an impasse and might lose the opportunity to strike a deal indefinitely.

I am an active current affairs writer primarily analyzing the global events and their political, economic and social consequences. Currently, I’m pursuing a Bachelors at Institute of Business Administration, Karachi Pakistan

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Middle East

Israel and Turkey in search of solutions

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Twelve and eleven years have elapsed since the Davos and Mavi Marmara incidents, respectively, and Turkey-Israel relations are undergoing intense recovery efforts. They are two important Eastern neighbours and influence regional stability.

Currently, as in the past, relations between the two countries have a structure based on realpolitik, thus pursuing a relationship of balance/interest, and hinge around the Palestinian issue and Israel’s position as the White House’s privileged counterpart. However, let us now briefly summarise the history of Turkish-Jewish relations.

The first important event that comes to mind when mentioning Jews and Turks is that when over 200,000 Jews were expelled by the Spanish Inquisition in 1491, the Ottoman Empire invited them to settle in its territory.

Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognise Israel in 1949. Israel’s first diplomatic Mission to Turkey was opened on January 7, 1950 but, following the Suez crisis in 1956, relations were reduced to the level of chargé d’affaires. In the second Arab-Israeli war of 1967, Turkey chose not to get involved and it did not allow relations to break off completely.

The 1990s saw a positive trend and development in terms of bilateral relations. After the second Gulf War in 1991 -which, as you may recall, followed the first Iraqi one of 1980-1988 in which the whole world was against Iran (with the only exception of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Syria, Libya and the moral support of Enver Hoxha’s Albania) – Turkey was at the centre of security policy in the region. In that context, Turkey-Israel relations were seriously rekindled.

In 1993, Turkey upgraded diplomatic relations with Israel to ambassadorial level. The signing of the Oslo Accords between Palestine and Israel led to closer relations. The 1996 military cooperation agreement was signed between the two countries in the fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, which provided significant logistical and intelligence support to both sides.

In the 2000s, there was a further rapprochement with Israel, due to the “zero problems with neighbours” policy promoted by Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party. I still remember issue No. 3/1999 of the Italian review of geopolitics “Limes” entitled “Turkey-Israel, the New Alliance”.

In 2002, an Israeli company undertook the project of modernising twelve M-60 tanks belonging to the Turkish armed forces. In 2004, Turkey agreed to sell water to Israel from the Manavgat River.

Prime Minister Erdoğan’s visit to Israel in 2005 was a turning point in terms of mediation between Palestine and Israel and further advancement of bilateral relations. In 2007, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas spoke at the Turkish Grand National Assembly one day apart. High-level visits from Israel continued.

On December 22, 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came to Ankara and met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In that meeting, significant progress was made regarding Turkey’s mediation between Israel and Syria.

Apart from the aforementioned incidents, the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli relations occurred five days after the above stated meeting, i.e. Operation “Cast Lead” against Gaza on December 27, 2008. After that event, relations between the two sides were never the same as before.

Recently, however, statements of goodwill have been made by both countries to normalise political relations. In December 2020, President Erdoğan stated he wanted to improve relations with Israel and said: “It is not possible for us to accept Israel’s attitude towards the Palestinian territories. This is the point in which we differ from Israel – otherwise, our heart desires to improve our relations with it as well”.

In its relations with Israel, Turkey is posing the Palestinian issue as a condition. When we look at it from the opposite perspective, the Palestinian issue is a vital matter for Israel. It is therefore a severe obstacle to bilateral relations.

On the other hand, many regional issues such as Eastern Mediterranean, Syria and some security issues in the region require the cooperation of these two key countries. For this reason, it is clear that both sides wish at least to end the crisis, reduce rhetoric at leadership level and focus on cooperation and realpolitik areas.

In the coming months, efforts will certainly be made to strike a balance between these intentions and the conditions that make it necessary to restart bilateral relations with Israel on an equal footing. As improved relations with Israel will also positively influence Turkey’s relations with the United States.

Turkey seeks to avoid the USA and the EU imposing sanctions that could go so far as to increase anti-Western neo-Ottoman rhetoric, while improved relations with Israel could offer a positive outcome not only to avoid the aforementioned damage, but also to solve the Turkish issues related to Eastern Mediterranean, territorial waters, Libya and Syria. Turkey has no intention of backing down on such issues that it deems vital. Quite the reverse. It would like to convey positive messages at the level of talks and Summits.

Another important matter of friction between Turkey and Israel is the use of oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean reserves between Egypt, Israel, Greece and Cyprus (Nicosia).

This approach is excluding Turkey. The USA and the EU also strongly support the current situation (which we addressed in a previous article) for the additional reason that France has been included in the equation.

The alignment of forces and fronts in these maritime areas were also widely seen during the civil war in Libya, where Turkey, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France, as well as other players such as Russia, Italy, etc. came into the picture.

Ultimately, a point of contact between Turkey and Israel is the mediation role that the former could play in relations between Iran and Israel, especially after the improvement of Turkish-Iranian relations.

Indeed, in the aftermath of the U.S. airstrike in Baghdad – which killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani on January 3, 2020 -the Turkish Foreign Minister stated that the U.S. action would increase insecurity and instability in the region. He also reported that Turkey was worried about rising tensions between the United States and Iran that could turn Iraq back into an area of conflict to the detriment of peace and stability in the region. There was also a condolence phone call from President Erdoğan to Iranian President Rouhani, urging him to avoid a conflictual escalation with the United States following the airstrike.

Consequently, it is in the Turkish President’s interest to maintain an open channel with Iran, so that he himself can soften the mutual tensions between Israel and Iran, and – in turn – Israeli diplomacy can influence President Biden’s choices, albeit less pro-Israel than Donald Trump’s.

Turkey is known to have many relationship problems with the United States – especially after the attempted coup of July 15-16, 2016 and including the aforementioned oil issue – and realises that only Israel can resolve the situation smoothly.

In fact, Israel-USA relations are not at their best as they were under President Trump. President Erdoğan seems to be unaware of this fact, but indeed the Turkish President knows that the only voice the White House can hear is Israel’s, and certainly not the voice of the Gulf monarchies, currently at odds with Turkey.

Israel keeps a low profile on the statements made by President Erdoğan with regard to the Palestinians- since it believes them to be consequential – as well as in relation to a series of clearly anti-Zionist attitudes of the Turkish people.

We are certain, however, that President Erdoğan’s declarations of openness and Israeli acquiescence will surely yield concrete results.

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Middle East

The 25-year China-Iran agreement

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On March 27, 2021, a document entitled “Comprehensive Document of Iran-China Cooperation” was signed by Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, and his Chinese counterpart. The Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had previously called “the agreement between the presidents of Iran and China correct and wise.” However, the Iranian people have widely criticized it as entirely against their national interests. Iranian officials have not even publicized the document’s contents yet probably because it is highly contentious.

In 2019, excerpts from this document were revealed by the Economist Petroleum news site. The details included:

  • China invests $460 billion in Iranian oil and transportation sectors. China will get its investment back from the sale of Iranian crude during the first five years.
  • China buys Iranian petroleum products at least 32% cheaper.
  • The Chinese can decide before other companies whether to participate in completing all or part of a petrochemical project.
  • 50,000 Chinese security personnel will be deployed to protect Chinese projects in Iran.
  • China has the right to delay the repayment of its debts for up to two years in exchange for Iranian products’ purchase.
  • At least one Russian company will be allowed to participate in the Tabriz-Ankara gas pipeline design together with the Chinese operator.
  • Every year, 110 senior Revolutionary Guards officers travel to China and Russia for military training. 110 Chinese and Russian advisers will be stationed in Iran to train Revolutionary Guards officers.
  • Development of Iranian military equipment and facilities will be outsourced to China, and Chinese and Russian military aircraft and ships will operate the developed facilities.

Even some circles within the regime have criticized the agreement. The state-run Arman newspaper wrote, “China has a 25-year contract with Iran and is investing $460 billion in Iran. It is somewhat ambiguous. Presently, China is holding the money it owes us and blames it on the U.S. sanctions. How can we trust this country to invest $460 billion in Iran?”

Last year, Iran and China had the lowest trade in the previous 16 years, and according to statistics, by the end of 2020, the volume of trade between Iran and China was about $16 billion, which, including undocumented oil sales, still does not reach $20 billion.

Jalal Mirzaei, a former member of Iran’s parliament, said: “If in the future the tensions between Tehran and Washington are moderated, and we see the lifting of some of the sanctions, China can also provide the basis for implementing the provisions of this document, but if the situation continues like today, Beijing will not make any effort to implement the document, as it is essentially unable to take concrete action on the ground because of the sanctions.”

China’s objectives

Iran is vital to China in two ways, through its geopolitical location and its geo-economic importance. China knows that it does not have enough natural resources and is currently having a hard time supplying them from Russia and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia supplies its energy needs from oil giant Aramco, half of which is owned by the United States. That is why China is looking for a safe alternative that the United States will not influence, and the only option is Iran. They may also have a two-pronged plan in Iran, which involves using Iran’s profitable market and making Iran into a lever of pressure against the United States for additional concessions.

The Iranian regime’s objectives

The deal could deepen China’s influence in the Middle East and undermine U.S. efforts to isolate the Iranian regime. While the international dispute over the Iranian regime’s nuclear program has not been resolved, it is unclear how much this agreement could be implemented. The regime intends to make it a bargaining chip in possible future nuclear negotiations. However, some of Iran’s top authorities believe that China and Russia cannot be trusted 100 percent.

Due to the sanctions, the regime has a tough time to continue providing financial support to its proxy militias in the region. The regime also faced two major domestic uprisings in 2017 and 2019. Khamenei’s regime survived the widespread uprisings by committing a massacre, killing 1,500 young protesters in the 2019 uprising alone, according to the Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and later confirmed by the Iranian regime’s Interior Ministry officials. Now with the coronavirus pandemic, Khamenei has been able to delay another major uprising.

Iran’s economy is on the verge of collapse. Khamenei must bow to western countries’ demands regarding the nuclear issue, including an end to its regional interventions and its ballistic missile program. Khamenei will struggle to save his regime from s imminent uprisings and a deteriorating economy that will undoubtedly facilitate more protests by the army of the unemployed and the hungry at any moment.

Unlike the 2015 JCPOA, the Iranian regime in 2021 is in a much weaker position. In fact, by many accounts, it is the weakest in its 40-year history. By signing the recent Iran-China agreement and auctioning Iranian resources, Khamenei wants to pressure the United States to surrender and restore the 2015 JCPOA as quickly as possible. But in the end, this pivot will not counteract domestic pressures that target the regime’s very existence.

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Middle East

China-Arab Relations: From Silk to Friendship

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China and the Arabs have a long and rich economic and cultural history, and this distinguished relationship still exists today, with a promising future. This bilateral relationship between the two nations is based on the principles of respect and non-interference in internal affairs or foreign policies. Therefore, China’s relationship with the Arabs as well as with other nations is unique and a model to be followed. If you meet a Chinese person, the first phrase will be “Alabo” or an Arab in Mandarin, and he/she will welcome you. The Chinese state’s dealings with its counterparts can be measured based on the model of this Chinese citizen. China deals with the Arabs on the basis of friendship and historical ties.

The history of Sino-Arab relations goes back to the Tang Dynasty, and these relations developed with the flourishing of trade between the two nations. Since China was famous for its high quality silk, this trade route was called the “Silk Road”. Baron Ferdinand Freiherr von Richthofen, better known in English as Baron von Richthofen, was a German traveller, geographer, and scientist. He is noted for coining the terms “Seidenstraße” and “Seidenstraßen” = “Silk Road” or “Silk Route” in 1877.

Chinese-Arab relations have developed in contemporary history. In 1930, China established official relations with the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A library in China was named the “Fouad Islamic Library”, after the late Egyptian king, “Fuad the First”. In 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser cut ties with China and established relations with the Communist People’s Republic of China and inaugurated an embassy in Egypt. In the same year, the Arab League established relations with the People’s Republic of China. By the year 1990, all Arab countries cut their relations with the Republic of China and established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.

In 2004, the China-Arab Cooperation Forum was established, and today it is considered a milestone for the Sino-Arab relationship. At its inauguration, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing delivered a speech stating:“The Arab world is an important force on the international scene, and that China and the Arab countries have enjoyed a long friendship. Our similar history, our common goals and our broad interests have been credited with enhancing cooperation between the two sides; no matter how the international situation changes, China has always been the sincere friend of the Arab world”. The China-Arab Cooperation Forum was officially established during the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to the headquarters of the League of Arab States in January of 2004.

Hu Jintao indicated at that time that the formation of the forum is a continuation of the traditional friendship between China and the Arab world. The Chinese president said at the time, “The establishment of the forum is conducive to expanding mutual cooperation in a variety of fields. He added that China had made four proposals; First, maintaining mutual respect, fair treatment and sincere cooperation at the political level. Second, strengthening economic and trade relations through cooperation in the fields of investment and trade, contracted projects, labor services, energy, transportation, communications, agriculture, environmental protection and information. Third, expand cultural exchanges. Finally, conducting training for the employees.”

During the second session of the forum in Beijing in 2006, China showed its sympathy for the issues of the Arab world and its interest in the peace process between Palestine and Israel, since China is a peace-loving country; it presented the idea of “a nuclear-free Middle East”. China is the best friend of the Arab countries today. Although some Arab countries have strong relations with the West whose policy does not match the Chinese policy, but all Arab countries agree on friendly and good relations with the People’s Republic of China.

The Arab citizen is not interested today in the foreign policy of the US, the deadly weapons of the US and Russia, or European culture, but rather the livelihood and economy, and this is what China provides through its wise economic policy. In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the Belt and Road Initiative, or New Silk Road, which will restore glow to China-Arab relations; as the Arab world is in a strategic location on the initiative map. Thus, the Arab countries are an important partner for China in the initiative. Although the volume of trade exchanges between China and the Arab countries exceeded 200 billion US dollars, which increased 10 times over the past decade, there was no commercial and institutional arrangement to facilitate trade between the two sides.

China, as a peaceful and non-invasive country, aims to promote economic cooperation with Arab region on an equal basis because it considers the Arab world a historic partner. The historical experience of the Arabs with the Chinese through the Silk Road has confirmed that China differs from the nations of colonialism and imperialism, which consider the Arab region a place rich in natural resources only. In his historic speech at the Arab League, Chinese President Xi stressed that China will not seek to extend influence and search for proxies in the Middle East. The Chinese initiatives will contribute to establishing security and stability through economic development and improving the people’s livelihood, in line with the post-2015 development agenda and the aspirations of the Arab people for a better life, as the Chinese experience proves that development is the key to digging out the roots of conflicts and extremism in all its forms.

China is a neutral country and does not favor the use of violence. During the Syrian crisis, for example, the Chinese envoy to the Security Council raised his hand three times, meaning that China, with its wise diplomacy, supported the Syrian regime without entering the military war. During the recent Chinese military parade, Chinese President Xi Jinping revealed some Chinese military capabilities and thus sent a message to the enemies that China will always be ready if a war is imposed on it, and a message of support to China’s allies. The Arab region today needs a real partner who possesses economic and military power and international political influence, such as China; to ensure the success of the Belt and Road Initiative, and to consolidate the China-Arab relations and raise it to the level of a strategic alliance.

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