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iran_syria_peace_talks
A UN spokesperson has confirmed that Iran was not invited to the first round of the Syrian peace talks due to take place in Switzerland.  As it stands, invitations to participate in peace talks are usually extended by the initiating countries. In this case, Russia and the United States have remained at odds about Iran’s role in the talks.

Syria has been facing an increasingly bleak humanitarian crisis as the civil war between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces. Since the violent outbreak in 2011, more than 100,000 Syrian civilians have been killed while millions more have sought refuge in neighboring countries to escape the escalating violence and increasing poverty. With no end of the civil war in sight, neighboring countries have expressed their concerns about taking refugees without more aid from other countries or action taken to end the violence.

The ultimate goal the United States hopes to reach in the peace talks involves transitioning president Bashar al-Assad out of power. The plan doesn’t say that al-Assad must leave, something which must come as a relief since al-Assad stated that while he will send a representative to the talks, he will not voluntarily leave office.

As it is, though the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is actually in favor of inviting Iran to the first round, the United States chose to offer Iran a role in the less official ‘second round’ talks. Iran immediately rejected this offer saying that, “suggesting such an arrangement would not respect the country’s honor,” which makes sense since Iran is Syria’s neighbor and ally. However, according to US Secretary of State, John Kerry, Iran opposes the proposed plan of a transitional Syrian government.

All in all, UN officials are hopeful that issues involving Iran’s participation can be resolved in a preliminary meeting between the initiating countries. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are scheduled to meet on January 13.

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: Al Jazeera, Washington Post
Photo: Noisy Room

iran_nuclear_talks
Diplomats from Iran and the European Union held talks this week on implementing a nuclear accord between Tehran and six world powers, with the two sides reporting progress in their efforts to bridge the nuclear divide between the Islamic Republic and the West.

Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, told Iranian state television after the talks that, “We found solutions for all the points of disagreement.”  The EU also sounded a positive note following the two days of negotiations in Geneva, with a spokesman for the 28-nation bloc saying that “very good progress” was made “on all the pertinent issues.”

A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, Jen Psaki, told reporters in Washington that the talks on the technical aspects of the accord between Tehran and the diplomatic bloc known as the P5-plus-1 — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany — had yielded progress, but cautioned that, “Reports that a deal had been finalized were inaccurate.”

The EU has been negotiating with Iran on behalf of the P5-plus-1, which forged a temporary six month accord with Tehran on November 24, following years of on-again, off-again talks between the two sides.

In recent weeks, representatives of the P5-plus-1 group and Iran have been holding negotiations on how to implement the technical aspects of the deal, which temporarily curbs key elements Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for temporarily lifting some of the onerous sanctions that have inhibited Iran’s ability to export oil and repatriate the hard currency earned from these sales.

This weeks’ talks between Helga Schmid, the deputy of EU foreign policy chief Katherine Ashton, and Araqchi, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, was a continuation of the efforts by Tehran and the six world powers to forge an agreement on how to execute the technical details of the nuclear accord, including the sequence of the steps the two sides must carry out and whether Iran would be allowed to conduct research on advanced centrifuges during the six month lifespan of the accord.

According to diplomats cited by Reuters, Tehran and the P5-plus-1 are seeking to bring the agreement into force on January 20, which would allow EU foreign ministers meeting that day to approve the suspension of some of the sanctions imposed by the 28-nation bloc against Iran.

The interim agreement, which is aimed at opening a window of time in which to negotiate a permanent, comprehensive accord, requires Tehran to suspend the aspects of its nuclear program that have worried Washington and other western capitals the most.

Under the accord, Iran is prohibited from enriching to above 5% purity and is required to neutralize its entire stockpile of uranium enriched to 20% purity by either diluting it to 5% purity or converting the stockpile into its oxide form.  Uranium enriched to 20% — meaning it has a 20% concentration of U-235, the isotope necessary for nuclear fission — is just a short technical step away from the weapons grade fissile material that forms the core of an atomic bomb.

In exchange for these and other nuclear concessions from Tehran, the U.S. and its European negotiating partners agreed to lift some of the sanctions that have sent Iran’s hydro-carbon rich economy into a tailspin in recent years.

– Eric Erdahl

Sources: BBC, Reuters, The Telegraph
Photo: RTL

afghan_refugees_iran
Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report in late November accusing Iran of violating international law by deporting thousands of Afghan refugees. It is estimated that over two million Afghans currently live in Iran. Thousands more cross the border every year trying to escape their unstable home country.

Iran has been receiving Afghan refugees since conflict erupted in Afghanistan in the early 1980’s. Millions of Afghans fled the increasingly bloody civil war, and at the height of the violence, almost four million Afghanis were living in Iran. After the war, many Afghan citizens tried to return home, but were met with high unemployment and lingering instability. With no solution in sight to the problems remaining in Afghanistan, many citizens returned once again to their refugee countries.

In the HRW report, they claim that in the last few years the Iranian government has been taking steps to reduce opportunities for refugees to enter the country. Recently, Iran has been refusing to register both refugees already living in Afghanistan for some time and those that try to cross the border. HRW has also accused Iran of other violations such as physical abuse, forced labor, unsanitary conditions, and the separation of families. Joe Stork of HRW Middle East Division said, “Iran is deporting thousands of Afghans to a country where the danger is both real and serious.

Iran has an obligation to hear these people’s refugee claims rather than sweeping them up and tossing them over the border to Afghanistan. The report cites personal accounts given by refugees who were separated from their families and sent back across the border.

When they are not being deported, provinces within Iran are passing laws to refugee access to residence permits. Without access to the proper documents to show residence, this puts refugees at risk for deportation. If refugees are sent back, their options for what they can do next are severely limited and many are stuck in a country that is still experiencing violence and political instability.

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: BBC, Yahoo News
Photo: Payvand Iran News

Three_Ways_Diplomacy_With_Iran_Can_Prevent_Poverty_
There are countless opinions on the United States’ relations with Iran. But at the end of the day, communication is key to moving forward. Here are three ways that sitting down and talking will help prevent global poverty.

1.  Sanctions Hurt People, Not Politicians

Sure, Iranian leaders are affected by the tough sanctions the U.S. has imposed on their country, but it’s the citizens who suffer. The inflation rate in their country has increased by 40% and it is making living conditions difficult for the Iranian people.

“Food prices are so high that many Iranians have skipped out on buying fresh meats and vegetables, restricting their ability to have a full meal,” says Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani of the Huffington Post.

2. Negotiations Empower the People

According to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), workers in Iran have no protest rights. That means they cannot stand up for themselves even as living conditions deteriorate, unemployment rises, and the gap between rich and poor increases. With over 50% of the population currently living under the poverty line, that’s a lot of protest power.

The United States is a driving force when it comes to human rights issues. Inviting Iran to the party would not only lay the groundwork for peace, but it would also be a step toward giving Iranian people a voice of their own, so they could fight for their rights and the future of their country.

3. The U.S. Benefits by Making Friends

Valerie Elverton Dixon, founder of JustPeaceTheory.com, says, “The sanctions are hurting ordinary Iranians, many of whom are young people who will become the future leaders of Iran. They are paying close attention to these negotiations and how we conduct them.”

In the fight against global poverty, it is crucial that the United States makes political allies. The money the U.S. spends defending its borders against would-be attackers could go to much better use in the form of foreign aid. Opening trade relations also creates jobs not only for populations overseas, but also here in the United States.

With young people watching, investing time and resources into Iran could prove to yield a big return down the road. If the future leaders of Iran are impressed with how the U.S. diplomats treat their country during these negotiations, peace and prosperity are an inevitable outcome.

Mike Doane

Sources: Huffington Post, Washington Post, FIDH
Photo: Majalla

jica
The Director-General for the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) recently met with the Iranian Foreign Ministry for Expatriates’ Affairs on August 6th. During this meeting the participants discussed activities of mutual interest including natural disaster management, environment protection, and Afghanistan reconstruction.

These activities would build upon the relationship already established between Iran and the JICA, the Japanese governmental agency responsible for official development assistance. In 2011 the Iranian government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the JICA.

JICA’s activities in Iran fall under five main headings: enhancement of domestic industries and vocational training, reduction of the income gap between urban and rural communities, environmental preservation, water resource management, and disaster prevention.

Under the first topic area, enhancement of domestic industries and vocational training, JICA provides extensive technical assistance to Iranian government officials and the private sector. These activities are hoped to provide job growth and opportunities for Iranian unemployed. The reduction of the income gap projects focus on agricultural development in the country. The activities include infrastructure development and rural community development. In addition, a JICA expert advises the Ministry of Jihad-e-Agriculture. Environmental protection activities include air pollution, energy management, ecosystem conservation, and wetland management among others. A JICA expert advises on water resource management and is placed under Iran’s Ministry of Energy. Iran is prone to devastating seismic earthquakes. JICA experts work closely with Iranian counterparts to devise forecasts and disaster management plans, as well as rehabilitation and reconstruction plans for the country.

The meeting with Iranian officials occurred after the Japanese government reaffirmed their commitment to ongoing sanctions again Iran in response to the country’s nuclear program. In March the US agreed to a 180-day extension for a waiver on Iran sanctions for Japan. Japan imports significant amounts of crude oil from Iran. However, an agreement between the US and Japan has permitted Japanese banks to access US financial systems, despite imposing the strict sanction against Iran. Japan agreed to continue to reduce their imports of Iranian crude oil.

Development programs implemented by other nations are often denied permission to operate inside Iran. However, the JICA has maintained a relationship with the country and successfully implemented activities in Iran since 2007. These development activities avoid more controversial topics such as women’s rights and democracy and governance but the relationship established between the two countries is also important to future programs and increased understanding. While Japan continues to reduce their imports of crude oil (depriving Iran out of much needed trade) it appears they will continue to cooperate on development programs that have the potential to positively affect Iranian citizens.

– Callie D. Coleman

Sources: FARS News Agency, JICA, Platts

Displaced_refugees_Syria

Every day an entire town’s worth of people is rendered homeless.

23,000 persons per day are forced to flee their homes, according to a United Nations report. By the numbers, this is akin to the evacuation of entire American towns. Due to conflict or persecution, these persons must rely on aid provided by various domestic and international organizations, placing strain on already weakened local economies and food supplies. The vast majority of these persons – over 80% – are hosted by developing nations.

Not only are local economies suffering as a result of displacement, the burden is also felt by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which logged some 35.8 million persons of concern in 2012. As a reference point, the population of California, the largest state in the U.S, is approximately 38.1 million people. In Pakistan, the number of refugees in relation to economic capacity is 552 persons to every $1 of GDP per capita, an astonishing statistic by our measurements.

In response to displacement concerns in Syria, a state in which 70% Palestinian refugees are displaced by conflict in addition to the Syrians themselves, the Obama administration has authorized an additional $300 million in humanitarian relief funds. This brings the total amount of aid given to Syria to nearly $815 million, making the U.S. the single-largest contributor of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people.

These contributions will be used “to help feed, shelter, and provide medical care for children, women, and men affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria,” according to a recent press release from the White House. The move is especially significant for efforts to increase global poverty relief and awareness in U.S. foreign affairs as it represents a clear recognition of an American responsibility to protect people worldwide.

In spite these commendable contributions, there remains a wide discrepancy between the number of refugees being hosted by developing countries and nations more capable of hosting displaced persons. To wit, UNHCR’s recent report  shows that more than half of the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate resided in countries where the GDP per capita was below $5,000 in 2012. Pakistan and Iran hosted the largest number of refugees. Clearly, there is a great need for the U.S. and other developed countries to support refugees and the countries that host them.

– Herman Watson

Source: New York Times, UN Refugee Agency, Huffington Post, NBC News, The White House
Photo: NBC News