Ramsar, Iran, a beach-lined Iranian city bordering the Caspian Sea in Iran’s northwest, recently played host to a meeting of the working group for the legal status of the Caspian Sea. The attendees of the meeting included delegations sent from Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The five countries, in addition to enjoying mostly amicable foreign relations, also share ownership of the Caspian Sea, a body of water rich with gas and oil that each of the five aforementioned states is either in the process of extracting or eager to begin doing so.
The most recent meeting, which compliments another such gathering held in Turkmenistan’s desert capital of Ashgabat, was designed as a medium by which each of the Caspian states could negotiate and structure deals related to mutual interests related to the Caspian. Three of the five states, Russia, Iran and Turkmenistan, were successful in redacting a “tripartite memorandum of understanding in the field of security.” The three states, according to Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ibrahim Rahumpur, will seek to collaborate more openly in areas of security, and emphasized the need to go beyond security collaboration and branch further out into the sharing of best practices for efficient energy usage. The agreement, however, has been labeled by some as unusual, given the fact that the meeting was convened to structure a quintipartite deal that involved each of the littoral states in attendance.
Conflicting reports surrounding the number of the agreement’s signatories have emerged, with some in Iran claiming that Azerbaijan also signed the agreement. Thus far, no de facto report has emerged detailing the agreement’s content.
- Afghan farmers are not cultivating more opium than at any point in recorded history. Gains to the country’s infrastructure have been almost entirely cancelled out as the leading ingredient to heroin has skyrocketed in popularity throughout Afghan farmlands. The crop is drastically cheaper to harvest than typical food crops, and enjoy the protection of groups such as the Taliban that have historically levied taxes on farmers in exchange for protection and a percentage of the profits made in the opium trade. The United States, which had previously made narcotics a priority, has by and large looked the other way in order to prevent the defection of farmers to the Taliban, a policy that has been largely ineffective.
- The once-promising negotiations surrounding Iran’s nuclear program have “hit a wall,” as the French foreign minister recently declared. The chief hindrance has been agreeing on minutia related to the amount of nuclear materials Iran would be allowed to maintain under the terms of the deal. The P5+1 have qualms about the existing network of centrifuges throughout Iran, fearing that existing infrastructure would make Iran’s break-out capacity a very real possibility, irrespective of any treaty signed. Western officials have stipulated that their preference would be for Iran to reduce its centrifuge stockpile to “the hundreds,” a sharp deviation from the Iranian desire to main more 100,000. The United States has pushed incessantly for a lasting deal between the two sides, though recent statements such as those by France’s foreign minister paint the negotiations as more hope than substance.
- Uzbekistan’s al-Qaeda influenced Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) has claimed responsibility for a terror attack on Pakistan’s Karachi airport that claimed the lives of ten Pakistanis and all ten members of the IMU involved in the attack. The IMU has been a threat in Central Asia for the past fifteen years, though its presence in its country of origin has been largely eliminated by security forces run by the Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov, forcing the organization to splinter and seek refuge in extremist safe havens such as the Pakistani borderlands.
- Police in Tajikistan have detained about a dozen protestors for rallying in front of the British embassy in Dushanbe. The protestors, who “were mainly women,” have been described by Tajik authorities as extremists operating under the pretext of “sowing fear and destabilizing the country.” It remains unclear what the catalyst was for the protests.
- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov acknowledged ties to pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine after a prominent spokesperson visited Moscow to drum up support for his cause. Despite the fact that Lavrov said that Ukrainian leaders refused humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine in May, Russian forces began sending it anyway. “We are trying to provide humanitarian aid to those who have not left the conflict zone yet,” Lavrov said to the secretary general of OSCE. As Putin pledged earlier this week to reinforce the border between eastern Ukraine and Russia, reports are coming in as well that Arsen Avakov, Interior Minister of Ukraine has accused Russia of sending a “column of armored vehiclesthrough border control points near Dyakove on the border.
- Azerbaijan and the World Bank have signed a loan agreement on agriculture amounting to $34.5 million for the implementation of a project to completely overhaul the production chain, starting from initial agricultural production to creation of a logistics system on regions and certain products. This comes immediately after an international NGO called the Cotton Campaign petitioned the World Bank to prevent a loan to Uzbekistan for its own agricultural sector and cotton industry.
- Kazakh foreign minister Yerlan Idrissov is visiting France, during which he will meet French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius to exchange views on the rehabilitation of Afghanistan, the Iranian nuclear program, and the situation in Ukraine. The major topic discussed was Francois Hollande’s visit to Kazakhstan at the end of this year at the invitation of current President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
- Kyrgyzstan has finally approved Centerra Gold’s mine plan for 2014, rushing to meet the deadline set by the company which threatened to shut down operations at the world’s second largest gold deposit. The Kumtor Gold Mine has seen many controversies in recent years some related to corruption and difficulty of obtaining mining licenses. The Kumtor mine has been the source of political tension in Kyrgyzstan, which has been trying to increase tax revenues.
- Prosecutors in Kyrgyzstan are seeking eight years of jail time for ex-mayor of Bishkek accused of corruption. Isa Omurkulov resigned from the mayorship of Bishkek in December after the prosecutor-general’s office launched a probe against him and his four associates, accusing him of redrawing the borders of a park in the center of Bishkek to accommodate the existence of illegal construction there from 2002 to 2010 and to allow new buildings on park grounds.