Iran announced yesterday that bilateral negotiations with the United States proceeded “in good atmosphere” despite lingering gaps on Tehran’s uranium enrichment and uncertainty over economic sanctions being lifted with a new US Congress in play for the coming year. The P5+1 powers and Iran failed to strike a deal by the self-imposed deadline last month of November 24, but an extension of 7 more months was agreed to address “complex technical details.” Lead Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi announced immediately after the six hour talks were over that his team was optimistic over the prospects for a deal in July.
He additionally noted that issues have been mostly boiled down to very exact details of what needs to be accomplished before sanctions can be lifted. Araqchi announced more rounds of talks with the United States, another step forward in their relationship. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced on Monday that he pledged to secure a nuclear deal to end the “oppressive sanctions against the Iranian people.” According to reports within Iran, Rouhani has staked his political future on securing this deal, but insisted that the “overwhelming majority of our nation – intellectuals, academics, theologians, the greats and the leadership – are in favor of getting the sanctions removed.”
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- Kazakhstan, due to its position as chairman of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), announced that it will try to keep Ukraine within the commonwealth, according to a statement by Kazakh ambassador to Belarus Tergali Bulegenov in Minsk yesterday. The CIS is a regional organization whose participating countries are former Soviet republics, formed during the break up of the Soviet Union in the 90’s.
- Fighting between government troops and Russian-backed separatists have halted in eastern Ukraine – while simultaneously Ukraine looks to face harsh economic consequences if it pursues a closer integration with Europe. Spokesman for the Kievan military Andriy Lysenko announced that heavy arms battles between government and rebel forces have reduced notably and are now limited to mortars and small arms fire. Separatists have also agreed that violence has reduced dramatically.
- The Kyrgyz som now has the same value as the Russian ruble, with the nominal exchange rate of the currency is set to around 0.9872 soms per ruble. During the day yesterday, the official exchange rate fell by almost 2.49 percent, and at the same time the dollar exchange rate rose to 58 soms on the dollar, roughly the same as the buying power of the ruble currently.
- The Kyrgyz government was accused of blocking an ISIS recruitment video and that they illegally shut down the site by the news website Kloop.kg. The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry asked the website to remove its report on the video, which showed Kazakh children being trained by the IS group in Syria and Iraq. Kloop.kg refused to take down the report and the site was inaccessible to Kyrgyz readers for a time.
- Uzbekistan has set a new excise tax on tobacco and related products that will be effective in 2015, according to an official resolution by Islam Karimov on the national budget for 2015. The excise duty on imported cigarettes will raise prices for consumers of these products significantly.
- Iran has been criticized by a number of international human rights groups through the UN for its aid to Iran on counter-narcotics until that country outlaws the death penalty for drug related offenses. Iran executes more prisoners than any other country except China, with 500-625 executed last year, according to UN estimates. As a conduit for opium trafficking from neighboring Afghanistan, Iran confirmed that it enforces the death penalty to restrict the ability of the traffickers.