Iran’s top nuclear negotiator expressed hopes that an agreement will be reached on Iran’s rollback of its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief before the end of the year. Negotiator Abbas Araqchi’s comments came a day after US President Obama approved sanctions waivers on October 18, the symbolic implementation day for the nuclear deal concluded between Iran and the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US) in July. The waivers will take effect after Iran proves the rollback to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which US officials have stated may take over two months. Araqchi reported that no action has yet been taken towards “mothballing” centrifuges, as facilitators must await an order from President Rouhani to begin. He stated that Iran hoped to see practical implementation of the deal in the next two months. The deal, drawn up between Iran and the P5+1, stipulates Iran dismantle its nuclear program in return for the lifting of international sanctions.
Iranian Oil Minister stated that the country hopes to increase its oil output after the sanctions are lifted, as he called for OPEC to cut collective production to raise international crude prices. In the past few months, Iran has hosted a multitude of foreign trade delegations, and has also attracted attention for the recent involvement of Iranian forces supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In the first gesture of its kind in over 10 years, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Iran this weekend, urging the country use its influence to press Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to work towards a more diplomatic solution to the country’s nearly five-year civil war.
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- Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev stated that Russia is fighting in Syria to prevent the spread of terrorism, not to prop up the Bashar al-Assad regime. In an interview with Rossiya TV, Medvedev highlighted the need to support legitimate government in Syria to counter the threat of ISIS. He claimed that while Russia is operating on the presumption that Assad is the legitimate president, the Syrian people should be allowed to choose their own leader. Medvedev quoted President Vladimir Putin’s warning that if ISIS is not defeated in Syria, ISIS fighters may spread to Russia, echoing concerns that many fighters hail from Russia. Medvedev’s assertion comes amid criticism from Western countries that Russia’s involvement in Syria is primarily to ensure the survival of its strategic ally in Assad. Although recent efforts have been made towards limited cooperation between US-allied and Russian forces in Syria, US President Barack Obama said Friday at a news conference that there is “no meeting of the minds” [with Putin] in terms of strategy.”
- Bloomberg Business News reported that a group of Russian hackers breached servers owned by Dow Jones & Co. for insider trading information between 2012 and 2015. The report cites four people familiar with the situation who claim that the FBI is now investigating the potential breach, which a spokeswoman for the FBI confirmed but did not provide details. If as confirmed, the breach is the last in a recent string of high-profile cases involving Russian hackers posing a relatively new threat to U.S. national and financial security. Russian hackers with suspected ties to the Russian government purportedly gained access to State Department unclassified servers in late 2014 into 2015. In August, federal authorities indicted a group of Russian-speaking hackers working from Ukraine who gained trading tips from the servers of U.S. corporations.
- Ukraine won a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2016-2017 term. Ukrainian ambassador to the UN stated last week that Ukraine’s attitude towards Russia will be “anything but conciliatory,” raising expectations in the press that Ukraine intends to use its new position to further oppose Russia regarding the conflict in its east. Ukraine ran unopposed and won the seat by 177 votes in the UN general assembly, although diplomats who spoke anonymously reported that Russia was quietly campaigning against Ukraine’s election. Russia used its veto power to block the creation of an international tribunal to investigate Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 that was shot down in eastern Ukraine in July 2014.
- Uzbekistan has negotiated contracts to export 700,000 tons of cotton fiber and textile products worth over $800 million. Minister of Foreign Economic Relations, Investment and Trade Elyor Ganiev reported that contracts were concluded with Bangladesh, China, Turkey, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Poland, UAE, Czech Republic, Great Britain, Iran and Russia for export of cotton fiber, and with Poland, Turkey, Russia, Singapore, South Korea and other countries at the Eleventh International Cotton Fair held in Tashkent last week. Despite a boycott begun in 2013 involving major Western textile companies, Uzbekistan’s cotton industry continues to bring in a large amount of capital for the government. This September, Western media gave increased attention to the forced labor allegedly being used to harvest cotton, including a recent case where farmers were purportedly coerced into gluing cotton back in the fields to give the impression of a bountiful harvest for Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev’s visit to eastern Uzbekistan.
- Vice News produced a short documentary on two of the five former Guantanamo detainees sent to Kazakhstan in December 2014. The report details the difficulties facing Lotfi Bin Ali and his Yemeni companion Sabri al-Qurashi, both living in the east Kazakhstan city of Semey. Both report issues obtaining vital medication through the Red Crescent of Kazakhstan, apparently in charge of monitoring them and providing housing and aid; negative encounters with local police; and integrating into a predominantly Russian-speaking society. Vice journalists could not pinpoint any organization that holds complete jurisdiction over their situation, although they are not allowed to leave the city. The US concluded an agreement with the government of Kazakhstan to repatriate the five former detainees. Four remain, as one died of kidney failure in southern Kazakhstan in March 2015.
- A Chisinau court ordered that Moldovan ex-prime minister Vlad Filat be remanded in custody for one month. Filat was detained on October 15 after the Moldovan parliament voted he be stripped of parliamentary immunity. The order was issued during an October 18 hearing, approximately 15 minutes before his 72-hour detention period was set to expire. Filat is charged with large-scale corruption and using influence to take bribes, and is reported to have stolen over $1 billion from the national banking system.