International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) completed its 12-year investigation on Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, which was a precondition for lifting UN, US and EU sanctions on Iran. The IAEA concluded that Iran conducted research related to nuclear weapons until 2003 and to a lesser extent in 2009, but the agency said that the activities were not advanced and found no evidence of continuation after 2009. As a result, sanctions against Iran could be lifted as early as middle of January. But the U.S. representative to the IAEA Henry Ensher said that closing the chapter does not mean closing the agency’s ability to investigate any potential concerns that may arise. This comes with the recent development when Iran test-fired a medium range missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead according to the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts’ report. But Tehran said the test did not violate the agreement.
The agency’s report, circulated this month showed that Iran had not provided clear answers to number of questions, that led some of the U.S. lawmakers to press the Obama administration to keep the sanctions until provision of a fuller account from Iran. But the unanimous backing of the IAEA resolution by the board could ease some of the pressure now. Iran, who claimed the program was for purely civilian and peaceful purposes, responded to the conclusion saying the counterfeit issue is now a history. Iran will receive relief from most but not all sanctions as it completes other provisions for the agreed deal including removing the core of its plutonium reactor, scrapping much of its nuclear-fuel stockpile and removing thousands of centrifuges from its nuclear facilities. Economic and financial sanctions will be suspended, but an arms ban will remain in place as well as sanctions on dozens of individuals and companies associated with the nuclear program.
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- Russia and U.S. clear their way to the next round of Syria talks after the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visit to Kremlin. Kerry met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the context of Kremlin’s preconditions for Syria talks this Friday in New York. But afterwards he said the two countries agreed to try to accelerate the peace process and political transition as the two sides found common ground to put their differences to one side for now. According to Kerry, the talks did not focus on the difference over Assad, but on the political process. The sides agreed on regarding some of the Syrian rebel groups as terrorist organizations. But before the talks, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that Washington should rethink its policy of dividing terrorists into good and bad ones. Lavrov also confirmed Russia’s backing of the meeting and said the two countries were now moving in the same direction on Syria.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law that allows Russia’s Constitutional Court to decide over acceptance or overthrow of international human rights courts’ rulings. In accordance with the law, the Russian court can overturn decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) if deemed unconstitutional. The law follows the ECHR ruling from 2014 that Russia must pay 1.9 billion Euros to shareholders of the defunct Yukos oil company. ECHR has received 218 complaints against Russia in 2014 and in 122 cases found Moscow violating the European Convention of Human Rights, including deportation of Georgian citizens in 2006.
- Azerbaijan considers joining the campaign against Islamic State according to the Russian Tass news agency. Azerbaijani foreign minister discussed the prospect of joining the 34-state Islamic alliance against terrorism with Saudi officials. The anti-terrorism alliance was formed by Saudi Arabia with the member list of predominantly Muslim countries including countries from as far as Malaysia. Iran, however, is not named as a participant. Saudi Arabia itself is already involved in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, but it is trying to divert its attention from Syria and focus on a battle with Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen. It is not precisely known how many Azerbaijanis left the country to fight alongside the ISIS group, but the estimate ranges from 200 to 300.
- Along with upcoming relief from sanctions on Iran, China is now seeking to link the country to West Asia. China Railway Corporation proposed a high-speed rail line that will run to the Northwest of Iran and carry both passengers and cargo. The 3,200 kilometer long rail link will start from Urumqi, the capital of China’s western Xinjiang Province and run by the end of Tehran through the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The railway will be complementary to already existing network in the region, which runs southeast to northwest toward Moscow. The new single line however is expected to fix problems of delaying trains at the border crossings to have their gauges changed. The proposal comes in hand with China’s increasing plans to expand economic connectivity across Eurasia through investment campaigns and infrastructure projects.
- Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko held official meetings in Kremlin. President Putin summed up the discussed points for the press that include economic relations between the two countries particularly construction of the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant in Grodno Region commissioned for 2018; prospects for development of the Eurasian Economic Union, which is chaired by Belarus this year as Putin particularly praised Minsk for strengthening the Union’s contractual legal framework; Putin also stressed that the two countries follow coordinated foreign policy including in Ukraine and Syria and stressed on the achieved agreement to develop military and military-technical cooperation. As the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the presidents did not discuss establishment of a Russian airbase in Belarus, an issue which recently rose some tension between the two countries.
- Kazakhstan decided to sell its oil terminal at the Black Sea part of Georgia due to lack of compromise between the sides. The Batumi Terminal limited Company belongs to Kazakhstan since 2008 as well as Tbilisi gas distribution network of Tbilgas, which is also part of Kaztransgas-Tbilisi and is a representative branch of the Kazmunaygas energy giant. Disputes over the Kaztransgas management have been going on for years now and despite high level negotiations in Astana, the two sides could not reach a compromise, after which the Kazakh owners thought about selling the company and by unofficial data, are negotiating with Azerbaijani and Russian colleagues. The Batumi oil terminal was presupposed as a transit route for Kazakh oil.