Fortnightly Review and Analysis: Iran, West Asia, Eurasia, Central Asian Republics (CAR) & Africa (Vol 2 Issue VIII)

April 16 – 30, 2017

West Asia

U.S. Imposes Mass Sanctions on Syria

In the aftermath of the chemical attack in Syria by the Assad region, the US Treasury Department has announced sanctions against 271 employees of the Syrian government agency for conducting research on chemical weapons. This is the second time that the US has imposed sanctions against Syria on the use of chemical weapons. These employees are from the President Assad’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre. With the recent sanctions, the number of sanctioned members has almost doubled.

This move has followed from the US bombing of Syrian airfield in the opposition controlled town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria on 4 April 2017. The Syrian regime has claimed that the story of chemical attacks has been “fabricated”. However, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has claimed that the chemical agent used in the attack was nerve agent ‘Sarin’. France has also said that it will soon present evidence to the use of Syrian Government’s involvement in the attack.

Pope Visits Egypt for Inter-faith Dialogue

After three weeks of Palm attacks on two Egyptian churches killing 47 people, Pope Francis, Head of the Roman Catholic Church, began his two day visit to Egypt on 28 April 2017. The Pope met President Sisi in Ittihadyia Palace. Pope Francis stressed the key role that Egypt plays in the region, against the blind, inhuman violence that results from the arms trade, power-seeking, and religious extremism that uses the name of God in committing massacres. He said that Egypt has a duty to enforce peace, despite the wound on its own lands.

He further mentioned that the goals that Egypt tries to reach - the slogans of its revolution, bread, freedom, and social justice - which he said could be a reality through serious work. He praised the efforts towards peace and development that the Egyptian people deserve, and the efforts that deserve all sacrifices, stressing that it requires respect for human rights, such as equality, freedom of expression and religion without discrimination.

U.S. Irked over Turkish Air Strikes in Iraq and Northern Syria

The U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner came out with a press briefing on 25 April 2017 stating that U.S. was “deeply concerned that Turkey conducted airstrikes earlier today in northern Syria, as well as northern Iraq, without proper coordination”. He also said that these airstrikes were not approved and led to casualties among Kurdish Peshmerga. Turkey is a partner of the United States in the fight against Daesh in the area. However, he also added, that Turkey cannot fight against Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) “at the expense of our common fight” against Daesh. Iraq's foreign ministry also denounced the Turkish strikes in its territory as a violation of its sovereignty.

Libya’s Warring Governments Meet in Rome

Rome has recently brokered a diplomatic breakthrough between the two warring parties in Libya. The objective was to bring the two sides together — the presidents of the House of Representatives, Ageela Saleh, and the state council, Abdulrahman Sewehli - in a new political arrangement. The meeting was overseen by the Italian foreign minister, Angelino Alfano, and the Italian ambassador to Libya. According to a statement from the state council (quoted in The Guardian), “there was an atmosphere of friendliness and openness” at the meeting in Rome. The statement also said there would have to be further consultations between the two sides this week in order to bring about reconciliation “and stop the bleeding as well as [ensure] the return of displaced persons”.

U.S. to Review Iran Nuclear Agreement

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently told the House Speaker Paul Ryan that the administration will conduct a review of U.S. sanctions relief given to Iran. In a statement, quoted by Bloomberg, Tillerson called Iran "a leading state sponsor of terror" and said the administration will review whether the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is "vital" to national security. This announcement came one day after Iran and the European Union signed a $2.7 billion nuclear safety project (EU) to boost the Iranian Nuclear Regulatory Authority.

Central Asian Republics (CAR)

President of Turkmenistan Visits Kazakhstan

President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimukhamedov was on a two-day state visit to Kazakhstan on 18-19 April 2017. During visit, he held one-on-one talks with his Kazakh counterpart, President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Hallmark of the visit was signing of the Treaty of Strategic Partnership, which is likely to boost political, economic, and humanitarian cooperation between Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. Agreement on Demarcation of the Turkmen-Kazakh State Border was also signed, leading to permanent resolution of border issues by the two.

During this visit, presidents of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan also signed number of other agreements, including agreement on joint inter-governmental commission on trade, economic, scientific, technical and cultural cooperation, agreement on cooperation between the foreign ministries, and agreement on combating illegal money laundering and financing of terrorism. The two leaders focused on areas like energy, transport, business-to-business links and environmental cooperation. They also discussed issues relating to regional peace and stability, situation in Afghanistan, and threats of terrorism and violent extremism in the region. Prospects of cooperation in the Caspian Sea was also an important point in discussion.

These two Caspian Sea littoral states of Central Asia are abundant in energy resources; Kazakhstan being rich in crude oil and uranium, and Turkmenistan in natural gas. Apart from that, their vital location adds to geo-strategic significance of these countries. They are both very important in the development of trans-national transport connectivity projects like International North South Transit Corridor (INSTC) and One Belt One Road (OBOR). The recently opened Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran rail link, and energy pipelines to China have already underlined importance of these countries. In such scenario, the aforementioned high-level visit is of vitality, as it boosts bilateral cooperation in terms of trade, energy, transport and humanitarian spheres.

SCO Foreign Ministers Meet in Astana

Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) council of ministers of foreign affairs met in the Kazakh capital city of Astana on 21-22 April. This meeting was attended by foreign ministers of six SCO members, namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia and China, along with the SCO Secretary General Rashid Alimov. Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure’s (RATS) Executive Committee Director Yevgeniy Sysoev was also present in the meeting.

This meeting of council of foreign ministers was held to lay ground for the SCO summit of the heads of states, scheduled to be held on 8-9 June in Astana. During this meeting, draft of SCO Astana Declaration was prepared, and a list of documents to be signed by heads of states was also laid down. The group deliberated upon the issues of regional security, fighting terrorism and extremism, combating drug trafficking, and development of cooperation within member states. Council of foreign ministers also discussed upcoming accession of India and Pakistan to the SCO.

The Astana summit of the SCO is going to be a landmark event, as it would witness the first-ever expansion of the organisation since its conception. With the accession of India and Pakistan, SCO is stepping out of the Eurasian region into South Asia. This is likely to widen the scope and influence of the organization.

Africa

United Nation-African Union Leaders Sign Framework for Enhancing Partnership in Peace and Security, and Stress Strengthening of their Partnership

The United Nation (UN) Secretariat and the African Union (AU) Commission held their annual conference at the UN Headquarters in New York. “Strengthening UN-AU Partnership” was at the centre of the discussions this year. There was a joint deal signed by UN-AU Framework for Enhancing Partnership in Peace and Security by the UN Secretary General H.E. Antonio Guterres and the African Union Commission Chairperson H.E. Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat. The priority areas of the two organisations, was the need to harmonise the complementarity between UN’s Agenda 2030 and the AU’s Agenda 2063. The UN-AU cooperation in the field of peace and security, as well as enhancing financial cooperation was kept as an important discussions for them too. They stressed the vital importance of the partnership and the need to further strengthen it through joint and harmonised actions and mutual respect.

Secretary General Guterres mentioned that the AU and African issues were among his priorities and he would support the AU not only in peace and security matters but also in the development of the continent. The AU Commission Chairperson, Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat expressed his appreciation for the partnership with the UN, and thanked the Secretary General for the support and assistance given by the UN to the AU and its Member States in the implementation of Agenda 2063, and also in facilitating investment in African youth. Both leaders underscored the need to work together through regular consultations, frank dialogue, and principled positions, as well as recognising the importance of African leadership and ownership as far as African issues are concerned. They both expressed satisfaction that there was convergence of views between Agenda 2030 and Agenda 2063, and looked forward to producing more concrete results through the harmonised approaches and actions of the two organisations.