Massenbach-Letter: NEWS 27/12/13

News alert: DEBKAfiles: Oman hosts secret Syrian talks on transition

DEBKAfile December 25, 2013, 3:52 PM (GMT+02:00)

Syrian government and opposition delegations have arrived in Muscat for a secret bid under US auspices to reach an understanding on a transitional stage – ahead of next week’s conference on a political solution of their conflict. The opposition includes “independent” members. Oman’s Sultan Qaboos formerly acted as intermediary for a nuclear deal between Iran and the US and later six world powers.

Massenbach-Letter

Udo von Massenbach

The Hill: U.S. Politics in 2014: What to look for

(The battle for control of the Senate, ObamaCare implementation and

a desperate push for immigration reform will likely dominate the political world in 2014.) *

* U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner ( Commonwealth of Virginia ):Bipartisan Military Whistleblower Protection Act Passes Congress *

Guten Morgen.

· WSJ: Mukasey: The Air of Unreality in NSA Reform

· (The president’s panel found no official malfeasance but recommends overhauling surveillance programs anyway. ) Attachment *

Massenbach* *Verizon to publish reports on surveillance requests, wants to detail NSA efforts*

Verizon Communications said Thursday it will begin early next year to publish reports on the number of law enforcement requests it receives for customer data, setting a significant precedent for the telecommunications industry that has kept that information private.

Verizon, the nation’s biggest wireless provider, has been under immense pressure from shareholders and privacy groups after revelations that the National Security Agency obtained mountains of private information from the company as well as other telecommunications firm including AT&T, according to leaked documents by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Those disclosures have damaged the reputation of U.S. communications companies around the world.

Privacy advocates have long complained that the telecom industry is far more cooperative with government surveillance efforts than technology firms such as Google and Twitter.

The company is the first in the telecom industry to provide details on the practice of government demands for data. Internet companies including Microsoft, Facebook and Apple already publish transparency reports that include how many federal, state and local demands for data they receive.

Such transparency reports offer only broad ranges of law enforcment requests and do not provide an agency by agency breakdown, though several companies have gone to court for the right to offer more detailed information.

Bound by court orders by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, no company can detail the number of requests by the NSA. But Verizon said it is in talks with government officials to do so.

“In the past year, there has been greater focus than ever on the use of legal demands by governments around the world to obtain customer data,” said Randal S. Milch, Verizon’s general counsel in a blog post.

“Like others in the industry, the aim of our transparency report is to keep our customers informed about government requests for their data and how we respond to those requests. Verizon calls on governments around the world to provide more information on the types and amounts of data they collect and the legal processes that apply when they do so.”

Verizon said its first report for 2013 data will be released early next year and updates will be done semi-annually.

Shareholders of AT&T and Verizon have demanded the companies disclose NSA data requests, saying the firms’ participation in a NSA surveillance program has hurt their reputation with customers.

Stockholders and a number of privacy advocates applauded Verizon’s most recent move and urged the rest of the telecom industry to follow suit.

“They are first telecom company to do this which is significant and we are gratified that at least initially Verizon seems to be taking the steps we put forward in our resolutions for Verizon and AT&T,” said Jonas Kron, a senior vice president for Trillium Asset Management. Trillium filed a shareholder resolution to Verizon’s board, demanding transparency reports.

Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has also called for greater public disclosure of data requests by government.

In the past two years, Markey privately obtained the data through his own investigation of telecommunications companies.

“For the past two years, I have queried the major wireless carriers for this information, and the data they have provided to me has been eye-opening. We clearly need more sunlight in this area,” Markey said in a statement.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/verizon-to-publish-reports-on-surveillance-requests-wants-to-detail-nsa-efforts/2013/12/19/d9b38a06-68e4-11e3-a0b9-249bbb34602c_story.html?wpisrc=al_comboTE_b

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Dec 20 2013

Bipartisan Military Whistleblower Protection Act Passes Congress

Bipartisan Military Whistleblower Protection Act will now go the President for his signature

WASHINGTON – Bipartisan legislation sponsored by Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to strengthen military whistleblower protection laws to ensure those who report sexual assault and other misconduct are not further victimized by retaliation passed the Senate and will become law. The Military Whistleblower Protection Act was passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on a bipartisan 85-14 vote and will now go to the President for his signature. The Military Whistleblower Protection Act is supported by over 50 good government, public health and veterans organizations, including the Service Women’s Action Network, and leading whistleblower protection organizations including the Project on Government Oversight and the Government Accountability Project.

“This legislation is an important first step toward better protecting our military men and women from misconduct, including sexual assault,” Sen. Warner said. “The Military Whistleblower Protection Act will encourage our service members to report fraud, waste and abuse and provide them with the retaliation-free working environment they deserve. Virginia has a strong military tradition and I am proud that this legislation will now become law."

"Whistleblowers play a crucial role in Congressional efforts to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse and to help ensure the effectiveness of government programs. They provide crucial information that Congress needs to conduct proper oversight of the federal government," said Sen. Collins. "This amendment increases whistleblower protections for the military and encourages whistleblowers to report misconduct, especially as it relates to sexual assault. Our military men and women deserve a justice system that protects them while they serve our country."

“With passage of the Military Whistleblower Protection Act, victims and witnesses of sexual assault and other serious crimes will now be better protected from retaliation," said Sen. Kaine. “Too many incidents of sexual assault go unreported, and this bill works to change that by enhancing protections for whistleblowers and fostering a safer, more supportive environment for our service members. I was proud to sponsor this legislation and will continue to support measures that tackle the longstanding problem of sexual assault in the military."

“Military personnel have an unbelievably difficult time when blowing the whistle on misconduct, fraud or even sexual assault. Too often, these complaints get tossed into the garbage for no good reason. To make matters worse, retaliation seems to be the norm rather than the exception. There’s a lot left to be done in this area, but inclusion of the Military Whistleblower Protection Act in the Defense Reauthorization is a good step forward for whistleblowers,” Sen. Grassley said.

"Today, Congress finally upgraded the protections for the brave men and women who come forward to report waste, fraud, and abuse—including sexual assault—in the military,” said Angela Canterbury, Director of Public Policy for the Project on Government Oversight. “We sincerely thank Senators Warner, Collins, Kaine, and Grassley, as well as Representatives Speier and Coffman, for championing these critical reforms to increase accountability and readiness in the military. We look forward to working with them and their dedicated staff in the new year to ensure our troops have the protections they deserve in practice."

“This is the first significant advance in military whistleblower rights since they were enacted in 1988, and it is long overdue,” said Government Accountability Project legal director Tom Devine. “To date the Military Whistleblower Protection Act has created far more victims than it has helped. Our work is not done, but this reform is a giant step toward parity with civilian employees who challenge fraud, waste and abuse. All soldiers and citizens owe special thanks to Senators Mark Warner (D.-Va.), Timothy Kaine (D.-Va.), Susan Collins (R.-Me) and Charles Grassley (R.-Iowa). These senators’ leadership led to the Christmas present of a responsible free speech breakthrough for troops, and badly-needed military accountability for all Americans.

"At Service Women’s Action Network, we’ve seen firsthand the devastating impacts of retaliation–personal, professional, or both–against survivors of military sexual assault," said Anu Bhagwati, Service Women’s Action Network executive director and former Marine Corps captain. "The unfortunate truth is that our current Inspector General investigation process fails many. With this legislation, Senators Warner, Collins, Kaine and Grassley are leading the charge to provide survivors with the relief they need and the justice they deserve."

The bipartisan Military Whistleblower Protection Act expands whistleblower protections to witnesses as well as victims, and ensures action is taken both to provide corrective relief to victims of retaliation and to discipline those who retaliate. It also extends the current 60-day period to file a report to one year, bringing it more in line with other federal and contractor whistleblowers who have longer reporting periods—often up to three years to report misconduct. Additionally it speeds up the process and ensures accountability by compelling the Service Secretary to take action within 30 days of receiving a report from an Inspector General, and requires that the investigations are conducted by an Inspector General at least one organization higher that the individuals’ involved to prevent any conflicts of interest. Finally, it requires the service branches to actively support those with confirmed cases of retaliation by ensuring that their military record is referred to the Board for Military Correction of Records and provides legal assistance to the victim, rather than the current policy of requiring victims to navigate that difficult process on their own.

Too often, the fear of retaliation deters service members from coming forward. This legislation addresses that and encourages those who witness or were subject to sexual and other offenses to speak up. A Government Accountability Office audit reported that more than 60% of service members who reported sexual assaults in 2012 experienced retaliation. Less than 1% of whistleblowers who filed reprisal complaints obtained relief, and only 19% of those whom the Inspector Generals certified had experienced retaliation ever got their records corrected. Additionally, a Pentagon study released in May 2013 and based on a confidential survey sent to more than 100,000 active-duty service members, found as many as 26,000 members of the military experienced offenses ranging from sexual harassment to sexual assault last year. However, fewer than 3,400 individuals reported the incidents. The Department of Defense concluded most victims did not step forward because they worried about retaliation and believed that reporting the alleged offense would negatively impact their military careers.

Permalink: http://www.warner.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2013/12/bipartisan-military-whistleblower-protection-act-passes-congress

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Policy= res publica

Freudenberg-Pilster* Women are not scared of competing with males, field experiment shows

Posted on December 20, 2013 by IZA Press

Despite increasing female labor market participation, gender differences in labor market outcomes persist: men earn more, have better employment perspectives and better access to top positions. One explanation for the persisting gender gap is that women are more reluctant to engage in competition. A new IZA discussion paper by Maria De Paola, Francesca Gioia and Vincenzo Scoppa tests this hypothesis by running a field experiment. The experiment involves 720 undergraduate students enrolled at an Italian university and attending three economic courses in the academic year 2012-2013. The experimental design aims at disentangling gender differences in taste for competition from other differences in psychological attitudes, such as self-confidence and risk aversion. Students were invited to undertake a mid-term exam under a tournament scheme where they have the opportunity to win bonus points for the final exam. Students competed in pairs of equal ability but different gender composition. The authors find that females are as likely as males to take part in the competition. Moreover, men and women perform similarly both in the competitive and in the non-competitive environment. Lastly, the gender of one’s competitor does not affect student behavior.

Read abstract or download discussion paper.

http://newsroom.iza.org/en/2013/12/20/women-are-not-scared-of-competing-with-males/

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Politics: From Vision to Action

Barandat* Pakistani Political Turmoil over Drone Strikes Complicates ISAF Afghan Supply Efforts

If all goes as planned, then next year the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will begin withdrawing from Afghanistan, completing its departure by the end of 2014. Logistical elements have already begun to be withdrawn by the United States and its Allies. But rising political protests in Pakistan over US drone strikes are complicating truck-based North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supply lines to and from Pakistan’s Karachi port—forcing the West to increasingly rely on transit routes passing northward through Central Asia and Russia to Europe

The logistical drawdown, which began in September 2012, will see US forces repatriate an estimated 50,000 vehicles, many hardened to make them resistant to mines, along with an estimated 100,000 metal containers (Newsweek Pakistan, November 11). According to Army Brigadier General Duane A. Gamble, the deputy commander of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command, based at Fort Bragg, 70 percent of ISAF’s equipment being withdrawn is being shipped out through Pakistan (American Forces Press Service, October 11).

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan’s third largest political party, controls the government in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province but sits in opposition in Pakistan’s national parliament. Responding to a call protesting US drone strikes in Pakistan by PTI chairman Imran Khan, beginning on November 24, Tehreek-e-Insaf activists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, some armed with clubs, began forcibly searching trucks in an effort to halt NATO resupply efforts for ISAF forces in Afghanistan. They set up five unofficial checkpoints from Torkham to Peshawar, stopping trucks carrying coalition supplies in both directions, threatening drivers and opening containers to check the contents, which include Humvees, military trailers and other non-lethal equipment (PTI press release, November 23).

Pakistani outrage rose dramatically after a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) drone strike on November 1 killed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Hakimullah Mehsud, effectively derailing the efforts of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to arrange peace talks with the TTP (http://tribune.com.pk/story/626123/ttp-chief-hakimullah-mehsud-buried/).

On December 3, Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright said that Pentagon military logisticians had decided to stop shipments through the Torkham border crossing because local drivers working for the US military were being threatened by the protesters. Wright said, “We have voluntarily halted U.S. shipments of retrograde cargo through the Pakistan Ground Line of Communication from Torkham Gate through Karachi. We anticipate that we’ll be able to resume our shipments through this route in the near future. While we favor shipping cargo via Pakistan because of cost, we have built flexibility and redundancy into our overall system of air, sea and ground routes to transport cargo into and out of Afghanistan.” The same day, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told a press briefing, “We favor shipping cargo via Pakistan because of the cost. And hopefully I don’t anticipate that there will be any long-term impact to our retrograde movement because of the current situation.” The US military still has around 46,000 troops in Afghanistan, a figure set to decline to 34,000 by early 2014 (nation.com.pk, December 5).

The PTI protests in Pakistan’s turbulent northwest add additional complications to the US military’s upcoming withdrawal from Afghanistan over and above Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s confrontation with Washington over whether a residual force of US and allied troops will remain in the country after ISAF’s mandate expires in December 2014. Karzai is refusing to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement required by Washington to set up the legal and operational framework for a post-2014 residual training force of up to 12,000 troops, likely to be mostly American (afghanzariza.com, December 12).

PTI Central Information Secretary Shireen Mazari said that the Pakistani federal government, after Prime Minister Sharif’s October visit to Washington, sacrificed the interests and mandate of the people of Pakistan and the All Party Conference to US interests, commenting, “It has become abundantly clear that the Sharif government has arrived at a covert deal on drones with the US in the same manner as its predecessors” (PTI press release, December 4).

The PTI shutdown is not the first time that ISAF logistical routes through Pakistan have been interrupted. In late 2011, Islamabad closed down the routes for seven months to protest a US helicopter attack on two Pakistani military border posts, which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, only reopening them in July 2012 after Washington issued a formal apology (CNS News, July 5, 2012).

The US is also seeking to downsize its Afghan logistical base by selling off some of its equipment, with the Department of Defense working to sell as many as 2,000 of its fleet of 11,000 mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles deployed in Afghanistan to foreign customers, including reportedly in Central Asia (see EDM, April 3), instead of sending them home or destroying them. The cost of shipping an MRAP back to the US is $250,000–$300,000 per vehicle (Army Times, December 4). In addition, the US military is destroying about $7 billion worth of materiel in Afghanistan; according to the Defense Logistics Agency, in 2013, the US has turned equipment and vehicles into 387 million pounds of scrap that it sold to Afghans for $46.5 million (AP, November 6).

In an apparent effort to tone down the confrontational rhetoric, on December 6, PTI chairman Imran Khan, accompanied by Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Shireen Mazari and Naeemul Haq, met with NATO envoys during a dinner meeting at the Greek ambassador’s residence to clarify his party’s position on drones and the blockade of supplies through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Khan subsequently told reporters, “PTI does not want war with the U.S. or NATO, but we need to send a clear message to the U.S. that drones are destroying the very fabric of FATA [the Federally Administered Tribal Areas] and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa” (Dawn, December 6).

The end result of the PTI blockade, however, has been to raise the drone issue to the level of national political dialogue. If, as PTI insists, the blockade will continue until the drone strikes are halted, then Washington will face the unsettling prospect of a CIA program hampering the US military’s withdrawal efforts. While the Pentagon always has the Northern Distribution Network railways for backup, the line is far more expensive at a time of flat Defense Department budgets. Accordingly, if a peaceful withdrawal from Afghanistan is Washington’s highest priority, then rather than push Sharif’s government unwillingly to embrace a more nationalist policy, it may make more sense to the US government, in the short term, to rein in the drone strikes destabilizing a region that will prove increasingly crucial for downsizing and ultimately ending ISAF’s Afghan presence.

http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Bswords%5D=8fd5893941d69d0be3f378576261ae3e&tx_ttnews%5Bany_of_the_words%5D=Pakistan&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=41761&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=7&cHash=d722fdc01591e53ff4c8a609a69ec85a#.UrgvrBOYBLM

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The Army of Justice and the Threat of Sunni Militancy in the Sistan-Baluchistan Province of Iran

Fourteen border guards in the southeastern Iranian region of Saravan were assassinated and five seriously wounded on October 25 by a shadowy militant Sunni group known as Jaysh al-Adl (JA – Army of Justice) (IRNA, October 25; Mehr News, October 25). In retaliation, Iranian authorities hung 16 Balochis (al-Akhbar, November 7). [1] A public prosecutor believed to have been involved in the execution of the Baluch insurgents was assassinated on November 6 and JA claimed responsibility, describing the killing at revenge against judicial authorities in a statement posted on the group’s website (al-Jazeera, November 7; Shafaf News [Tehran], November 12). [2]

Fourteen border guards in the southeastern Iranian region of Saravan were assassinated and five seriously wounded on October 25 by a shadowy militant Sunni group known as Jaysh al-Adl (JA – Army of Justice) (IRNA, October 25; Mehr News, October 25). Two weeks later, following the mass JA claimed responsibility for the assassination of a Zabol-based prosecutor believed to have been involved in the mass execution of Baluch insurgents as retaliation for the October 25 attack on the border guards (al-Jazeera, November 7; Shafaf News [Tehran], November 12).

The latest series of attacks by JA have not been isolated incidents. The armed Sunni group has carried out several military operations against the Iranian forces since 2012. The latest was on December 5, when four members of JA were killed by Iranian security guards in a series of skirmishes along the border between Iran and Pakistan (JamNews [Tehran], December 5). The militant group warns of future attacks against Iranian officials, while the Iranian state calls for a firmer response to such attacks.

JA describes itself as a “political-military” movement of the “Ahle Sunnat-e Iran” (Sunnis of Iran), with the aspiration of freeing the Baluch people from the hegemony of the Iranian government. The leader of the group, Abdul Rahim Mollahzadeh (a.k.a. Salah al-din Farogi), comes from Rasak, a southeastern border town in the impoverished Sarbaz County wiwhose local population has close cultural connections with the Pakistani region of Baluchistan (Shafaf, November 12).

The movement maintains that it is a clandestine group that focuses on attacking military bases and deliberately avoids harming civilians in order to uphold a just war against the “Safavi” regime in Iran. The reference is to the Safavid Empire, which established Shia Islam as the state religion in sixteenth-century Iran.

The origin of the JA goes back to 2012, when the organization first emerged as an offshoot of Jundallah (Soldiers of God), a Sunni militant organization of Baluch ethnic background founded by Abdolmalek Rigi, who was executed by the Islamic Republic in 2010 (al-Arabiya, October 29; JameJam News, October 29; Shafaf, November 12). While Jundallah disintegrated with the death of Rigi, JA emerged as a new Baluch militant movement with strong sectarian ideological overtones. Unlike Jundallah, whose primary demand was that Tehran improve the lives of Iranian Sunnis, JA appears to be more of a separatist movement, demanding that the Iranian regime leave the Sistan-Baluchistan province.

In terms of organization, JA appears to be a tightly knit group of Sunni Baluch fighters who may have both rural and urban support in the Iranian and Pakistani border region. The group is based in three military camps near the Iranian-Pakistani border (JamNews December 2013). In operational terms, the group engages in activities such as the use of explosives against Iranian border guards, hostage-taking operations and assassination attacks against high-ranking government officials in the province.

The group has employed social media as a way to propagate its ideology and to express demands on the Iranian state. Videos and clips of military operations are posted online sporadically, often days or weeks after a military conflict between the organization and the Iranian military forces took place. JA leader Salah al-din Farogi and other commanders post anti-government statements on Facebook and YouTube, speaking of the oppressive nature of the Iranian regime and its efforts to marginalize Baluch, Arab and Kurdish populations. The videotaped confessions of prisoners purported to be Iranian intelligence officers are also posted on the group’s Facebook and blog sites.

According to the Iranian state, JA is a foreign-backed militia that is modeled after the militant-political organization Sazman-e Mojahedin-e Khalq-e Iran (People’s Mujahideen of Iran), a dissident-militant group known for its terrorist operations before and after the 1979 Islamic Revolution (Mashreq News, October 27). Tehran accuses JA of taking support from Israel and Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, which seek to destabilize the unity of Islamic Iran (ShiaNews, November 18).

In reality, JA is a political-military movement that reflects a recent wave of radicalization among the younger Baluch population. The trend towards militancy and sectarianism is largely due to a combination of domestic and regional grievances. Such grievances play an integral part in shaping the conditions upon which the JA has risen to challenge the Iranian state, though its success in legitimizing its operations among the local population remains unknown.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sistan_and_Baluchestan_Province

Sistan-Baluchistan is the most poverty-stricken region in Iran. The province has considerable infrastructural, educational and economic problems that are primarily caused by the unequal distribution of wealth. The decline of the Iranian economy, the fall of the national currency, the subsequent rise of inflation and increasing unemployment have contributed to growing poverty in the province.

Since the mid-2000s, the Islamic Republic has seen an upsurge in Sunni separatist militancy, partly in response to the economic conditions of the Sunni-majority province. Groups such as Harakat Ansar Iran (HAI) have increasingly adopted sectarian agendas in their militant operations against the Iranian state. Their anti-Shia outlook reflects the views of a Salafi militant movement that sees Shia Iran as responsible for the Muslim predicament, especially in Syria, where sectarian conflict has led to a bloody civil war and a proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia. [3]

Sistan-Baluchistan borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, two countries that also face instability due to drug-trafficking and secessionist insurgency movements. In February 2013, Iran signed a security agreement with Pakistan to prevent the flow of organized crime and militant forces into its territories (Press TV [Tehran], November 5). However, the borders remain porous, allowing a flow of insurgents and drug smugglers in and out of the country.

The insecure borderland has seen a sharp rise in sectarian tensions since the dawn of the Syrian civil war in 2011, possibly exacerbated by a Saudi Arabian push to spread radical Sunnism as a counter-balance to Iran’s involvement in Syria. JA has repeatedly described its “revenge operations” in terms of retaliating against Iranian military involvement in Syria. For the Sunni Iranian militant group, their conflict with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and representatives of the Islamic Republic is one between “justice” and shirk (idolatry or polytheism), a major act of transgression in Islam that is often associated with Shiism by Sunni Salafists.

The regional dimension underlines the interplay between sectarianism and the regional proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The sectarian dimension in particular is the most problematic aspect of the security breakdown in southeastern Iran. The security crisis derives not only from the failure of the Iranian state to improve the life of the poverty-stricken province in terms of expanding economic projects to better the daily lives of the population, but also from the proliferation of separatist movements with sectarian agendas in neighboring countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the years to come, the border regions between these three countries could enter a new era of possible ethnic-sectarian conflict with global security implications.

http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Bswords%5D=8fd5893941d69d0be3f378576261ae3e&tx_ttnews%5Bany_of_the_words%5D=Pakistan&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=41752&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=7&cHash=c2d4d6abc7f814bd8b33279a25c56765#.Urgv9ROYBLM

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Iran-Afghanistan ties enter new era

This is the third article in a four-part series
Part 1:Iran and Pakistan’s balancing act
Part 2:India readjusts ties with Iran

Relations between Iran and Afghanistan have gyrated since the 1979 revolution. How might the withdrawal of US troops in 2014 affect opportunities or challenges facing the neighboring countries?

All of Afghanistan’s neighbors will be affected when international troops leave in 2014. The United States has completed negotiations with the Afghan government for a strategic agreement that would permit a modest number of troops (5,000 to 15,000) to remain in the country. Their mission would be to provide training and other support but not to have a combat role.

President Hamid Karzai convened a loya jirga (assembly of elders) to consider the agreement. Despite the jirga’s approval, Karzai has declared that he would prefer his successor, after spring 2014 elections, to be the one who signs the agreement. He has also raised other objections to provisions in the agreement.

The Obama administration, however, has urged the Afghan government to finalize the agreement as soon as possible, to permit the orderly removal of equipment and departure of troops. High-level officials have visited Kabul to urge prompt passage, but during Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s December visit, he did not meet with President Karzai and said there was nothing more to say about the agreement.

If US troops remain after 2014, Iran in particular will see this as a threat to its security. "We find them [foreign forces] detrimental to regional security and peace," President Hassan Rouhani said in September. Iran "does not consider the signing and approval of the pact useful for the long-term expedience and interests of Afghanistan", Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Marziyeh Afkham warned in December.

The Iranian government, however, has also signaled that approval of a US-Afghan agreement is a domestic Afghan matter, suggesting that Iran may be more accepting of an accord that permits a modest number of US forces to remain in the country.

Iran would like to play a more active role in Afghan security, particularly in western Afghanistan along the shared border, and in areas where the Hazara minority lives. The Hazara are predominantly Shi’ite, like Iranians, but they are not ethnically Persian. In December 2013, Iran and Afghanistan signed a new security agreement to advance security cooperation.

What is the state of relations between Afghanistan’s Sunni-led government and Iran’s Shi’ite theocracy? On what issues do they collaborate? On what issues are they divided?

Iran and Afghanistan have complicated relations. Iran was helpful in ousting the Taliban government in 2001 and supporting the Northern Alliance of Afghan forces that are prominent in Hamid Karzai’s government. Iran is also a major aid donor and trading partner.

Bilateral trade between the two countries is estimated at over $2 billion per year, and rising. Iranian exports, especially energy supplies, to Afghanistan account for the vast majority of the trade volume. Some 500 Iranian companies were operating in Afghanistan as of July 2013.

Tehran and Kabul expect bilateral trade to increase once Iran’s Chabahar port is fully operational. The port, which opened in July, is intended to be a conduit for landlocked Afghanistan to trade with India and other countries.

But Iran has criticized the Karzai government for its dependence on Western (particularly American) military forces. Tehran has reportedly supported attacks on the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Some Afghan leaders and intellectuals believe that Iran wants to dominate areas of Afghanistan that have strategic value. They resent that Iran does not treat Afghanistan as an equal, sovereign state.

The two countries also have specific disputes, notably over water, illicit narcotics trade, and refugees. Water flows to Iran are likely to be reduced when major hydropower dams are completed in Afghanistan, and water sharing is becoming a more acute source of friction between the two states.

Heroin rocks seized by Afghanistan’s narcotics police

On drug trafficking, Tehran blames Kabul and Washington for failing to curb opium production in Afghanistan. Since the 1979 revolution, Iran claims to have lost more than 3,700 security forces fighting drug traffickers, many of whom were heavily armed. Tehran estimates that it spends around $1 billion annually on its war on drugs.

The Islamic Republic has long been a favorite corridor for smuggling narcotics to Europe and elsewhere in the Middle East. But Iran is now facing widespread drug-usage at home, with 1.2 million registered addicts and 800,000 casual users, according to government officials. In 2012, Iran’s largest non-governmental drug treatment organization claimed the number of addicts may be as high as five million.

How is Iran building influence in Afghanistan? Where are Tehran’s efforts visible? What countries is Iran competing with?

Iran’s influence is strongest in western Afghanistan, particularly in Herat province. Tehran has invested in transportation infrastructure, education, cultural institutions and exchanges; it is also an important source of food and manufactured goods. Iran has pledged nearly $1 billion in aid at international aid conferences held to help Afghanistan, and its aid in the first decade after the Taliban’s ouster was estimated at about 12% of total assistance for reconstruction and development. The other major donors are the United States, European countries and Japan. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan also send funds to various Afghan groups, but they are less transparent about aid and financial support.

How much influence will Iran have in post-US Afghanistan?
The United States and Iran actually share some broad common goals:
to prevent Afghanistan from returning to full-scale civil war,
to prevent return of the Taliban as the dominant political force,
to stem the flow of Afghan drugs into the international market,
and to support Afghanistan on a path to political and economic stability.

Until the question of US forces in Afghanistan after 2014 is resolved, however, Iran will be reluctant to pursue open cooperation with the United States. But if US-Iran relations improve as a result of the nuclear talks, cooperation on Afghanistan might become a less sensitive issue. Promising areas for cooperation include border security, economic reconstruction, and preventing the return of the Taliban to a dominant political position.

What is the status of the more than 1 million Afghan refugees in Iran?
The Afghan refugees in Iran remain a source of potential conflict in Iran-Afghan relations, even though many have lived for decades in Iran and are now integrated into the economy at many levels. Afghan laborers working in Iran sent home about $500 million annually, according to a 2008 UN study – equivalent to 6% of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product at the time. When economic strains are on the rise, Iran faces pressure to encourage, or even compel, the refugees to return home.

The international community is largely positive about Iran’s absorption of refugees, but sometimes reminds it not to force refugees to return against their will and to normalize the status of refugees who cannot return. In June 2012, Iran ended the registration period for its Comprehensive Regularization Plan, which permitted some Afghans to legalize their immigration status. Only some 800,000 of the up to 3 million Afghans in Iran have recognized refugee status, according to Human Rights Watch.

Ellen Laipson, president and CEO of the Stimson Center, worked on Iran and other Middle East issues on the National Security Council, the National Intelligence Council and at the Congressional Research Service. Read Laipson’s chapter, "Reading Iran", in The Iran Primer. (Copyright 2013 Iran Primer. Published with permission.)

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MID-01-181213.html

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Suter* IZA: Toll Index – November 2013 – German Economy finishes strong

Posted on December 20, 2013 by Nikos Askitas

The Toll Index for the month of November is just out (download the data from the IDSC of IZA) and shows a seasonally expected, slight drop, month on month partly accounted for by the working days difference (21 working days in November vs 22 in October 2013).

Overall though the Toll Index shows an exceptionally high, heavy transport activity in the month of November (best November since at least 2007) reenforcing a late pattern and indicating that German manufacturing and the German economy as a whole may be closing the year on a fireworks note (we expect the BMWi to announce a strong Produktionsindex in about 3 weeks time).

If we didn’t know better and if we wanted to poke the German political elite a bit we would say that the lack of government did not exactly harm the economy.

It remains to be seen of course what the effect of the new government on the economy will be in the upcoming months which according to some estimates may not be as amusing (False Hopes in Germany’s Minimum Wage)…

http://newsroom.iza.org/en/2013/12/20/toll-index-november-2013-german-economy-finishes-strong/

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Middle East

Hungarian MOL Active Upstream in the North Sea and Kazakhstan

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 14 Issue: 224

December 13, 2013 04:37 PM Age: 10 days

By: Vladimir Socor

Oil drilling platform in the North Sea (Source: Corbis)

Hungarian MOL and Wintershall of Germany have signed an agreement whereby MOL acquires ownership stakes in 14 offshore oil fields originally licensed to Wintershall in the North Sea. Signed in Budapest on December 13, the agreement is expected to be closed in early 2014 pending regulatory approval.

While the financial transaction is a medium-sized one at $375 million, MOL’s acquisition as such is of historic significance. An oil and gas company from the former Communist-ruled Central Europe is entering the North Sea basin to boost the company’s oil production and its reserve portfolio.

MOL’s just-acquired ownership stakes range in size from 20 percent to 50 percent working interest. Equity stakes in relevant infrastructure, such as Wintershall’s shares in the Brent Pipeline System, are included in MOL’s acquisition package (MTI [Budapest], December 13).

The transaction covers proven and probable reserves of 28 million barrels of good quality crude oil, plus some contingent resources. These new MOL assets are, for the most part, in the development and production phase. The combined production of these assets is expected to add 1 million barrels of oil equivalent per day to MOL’s overall production in 2014, rising to 6 million barrels a day in 2015, and 16 million to 18 million barrels per day in 2018–2019.

MOL is financing this acquisition in full from its operating cash flow. It expects to invest overall $500 million to $600 million in the next ten years in development and extraction operations at these North Sea fields. Net profits are foreseen from 2017 onward (Platts, Dow Jones, December 13).

These ownership stakes fall short of giving MOL the operating rights in these projects. Instead, it partners with smaller companies such as EnQuest, Premier Oil, and TAQA—smaller, but experienced in this area. Through such projects, the Hungarian company stands to gain access to participation in future licensing bids in the same area, potentially in joint operatorships with experienced offshore operating companies.

Wintershall is the oil and natural gas subsidiary fully owned by German BASF, the largest chemical industry holding worldwide. Wintershall retains its own exploration and development projects in the North Sea, some of them operated by Wintershall itself. Also on December 13, Wintershall and MOL signed a long-term cooperation agreement to pursue exploration and production opportunities in the North Sea and elsewhere (Joint press release, sites.merchantcantos.com/companies, December 13).

MOL is ranked as a leading oil-refining company in Central Europe, processing mainly Russian-delivered oil. MOL’s upstream operations, however, have been affected by certain political risks in the last two years. The war in Syria has compelled MOL to suspend its oil development project in that country, thereby reducing MOL’s overall upstream production. MOL has long been involved in oil and gas projects in Croatia, directly or via INA; but in the meantime, the Croatian government is harassing MOL with a view to wresting operating control over INA (see EDM, November 14, 15).

Apparently alluding to these situations, MOL Chairman/CEO Zsolt Hernadi commented at the signing ceremony with Wintershall that the North Sea basin with its stable and transparent regulatory environment “carries a low political risk level, compared with some of our other investments” (MOL press release, December 13). The North Sea projects and those in Kazakhstan (see below) can, in due course, offset the current trend of decreasing daily production in the Hungarian company’s overall portfolio.

Kazakhstan is another investment-hospitable area. There, the Hungarian company is developing the North Karpovsk and Fedorovsk oil and gas blocks onshore, in a joint venture with Kazmunaigaz Exploration & Production. MOL has committed some $350 million as its share of the investment in these twin projects thus far. Located in each other’s proximity and near the city of Uralsk (West Kazakhstan Region), the two projects necessitate drilling deep sub-salt exploration wells. The reserves are estimated at 240 million barrels of oil for North Karpovsk and 200 million barrels of oil and condensate for Fedorovsk. Commercial production is tentatively expected to start in 2015 (Trend, December 4, 6).

MOL’s twin joint projects show that Kazakhstan is open also to a medium-sized oil company expanding its business from Central European downstream operations to international upstream activities.

http://www.jamestown.org/regions/europe/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=41755&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=51&cHash=e0506e98a16e4f2b4ea5a59c27e7a687#.UrgyIBOYBLM

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*Massenbach’s

Recommendation*

UAE rail to link to GCC network * Etihad Rail laying tracks in desert *

Thursday, Dec 19, 2013

Abu Dhabi: Completion of the UAE railway by 2018 can only bring more prosperity not only to the UAE but also the country’s five GCC neighbours as rail lines are constructed across the region, said Etihad Rail .

The UAE railway will connect with the sources of raw materials, industrial areas, ports and major population centres, says Etihad Rail , and will be built in three phases, the first of which will be a 266km-long western stretch between Al Ruwais and Shah. The Shah-Habshan-Ruwais freight line is being built in collaboration with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc).

The 2,177-km-long GCC rail network, which will link all six Gulf states by rail for the first time — providing an alternative to air or sea travel for both goods and passengers in the region — will be fully operational in 2018, said Dr Ramiz Al Assar, World Bank resident adviser of the GCC Secretariat General in Riyadh, in October.

“The designs of the nearly $200 billion (Dh734 billion) network, which will run down the Gulf coast from Kuwait, through Saudi Arabia, to the UAE and Oman, with branches linking Bahrain and Qatar, will be completed by the end of this year or in the first quarter of next year.

Construction on the network is to start in 2014-15 and it will be fully operational in 2018,” Dr Al Assar told the Mena Rail and Metro Summit, being held in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi is leading the GCC rail network with its Dh40 billion Etihad Rail project. The 1,200-km line, planned to be completed in 2018, will link major industrial zones, cities and ports in the UAE, and will eventually connect with the GCC railway.

In October 2011, Etihad Rail signed an agreement with Adnoc to transport about seven million tonnes of **granulated sulphur a year from Habshan and Shah to Al Ruwais in Abu Dhabi for export.

The second phase will connect Abu Dhabi with Dubai. It will also provide links to Jebel Ali port, Mussaffah and Khalifa port. The third phase will be the extension to link the northern emirates. The second phase is expected to be completed by 2016 and the third phase by 2017.

The Etihad Rail network will also connect with the GCC network and this — once fully established — will cover Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

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Thursday, Dec 19, 2013

Abu Dhabi It’s full steam ahead for the UAE’s first national railway project as sections of the first phase of the 1,171 rail have been laid down well ahead of schedule.

Dr Nasser Saif Al Mansouri, CEO of the Etihad Rail, said that shiny new tracks have been secured on the desert floor in what will become a national network shipping passengers and cargo.

“We completed part one of the 266 km Phase 1 — stretching between Ruwais and Habsahn — on September 24th this year ahead of plans to finish it in October,” said Al Mansouri.

The company then eagerly looked forward to completing the second part of the first phase in October before conducting trial operations of the completed tracks using seven new locomotives shipped to the UAE for its new rail system.

Al Mansouri said the remaining 905 kilometres of tracks is scheduled for completion by 2017.

The railway stretches westwards to the borders of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The western section links Saudi Arabia via Ghweifat and the eastern section links Oman via Al Ain. The railway line runs will connect Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai. It will then extend to the northern emirates and Fujairah.

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**…. granulated sulphur a year from Habshan and Shah to Al Ruwais in Abu Dhabi for export.

http://www.google.de/imgres?imgurl=http://www.stuart-maher.co.uk/images/project_image09.png&imgrefurl=http://www.stuart-maher.co.uk/projects09.php&h=272&w=430&sz=72&tbnid=v0wN5zx8mM8XGM:&tbnh=90&tbnw=142&zoom=1&usg=__us3qUG0ZCSoarro3GayjQj7LKEs=&docid=IfdKaVBwwpD4fM&hl=de&sa=X&ei=jDm4UtvxOMbXtAatooCABg&ved=0CFQQ9QEwBQ&dur=2223

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Shah-Habshan-Ruwais Railway, United Arab Emirates

The Shah-Habshan-Ruwais Railway Project is a 264km-long rail-line that will begin at the Shah gas fields in the south of UAE to connect with the gas distribution and processing facilities at the port of Ruwais in the north. The rail line will be initially used to transport freight and later passenger services.

The project will be split into two sections. The first section will be the rail-line between Shah gas field and the gas processing and distribution facilities at Habshan in the north. It will be used to transport 10,000t of granulated sulphur a day. The second section will be between Habshan and the port of Ruwais and will be transporting 20,000t of processed sulphur a day. The rail-link will also pass through the cities of Mezaira’a, Madinat Zayed, Tarif and Al Mirfa.

The project is also called the ‚Union Railway‘. It was established in 2009 under Federal Law No.2 to develop, construct and operate the UAE’s 1,100km long national railway which will eventually connect to the 2,177km Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) rail network.

The rail-line will be owned by Union Railway but mostly operated by the client Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc).

The project is being fast tracked to make the national rail network operational by 2013-14 to accelerate the development of Western Region, in line with the state’s 2030 vision. The company and its subsidiaries have been working on $10bn gas development programme that will boost the UAE’s sulphur production from 1.7m tons to 7m tons a year by 2015.

"The rail-line will be owned by Union Railway and operated by the client Abu Dhabi National Oil Company."

While the total cost of the national rail network has been estimated to be $11bn, the construction cost of the Shah-Habshan-Ruwais rail network is yet to be determined.

The entire UAE network is expected to be built on international standards and will take approximately six to seven years to be completed.

The Union Railway has set a target to transport 30m metric tons of freight in the first phase of operation.

Project

The Shah-Habshan-Ruwais project will add 264km of railway track to the originally planned 1,100km nationwide rail network. It is currently undergoing a passenger traffic study.

The Union Railway is also in the process of exploring the possibilities with Adnoc to transport more than 7m tons a year of granulated sulphur. This will help the company in achieving its strategic goal to contribute towards the nation’s development in the oil, natural gas and petrochemical industries.

"The Abu Dhabi Freight and Passenger committee invited contractors to bid for the construction contracts."

The project entered the execution phase in June 2010. The Abu Dhabi Freight and Passenger committee invited contractors to bid for the construction contracts.

The pre-qualification documents were made available from July 2010 for AED30,000 to be submitted by 23 August 2010. The tender documents are expected to be issued by November 2010 with submission due in seven to eight weeks.

The winning bidder will have to undertake site preparation, clearance and earth works including the cut and fill work at the Liwa sand dunes.

The contract also includes construction of utilities, access roads, highway diversions, bridges, warehouses, maintenance facilities and tracks work such as supply and installation of ballast, sleepers, rails, switches and crossings.

Rolling stock

The rail tracks will be designed to operate freight and passenger trains at a top speed of 120km/h and 200km/h respectively.

The project will initially have around seven to ten diesel locomotives and 250 covered hopper wagons transporting freight. On completion of the entire UAE rail network, Union Railway plans to increase the fleet to 100 locomotives and 5,000 freight wagons.

Bids have been invited for the delivery of rail cars, which are to be submitted by October 2010. The pre-qualification documents will be made available from 19 September 2010. The procurement process will commence in 2011 and the trains will be test run in 2014.

http://www.railway-technology.com/projects/shahhabsanruwaisrail/

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03 May 2011

GASCO SIGNED CONTRACTS FOR HABSHAN SULPUR GRANULATION PLANT AND RUWAIS SULPHUR TERMINAL 2 PACKAGES FOR TOTAL VALUE OF ABOUT DIRHAMS 4 BILLION (ABOUT US$ 1.1 BILLION)

On Saturday, 1st January 2011, GASCO awarded the Engineering, Procurement, Construction and Commissioning Contractors for two new major projects; the Ruwais New Sulphur Terminal and Habshan Sulphur Granulation Plant.

Abu Dhabi Gas Industries Ltd. (GASCO) has signed the following contracts agreements at its main office at Sheikh Khalifa Energy Complex on Tuesday, 03 May 2011 for Engineering, Procurement, Construction and Commissioning (EPC) works for the following projects on Lump Sum Turnkey Basis;

· Habshan Sulphur Granulation Plant

· Ruwais Sulphur Handling Terminal -2

The two projects are being executed in parallel with Shah – Habshan Ruwais Etihad Rail which is being implemented by Etihad Rail Company to transport granulated sulphur from Shah and Habshan Stations to Ruwais Sulphur export terminal to replace the current transportation of liquid sulphur via trucks to Ruwais.

The transportation of granulated sulphur from source by Etihad Rail instead of transfer in liquid form by trucks to Ruwais improves on road safety, helps elimination of Sulphur fumes emission into air and consequently reduces carbon footprints.

The details of Habshan Sulphur Station and Ruwais Sulphur Terminal Packages which have been awarded and managed by GASCO, on behalf of ADNOC, are as follows:

1. Habshan sulphur Granulation Plant: Awarded to Dodsal

The Habshan Sulphur Granulation Plant facility will be a new green field plant located approximately 16 km south east of the existing Habshan Gas Complex and about 32 km south of the intersection of Highway E11 and Tarif (Abu Al Abyadh).

The Habshan Sulphur Granulation Plant will have a capacity of receiving, processing and granulating 11,000 tons per day of liquid sulphur from Habshan Gas Plants and also includes Storage of Liquid Sulphur and Granulated Sulphur, Blocking, rail car loading and generation of required utilities. The liquid sulphur from Habshan Gas Plants to Habshan Sulphur Station will be transferred through liquid sulphur pipelines which will be based on SEET (Skin Effect Electrical Tracing) Technology. Project Detail Engineering and Procurement is in progress at Project Home Office in Calgary, Canada since was awarded in January 22011.

The Contract Agreement was signed by GASCO Chief Executive Officer Mr. Mohammed Sahoo Al Suwaidi and by Dodsal Chairman and President Mr. Rajen Kilatchand at total Contract value of US$ 479 MM (about AED 1.75 Billion) with a completion schedule of 31 months.

2. RUWAIS SULPHUR HANDLING TERMINAL-2: Awarded to Techint – Al Jaber Consortium

The Sulphur Handling Terminal–2 (SHT-2) Plant facility will be a new green field plant located in the Ruwais industrial area approximately 165 km west southwest of Abu Dhabi City.

Granulated sulphur will be transported by rail from Habshan and Shah areas to the new Sulphur Handling Terminal (SHT-2) located approximately 4.5 km southeast of the existing GASCO Sulphur Handling Terminal (SHT). The SHT-2 facility is designed for receive 22,000 tonnes per day of granulated sulphur from both Shah and Habshan Sulphur Granulation Plants

The facilities include the rail unloading, granulated sulphur storage and ship loading of granulated sulphur from rail cars, and the supply of utilities from existing facilities within the Ruwais industrial area.

Granulated sulphur unloaded from rail cars will be stacked / reclaimed from the storage buildings, and then transported by conveyors to one of the two quadrant style ship-loaders for discharge into ships for export to international market. Project detail Engineering and Procurement is in progress at Project home office in Milan, Italy since was awarded in January 22011.

The Contract Agreement was signed by GASCO Chief Executive Officer Mr. Mohammed Sahoo Al Suwaidi and for the Consortium of Techint and Al Jaber by Techint President Mr. Enrico Bonatti and Al Jaber Chairman Mr. Obeid Al Jaber at a total Contract value of US$ 614 MM (about AED 2.25 Billion) with a completion period of 36 months.

GASCO will direct its EPC Contractors to maximize in these projects the local contents in terms of materials, equipment and services.

These EPC Works will deploy large number of workforce of labor, technicians and supervisors to the tune of about 5,000 at the peak of construction activities. Of these, about -3000 persons will be in Habshan while about 2000 persons will be in Ruwais.

The Front End Engineering Design (FEED) for the SHR Project was completed in Mid 2010 and during execution of FEED high significance was given to HSE aspects in order to eliminate any adverse impact on the environment and the surrounding community in line with ADNOC HSE Code of Practices.

http://www.gasco.ae/web/news/description9.aspx?mnu=nws&lft=1

about GASCO: http://www.gasco.ae/web/about/index.aspx?mnu=abt&lft=1

The incorporation and establishment of GASCO as a joint venture between the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) (68%), Shell (15%), Total (15%), and Partex (2%), and the integration of ATHEER (a wholly owned ADNOC Company) in 2001, supported GASCO in realizing the vision to be one of the most innovative, respected and caring companies in the gas and hydrocarbon industry.

Partex: Partex Oil and Gas (Holdings) Corporation is an oil company which is fully owned by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation :

Prior to the First World War, Calouste Gulbenkian was the entrepreneur behind the formation of the Turkish Petroleum Company which, after many vicissitudes, became the Iraq Petroleum Company in which he held a 5% interest (becoming known as Mr. Five Percent as a result). The contract between Royal Dutch Shell, Anglo Persian (now BP), Compagnie Française des Pétroles (now Total), Near East Development Company (ExxonMobil) and Calouste Gulbenkian was signed in July 1928. At the same time the partners undertook to work together within the boundaries of the former Ottoman Empire – the Red Line Agreement. This agreement had a fundamental influence on the future development of the oil reserves in the Middle East and led directly to the Partex Oil and Gas Group’s present interests in the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman.

In 1938, before the beginning of the Second World War, Calouste Gulbenkian incorporated in Panama a company to hold his assets in the oil industry. It was Participations and Explorations Corporation from which came the name Partex.

Calouste Gulbenkian spent the final years of his life in Lisbon, Portugal, where he died in 1955. In his will, he left his oil interests and his art collection to a foundation, which was to be based in Lisbon, Portugal – the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

The Iraq concession was nationalized in 1972, but it’s still active in Abu Dhabi and Oman through its joint ventures/concession companies which includes ADPC, ADCO, and POHOL (Private Oil Holdings Oman Ltd.).[1] It has also diversified geographically to other countries like Kazakhstan, Algeria and Brazil.

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U.S. Politics in 2014: What to look for

The battle for control of the Senate, ObamaCare implementation and

a desperate push for immigration reform will likely dominate the political world in 2014.

Other issues that will grab headlines include the intensifying debate on the National Security Agency’s powers and heated Republican primaries — which will test the Tea Party.

A rundown of what to look for in 2014 follows.

Leftovers from 2013. Immigration reform, the farm bill and an unemployment benefits measure will be front and center early next year. The farm bill has a decent chance of passing while the other two appear less than 50-50 of getting to President Obama’s desk.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told The Hill that jobless benefits will not be included in January’s omnibus spending bill that will keep the government funded. House Republicans are unlikely to move a jobless benefits bill when unemployment is at a five-year low — especially if its costs are not offset. Democrats plan to highlight income inequality next year, and will renew their push for an increase to the minimum wage.

The battle for immigration reform will be one to watch. For now, Obama is not ripping House Republicans for failing to move a bill. That will change as the weather gets warmer, and the election draws closer.

Immigration reform critics are worried about Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) plans on the thorny issue. He recently hired a former aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who voted for the Senate-passed bill. Boehner’s new war with Tea Party groups has some on the right believing the Speaker will attempt to pass immigration early in 2014.

The debt-limit battle. The end of the year détente between Republicans and Democrats won’t last. The parties are already bickering over the debt limit fight, with Obama and congressional Democrats saying they won’t negotiate on it.

Boehner, however, is unlikely to pass a “clean” debt increase. No one really knows how this will ultimately play out.

Obama revival? The president is mired in a huge slump, and political analysts are now regularly comparing his second term to the disastrous second term of former President George W. Bush. In many ways, Obama’s State of the Union address will be an attempt to get his presidency back on track. Obama said Friday that he thinks 2014 could be “a breakthrough year.” If it isn’t, Obama’s approval numbers will likely continue to linger in the low 40s, which would jeopardize the Democratic control of the Senate and cement the House Republican majority. The president’s recent shakeup of his White House staff has provided Democrats on Capitol Hill with some optimism.

ObamaCare implementation. The rollout was a fiasco. The question is: Will it continue? But perhaps the bigger question is: Will young people enroll? If not, healthcare premiums will increase and Republicans will be armed for the midterm election. However, there is plenty of time between now and November, and Democratic leaders — such as Reid — say ObamaCare will be net positive by the fall.

NSA. There are competing bills to revamp the NSA, and the drip-dip news coming from Edward Snowden is helping Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) attract co-sponsors for their far-reaching legislation. But Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who head the House and Senate Intelligence panels, have warned that the threat of terrorism is on the rise and argue that NSA intelligence activities cannot be gutted.

Snowden’s future. Will he remain in Russia? Or attempt to travel to another country. Russia granted Snowden a year of asylum in August, and Snowden has asked Brazil to grant him political asylum. There has been some talk of the U.S. striking a deal with Snowden, who has an estimated 1.7 million classified documents. But the administration and lawmakers on Capitol Hill have said they are not interested in granting Snowden amnesty.

Iran. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry brokered a tentative nuclear deal with Iran. But the accord has been criticized by both Republicans and Democrats. Many lawmakers, including Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), want to pass additional Iran sanctions. The White House has vowed to veto such a bill. This issue will test Obama’s relationships with his Democratic allies in Congress.

Afghanistan. Obama has repeatedly said that U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but it remains to be seen what the U.S. presence will be there beyond that. The U.S. has had an uneasy relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and a security deal for 2015 still not been signed.

Battle for the Senate. Republicans need to pick up six seats to wrestle control of the upper chamber. That’s a tall order, but history and the map in 2014 is on the GOP’s side. It’s likely that most Democrats in red states, most notably Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.), to distance themselves from Obama in 2014. Still, the most closely watched race will be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) effort to win a sixth term.

Democrats in the House say they can win back the lower chamber, but that is unlikely. They need to win 17 seats, meaning there will have to be a Democratic wave hitting come November. The wave might have been forming during the government shutdown, but it hit a wall with the botched ObamaCare implementation.

Hillary Clinton and 2016 politics. Once the 2014 election is over, many Democrats and Republicans will be announcing their 2016 plans. Clinton is expected to run, where she is expected to be the prohibitive favorite to win the 2016 Democratic nomination. The Republican field will be crowded, and could include a handful of senators, including Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Rand Paul (Ky.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Rob Portman (Ohio), John Thune (S.D.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.).

http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/193839-politics-in-2014-what-to-look-for

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see our letter on:

Wir wünschen Ihnen ein angenehmes Wochenende. Ihr Team.

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Udo von Massenbach – Bärbel Freudenberg-Pilster – Jörg Barandat – Edith Suter

UdovonMassenbachMail

Edith.SuterJoergBarandat

Asia Times Online _ 1. Iran and Pakistan’s balancing act.pdf

Asia Times Online _ 2. India readjusts ties with Iran.pdf

Asia Times Online _ 3. Iran-Afghanistan ties enter new era.pdf

Michael B. Mukasey_ The Air of Unreality in NSA Reform – WSJ.com.pdf