۱۳۹۲ مهر ۱۸, پنجشنبه

Mixed Response to Provincial Opening

By Kang Mi Jin
Public opinion in North Korea is divided over Kim Jong Eun’s order to review establishing two special economic zones in each province, inside sources have informed Daily NK.

A source from North Hamkyung Province told Daily NK on the 1st, “Some people have said, ‘If these special zones materialize, won’t this help with economic development?’ But others have given a decidedly chillier response.” The partial reaction stems from the concern that the government will strengthen its regulation of citizens living within the economic zones, as it did in the Rasun Special Economic Zone.

Defector Woo Myung Suk (45) used to live in close proximity to Rasun. She told Daily NK, “People started to criticize the situation when the authorities increased their control over the residents. At the time people were saying, ‘If one thing is good (better living standards from wages earned in the zone), something else will be bad (restrictions, control and investigations).’”

Furthermore, it's possible that access to the proposed new special economic zones will remain off-limits to ordinary citizens. Even in the case that access is allowed, the process of obtaining a pass would be so cumbersome that the outer regions will barely be impacted.

Woo explains that, "I tried to obtain a pass to enter Rasun City once to buy some goods, and it was nearly impossible. There have been cases where traders without passes were caught trying to make a swift escape through the barbed-wire fences that circle the area."

A source in Yangkang Province similarly assesses that while this most recent measure may temporarily inject new life into the markets, it is also expected that a surge in restrictions will follow. Controlling the people’s activities, like banning the use of cell phones in border regions for example, is likely to have a negative impact over the long-term.

"Rasun’s heydey didn’t last long, so the people’s response to the establishment of new economic zones is not a particularly joyous one. Should controls intensify, as befitting for a ‘special zone’, then the people's disappointment can only grow.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the source in North Hamkyung proclaimed that, "People are buzzing. Many are excited at the thought of receiving proper wages like workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex do. They also are looking forward cheaper commodity prices and being able to receive a proper day’s wages at any factory they work in.”

This article is published originally at Daily NK

۱۳۹۲ مهر ۱۲, جمعه

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[REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool]
[REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool]

The Inside Story Of One Website’s Defense of Assad
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Think Again: American Nuclear Disarmament
By Mathew Kroenig
Foreign Policy
Despite more than twenty years since the end of the Cold War, nuclear superiority continues to be a critical priority for United States defense. Kroenig argues that efforts to reduce the U.S. arsenal have been misguided and that efforts should instead focus on modernizing and preserving it.

۱۳۹۲ مهر ۵, جمعه

One phone conversation more than 30 years!

The White House released this photo of President Obama speaking to President Rouhani of Iran.

US President Barack Obama has spoken by phone to Iran's Hassan Rouhani - the first such top-level conversation in more than 30 years.
Mr Obama spoke of a "unique opportunity" to make progress with Iran's new leadership, amid a flurry of diplomacy over its nuclear programme.
Earlier, Mr Rouhani said Iran was keen to reach a deal soon.
He also asserted that Iran did not seek a nuclear bomb, as Western powers have long suspected.
Describing meetings at the UN this week as a "first step", he said he believed the nuclear issue could be settled "within the not too distant future".
Mr Rouhani said initial discussions had taken place in an environment that was "quite different" from the past.
'Full backing'
The call with Mr Obama was made just before Mr Rouhani left New York, where he has been attending the annual summit of the UN General Assembly, Iranian news agency Irna said.
White House officials described the 15 minute conversation - apparently initiated by Mr Rouhani - as cordial, the BBC's Bridget Kendall reports from New York.
Mr Obama raised concerns about American prisoners in Iran, but the bulk of the call was about efforts to reach a solution on the nuclear issue, she says.
Afterwards, Mr Obama said: "While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution."
Mr Rouhani, who is regarded as a moderate and was elected in June, has said he wants to reach a deal over the nuclear issue in three to six months.
He says he is fully empowered by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to negotiate.
On Friday, he told a press conference at the UN: "Whatever result we achieve through negotiations my government will have the full backing of all the main branches of power in Iran as well as the support of the people of Iran."
And he said he wanted a deal "within a very short period of time".
'Bomb is dangerous' Earlier the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it had held "very constructive" talks with Iran in Vienna.
IAEA Deputy Director-General Herman Nackaerts did not give details of Friday's talks, but said the two parties would meet again on 28 October.
"We will start substantial discussions on the way forward to resolving all outstanding issues," Mr Nackaerts said.
Reza Najafi, Iran's envoy to the IAEA, was quoted as saying that the aim was to reach an agreement "as soon as possible" and also spoke of a "constructive discussion".

On Thursday US Secretary of State John Kerry held a rare meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Mr Kerry said he was struck by the "very different tone", but added that Iran still had questions to answer.
There had been speculation that Mr Rouhani and Mr Obama might meet in New York. Mr Rouhani told journalists that "in principle we did not have any problems with having a meeting", but "there was not sufficient time" for planning the encounter.
The Iranian president rebuffed questions about Iran's reliability as a negotiating partner, saying his country wanted to retain nuclear technology but would submit to IAEA supervision.
"We say explicitly that we do not seek a bomb," he said. "We say explicitly that we believe the building of a bomb is dangerous for us - for our region."
The US and China have said they expect Iran to respond to an existing offer by the US, Russia, Britain, France, China and Germany, who form a negotiating group known as the P5+1.
The group has asked Iran to halt production and stockpiling of uranium enriched to 20% - a step away from achieving a nuclear weapons capability.
They also demanded Iran shut down the Fordo underground enrichment facility, near Qom.
Substantive talks between Iran and the P5+1 are due to take place on 15 October, and Mr Rouhani said Iran would bring a plan to that meeting, though he did not give details.

This article is originally from: BBC News

۱۳۹۲ شهریور ۳۱, یکشنبه

The (Slow) Rise of Iran’s Women

Gender discrimination is still an issue, especially in high office, but progress is being made.

Nearly 35 years after the Islamic Revolution, gender discrimination is still a challenging issue for Iran. On the one hand, the situation for Iranian women has improved considerably in many respects under the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). On the other, there is a clear and seemingly impregnable ceiling for women in administrative and government positions.

Iranian Women Under the Islamic Republic
In some ways, women have enjoyed significant gains under the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nowhere is this more true than in education. In 1976, on the eve of the Revolution, the female literacy rate was a mere 35 percent. Despite the turmoil of the revolution and the imposed war with Iraq, by 1986 this rate had risen to 52 percent. Today, Iranian girls between the ages of 15 and 24 enjoy near universal literacy.
These gains are also reflected in education levels, which have greatly improved as part of the IRI’s commitment to providing universal education. For example, the female enrollment rate for primary education institutions is actually higher than it is for males. Women also graduate from their primary education programs at the same rate as their male counterparts. And despite new restrictions on what they can study, Iranian women are also strong participants in secondary education, with the female general enrollment rate in secondary education about 86 percent of the male rate.
In many ways, the high female education rate also extends to employment, especially since 1992 when the High Council of the Cultural Revolution adopted a new set of employment policies for women. Although women are unemployed at a rate of roughly twice that of men, one-third of doctors, 60 percent of civil servants, and 80 percent of teachers in Iran are women, according to the British historian Michael Axworthy.
One area where Iranian women continue to face clear obstacles is in the upper reaches of the Iranian government. For example, around 30 women signed up to run for president earlier this year, but the Guardian Council – Iran’s constitutional watchdog – rejected their candidacies based solely on gender. As Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdii, a conservative cleric and member of the Guardian Council explained at the time, the “law does not approve” of women running for president.

Women vs Clergy
Indeed, the clergy have long been the fiercest opponents of women holding senior political positions, opposition that dates at least as far back as to the Western-backed Shah’s regime. In fact, before the Revolution, two women served as cabinet ministers under the Amir-Abbas Hoveida premiership. Even during that time, however, religious leaders used their power to prevent these female ministers from playing crucial roles in governing the country.
This competition between women seeking a senior role in public life and conservative clergy opposition has continued during the Islamic Republic. It’s been a long struggle, but Iranian women have continued to chip away at many of the restrictions.
Although women served in parliament during the 1980s and early 1990s, the taboo against a woman serving as an administrative official and in a top management position was finally broken during the reform presidency of Seyed Mohammad Khatami.
The reform period under Khatami in fact greatly enhanced the role of women in public life. To begin with, he appointed Masoumeh Ebtekar as vice president in charge of environmental protection, the first time a woman had served as a vice president. Despite his reputation as a hardliner, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad built on Khatami’s record. For example, he initially tapped Marzieh Vahid-Dastjerdi, a former parliamentarian who was close to Ahmadinejad, to be his Minister of Health and Medical Education. This made her the first woman to serve as a minister under the Islamic Republic. Ahmadinejad went on to appoint five women as vice presidents during his time in power.
Still, progress has been uneven. For instance, in December of last year Ahmadinejad fired Vahid-Dastjerdi as the Minister of Health and Medical Education. More recently, Nina Siahkali Moradi was elected to a seat on the city council in Qazvin, only to be prevented from taking her position by religious conservatives who disqualified her…for being too attractive. As Moradi’s case demonstrates, progress aside, Iran still has a long way to go when it comes to women’s rights in public life.

Prospects for the Rouhani Era
Some hope that the election of Hassan Rouhani as president of the eleventh government will help further the rights of women in Iranian public life. To date, there have been mixed signs.
On the one hand, Rouhani has chosen not to appoint any women to his Council of Ministers. In a speech last month he explained away this decision by remarking that he had not used women in any ministerial positions due to the country’s “special conditions.” He later stated that he did not believe that appointing a single woman as government minister would result in gender equality.
On the other hand, the release of his all-male cabinet sparked sharp criticism and last month he appeared to respond to this pressure by making Elham Aminzadeh vice president for legal affairs. In addition, he advised his male ministers to employ women in their respective departments.
Perhaps more promising, in his election manifesto Rouhani promised to establish a Ministry for Women. Some women's rights activists, such as Fatemeh Rakei, a reformist MP, have come out in support of the proposal, stating that it would help women’s rights issues receive more funds from the government.
By contrast, Shahla lahiji, a writer, publisher, translator and director of Roshangaran – a prominent publishing house on women's issues – believes Rouhani should be bolder, stating: “Iran is not Afghanistan nor Pakistan, the wishes of Iranian woman have been glossed over by having only one woman in the Ministry and that’s all.  If we take into account the 50% of female university graduates, 40% of the official seats should be filled by women in the near future whether the government wants it or not.”
There have been other encouraging signs. For example, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif seems to have taken Rouhani’s advice to appoint women to heart, naming Marzieh Afkham, former head of the Foreign Ministry’s Public Relations Department, the first ever Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.  Afkham, 48, is a career diplomat and has been praised by her predecessor, Abbas Araqhchi, who called her "seasoned and experienced." Meanwhile, Farideh Farhi, a prominent Iran expert at the University of Hawaii, called Zarif’s appointment of Afkham an “extremely bold move.”
Zarif appears to have more such moves in store. According to reports, he also plans to appoint Mansoureh Sharifi Sadr, currently the Foreign Ministry's Director of the Women and Human Rights Department, as the Islamic Republic’s first ever female ambassador. Already, Sadr has served as Iran’s deputy ambassador to Japan. Moreover, according to Abbas Araghchi, the former Foreign Ministry’s Spokesman, Zarif is also considering another woman as Iran’s representative to the UN in Geneva, although Araghchi refused to identify who the candidate was, instead saying that her name would be announced later.

Women Representing Iran
Following these decisions, it is apparent that Rouhani and his cabinet are sending a strong message to the rest of the world by appointing women to government positions. Although no women are serving in ministerial positions, they will are being appointed as Iran’s diplomats. Therefore, they will become the face Iran shows to the rest of the world.
This should improve Iran’s image abroad. For years, Iran has been considered by many to be an egregious human rights violator, especially when it comes to women and children’s rights. By appointing women to diplomatic roles, Rouhani and his cabinet are increasing the respect foreign nations have for Iran even as the president fulfills an electoral promise to place women in his government.
In his inaugural address, Rouhani asked the world to “talk to Iran in reverence not in treatment.” Female diplomats will undoubtedly help him form relationships with the world based on mutual respect and peace.

This Article is Published in TheDiplomat Magazine originally.

۱۳۹۲ شهریور ۸, جمعه

Rouhani to the Rescue in Iran?

The election of Hassan Rouhani has renewed optimism about the future trajectory of the country among many Iranians. Although the new president will face many challenges, none are more important than fixing the economy in the eyes of many Iranians. But with the country currently facing an economic crisis, is it worth asking whether the new president holds the correct key to unlock all of Iran’s problems?

By: Faezeh Samanian

The State of the Iranian Economy
The Iranian economy is currently suffering. This statement runs contrary to the assessment of the outgoing Ahmadinejad regime. For example, in his last televised interview as president, Ahmadinejad gave a rousing defense of his administration’s handling of the economy. While he sputtered off a list of statistics to back his argument, many if not most of these have been since been disproven.
In reality, Iran’s major economic indicators are poor. Since the U.S. and the European Union began imposing sanctions targeting Iran’s oil and financial industries, Iran’s oil exports have more than halved from 2011 levels. The International Energy Administration estimates that the drop in oil sales cost Iran $40 billion in 2012 alone. Nor does relief appear to be on the horizon. In fact, Reuters reports that Iran’s top oil customers— China, India, Japan and South Korea— cut imports by 22 percent in the first half of 2013, and are likely to initiate further cuts in the second half of the year.
The loss in oil sales has had a profound impact on the Iranian economy. To begin with, this and economic mismanagement has trigged rapid inflation. Most notably, In October of last year Iran’s currency, the rial, was reported to have lost 80 percent of its value since the end of 2011.
The decline in oil exports has also triggered budget shortages in Iran. This is because as much as 65 percent of the government’s budget is based on oil exports.
Rouhani to the Rescue?
Iran’s economic turmoil briefly stabilized after Rouhani’s electoral victory in June. Indeed, Iran’s rial began to appreciate versus the U.S. dollar, and the price index, which has been extremely volatile in recent months, began to calm down. Still, this brief reprieve cannot mask more persistent problems in the Iranian economy. As late as last month, the Central Bank of Iran said that the country’s yearly inflation rate was approaching 40 percent.
Unlike its predecessor, the Rouhani administration appears to understand the gravity of the problem. Since winning Iran’s presidential election earlier this summer, President Hassan Rouhani and his team have gradually realized that the economic situation they are inheriting is more dire than expected.
Even before taking office back in July, Akbar Torkan, deputy director of Rouhani’s presidential campaign and one of the closest members of his inner circle, told Iranian media outlets that the economic situation of Iran is worse than previously imagined. Hadi Kahalzadeh, an Iranian economist, agrees, arguing that Iran’s economy is facing a crisis of authority as the government’s credibility has eroded under the previous administration, which has curtailed the power of the state.
In light of this, the market has been waiting anxiously for clues as to what economic strategies the new administration will pursue.  According to Torkan, the most important priority of the new government should be to supply the population with “basic commodities,” which he posits can only be done by improving Iran’s foreign relations and thereby getting international sanctions reduced.
 In addition, Torkan slammed the outgoing Ahmadinejad administration’s budget as “unrealistic.”
“Neither the earnings [revenue] nor the conditions [expenditures] attached to it” correspond to present realities Torkan said in a recent interview. He also accused Ahmadinejad’s government of providing illegal cash-subsides, and said that if the Rouhani government wants to continue Ahmadinejad’s “targeted subsidy program” then it should increase the price of energy again.
Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, an economist at the think tank Rouhani headed for two decades and now the president’s liaison with the Majles, has made very similar statements, slamming the targeted subsidy plan the Ahmadinejad administration spearheaded and calling for improved economic and political relations with the outside world. He believes that such approaches will facilitate the market, create free trade atmosphere and attract direct foreign investment.
Sanctions as a slap in the face to economic authorities
Thus, it seems that the current administration believes that international sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program and the inefficiency of the Ahmadinejad administration’s privatization plan are the two factors behind the economic crisis.
The first step of the next government must therefore be focused on improving international relations and settling problems associated with Iran’s nuclear program. It seems that the new President, by appointing a cabinet of technocrats known more for their experience than their political views, is attempting to satisfy most factions in the Iranian elite, including the reformists, pragmatists, traditional conservatives and the principlists (neo-conservatives).
Rouhani is also trying to signal to international parties. According to Reuters, Rouhani’s appointment of Mohammad Javad Zarif as the Minister of Foreign Affairs is a “strong signal” which shows “Rouhani wants to open up [international] channels which were closed under his hardline predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.” Reuters goes on to note that Rouhani is "a former ambassador to the United Nations, and has been involved in secret backroom talks with the United States going back three decades.” There has also been widespread speculation that Rouhani will have the Foreign Ministry take over the nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 (the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany) grouping, something he advocated in his memoirs. Such a move could see Zarif serve as Iran’s lead negotiator with the international community on the nuclear issue.
Optimistic future?
Is this enough to achieve a breakthrough with the P5+1 that would see a reduction in sanctions against Iran? So far, there have been promising signs.
Last month, European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton—who leads the P5+1 in its negotiations with Iran— convened a meeting with officials from all six nations in Brussels to discuss how to achieve progress in talks on the nuclear issue with the new government of Iran. “We are keen to make concrete progress in the talks following the election of the new president” said Michael Mann, a spokesperson in Ashton's office.
Notably, in a background briefing ahead of the P5+1 meeting last month, a senior U.S. official told reporters that Washington was seeking “direct nuclear talks” with Iran on the nuclear issue.
“We are open to direct talks, and we want to reinforce this in any way [we can],” the official said, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Still, the official cautioned, “But what we are looking for are actions [from Iran] that indicate a desire to deal seriously with the P5+1. Words are not enough. We need a concrete response.”
Notably, the official suggested the U.S. was willing to be flexible in the exact form of a deal and added, “We do believe that Iran has the right to a peaceful nuclear energy program under the NPT once it meets its responsibilities. And all sanctions will be lifted if and when it has met its responsibilities.”
Thus, is a new and brighter future waiting for Iran? Time will tell.

This Article is published in Thediplomat Magazine Originally.