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from The Great Debate:

Turkey cashes in on the Iran talks

You may have thought the Geneva deal struck last month between Iran and the P5+1 nations (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) was a sweet one for Tehran -- getting billions in sanctions relief in exchange for mere promises to halt its nuclear program.

But Turkey may be an even bigger winner. It just needs to open its doors and wait for Iranian funds to pour in.

Iran was Turkey’s third largest export market in 2012. In fact, Turkey is reportedly exporting more than 20,000 products to Iran right now; among them gold and silver. It turns out that the Geneva deal also loosened sanctions on precious metals.

The White House estimates that this, along with the easing of sanctions in the automobile and petrochemical sectors, could generate $1.5 billion in government revenues for Tehran. But that’s a lowball estimate. Turkey exploited a “golden loophole,” as Roubini Gobal Economics and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies reported earlier this year, and helped Iran evade sanctions for about a half a year. Gold imports from Turkey to Iran in 2012 reached as high as $1.6 billion per month. In other words, if gold sanctions relief is given for six months, using the past as a guide, Iran has the potential to pocket an estimated $9.6 billion if gas-for-gold resumes.

from David Rohde:

The key stumbling blocks U.S. and Iran face

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A historic phone call Friday between the presidents of the United States and Iran could mark the end of 34 years of enmity.

Or it could be another missed opportunity.

In the weeks ahead, clear signs will emerge whether a diplomatic breakthrough is possible. Here are several key areas that could determine success or failure:

from The Great Debate:

On U.S.-Iran deal, devil is in the details

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The feel-good mood engendered by promising overtures from Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani and President Barack Obama has raised hopes for a settlement in the Iranian nuclear crisis. But the devil -- especially in this case -- is in the details.

The nuts-and-bolts of Iran's nuclear program, and whether Tehran can give guarantees that it is not designed to make nuclear weapons will determine whether a deal with the United States is possible.

from The Great Debate:

Rohani: A survivor in the snake pit of Tehran

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Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani at a during a news conference in Tehran June 17, 2013. REUTERS/Fars News/Majid Hagdos

Iran’s new president-elect Hassan Rohani is being praised as a “moderate” who might bring change to Iran and transform Tehran’s international relationships. ”What does he want?” is the question most analysts now ask, and, critically, “What can he achieve?”

from The Great Debate:

Can diplomacy prevail with Iran?

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New talks with Iran ended Wednesday with a surprising forward spin. More meetings are planned in the now decade-long American-led effort to ensure the Islamic Republic does not get nuclear weapons.

Iran must now accept or reject a proposal that offers some sanctions relief in return for Tehran’s reducing its stockpile of uranium enriched close to weapon-grade. This hopeful note – Tehran’s reaction was positive – comes as a showdown looms, because Iran continues to inch ever closer to being able to make a nuclear weapon.

from Thinking Global:

Obama’s Afghan test

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Munich – For America’s friends and allies, who will welcome Vice President Joe Biden to the annual Munich Security Conference this weekend, President Obama’s second inaugural address was notable for its single-minded focus on U.S. domestic issues even as global challenges proliferate. It was the clearest sign yet that Obama intends to build his historic legacy at home.

No one quibbles with Obama’s conviction that America’s global role can best be sustained through a period of “nation-building at home.” The problem is the world is unlikely to hit the pause button as America gets itself off the fiscal cliff, reforms its immigration system, modernizes its infrastructure, fixes its education system and focuses on other long-neglected home chores.

from FaithWorld:

Former Iranian chief justice rises to senior Shi’ite rank, eligible to be next leader

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ayatollah 1The former head of Iran's judiciary has attained a senior Shi'ite clerical rank, joining a handful of men eligible to become supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, according to Iranian websites.

The Kalame opposition website said Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, who ran the justice system from 1999 to 2009, had become a marja-e taqlid (source of emulation), meaning that people may choose him as their personal spiritual guide.

from FaithWorld:

In Islamic Iran, unofficial prayer sellers’ trade is booming

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prayerIn Islamic Iran where clerics rule, unofficial "prayer sellers," who promise to intercede with the divine to solve all manner of life's problems, are seeing their business boom.  Backstreet spiritual guides like YaAli are tolerated by the authorities and increasingly sought after by Iranians seeking help from on high.

"People from all walks of life -- mostly young women -- come here asking for prayers that can solve their problems," says YaAli sitting on a chair in a crumbly old alley in Tehran.  "There are lots of methods depending on the problems. Some prayers (written on a piece of paper) should be burned and some should be put in a bowl of water. You should follow the instructions."

from The Great Debate UK:

Iranian election: Shock from afar

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Leili Sreberny-MohammadiLeili Sreberny-Mohammadi is a British-Iranian based in London, and sometimes Tehran. The opinions expressed are her own. –

The past ten days have been among the strangest in my life. I returned from Iran three weeks ago, just when the election campaigns were heating up, cars covered with candidate posters trawling across Tehran’s highways.

from FaithWorld:

Religion crowded out in “cloud” of Ayatollah Khamenei’s sermon

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Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered a major address today on the election there. It was in the form of a khutbah, an Islamic Friday sermon that is often the platform for the most important public pronouncements in the Islamic Republic. So one might assume it would be couched in Islamic terminology and religious themes.

But a rough-and-ready indicator, a web "cloud" that indicates the frequency of certain words, tells us otherwise. Aziz Poonawalla over at the City of Brass blog generated a Khamenei khutbah cloud on Wordle on the basis of a quick translation of the ayatollah's speech. I had some trouble reading all the terms, so I went to that site and generated one myself. Here is the result:

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