Opinion

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.

The Geneva deal does not permit Turkey to restart gas-for-gold. It does, however, allow Iran to buy Turkish gold with available cash. Questions remain as to whether Iran will look to be paid in gold and how much gold Turkey is prepared to sell after effectively emptying its coffers to Iran the last time around.

Ukraine’s Protests: Not (yet) a revolution

In the three weeks since Ukraine formally suspended talks aimed at signing an Association Agreement with the European Union, two important facts have become clear.

First, it is now apparent that Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovich, had no effective strategy to resist intense pressure against the EU deal from Moscow. The Kremlin promised big cash loans, a gas discount and debt forgiveness, while explicitly threatening to block Ukraine’s access to the Russian market and implicitly threatening to stoke separatism in regions of the country.

Second, as street demonstrations gain momentum in Kiev and other cities, it has become clear that a strong, diverse and increasingly vocal plurality of Ukrainians will not accept their country’s continued isolation from the West. The authorities have confronted street protestors with shocking violence, and have offered no significant political concessions. Yet the prospect of real reform driven by the EU association has now become a key symbol for Ukraine’s national identity.

from David Rohde:

Honor Mandela by stopping a genocide

As South Africans cheered President Barack Obama’s speech at the funeral of Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, a nation of 4.6 million people 2,500 miles north was being torn apart by religious hatred.

Muslim civilians in the Central African Republic, clutching machetes and crude, homemade weapons, prepared to fight off marauding Christians. Christians were forming self-defense militias in other parts of a country the size of Texas, to prevent Muslims from slitting their throats.

“We drove through some villages where every single person has picked up arms,” Peter Bouckaert, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, told me in a telephone interview from the republic on Tuesday. “Children as young as 11 have picked up daggers or have knives or even hunting rifles.”

Let free markets and technology reduce gun violence

Ron Conway, an angel investor in some of the most successful startups of the past decade, from Google to Twitter, was holding a Christmas party in his San Francisco apartment overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge on Dec. 14. One of his guests that evening was former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

What was supposed to be a festive occasion turned solemn as Conway convened a prayer for the families of Newtown, CT and exhorted the leading lights of technology and venture capital gathered in his home to ingeniously help tackle the problem of gun violence.

There may be a lot of problems that deep pockets and tech startup ingenuity can’t help solve, but the epidemic of senseless mass shootings needn’t be one of them.

Human Rights Day: Still pursuing religious freedom

December 10 marks Human Rights Day, the 65th anniversary of the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), signed by 48 nations — with just eight abstentions.

Sixty-five years ago, naysayers insisted it was nobody else’s business how governments behaved within their borders. The declaration confronted this cynical view — and continues to do so today. Human rights abuses and their consequences spill beyond national borders, darkening prospects for harmony and stability across the globe. Freedom of religion or belief, as well as other human rights, are essential to peace and security. They are everyone’s business.

Each signatory nation pledged to honor and protect these rights. For example, the declaration provides the foundation for much of the agenda of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, on which we serve.

Mandela and De Klerk: Essential partners

When Nelson Mandela and South African President F.W. De Klerk began their historic negotiations to end apartheid, each man professed respect for the other. Indeed their relationship appeared not only professional, but personal.

Yet as the negotiations dragged on through 1992 and 1993, tempers grew short, and South Africans grew increasingly frustrated with the slow progress toward the liberation that had seemed so promising just a few years ago. Most worrisome, violence was growing between the supporters of Mandela’s political party, the African National Congress, and Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Inkhatha Freedom Party.

Much of the turmoil flamed in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, but it also spread dangerously into the outskirts of Johannesburg, which soon turned into a patchwork of no-go areas. On my effort to visit the area, for example, we were stopped by gunfire and forced to retreat. By the time of the elections in 1994, at least 3,000 people would be killed.

Correcting three myths about the housing market

The U.S. Senate should move quickly to confirm Mel Watt as the new head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), but not for any of the political or procedural reasons usually discussed. A quick confirmation is required because we need new leadership on U.S. housing policy — a policy that on some crucial points is headed in the wrong direction for the wrong reasons.

In the years since the collapse of the housing bubble, major Wall Street firms have prospered while millions of homeowners are still dealing with the wreckage of a damaged housing market. That’s in part because nothing as large as a national housing market turns quickly. But it’s also because persistent myths about the market are obscuring the data and driving policy in the wrong direction.

Here are three such myths, and the right way to think about them:

1.    The foreclosure crisis is over.

Most news stories today focus on overall foreclosure numbers dropping and home prices rising, but the truth is more nuanced. Prices are indeed up in some wealthier neighborhoods, and foreclosures are dropping in many communities.

A new look at climate change

The annual United Nations climate change talks, which concluded last month in Warsaw, unfortunately found little common ground on carbon. The talks broke down over the world’s richest nations’ inability to agree with the poorest on how to address the financial costs of global climate change.

While disappointing, it’s not surprising. Developed countries like the United States and the nations of the European Union, which have wielded the largest carbon footprints over the past decades, are not as often the victims of climate-related disasters. In fact, the countries facing the most severe effects of climate change are often the poorest and most under-developed. They are forced to confront not only natural destruction but economic ruin.

Consider the Philippines, now recovering from Super Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the country last month. The rate of sea-level rise in the Philippine Sea is one of the fastest in the world — nearly 12 millimeters per year. Yet the Philippines contributes less than 1 percent of the total CO2 emitted in the world annually. This demonstrates the stunning inequality of climate change.

On meeting Mandela

Journalists are not easily impressed. We pride ourselves on our skepticism. (Most advisable of us, may I add.)

But I confess to having been in awe of Nelson Mandela, and not just in theory. I met him, spent about an hour with him — or, to put it more accurately, I spent about an hour in his presence.

It was in October, 1994, Mandela was the new president of South Africa and on a visit to the United States, seeking financial investments for his country. While in New York, he stopped in to speak to the editorial board of the New York Times, as people ranging from heads of state to political candidates did on a regular basis.

Mandela’s message of reconciliation

On the day that Nelson Mandela was elected as South Africa’s first black president, I drove across the fault lines of segregated suburbia to watch his fellow citizens vote him into office.

In the mixed-race “Malay Quarter” in central Cape Town — named for the residents descended from the Malaysian and Indonesian slaves brought to the city in the 17th and 18th centuries — joyous residents thronged the streets outside the polling stations.

In the affluent Atlantic seaboard suburb of Camps Bay, uniformed maids cheerfully made space so their white “madams” could wait with them in the long lines. And in a white blue-collar, mostly Afrikaner suburb on the edge of Table Bay, the queues moved quickest of all as the white group that implemented apartheid voted itself out of power with a grim — and ironic — efficiency.

  •