Iran talks stumble on

November 24, 2014

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry and Iranian FM Zarif before their meeting in Vienna

Officials say it will not be possible to reach a comprehensive deal between Iran and six world powers aimed at resolving the stand-off over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions by today’s deadline.

Neither side wants the process to collapse so the likeliest outcome is an extension of talks of some description.

The United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China want to clinch a pact under which Tehran would curb its nuclear work in exchange for lifting economically crippling sanctions. Iranian and western diplomats in Vienna said the two sides remained deadlocked on the key issues of Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity and how and when to lift sanctions.

A weak deal that fails to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions could destabilize the region while a collapse of the negotiations would encourage Iran to become a threshold nuclear weapon state, something Israel has said it would never allow.

After European Central Bank President Mario Draghi cleared the path to quantitative easing by declaring “excessively low” inflation had to be raised fast and that the ECB would act more forcefully if its existing efforts to pump money into the euro zone economy fall short, today offers an opportunity to gauge whether his colleagues are behind him or whether he has gone out on a limb.

ECB policymakers Benoit Coeure, Ewald Nowotny and Luis Linde are all speaking and offer a reasonable spectrum of opinion within the central bank although none is an implacable opponent of QE. The euro is below $1.24 and nearing a two-year low so an impact is already visible.

The ECB won’t take the final leap into QE until next year when it has had time to gauge the impact of its programme to buy covered bonds (underway with tepid results so far), asset-backed securities (launching now) and a new round of cheap four-year loans which will be offered to banks next month.

After PMI surveys for the euro zone, Germany and France showed businesses grew less quickly than any forecaster expected this month, Germany’s Ifo sentiment survey bears close watching today. It is forecast to slip for the seventh month running to the weakest level in about two years.

The central bank community has lurched once again. It was only a few weeks ago that everyone was fretting about the Federal Reserve turning the taps off. Now the Bank of Japan has dramatically upped its pace of money creation, Draghi has thrown the door wide open to QE and China cut interest rates out of the blue. Great exclusive from Beijing on Sunday showing further policy easing is in the offing.

Draghi has consistently said monetary policy can only work in tandem with governments’ fiscal policy and structural economic reforms. It looks like he might be left high and dry.

New European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is touting a 300 billion euro infrastructure investment plan but it appears to be light on new money. Germany is intent on balancing its budget next year and will not shift on that.

To prove the point, France may soon be fined for failing to meet EU budget deficit rules. France’s Michel Sapin has dismissed that threat but it’s a live one. New EU economics commissioner and former French finance minister Pierre

Moscovici testifies to a European Parliamentary committee this evening. Italy looks as if it will escape censure.
Israel’s central bank meets today. The economy shrank 0.4 percent in the third quarter, its first contraction in more than five years, as a result of conflict in Gaza. Reuters polling suggests it is likely to keep interest rates on hold for a third month running but it is expected to ease in coming months.

Iraqi forces said on Sunday they had retaken two towns north of Baghdad from Islamic State fighters, driving them from strongholds they had held for months and clearing a main road from the capital to Iran. Kurdish forces in northern Iraq are drawing up plans to break Islamic State’s siege of Sinjar mountain, where hundreds of minority Yazidis remain stranded.

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