Friday, March 14, 2014
The Daily TIP: Reports: Investors "have Iran in their sights," are making calculations that "the Iranian market is opening up"
Various outlets have focused in recent days on specific sectors being eyed by investors as Iranian markets are reopened to the world under the terms of the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA), even as President Barack Obama on Wednesday extended some sanctions after informing Congress that the Islamic Republic "continue[d] to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States." Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that "global steelmakers have Iran in their sights," and described "a steel conference last month in Tehran to study export opportunities and investing" that had been attended by roughly 45 producers. Bloomberg conveyed a quote from Aditya Mittal, chief financial officer of Luxembourg-based Arcelor Mittal, telling investors last month that "we are hearing the Iranian market is opening up." The Wall Street Journal had noted on Tuesday that some investors viewed Iran as "Turkey with oil," and that there was a growing consensus that those who managed to "get in early" would profit substantially. The characterizations risk reinforcing the long-expressed concerns of analysts who worried that the JPA would trigger a gold rush that would all but collapse the post-JPA international sanctions regime. Congressional efforts to counter the potential for such a downward spiral have been stymied by heavy administration pressure.
At least two people died on Wednesday in Turkey as police forces moved to quell the worst civil unrest to grip the country since last summer's mass protests, with The Guardian assessing that the deaths had "set the mood in Turkey further on edge" and "highlighted the deepening polarisation of Turkish politics." The protests were sparked by the death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, who had been in a coma since being struck by a tear gas canister during the summer protests. The BBC reported that at least 32 towns and cities across Turkey were swept up in the latest turmoil. The outlet also reported more specifically on Elvan's funeral, which saw huge crowds blaming Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for murdering the boy. His father described him as being "killed by the state... when he went out to buy bread." For his part Erdogan on Thursday condemned the anti-government protesters as "charlatans" who aimed at destabilizing Turkey. Ankara's heavy-handed response to last summer's unrest had triggered immediate calls by the European Union for investigations, and was the subject of a later EU report blasting Turkish police for using excessive force. A European Parliament news source this week published an interview with Ria Oomen-Ruijten, a Dutch member who has been reporting on Turkey's domestic situation. Oomen-Ruijten declared that Turkey "used to be on a good path" as far as the EU was concerned, but that - between cyclical unrest and evidence of systemic fraud - "there is [now] something wrong."
Journalists and analysts continued on Thursday to unpack a report on Iran issued this week by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in which the U.N. diplomat broadly emphasized that there had been no fundamental improvement in Iranian human rights since the election and inauguration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, "despite pledges made by the president during his campaign and after his swearing in." Deutsche Welle reported on aspects of Ban's report that dealt with the plight of Iranian women, extensively quoting the U.N. diplomat's assessment that "women's rights activists continue to face arrest and persecution" and that "[w]omen are subject to discrimination, entrenched both in law and in practice." The report cited multiple examples of institutionalized discrimination: Iran's penal code officially deems a woman's life and her testimony in court to be worth half of a man's, while the country's civil code among other things allows girls as young as 13 to be married off. DW quoted Faraz Sanei, an Iran researcher attached to Human Rights Watch, insisting that "Rouhani has talked a good talk on what he feels women's role in civil society should be... but he is not going to put himself out on a limb. He is merely nibbling at the periphery." Meanwhile the Huffington Post on Thursday ran an expose on anti-gay discrimination in Iran, quoting one refugee bluntly evaluating that "either you want to leave, or you want to die." The punishment for sodomy under Iran's criminal code is death.
Reuters on Thursday conveyed estimates from human rights organizations calculating that the death toll in the Syrian conflict had passed 146,000, as the war was set to enter its fourth year this weekend. The figures come a few weeks after Syrian forces fighting on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime intensified aerial bombardments across the country’s south. Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported in early February that a 24 hour barrel bomb attack, launched as peace talks in Geneva wound down, had killed at least 85 people. Further barrel bomb attacks over the next week would kill at least 246 people, including 73 children. The Syrian army's use of barrel bombs - shrapnel packed IEDs mostly dropped out of helicopters - had previously drawn censure from Secretary of State John Kerry and celebrations from Iran's IRGC, the latter hailing the tactic as "the easiest way to send infidels to hell." The regime's targeting of civilians extends beyond indiscriminate bombing. AFP reported at the end of January that the Syrian government had "razed thousands of homes as 'collective punishment' of communities" linked to opposition elements.