04/02/13: The New York Times reports Iran’s double-digit inflation rate worsened for the sixth consecutive month in March, the government said on Monday, in what appeared to be an implicit acknowledgment that international sanctions linked to the disputed Iranian nuclear program are causing some economic harm. The government’s statistics office said the rate increased in March to an annualized 31.5 percent, compared with 30.2 percent in February and 26.4 percent a year earlier, the semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported. The Mehr report did not offer an explanation for the increase except to specify that much of it was in the categories of food, beverages and tobacco. Many economists say the real rate could be at least double the official rate, partly because it does not fully take into account the prices of many imported goods, which have become prohibitively expensive. The main reason is the severe depreciation of the rial, Iran’s national currency, as the sanctions that have limited Central Bank activities and oil exports have taken hold. Some experts believe the Iranian inflation calculation deliberately understates the actual rate in order to present a public face of resistance to the coercive pressures inflicted by the sanctions, which have been imposed largely by the United States and European Union.
04/01/13: Reuters reports a top NATO official says the Alliance hopes a US change to global missile defenses will dispel Russian concern and foster cooperation on an issue that has long strained relations. “The change in the US plans ... just simply makes the situation much less ambiguous,” Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said. “There is now no reason for concern that the system going into Europe will have any effect whatever on Russia’s strategic deterrent.” Russia has said US missile shield plans could erode its nuclear deterrent, but has softened criticism since Washington announced on March 16 that it would station fourteen missile interceptors in Alaska in response to North Korean nuclear threats and at the same time forgo a new type of interceptor that would have been deployed in Europe.
04/01/13: The blog Space War reports Iraq will step up searches of Iranian flights over its airspace to Syria, days after US Secretary of State John Kerry publicly criticized Baghdad for turning a blind eye to them. But while Prime Minister Nuri al-Malik’s spokesman spoke of newly tightened restrictions, the head of Iraq’s civil aviation authority acknowledged that no planes had been searched since October. “Because of a lot of information which referred to transportation of weapons, we have increased the activity of inspections,” Maliki spokesman Ali Mussawi said Saturday. “We will carry out more random searches, to be assured that there is no weapons transfer.” Kerry said in Baghdad that he “made very clear to [Maliki] that the overflights from Iran are in fact helping to sustain [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad and his regime.”
03/29/13: The New York Times reports the global effort to regulate the sale of conventional weapons suffered a significant but not fatal setback on Thursday after Iran, Syria and North Korea opposed the draft Arms Trade Treaty, blocking the consensus needed for passage after years of arduous negotiations. Achieving consensus among all 193 member states of the United Nations is considered a monumental task, but it was hoped that it would be possible in this case because so many countries supported the idea of trying to regulate the $70 billion annual industry at the root of much death and destruction. The treaty would require states exporting conventional weapons to develop criteria that would link exports to avoiding human rights abuses, terrorism and organized crime. It would also ban shipments if they were deemed harmful to women and children. After Iran and North Korea voted against the draft treaty, Peter Woolcott, the Australian ambassador who was the president of the treaty conference, suspended the meeting. When it resumed, Syria voted against the treaty as well. In the absence of consensus, it was expected that the treaty would be sent to the General Assembly as early as next week for approval. That is considered a weaker, but no less binding, manner of getting it passed. After General Assembly passage, the treaty would still require ratification by 50 member states before it could take effect.
03/24/13: Reuters reports Israeli officials said Sunday that Tel Aviv did not commit to ending its Gaza blockade as part of reconciliation with Turkey and could clamp down even harder on the Palestinian enclave if security is threatened. After a US-brokered fence-mending announcement on Friday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Israel had met his demands to apologize for killing nine Turks aboard a Gaza-bound activist ship in 2010. But although Erdogan has also insisted on fully ending the blockade, Israeli officials said Hamas, the Islamist faction that governs Gaza, was still trying to bring in arms, and thus “the blockade is as necessary as always.” Although Israel has relaxed curbs on overland civilian imports to impoverished Gaza, it signaled that the naval cordon, imposed during a 2008-2009 offensive, would remain.
03/24/13: The blog Space War reports the United States and the Netherlands say they’ve expanded their cooperation to reduce global nuclear and radiological threats. Under an agreement signed with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)’s Office of Global Threat Reduction, (GTRI) the Netherlands will contribute $650,000 to GTRI’s efforts to secure and remove vulnerable radiological material. This is Amsterdam’s second major cooperative activity with GTRI, and the third time it has partnered with NNSA’s nuclear nonproliferation programs. Under the new agreement, the Netherlands financial contribution will support GTRI’s current work in Kazakhstan on projects related to the search, removal, and physical protection of radiological material. The NNSA is a semiautonomous agency within the US Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the application of nuclear science.
03/23/13: The Hill reports in the last batch of amendment votes to the budget, the Senate voted on several foreign policy proposals. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced an amendment that would prevent the United States from entering into the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty in order to uphold the Second Amendment. His amendment passed on a 53-46 vote. Republicans have been critical of President Obama’s decision to consider the treaty, although Obama has said he would not vote for anything that would violate the Second Amendment. The UN Arms Trade Treaty would regulate international arms sales. Negotiations end on March 28. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) offered an alternative amendment that clarified that under current US law, treaties don’t trump the Constitution and that the United States should not agree to any arms treaty that violates the Second Amendment rights. His amendment passed by voice vote.
03/11/13: The New York Times reports a new sense of vulnerability created by recent aggressive talk from the North is causing some influential South Koreans to break a decades-old taboo by openly calling for Seoul to develop its own nuclear arsenal, a move that would raise the stakes in what is already one of the world’s most militarized regions. While few in the South think this will happen anytime soon, two recent opinion polls show that two-thirds of South Koreans support the idea posed by a small but growing number of politicians and columnists. In recent weeks, Pyongyang has approached a crucial threshold with its weapons programs, followed by a barrage of apocalyptic threats to rain “preemptive nuclear strikes” and “final destruction” on Seoul.
03/04/13: The New York Times reports the head of the United Nations’ nuclear regulatory body urged Iran on Monday to permit access by international inspectors to a military site near Tehran to ascertain whether tests have been carried out there on nuclear bomb triggers. International Atomic Energy Agency director Yukiya Amano spoke just weeks after IAEA inspectors returned from talks in Tehran that failed to obtain access to the Parchin site, twenty miles south of Tehran. “I request Iran once again to provide access to the Parchin site without further delay,” Amano said. The talks about Parchin are separate from the negotiations Tehran is conducting with six global powers on the broader question of its disputed nuclear program. Western powers suspect that Iran is seeking the technology for nuclear weapons.
03/03/13: Reuters reports the UN Security Council will vote Wednesday on a draft resolution lifting an arms embargo on Somalia’s government for one year so it can beef up its army to combat Islamist fighters. Mogadishu has asked for the arms embargo to be lifted and the United States wants the Council to agree, but Britain and France have been wary of removing the ban in a country already awash with weapons. The draft resolution, drawn up by the UK, appears to propose a compromise: lifting the arms embargo for one year but keeping restrictions in place on heavy weapons such as surface-to-air missiles, howitzers, and cannons. Under the resolution, the embargo would not apply to other “weapons or military equipment or the provision of advice, assistance or training” to the Somali government.