SINGAPORE, September 18 -- Oil prices slipped on Wednesday, extending losses from the previous session after Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said the kingdom will restore lost oil production by the end of the month.
But investors remained cautious about Middle East tension after the United States said it believes the attacks that crippled Saudi Arabian oil facilities last weekend originated in southwestern Iran. Iran has denied involvement in the strikes. Brent crude oil futures fell 15 cents, or 0.2 per cent, to US$64.40 a barrel by 0253 GMT, after tumbling 6.5 per cent the previous session. The contract soared as much as 19.5 per cent on Monday to US$71.95 per barrel, the biggest jump in history after a series of drone attacks on Saudi’s key oil facilities disrupted production. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures declined 35 cents, or 0.6 per cent, to US$58.99 a barrel, after sinking by 5.7 per cent on Tuesday. “The risk of further escalation of conflict in the Middle East remains over the energy market and wild swings will likely resume when we see tit-for-tat responses from a Saudi-US led coordinated effort,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA in New York. “The situation with the oil market will remain tense, but the initial fears of a sustained disruption with world oil supplies have been alleviated in the very short-term.” Saudi Arabia sought to reassure markets after the attack on Saturday halved its oil output, saying on Tuesday that full production would be restored by month’s end. Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said on Tuesday that average oil production in September and October would be 9.89 million barrels per day and that the world’s top oil exporter would ensure full oil supply commitments to its customers this month. Saudi Aramco has informed some Asian refiners that it will supply full allocated volumes of crude oil in October, albeit with some changes.
BIARRITZ, August 25 -- Leaders from the Group of Seven industrialized nations shared the view Saturday that Iran should not possess nuclear weapons while still differing in their approaches to finding a resolution to the issue as they kicked off a three-day summit in France.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who visited Iran in June to help diffuse heightened tensions in the Middle East, told the other G-7 leaders in the French coastal city of Biarritz that Tokyo will continue to engage with Tehran on the diplomatic front, a senior Japanese government official said. "The leaders exchanged various views (on issues such as Iran) and efforts were made by each country toward finding common ground," the official said. G-7 members have been jittery over U.S. President Donald Trump's strategy to shake up multilateral arrangements to advance U.S. interests -- notably his withdrawal from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal that has ratcheted up tensions in the Middle East. The big question of whether the G-7 -- made up of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States plus the European Union -- is an effective forum for tackling global issues still looms large following past clashes between the United States and other members. The leaders also discussed Russia's potential return to the G-7 framework over dinner that lasted nearly three hours, the official said without giving further details. Russia was dropped from the then Group of Eight after its annexation of Crimea in 2014 which it drew sharp international outcry.
Despite Trump's push for readmitting Russia, other G-7 members are opposed due to a lack of progress on the Crimea issue. With its unity in doubt, the G-7 leaders are expected to discuss a range of topics in the coming days from the global economy and digitalization to inequality and North Korea. They agreed Saturday on the need to extend assistance over Amazon rainforest fires in Brazil.
Trump, who reportedly had reservations about attending the G-7 meeting, said on Twitter that his evening meeting with world leaders went "very well," adding, "Progress being made!"
VIENNA, August 20 -- OPEC+ countries participating in the Vienna Agreement on the reduction of oil production fulfilled the terms of the agreement by 159% in July 2019, a source said after the meeting of the OPEC+ technical committee.
"OPEC+ deal compliance percentage reaches 159% in July 2019," the source said. At the same time, OPEC countries complied with the agreement by 156%, and non-OPEC countries performed the agreement by 166%, the source added. Thus, in July the OPEC+ participants reduced production against October 2018 taken as the base level by 1.9 mln barrels per day, instead of early planned 1.2 mln barrels daily. In total, OPEC+ countries agreed to reduce oil production by 1.2 mln barrels per day by March 2020, including 812,000 barrels for OPEC countries and 383,000 barrels - non-OPEC countries. The main reduction quotas fall on the largest parties to the agreement - Russia and Saudi Arabia (228,000 barrels per day and 322,000 barrels per day, respectively).
WASHINGTON, August 17 -- The US Federal Court in the District of Columbia has issued an arrest warrant for Iranian oil tanker, the Grace 1, the US Department of Justice announced in a statement.
"A seizure warrant and forfeiture complaint were unsealed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging that Oil Tanker "Grace 1," all petroleum aboard it and $995,000.00 are subject to forfeiture based on violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), bank fraud statute, and money laundering statute, as well as separately the terrorism forfeiture statute," the statement reads. "The documents allege a scheme to unlawfully access the U.S. financial system to support illicit shipments to Syria from Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated foreign terrorist organization," according to the statement from the US Department of Justice. "The scheme involves multiple parties affiliated with the IRGC and furthered by the deceptive voyages of the Grace 1. A network of front companies allegedly laundered millions of dollars in support of such shipments."
On July 4, Gibraltar’s authorities detained the Grace 1 oil tanker flying the Panamanian flag on suspicion of carrying oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions. The operation involved British marines. According to Gibraltar’s authorities, there were 28 crew members onboard the vessel, including nationals of India, Pakistan and Ukraine. In response, the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador to Tehran. Spain’s Acting Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said that the oil tanker had been detained at the United States’ request.
JERUSALEM, August 16 -- Israel said on Thursday that it will bar two Democratic US congresswomen from entering the country ahead of a planned visit over their support for a Palestinian-led boycott movement.
This decision was announced shortly after US President Donald Trump tweeted that it would "show great weakness" to allow them in. The move to bar Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from visiting appeared to be unprecedented. It marked a deep foray by Israel into America's bitterly polarised politics and a sharp escalation of Israel's campaign against the international boycott movement. The two newly-elected Muslim members of Congress are outspoken critics of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and have repeatedly sparred with Trump over a range of issues. Tlaib's family immigrated to the United States from the West Bank, where she still has close relatives. They had planned to visit Jerusalem and the West Bank on a tour organised by a Palestinian organisation aimed at highlighting the plight of the Palestinians. It was not immediately clear if they had planned to meet with Israeli officials, and spokespeople for the two congresswomen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is "open to critics and criticism," except for those who advocate boycotts against it. "Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar are leading activists in promoting the legislation of boycotts against Israel in the American Congress," Netanyahu charged. He said their itinerary "revealed that they planned a visit whose sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel's legitimacy". Shortly before the decision was announced, Trump had tweeted that "it would show great weakness" if Israel allowed them to visit. "They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds." He went on to call the two congresswomen "a disgrace". The US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, endorsed the decision after it was made, saying Israel "has every right to protect its borders" against promoters of boycotts "in the same manner as it would bar entrants with more conventional weapons". Trump's decision to urge a foreign country to deny entry to elected US officials was a striking departure from the long-held practice of politicians from both parties of leaving their disputes at the water's edge. Democratic lawmakers in the US Congress denounced Israel's decision. Top ranking Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York said it was a sign of weakness instead of strength and "will only hurt the US-Israeli relationship and support for Israel in America". A close freshman colleague of the two lawmakers, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, said Israel's move is "bigoted, short sighted and cruel".
ANKARA, August 12 -- The Turkish state can’t tolerate the gains by people of North and East Syria, or the democratic system they built, so they aim to invade the area under the guise of a “safe zone”.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu continued to issue threats of invasion against North and East Syria. Cavuşoğlu said: “What we say about the east of the Euphrates is this: We will either clear the area together, or Turkey will enter and clear away the terrorists. Like they were cleared from Afrin, like ISIS was cleared from Jarablus, we will clear the east of the Euphrates from YPG and PKK. Whatever the price may be. There is no change in our resolve here. We won’t let the US delay things like Manbij. We say this clearly, and we told them the same.” The Turkish state can’t tolerate the gains by people of North and East Syria, or the democratic system they built, so they aim to invade the area under the guise of a “safe zone”. North and East Syrian officials see Turkey’s insistence on a 32 km deep safe zone as an attempt to massacre the peoples of the region and to invade the area as a whole, and counter-propose patrols along the border under supervision by the international coalition, outside residential areas. North and East Syrian officials warn that a possible Turkish state attack will make the control of thousands of ISIS members in prisons difficult and risk subjecting the region and the world to terrorist attacks. They also say they will resist to the end.
TEHRAN, August 12 -- It's difficult to combat a subject that's so taboo, discussion of it is off-limits. But the silence that has long surrounded sexual harassment and abuse of power in the Iranian workplace is finally being broken.
The Information Technology Organisation (ITO), a subsidiary of Iran's ICT Ministry, has become the first Iranian government agency to publish in-house guidelines banning what it refers to as "forbidden conduct" - harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse of power. Drawing on international examples, but modified to align with "Iranian and Islamic values", the harassment guidelines cover verbal and physical threats, aggressive behavior, defamation and intimidation, among other offences. Sexual harassment is described by the guidelines as any sexual advance made without consent, while discrimination is defined as "any form of unpleasant, unjust or in-equal behavior" based on race, nationality, religion, gender, age or political tendencies. The section on abuse of power covers all misuses of authority that negatively affect an individual's career. The guidelines were spearheaded by ITO's head of women participation, Meshkat Asadi. "Obviously we're still at the beginning of the road," she said in an interview with the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency. "But it seems that serious barriers can come down when thoughts turn into words and those words are put on paper, so there's hope that this could be effective." Asadi's boss, ITO head Amir Nazemy, in an effort to catalyze change within companies that fall with his ministry's remit, used Twitter to call on CEOs of major startups and fintech firms to adopt the guidelines. "As sexual harassment is a taboo [in Iran], preventing it requires special support from executives," he wrote. Several of the largest names in Iran's startup and tech scene have answered the call. Those adopting the guidelines include ride-hailing companies Snapp and Tap30, online buying platform Takhfifan and cloud computing services provider ArvanCloud. ArvanCloud has taken the initiative a step further and established an in-house online platform to give employees the option to report harassing behavior anonymously. ITO officials responsible for the guidelines refused requests for comment.
The task of changing workplace culture
Some Iranian executives welcome the government effort to curb abuse, and want to build on the guidelines to effect genuine change in the workplace. "Even if we set the right framework, nothing meaningful will happen if we don't work on the cultural aspect and develop a corporate culture that has the capacity to welcome such improvements," Aseyeh Hatami, CEO of recruitment and jobs site IranTalent said. That promises to be a long road, she said, because the absence of initiatives to encourage healthy sexual behaviors in the workplace and in society at large has led to confusion over what constitutes acceptable behavior. "For instance, one of my male employees had asked a female co-worker to go to a coffee shop to discuss a work project, and she perceived that as a breach of her private space and professional etiquette," Hatami said. Reporting abuses of power is difficult even in the most constructively regulated environments. It often invites personal scrutiny and ends up re-victimizing and, in the worst cases, vilifying victims of abuse. The fears associated with reporting abuse and harassment are acute in Iranian workplaces, which are often bereft of resources to deal with these issues. Many small and medium-sized businesses lack robust human resources departments to investigate complaints. Companies that have established support mechanisms reporting and rooting out abuse have done so independently because the law does not require it. While Hatami is pleased that the government has established binding rules, she is concerned about regulatory overreach. "Having regulations is great and necessary, but businesses in Iran, especially fledgling ones, take a hit both from lack of suitable regulations and from hasty laws that go into too much detail and tell executives how to run their businesses," she said. Hatami hopes the ITO guidelines can be gradually refined through community feedback.
Educating executives to lead the way
Though the reforms are seen by many as an important catalyst, changing attitudes, they say, needs to start at the top of an organisation. "The ITO guidelines are a positive step, but there's much to be done in terms of educating executives and other employees, and organisational structures need to be improved in a way that would support victims," a training specialist at the National Iranian Gas Company said on condition of anonymity. "If guidelines are put in place across the country, I have no doubt that many [people] will undermine [cast doubt on] whether instances of sexual harassment and abuse of power even take place due to the taboo nature of the subject," she said. In its guidelines, the ITO encourages educational initiatives including organisation-wide workshops to educate all employees about forbidden conduct, requiring executives and supervisors to undergo targeted training as a prerequisite for job promotions, and handing out copies of the guidelines to new employees. The guidelines also designate a role for local nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) to act as a safety net for victims and for reporting harassment cases. "There is a tendency in companies to sweep such issues under the carpet, which encourages perpetrators," ITO chief Nazemy said in a recent interview. "By involving NGOs, at least an independent pair of eyes will scrutinize such cases".
The training expert at the state-run gas company said that the company has received complaints of abuse in the past, which were mostly handled directly by high-level executives rather than the human resources department. "Management usually prefers to resolve complaints peacefully at the personal level through reaching mutual agreements, and acts very strictly in terms of requiring evidence in dealing with serious cases to prevent defamation," she said. The trainer told that in one of those cases, an executive in a provincial branch of the state-run entity was fired from his post after a victim produced video evidence of harassment. The ITO guidelines encourage the resolution of complaints by mutual agreement, including through the involvement of a third-party arbiter. If unsuccessful, the guidelines direct alleged victims to file formal complaints within 90 days of the offence that was committed or the last event in the chain of reported events and present evidence.
LONDON, August 8 -- If there was any doubt remaining that Britain has ceased to be a colonial power capable of imposing its will in foreign seas on command, it was evident as Iranian naval vessels ran literal rings around a detained British oil tanker.
Drone footage released by Iran’s Fars news agency showed a bird’s-eye view of the UK’s Stena Impero, moored in the port of Bandar Abbas after its seizure by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). In the video, a pair of Iranian boats speed in circles around the tanker to the soundtrack of heavy metal, in a show of force likely designed for domestic as much as regional and global consumption. In the past 24 hours, a leaked audio recording laid bare the failed attempt by the British Royal Navy to avert the impounding. “Alter your course, do 360 degrees immediately, over,” an Iranian officer is heard telling the crew of the UK oil tanker Stena Impero. “Obey, and you will be safe.” A British warship, despite being too far away to pose an immediate threat, then issues a competing directive, telling the commercial ship it should continue on its path. “Stena Impero, this is British warship, Foxtrot 236. I reiterate that you are conducting transit passage in a recognized international strait. Under international law, your passage must not be impaired, obstructed or hampered,” the British officer says, before the vessel is forced to Iranian shores. The veracity of the recording, released by maritime security risk consultancy Dryad Global, has not been challenged by the UK or Iran. The raid itself – videotaped and published by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – shows Balaclava-wearing commandos descending on the British tanker by helicopter. The seizure appeared designed to replicate Britain’s impounding of an Iranian tanker earlier this month. Asked on Monday what the United States would do to help retrieve the vessel of its ally, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared to wash his hands of the incident. “The responsibility in the first instance falls to the United Kingdom to care of their ships,” he told Fox and Friends. The UK – in the midst of messy talks to leave the European Union – said on Monday it was looking to its European allies to help secure Persian Gulf shipping. Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional arch-foe, appeared to quickly absorb the severity of the situation, releasing an Iranian oil tanker on Saturday which Tehran for weeks had accused Riyadh of illegally detaining.
Iran plays offense
Iran’s senior commanders say the country has officially moved from a position of deterrence to one of calculated confrontation. “We have put aside the defensive approach to also develop an offensive approach,” the lieutenant commander of Iran’s ground forces told a gathering in the city of Shiraz. “Some while ago, we were only after deterrence but today other countries should develop deterrence against us,” added General Nozar Nemati. Another senior commander, Major General Gholam Ali Rashid, told an audience in Tehran on Monday that Iran’s military would henceforth be practicing a “firm and smart confrontation against threatening attitudes and hostile measures.” The statements appeared to enshrine in policy a months-long pattern of tit-for-tat responses against US attempts to choke off Iranian oil exports. “The British committed piracy and we responded to it,” Iran’s parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani said on Sunday, directly linking the seizure of Britain’s Stena Impero to Iran’s Grace I tanker. Tehran had previously cited alleged technical violations as grounds for the detention. The Grace I was impounded by the Royal Navy off the coast of Gibraltar, a UK territory, on July 4. London accused Iran of attempting to export its crude to the Syrian refinery of Baniyas, in violation of European Union sanctions, and said that the ship’s entrance into the waters of Gibraltar provided jurisdiction. Iran said its oil was destined for a legal destination, and quickly vowed retaliation. The United Kingdom, according to its former navy chief, should have seen the seizure of one of its own vessels coming.
Risk of war
Over the weekend, Britain’s former chief of naval staff Alan West penned an op-ed warning that the ongoing Persian Gulf crisis risked escalating into a full-blown war. West chastised his government for failing to protect British shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, through which 30% of the world’s seaborne oil passes: “We should have enacted control of shipping procedures, directing ships to assemble in safe areas and then taken them through in convoy,” he wrote. “Even with only one major warship in the Gulf this could have been done until reinforcements arrived – although the Royal Navy is disgracefully short of ships.” A military response, he said, would not only be inappropriate, but beyond the capabilities of Britain acting alone. The UK now risks becoming embroiled in an open conflict with Iran – a risk that should be the first priority of the incoming leader to address, he concluded.
NEW YORK, August 8 -- Islamic State is reinvesting in its ability to carry out sophisticated operations from Europe to South Asia by the end of 2019, a United Nations report has found.
“The ISIS covert network in the Syrian Arab Republic is spreading, and cells are being established at the provincial level, mirroring that which has been happening since 2017 in Iraq,” the UN Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team said. In the near term, the Islamic State will rely on locally-planned attacks in “unexpected locations,” similar to the Easter bombings carried out in Sri Lanka, they assessed. But the report, presented to the Security Council in July, warns that externally-planned attacks in high profile locations could ramp up as early as four months from now. “ISIS will reinvest in the capacity to direct and facilitate complex international attacks when it has the secure space and time to do so. The current abatement of such attacks, therefore, may not last long, possibly not even until the end of 2019,” it said. Tens of thousands of Islamic State loyalists and their children are now corralled in desert camps in northeastern Syria, where they were detained by US-backed Kurdish forces following the surrender of the last pocket of the caliphate in March. Neighboring Turkey has now threatened to seize the area from the Kurds – raising the possibility that some of Islamic State’s most hardcore members could escape.
Get out of jail
The UN report estimates that up to 30,000 foreign nationals who traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the caliphate are still alive, whether at large in the region, detained or relocated to Europe. These caliphate veterans now pose a radicalization threat, whether in prison or out. “The radicalization of criminals within the prison system remains a critical concern in Europe, where prisons provide a venue for inmates afflicted by poverty, marginalization, frustration, low self-esteem and violence to be influenced by radical ideologies,” it said. “In addition, some of the first wave of returnees from the ‘caliphate’ to be imprisoned are expected to be released in the coming year.” The monitoring team which carried out the report emphasized that data on the exact number of repatriations of foreign fighters to Europe and other regions remains sketchy. Approximately 2,000 nationals from the former Soviet states are now detained in northeastern Syria. Central Asian nations including Tajikistan and Uzbekistan cite their own citizens returning from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq are currently their primary terrorist threat. Central Asian migrant laborer communities in Russia and Turkey are also seen as particularly vulnerable to recruitment. The report also flags South and Southeast Asia as prime targets for Islamic State returnees, as evidenced by both successful and thwarted attacks. “Two troubling trends observed are the targeting of places of worship and the continued prominence of women in operational activities,” it said. Both returnees and attempted jihadists have been linked to attacks in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Islamic State has been resourceful in financing its activities post-caliphate, the report found, using small and medium-sized business to generate revenue, offering “seed money” to new affiliates and stashing valuable antiquities for a rainy day. “One Member State described ISIS affiliates being treated in a manner similar to start-up businesses, receiving ‘seed money’ and advice from head office,” it said. The group is estimated to have anywhere from US$50-300 million at its disposal to carry out its activities. However, “the group is adapting to its insurgency role with far fewer demands on its financial holdings.” The UN investigators learned that monetary transfers persist, with family members of active militants using personal or small business bank accounts in countries neighboring a given conflict zone – the cash then passed on by courier. Mobile payment applications and crypto currencies are cited as ripe for exploitation. A special ISIS unit – the ministry of “natural resources” – is believed to be responsible for the sale of antiquities which the group had excavated in Iraq and Syria. “Details of traded antiquities, as well as the current location of any stored antiquities, are assessed to be known only by ISIS leaders.” Preserving that leadership, at the top of which is self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remains the primary concern of the group.
MOSCOW, July 19 -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed concern over the confrontation between the United States and Iran. He said this to US director Oliver Stone in an interview published on the official Kremlin website on Friday.
"This worries us because this is happening near our borders. This may destabilize the situation around Iran, affect some countries with which we have very close relations, causing additional refugee flows on a large scale plus substantially damage the world economy as well as the global energy sector," Putin said. "We would welcome any improvement when it comes to relations between the US and Iran. A simple escalation of tension will not be advantageous for anyone. It seems to me that this is also the case with the US," he added. The United States withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal on 8 May 2018 and imposed economic sanctions on Tehran's oil exports. One year later, on 8 May 2019, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced Iran's suspension of some commitments in the framework of the nuclear deal and gave other participants in the deal two months to return to its implementation. The situation around Iran further deteriorated after the June 13 incident in the Strait of Hormuz when two tankers caught fire after presumable attacks. The United States placed responsibility for the incident on Iran. The United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia supported these accusations. Teheran rejects these allegations.