UN Security Council demanding aid access in Syria

UN Security Council demanding aid access in Syria

UNITED NATIONS — The president of the U.N. Security Council said Monday that many members are pressing to follow up on last week’s resolution to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons with a demand that the government allow immediate access for desperately needed humanitarian aid.

Australian Ambassador and council president Gary Quinlan said a draft Security Council statement calls for delivering access in “the most effective ways, including across conflict lines and, where appropriate, across borders from neighboring countries …” if necessary to bypass meddling from President Bashar Assad’s regime in Damascus.

The Security Council had been effectively deadlocked on the Syria crisis for more than two years until it unanimously adopted a resolution Friday endorsing a U.S.-Russian plan to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.

Russia and China had cast vetoes three times in the past to block council action on Syria. But with Syria facing a U.S. threat of military action in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 that killed hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb, Russia relented and let the anti-chemical weapons resolution pass — with a key loophole. It called for consequences if Syria does not cooperate, but adopting sanctions or enforcement action would require the council to pass another sanction resolution, which Russia could then veto.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told The Associated Press that Russia approved of the draft statement on humanitarian aid as well. The statement would call for demilitarizing hospitals, schools and residential neighborhoods. It would condemn “increased terrorist attacks resulting in numerous casualties and destruction carried out by organizations and individuals associated with al-Qaida.”

It will also condemn “the widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the Syrian authorities, as well as any human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law by armed groups.”

It stresses “the need to end impunity for violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights, and reaffirms that those who have committed or are otherwise responsible for such violations and abuses in Syria must be brought to justice.”

Quinlan said they decided to opt for quick passage of a non-binding statement to capitalize on the council’s new-found unity on Syria, rather than risk getting bogged down in prolonged negotiations for an enforceable resolution.

eMediaWorld.com Reports NRA: Get ‘homicidal maniacs’ off streets

eMediaWorld.com Reports NRA: Get 'homicidal maniacs' off streets

WASHINGTON — Greater efforts are needed to identify and lock up mentally ill people who are dangerous, a top National Rifle Association official responding to the recent Washington Navy Yard shootings said Sunday.

The nation’s mental health system is “in complete breakdown,” resulting in not enough of the mentally ill being committed to psychiatric hospitals, National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“If we leave these homicidal maniacs on the street … they’re going to kill,” he said. “They need to be committed is what they need to be. If they are committed, they’re not at the Naval Yard.” Aaron Alexis, the IT contractor who killed 12 people inside a Navy Yard building last week, had a history of violent outbursts, had told police he was hearing voices and was in the early stages of being treated by the Veterans Administration for serious mental problems.

Despite Alexis’ history, weaknesses in federal laws aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and criminals enabled him to clear a background check and obtain a shotgun that he used in the shooting from a Northern Virginia gun shop.

Doctors who treated Alexis should have carried out “a complete mental health status exam,” Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “We have to make it where the health care professionals in this country, when they see somebody that is having symptoms of psychosis or schizophrenia, that they can act on that by notifying the ‘do not sell’ list so that people can’t buy guns,” he said. “He (Alexis) bought a gun in spite of the fact that at several interchanges people were aware of his psychosis.”

At the same time, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., the co-author of a bill to expand background checks to more gun purchasers, acknowledged the bill remains stalled in the Senate. He told CBS he has no intention of renewing his effort to pass the measure in light of the Navy Yard shootings unless he seems movement on the part of the opponents of the bill.

“I’m not going to go out there and just beat the drum for the sake of beating the drum,” he said. “There has to be people willing to move off the position they’ve taken, and they’ve got to come to that conclusion themselves.”

eMediaWorld.com Reports Tokyo’s Olympic bid success gives Nikkei a boost

eMediaWorld.com Reports 2020 Olympics To Be Hosted By Tokyo

LONDON — Japanese stocks outperformed others Monday after Tokyo’s successful bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games boosted sentiment over the future of the world’s number 3 economy.

Elsewhere, Syria remained a key focus for investors across financial markets. With Russia urging Syria to put its chemical weapons under international control, there are even hopes that a U.S.-led strike may be averted and that’s helped oil prices drift back below $110 a barrel — the benchmark New York rate was 81 cents lower at $109.72 a barrel. U.S. stock markets were also driven higher through the session in the run-up to a vote this week in the U.S. Senate to authorize a strike.

However, the standout performer was Japan’s Nikkei 225, which jumped nearly 2.5 percent to 14,205.23 as traders hoped the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020 will boost the country’s construction sector, which the government is already targeting as part of its program to kick-start its economy. Figures showing that the Japanese economy grew at an annualized rate of 3.8 percent in the second quarter of the year instead of the previous estimate of 2.6 percent also boosted sentiment.

“Obviously the Olympics won’t come around for another seven years, but preparation begins straight away so the impact on the economy between now and then, for example in the construction sector, will be very welcome,” said Craig Erlam, market analyst at Alpari. “This could bring about additional support the economy, which is already in recovery mode.”

There was little follow-through in markets from the Nikkei’s advance, particularly in Europe where the mood was subdued through the day. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares closed down 0.3 percent at 6,530.74 while Germany’s DAX was steady at 8,276.32. The CAC-40 in France ended 0.4 percent lower at 4,040.33.

U.S. stocks performed far better, with the Dow Jones industrial average 0.7 percent higher at 15,021 and the broader S&P 500 index up 0.6 percent at 1,666. As well as keeping an eye on developments surrounding Syria, particularly the return of Congress in the U.S., traders around the world will continue to monitor the U.S. economic releases to gauge whether the Federal Reserve will start to reduce its monetary stimulus this month. Last Friday’s mixed U.S. jobs data failed to clarify the picture of whether the Fed will begin the so-called tapering of its $85 billion worth of monthly asset purchases.

“Still, the economy and labor market appear healthy enough to spur a token reduction in asset purchases on September 18, provided the upcoming data do not disappoint and the Syrian situation does not boil over,” said Sal Guatieri, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets.

The dollar’s near-term fortunes will likely rest on what the Fed decides. The uncertainty over the Fed meant it was a fairly volatile day for the currency. While the euro was up 0.7 percent at $1.3274, the dollar was 0.5 percent firmer at 99.57 yen.

Earlier, traders in Asia were also lifted by news that China, the world’s second-largest economy, recorded a bigger-than-expected trade surplus of $28.6 billion in August. That helped the benchmark Shanghai index surge 3.4 percent to 2,212.52 while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 0.6 percent to end at 22,750.65.

Australian markets were also in focus Monday after a weekend election victory for the country’s first conservative government in six years. Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott has pledged to repeal a 30 percent tax on coal and iron ore miners’ profits, which could help commodities companies. Mining shares outperformed the index, with BHP Billiton up 1.4 percent in Sydney, and Rio Tinto 1 percent higher. Overall though, the stock market advance was modest as the victory was widely expected, with Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 rising 0.7 percent to 5,181.50.

eMediaWorld.com Reports Sanctions biting but Iran not budging

eMediaWorld.com Reports Sanctions biting but Iran not budging

WASHINGTON — New signs are emerging that international sanctions are taking a deepening toll on Iran’s economy — putting billions of dollars in oil money out of the government’s reach. Yet there is no indication the distress is achieving the West’s ultimate goal of forcing the Islamic Republic to halt its nuclear program.

Iran has proved adept at working around sanctions and if oil prices don’t plummet, U.S. analysts say the country probably has enough economic stamina to reach what the West suspects is its true intention — producing nuclear weapons.

“They can hang on for a long time,” said Steve Hanke, a professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University who follows Iran’s economy. “The sanctions as a deterrent for nuclear ambitions are more or less futile because all the experts will tell you they can (make a weapon) in a couple years.”

Sanctions are at the core of international efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program. And if they fail, it will leave the West with some grim options. The U.S. and its allies may have to choose between accepting a nuclear-armed Iran run by hard-line clerics or military action that could fuel more turmoil in the already tumultuous Middle East and still fail to cripple the nuclear facilities.

There is some hope that the recent election of President Hasan Rouhani, considered a relative moderate in a hard-line regime, could lead to a more conciliatory Iran. But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei controls the nuclear program and all other major policy decisions, and he has maintained a tough stance.

Rouhani campaigned on a promise to seek relief from sanctions — something that many in the U.S. saw as one of the first tangible effects of sanctions on nuclear policy. But he has also remained committed to the nuclear program, which Iran insists is exclusively for producing energy and medical research.

Iran’s new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said in a television interview aired Thursday night that sanctions can’t force Tehran to change its nuclear policy. Zarif, who is expected to lead nuclear talks with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, claimed Rouhani is taking a new, less confrontational approach to the West.

Sanctions had already been putting heavy pressure on Iran’s economy for the past two years. Oil exports were slashed in half, the rial currency lost two-thirds of its value since late 2011 and inflation shot up. But since Rouhani’s election in June, there have been a number of indications the distress is deepening.

Rouhani acknowledged that economic damage was even worse than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had let on. This week, local news reports said Tehran may come up short of revenue to cover this year’s budget.

Analysts in the U.S. have concluded that inflation is actually much worse than Iran has reported and could be almost double the official rate of about 34 percent annually as of the end of July. One of the biggest blows to the economy resulted from sanctions imposed in February aimed at cutting off Iran’s access to oil revenues. Oil importers are required to pay into locked bank accounts that Tehran can access only to purchase non-sanctioned goods or humanitarian supplies. If importers do not comply, they face the threat of being shut out of the U.S. financial system.

Last week, the director of Iran’s Parliamentary Research Center, Kazem Jalali, said more than $60 billion of the country’s oil revenue is frozen in foreign banks and out of reach — a figure that could not be independently confirmed.

The piles of frozen cash accumulating in foreign accounts are almost certainly cutting into Iran’s accessible foreign reserves — money that can be critical to pay for imports to Iran. If foreign reserves run short, it could also limit Iran’s ability to prop up the rial and keep it from collapsing.

Mark Dubowitz, director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and an advocate of tougher sanctions who has testified before Congress, said the amount of accessible reserves is “the single most important piece of intelligence that U.S. policymakers today need to know.” He said that will determine whether “the Iranians drop dead economically before or after they reach undetectable nuclear breakout.”

A widely cited report last month by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security concluded that Iran will be able to produce enough weapons-grade uranium by mid-2014 for a nuclear breakout, or a quick dash to a bomb, possibly within weeks. The breakout could be so fast that international watchdogs and Western intelligence might not be able to detect it.

Proponents of sanctions hope that the drag on the economy will force Iran to switch course. But trying to discern the true dimensions of the economic impact is almost impossible because authorities either release data with long lag times or do not report numbers accurately.

Outside sources of information are sparse. The International Monetary Fund estimated foreign reserves were down to $80 billion in March from $96 billion a year earlier. The $80 billion is still a healthy level, but it’s not clear how much of the money is accessible and how much is frozen in accounts overseas by sanctions.

Economic Research firm Roubini Global Economics and Dubowitz’s Foundation for Defense of Democracies assessed in a new draft report that $30 billion to $50 billion of reserves is accessible. But the figures cannot be independently verified.

Still, analysts say Iran’s economy has proved so far to be resilient and flexible enough to offset some sanctions damage. And the rial’s devaluation has one advantage — it has made exports cheaper and thus more appealing. That has helped the country diversify its exports and become less reliant on sanctioned oil.

Iran boosted exports of non-oil goods that are not subject to sanctions by 20 percent in 2012, according to the Institute of International Finance (IIF), an economic think tank. Those include oil byproducts such as petrochemicals as well as cement, iron ore, pistachios and Persian carpets.

Oil remains Iran’s dominant export and Garbis Iradian, deputy director of the IIF’s Africa and Middle East Department, said Iran can withstand sanctions for a long while if prices do not drop sharply.

“As long as oil prices stay at around $100, the sanctions have a negative impact, but it’s OK, they can survive for several years. If oil prices drop below $80, they will feel the impact of sanctions,” he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers are looking to further tighten sanctions. The House of Representatives approved a bill last month that, if it becomes law, would further limit Iran’s access to its foreign currency reserves and impose a virtual oil and trade embargo. It would commit the U.S. to the goal of ending all Iranian oil sales worldwide by 2015 — the year after some experts estimate Tehran could build a bomb.

eMediaWorld.com Emerging markets take brunt of Fed tapering fears

eMediaWorld.com Emerging markets take brunt of Fed tapering fears

LONDON — Shares around the world, particularly those in emerging economies, fell Tuesday as investors braced for the phasing out of a U.S. central bank stimulus program that has shored up markets for the past few years.

Stock benchmarks and currencies in developing countries such as India and Indonesia have been hammered as funds flowed out of their markets in anticipation of a reduction in stimulus from the Federal Reserve. Indonesia’s benchmark index, which dived 5 percent on Monday, suffered another 3.2 percent drop Tuesday. India’s Sensex was down 0.3 percent after sliding 5.6 percent in the previous two sessions. India’s currency, the rupee, fell to a record low of 64.11 rupees to the dollar.

Emerging markets have been hit by expectations that the Fed will reduce the amount of financial assets it buys in the markets — currently $85 billion a month — amid signs of improvement in the U.S. economy. The stimulus was intended to spur borrowing and investment through easy access to liquidity. Many investors used the cheap money to buy stocks, particularly in fast-growing developing economies.

“The shift in sentiment and capital flows back towards developed markets is being keenly felt, leading to a major pick-up in volatility,” said Michael Every, an analyst at Rabobank International. Financial assets in emerging economies weren’t the only ones taking a hit on the expectation that the Fed will begin tapering its stimulus next month. U.S. stocks have recorded a four-day losing streak for the first time in 2013 as the country’s borrowing rates in the markets have edged up to their highest levels since 2011. Admittedly, trading volumes are modest amid a traditional summer lull.

The performance of U.S. stocks has weighed on European markets even though there have been signs of an economic uptick across the continent. Last week, figures showed that the recession across the economy of the 17 European Union countries that use the euro ended in the second quarter.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 0.7 percent at 6,419 while Germany’s DAX fell 1.2 percent to 8,265. The CAC-40 in France underperformed its counterparts for the second day running, and was trading 1.6 percent lower at 4,018.

Wall Street was poised for a steady opening, with Dow futures down 0.2 percent and the broader S&P 500 futures 0.1 percent lower. The Fed will likely remain the focus of attention in markets over the rest of the week, especially on Wednesday, when the minutes to the Fed’s July policy meeting are published. Investors will be looking for any hints of when the bank might begin cutting back on its stimulus.

Earlier, in Asia, it wasn’t just the emerging markets suffering. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index, the regional heavyweight, tumbled 2.6 percent to finish at 13,396.38, its lowest close since June 27. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 2.2 percent to 21,970.29 while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.7 percent to 5,078.20. South Korea’s Kospi fell 1.6 percent to 1,887.85.

Trading in the currency markets was fairly choppy, with the euro 0.5 percent higher at $1.3395 and the dollar 0.2 percent lower at 97.35 yen. Benchmark oil for October delivery was down 79 cents to $106.07 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.