- Iran oil exports surge past "sanctions cap" and hit 20 month high, as fears mount over energy gold rush
Reuters reported on Friday that Iranian oil exports "have surged to their highest in 20 months" - far above the "sanctions cap" outlined by the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA) that granted financial relief to the Islamic Republic - per revised estimates for February global crude imports published by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The outlet quoted Antoine Halff, the head of the IEA's oil industry and markets division, emphasizing that "the question is whether they are going to continue to test the sanctions." Tehran has now exceeded its allowable 1 million barrel-per-day limit for 5 consecutive months, and Reuters quoted Bob McNally - president of energy research group the Rapidan Group - worrying that "Iran's customers have seen the writing on the wall and concluded they can import more Iranian oil at lower risk of being sanctioned by the State Department." The description is in line with long-expressed fears that the JPA's partial erosion of the sanctions regime would trigger a kind of gold rush that further undermined the rest of the regime. Foreign policy and energy analyst Aaron Menenberg had already last January outlined fears that a scramble to access Iranian energy - in which "no company wants to be the first one in, but none want to be the last" - could trigger such a downward spiral. Iran's Fars news agency boasted on Friday that Iranian electricity swaps have been steadily growing, and that Iran's electricity exports have increased 40% since late March. The news comes alongside deepening analyst concerns that the value of Iran's allowable trade under the JPA - even putting aside cheating on export limits and the potential for further erosion – had already been dramatically underestimated by the Obama administration.
The United Nation's news service on Thursday conveyed a call by what the wire described as "a group of independent [U.N.] human rights experts" demanding that the Iranian government provide medical treatment - or, more precisely, that it cease denying such treatment - to blogger Mohammad Reza Pourshajari and religious cleric Sayed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi, two political prisoners who are said to be at risk of dying due to Iranian prison conditions. The story linked to a press release issued by the group that described how "prison authorities have so far denied this fundamental right [to treatment], despite prison physicians recommending such urgent care." Benjamin Weinthal, a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, had earlier in the week called upon the Obama administration to "make the release of the three Americans [held by Iran] a sine qua non" of ongoing negotiations. The European Parliament (EP) for its part had blasted the Islamic Republic for among other things its treatment of political dissidents, triggering threats from Tehran stating that the "irresponsible and counter-productive" text could hamper nuclear-related talks. The EP resolution came after months of statements from top U.N. official, up to and including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, assessing that there has been no fundamental improvement in Iran's human rights situation since the election and inauguration of President Hassan Rouhani. A March U.N. report described Rouhani as having taken only "baby steps" toward improving human rights, and the recently published annual State Department human rights review converged on the same conclusion. Instead there has been a much-criticized surge in Iranian executions, with Fox News on Thursday conveying that an estimated 537 executions have taken place since Rouhani's election.
English-language Palestinian media reported on Thursday that, "thanks to support from Arab and Islamic groups," the Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had voted to dispatch an expert mission to Jerusalem, the latest in a serious of anti-Israel diplomatic moves that the UN body has launched since the Palestinians joined it in 2011. The mission will be charged with investigating Israeli oversight of the key religious areas of Jerusalem. The Palestinians and Jordan also reportedly "issued several resolutions through the Executive Board and World Heritage Committee" targeting the Jewish state, including - in what might be considered something of a punchline - a resolution condemning Israel for suggesting that UNESCO had become politicized against Israel. A previous UNESCO session in late 2013 had seen the passage of six resolutions targeting Jerusalem. Concerns over UNESCO were in turn grounded in broader unease over what appeared to be a systematic "scorched earth" campaign, under which Palestinian officials worked their way through credible international organizations and - by transforming them into anti-Israel forums - undermined their legitimacy. The ultimately successful effort to join UNESCO triggered an American backlash that crippled the organization financially, while consistent andsomewhat outlandish efforts to focus the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Israel have been devastating to that body’s credibility. The Palestinians are currently in the midst of an effort to ascend to 15 international treaties.
Turkey's Constitutional Court this week appears to have opened its own Twitter account - and to have quickly amassed over 50,000 followers across just six tweets - amid legal and political battles that have seen the Court brush off demands by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to uphold a government ban on the popular micro-blogging platform. Ankara had imposed a blackout on Twitter, as well as on the video platform YouTube, on the eve of recent nationwide local elections. The move was widely seen as an effort to dampen coverage of an ongoing graft scandal that has ensnared top AKP elites. The Court subsequently overturned the restrictions on Twitter, though Erdogan and his allies have loudly called for the decision to be reversed and for the ban to be reimposed. Ankara's restrictions have generated international ridicule, though top officials have sought to maintain them in the face of both domestic and overseas criticism. NOW media reported Friday that Turkey's Information and Communications Technologies Authority was flat out ignoring two separate court orders compelling the government to lift the ban YouTube, and was instead insisting that "the measure blocking access to the youtube.com internet site [will remain] in place because some of the content [deemed illegal] keeps being broadcast." The Court's new Twitter account - @AYMBASKANLIGI - will be seen as a not particularly subtle dig against Erdogan.