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Conference on Iran policy at European Parliament highlights need for accountability over Iranian regime’s crimes

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The National Council of Resistance of Iran, a coalition of Iranian pro-democracy groups, has held  a number of online conferences in recent months with the goal of expanding the content of Western policy discussions with respect to the Islamic Republic.

The NCRI’s lead constituent group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), has been a major driving force behind nationwide uprisings inside Iran over the past three years, and the conferences regularly point to this trend as an opportunity for the United States and the European Union to help the Iranian people affect large-scale change in their homeland.

The latest such conference took place on Wednesday, October 7, 2020, organized by the Friends of the Free Iran (FOFI) in the European Parliament, and was specifically focused on the “correct policy” and the “political and ethical obligations” for European nations in the face of “ongoing crimes against humanity.” Accordingly, it featured approximately three dozen members of the European Parliament, from different political groups who took a critical view of the current EU policy on Iran.

Maryam Rajavi,  the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)

Maryam Rajavi,  the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)

They warned about the detreating human rights situation in Iran, in particular in view of the new wave of executions against Iranian dissidents and protesters, most notably the hanging of Navid Afkari, the Iranian wrestler who was hanged for taking part in the recent wave of anti-regime protests which have rocked Iran in the past two years. MEPs urged a more robust policy on Iran with a focus on human rights.

A number of participants pointed to the important role the Iranian Resistance has played by referring to the 2018 Free Iran gathering in Paris, when Iranian regime operatives attempted to carry out a terrorist attack on that gathering, which was organized by the NCRI. Though the terror plot was foiled with cooperation from multiple European authorities, it arguably went a long way toward exposing the close overlap between Iran’s terrorist financing and its official foreign policy activities. And in so doing, it also seemed to demonstrate the extent to which the clerical regime views the Resistance movement as a genuine threat to its hold on power.

Maryam Rajavi,  the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), also addressed the online summit and proposed a three-pronged policy, which included, “Human rights for the people of Iran, comprehensive embargo of the religious dictatorship, and recognition of the Iranian people's Resistance for freedom and democracy,” the adoption of “a binding legislation, to expel the Iranian regime’s agents from the European soil, shut down the regime’s embassies in all EU member states, and designate the IRGC and its proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and other countries as terrorist groups,” and “an independent international mission must investigate the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in Iran and the slaughter of more than 1,500 protesters by Khamenei during the November 2019 uprising. The mission must also investigate the condition of prisons and prisoners in Iran, particularly the political prisoners. We demand the release of all political prisoners.

This was certainly a message adopted by a number of participants in Wednesday’s virtual conference, many of whom emphasized the significance of November 27 as the forthcoming start date for a trial in Belgium of the Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi. The third counselor at the Iranian embassy in Vienna, Assadi was identified as the mastermind behind the 2018 terror plot, which was to involve the smuggling of high-explosives and a detonator into the NCRI rally, with the intention of killing the coalition’s leader Maryam Rajavi, as well as any supporters in her immediate vicinity.

Had the plot not been foiled, the list of casualties would have almost certainly included high-profile European and/or American dignitaries, possibly including some of the MEPs who also contributed remarks to Wednesday’s conference. Naturally, those participants are taking a personal interest in the Assadi case, but their latest commentary mostly emphasized the importance of holding the Iranian regime as a whole accountable for its long history of terrorism, terrorist financing, and human right violations both at home and abroad.

Assadi’s trial will be the first to formally implicate a professional Iranian diplomat in such terrorist activity, and supporters of the Iranian Resistance are hopeful that it will set the stage for a broader pattern of legal and diplomatic pressures on those who have played a direct role in some of Tehran’s most serious malign activities. For those supporters, and certainly for the Resistance itself, no such pressures are more important than those which might lead to accountability for participation in the regime’s massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988.

That massacre has been the focus of countless action statements by the NCRI and by Western political groups that support the coalition’s pursuit of justice. The 32-year-old crime against humanity began when “death commissions” convened in numerous Iranian prisons with the goal of crushing opposition to the theocratic system. The MEK, in particular, became the focus of interrogation by those death commissions, and after a period of several months its members came to comprise the overwhelming majority of the approximately 30,000 victims.

To this day, no one has been held accountable for these killings. Quite to the contrary, leading perpetrators have been rewarded repeatedly by their own government while being effectively ignored by Tehran’s supposed foreign adversaries. Today, those perpetrators include both the head of the Iranian judiciary and the nation’s Justice Minister, alongside a host of other officials. And those figures now play a significant role in guiding the regime’s strategy for confronting a Resistance movement that it failed to destroy 32 years earlier.

Wednesday’s conference highlighted this situation in order to suggest that it is in Western nations’ own interest to confront Tehran’s current and past crimes, because an enduring sense of impunity prompts hardline officials to make further attempts on the lives of Resistance leaders, risking collateral damage among Western nationals in the process. But conference participants also insisted that even in absence of such clear threats to their own security, Western governments would still have a responsibility to sanction and diplomatically isolate the Iranian regime for violently cracking down on the democratic Resistance.

What’s more, the “correct policy” recommendations that emerged out of the conference included formal recognition of that Resistance movement.

coronavirus

Russia has launched a propaganda campaign to smear the coronavirus vaccine being developed by Oxford University scientists

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The Kremlin is accused of spreading fear about the serum, claiming it will turn people into monkeys. The Russians base the suggestion on the fact the vaccine is using a chimpanzee virus. The Russians have disseminated pictures and memes of Prime Minister Boris Johnson looking like “a yeti”. It’s captioned: “I like my bigfoot vaccine”.

And other shows a “monkey” scientist holding a syringe and working on the treatment.

The monkey is wearing an AstraZeneca lab coat.

The pharmaceutical giant is at the forefront of developing a vaccine.

Last month the London Globe and the EU Reporter carried stories about the Russian campaign.

Both publications have since removed two articles from their online sites.

Publisher Colin Stevens said:

“We were given the story by a freelance journalist in Brussels.

“However, after an investigation by The Times we now know the story has no basis.

“When I heard the stories were false, they were taken down straightaway.

“Sadly, we have been the unwilling victims of a Russian campaign to discredit the excellent work being done by Oxford University scientists.

“Even the very best get caught out now and again. Indeed even the Times was fooled into publishing the fake "Hitler Diaries" some years ago.”

AstraZeneca's chief executive Pascal Soriot condemned attempts to undermine their work.

He said: “Scientists at AstraZeneca and at many other companies and institutions around the world are working tirelessly to develop a vaccine and therapeutic treatments to defeat this virus.

“But it is independent experts and regulatory agencies across the world that ultimately decide if a vaccine is safe and effective before it is approved for use.

“Misinformation is a clear risk to public health.

“This is especially true during the current pandemic which continues to claim tens of thousands of lives, significantly disrupt the way we live and damage the economy.”

Professor Pollard, who is professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity at the University of Oxford, told BBC Radio Four's Today programme:

“The type vaccine we have is very very similar to a number of other vaccines, including the Russian vaccine, all of which use the common cold virus from humans or from chimpanzees.

“To our bodies, the viruses look the same.

“We don't actually have any chimpanzees involved at all in the process of making the vaccine, because it is all about the virus, rather than animals it might more commonly

Meanwhile, Doctor Hilary Jones told Good Morning Britain the attempts at disinformation were “utterly ridiculous and shameful”.

He added:

“Oxford have a fantastic reputation; they are doing this thoroughly and are looking at thousands of people from all different groups and ages.

“They are doing this safely and effectively and for the Russians to try to besmirch what they are trying to do because parts of the vaccine comes from chimpanzee material is utterly ridiculous and shameful.

“I would put my money on Oxford every time.”

A Russian Embassy spokesman in London said: “The suggestion that the Russian state may conduct any kind of propaganda against the AstraZeneca vaccine is itself an example of disinformation.

“It is obviously aimed at discrediting Russia's efforts in combating the pandemic, including the good co-operation we have established with the UK in this field.”

 

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China

Could the digital Renminbi address China’s vulnerability to the global financial system?

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The international financial system is dominated by the US. Washington has often used its clout in the international financial system to further its economic and geopolitical interests through financial sanctions. As antagonism between the US and China moves beyond trade and technology, how the US-China rivalry will play out in the new stage of international finance is a matter of great concern to the world.

China has been working on a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) since 2014, and is intensifying its efforts to internationalise the Renminbi.

On the surface it appears the CBDC will be for domestic use, but a CBDC will simplify cross border transactions. For a long time, the country has been dissatisfied with the U.S. Dollar’s (USD) ongoing role as the global reserve currency and is committed to extending its currency’s reach.

It even has an initiative to denominate international trade credit in Renminbi (RMB) rather than dollars. And the Belt and Road Initiative has seen China extend more than $1 trillion in foreign loans.

At a recent online global seminar organised by the Pangoal Institution China and the Centre for New Inclusive Asia Malaysia, experts from China, Russia, Europe and the US deliberated and disussed the issue.

One of the key speakers was Mr Ali Amirliravi, CEO and Founder of LGR Crypto Bank of Switzerland. and creator of the Silk Road Coin digital currency.

Mr Ali Amirliravi, CEO and Founder of LGR Crypto Bank

Mr Ali Amirliravi, CEO and Founder of LGR Crypto Bank

He addressed China’s vulnerability to the global financial system, and said:

“This is a very interesting question as there are a lot of factors to consider. To begin, I think it might be helpful to define China’s vulnerabilities specifically. We are speaking about international finance here (it’s a very complex and politically charged system) and since the second world war, the space has been more or less dominated by the interests of the US. We see this in the global dominance that the US dollar has held for the last 70 years. We see that in the steps that Washington has taken to ensure that the dollar acts as the global reserve currency - particularly in industries like the global oil trade. Up until quite recently, it was probably difficult to even imagine a global financial system that was not directly supported by the US dollar.

By virtue of this global reliance, the American political machine was given significant power to wield in international finance. The best evidence of this can probably be found in the history of crippling economic sanctions that the US has enacted against specific states - the impacts of which can be devastating. In a nutshell, it’s an asymmetrical power dynamic wherein the US has carved out a significant negotiating  advantage over other countries.

LGR Crypto Bank of Switzerland

LGR Crypto Bank of Switzerland

Put it this way: when the global economic system is built to fit the domestic currency of a specific state, it is easy to see how that state would be able to tailor certain policies and promote behaviours that would further their own geopolitical interests - this has been the American reality for the last few decades.

But things change. Technology advances, political relationships evolve, and international trade and money flows continue to expand and grow - now incorporating more people, countries and businesses than ever before. All of these factors (economic, political, technological, societal) work to shape the reality of the international order, and we are now at a place where a serious discussion about a replacement for the US dollar is warranted - that’s why I am excited to be here speaking about this issue today, it’s really time to have the conversation.

So, now that we have set the scene, let’s tackle the question: could the creation of a digital Renminbi address the vulnerability and asymmetry that China is dealing with in international finance? I really don’t think this is a simple yes or no answer here, in fact I think it is valuable to consider the question with a broad outlook on development over the next few years.

 

SHORT-TERM

Starting with the short term, let’s put the question like this: will the digital renminbi have significant impact internationally immediately following launch. The answer here I think is no, and there are a few reasons for that. First of all, let’s consider the intention of the issuer, the Chinese central bank. Reports show that the initial focus of the DRMB project is domestic, the Chinese government is looking to challenge private sector digital payment methods like AliPay etc., and getting the broader population used to the idea of Central Bank-issued digital currencies powering the majority of economic transactions in the country. To put it simply, the scope of the first stage of the DRMB launch is too small and domestically focused to directly impact the international system - there just won’t be enough DRMB in circulation globally.

There is another point to consider in the short-term: voluntary acceptance. Even if stage one of the DRMB project did have an international focus and was committed to minting huge amounts of digital currency, international impact requires international use - meaning that other countries would have to voluntarily accept and support the project in the early stages. How likely is this to happen? Well it’s a bit of a mixed bag, we’ve seen a few agreements start to pop-up between China and some countries in Central Asia as well as South Korea and Russia, which outline future frameworks for DRMB acceptance and trade, however there isn’t too much in place yet. And that’s just it: before the DRMB can have international impact, there needs to be widespread international access and acceptance, and I don’t see that happening in the short-term.

 

MID-TERM

Let’s move to a mid-term analysis. So imagine that phase 1 of the DRMB is complete and we have individuals and corporations in China accepting, transacting and trading it. What will phase 2 look like? I think we will start to see China expanding the scope of the DRMB project and incorporating it into their international development and infrastructure projects. If we consider the scope of the Belt and Road Initiative and China’s commitments and focus on development and investment across central Asia, Europe and parts of Africa, it is clear that there are many opportunities to promote and incentivize use of the DRMB internationally.

A great example to consider is the group of countries that make up the Silk Road area (about 70 countries). China is participating in infrastructure projects here, but it is also promoting increased trade in the area - and that means a lot of money moving cross-border. This is actually an area that my company LGR Crypto Bank is focused on - our goal is to make cross-border payments and trade finance transparent, fast and secure - and in an area with over 70 different currencies and incredibly disparate compliance requirements, this is not always an easy task.

Here is precisely where I think the DRMB could add a lot of value - in clearing up the confusion and opacity that comes with cross-border money movement and complex trade finance transactions. I believe that one way the DRMB will be marketed to China’s trade and development partners is a way to bring transparency and speed in complicated transactions and international transfers. These are real problems, especially in the multi-commodity trade business, and they can cause serious delays and business interruptions- If the Chinese government can prove that adoption of the DRMB will address these issues, then I think we will see real eagerness in the market.

At LGR Crypto Bank, we are already researching, modelling and designing our own money movement and trade finance platforms to work in harmony with digital currencies, particularly our own Silk Road Coin and the Digital Renminbi - we are ready to offer customers the best in class finance options as soon as they are made available.

When it comes to the international stage, I think that China will use its BRI as a proving ground for the DRMB in real-world commerce. By doing this, they will start to develop a network of DRMB acceptance across the Silk Road Countries and will be able to point to successful infrastructure projects as proof of the success of the Digital Renminbi. If this phase is carried out properly, I think it will create a very good foundation of DRMB acceptance that can be built on and expanded globally. The next step would likely be Europe - this is something of a natural extension of the Silk Road Area, and also ties in to the reality of increased trade between the EU and China. It’s important to note that if we consider all of the domestic economies that make up the Euro block together, it is the largest importer/exporter in the world- it would be an incredible opportunity for China to bring international attention to the DRMB and prove its capabilities in the West.

 

Long-term

In the long-term, I do think that it is possible for the DRMB to gain high levels of international traction and achieve some level of global acceptance. Again, it will all depend on the success of the Chinese government in making the case for adoption throughout the earlier phases. The value propositions of central bank digital currencies are very clear (increased transaction speed, improved transparency, fewer middlemen, less delays, etc.), and China is certainly not the only one developing such an asset. Currently, however, China is a leader and if they can execute an expansion plan without too many issues along the way, this head-start could make it difficult for other state offerings to catch-up. Maybe not, though.

It could be that in the long-term, all states will have a sovereign digital currency - and this begs the question: in the age of digital currencies, is there still a need for a global reserve currency? I’m not sure. What would the value add be of a reserve currency when central bank digital currencies could be traded effortlessly with immediate settlement times? Maybe reserve currencies will simply become a relic of an outdated financial system.

Looking forward to the long-term, I can imagine 2 scenarios where the DRMB could alleviate China’s vulnerabilities in the international financial system:

  • The DRMB becomes the new world reserve currency
  • The notion of a world reserve currency becomes obsolete and the new economic order runs on state-backed digital currencies operating without a hierarchy.

Whatever happens, I do believe we are on the cusp of a major change in global finance. There is no doubt that digital currencies, specifically central bank digital currencies, will play a massive role in defining the new economic paradigm. I believe that China is making great moves in leading the pack on this, and I know that at LGR Crypto Bank we look forward to adopting the DRMB where we can to further optimize and expedite the money movement and trade finance solutions that we offer to our customers.

 

 

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Armenia

Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Armenia continues bombing civilians

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Azerbaijani authorities have reported an attack on a residential area in Ganja, the country's second largest city, with at least nine dead and 34 injured, on Sunday, October 11. President Ilham Aliev has denounced this violation of the ceasefire only just agreed by both sides.

Azerbaijan accused Armenia of not respecting the truce agreement that entered into force the day before, and of continuing the bombing of civilian areas. In the afternoon, no exchange of prisoners or bodies had been announced, a stated objective of the humanitarian ceasefire negotiated in Moscow, which was due to come into force on Saturday at 12 p.m. local time.

In Ganja, journalists saw Azerbaijani rescuers at work in the rubble of a building, from which two bodies were removed. A total of nine apartments were destroyed, according to witnesses, by a strike at 2 a.m. (local time).

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev denounced the attack on Twitter as a "flagrant violation of the ceasefire" and a "war crime".

"The Armenian armed forces do not respect the humanitarian truce and continue to fire rockets and artillery on the towns and villages of Azerbaijan".

Armenia denies bombing Ganja.

Araïk Haroutiounian, the self-proclaimed “president” in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, said Sunday morning that his troops respected "the ceasefire agreement" and considered the situation "calmer" than the day before.

"As long as the shooting continues, there will be no exchange" of prisoners or bodies, warned the separatist leader in the morning.

The humanitarian truce was negotiated by the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers, under the aegis of Russia.

The Russian and Turkish foreign ministers called, in a Russian statement given after their telephone conversation, for "the need to strictly respect all the provisions" of the agreement.

The European Union (EU) has expressed “extreme concern” over violations of the truce in Nagorno-Karabakh.

"We take note with extreme concern of reports of continued military activities, especially against civilian targets, and civilian casualties," EU foreign minister Joseph Borrell said in a statement on Sunday.

An Azerbaijani spokesman said, “Indifference to the tragedy in Azerbaijan today could lead Europe to greater instability and tragedies in the future”.

He named the current stance of the EU ineffective, stating that the silence over human tragedy in Ganja and making veiled general statements will only encourage Armenia to continue its war crimes.

President of the EU Council Charles Michel responded to the situation in a tweet, saying:

“The humanitarian ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan is an essential step towards de-escalation. I call on parties to observe ceasefire and to avoid further violence and putting civilians at risk. Negotiations without preconditions must resume without delay #NagornoKarabakh”.

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