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Inside the Iran Nuke Talks

All eyes are on Vienna as delegations from the USA, Germany, France, the UK, Russia and China meet with Iranian officials in a final push to secure a comprehensive agreement over Iran’s nuclear program. They have until July 20 to come to terms.

The negotiations are complex and the issues vexing. But one thing is certain: if an agreement is struck it could change international relations in the entire Middle East and even the world.

Here to take us inside the negotiations is veteran journalist Laura Rozen. She sets the scene for what to expect in Vienna in the coming days. I then speak with Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association who breaks down the wonky key points of negotiation in an easily digestible way.

I think you’ll enjoy this episode. This is a hugely significant moment for Obama’s foreign policy legacy, the Middle East, and the cause of non-proliferation. Have a listen. And remember to subscribe on iTunes! 

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Previous episodes

Episode 23: Jillian York, Digital Free Speech defender

Turkey’s Strategic Interests in Iraq

Episode 22: Live from the UN, 2014 (Vol 1); A special edition, featuring the President of the General Assembly,  the UN Ambassadors from Vietnam and Jamaica, the head of the UN Association, and more!

The UN’s View of the Iraq Crisis

Episode 21: Thomas Pickering, former Ambassador to the UN, Israel, Jordan, Russia, India and more.

Dying for the World Cup

Episode 20: Jessica Tuchman Matthews, foreign policy trendsetter

Egypt After the Counter Revolution 

Episode 19: Louise Arbour, human rights pioneer.

What Obama Left Out of His Big Foreign Policy Speech

Episode 18: Zalmay Khalizad, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the UN.

Why Libya is Suddenly on the Verge of a Civil War 

Episode 17: Gov Bill Richardson, he frees hostages.

The Foreign Policy Implications of India’s Elections

Episode 16: Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children

What Boko Haram Wants

Episode: 15 Laura Turner Seydel, philanthropist

Episode 14: Douglas Ollivant, Iraq expert

Episode 13: Gary Bass, historian

Episode 12: Mark Montgomery, demographer

Episode 11: Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watcher

Episode 10: Live from the UN, Volume 2.

Episode 9: Mia Farrow, humanitarian activist and Goodwill Ambassador

Episode 8: Suzanne Nossel, Big Thinker

Episode 7: Live from the UN, Volume 1. 

Episode 6: PJ Crowley, former State Department Spokesperson

Episode 5: Octavia Nasr, reporter

Episode 4: Arsalan Iftikhar, “The Muslim Guy”

Episode 3: Dodge Billingsley, filmmaker.

Episode 2: Laura Seay,  @TexasinAfrica

Episode 1: Heather Hurlburt, national security wonk

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Top of the Morning: Ebola Outbreak Getting Worse

Health ministers from across western Africa, the United Nations and NGOs met on Wednesday in a show of force against the Ebola outbreak, which has now claimed 467 people dead, a nearly 40% rise since last week. “”These kinds of outbreaks, these diseases, can be stopped,” Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general for health security at the WHO, told AFP, as 11 west African health ministers gathered for a two-day conference in Accra on combatting the killer pathogen.”This is not a unique situation — we have faced it many times — so I’m quite confident that we can handle this. “This is, however, the most complicated Ebola outbreak ever because it is spreading so fast in both urban and rural areas.  (AFP

More Ebola News…

The Red Cross in Guinea said on Wednesday it had been forced to suspend operations tackling Ebola in the country’s southeast after staff there were threatened by a group of men armed with knives. (Reuters

People at high risk of dying in West Africa’s Ebola outbreak should be offered experimental medicines to see if they work, despite the drugs being not fully tested, the head of an influential global health charity said. (Reuters

Israel+Palestine on the Edge…”The body of an abducted Palestinian youth was found in Jerusalem on Wednesday, raising suspicions he had been killed by Israelis avenging the deaths of three abducted Jewish teens. News of the discovery of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khudair, who was last seen being bundled into a van earlier in the day, triggered clashes between rock-throwing Palestinians and Israeli police in the city.”  (Reuters

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Ethiopia is facing a huge wave of refugees from South Sudan, where the spectre of famine threatens to heap further misery on a people already rocked by civil war, the UN’s food aid agency warned on Wednesday. (AP

Proposals to review the Democratic Republic of Congo’s constitution to permit President Joseph Kabila to seek a third term of office, if accepted, will only plunge the Congolese further into poverty and insecurity, experts warn. (IPS

African countries are coming under strong pressure from the United States and the European Union to reverse the decision adopted by their trade ministers to implement the World Trade Organization’s trade facilitation agreement on a “provisional” basis. (IPS

Nigeria is suffering greater carnage at the hands of Islamist group Boko Haram than it did during a secessionist civil war, yet this has ironically made the country’s break-up less likely, Nigerian Nobel Literature Laureate Wole Soyinka said. (Reuters


Hundreds of African immigrants began a hunger strike this week after Israeli police forcibly broke up a sit-in they were staging near the Egyptian border. (Guardian


Rescuers in India pulled another 20 bodies from the ruins of a collapsed building, bringing to 49 the death toll since the weekend with slim chances of finding more survivors, police said. (AP

Greenpeace campaigners are concerned that they could be deported from India ever since an intelligence report accusing several foreign-funded NGOs of stalling major infrastructure projects was leaked this month. (Guardian

After suffering for years from a stagnant economy and inflation on basic items like food, even middle-class Pakistanis are feeling the economic pinch.  As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins in Pakistan, many people are taking advantage of free iftar dinners sponsored by charities and wealthy individuals. (VOA

The cost of health care is throwing many poor Afghans into a cycle of debt. While most now have access to basic public health care, the quality is so low that many patients seek out private services at a higher cost than they can afford – driving some of them further into poverty. (IRIN

Police in Hong Kong arrested more than 500 protesters from an overnight sit-in early Wednesday that followed a massive pro-democracy rally. (VOA

Prominent international human rights experts are calling on the Taiwan government to quickly enact a comprehensive anti-discrimination act, revamp the law on citizenship and take a wide range of other actions to curb gender discrimination. (IPS

The Americas

As the costs of climate change continue to mount, officials with the Commonwealth grouping say it is vital that Small Island Developing States (SIDS) stick together on issues such as per capita income classification. (IPS


Understanding the EU Human Rights Court’s Big Ruling on France’s Headscarf Band (UN Dispatch

The time to act against Tuberculosis is now (Humanosphere

How aid agencies can find their path in fragile states (Chris Blattman

Republican family values put women’s lives in danger worldwide (Guardian

Carbon taxes in South Africa: The political and technical challenges of pricing carbon (ODI

Attack of the Big Tobacco Mutants (CGD

New Zealand aid needs more gender mainstreaming (Dev Policy

Nigeria’s bride price app may be a joke, but it’s not funny (Ms Afropolitan

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Understanding the EU Human Rights Court’s Big Ruling on France’s Headscarf Ban

The 2011 French law banning women from wearing the burqa or niqab in public was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), in a decision released on July 1. The ECHR, established in 1959 through the European Convention on Human Rights, is supposed to rule on cases where EU member states are violating human, civil and political rights laid out in the Convention. Its decisions are final, and no appeal can be made. In this particular case, an anonymous French woman brought her case to the court, arguing that the law violated her rights and freedoms, including freedom of religion, of expression, and her right to privacy.

The law in question, which came into effect in France in 2011, was supported by a huge majority in France’s legislative chambers. In fact, there appears to be a general consensus in France concerning the fact that the burqa and niqab have no place in French society. Opinion poll after opinion poll show that a significant majority of respondents – regardless of their political affiliation – support the ban. The predominant sentiment is that if one wishes to live in and benefit from what France has to offer, one must respect the secularist nation’s societal choices. Many argue that the facial coverings are the outward symbols of a patriarchal, oppressive culture which belittles women and is not compatible with the “liberté, égalité, fraternité” values of French culture.

Interestingly, the law does not prohibit only religious coverings, but bans all full-facial coverings – as such, motorcycle helmets and balaclavas also fall under this law. But the intent and the spirit of the law has been clear since it was first presented by the Sarkozy government back in 2010: the burqa and niqab do not “fit” in French society. While the law only directly affects an estimated 1,500 or so women in France – a very small fraction of the overall Muslim population – it has had a polarizing effect. In a socio-political context where there is constant tension and heated debates over immigration and “French identity”, and a corresponding, steady rise of support for extreme right politics, French Muslims and Muslim immigrants in France feel targeted and stigmatized for their beliefs and their religious and cultural practices.

The ECHR decision was not surprising – the Court is not known to go against the interests of member states. In 2011, a former ECHR judge wrote about the “reluctance [of the court] to find violations in sensitive matters affecting the interests of the respondent States.” Indeed, this particular law – in spite of its majority support – is highly controversial in France. As noted above, it has lead to increased polarization, and is a hot button issue. The ECHR did not recognize the arguments put forward by France that the ban was necessary on security grounds, but decided to uphold the law based on the argument that it was needed for improved social cohesion, in order to preserve the conditions to “live together” (“la préservation des conditions du ‘vivre ensemble’.) In France, it seems, to “live together” means to adopt the social mores dictated by the State. 

Photo credit: Charles Roffey’s Flickr photostream

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Ban Ki Moon’s Two Top Agenda Items

Ban Ki Moon sat down for an interview as part of LinkedIn’s influencer series. It’s an interesting conversation. The Secretary General very clearly articulates how he is trying to achieve his two top goals for his remaining two years at the United Nations: fighting climate change and improving gender equality.

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Top of the Morning: Yet Another Boko Haram Attack

Yet another Boko Haram Attack…A bomb in a van carrying charcoal exploded in a busy market in northeast Nigeria on Tuesday, killing at least 20 people in the latest suspected attack by Islamist militants, witnesses said. (Reuters


Food Aid Cuts for African Refugees…here’s simply not enough money, so the World Food Program and UN Refugee Agency are cutting rations for African Refugees, mostly from South Sudan and CAR. They need a combined $224 million through December. “Supplies have been cut by at least 50 per cent for nearly 450,000 refugees in remote camps and other sites in the Central African Republic, Chad and South Sudan. Another 338,000 refugees in Liberia, Burkina Faso,Mozambique, Ghana, Mauritania and Uganda have seen their rations reduced by between five and 43 per cent. In addition, a series of unexpected, temporary ration reductions has affected camps in several countries since early 2013 and into 2014, including in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon. Some cuts were also due to insecurity that affected deliveries.” (WFP


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Violence in hospitals and the destruction of health facilities are denying medical care to many of South Sudan’s most vulnerable people. (MSF

The United States on Tuesday blacklisted a Ugandan Islamic group, the Allied Democratic Forces, for targeting children in armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Reuters

The United Nations says gender-based violence against Central African Republic refugees in East Cameroon is very high and is calling on the government in Yaounde to do more to protect these vulnerable women. (VOA

Funding for the Sudan coordinated humanitarian funding is in drastic decline: from USD 80 million in 2012 to USD 56 million in 2013 and down to an expected USD 43 million for 2014. (OCHA

Cameroon has cut some of its costly fuel subsidies, a move that will please international donors calling for reforms but has in the past been reversed due to the threat of protests against subsequent price rise. (Reuters

The outlook through the July to August lean season in Djibouti points to worsening household food security, attributed to reduced livestock productivity due to early erosion of key grazing resources, reduced labor opportunities, lowered access to humanitarian assistance, exacerbated by an extended lean season. (FEWS Net

The streets of Addis Ababa are increasingly turning into water-logged obstacle courses as downpours increase in the run up to Ethiopia’s July to September rainy season. (IPS

Tobacco is a big earner for many Ugandans, but a bill threatening to restrict the sale of cigarettes has sparked concern. (Guardian


Saudi Arabia pledged $500 million in humanitarian aid for Iraq on Tuesday, to be disbursed through the United Nations to those in need regardless of sect or ethnicity, state media reported. (AP

The retaliation beings: Israeli aircraft pounded dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in revenge for the abduction and murder of three teenagers, whose funeral later in the day drew huge crowds of mourners and sparked a nationwide outpouring of grief and anger. (WaPo


Hong Kong’s largest ever pro Democracy protest drew hundreds of thousands to the streets in defiance of Beijing. (Bloomberg

Cambodian workers are returning to Thailand after a mass exodus in the past six weeks drove an estimated 200,000 to their home country, fearful of a rumored Thai government crackdown on workers. (VOA

Bangladesh is moving to boost maternal health services in poorly-served rural areas by targeting voice and text messages at expectant and pregnant mothers and their families. (IRIN

France has proposed to give India a $1.4 billion credit line to fund sustainable infrastructure and urban development projects, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said. (AFP

The Americas

As fans enjoy football’s month-long World Cup, Brazilian authorities are pleased over the boost they say the tournament is giving the country’s economy. However, independent analysts who study such mega-events are less enthusiastic. (VOA


Did the Millennium Development Goals accomplish anything? (Humanosphere

Lib Dems’ bid to enshrine UN aid target in UK law is pre-election hand grenade (Guardian

Mind the gap: why UN development goals must tackle economic inequality (Guardian

Malawi: Peter Mutharika must win back donor support by showing he is more than just Bingu’s brother (African Arguments

Development must be seized, through struggle. It cannot be given. (Chris Blattman

Forced Migration as a Weapon of War in Iraq and Beyond (UN Dispatch

Is South Sudan “the World’s Most Failed State?” (Reinvenventing Peace

Please steal these killer facts: a crib sheet for advocacy on aid, development, inequality etc (From Poverty to Power

Rethinking US Foreign Assistance: Another High-Powered Advisory Group Calls for US Development Finance Bank (CGD

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image credit WFP

Standing in an Empty Warehouse, WFP Official Issues a Dire Warning

The director of the World Food Program in Chad stands in an empty warehouse and warns us of a looming catastrophe. But will the world listen?

The crises in the Central African Republic and South Sudan are placing a heavy burden on humanitarian operations in the region. The World Food Program and the UN Refugee Agency are being forced to cut rations for about 800,000 refugees in Africa. 

Across Africa, 2.4 million refugees in some 200 sites in 22 countries depend on regular food aid from the World Food Programme. Currently, a third of those refugees have seen reductions in their rations, with refugees inChad facing cuts as high as 60 per cent.

Supplies have been cut by at least 50 per cent for nearly 450,000 refugees in remote camps and other sites in the Central African Republic, Chad and South Sudan. Another 338,000 refugees in LiberiaBurkina Faso,MozambiqueGhanaMauritania and Uganda have seen their rations reduced by between five and 43 per cent.

In addition, a series of unexpected, temporary ration reductions has affected camps in several countries since early 2013 and into 2014, including in Uganda, KenyaEthiopiaRepublic of CongoDemocratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon. Some cuts were also due to insecurity that affected deliveries.

“The number of crises around the world is far outpacing the level of funding for humanitarian operations, and vulnerable refugees in critical operations are falling through the cracks,” said High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “It is unacceptable in today’s world of plenty for refugees to face chronic hunger or that their children drop out of school to help families survive,” he said, calling for a rethink on funding for displacement situations worldwide.

The agencies need a total of $224 million between now and December to restore full calorie counts to vulnerable and food insecure refugee populations in Africa. If they do not secure that funding, the consequences could be dire. Stunting  – which occurs when children do not get adequate nutrition during a critial period of childhood — is already a problem. It results in poor physical and intellectual development, and could have devastating social consequences for a generation.  Again, here’s the WFP

Nutritional surveys conducted between 2011 and 2013 showed that stunting and anaemia among children was already at critical levels in the majority of the refugee sites. Only one of 92 surveyed camps, for example, met the agencies’ goal of fewer than 20 per cent of refugee children suffering from anaemia. And fewer than 15 per cent of camps surveyed met the target of less than 20 per cent stunting among children. The surveys also showed that acute malnutrition levels among children under five years of age remain unacceptably high in more than 60 per cent of the sites.

$224 million is not an enormous sum, particularly when spread among many donors. The consequences of continued food shortages in this region could sow instability, hinder economic development and prevent durable solutions to the crisis in South Sudan and CAR. Donors need to pony up. And fast.


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