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Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Rio+20 summit: Business chiefs pledge to value earth's natural assets

RIO DE JANEIRO: Some 39 chief executives of banks, investment funds and insurance firms pledged at a Rio+20 business forum to integrate the Earth's natural capital into loans and investments.

Twenty years after the first Earth Summit highlighted the importance of the natural environment, they unveiled a "Natural Capital Declaration" that commit their companies also to reporting or disclosing on the theme of natural capital and accounting for natural capital in accounting frameworks.

Natural capital comprises Earth's natural assets (soil, air, water, flora and fauna) and the ecosystem services flowing from them. Neither these services nor the stock of natural capital that provides them are adequately valued compared to social and financial capital, the signatories said.

The declaration calls on the private and public sectors to work together to create the conditions necessary to "maintain and enhance natural capital as a critical economic, ecological and social asset."

It also urges policy-makers at the UN-sponsored Rio+20 conference to move forward in crafting legislation and regulations that can spur the development of financial products and services that sustain the earth's natural capital.

Among those who signed were chief executives of China Merchants Bank, National Australia Bank, Japan's Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Holding and China's Shenzhen Development Bank.

The World Wide Fund for Nature ( WWF), the Carbon Disclosure Project, Fauna and Flora International and Conservation International were the first four non-governmental, not-for-profit organisations to back the initiative.

"The private sector must build momentum post-Rio to ensure that valuing natural capital becomes embedded into both public and private sector investment decisions," said WWF's Director General Jim Leape. "To achieve this, new indicators may be needed and governance arrangements may need to change. The private sector has a key role to play," he added.

World leaders are to meet here June 20-22 to mull prospects for spurring sustainable development that would reconcile economic growth with poverty eradication and environmental protection.

Tense Iran Nuclear Talks Resume in Moscow

MOSCOW — Talks between Iran and six world powers went into a second day on Tuesday morning, as negotiators sought a compromise that would head off the danger of military confrontation over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

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Monday’s talks made it clear that the room for agreement is vanishingly small. Iran has signaled it may be willing to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, which is considered a technical step short of bomb-grade but it seeks a weighty political message in return: an acknowledgment from the international community that it has the right to enrich uranium.
Iran is also hoping for a rollback of the tough sanctions by the European Union and the United States scheduled to take effect in the coming weeks, which will further isolate Tehran from world oil and banking markets.
Iran received no such assurances on Monday from the six world powers, which consist of the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — as well as Germany.
But on Tuesday a senior Russian official was quoted as saying the negotiations with Iran would not collapse.
“I don’t think anything will break down. We will have a reasonable outcome,” Sergei Ryabkov, a deputy foreign minister who heads the Russian delegation at the discussions, told Reuters after meeting representatives of the world powers at a Moscow hotel.
On Monday, a spokesman for Catherine Ashton, who is the European Union’s top foreign policy official and the lead negotiator with Iran for the so-called P5-plus-1 countries, described the first day’s talks as “intense and tough.”
In an afternoon session, Iranian negotiators picked apart a package of enticements that the six world powers first offered last month in Baghdad, which includes parts for old American civilian aircraft and fuel for an Iranian nuclear reactor, with the promise of more sanctions relief in return for specific Iranian actions to come into compliance over time.
“They responded to our package of proposals from Baghdad, but in doing so, brought up lots of questions and well-known positions, including past grievances,” said Ms. Ashton’s spokesman, Michael Mann. Analysts said the six powers might be willing to relax one of the sanctions that is threatening Iran: a provision that bans insurers based in Europe from covering ships that carry Iranian oil anywhere in the world.
The measure would significantly reduce Iran’s shipments to Asia, which make up most of the 2.2 million barrels it still exports daily. It met with resistance last month from Britain, a center of the marine insurance industry.
Cliff Kupchan, an Iran analyst at Eurasia Group, a consulting firm, said the ban could be carried out on schedule and then eased month by month if Iran were seen to be complying with the P5-plus-1’s central demands: ceasing enrichment of uranium to 20 percent and exporting its stockpile of the material.
“I can’t think of anything else that they could give, or that has been discussed among people involved,” Mr. Kupchan said.
Mr. Mann, Ms. Ashton’s spokesman, said the six powers were not offering to delay or waive sanctions until Iran had proved its willingness to comply with international agreements.
“Sanctions policy by definition is always under review, but can only be eased in response to real changes on the ground, so there is no question that our sanctions will come into force on the first of July,” he said.
The Moscow talks appeared rocky starting early in the day, when an Iranian diplomat described the atmosphere as “not positive” and said the discussions might even conclude on Monday, a day earlier than expected. Diplomats on all sides were unusually tight-lipped as they went in and out of negotiating sessions, heightening the sense of tension.
But the Iranian assessment brightened somewhat by evening: Ali Baqeri, deputy chief of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said the discussion had been “very serious and constructive” when Iran had the opportunity to detail its complaints.
Much seemed to hang on a meeting on Monday night between the head of the Iranian delegation, Saeed Jalili, and Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s National Security Council and a former head of the Federal Security Service.
A breakdown in the talks would increase the risk of a new war in the Middle East, after months of tension over whether Israel, which considers Iran a threat to its existence, will carry out a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program. Iran is in violation of Security Council resolutions demanding that it suspend enrichment, and it has failed to ease concerns that its nuclear program is aimed at building a bomb, an accusation Iran denies.
“We all have to remember what we are doing here,” said a Western official shortly before the talks began, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the talks. “The international community’s concern is to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That is what it is fundamentally about.”
Iranian news media portrayed the talks in Moscow in an unflattering light, with the Fars News Agency reporting that the proceedings demonstrated that Western powers were not interested in reaching a comprehensive solution. Without directly referring to the negotiations, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, released a speech castigating Iran’s enemies, saying their “misplaced arrogance and grandiosity will lead to nowhere.”
Iran is negotiating under duress because of the intensifying sanctions, which Ayatollah Khamenei has characterized as “economic jihad.” The value of Iran’s currency, the rial, has dropped by 50 percent over the past 10 months, and inflation of food products exceeds 40 percent, said Mr. Kupchan, the analyst. The West, convinced that sanctions have induced Tehran to negotiate, is threatening to squeeze Iran’s economy further.
Russian experts have played down chances for a breakthrough, saying domestic politics in Iran and the United States make it difficult for either to compromise.
“We must understand that for President Barack Obama, neither a final positive or negative solution is possible because he will face criticism for either one,” said Vladimir Sazhin, a top Iran expert with the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “With Iran, the situation coincides completely with the situation in the United States. Iran doesn’t need one decision or the other.”
Thomas Erdbrink contributed reporting from Tehran, and Alan Cowell from London.

Syria crisis: US and Russia divided on Assad's future - live updates

• Obama and Putin call for peace but split over Assad
• Robert Mood to brief UNSC on suspended observer mission
• Muslim Brotherhood vows to defy Egypt's generals
This page will update automatically every minute: On | Off
Vladimir Putin with Barack Obama at the G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico. Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP
10.04am: Syria: The Syrian government claims to be trying to evacuate civilians from Homs, as activists broadcast more live footage of the bombardment of the city.
"Contacts have been made with the leadership of the international monitors, in cooperation with the local Syrian authorities in the city of Homs to bring out these Syrian citizens," Syria's foreign ministry said, according to the state news agency.
After a decision to suspend the UN monitoring mission, Robert Mood, head of the mission, appealed to all parties to allow trapped civilians to flee areas worst hit by the violence.
"The parties must reconsider their position and allow women, children, the elderly and the injured to leave conflict zones, without any preconditions and ensure their safety," Mood said.
10.02am: Syria: Amid continuing reports of defections from the Syrian military, al-Jazeera is reporting that Adnan Sello, a leader of the Syria's Chemical Warfare Division, has defected and is now in Turkey. We are unable to confirm this at present but it could be an important development if true.
There has been growing concern about Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons – not because the regime is thought likely to use them but because of fears over what might happen to them should the regime fall.
The BBC quotes Leonard Spector, a nonproliferation expert based in Washington:
Syria has one of the world's largest chemical weapon arsenals, including traditional chemical agents, such as mustard, and more modern nerve agents, such as Sarin, and possibly persistent nerve agents, such as VX.
Syria is thought to have a number of major chemical weapon complexes, some in areas of current conflict, such as the Homs and Hama regions. The bases are said to be guarded by elite forces, but whether they would stay at their posts if the Assad regime collapses cannot be predicted.
Meanwhile, one of the latest unconfirmed defection videos (above), purports to show a number of high-ranking officers switching to the opposition in Homs.
9.35am: Syria: Activists in Douma, a suburb to the north-east of Damascus, claim that 29 people were killed by government forces on Monday.
The Revolutionary Command Council in Damascus Suburb said several children and military defectors were among the victims.
It posted disturbing videos claiming to show the bodies of the children who had died.
Another clip showed the physical destruction of the area.
Video has also emerged purporting to show a tank destroyed by the rebel Free Syrian Army in Douma.
8.43am: (all times BST) Welcome to Middle East Live. Syria and Egypt remain the focal points.
The main item on today's agenda is a briefing to the UN security council and by Robert Mood, the head of the supervision mission to Syria.
The official presidential election results in Egypt are not expected until tomorrow, but the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate Mohammed Morsi is claiming victory.


Barack Obama and Russia's president Vladimir Putin issued a joint call to end the violence in Syria, but the Russian president refused to support US efforts to persuade Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power. A joint statement issued after a bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, said simply that the Syrian people should independently and democratically be allowed to decide their own future, but there was no joint call for Assad to stand down, as the White House has been urging. It said:
In order to to stop the the bloodshed in Syria, we call for an immediate cessation of the violence and express full support for the efforts of the UN and Arab states joint special envoy Kofi Annan, including on moving forward on political transition to a democratic pluralist political system that would be implemented by the Syrians themselves in the framework of Syrian sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.We are united in our belief that the Syrian people should have the opportunity to independently and democratically choose their own future.

The "anodyne" statement is significant for what it does not mention, according to former US diplomat Daniel Serwer.
Neither the Russian arms shipments to the regime nor the Saudi and Qatari arms flowing to the opposition are mentioned. Ditto the suspended UN monitoring mission. There is no hint of intervention other than through the Annan plan and the UN Security Council. The Americans are essentially accepting the Russian emphasis on dialogue and peaceful means, while reiterating their hope for eventually democratic ends.
Hope is not a policy ... Anodyne is not a policy either, unless you want to convey how impotent the former superpowers have become.
Norwegian Major General Robert Mood. Robert Mood the head of the UN supervision mission in Syria is due to brief the security council after his mission was suspended over the weekend. The diplomatic blog Inner City Press says there is confusion over whether the mission activities are continuing.
Russia has raised the stakes by confirming that it was preparing to send marines to its naval base in Syria, the Telegraph reports.
The planned deployment was designed to send a powerful signal thatRussia would not tolerate foreign military intervention in Syria, according to a Western defence source. It was apparently ordered after the Kremlin came to conclusion that Western powers were preparing to circumvent the United Nations Security Council – where Russia holds a veto – by unilaterally authorising Nato military action in Syria. The source said that Russia had "completely misunderstood" Western intentions.
Up to 27 people were killed in the suburbs of Damascus on Monday as the security forces intensified a security campaign in the suburbs of the capital, according to activists. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 19 people died including two children. The activist group, the Syrian Revolution General Commission, said 27 people were killed in the area, including four children.


The Muslim Brotherhood has vowed to face down Egypt's ruling generals after declaring that its candidate had won the presidential election and would refuse to accept the junta's last-ditch attempts to engineer a constitutional coup, writes Jack Shenker and Abdel-Rahman Hussein in Cairo.
An 11th-hour constitutional declaration issued unilaterally by Scaf awarded the generals sweeping powers including the right to put forward legislation and an effective veto over clauses in the new constitution, and formalised the army's ability to detain civilians and sweep out of barracks at moments of "internal unrest".
Political analysts described the move as a constitutional obscenity and said it left the three major institutions of the post-Mubarak Egyptian state – the presidency (now curtailed), the parliament (now dissolved) and the constitutional assembly (now floundering in legal uncertainty) – all under the full or partial influence of the armed forces.
If, as expected Mohamed Morsi, is declared winner of the presidential election, the Brotherhood's decision not to boycott the poll will have been vindicated, says a Guardian editorial. The Brotherhood's candidate benefited from a sympathy vote following last week's decision to dissolve parliament, it says.
The biggest miscalculation that Egypt's ruling military council, Scaf, made was to have its judges on the constitutional council declare the Islamist-dominated parliament invalid. Two days before the presidential poll, this may have tipped the balance in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohamed Morsi. If the Brotherhood squandered public sympathy by doing little with its time in parliament, and losing 5m votes as a result, the court restored the Brotherhood's image as a victim of military fiat.
Besides, it became clear for all to see what the plan of the generals had been all along: to usurp parliament by giving itself legislative power; to usurp the constitution by creating its own body of authors; and to seize the presidency.
The United States expressed alarm that its protégés in the Egyptian army were abusing hopes for democracy by ordering more military rule, Reuters reports. "We are deeply concerned about the new amendments to the constitutional declaration, including the timing of their announcement as polls were closing," a Pentagon spokesman said.
State department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland added:
We call on Scaf to restore popular and international confidence in the democratic transition process by following through on their stated commitments to an inclusive, constitutional drafting process; the timely seating of a democratically elected parliament; and the swift, permanent transfer of power to a civilian government. There can be no going back on the democratic transition, and the United States stands with the Egyptian people in their aspiration to choose their own leaders.
The Egyptian blogger Zeinobia expresses fears of violence if Ahmed Shafiq is declared winner of the election at an announcement tomorrow.
She writes:
I fear Algerian scenario for real this time. You can not charge people with hope and victory like that , then give them the shock of their lives.
She also posted these images of Muslim Brotherhood supporters celebrating what they think was the victory of their candidate Mohamed Morsi.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, 89, has appointed his brother Prince Salman, the defence minister, as crown prince and heir apparent, ensuring a smooth succession for the world's biggest oil exporting country. The appointment, reported on state television, was announced in a royal decree one day after the burial of Crown Prince Nayef, the interior minister, who died on Saturday.

Muslim Brotherhood to march against Egypt military

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood will take part in protests across Egypt to demonstrate against sweeping new powers taken by the ruling military council.
Over the weekend, the generals issued two decrees dissolving the Islamist-dominated parliament and claiming all legislative power for themselves.
MPs are also expected to try to enter the parliament building on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, with counting in the presidential election run-off complete, both candidates are claiming victory.
Mohammed Mursi, the head of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), said on Monday that he had won 52% of the vote.

Election candidates

Ahmed Shafiq and Mohammed Mursi
Ahmed Shafiq (l)
  • Aged 70
  • Veteran fighter pilot and former air force commander
  • Appointed Egypt's first aviation minister, earning reputation for competence and efficiency
  • Promoted to PM during February 2011 protests
  • Associated with former regime, though denies being backed by ruling military council
  • Campaigned on a promise to restore security
Mohammed Mursi
  • Aged 60
  • US-educated engineering professor
  • Head of Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP)
  • Served as independent MP 2000-05
  • Quietly spoken, viewed by some as lacking charisma
  • Has promised "stability, security, justice and prosperity" under an Islamic banner
Mr Mursi promised to work "hand-in-hand with all Egyptians for a better future, freedom, democracy, development and peace".
But former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq's campaign team said their figures showed that he was ahead and that the Brotherhood had "terrorised" voters.
Independent observers and state media believe Mr Mursi has won by a margin of about three to four percentage points, or about a million votes.
The official result is scheduled to be announced on Thursday.
'Million-man march' The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) appears to be working on the assumption that Mr Mursi will win, reports the BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo.
It has made a series decrees and appointments designed to reduce or constrain the power of the president, and entrench the power of the military.
Despite opposition talk of a "military coup", it may end up being a messy compromise that everyone can live with, our correspondent says.
Voting over the weekend to choose a successor to Hosni Mubarak, who was forced to step down by last year's uprising, was overshadowed by two Scaf decrees.
The first ordered the immediate dissolution of parliament following Thursday's Supreme Constitutional Court ruling that the law governing the recent elections for the lower house was unconstitutional because party members had been allowed to contest seats in the lower house reserved for independents.
Troops were deployed outside the parliament building before the decree was issued on Saturday to prevent MPs gaining access. The FJP and the ultraconservative Salafist Nour party dominate both chambers.
The second decree, which was published after the polls closed on Sunday, amended the March 2011 constitutional declaration and gave the generals complete control over legislation and military affairs until fresh parliamentary elections are held.

Interim Constitutional Declaration

  • Issued by ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (Scaf)
  • Amends Constitutional Declaration of March 2011
  • Grants Scaf powers to initiate legislation, control budget, appoint panel to draft new constitution
  • Postpones new parliamentary elections until new constitution is approved
The Scaf will also play a significant role in running the 100-member assembly that will draft the country's new constitution.
The new president - who will take office without the oversight of a parliament and without a permanent constitution to define his powers or duties - will be able to form and dismiss a government, ratify and reject laws, and declare war, but only with Scaf's approval.
Muslim Brotherhood members are set to protest against the decrees on Tuesday by taking part in a "million-man march" - the name they give for almost any demonstration in Egypt, our correspondent adds.
At the same time, MPs may attempt to enter parliament to protest against its dissolution. Soldiers have been given orders not to let them in.
On Monday, Scaf officials restated its commitment to hand over power to the newly-elected president by 30 June.

Europe's leaders have hit back at 'lecturing' by some countries

MARK COLVIN: The Prime Minister Julia Gillard has just held a late night press conference in the Mexican resort town of Los Cabos, after a day of meetings with G20 leaders.
Discussions were predictably dominated by the eurozone crisis and Julia Gillard has been at the centre of the action.
But European leaders have also hit back at what's been perceived in some quarters as "lecturing" by other countries.
North America correspondent Jane Cowan is in Los Cabos, Mexico.
Jane, first of all there's been some debate about whether any of the critical comments were directed at Julia Gillard; what can you tell us about that?
JANE COWAN: Well Mark she's certainly dismissing that suggestion out of hand totally.
The speculation was sparked mostly by the timing of it all. Yesterday was when Julia Gillard strongly talked up Australia's economic credentials here and even suggested the solution to Europe's woes might lie in following Australia's example.
She was urging the European leaders to be courageous and was advocating a blend of not just austerity measures to rein in budgets but also investment to generate growth.
Then today the European Commissions' president, Jose Manuel Barroso, expressed a generalised irritation; saying that European leaders hadn't come to the G20 for lessons on economics. He said he wouldn't be taking lessons from anyone. He also emphasised Mark that Europe was taking action to fix the problem but said that it would take time to make reform happen.
And the Australian media contingent here in Los Cabos has certainly fixated on the connection between the two remarks. But you have to point out, that the Australian Prime Minister, although she's been a strong voice, has hardly been the only leader here to weigh in on Europe's handling of the crisis.
Everyone from the British leader David Cameron, to the South Korean president have commented and business leaders I spoke to yesterday after Julia Gillard first made these remarks, who were in the audience, certainly had no problem with her tone. They were saying that they thought she had earned bragging rights given the state of the Australian economy compared with a lot of other countries that are struggling.
For her part though Mark, the Prime Minister Julia Gillard is saying that she saw Mr Barroso today and she says he was amused at the suggestion that anything he said anywhere would be reported as being about Australia. She says they actually laughed about the whole thing earlier today and she says that means it's obvious it was crystal clear in Mr Barroso's own mind that he wasn't meaning Australia.
Let's have a listen to some of what she told us.
JULIA GILLARD: I had a conversation with president Barroso today and advised him that he was running strongly in the Australian media. That came as a complete surprise to him, given he hadn't had anything to say about Australia.
JOURNALIST: Who do you think he was actually referring to?
JULIA GILLARD: Well he was answering a question from a Canadian journalist who was asking very explicitly on behalf of the people of North America.
You come here to make your views known and what's my job here is to make my views known because the views I'm putting here are in Australia's national interest.
MARK COLVIN: Amusingly I'm told that in the Canadian press they think the remarks were aimed at them. So make of that what you will.
Jane Cowan the meetings today were behind closed doors; what do we know about what they said inside?
JANE COWAN: Well it was all smiles for the cameras as the leaders were posing for the group photo that's customary at these things but the meeting has really laid bare the tensions over how to best respond to the turmoil in Europe and we're told that behind closed doors the talk was very frank in the meeting today and that the prevailing mood among non-European leaders was a sense that more does need to be done to spur growth and the point was being made that austerity and growth are not mutually exclusive, they're two wheels on the same cart.
There were fears expressed that incremental approaches now mightn't be enough to convince the markets and that what's required is bold action to get the continent really ahead of the crisis.
There was even some play on words with Greek mythology where one leader we're told described the task ahead as Herculean.
MARK COLVIN: And what can we expect when the G20 wraps up tomorrow?
JANE COWAN: Well the leaders are to agree on a communiqubut judging by the leaked draft that emerged today it's not necessarily likely to offer more than a broad road map.
European leaders have been pointing to another meeting that they'll hold amongst themselves about 10 days from now and that's really where the detail is more likely to be hammered out.
No-one expects that this will be something that's fixed overnight; it's still a long and rocky road ahead.
MARK COLVIN: Jane Cowan in Los Cabos, thank you very much.

Russia to send ships, marines to Syria: report

MOSCOW — Two Russian navy ships are completing preparations to sail to Syria with a unit of marines on a mission to protect Russian citizens and the nation's base there, a news report said Monday. The deployment appears to reflect Moscow's growing concern about Syrian President Bashar Assad's future.
The Interfax news agency quoted an unidentified Russian navy official as saying that the two amphibious landing vessels, Nikolai Filchenkov and Caesar Kunikov, will be heading shortly to the Syrian port of Tartus, but didn't give a precise date.
The official said the ships will carry an unspecified number of marines to protect Russians in Syria and evacuate some equipment from Tartus, if necessary.
Each ship is capable of carrying up to 300 marines and a dozen tanks, according to Russian media reports. That would make it the largest known Russian troop deployment to Syria, signaling that Moscow is becoming increasingly uneasy about Syria's slide toward civil war.
Interfax also quoted a deputy Russian air force chief as saying that Russia will give the necessary protection to its citizens in Syria. "We must protect our citizens," Maj.-Gen. Vladimir Gradusov was quoted as saying. "We won't abandon the Russians and will evacuate them from the conflict zone, if necessary."
Asked whether the air force would provide air support for the navy squadron, Gradusov said they will act on orders.
The Defense Ministry had no immediate comment, and an official at the Black Sea fleet declined to comment.
Asked if the Pentagon is concerned about the plan, officials in Washington said it depends on the mission. They had no comment on the stated goal of protecting Russian citizens and the Russian military position there, something the U.S. would do in a foreign country if in a similar situation.
"I think we'd leave it to the Russian Ministry of Defense to speak to their naval movements and their national security decision-making process," said Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, adding that it's not the business of the U.S. Defense Department to "endorse or disapprove of an internal mission like that."
What would greatly concern the U.S., he said, is if the Russian naval ships were taking weapons or sending people to support the Assad regime in its crackdown.
"The secretary of defense (Leon Panetta) remains concerned about any efforts by external countries or external organizations to supply lethal arms to the Syrian regime so that they can turn around and use those to kill their own people," Kirby said.

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