"Three weeks after Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska told an interviewer that it seemed, at times, that the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, 'rears his head' over her state's border, a delegation of Russian energy executives, including close associates of Putin were in the capital, Anchorage, for talks on Russian energy investment in her state," The International Herald Tribune reported. "The delegation of eight senior executives of Gazprom, the giant Russian natural gas company, met with Tom Erwin, the head of the state's natural resources department and a Palin appointee, as well as the chief executive of the Texas oil company ConocoPhillips, Jim Mulva. "Gazprom's chief executive Aleksei Miller led the meetings on Monday, which were only announced in Moscow on Tuesday. Miller is a close and long-time political ally of Putin. "While Gazprom has expressed interest, however improbable, of investing in Alaskan pipelines before, the timing of the high-level delegation three weeks before a presidential election was considered peculiar. A Gazprom spokesman said the company had been invited to the state by ConocoPhillips. "It was not immediately clear whether the Republican candidate for vice president, Palin, was aware of the visit. Her statement that she gained foreign policy expertise from her state's proximity to Russia has become a campaign issue." Meanwhile, Russia's President Dmitri Medvedev delivered a speech in Evian, France, last week that was portrayed as an attack on the United States. But in a commentary for The International Herald Tribune, Samuel Charap and Andrew Kuchins saw an opening for improved Western-Russian relations. "The speech comes as Russia's stock market has essentially collapsed. Last Monday, the RTS, Russia's main index, dropped 19 per cent, the largest single day loss in its history. It lost another 11 per cent on Wednesday. "Overall, since its peak in mid-May, the RTS has lost over two-thirds of its value. Meanwhile, according to a top investment house, capital markets are 'broken,' with the bond, derivative and money markets simply not functioning. "Oddly enough, the crisis - in plainly demonstrating the financial interdependence between Russia and the West - has presented an opportunity to revive Western-Russian relations from their current post-Cold War low. "Only last week, the Russian government approved an ambitious economic development plan to the year 2020. Even a cursory reading of the plan makes clear that trade, investment and broader economic cooperation with the West are far and away the most important prerequisites for higher growth scenarios. "Deepening political tensions with the West are not compatible with this, something the Kremlin has evidently come to realise in recent days. The cooperative measures proposed in the Evian speech reflect this." Reporting for Time magazine from Moscow, Yuri Zarakhovich wrote: "At the same moment Iceland, a Nato member and until very recently a prosperous Western nation, seemed ready to bite the dust in the global financial crisis, a cavalry rode to the rescue, just as it does in the movies. Except the cavalry in this case came from an unexpected direction: Russia. "Why would Russia promise $5.4 billion to bail out Iceland, when Iceland's traditional allies weren't offering the money? After all, Russia has its own grave financial issues to deal with. Does the country really expect to be paid back in 'the famous Icelandic herring, popular in Russia since Soviet times' as Victor Tatarintsev, Russian ambassador to Iceland, noted in an interview on Russian television? More likely, this act of benevolence is being viewed as a way for Russia to help secure a bridgehead for an advance into the Arctic regions to claim the vast hydrocarbon and other mineral deposits there. Iceland also happens to possess a once vital Nato base, which has been in mothballs since 2006, and the Russians may be eyeing that as well. "There is a growing sense of urgency in Russia about all of this. Oil companies are posting declines in production as onshore oil and gas fields are getting depleted. Oil revenues account for 60 per cent of Russia's budget, which has been calculated for 2009 on the basis of $70 per bbl. But if the price goes below that, the country's petroleum windfall may be drastically reduced, and the budget could go into deficit. "That is why the Arctic looks so enticing. Energy experts say the Arctic's continental shelf may contain up to a quarter of the world's undiscovered oil and natural gas. 'The use of these energy reserves is a safeguard for Russia's energy security,' Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said. 'It is our duty to our descendants. We have to ensure the long-term national interests of Russia in the Arctic.' Thus, the $5.4 billion - under terms more favourable than Moscow has extended to recapitalise one of its own major banks - seems a modest price to pay." The Times said: "Iceland secured 200 million euros (£156 million) from Norway and Denmark yesterday as it sought help to stablise its stricken economy, but talks to secure a far larger loan from Russia continued. "It also emerged yesterday that the country, which has been forced to nationalise its banking sector, is only one of several asking the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for financial assistance. "According to reports, Hungary, Ukraine and Serbia have signalled that they need help, too." Time magazine also reported: "The IMF has vowed to deliver financial relief to any developing country facing an emergency. The World Bank says it has roughly $27 billion ready to offer in loans through the International Bank for Development and Reconstruction. But with a global recession looming, no coordinated plan addressing the needs of poor nations is being discussed. 'People are starting to worry a little bit that some of these emerging market countries are the ones that are left out,' says Ben Carliner, director of research at the Economic Strategy Institute, a think tank in Washington. "Uniform policy prescriptions don't come easy for a diverse group of countries ranging from Venezuela to Indonesia. For example, banking-sector repair and reform is likely more needed in India than in China, because India's financial sector is more intertwined with Western markets than China's is. Less sophisticated economies that rely on manufacturing and agriculture may largely avoid the pain that has accompanied the worldwide breakdown of complicated financial systems."
Iran awaits US request to open interests section in Tehran
Reporting from Tehran, The Washington Post said: "Iran has yet to receive a request from the United States to open an interests section here, officials said Monday, but analysts added that such a proposal would probably get a positive response. " 'We have had no request from the United States on this issue,' said Hassan Qashqavi, a spokesman for the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 'First we need a request, and then we can consider it.' "David Ignatius of The Washington Post wrote in a column Sunday that the Bush administration plans to announce the opening of a US interests section in Tehran in mid-November." In Washington Monthly, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett wrote: "In the rhetoric of many American politicians and commentators, the Islamic Republic of Iran is portrayed as an immature, ideologically driven regime that does not think of its foreign policy in terms of national interests. Apocalyptic scenarios have been advanced about a millennially inclined Iranian leadership using nuclear weapons against Israeli targets, with no regard for the consequences, effectively suggesting that the Islamic Republic aspires to become history's first 'suicide nation'. "Even in less extreme foreign policy circles, the debate about America's Iran policy is reminiscent of a debate over how to discipline badly behaved children. On one side, a hard-line 'spare the rod and spoil the child' school argues that this immature polity must be coerced into more appropriate behavior. On the other side, a pro-engagement 'build a problem child's self-esteem' camp argues that it is more productive to cajole Iran into better behavior through various material inducements. "This type of discussion is profoundly flawed, for it overlooks an important new reality: Iran's growing strategic importance and confidence in its role in the region mean it is no longer just a threat to be managed. More than ever, it is now an international actor that can profoundly undermine, or help advance, many of the United States's most vital strategic objectives. "That is why the next US president, whether it is John McCain or Barack Obama, should reorient American policy toward Iran as fundamentally as President Nixon reoriented American policy toward the People's Republic of China in the early 1970s. Nearly three decades of US policy toward Iran emphasising diplomatic isolation, escalating economic pressure, and thinly veiled support for regime change have damaged the interests of the United States and its allies in the Middle East. US-Iranian tensions have been a constant source of regional instability and are increasingly dangerous for global energy security. Our dysfunctional Iran policy, among other foreign policy blunders, has placed the American position in the region under greater strain than at any point since the end of the Cold War. It is clearly time for a fundamental change of course in the US approach to the Islamic Republic."
Land reform in China
"Thirty years after first setting out on the capitalist road, China's ruling Communist party has approved bold proposals that aim to liberate 700 million peasants from their state-owned land," The Guardian reported. "The plans, passed yesterday at a plenary session of the party's central committee, could allow farmers to exchange their plots of land or use the sites as collateral for loans. Experts are hoping that the measures will boost rural incomes, improve productivity and help households raise the money required for individuals to get access to the cities. "As the world economy tumbles into recession, the government appears anxious to ease its dependence on the export trade by strengthening domestic demand. Spreading the wealth to the countryside, officials say, will allow farmers to buy more consumer goods; it will also free up resources for spending on rural health and education, another priority for Beijing." The Sydney Morning Herald said: "The administration of rural land varies widely across China with some local governments already allowing villages to sell their plots of land to large-scale corporate agri-businesses. "It is expected that the new laws will provide greater certainty to existing practices and clear away some red tape. "But it is unclear how the new laws will change the fundamental imbalance of power and lack of independent redress between villagers and land-grabbing local officials and business interests. "Peasant land rights have become a volatile political and economic issue in China as rural incomes continue to fall further behind urban incomes and local land disputes have raged between villagers and local governments. "'Down at the local level, the nature of the game is that if any lawyers step forward to fight for these things then they'll jail the lawyers,' said David Kelly, a Beijing-based adjunct professor with the University of Technology, Sydney. "'How can you allow them to capitalise on their land without giving them full citizenship status? I just see more conflict building,' he said."