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Daily Current Affairs 18.07.2020 (Reformed Multilateralism, United Nations, Covaxin)

Daily Current Affairs 18.07.2020 (Reformed Multilateralism, United Nations, Covaxin)

1. Iran ties need quiet diplomacy

India must continue to remain politically engaged with Tehran despite its partnership plan with China

  • Recent reports that Iran’s Transport and Urban Development Minister Mohammed Eslami had launched the track laying programme for the 628 km long rail link between Chabahar and Zahidan last week sparked concerns that India was being excluded from the project. Iran has since clarified that it is not the case and India could join the project at a later stage. This keeps the door open for Ircon International Limited (IRCON) which has been associated with the project even as India continues with the development of Chabahar port.

Connectivity for Afghanistan

  • Providing connectivity for Afghanistan through Iran in order to lessen its dependence on Karachi port has enjoyed support in Delhi, Kabul and Tehran since 2003. Chabahar port on Iran’s Makran coast, just 1,000 km from Kandla, is well situated but road and rail links from Chabahar to Zahidan and then 200 km further on to Zaranj in Afghanistan, need to be built. With Iran under sanctions during the Ahmadinejad years (2005-13), there was little progress. IRCON had prepared engineering studies estimating that the 800 km long railway project would need an outlay of $1.6 billion. Meanwhile, India concentrated on the 220 km road to connect Zaranj to Delaram on the Herat highway. This was completed in 2008 at a cost of $150 million.
  • Things moved forward after 2015 when sanctions on Iran eased with the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the Iran nuclear deal. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed with Iran during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tehran in 2016 to equip and operate two terminals at the Shahid Beheshti port as part of Phase I of the project. Another milestone was the signing of the Trilateral Agreement on Establishment of International Transport and Transit Corridor between Afghanistan, Iran and India. In addition to $85 million of capital investment, India also committed to provide a line of credit of $150 million for port container tracks. Phase I was declared operational in 2018 and India’s wheat shipments to Afghanistan have been using this route. A special economic zone (SEZ) at Chabahar was planned but re-imposition of U.S. sanctions has slowed investments into the SEZ.
  • India was given a waiver from U.S. sanctions to continue cooperation on Chabahar as it contributed to Afghanistan’s development. Despite the waiver, the project has suffered delays because of the time taken by the U.S. Treasury to actually clear the import of heavy equipment such as rail mounted gantry cranes, mobile harbour cranes, etc.
  • With regard to the rail-track project, a financing MoU was signed under which India undertook to provide $500 million worth of rolling stock and signalling equipment including $150 million of steel rail tracks. In fact, the railway tracks currently being laid are those supplied by IRCON. Iranian responsibility was for local works of land levelling and procurement. The MoU between IRCON and Iran’s Construction and Development of Transportation Infrastructures Company (CDTIC) expired last year. Further, Khatab al Anbiya, the Iranian company undertaking some of the works, was listed by the U.S. as special designated entity, leading IRCON to suggest to the Iranians to appoint another contractor.
  • Meanwhile, Iran has ambitious plans to extend the railway line from Zahidan to Mashad (about 1,000 km) and then another 150 km onwards to Sarakhs on the border with Turkmenistan. Another plan is to link it with the International North-South Transport Corridor towards Bandar Anzali on the Caspian Sea. In 2011, a consortium of seven Indian companies led by Steel Authority of India Limited had also successfully bid for mining rights at Hajigak mines in Afghanistan that contain large reserves of iron ore. However, developments at Hajigak remain stalled because of the precarious security situation in Afghanistan continues.

Why Iran needs China

  • In January 2016, just as sanctions were eased, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Tehran and proposed a long-term comprehensive, strategic partnership programme that would involve Chinese investment in Iranian infrastructure and assured supplies of Iranian oil and gas at concessional rates. Reluctant to be tied into too close a Chinese embrace, Iran kept the negotiations going for years. China patiently permitted a limited barter trade; China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation (SINOPEC) prolonged its negotiations on developing the Yadavaran oilfield while China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) pulled out of the South Pars gas project last year, after initially promising to take over the French company Total’s stake.
  • Meanwhile, tensions in the region have been growing since last year with missile strikes in Saudi Arabia claimed by the Houthis and a U.S. drone strike in January killing Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) chief Gen. Qassim Soleimani. During the last four weeks, there have been more than half-a-dozen mysterious explosions including at the ballistic missile liquid fuel production facility at Khojir, the advanced centrifuge assembly shed in Natanz and the shipyard at Bushehr. Reports attribute these to U.S. and Israeli agencies in an attempt to provoke Iran before the U.S. elections.
  • In May, the U.S. announced that it wanted the UN Security Council (UNSC) to continue the ban on Iranian acquisition of conventional weapons. UNSC Resolution 2231 was adopted in July 2015 by consensus to endorse the JCPOA and contains a five-year restriction on Iran’s importing conventional weapons that ends on October 18. Even though the U.S. unilaterally quit the JCPOA, it is threatening to invoke the automatic snapback of sanctions provisions of JCPOA. The United Kingdom and France have criticised the U.S.’s duplicity but are unlikely to exercise a veto. At the same time, Iran hopes that November may bring about a change in the White House that opens options for dialogue.

Tehran’s balancing act

  • Just as it has been a tricky exercise for India to navigate between the U.S. and Iran to keep the Chabahar project going, the Rouhani administration has found it a difficult balancing act to manage the hardliners at home while coping with Trump administration’s policy of ‘maximum pressure’.
  • Russia and China are the only countries to veto the U.S.’s moves in the UNSC. Even so, the Iran- China comprehensive, strategic partnership road map has run into opposition in the Majlis. After the recent elections, the Reformists are down from 120 seats to 20 while the Principlists (Conservatives) are up from 86 to 221 seats in a house of 290 members. A former IRGC Air Force commander, Mohammed Bagher Ghalibaf, former Mayor of Tehran who ran unsuccessfully for president against Mr. Rouhani in 2013 and 2017 has been elected the new Speaker. Hard liners have accused Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of undue secrecy surrounding the agreement amid rumours that China may be taking over Kish island and that Chinese troops would be stationed in Iran to secure Chinese companies and investments.

Advantages and a lesson

  • Iran may well be considering a long-term partnership with China, but Iranian negotiators are wary of growing Chinese mercantilist tendencies. It is true that China has greater capacity to resist U.S. sanctions compared to India but Iran realises the advantage of working with its only partner that enjoys a sanctions waiver from U.S. for Chabahar since it provides connectivity for land-locked Afghanistan. Iran and India also share an antipathy to a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. This is why Iran would like to keep the door open. Nevertheless, India needs to improve its implementation record of infrastructure projects that it has taken up in its neighbourhood. There are numerous tales of Indian cooperation projects in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, etc suffering delays and cost overruns that only make it easier for China to expand its footprint in India’s neighbourhood. The key is to continue to remain politically engaged with Iran so that there is a better appreciation of each other’s sensitivities and compulsions.
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Observer Research Foundation (ORF) Observer Research Foundation (ORF) is an independent Non-Governmental think tank based in India. The foundation has three centres in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. ORF provides potentially viable inputs for policy and decision-makers in the Indian Government and to the political and business communities of India. ORF started out with an objective of dealing with internal issues of the economy in the wake of the 1990s reforms. However, today its mandate extends to security and strategy, governance, environment, energy and resources, economy and growth.

2. At UN meet, Modi calls for ‘reformed multilateralism’

  • Calling on members of the United Nations to pledge for reform within the world body, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said the multilateral system needed to more representative, and India believed that “the path to achieve sustainable peace and prosperity” was through multilateralism.
  • He was speaking at a high-level dialogue of the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on “Multilateralism after COVID-19: What kind of UN do we need at the 75th anniversary?”
  • “Only reformed multilateralism with a reformed United Nations at its centre can meet the aspirations of humanity,” Mr. Modi said in his speech focusing on India’s battle against the coronavirus pandemic
  • The PM addressed the ECOSOC gathering virtually, along with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
  • Outlining India’s fight against the pandemic, Mr. Modi said that India had extended assistance to more than 150 countries, and helped set up a SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) COVID-19 emergency fund in the South Asian neighbourhood.

$300 bn package

  • He also detailed economic measures to manage the impact of the pandemic, including a government package of $300 billion to “bring the economy back on track, build modern infrastructure and put in place a technology-driven system”.

India’s recovery rate

  • “In the fight against COVID, our grassroots health system is helping India ensure one of the best recovery rates in the world,” Mr. Modi said.
  • “The United Nations was originally born from the furies of the Second World War. Today, the fury of the pandemic provides the context for its rebirth and reform. Let us not lose this chance,” Mr. Modi added, indicating India’s push for a permanent seat in a more globally representative United Nations Security Council.
  • Earlier, addressing the gathering, Mr. Guterres said that the world was in the middle of a “deepening calamity” and that the COVID-19 pandemic had led to “an acute health and economic crisis, the severity of which has not been seen in nearly a century” with effects on food, trade, health, climate.
The United Nations (UN) The United Nations (UN) is an international organization founded in 1945. It is currently made up of 193 Member States. Its mission and work guided by the purposes and principles contained in its founding Charter and implemented by its various organs and specialised agencies. Its activities include maintaining international peace and security, protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, promoting sustainable development and upholding international law. The main organs of the UN are the General Assembly,the Security Council,the Economic and Social Council,the Trusteeship Council,the International Court of Justice,and the UN Secretariat. All the 6 were established in 1945 when the UN was founded. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) It is the principal body for coordination, policy review, policy dialogue and recommendations on economic, social and environmental issues, as well as implementation of internationally agreed development goals. It has 54 Members, elected by the General Assembly for overlapping three-year terms. It is the United Nations’ central platform for reflection, debate, and innovative thinking on sustainable development. Each year, ECOSOC structures its work around an annual theme of global importance to sustainable development. This ensures focused attention, among ECOSOC’s array of partners, and throughout the UN development system. It coordinates the work of the 14 UN specialized agencies, ten functional commissions and five regional commissions, receives reports from nine UN funds and programmes and issues policy recommendations to the UN system and to Member States. Reformed Multilateralism India’s objective in UNSC will be the achievement of N.O.R.M.S: a New Orientation for a Reformed Multilateral System. Under this India’s approach at the United Nations Security Council will be guided by the tenets of Samman –  HonorSamvad – ConversationSahyog – Co-operationShanti –  PeaceSamriddhi – Prosperity India’s approach will also be guided by “Five S’s”. India will highlight international terrorism, United Nations reforms and Security Council expansion, streamlining the peacekeeping operations and technology initiatives during its upcoming tenure.

3. Human trials for Covaxin begin

  • Three volunteers were administered ‘Covaxin’, the novel coronavirus vaccine from Bharat Biotech, at the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences in Rohtak on Friday, as part of the first phase of clinical trial on the humans. All three were reported to have tolerated it well without any initial adverse effects.
  • Senior Professor and Head, department of Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine, Dhruva Chaudhry, also the co-principal investigator, told The Hindu over the phone that the three volunteers were short-listed out of eight after health checks to ensure proper liver function and absence of infection and were administered the vaccine.
  • “All three tolerated it well. There were no complaints. We observed them for two hours before releasing them. The immediate component of allergic reaction has been taken care of. We will now look for any soreness at the local site over the next 24-48 hours,” said Dr. Chaudhry, taking care of clinical aspect of the process at the institute.
  • In addition to Dr. Chaudhry, Dr. Savita Verma, the principal investigator, takes care of logistics and control, and Dr. Rakesh Verma is responsible for the vaccination aspects of the process.
  • Dr. Chaudary said the vaccine had been tested successfully on animals for safety and response, and the process had now entered the first phase of clinical trials on the humans.
  • He said the process might take six months and the final assessment on the safety and the anti-bodies produced would be made by the safety board.
  • Haryana Health Minister Anil Vij tweeted: “Human trial with Corona vaccine (COVAXIN) of Bharat Biotech started at PGI Rohtak today. Three subjects were enrolled today. All have tolerated the vaccine very well. There were no adverse efforts.”
Clinical trials Clinical trials in humans are classified into three phases: phase I, phase II and phase III and in certain countries formal regulatory approval is required to undertake any of these studies.The phase I clinical studies carry out initial testing of a vaccine in small numbers (e.g. 20) of healthy adults, to test the properties of a vaccine, its tolerability, and, if appropriate, clinical laboratory and pharmacological parameters. Phase I studies are primarily concerned with safety.Phase II studies involve larger numbers of subjects and are intended to provide preliminary information about a vaccine’s ability to produce its desired effect (usually immunogenicity) in the target population and its general safety.Extensive phase III trials are required to fully assess the protective efficacy and safety of a vaccine. The phase III clinical trial is the pivotal study on which the decision on whether to grant the licence is based and sufficient data have to be obtained to demonstrate that a new product is safe and effective for the purpose intended.An application for market authorization may be submitted to the National Regulatory Authority (NRA) on the basis of the data from phase III testing and if approved, the vaccine then becomes commercially available in that particular country.The Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) under Directorate General of Health Services, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare is the National Regulatory Authority (NRA) of India.   Bharat Biotech Bharat Biotech International Private Limited is an Indian biotechnology company headquartered in Hyderabad, India engaged in the drug discovery, drug development, manufacture of vaccines, bio-therapeutics, pharmaceuticals and health care products.
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