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Jul 17 - 23, 2000

Iran, Germany sideline human rights for good business

President Mohammad Khatami sought on Tuesday to revive Iran's shrinking economic ties with Germany, its biggest western trading partner.

The reformist cleric, the first Iranian leader to visit Germany since the late Shah came in 1967, was due to address business leaders to drum up investment to support Tehran's ambitious five-year economic development programme.

Major deal announced German business announced it had landed a major deal with Iran after Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said on Monday Berlin would quintuple export credit cover for investments in Iran to one billion marks ($490 million).

Plant engineers Linde AG said they would build a 700 million marks olefin or bulk petrochemical plant — the world's biggest — in Bandar Imam for the National Petrochemical Company (NPC).

The deal comes after an international banking consortium headed by Deutsche Bank AG last month put together more than a billion marks in financing for the NPC.

Schroeder drove home the message that respect for human rights and a secure legal environment in the oil-rich Middle Eastern state were vital for doing business.

Germany's conservative opposition leader Angela Merkel also addressed human rights and the status of women in Iranian society when she met Khatami at his Berlin hotel on Tuesday, her spokeswoman said.

Trade between Iran and Germany fell to 3.1 billion marks last year, the lowest since the 1979 Islamic revolution. German direct investment in Iran totalled just 90 million marks a fraction of Iran's 3.2 billion marks in investments.

Camp David II: High hopes for Mideast peace

Low expectations mark start of Mideast summit US President Bill Clinton wrapped up the first day of Camp David negotiations for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement in a bilateral meeting with PLO chief Yasser Arafat, a White House spokesman said.

Awaiting them were issues that have tormented Middle East negotiators for decades as they seek to meet a self-imposed Septemper 13 deadline for a peace agreement: the status of Jerusalem, the nature and borders of a Palestinian state, the future of Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat tangled on Tuesday in a moment of elaborate comic courtesy over who should enter a door first to begin their Middle East peace summit.

President Bill Clinton laughed aloud as Barak and Arafat waged a mock struggle before photographers at the Camp David presidential retreat, trying to push each other across the threshold.

Arafat in Begin's bed, Barak in Sadat's at Camp David Barak and Arafat were to spend their first night in Camp David on Tuesday in beds once occupied by their predecessors Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat.

Lockhart noted that Arafat is staying in the cabin called Birch occupied by Begin 22 years ago, while Barak is staying in Dogwood, the bungalow that Sadat used as a temporary home.

"Everything is intentional," the spokesman said, adding that Clinton had gone through a long list of historical material on the first Camp David in preparation for the summit.

The latest US bid to forge peace between Israel and the Palestinians opens here Tuesday high in the Catoctin Mountains at this secluded compound, a wooded retreat for presidents since 1942.

Kuwait MPs pass budget

The Kuwaiti parliament passed a nine-month budget Wednesday that projects a deficit of five billion dollars, despite a sharp rise in oil prices.

Expenditures for the period, which began July 1 and ends March 21, 2001, were programmed to be 11.78 billion dollars, while revenues were forecast at only 7.56 billion dollars. That yields a shortfall of 4.22 billion dollars.

However, the law requires that 10 per cent of revenues, or 756 million dollars, be set aside in the emirate's Reserve Fund for Future Generations, and increasing the deficit accordingly.

Deputies — who passed the budget with 40 votes in favour, none against and 10 abstentions — criticised the government for delaying essential economic reforms.

Some members called for imposing new charges or hiking existing ones on essential services, but asked that such plans spare low-income people.

Bashar wins 97.29 pct in Syrian presidential vote

Bashar Al-Assad won 97.29 per cent of the votes in a referendum to confirm him as president of Syria, succeeding his late father Hafez al-Assad, Interior Minister Mohammed Harba said on Tuesday.

He told a televised news conference that about one quarter of one per cent of those voting on Monday opposed the 34-year-old eye doctor becoming president for the next seven years. The remaining ballots were spoiled. Harba said turnout was virtually 100 per cent.

"Our masses said yes to the constant course, yes to the bright future," the interior minister declared.

Newspapers had already proclaimed Bashar winner of the single-candidate referendum even before Harba's announcement.

Parliament is expected to meet on Thursday for the formal inauguration ceremony and Bashar is expected to outline his foreign and domestic policies in a speech to the assembly.

Oil prices continue to fall

Oil prices continued their downward slide Tuesday, with crude on the London market closely matching price falls in New York as traders came to terms with expectations of a third production increase this year.

Brent crude oil for August delivery fell 25 cents to $28.60 a barrel on London's International Petroleum Exchange. August Brent futures tumbled 85 cents a barrel on Monday to close at $28.85.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude lost 24 cents to $29.45 in out-of-hours ACCESS trade, extending its 59-cent drop to $29.69 on Monday.

OPEC Secretary General Rilwanu Lukman indicated on the weekend that the oil producers' cartel might back a Saudi plan to raise output by 500,000 barrels a day.

On Monday, a senior Algerian oil official told Reuters that Algeria would contribute to the output plan if there was an OPEC consensus.

 Saudi expects to sign security pact with Iran

Saudi Arabia's Interior Minister Prince Nayef was quoted on Monday as saying he expected to visit Iran soon to sign a security pact, a fresh move in rapprochement efforts between the regional powers following years of mistrust.

Prince Nayef also said in an interview with the Saudi-owned pan-Arab Asharq Al-Awsat daily that the security pact was aimed at fighting crime, terrorism and drug trafficking and should not be seen as a regional defence pact.

He said Saudi Arabia and Iran — two of the world's top oil producers — had exchanged draft security agreements.

Dubai stocks drop

The Dubai Financial Market (DFM) index lost 6.6 per cent in the week to Wednesday in the bourse's fourth consecutive weekly drop, blamed by brokers on heavy selling pressure.

The DFM index ended the week at 84.14 points, down from 90.06 points a week ago.

Algiers seeks better economic links with Baghdad

Algerian Trade Minister Murad Medelci expressed Tuesday his country's wish to strengthen economic cooperation with Iraq, during talks with officials here, the official INA news agency reported.

During a meeting with deputy prime minister Tarek Aziz, the Algerian minister expressed "the wish of his country to strengthen cooperation with Iraq and he expressed the solidarity of the government and the Algerian people with Iraq," said INA.

Medelci arrived Monday in Baghdad to preside over the joint commission on economic and trade cooperation. He also met other senior Iraqi officials, including Finance Minister Hekmat al-Assaui.

Lebanese workers slam economic policy

Thousands of Lebanese workers marched through Beirut on Wednesday to demand government action on the country's massive unemployment rate and crippling debt.

A crowd of about 3,500 gathered in front of the cabinet offices, shouting anti-poverty slogans and carrying flags of various Lebanese parties and political groups.

Lebanon, one of the Middle East's most promising economies before its 1975-1990 civil war, is currently burdened by mountain of debt equivalent to 135 per cent of GDP.

Saudi says oil firms to submit bids

International oil firms are due to submit their final proposals on investing in Saudi Arabia's energy sector in six weeks, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal was on Thursday quoted as saying.

Newspapers said Prince Saud — who oversees the negotiations — was speaking following talks on Wednesday with representatives of major oil companies in Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer and exporter.

"The minister said the companies will present their proposals in a period not exceeding six weeks from now and the Saudi negotiating team will review the offers, evaluate them and make recommendations to the Supreme Petroleum Council," the papers said in identical reports.

E-commerce seen boosting Dubai as trade hub

Dubai is banking on electronic commerce to reinforce its traditional position as the Gulf's trading hub against growing competition from neighbouring states, a leading business figure said.

Abdul-Rahman al-Mutaiwee, director-general of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), told Reuters in an interview he expects a 10 per cent growth in the emirate's foreign trade in 2000.

Dubai has become a regional trading power since the oil boom of the 1970s, supplying many countries in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent with goods imported from Asia and Europe.

IDB launches $1 bln

The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) formally launched a $1 billion corporation founded last year to promote private sector investments in member states.

The official Saudi Press Agency said the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD) held its first general assembly meeting in Saudi Arabia's Red Sea city of Jeddah with the participation of IDB member states which had signed the ICD founding agreement last year.

UAE finalises draft law on money laundering

A governmental committee has finalised a draft law on combating money laundering in the United Arab Emirates, a newspaper reported on Sunday.

Al-Khaleej said the committee comprising representatives from the justice, interior, finance and industry ministries and the central bank had submitted the draft law to the justice minister.

The draft law has yet to be submitted to the cabinet.

Kuwait NBK

National Bank of Kuwait said it received approval from Egypt's Central Bank to take over Egypt's Misr America International Bank (MAIB). Banking sources said an agreement was expected to be signed within a few weeks to seal the sale to NBK for around $116 million.

Egypt's oil output falls

Egypt's crude oil output fell to an average 716,667 barrels per day (bpd) in June from 724,516 bpd in May, the state Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC) said on Monday.

Natural gas sales rose to 1.93 billion cubic feet a day, out of total output of 2.408 billion cubic feet in June, from sales of 1.86 billion cubic feet a day, out of total output of 2.323 billion cubic feet in May.

Lebanese banks can operate in Syria

Syrian Prime Minister Mustafa Mero said on Monday private Lebanese banks were welcome to enter the Syrian market, where all banks have been in state hands for four decades.

"Several (Lebanese) banks have applied to enter. We told them we are ready and you are welcome," he told reporters after casting his vote in a referendum to confirm Bashar al-Assad as president in succession to his late father Hafez al-Assad.

Kuwait Airways

Parliament on Monday approved a financial statement for Kuwait Airways Corp (KAC) with a projected loss of 30.61 million dinars ($100 million) in the next nine months to end-March.

Parliament amended the financial statement earlier presented by KAC for the July-March 2001 fiscal period which had originally forecasts a deficit of 9.11 million dinars.

GIB signs $400 mln loan facility

The Bahrain-based Gulf International Bank (GIB) announced Monday it had signed a 400-million-dollar loan facility with a consortium of 32 Arab, Asian and Western banks.

The five-year loan, payable in one instalment on maturity and to be used for general purposes, was fixed at a rate of 0.40 per cent a year over the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor).

Jordan began selling cement

Jordan's flagship cement factory began last week selling cement to Africa through a new export station in Port Sudan, director general Samer Biriqdar said on Tuesday.

The Jordan Cement Factories company, which holds the monopoly on cement production in Jordan, set up the station in Port Sudan earlier this year as part of plans to find new markets for its product, he told official Petra news agency.

Biriqdar expected the station to help the company sell up to 250,000 tonnes of cement on the African continent and the Red Sea region.