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Nov 06 - 12, 2000

Iran, Japan strike oil deal

Japan and Iran clinched a landmark deal on Wednesday which could give Tokyo access to the world's biggest undeveloped oil field, as their leaders agreed to forge better bilateral ties.

The agreement is crucial for resource-poor Japan, and gaining access to a stable oil supply is likely to help override qualms about Iran's weapons program and its strained ties with the United States.

Japan reiterated those concerns in a joint statement issued by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami after their talks.

"The Japanese side stressed the importance to prevent and curb the proliferation of the systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction," said the statement, which also noted both sides expressed determination to redouble efforts for disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Japanese firms are interested in investing in Iran, but they are moving cautiously partly due to worries about U.S. sanctions. There has been no new Japanese investment in Iran since 1993.

The extra-territorial Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, due to expire next August, says the United States is ready to impose sanctions on foreign firms that invest in Iran and Libya, countries it says sponsor terrorism. Another set of sanctions, banning U.S. trade and investment, remain in place.

In an apparent nod to the issue, the two leaders said in their joint statement that they "shared the view that terrorism should be condemned in all forms" and expressed their commitment to cooperate to prevent and eliminate terrorism.

Japan's trade ministry announced earlier that Iran might also encourage and support Japanese oil companies' participation as minority partners in the development of other oil and gas fields.

Two die in Al Quds blast

Palestinians and Israelis said on Thursday they had agreed on steps to end their bloodiest clashes in years. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's office issued a dramatic pre-dawn announcement saying former prime minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat had clinched an accord during a late-night, two-hour meeting in Gaza City.

"The two leaders call on the forces and their own sides anyone in the field - to stop, cease fire and reduce the violence, return home and stop the incitement," Gilead Sher, head of Barak's office, told Israeli Army Radio.

A statement read on Palestinian radio and television by Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo called on Palestinians to protest only peacefully in their struggle with Israel for an independent state.

"The Palestinian leadership calls on our people...just to demonstrate within the context of popular demonstrations and stick to peaceful means in...its just struggle to obtain our firm, national and legitimate rights," Abed Rabbo said.

Four hours before the joint announcement was due, Palestinian hospital officials said Israeli troops had shot dead a Palestinian teenager during a stone-throwing protest in the West Bank village of Hizma.

Another Palestinian died of a gunshot wound in the Gaza Strip, hospital officials said, raising to 170 the number of people killed in five weeks of Israeli-Palestinian violence. Almost all of the dead have been Palestinians.

Israel's army spokesman, Brigadier-General Ron Kitrey, said troops had received orders to withdraw tanks and lift closures on Palestinian cities.

The United States, the main Middle East peace broker, said it had been informed of the understanding by both sides.

Saudi prince double dares in new AOL investment

Saudi Arabia's billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal said on Thursday he planned to double his investment in America Online Inc (AOL) to $2 billion after the firm posted good third quarter results.

"I am planning to invest another $1 billion in America Online. The process has begun and it will be gradual and will depend on the price," the prince told Reuters by telephone.

"America Online is the number one Internet company in the world and has a solid foundation and is making profit. And when the dust settles on the dot.com industry, America Online will be around," he said.

The prince already has a $1.05 billion investment in the world's largest Internet services company.

Alwaleed said that while many dot.com firms were "collapsing and going under left and right", America Online was the "anchor of the industry".

AOL, which is waiting US regulatory approvals for its merger with Time Warner Inc., said in October its fiscal first-quarter profit doubled from a year-ago to $340 million.

Iran in $200m deal to make minibuses in Egypt

Iranian auto maker Zamyad will make 1,000 minibuses in Egypt in a deal worth $200 million, the official IRNA news agency reported on Thursday.

Zamyad has set up a production facility in Eqypt and will produce the vehicles over five years, IRNA said.

The move is the latest development in a slowly improving relationship between the two countries.

But the two countries have slowly bettered relations over the past few years. A group of influential Iranian politicians recently created an Iran-Egypt friendship society but hardliners in both countries are wary of improved ties.

Iraq eroding sanctions as West distracted

Iraq is gradually eroding United Nations economic sanctions while the West is distracted by the US presidential election and the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, Western analysts say.

But despite the crumbling of a decade-old air embargo and growing Arab, Russian and Chinese interest in re-engaging with Iraq, the core sanctions imposed after President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 remain in force and only a UN Security Council decision can remove them.

For the moment, Saddam still cannot control the vast majority of Iraq's oil revenues, which remain under UN supervision, cannot implement new oil deals and cannot import goods other than food and medicine.

"Sanctions are not dead. They will have to be formally lifted before the main players will sign and implement major contracts with Iraq," said Rosemary Hollis of Britain's Royal Institute of International Affairs.

Israel guilty of war crimes: Amnesty

In a scathing criticism of Israel, the Amnesty International on Wednesday cited what it called "a pattern of gross human rights violations that may well amount to war crimes" since the Palestinian uprising began at the end of September.

Speaking to reporters in London after returning from the Middle East, Amnesty researcher Claudio Cordone condemned Israel's use of helicopters to hit Palestinian targets and urged its troops to show restraint, especially against children.

"If a kid is throwing stones at you, but is not putting any lives at risk, then you do not shoot him," Cordone said, calling for an independent investigation to determine whether individuals should face trial for war crimes.

The fatal shootings amounted to unlawful killing, he said.

Saudi Arabia warns US

Saudi Arabia has warned the US administration and American companies with lucrative businesses in the kingdom of unspecified action if Washington continues its support of Israel at the expense of the Palestinians.

Saudi newspapers said the comments were made by Defence Minister Prince Sultan in reaction to a US House of Representatives vote on Wednesday for a resolution which voiced strong support for Israel and accused Palestinian leaders of encouraging the latest eruption of Middle East violence.

Iraq revels in trade fair

Sanctions-hit Iraq hosted hundreds of companies from 45 countries on Wednesday at the opening of its annual Baghdad international trade fair, after many of the participants flew in despite a UN air embargo. Organisers boasted a turnout of more than 1,500 firms, a record for the 10 years that Iraq has been under sanctions for its invasion of Kuwait.

An unprecedented tally of 14 ministers and senior officials from Arab countries took part in the opening ceremony of the 33rd edition of the fair, one of the organisers told.

Iraq, Syria to reopen oil pipeline

Iraq and Syrian have agreed to reopen the crude oil pipeline between the two countries, closed since 1982, in November probably around the middle of the month, the Middle East Economic Survey reported on Tuesday. Baghdad will export about 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Basrah Light crude to Syria which will be run in the country's domestic refineries, MEES reported.

The barrels will be priced at a discount to international prices.

Damascus will then export the equivalent amount of Syrian Light and Souedie to international markets, MEES said.

An agreement to reopen the pipeline was first signed on July 14, 1998. Iraqi technicians have finished repairing one of the 32-inch pipelines in the system in both countries, hence pumping was supposed to start at an earlier date, MEES said.

OPEC announces 500,000 bpd output hike

The OPEC oil-producing cartel announced Monday it, would raise output by 500,000 barrels per day with immediate effect, in a bid to ease persistently high prices.

Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries president Ali Rodriguez, Venezuela's oil minister, wrote to fellow OPEC ministers asking them to implement the output increase from Tuesday, said an OPEC statement.

"I am writing to your excellency to ask you to take the necessary steps to raise your esteemed country's output" from October 31, he said, noting that it was triggered by a price-band mechanism agreed in March.

Iran cuts power to Azerbaijan

Iran cut off electricity to the autonomous Azerbaijani republic of Nakhichevan because it still owes Tehran 45 million dollars, state television reported Monday.

It said the power supply would not be reestablished until Azerbaijan paid its debt.

Some 60 per cent of Nakhichevan's electricity supply comes from Iran, which had agreed to provide 880 megawatts each day.

Tehran has repeatedly said it had no obligations to uphold the agreement if Azerbaijan did not respect its financial commitments.

The two neighbours share Islamic and cultural affinities, but relations have been strained in recent years, particularly over the sharing of the resource-rich Caspian Sea.

Kuwait NBK

The National Bank of Kuwait (NBK), the emirate's largest bank, on Sunday launched an online brokerage, saying it was the first bank in the Middle East to introduce the service.

Egypt Jan-Aug trade deficit falls by 26%

Egypt's trade deficit declined by 26 per cent in the first eight months of 2000 compared to the same period a year ago official figures quoted by the state-run Middle East News Agency (MENA) showed on Sunday.

The agency said Egypt's trade deficit from January to the end of August fell to 21.59 billion Egyptian pounds ($5.8 billion) from 29.18 billion pounds in the same period a year earlier.

Total exports rose to 10.5 billion pounds in the period, compared to 7.67 billion a year ago while imports declined to 32.09 billion pounds from 36.84 billion.

Japan gives Syria $16m

Japan is to give Syria 16 million dollars towards a project to pipe water from Mount Hermon to villages to the south and west, the government daily Tishrin said Sunday.

The Japanese aid for this 60-kilometre (35-mile) project, expected to cost 20 million dollars overall, will cover the purchase of mechanical and electrical equipment and pipe laying.

Oman seeks investors

Oman's Electricity Minister said in remarks published on Saturday that the Gulf Arab state was turning to private investors to develop its power industry to meet growing demand.

"The government has decided to undertake a comprehensive restructuring programme for the power sector by involving the private sector as strategic investors," Mohammed bin Ali Al-Qetabi told the English newspaper Oman Observer. Private investors already operate Al-Manah power plant, and in July, Oman signed a deal with Britain's National Power Plc to build a second private power plant at a cost of up to 50 million rials ($129.9 million) in the eastern town of Al Kamil. Qetabi said bids for the 400 megawatts Barka power station were under evaluation and the project was expected to be awarded by the end of November.

CMS Energy, Saudi group in power deal

US power firm CMS Energy Corp and Saudi Arabia's Al-Zamil Group said on Saturday they would jointly construct power and water desalination plants in Saudi Arabia.

"The two companies have agreed to work together to finance, construct and manage new power and water plants on a 50:50 per cent ownership basis, with CMS serving as operator of the facility," a joint statement said.

Ahli United Bank

Ahli United Bank announced Saturday post-tax profits of 35.2 million dollars for the first nine months of its inaugural year after the merger of Bahrain's Al-Ahli Commercial Bank and the London-based United Bank of Kuwait.

Profits were up 38 percent on 1999 on figures based on combined results of the two banks, a statement said.