NICOSIA:Â Longtime adversaries Cyprus and Turkey are locked in a tense â€œgame of chickenâ€ over the prospect of a multibillion-dollar Mediterranean gas bonanza with neither side willing to capitulate, analysts say.
Turkey vowed to escalate its activities in waters around the island after the EU on Monday agreed on measures to punish Ankara for pursuing â€œillegalâ€ drilling in Cyprusâ€™s exclusive economic zone.
â€œThis is a tit-for-tat game where nobody is ready to back down, with Turkey willing to go one step further,â€ Hubert Faustmann, professor of history and political science at the University of Nicosia, told AFP.
Turkey â€œwill continue to drill, they may even decide to drill in blocks licensed by the Cypriot government … itâ€™s a game of chicken,â€ he added.
The discovery of huge gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has stoked long-standing tensions between EU member Cyprus and Turkey.
The island is divided between the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus and a breakaway state set up after a Turkish invasion launched on July 20, 1974 in response to a coup sponsored by the military junta then ruling Greece.
Turkey, the only country to recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, has sent three ships to carry out drilling off the Cypriot coast despite EU condemnation and strong words from Washington.
In response EU foreign ministers agreed measures including cutting â‚¬145.8 million ($164 million) in pre-accession funds to Turkey allocated for 2020.
Turkey, which does not recognize Cyprus as a sovereign or EU member state, says its actions abide by international law and that it is drilling inside its continental shelf.
While negotiations to reunify the island remain on hold, Cyprus has moved to start gas and oil exploration by issuing licenses to international companies.
That has angered Ankara which argues that such exploration deprives the Turkish Cypriot minority of benefiting from the islandâ€™s natural wealth.
â€œTurkey wonâ€™t step down and EU sanctions are mild, the sanctions are not painful, and Turkey knows there is no determination for a confrontation,â€ said Faustmann.
He argued that Cyprus needs to find more gas to make it commercially viable to extract.
â€œUnless thereâ€™s a big find, it might be a lot of noise over nothing, there isnâ€™t enough extractable gas at the moment.â€
Experts also argue that if the escalation continues it will be difficult for energy companies to explore off Cyprus due to the risk.
â€œInterest in operations is there, however tensions with Turkey are not helping. If tensions subside then there will be a lot of interest because there is support from the markets and the EU too,â€ said energy analyst Cyril Widdershoven, founder of the consultancy firm Verocy.
Cyprus on Tuesday rejected as â€œunacceptableâ€ a Turkish Cypriot proposal on energy revenue sharing to help de-escalate tensions.
Nicosia argues that jointly managing the islandâ€™s untapped energy resources can only be workable once an elusive peace settlement has been agreed, while assuring Turkish Cypriots will get their equal share.
Atlantic Council senior associate Charles Ellinas said the rising tensions will make the waters choppier for energy companies when they resume drilling in blocks licensed by the Cyprus government, especially in areas disputed by Turkey.
â€œTurkey will not back off unless the EU and the US apply serious sanctions that hurt its economy. But I do not see that happening… NATO, trade and refugees are important to them,â€ he told AFP.
â€œTurkey will maintain aggression until Cyprus agrees to put hydrocarbons on the negotiating table.â€
The waters off Cyprus have attracted international giants such as ExxonMobil of the United States, Franceâ€™s Total and Italyâ€™s Eni.
Sizeable natural gas deposits have been discovered in three areas but have yet to be extracted.
Last month Cyprus said it expected to earn $9.3 billion over 18 years from exploiting a gas field in the Aphrodite block under a renegotiated contract with Royal Dutch Shell, US-based Noble and Israelâ€™s Delek.
In February US energy giant ExxonMobil announced the discovery of a huge natural gas reserve off the islandâ€™s coast which Cyprus hailed as one of the biggest worldwide in recent years.
Ellinas estimates Cyprusâ€™s discovered reserves so far are around 10 trillion cubic feet and â€œthere is probably as much still to be discovered and possibly more.â€
He estimates total gas revenue could be about $160 billion, which could generate profits of $30 billion over 20 years, but finding buyers may be tough in a competitive international market.
â€œCyprusâ€™s share could be $17 billion. But first, sales need to be secured, and there lies the challenge, in a market inexorably moving toward renewables and clean energy. The longer it takes the more difficult it becomes.â€
Bitcoin falls 10% as China intensifies crypto crackdown
Bitcoin falls to a two-week low after China announced it had summoned bank chiefs to reiterate the ban on providing cryptocurrency services.By Joanna OssingerBloombergBitcoin fell to a two-week low amid an intensifying cryptocurrency crackdown in China. The largest virtual currency fell 10% to $32,350 as of 8:50 a.m. in New York. Ether declined 13% to $1,950.…
Bitcoin falls to a two-week low after China announced it had summoned bank chiefs to reiterate the ban on providing cryptocurrency services.By Joanna OssingerBloombergBitcoin fell to a two-week low amid an intensifying cryptocurrency crackdown in China.
The largest virtual currency fell 10% to $32,350 as of 8:50 a.m. in New York. Ether declined 13% to $1,950.
China announced on Monday that it summoned officials from its biggest banks to a meeting to reiterate a ban on providing cryptocurrency services. It’s the latest sign that China plan to do whatever it takes to close any loopholes left in crypto trading.
Representatives from Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd., Agricultural Bank of China Ltd. and payment service provider Alipay were reminded of rules that prohibit Chinese banks from engaging in crypto-related transactions, according to a statement from the central bank on Monday.
“The PBOC crackdown is going further than initially expected,” said Jonathan Cheesman, head of over-the-counter and institutional sales at crypto derivatives exchange FTX. “Mining was phase one and speculation is phase two.”
Separately, a Chinese city with abundant hydropower has stepped up action to rein in mining. A Ya’an government official told at least one Bitcoin miner that the city has promised to root out all Bitcoin and Ether mining operations with a year, said a person with knowledge of the situation.
In the backdrop, the appetite for risk assets has diminished after last week’s hawkish policy pivot by the Federal Reserve. Even though equity markets tipped into the green on Monday, analysts pointed to lingering jitters about frothy corners of the market.
“If, as I expect, the global buy-everything unwind continues this week, Bitcoin will feel those chill winds,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at Oanda Asia Pacific Pte.
–With assistance from Li Liu.
World reacts to election of Iran’s new hardline president Raisi
Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s hardline judiciary chief, has won a landslide victory in the country’s presidential election, a vote that both propelled the supreme leader’s protege into Tehran’s highest civilian position and saw the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. Raisi won 61.95 percent of the vote in Friday’s election on a voter turnout of…
Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s hardline judiciary chief, has won a landslide victory in the country’s presidential election, a vote that both propelled the supreme leader’s protege into Tehran’s highest civilian position and saw the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history.
Raisi won 61.95 percent of the vote in Friday’s election on a voter turnout of 48.8 percent.
Raisi, 60, will take office in August, replacing moderate President Hassan Rouhani who was not allowed by the constitution to run for a third consecutive term.
He will take power at a critical time, as Iran seeks to salvage its tattered nuclear deal with major powers and free itself from punishing US sanctions that have driven a sharp economic downturn.
The election of Raisi, himself sanctioned by the United States over human rights abuses, became more of a coronation after his strongest competition found themselves disqualified from running.
Outgoing President Rouhani visited Raisi at his office to congratulate him.
“We will stand by and cooperate fully with the president-elect for the next 45 days, when the new government takes charge (in early August),” state media quoted Rouhani as saying.
Rouhani, left, meets with Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran [Official Presidential website/Handout/Reuters]Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Raisi and expressed hopes for “further development of a constructive bilateral cooperation”, according to RIA news agency citing a press officer at the Russian embassy in Tehran.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said he looked forward to working with Raisi towards “further strengthening” of fraternal ties between Pakistan and Iran for “regional peace, progress and prosperity”.
Congratulations to Excellency brother Ibrahim Raisi @raisi_com on his landmark victory in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s 13th Presidential elections. Look forward to working with him for further strengthening of our fraternal ties and for regional peace, progress and prosperity.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) June 19, 2021
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan congratulated Raisi on his victory, saying he believed cooperation between the two neighbours would become stronger during Raisi’s term.
“Stating my belief that cooperation between our two countries will strengthen during your presidency, I am ready to work together with you,” Erdogan said in a letter sent to Raisi.
Assad congratulated Raisi on his victory and said he was keen to work with the new president to strengthen ties between the two countries, a statement from the Syrian presidency said.
“I extend my sincere congratulations and blessings on the occasion of your [Raisi’s] election as President of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Iraq’s President Barham Salih said.
“We in Iraq look forward to strengthening our solid relations with our neighbour Iran and its people.”
Head of human rights group Agnes Callamard said Raisi’s election win called for Raisi to be investigated for “crimes against humanity”.
“That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture, is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran,” she posted on Twitter.
“We continue to call for Ebrahim Raisi to be investigated for his involvement in past and ongoing crimes under international law, including by states that exercise universal jurisdiction.”
The outcome of #Iran “election” was predictable. But nevertheless, that #EbrahimRaisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture, is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran
— Agnes Callamard (@AgnesCallamard) June 19, 2021
“We congratulate the Islamic Republic of Iran for the success of the democratic process, the holding of the presidential election and the victory of Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s president,” Hazem Qassem, Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said in a statement.
“We wish the Islamic Republic of Iran progress and prosperity. Iran has always been a fundamental and a real supporter of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian resistance.”
United Arab Emirates
“We wish for the Islamic Republic, and for our bilateral relations, stability, continuity and prosperity,” Vice-President and de facto Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid said in a statement tweeted by Dubai’s media office.
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed also sent a message of congratulations to Raisi, state news agency WAM reported.
UAE leaders congratulate Ebrahim Raisi on winning Iran’s presidential election#WamNewshttps://t.co/d44qtkRkJQ
— WAM English (@WAMNEWS_ENG) June 19, 2021
Human Rights Watch
Raisi’s path to presidency was through “repression and an unfair election”, Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at HRW, said in a statement.
“As head of Iran’s repressive judiciary, Raisi oversaw some of the most heinous crimes in Iran’s recent history, which deserve investigation and accountability rather than election to high office.”
. @hrw’s @MichaelARPage: “Iranian authorities paved the way for Ebrahim Raeesi to become president through repression and an unfair election” https://t.co/MNy4NPARYw pic.twitter.com/F5XrEoEBNI
— Tara Sepehri Far (تارا سپهریفر) 😷 (@sepehrifar) June 19, 2021
Who is Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s next president?
Tehran, Iran – Judiciary head Ebrahim Raisi has been elected as the next president of Iran at a critical juncture for the country. Who is the conservative leader and what are his positions? The 60-year-old Raisi, who enjoys wide backing from the conservative and hardline revolutionary camp and its base, will remain chief justice until…
Tehran, Iran – Judiciary head Ebrahim Raisi has been elected as the next president of Iran at a critical juncture for the country. Who is the conservative leader and what are his positions?
The 60-year-old Raisi, who enjoys wide backing from the conservative and hardline revolutionary camp and its base, will remain chief justice until he takes over from moderate outgoing President Hassan Rouhani in early August as he did not resign from his post to run for president.
Like Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the leader wears a black turban, which signifies that he is a sayyid – a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad.
Raisi is referred to as a likely successor to the 82-year-old Khamenei when he passes away.
Before the 1979 revolution
Raisi was born in Mashhad in northeastern Iran, a major city and a religious centre for Shia Muslims as it houses the shrine of Imam Reza, the eighth imam.
Growing up in a clerical family, Raisi received a religious education and began attending the seminary in Qom when he was 15. There, he studied under several prominent scholars, including Khamenei.
When his education came up during the presidential debates, he denied that he has only six grades of classical education, saying he holds a PhD in law in addition to his seminary education.
When he entered the influential seminary in Qom just years before the 1979 revolution that brought about the Islamic Republic, many Iranians were dissatisfied with the governance of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who was ultimately deposed.
Raisi was purportedly a participant in some of the events that forced the shah into exile and set up the new clerical establishment under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
After the revolution
Following the revolution, Raisi joined the prosecutor’s office in Masjed Soleyman in southwestern Iran. Over the next six years, he added to his experience as a prosecutor in several other jurisdictions.
A crucial development came when he moved to Iran’s capital, Tehran, in 1985 after being appointed deputy prosecutor.
Human rights organisations say three years later, just months after the gruelling eight-year Iran-Iraq War ended, he was part of a so-called “death commission” that oversaw the disappearing and secret executions of thousands of political prisoners.
Raisi will become the first Iranian president to have been targeted by United States sanctions, imposed in 2019, over his alleged role in the mass executions and for cracking down on public protests.
Amnesty International has called for the leader to face charges of crimes against humanity.
The leader continued to rise within Iran’s judicial system following Khamenei’s accession to the supreme leadership in 1989. He later held roles as prosecutor of Tehran, then headed the General Inspection Organization, and then served as deputy chief justice for a decade until 2014, during which time the pro-democracy Green Movement protests of 2009 took place.
In 2006, while serving as deputy chief justice, he was for the first time elected from South Khorasan to the Assembly of Experts, a body that is tasked with choosing a replacement for the supreme leader in the event of his death. He still holds that role.
Raisi was promoted to attorney general of Iran in 2014 and remained in that position until 2016, when he climbed the ladder yet again – albeit outside the judicial system this time – and was appointed by the supreme leader as the custodian of the Astan-e Quds Razavi, a huge bonyad, or charitable trust, that manages the shrine of Imam Reza and all affiliated organisations.
In that position, Raisi commanded billions of dollars’ worth of assets and made ties with the religious and business elite of Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city.
Raisi, who has two daughters, is also the son-in-law of Ahmad Alamolhoda, the hardline longtime Friday prayer leader of Mashhad, who has become known for his fiery ultraconservative speeches and highly controversial remarks and ideas.
Raisi received a religious education and began attending the seminary in Qom when he was 15 [File: Meghdad Madadi/Getty Images]Presidential ambitions
In 2017, Raisi ran for president for the first time and became the main candidate against Rouhani, a moderate who championed engagement with the West and Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that lifted multilateral sanctions in exchange for curbs on the country’s nuclear programme.
Raisi and his ally Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who in 2020 became the speaker of a new hardline parliament amid low turnout and wide disqualification of reformist candidates, lost the election to Rouhani. Raisi did, however, garner just less than 16 million votes or 38 percent in an election with a 73 percent turnout.
After a short retreat, the supreme leader in 2019 appointed him as the chief justice.
In that position, the leader tried to cement his image as a staunch opponent of corruption. He held public trials and prosecuted figures close to the government and the judiciary.
He also effectively kickstarted his presidential campaign and travelled to almost all of Iran’s 32 provinces. In those visits, he would often announce he had brought a big factory back from the brink of bankruptcy, portraying himself as a champion of hard-working Iranians and boosting local businesses under US sanctions.
Raisi carried that theme into his 2021 campaign, in which he made limited promises as it was evident none of the other candidates could mount a serious challenge to his presidency amid a bad economic situation, low turnout and wide disqualification of reformist and moderate candidates.
During his time at the judiciary, messaging app Signal was banned earlier this year after a surge in popularity, as was the voice chat app Clubhouse when it became massively popular in the run-up to the elections.
All major social media and messaging apps are blocked in Iran, with the exception of Instagram and WhatsApp.
Economy and nuclear deal
When pressed by another candidate, Raisi briefly discussed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the nuclear deal that former US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned in 2018 is formally known.
While he had previously opposed the deal, this time he said he would support it as any other state commitment, but will form a “strong” government that will be able to steer it in the right direction.
A sixth round of talks between Iran and world powers is ongoing in Vienna to restore the accord, that, if successful, will lead to lifting US sanctions and scaling down Iran’s nuclear programme as the country is now enriching uranium up to 63 percent, its highest ever rate.
Even as the June 24 deadline of a temporary agreement with the International Atomic Energy Organization to keep monitoring activities in Iran in place approaches, negotiators have said the sixth round will not be the final round. But there are hopes the agreement could be revived before Raisi assumes office.
Meanwhile, the 83-million-strong population of Iran is suffering from rampant inflation and high unemployment while the government is running a considerable budget deficit and faces difficulties in handling what has become the deadliest COVID-19 pandemic of the Middle East.
Raisi has promised to tackle inflation, create at least one million jobs per year, build new housing and dedicate special loans to first-time homebuyers who get married, in addition to ushering in a new era of financial transparency and fighting corruption.
Hamed Mousavi, a political science professor at Tehran University, said the narrative among conservatives has been that mismanagement by the Rouhani government led to the current situation.
“So according to this narrative, if this mismanagement is fixed then the economy will be fixed but I do think that many conservatives at least internally understand how important the sanctions are,” he told Al Jazeera.
“I think this will go back to how much Raisi will show flexibility in the negotiations. One important point is who will he appoint for the nuclear negations.”
One choice is hardliner Saeed Jalili, a former nuclear negotiator under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was one of seven approved candidates in the 2021 race and withdrew in favour of Raisi.
According to Natasha Lindstaedt, a researcher at the University of Essex, the likely effects of Raisi’s election on ties with the US are uncertain.
“But the type of rhetoric that the Iranian president can issue sometimes affects the way the US responds,” she told Al Jazeera.
“I see Raisi in some way as the return to Ahmadinejad, a more populist, authoritarian president and that was a period when the relationships with the US and Iran was really tense,” she said.