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THE INDEX — October 23, 2009

Iran appears to be stalling a UN-drafted deal on its nuclear program, failing to accept the terms of the agreement as Friday's deadline loomed. The deal, which International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Mohamed ElBaradei announced earlier this week, followed days of talks between the UN, Iran, and three interlocutors—Russia, France, and the United States. It arranged for Iran to export roughly 70 percent of its uranium to Russia and France for enrichment, which would greatly ease international concerns about its nuclear program by reducing its stockpile below the threshold needed to produce a weapon. But Iranian state television reported that though it hasn't rejected the plan outright, the government preferred to buy fuel from foreign suppliers for its nuclear reactor, which has been producing medical isotopes for the last few decades. The report quoted an unnamed source close to Iran's negotiation team saying, "Iran is interested in buying fuel for the Tehran research reactor within the framework of a clear proposal.... We are waiting for the other party's constructive and trust-building response." Such a move would not only fail to reduce Iran's stock of nuclear material, but would also require waiving UN sanctions that currently bar Iran from making these types of purchases. As of this writing, Tehran had not yet offered an official decision on the IAEA's deal, but French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that "via the indications we are receiving, matters are not very positive." Iran's rejection of the deal would certainly come as a disappointment to the United States, Russia, and France, which all had endorsed the plan by Friday, and might make future negotiations more difficult, reported the BBC from Vienna. The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday it's "largest ever" operation against a drug cartel. More than 3,000 Justice Department agents have been involved in the ongoing Project Coronado, which has led to the arrests of almost 1,200 people in the last four years. The target is La Familia Michoacana, a drug cartel and criminal organization accused of murdering Mexican anti-narcotic officials and of trafficking large amounts of illicit drugs and weapons into the United States. In a two-day raid announced yesterday, the Justice Department seized $3.4 million in cash, 144 weapons, more than 100 vehicles, and stashes of methamphetamines, cocaine, and marijuana. Patricia Espinosa, Mexico’s foreign minister, said the operation “is a very clear example of how co-operation [in the fight against drugs] has deepened. It is the result not only of the transfer of equipment but also of collaboration in general.” A grand jury in New York has indicted the alleged leaders of La Familia on charges of conspiracy to import cocaine and methamphetamines. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) inaugurated its first human rights commission on Friday, hailing it as a milestone for the regional bloc as it opened a three-day summit in Thailand. "The issue of human rights is not about condemnation, but about awareness, empowerment and improvement," said Thailand's prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva. "We shall not only demonstrate to the world that human rights is a priority but also show them realistic and constructive ways to deal with it," he continued. According to a statement distributed by the Thai government, the commission would "promote and protect human rights by promoting public awareness and education," but it will have no power to investigate governments or impose sanctions. This has raised concerns among some human rights activists, who called the body toothless and questioned its credibility, especially when "civil society" representatives from several countries were rejected by their governments at the meetings. "The commission has not been designed to be effective and impartial," said Debbie Stothard, a human rights activist from Malaysia. Southeast Asia's human rights record is blemished at best—Myanmar's military government is currently detaining more than 2,000 political prisoners, including opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi; Cambodia's parliament passed a law this week barring demonstrations of more than 200 people; Malaysia, which maintains tight controls on its media outlets, also detains people it deems a threat to national security without trial; and in southern Thailand, an ongoing military offensive against an Islamic separatist insurgency has drawn criticism from organizations like Human Rights Watch for its brutal policing tactics. Meanwhile, the UN envoy to North Korea called that nation's human rights situation "abysmal," saying that about one third of its people are needlessly going hungry. In a report to a meeting of UN members, envoy Vitit Muntarbhorn said, "the human rights situation in the country remains abysmal owing to the repressive nature of the power base: at once cloistered, controlled and callous." Though North Korea is "endowed with vast mineral resources controlled by the authorities," millions still live in "abject poverty and suffer the prolonged deprivations linked with shortage of food and other necessities.... The exploitation of the ordinary people has become the pernicious prerogative of the ruling elite," he continued. But Pak Tok-hun, North Korea's deputy ambassador to the UN, said the report was "full of distortion, lies, falsity, devised by hostile forces." Fresh UN sanctions were imposed on North Korea this year in response to its nuclear program, and international aid reaching the country fell significantly. Because of this shortfall, the UN's World Food Program has been able to support fewer than 2 million people; earlier this year, it was feeding nearly 6 million. Chinese officials on Friday celebrated the launching of ChiNext, China's growth enterprise market (GEM), which seeks to attract investment to its emerging entrepreneurial sector. The launch emphasizes China's ongoing experiment with privatization and innovation as a means of creating jobs and stimulating robust economic growth—heralding a growing focus on smaller enterprise. He Chengying, a development manager with Guosen Securities, noted that ChiNext "is especially necessary to help the small and medium-sized enterprises to raise funds after the global financial crisis. The time is ripe to launch the new board." China's other two stock exchanges, in Shanghai and Shenzhen, are dominated by state-owned enterprises, mostly large, industrial firms. The first group of 28 GEM firms will debut October 30 and include sectors of innovative energy and materials, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, advanced manufacturing, information technology, and modern service industries. The initial public offerings (IPOs) raised a combined $2.3 billion, though some analysts remarked that the stocks are overvalued and might precipitate speculation and market manipulation—ills that have plagued some Western economies and which China has sought to avoid. Meanwhile, the U.S. congressional advisory panel, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, reported Thursday that Chinese cyberspying, apparently supported by the government in Beijing, has successfully penetrated several U.S. "high technology development" firms, a move likely intended to steal intellectual property and assess its competitors. The Commission did not, however, publicly name the firms or provide a damage assessment. A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington flatly denied the accusation.
For a look at China's economic recovery from the global recession, see this week's "The Big Question" on the World Policy blog.

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