Just when you least expected it, Georgia's politicians have found things to discuss – and agree on – without losing teeth or gaining a bloody nose in the process.
The ruling Georgian Dream coalition, led by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, and the opposition United National Movement, headed by President Mikheil Saakashvili, reportedly have made it to the verge of an agreement on planned constitutional reform.
The negotiations were led by Parliamentary Speaker Davit Usupashvili for the Georgian Dream and Parliamentary Minority Leader Davit Bakradze for the United National Movement; arguably, two of the most circumspect politicians from either side.
What prevents them from "getting to yes", though, is an amnesty proposal which, for outsiders, could raise as many questions about Georgia's legal system as it does about the current tense political environment.
The two sides have provided contradictory descriptions of the proposed amnesty.
Usupashvili claimed that the UNM has demanded an unconditional amnesty from criminal prosecution for all government officials, ranging from the president to town council chairpeople, for any liable activities, apart from violent or other severe crimes, up until November 1, 2012.
Bakradze, for his part, arguing that "15,000 people" have been questioned because of ties to the UNM, asserted that the amnesty is about stopping "political persecution." It would apply not to current or ex-head-honchos, but to "the thousands" of people going in for questioning "daily" – defined as those under the rank of a ministerial administrative chief's deputy, he said.
Following a tumultuous roll out, the signs coming out of Uzbekistan suggest that citizens are coming to terms with new regulations restricting the sale of foreign currency. But grudging acceptance of the currency rules doesn’t signal that popular anxiety about the country’s economic future is abating.
The U.S. is proposing to cut State Department aid to the Caucasus by about 24 percent, while decreasing the portion of that aid devoted to security-related programs by about two percent, according to recently released budget documents (pdf). In Central Asia, while total aid would drop 13 percent, security assistance would remain roughly the same. The aid packages, if approved by Congress, would continue a pattern by the U.S. of increasingly placing a greater emphasis on security than on political, economic or health programs in the region.
Overall, State Department aid to Central Asia would drop from $133.6 million in fiscal year 2012 to $118.3 million in the current fiscal year, while aid programs under the rubric of "Peace and Security" would stay roughly steady at $30.3 million. (Programs in the "Peace and Security" category include not only military aid programs but also those targeting police, border control agencies and so on.) In the Caucasus, the aid would drop from $150.2 million to $121.6 million, with the security portion of that declining slightly from $35.6 million to $34.9 million.
Georgia would remain the largest U.S. aid recipient in the region, though its assistance package would drop from $85 million last year to $68.7 million this year. Most of the decrease would affect programs under the rubric of "Economic Growth." Aid programs in the "Peace and Security" category, meanwhile, would remain steady, at $21.7 million, with particular focuses on preparing Georgia's armed forces for NATO interoperability and retraining weapons scientists to work in counterproliferation.
The Persian Empire at its greatest extent, including -- yes -- territory of today's Armenia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan.
A minor diplomatic kerfuffle has arisen over an Iranian presidential candidate's campaign promise to "return" Armenia, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan if he is elected. The candidate, Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammed Bokiri Kherrozi, promised that:
“If I am elected as president, I will return the lands of Tajikistan, Armenia and Azerbaijan, which were separated from Iran...
He said the return of the territories separated from Iran will be the major program of his pre-election campaign.
“I will get back these lands without any bloodshed.”
Naturally, this was not well received in Baku, Dushanbe or Yerevan.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan responded with a statement calling Kherrozi an "intriguer, an ignoramus and an unaware person" (according to BBC Monitoring's translation). Asked about Kherrozi's claim, Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Elman Abdullayev said that he "doesn’t comment on absurd and groundless statements."
And Iran's ambassador to Yerevan had to clarify that Kherrozi's remarks did not reflect official policy:
Speaking about the mentioned remark, Ambassador Mohammad Raiesi said Kherrozi is not an official but religious figure, thus he cannot express the position of the state.