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Can India play intermediary between Iran and US?

India must try and play the important role of being the intermediary between Iran and the US in forging some kind of business alliance, particularly in areas like petroleum industry

Since 2012, India has been paying for Iranian oil imports both in rupees and Euros, by a special arrangement, under which 45% of the dues are paid in rupees into their UCO bank account in Kolkata and the balance paid in Euros, mostly through Turkey. The rupee account is over $3 billion in credit, but, thankfully, our exports of agri-products such as soya, basmati and pharmaceutical items have picked up, but not enough to offset this balance.


Particularly after conditional withdrawal of sanctions by US and its European allies, it is found that full normalcy is yet to be restored. This may remain so until such time the big powers realise and accept Iranian nuclear programme is indeed planned for its peaceful national needs, rather than to achieve nuclear weapons.


Iran continues to operate its rupee account with UCO Bank in Kolkata and had sought assistance in opening accounts with other banks, possibly in metropolitan cities, so that there are no delays in settlement as negotiable documents for exports from India have to go to Kolkata for final processing.


The balance of 55% against oil imports have to be paid in Euros, and this has been pending since 2013 (early February) because of the sanctions. In the meantime, efforts to increase non-traditional items of exports, such as securing turnkey jobs like road and rail links from Iran's Chabahar (or Chah Bahar) port to Turkmenistan have come to public knowledge.


It is therefore, gratifying to note, from press reports, that serious efforts are underway by Indian government owned organizations like Ircon International Ltd (IRCON) and RITES Ltd (also known as Rail India Technical and Economic Service) to obtain project contracts, particularly related to port developments at Chabahar, where India is already associated. This rail-road link, if obtained, will not only help Iran domestically, but also assist Indian goods being ferried to countries from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), starting with Turkmenistan.


Another recent development in Iran in which ONGC Videsh Ltd or OVL, the overseas arm of ONGC and its partners have discovered gas and oil in Iran's Farsi offshore block, now named, as Binaloud oil field. Media reports indicate that this one of the largest finds of its kind, in as much as, the gas field is estimated to hold in place reserves of up to 21.68 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of which 12.8 tcf of gas and 212 million barrels of condensate may be recoverable.


As a sequel to the US sanctions on Iran, it may be recalled, ONGC was one of the organisations that was affected earlier, but not now, it is, so to speak, off the hook. ONGC has also shown serious interest in getting US shale but it must bear in mind that US may still have conditions relating to its oversea partners working with Iran, in one form or another! It may become rather difficult choice to make, whether to go in for shale in the US or take greater interest and involvement in the development of Binaloud block in Iran, which is closer and may offer long term potential in related developments in Iran itself. Set against this, there is already many issues relating to shale production in the US itself, and needs a serious in-depth study before a decision is made.


India must rethink in doing any development work in shale domestically because of the lack of water, the prime material for injection into the wells and which contaminates the area, besides the inadequate technology in the country. If they can obtain shale from US and other suppliers, they may do so, but if the US says "either us or them", it is better not to be involved in shale!


India occupies a unique position in the world history. It is time we took advantage of the historical past, and act in a most diplomatic fashion, like Pakistan did, years ago, in arranging for a crucial visit by the then US President Nixon to China. India must try and play the important role of being the intermediary between Iran and US in forging some kind of business alliance, particularly in areas like petroleum industry, where Iran is novice as far as technology is concerned.


India needs both and the best course of action would be to try and have the cake and eat it too! At the same time, knowing our vulnerable situation, Iran may try and force our hand, particularly in regard to involvement in Binaloud, and we need to convince them to come to mutually workable terms.


(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)


The US govt: Paying to undermine internet security, not to fix it

One lesson of the Heartbleed bug is that the US needs to stop running Internet security like a Wikipedia volunteer project

The Heartbleed computer security bug is many things: a catastrophic
tech failure, an open invitation to criminal hackers and yet another reason to upgrade our passwords on dozens of websites. But more than anything else, Heartbleed reveals our neglect of Internet security.

The United States spends more than $50 billion a year on spying and intelligence, while the folks who build important defense software — in this case a program called OpenSSL that ensures that your connection to a website is encrypted — are four core programmers, only one of whom calls it a full-time job.

In a typical year, the foundation that supports OpenSSL receives just $2,000 in donations. The programmers have to rely on consulting gigs to pay for their work. "There should be at least a half dozen full time OpenSSL team members, not just one, able to concentrate on the care and feeding of OpenSSL without having to hustle commercial work," says Steve Marquess, who raises money for the project.

Is it any wonder that this Heartbleed bug slipped through the cracks?

Dan Kaminsky, a security researcher who saved the Internet from a similarly fundamental flaw back in 2008, says that Heartbleed shows that it's time to get "serious about figuring out what software has become Critical Infrastructure to the global economy, and dedicating genuine resources to supporting that code."

The Obama Administration has said it is doing just that with its national cybersecurity initiative, which establishes guidelines for strengthening the defense of our technological infrastructure — but it does not provide funding for the implementation of those guidelines.

Instead, the National Security Agency, which has responsibility to protect U.S. infrastructure, has worked to weaken encryption standards. And so private websites — such as Facebook and Google, which were affected by Heartbleed — often use open-source tools such as OpenSSL, where the code is publicly available and can be verified to be free of NSA backdoors.

The federal government spent at least $65 billion between 2006 and 2012 to secure its own networks, according to a February report from the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. And many critical parts of the private sector — such as nuclear reactors and banking — follow sector-specific cybersecurity regulations.

But private industry has also failed to fund its critical tools. As cryptographer Matthew Green says, "Maybe in the midst of patching their servers, some of the big companies that use OpenSSL will think of tossing them some real no-strings-attached funding so they can keep doing their job."

In the meantime, the rest of us are left with the unfortunate job of changing all our passwords, which may have been stolen from websites that were using the broken encryption standard. It's unclear whether the bug was exploited by criminals or intelligence agencies. (The NSA says it didn't know about it.)

It's worth noting, however, that the risk of your passwords being stolen is still lower than the risk of your passwords being hacked from a website that failed to protect them properly. Criminals have so many ways to obtain your information these days — by sending you a fake email from your bank or hacking into a retailer's unguarded database — that it's unclear how many would have gone through the trouble of exploiting this encryption flaw.

The problem is that if your passwords were hacked by the Heartbleed bug, the hack would leave no trace. And so, unfortunately, it's still a good idea to assume that your passwords might have been stolen.

So, you need to change them. If you're like me, you have way too many passwords. So I suggest starting with the most important ones — your email passwords. Anyone who gains control of your email can click "forgot password" on your other accounts and get a new password emailed to them. As a result, email passwords are the key to the rest of your accounts. After email, I'd suggest changing banking and social media account passwords.

But before you change your passwords, you need to check if the website has patched their site. You can test whether a site has been patched by typing the URL here. (Look for the green highlighted " Now Safe" result.)

If the site has been patched, then change your password. If the site has not been patched, wait until it has been patched before you change your password.

A reminder about how to make passwords: Forget all the password advice you've been given about using symbols and not writing down your passwords. There are only two things that matter: Don't reuse passwords across websites and the longer the password, the better.

I suggest using password management software, such as 1Password or LastPass, to generate the vast majority of your passwords. And for email, banking and your password to your password manager, I suggest a method of picking random words from the Dictionary called Diceware. If that seems too hard, just make your password super long — at least 30 or 40 characters long, if possible.



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