All smiles The P5+1 Deal with Iran was considered a breakthrough
Diplomats upbeat at close of 2013
The global outlook has improved over the course of 2013, but ongoing conflicts and a weak economic recovery mean these gains could easily be reversed, diplomats concluded in their annual Embassy end-of-year survey.
More than 70 per cent of respondents said they were more upbeat at the close of the year than at the start, citing the diplomatic breakthroughs with Iran over their nuclear programme; and avoiding military strikes in Syria as the most significant events of the year.
But broken down by region, the picture is more nuanced.
Upbeat in Latin America
Judging by the responses, 2013 belonged to Latin America. Envoys pointed to the signing of the Pacific Alliance, a new Latin American trade bloc taking in parts of South and Central America, as a positive development. Progress in the Colombian peace talks was also welcomed.
Widespread protests over corruption and lack of services in Brazil were dealt with in a measured way by the Government and this had “rejuvenated” social thinking in Brazil.
The death of the firebrand Hugo Chavez, the late President of Venezuela, was regarded as the most significant event in the region. The election of Pope Francis, the ‘People’s Pope’ was a source of pride and optimism.
By contrast, a pall of pessimism descended over Asia in 2013, as the economies of India and China slowed. Envoys from Southeast Asia also expressed concerns about about “regional tensions” brought about by rival territorial claims in the East China Sea as well as China’s expansion of its Air Defence Zone.
The tragedy of Typhoon Haiyan in The Philippines was likely to affect the country and region in the short term, said envoys.
Europe and US not out the woods
Europe presented a mixed picture, with just over half of respondents from the region guardedly positive about the stabilisation of the eurozone, but concerns remaining over the persistently high unemployment rate and some wobbles in Italy and Greece. Instability on the EU’s borders, such as the mass protests in Ukraine, were also a worry.
Meanwhile in the US, the mood was fragile after the Shutdown and worries that the dreaded debt ceiling will return to haunt 2014.
Mixed feelings in Africa
Opinions diverged among African envoys on the one hand, growing economies, “mega- infrastructure projects” and more stability in Somalia were welcomed.
However, a series of terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda-inspired groups in the Sahel, Nigeria and Kenya as well as pockets of persistent conflict across the continent in places such as the Central African Republic dampened the mood. As one diplomat said: “There are still uprisings, civil disobedience, poverty is on the rise and there is a devastating drought.”
Nelson Mandela’s death came too late to be included in most surveys, but those who responded after the news broke, felt it was the most important event of the region this year.
Reflecting on what he stood for, Mandela’s death inspired “a recommitment” to fighting poverty, injustice and corruption in Africa, said one African envoy.
Middle East divisions
Views among the Middle Eastern corps of diplomats were split down the middle. The optimism of the Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia seems to have evaporated.
“Instability in Egypt” and “lack of progress in Tunisia” were highlighted as problems.
For half the respondents, the P5+1 deal with Iran over its nuclear programme and the avoidance of military strikes in Syria and the destruction of its chemical weapons made the region “more stable”.
But others questioned the intentions of the Iranian and Syrian regimes. “They may be playing for time,” said one diplomat.