In the last few years, a marked shift in Saudi thinking on nuclear issues has become evident. Saudi princes have explicitly and publicly stated that a nuclear military option is something the kingdom is obligated to examine if Tehran is not stopped in its march toward nuclear weapons.
In March 2011, Prince Turki al-Faisal, former head of Saudi intelligence and ambassador to the United States, called for the Gulf states to acquire “nuclear might” as a counterweight to Iran should efforts fail to persuade it to abandon its military nuclear program, a point he repeated several months later. U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross confirmed that Saudi King Abdullah explicitly warned Washington in April 2009: “If they get nuclear weapons, we will get nuclear weapons.” Ross’s quote of the Saudi king appears to be the first public confirmation of Riyadh’s position. An unconfirmed report alleges that Abdullah made a similar statement to Russian president Vladimir Putin in their February 2007 summit.
Despite its wealth and status, the kingdom operates out of a deep sense of inferiority and vulnerability: Some of its neighbors, notably Iraq and Iran, are powerful and historically hostile; its long borders are porous; it has a large Shiite population of questionable loyalty in its sensitive oil-producing regions, and its strategic installations are vulnerable. In Riyadh’s view, nuclear capabilities in Iranian hands would allow Tehran to dictate the Gulf agenda—including its oil markets—as well as incite the Shiites in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province, undermining the kingdom’s status in the Muslim world as well as the royal family’s grip on power.
The public statements reflecting Saudi intent to acquire nuclear weapons may be intended primarily to convince Tehran that obtaining the bomb will have unintended consequences. They may even be intended to pressure Washington to deal more forcibly with Tehran in order to prevent it from becoming a nuclear state. Nonetheless, these statements are not something to be taken lightly. Given Riyadh’s historical involvement (albeit not all of it proven) with nuclear weapons programs and its military inferiority to Tehran, it is liable to strive for a nuclear deterrent of its own. Saudi Arabia may indeed become the first nuclear state to acquire rather than develop nuclear capabilities.
Riyadh would view nuclear weapons as a counterweight to Tehran. The kingdom, which has traditionally achieved its goals through behind-the-scenes maneuvering backed up by enormous wealth, would probably not change this paradigm if it acquired a nuclear weapon. The lack of transparency typical of Saudi decision-making does not afford knowledge of what, if any, decisions have been made on nuclear matters. Decisions on sensitive issues are made in very secretive settings usually involving the king and the brothers closest to him and are affected by a sluggish process that tends to seek consensus through consultation within the family, requiring the placation of various factions within it and within the broader circles of regime supporters.
Due to its extremely limited research and development capabilities and know-how, Riyadh’s possible nuclear pursuit is likely to be done with external help and acquisition of an off-the-shelf deterrent. It has nowhere near the level of indigenous technical capacity needed to produce, maintain, or deploy nuclear weapons. No long-term strategy for developing its nuclear sector has been publicly issued, nor does Riyadh possess the necessary institutional support (across regulatory, technical, and legal fields) to effectively retain nuclear deployments. Therefore, it might partner with China or Pakistan or both, which have the necessary technological and human infrastructures.
Saudi Arabia’s track record merits some well-placed concern over the issue of nuclear weapons. In the late 1980s, China secretly supplied Riyadh with thirty-six CSS-2 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs). A recently inked civilian nuclear cooperation deal with Beijing, supplier of the CSS-2s and reported supplier of newer and still nuclear-capable DF-5 ICBMs, may also be troubling. Furthermore, the recent inauguration of a new command and control center belonging to the Strategic Missile Force near Riyadh raises a question: Why would Saudi Arabia invest billions in updating its strategic command and control facilities if it still possesses only outdated Chinese missiles?
The visit by the late Saudi defense minister, Crown Prince Sultan, to a uranium enrichment facility and a Pakistani missile production plant near Islamabad in 1999 (hosted by A.Q. Khan, accused of passing on nuclear secrets) raise concerns about Riyadh’s future relations with Islamabad in this matter. On at least one occasion, Khan visited Riyadh, and reports have surfaced about Pakistani scientists coming to Saudi Arabia under the guise of Hajj pilgrims.
These concerns and connections are not merely speculative. Islamabad’s willingness to provide security support for Riyadh, should the Saudis feel that there is a real danger to the kingdom’s stability, was put to the test in the spring of 2011. The Saudi royals’ fear that the Shiite uprising in Bahrain would spread to Shiite centers in northeast Saudi Arabia (where most of the kingdom’s oil reserves are located) prompted Riyadh to ask Islamabad to place an expeditionary force on alert ready to be deployed on Saudi soil should the security situation deteriorate. Pakistan responded positively to the Saudi request.
Riyadh views Islamabad as its strategic hinterland. The Saudis are behind the financing of many arms deals, and in exchange, receive training of their aerial and naval personnel by the Pakistanis. During a visit by Pakistani president Zardari to Riyadh in July 2011 (a visit that reportedly enhanced the strategic relations between the countries), King Abdullah thanked him for his support in Bahrain, where Pakistani mercenaries helped put down the Shiite uprising, and in maintaining regional stability. A month later, Pakistani prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani also visited the kingdom, asking for Saudi help with oil supplies in light of Islamabad’s economic situation and Washington’s threats to cut off support; it is unclear what Pakistan promised in exchange for the aid. Riyadh maintains a very close relationship with the heads of Islamabad’s military and intelligence services. This is significant in the nuclear context because from the start, the Pakistani nuclear program was under the control of the military establishment without any real involvement on the part of the political leadership.
The two nations, both with Sunni majorities, border Iran on two sides and are interested in curbing Tehran’s power and influence. Pakistan, lacking the monetary resources, has the requisite knowledge and skilled manpower for developing nuclear arms whereas Saudi Arabia is wealthy but lacks the relevant infrastructure and trained personnel. One cannot rule out the possibility that Riyadh may seek to balance Tehran’s power by increasing cooperation in the nuclear field with its long-standing friend, despite the political risks of jeopardizing well-established defense relations with Washington. In October 2010, the head of the strategic planning unit of Pakistan’s armed forces, who is responsible for the production, security, and storage of the nation’s nuclear weapons, said that Islamabad had the right to provide its expertise in the nuclear field to other nations. In the past, both Islamabad and Riyadh denied such a scenario.
Should Saudi Arabia find itself in a sensitive security situation, it may seek to capitalize on its investment in the Pakistani nuclear program and pressure Islamabad for assistance. It is unclear whether there is, in fact, a binding nuclear agreement between the states though the assessment is that both states have at least discussed the option. If such an agreement exists, the two have presumably trained for operational cooperation in this field. Gary Samore, President Obama’s advisor on arms control, has said that the possibility of Pakistani nuclear forces being placed in Saudi Arabia cannot be ruled out.
Although there has never been a precedent of one state selling or transferring actual nuclear warheads to another, there is the precedent of exchange of nuclear technology between Pakistan and North Korea as well as proliferation of forbidden nuclear equipment and know-how to countries including Iran and Libya and possibly Syria or Saudi Arabia. As Tehran progresses, Riyadh is likely to exert more pressure on Islamabad to fulfill its presumed commitments. It is by no means certain that Pakistan will yield to Saudi pressure and inducements, but it is impossible to rule out the deployment of Pakistani fighter jets or surface-to-surface missiles with nuclear warheads, controlled by Pakistan, on Saudi soil.
At the same time, the kingdom is accelerating its independent nuclear development—one of the largest development projects in its history—as another option in response to Iran. Saudi Arabia has in recent years started to prepare openly for the development of a civilian nuclear program and is broadening efforts to construct a knowledge base in the field, possibly as another way of establishing nuclear military capabilities over the long term. It has initiated a string of projects and signed cooperation agreements with France, Russia, the United States, South Korea, and China. In 2006, Riyadh called for the Gulf Cooperation Council (a regional bloc that includes Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman) to develop a shared program to use nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes in accordance with international treaties. The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, sought to assuage concerns about possible intentions to develop nuclear weapons stating, “It is no secret and we’re doing everything out in the open. Our goal is to pursue technology for peaceful uses—no more and no less.” Yet notwithstanding similar declarations over the years, the kingdom has signaled that it would not surrender the capability to enrich uranium on its soil, which continues to raise doubts about its intentions.
In April 2010, King Abdullah called for the establishment of a national body for nuclear research and development. In addition, he stated that Riyadh would invest more than $100 billion over two decades to establish no fewer than sixteen nuclear reactors with the first reactor set to be connected to the power grid by 2020. While the civilian nuclear program seems designed to be a symbolic response to Tehran’s nuclear project in the short term, this does not preclude the possibility of its serving as a cover or preliminary stage for a military nuclear project in the future. In June 2005, Riyadh signed the Small Quantities Protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but this protocol exempts it from intrusive inspections and makes it difficult for the IAEA to ensure there is no forbidden development underway. The concern that loopholes in the protocol could allow nations to develop military nuclear capabilities has moved the IAEA to attempt to change it. Riyadh’s response was to hurry to sign the present text, despite Washington’s opposition.
Still Relying on America?
A signal from Riyadh that it intends to pursue the nuclear route may indeed be an effective way to pressure Washington to demonstrate its commitment to defend the kingdom more convincingly. Saudi doubts about their U.S. allies preceded the Obama administration’s conduct during the recent Arab upheavals but have been intensified by them. In the last two years, the kingdom has missed few opportunities to express its displeasure with Washington’s policy toward Tehran. Although Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised to extend the U.S. “defense umbrella” to the Gulf states should Tehran acquire military nuclear capabilities, this type of declaration allays few fears as it is liable to be seen as a grudging acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran. While Washington would not have to deploy nuclear forces on Arabian soil to deter aggression, such a move would make the message of deterrence more credible and calm Saudi nerves. However, any U.S.-Saudi security arrangement would likely be covert so as not to embarrass the kingdom vis-à-vis elements opposed to hosting “infidels” on “sacred” lands. Another possibility would be to deploy nuclear forces offshore. A hint that such an option might be in the making came in March 2010 when the U.S. navy fired a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead from a submarine near the Saudi coast.
Continued Iranian progress toward a nuclear weapon, Iraq’s increasing alignment with Tehran, and an expedited U.S. exit from Afghanistan are all changing the Saudi strategic landscape. The Obama administration’s “lead from behind” approach in Libya and its hesitation to get involved in the Syrian civil war all contribute to a reassessment of U.S. commitments. With the U.S. “pivot to Asia”—taking the form of a series of military, economic, commercial, and diplomatic initiatives aimed at contending with the rising power of China—and a changing global energy map due to expansion of oil and natural gas production in the United States, Riyadh and others are beginning to prepare for a post-U.S. Middle East.
According to recent reports, Washington is considering expanding its nuclear cooperation with Riyadh on the basis of a 2008 memorandum of understanding: In exchange for foregoing the operation of nuclear fuel cycles on its soil, Saudi Arabia was to receive nuclear assistance. Such a move, should it come to pass, may be meant to persuade Riyadh to abandon its strategic goals, prevent other players from gaining a foothold in the attractive Saudi market, and challenge Tehran’s nuclear policy. The United States is still Saudi Arabia’s most effective security support, but if Washington distances itself from regional matters, the gradual entrance of new players into the Gulf is inevitable.
The question of Saudi acquisition of a nuclear deterrent is more relevant than ever when both enemies and friends of the United States are looking at a possible regional drawdown on Washington’s part as well as a lack of support for the pro-Western regimes that remain in place. If the U.S. government provides Riyadh with formal security guarantees, it would be natural for it to demand that the kingdom forego its strategic goals. But Riyadh’s inclusion under a U.S. defense umbrella is not a given and depends both on the quality of relations between the two countries and other Saudi considerations. Riyadh remains skeptical over Washington’s willingness to come to its aid and may thus seek to purchase a nuclear deterrent, which would provide it with more freedom vis-à-vis its stronger ally. Under present circumstances, it is not unreasonable for Riyadh to rely on other states for its defense in addition to Washington for the simple reason that it has done so in the past. Likewise, it is more than likely that the Saudis will not act transparently because they have acted in secret previously.
After Iran, Saudi Arabia is the number one candidate for further nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. Open source evidence remains circumstantial, but perhaps more than any other regional player, Riyadh has the requisite ideological and strategic motives as well as the financial wherewithal to act on the option.
The kingdom may conclude that its security constraints as well as the attendant prestige and influence generated by having a bomb outweigh the political and economic costs it will pay. The difficulty in stopping Tehran’s dogged quest for a nuclear capability coupled with Riyadh’s doubts about the reliability of Washington is liable to encourage Riyadh to shorten timetables for developing an independent nuclear infrastructure, as well as to opt to purchase a turnkey nuclear system, an off-the-shelf product, or to enter into a security compact of one sort with another power. Sunni-majority Pakistan has emerged as the natural candidate for such an arrangement.
Heavy U.S. pressure is likely to be brought to bear on the Saudis not to acquire nuclear capabilities. Indeed, it seems that, at present, the price Riyadh is likely to pay should it acquire military nuclear capabilities might outweigh the advantages of such a move. But strategic interest, motivated by considerations of survival, could have the upper hand. Should it seem that the kingdom’s vital security interests are threatened, it may prefer to take a series of steps, including obtaining a nonconventional arsenal, to reduce risks and ensure the continuity of the House of Saud.
 Kuwait News Agency, Mar. 21, 2011.
 The Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2011; The Guardian (London), June 29, 2011; The Jerusalem Post, June 30, 2011.
 Ha’aretz (Tel Aviv), May 30, 2012.
 Ibid., May 30, 2012.
 Thomas Lippman, Saudi Arabia on the Edge: The Uncertain Future of an American Ally (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2012), pp. 229-30, 236-7.
 Ibid, pp. 231, 237-43.
 Joseph Kostiner, “The GCC States and the Security Challenges of the Twenty-First Century,” The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, Mideast Security and Policy Studies, no. 86, Sept. 2010.
 Shmuel Bar, “Culture of Command and Control of Nuclear Weapons in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia,” working paper, Twelfth Herzliya Conference, Jan. 2012.
 Mark Jansson, “Conceding the Saudi Nuclear Breakout,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C., Feb. 21, 2012.
 “Pakistani Journalist Examines Saudi-Pakistani Nuclear Cooperation,” Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Washington, D.C., Special Dispatch, no. 4205, Oct. 14, 2011.
 William Potter and Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, eds., Forecasting Nuclear Proliferation in the 21st Century: A Comparative Perspective (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010), p. 93.
 Asia Times (Hong Kong), Apr. 2, 2011.
 Bruce Riedel, “Brezhnev in the Hejaz,” National Interest, Sept.-Oct. 2011.
 Francisco Aguilar, Randy Bell, Natalie Black, Sayce Falk, Sasha Rogers and Aki Peritz, “An Introduction to Pakistan’s Military,” Harvard Kennedy School, Belfer Center, Cambridge, July 2011.
 Islamic Republic News Agency, Aug. 10, 2011.
 Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, “Nuclear Security in Pakistan: Reducing the Risks of Nuclear Terrorism,” Arms Control Today (Washington, D.C.), July/Aug. 2009.
 Pervez Hoodbhoy, “Iran’s bomb and Pakistan,” The Express Tribune (Karachi), Jan. 15, 2012.
 “Head of Pakistan’s Nuclear Program: Pakistan Has the Right to Use Nuclear Weapons Should the Need Arise,” MEMRI, Special Dispatch, no. 3330, Oct. 31, 2010.
 Bruce Riedel, “Enduring Allies: Pakistan’s Partnership with Saudi Arabia Runs Deeper,” Force, Dec. 2011.
 Thomas Lippman, “Nuclear Weapons and Saudi Strategy,” Policy Brief, no. 5, Middle East Institute, Jan. 2008.
 “Country Profiles: North Korea, Nuclear,” Nuclear Threat Initiative, Washington, D.C., Aug. 2012.
 William Langewiesche, “The Wrath of Khan,” The Atlantic, Nov. 2005.
 Asharq al-Awsat (London), Oct. 15, 2012.
 The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 16, 2012.
 The Gulf News (Dubai), Dec. 11, 2006.
 Ha’aretz, Dec. 10, 2006.
 Arab News (Riyadh), June 17, 2010; Asharq al-Awsat, Oct. 15, 2012.
 Arab News, June 1, 2011.
 Global Security Newswire, Nuclear Threat Initiative, Washington, D.C., June 16, 2005.
 The Washington Post, May 16, 2011; Asharq al-Awsat, Nov. 8, 2012.
 Fox News, July 22, 2009.
 The Washington Post, Mar. 31, 2010.
 The Wall Street Journal, July 30, 2011.
Business and boxing: two sides of the same coin
What do a planned US$15 billion Saudi investment in petroleum-related Indian businesses and a controversial boxing championship have in common?
Both reflect a world in which power and economics drive policy, politics and business at the expense of fundamental rights.
And both underscore an emerging new world order in which might is right, a jungle in which dissenters, minorities and all other others are increasingly cornered and repressed.
Rather than furthering stability by building inclusive, cohesive societies both support trends likely to produce an evermore unstable and insecure world marked by societal strife, mass migration, radicalization and violence.
A world in which business capitalizes on decisions by a critical mass of world leaders who share autocratic, authoritarian and illiberal principles of governance and often reward each other with lucrative business deals for policies that potentially aggravate rather than reduce conflict.
No doubt, the planned acquisition by Saudi Arabia’s state-owned national oil company Aramco of 20 percent of the petroleum-related businesses of Reliance Industries, one of India’s biggest companies, makes commercial and strategic economic and business sense.
Yet, there is equally little doubt that the announcement of the acquisition will be read by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, days after he scrapped the autonomous status of the troubled, majority Muslim region of Kashmir, as a license to pursue his Hindu nationalist policies that discriminate against Muslims and other minorities and fuel tensions with Pakistan, the subcontinent’s other nuclear power.
The ultimate cost of the fallout of policies and business deals that contribute or give license to exclusion rather than inclusion of all segments of a population and aggravate regional conflict could be far higher than the benefits accrued by the parties to a deal.
Underscoring the risk of exclusionary policies and unilateral moves, cross border skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani forces erupted this week along the Kashmiri frontier in which at least five people were killed.
The timing of the announcement of the Aramco Reliance deal in a global environment in which various forms of racism and prejudice, including Islamophobia, are on the rise, assures Indian political and business leaders that they are unlikely to pay an immediate price for policies that sow discord and risk loss of life.
Like in the case of Saudi and Muslim acquiescence in China’s brutal clampdown on Turkic Muslims in the troubled, north-western Chinese province of Xinjiang, the most frontal assault on a faith in recent history, the announcement risks convincing embattled Muslim minorities like the Uighurs, the Kashmiris or Myanmar’s Rohingya who are lingering in refugee camps in Bangladesh that they are being hung out to dry.
To be sure, Kashmiris can count on the support of Pakistan but that is likely to be little more than emotional, verbal and political.
Pakistan is unlikely to risk blacklisting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog, at its next scheduled meeting in October by unleashing its anti-Indian militants.
Anthony Joshua’s controversial fight with Andy Ruiz scheduled for December in Saudi Arabia, the first boxing championship to be held in the Middle East, pales in terms of its geopolitical or societal impact compared to the Saudi Indian business deal.
Fact is that Saudi Arabia’s hosting of the championship has provoked the ire of activists rather than significant population groups. The fight is furthermore likely to be seen as evidence and a strengthening of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s selective efforts to socially liberalize the once austere kingdom.
Nonetheless, it also reinforces Prince Mohammed’s justified perception that Saudi Arabia can get away with imprisoning activists who argued in favour of his reforms as well as the lack of transparency on judicial proceedings against the alleged perpetrators of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia insists the killing was perpetrated by rogue operatives.
What Saudi investment in India and the scheduled boxing championship in the kingdom have in common is that both confirm the norms of a world in which ‘humane authority,’ a concept developed by prominent Chinese international relations scholar Yan Xuetong, is a rare quantity.
Mr. Yan employs the concept to argue without referring to President Xi Jinping, Xinjiang, China’s aggressive approach towards the South China Sea or its policy towards Taiwan and Hong Kong that China lacks the humane authority to capitalize on US President Donald J. Trump’s undermining of US leadership.
Mr. Yan defines a state that has humane authority as maintaining strategic credibility and defending the international order by becoming an example through adherence to international norms, rewarding states that live up to those norms and punishing states that violate them. Garnering humane authority enables a state to win allies and build a stable international order.
Mr. Yan’s analysis is as applicable to India and Saudi Arabia as it is to China and others that tend towards civilizational policies like the United States, Russia, Hungary and Turkey.
It is equally true for men like Anthony Joshua promoter Eddie Hearn and business leaders in general.
To be sure, Aramco is state-owned and subject to government policy. Nonetheless, as it prepares for what is likely to be the world’s largest initial public offering, even Aramco has to take factors beyond pure economic and financial criteria into account.
At the end of the day, the consequence of Mr. Yan’s theory is that leadership, whether geopolitical, economic or business, is defined as much by power and opportunity as it is by degrees of morality and ethics.
Failure to embrace some notion of humane authority and reducing leadership and business decisions to exploiting opportunity with disregard for consequences or the environment in which they are taken is likely to ultimately haunt political and business leaders alike.
Said Mr. Yan: “Since the leadership of a humane authority is able to rectify those states that disturb the international order, the order based on its leadership can durably be maintained.”
What is true for political leaders is also true for business leaders even if they refuse to acknowledge that their decisions have as much political as economic impact.
Iran: What is in store for the JCPOA?
The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) continues to be in the spotlight of global politics. And even though the “Iranian problems” go beyond the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it is the “dying” JCPOA that is the main cause of tensions in and around Iran, be it the financial and economic blow of the United States, which uses the “oil baton” to strike at the Iranian economy, the threat of war in the Persian Gulf and tanker conflicts, or Iran’s geostrategic and regional position in general.
Regrettably, we have to admit that because of Washington’s destructive moves on the global scene the JCPOA is coming under corrosion and may well turn into dust in the near future. Such a negative outcome runs counter to the interests of Russia, China, and the European Union. Therefore, they are making tremendous efforts to preserve these agreements, even if in a slightly different format after the withdrawal of the US.
Political analysts reveal two conflicting views on the future of the JCPOA. Some are sure that the days of the nuclear deal are numbered. Others believe that it can still be “saved”, but this requires the concerted efforts of the countries participating in it.
On July 28, members of the Joint Commission on the Implementation of the JCPOA gathered in Vienna at the level of political directors to focus on pressing issues the JCPOA is confronted with. Participating in the meeting were delegations from Russia, China, Great Britain, France, Germany and Iran. They discussed the negative effect of Iran’s measures to curtail its commitments under the agreement thereby aggravating the situation in the Persian Gulf.
Iran’s partners called on Tehran to refrain from further withdrawal from a number of obligations under the JCPOA. The Iranian leaders have announced that, starting from May 8, they introduce 60-day rounds to gradually curtail compliance with the requirements of the JCPOA . Early September will see a new, third phase of the Iranian struggle against US sanctions. The essence of such moves on the part of Iran is to force the European Union, and, first of all, Britain, France and Germany, to launch at full capacity the INSTEX settlement mechanism, which serves to guarantee the export of Iranian oil. Apparently, this presents a lot of difficulty and causes a lot of doubts among the founders of this financial mechanism.
Reporting on the Vienna consultations, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said that “the meeting in Vienna did not give us any guarantees about the future the JCPOA.” He pointed out that Iran is not sure of the effectiveness of European efforts within the framework of INSTEX and, therefore, about maintaining the JCPOA. Iran will decide on further steps after the forthcoming ministerial meeting of countries that act as guarantors of the JCPOA, the diplomat said.
The head of the Russian delegation in Vienna, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, remarked in this connection: “We urged the Iranians to refrain from this [from the phased exit from the JCPOA, V.S.] and explained why: the more measures are taken to reconsider commitments, even if voluntary ones, the higher the political temperature and the higher the chances that some of the participants in the JCPOA may lose temper and trigger aggravation. ”
The Russian diplomat went on to comment: “Certainly, you can follow this course, but it is getting ever more precarious. If we want Iran to refrain, and we also talked about this, the rest of the countries must redouble their efforts in order to provide Iran with an acceptable level of oil export despite all the odds and set the stage for at least some normalization of foreign economic activity.”
To what extent is this possible amid the unprecedented US pressure on Iran? Federica Mogherini, head of the EU for foreign affairs, has cautiously suggested the possibility of intensifying the work of INSTEX. “The question whether INSTEX will deal with oil is currently being discussed by the shareholders,”- she said.
But it is this very issue that determines Iran’s policy, and the choice of the directions of this policy clearly correlates with the following possible developments regarding the JCPOA.
The first way is possible if the authors of the JCPOA, the European Union, and other countries concerned can provide an “acceptable level of oil export”. In this case, Iran will return to the meticulous fulfillment of its nuclear deal commitments. However, there are great doubts that Iran’s partners will be able to satisfy its oil export needs.
American officials have warned European countries that they risk violating sanctions against Iran if they promote a barter system that could allow the export of Iranian oil. A senior White House administration official told Washington Examiner that the US Department of the Treasury had contacted the INSTEX Council to “signal dissatisfaction with the creation of a tool that helps to dodge sanctions and the dangers associated with it.”
No matter how much European politicians and diplomats would like to support the JCPOA, it seems that European business is not ready to take chances with the US sanctions.
The American oil embargo has created a situation which is unparalleled, even compared to the tough international sanctions of 2012-2016. In July, the export of Iranian oil fell to 100 – 120 (taking into account condensate and light oil) thousand barrels per day . In June, this indicator ranged between 300 and 500 thousand. In April 2018, Iran exported 2.5 million bpd , which is 25 times more than this July.
According to experts, to determine the exact amount of oil currently sold by Iran is difficult, since Tehran is using “gray” and other export options. However, the current estimates range within the above mentioned figures.
Thus, even if INSTEX begins to operate at its full “oil” capacity, even if oil is sold on a daily basis to China , Russia , and European countries, and even if the oil export is carried out with the use of all possible legal and semi-legal ways, it is unlikely that all this will compensate Iran’s losses in oil exports and, accordingly, in petrodollars.
However, even in the event of such a far from optimistic scenario, and even considering financial losses, Tehran will not profit from leaving the JCPOA, first of all, for political reasons.
The second option for Iranian policy, will most likely take shape in the context of the EU’s inability to circumvent US sanctions and thereby fulfill its obligations under the JCPOA. In this case, there could be two scenarios.
The first hypothetical option for Iranian policy amid INSTEX futility: Iran openly leaves the JCPOA. On July 29, the Iranian Foreign Ministry issued a statement in which it demanded yet again that European countries act on the conditions of the JCPOA. Otherwise, the statement said, Iran would cease to pursue its obligations under this agreement.
As part of this option, Iran terminates the implementation of the Additional Protocol to the IAEA guarantees, puts an end to the activities of the IAEA inspectors and control by the Agency, restores its nuclear potential and activates the implementation of its nuclear program under plans which were in force before the adoption of the JCPOA. In its most radical version, Iran withdraws from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Such a policy, in its best version for the Iranians, will lead to the complete isolation of Iran and the resumption of international sanctions, possibly under the patronage of the UN Security Council. At worst, it will lead to possible air and missile strikes by the United States and / or Israel at Iran’s nuclear facilities (let’s recall the troubled year 2012). Clearly, such a development does not suit anyone, first of all, Iran.
It should be borne in mind that the European Union (Britain, France and Germany), while opposing the United States on the JCPOA, backs Donald Trump and his team on other issues concerning Iran and its policies. These are as follows: Iran’s missile program, Tehran’s military and political activities in the Middle East, Iran’s support of Hezbollah, Hamas and other Shiite groups, which are deemed terrorist in most Western countries. Therefore, in the event of the collapse of the JCPOA, the EU will concentrate all its political, diplomatic and propaganda campaigns and, possibly, military potential, on Iran.
The second possible political option of Tehran in the conditions of INSTEX incapacity is the continuation of the policy which is currently pursued by the Iranian leadership. On the one hand, there is a well-structured and well-thoughtout phasing out of obligations under the JCPOA, which does not envisage going beyond the “red lines”. On the other hand, bringing partners as close as possible and at the same time lifting tensions in relations with opponents with a view to set the stage for negotiations
On January 29, 2019, addressing a conference on defense and security in Iran, Chief Military Advisor to the Commander-in-Chief and Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Brigadier-General Yahya Rahim Safavi said that “the development of Iran’s strategic relations with global competitors of the United States, including Russia and China, is one of Iran’s major defense strategies.”
In June, China and Iran held joint naval exercises at the strategic Strait of Hormuz. In July, Iran unilaterally introduced a visa-free regime for citizens of China, as well as for residents of Hong Kong and Macau.
According to Iranian politicians and political analysts, Russia is Iran’s strategic ally in the region and elsewhere in the world. The Commander of the Iranian Navy, Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi, has said that Iran and Russia intend to step up maritime cooperation. According to the admiral, a memorandum of understanding was signed in Moscow on naval cooperation and the two sides plan joint military exercises in the Indian Ocean before the end of the year. “By the Indian Ocean, we mean a vast area in the northern part of the ocean, including … the Strait of Hormuz, as well as the Persian Gulf.” Later, on July 30, the command of the Iranian Navy stated that Rear Admiral Khanzadi’s words about the location of the exercises were misinterpreted. He meant the northern part of the Indian Ocean and the Oman Sea.
On August 1, the Russian Defense Ministry did not confirm either the signing of any document, or any plans for joint maneuvers of the Russian Navy and the Iranian Navy.
Judging by these facts, Tehran is trying to use Iran’s good relations with China and Russia for its political agenda and for an effective struggle against its antagonists.
Simultaneously, Iran is seeking to alleviate tensions with its opponents as part of its policy of moderate withdrawal from the JCPOA. A few days ago, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced his country’s readiness for a dialogue with Saudi Arabia, Iran’s most fierce rival in the Middle East. The two countries disagree on many issues and support parties that are at war with one another.
The most significant event of recent days is an appeal of the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to U.S. President Donald Trump to settle the differences between the two countries through negotiation and not succumb to the influence of advisers and allies, who, in his opinion, are pushing Washington into war with Tehran. As Mr. Zarif said “diplomacy is tantamount to common sense, not weakness.”
The Iranian diplomacy is thus demonstrating political flexibility and, at the same time, pragmatism. It seems that Tehran is playing a simultaneous game with many parties and, an all likelihood, there are two major points for Iran to gain from these games.
The first is to prolong the time it takes to make drastic decisions. In any case, it will play for time until the presidential election in the United States, due to take place in November 2020, hoping for the victory of the Democrats and, accordingly, the revival of the JCPOA and the return of Iranian-American relations to the period of 2015-2016.
The second is to score as many points as possible on playing venues around the world to create favorable conditions for undoubtedly welcome future negotiations, in the first place, with the Americans, and, preferably, with a Democratic administration.
Despite its daring and independent position, Tehran has no other pragmatic choice but negotiations. In all likelihood, the American pressure on Iran under Donald Trump will not dwindle. Given the situation, Iran’s foreign policy of the near future will move along a thorny path full of unpredictable pitfalls and unexpected turns. But obviously, all these efforts are oriented at the only option possible – negotiations. Other ways are either unrealistic, or lead to war. And this, I dare say, is something no one wants, including the United States.
From our partner International Affairs
U.S. – Iran tensions: Position of Baku Remains the Same
The situation in the Middle East is still tense. First of all, because of the aggravating relations between Iran and the United States, that resemble a roller coaster. A temporary stabilization follows the next peak, but at a level below the previous aggravation. Then a new incident takes place or another ultimatum is given by one of the parties, and everything repeats again.
Tensions with Iran have steadily increased since U.S. President Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 Iranian Nuclear Agreement and re-imposed harsh economic sanctions on Iran. Rouhani and other Iranian officials accuse the United States of engaging in “economic terrorism.”
The international community now is watching the development of the conflict between the US and Iran. The regular imposition of new sanctions on Iran, the start of tanker wars, the mutual threats of Washington and Tehran become a real threat to international security. The projects exempted from US sanctions include the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) and the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor.
It seems clear the Iranians have little inclination or motivation to back down. They will probably increase the aggression toward merchant shipping, either putting mines in the Strait of Hormuz (which they did as part of the so-called “tanker wars” in the 1980s) or actually sinking a ship, probably surreptitiously using a diesel submarine.
Meanwhile, anti-Iran sanctions hit considerably Iran’s partners. They are forced to look for mechanisms of evading these sanctions and to look for new formats of interaction in order to protect existing ones.
Today, many countries reject full economic cooperation with Tehran. But the format of cooperation, aimed primarily at the implementation of global economic and transport projects, continues to exist. The next trilateral summit of the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran is clear evidence that this format of cooperation is beneficial. All the sanctions can’t hinder it.
If we imagine that the war between the USA and Iran will start, it will become an unconditional, non-compensating disaster for all its participants. That will be a war without winners. All the involved parties will lose.
As a neighboring country Azerbaijan will inevitably be drawn into the conflict. It can turn into a catastrophe, as refugee flows and extremists will head to Azerbaijan, especially from Iranian (Southern) Azerbaijan region.
So far, the President of Azerbaijan Republic Ilham Aliyev remains the most successful leader of the South Caucasus. He is confidently controlling the ship of the state. With its reasonable policy, Azerbaijan has already ensured its own place in a multipolar world. And this place does not mean that Azerbaijan will follow Russia and China instructions. The government of Baku will act in accordance with its own interests that ensures independence and a place in the future multi-polar world.
The main thing is to continue this course being afraid of nothing, but acting within the framework of international law, if some other country commits indecent acts. A real politician should not fall prey to intimidation, the psychological attack of the West countries. This politician weighs reality, facts, actions. If Azerbaijan succumbs to such an attack, the tested methods will be applied in response such as color revolutions, external pressure and etc.
For Azerbaijan, the Islamic Republic of Iran is not just an ordinary country. First of all, Iran is the Azerbaijan Republic’s southern neighbor. The 2 states share about 618 kilometers of land borders. These two countries border each other in the Caspian Sea as well. Both countries share values from their mutual past and some elements of a common culture. Azerbaijan has the second largest Shi’i population in the world, after Iran. The membership of both countries in Muslim and regional organizations like the Organization of Islamic Conference and ECO, is an indicator of the countries’ affinities in terms of geography and religion.
The history of direct relations for the last 10 years shows that such positive and binding factors as neighborhood and the same religion are not enough to create close relations between them. Other important factors, which affect current relations between Azerbaijan and Iran, exist as well.
Azerbaijan is well aware that there can be no sovereign state in a unipolar world. This simple, but very sober and very courageous calculation dictated Aliyev’s policy of supporting the Iran-Azerbaijan-Russia format of cooperation.
The Islamic Republic of Iran plays an active role in the geopolitical struggle over Caspian oil. As major hydrocarbon exporters themselves, Russia and Iran view the new oil and gas producers in the Caspian region as a threat to their own economic interests. Just like Russia, Iran is deeply concerned over growing western capital investments and the expansion of foreign interests and presence in the region. Being unable to compete with US and European technology and capital in tapping the abundant Caspian natural resources, Iran and Russia have resorted to non-economic ways of influence in the region.
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