In the current Iranian economic and political system there are many old and new geopolitical and economic tensions.
At a time when many countries, including China, but not the United States, are adopting the criteria of the Paris Climate Agreement- signed, however, by 196 countries – it is obvious that oil will see its economic and technological importance decrease, while the role of alternative energy resources and, above all, natural gas will increase.
This is the first aspect to be studied: Saudi Arabia does not possess significant reserves of natural gas which, however, is much more “environmental-friendly” than oil, while Iran and Qatar have plenty of it.
Incidentally, the two countries which were accused of “sponsoring terrorism” during the meeting gathering 13 countries in Riyadh in May 2017 to establish the “Sunni Arab NATO” – a meeting where President Trump-led America which, however, is supposed to have some intelligence, had to say only yes.
This is exactly the reason why Saudi Arabia wants to immediately double its gas production up to 23 million cubic feet per day, while the country is also thinking about an OPEC oil reduction of 1.8 million barrels per day until the end of 2018.
This situation has nothing to do with the situation prevailing in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has 18% of all natural gas reserves in the world, the second in size after the Russian Federation’s.
Another political problem in the use of natural gas, as can be easily imagined.
Conversely, Qatar has “only” 14% of global natural gas reserves, the third largest region in the world in terms of oil and gas.
This is the reason why, for example, the issue of renewables is at the core of Vision 2030, the great Saudi reform project.
Saudi Arabia still ranks sixth in terms of natural gas reserves, and the new leader of the Saudi Kingdom, Mohammed bin Salman, wants to expand gas extraction in the country by approximately 4% or at most 6% on a yearly basis – with savings currently estimated at 71 US dollars for each oil barrel “replaced” by an equivalent amount of gas for the same energy production.
Hence the Saudi natural gas is mainly used at domestic level so as to avoid the energy additional cost of using national oil, which must be sold in huge quantities, while for Iran and Qatar gas is the only great economic and geopolitical opportunity of the future.
Moreover, Prince Muhammad wants to increase the production of solar energy, again to be sold to Europe, considering the obvious difference in sun exposure of Saudi lands compared to the European ones.
Hence new formulas for exporting oil and gas require different strategic configurations compared to the current ones, which arise from the now old invention of petrodollars after the Yom Kippur War but, above all, are unavoidable after the transformation of power potentials within the OPEC system.
Even today Iran often sells oil barrels in euros – Saddam Hussein’s original sin.
New energy routes to be established and defended towards Western markets and hence new distribution of satellite or enemy countries in the very long passage from the origin of energy sources up to European end consumers.
Also the United States relies on said consumers. I am afraid that, in the near future, it will try to sell us its shale oil and gas.
This explains the “materialistic” root of the Iran-Saudi Arabia tension in Yemen for the Shi’ite and Zaydist rebels of the Fifth Imam, the Houthis – officially called Ansar Allah – who should be supported by Iran, Eritrea and other Iran’s friendly countries.
Who controls Yemen controls the Suez Canal.
On the contrary, Saudi Arabia is helped there – although softly – by the United States and the United Kingdom.
I have not yet well understood the reason why the United States and Great Britain have long put all their eggs in the Saudi basket, thus relinquishing a more balanced action for hegemony over the Greater Middle East.
Obviously Mohammed Bin Salman still wants to sell significant shares of ARAMCO – the state-owned Saudi oil company – to major foreign investors and later diversify the Saudi economy.
The deal of the century for many US investment bankers.
The Saudi Prince has also planned to spend tens of billion US dollars on US armaments, mainly to support the Saudi invasion of Yemen and, again, to fight the Houthis, who inflicted heavy losses on Saudi Arabia itself and finally to strengthen the strategic friendly relationship with the United States, the primary axis of Saudi Arabia also after Mohammed Bin Salman’s “purges”.
Therefore, if Iran’s economic potential is released, the strategic potentials inside the Greater Middle East and relating to the link between Shi’ites and Sunnis are placed on an equal footing and, indeed, change in favour of Iran.
This is the real problem underlying the “reform” or the termination of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program, signed on July 14, 2015 between the P5 + 1 (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States, plus Germany) and later by the EU and the Shi’ite Republic of Iran.
Furthermore, obviously the post-1979/1981 sanctions against Iran had already seriously harmed Iran’s economy, which began to recover after 2015.
At the time, the cost of international sanctions for the Shi’ite Republic had been calculated at 100 million US dollars per day.
Pursuant to the JCPOA agreements, 1.3 billion US dollars have so far been returned to Iran for interest on frozen assets, while approximately 53.8 million dollars of “frozen” funds have not yet been returned to their legitimate owners.
The United States is keeping on indicating Iran’s persona non grata.
There are still other unresolved issues between Iran and the United States – many years after signing the JCPOA – but, as always happens in these cases, negotiations are very complex.
Iran has many advantages over Saudi Arabia: it has a more developed and diversified industrial structure; a lower fertility rate, as well as a less exploited oil production – and this precisely because of sanctions.
Nevertheless, for the time being Iran and the Caspian gas-producing countries can meet the energy demands of two major global players, namely Europe and China.
Both regions signed the Paris Climate Agreement.
Furthermore, within three years, Iran will have 24.6 billion cubic meters of gas available for being transferred to the pipelines, which can be calculated in addition to the current level of Iranian gas sales to both Europe and China.
What is the connection between this new Iranian geo-energy system and the probable US withdrawal from the JCPOA?
Let us consider the most important data: pursuant to the agreement, the IAEA can check every phase of the process for enriching Iranian uranium and plutonium – to an extent never experienced before in such international agreements.
Iran, however, must explain to the IAEA the relationship existing between the reprocessing of its uranium-plutonium and the probable military applications.
Again controlled by the IAEA, Iran shall certify it does no longer produce High-Enriched Uranium (HEU) or maintain reserves of such material. Furthermore, Iran must convert its heavy-water reactors (HWR) into research centres that can no longer produce plutonium suitable for nuclear weapons, under penalty of termination of the Treaty.
This is still enshrined in the JCPOA and in the IAEA’s practice.
Hence, since July 2015, the International Atomic Energy Agency based in Vienna has been monitoring every phase of the Iranian fuel cycle.
Nevertheless, the strictly military aspects of the Iranian nuclear system are not explicitly dealt with by the P5 + 1 agreement of 2015, but have been tackled in a separate document signed by both Iran and the IAEA, which defines a mechanism through which Iran replies directly to the questions put by the IAEA.
Iran, however, has currently no interest in manipulating or rejecting the 2015 agreement. Nevertheless, it is equally evident that the JCPOA has so far had no noticeable effects on the transformation of the Iranian support to Assad in Syria; to the Houthis in Yemen, who were initially attacked by Saudi Arabia, and to Iran’s operations on Saudi Arabia’s peripheral interests in the Middle East.
In short, the JCPOA works well in itself, but it is not politically useful to influence and condition Iran.
The agreement that President Trump wants to reject alone, possibly in contrast with his European allies, technically counteracts both ways through which nuclear weapons can be achieved, namely enriched uranium and plutonium.
However, with specific reference to uranium, pursuant to the P5 + 1 agreement, Iran must remove all the IR-2 centrifuges – developed from an old and now inefficient Pakistani model – and must also make the IAEA monitor the most modern IR-4 ones. According to the IAEA agreements and checks, they are fewer than thirty.
In the agreement already signed, it is also clear that for 15 years Iran cannot enrich uranium over 3.76% – a level that is very different from the previous 20%.
25 kilos of 20%-enriched uranium are needed to make a nuclear weapon.
Before signing the JCPOA, however, Iran possessed as many as 10,000 kilos of low-enriched uranium, which were enough to make ten nuclear weapons if the material had been further enriched.
With specific reference to plutonium, again pursuant to the P5 + 1 agreement, Iran accepts to immediately stop the construction of the Arak reactor and later turn it into a “normal” heavy-water reactor.
In 2016 Iran even made the Arak system unusable, by cementing the internal pipes.
In accordance with the JCPOA, the IAEA can carry out very intrusive checks.
The Vienna-based Agency can have free access to all Iranian nuclear facilities for the next 20 years.
An arbitration is also envisaged if the IAEA and the Iranian government disagreed with checking a site deemed “suspicious” by the Agency.
The arbitration time is approximately one month, but it is enough to check whether activities not permitted by the agreement have been carried out in that site.
However, every nuclear processing, operation and activity, even the hidden ones, leaves signs and traces that are very evident for the IAEA.
Furthermore, if Iran decided to organize a new production line of nuclear weapons on its own, it should at first build a new series of reactors and centrifuges, by using the scarce uranium it could find both internally and in covert international trade.
Nothing could be easier to discover.
Certainly the JCPOA lacks the immediate and selective procedures to carry out checks, where needed, without limits from the Iranian government but, once again, any deviation from the rule would be easily and quickly discovered by both the IAEA and any intelligence service operating on site.
With regard to the above stated matter of sanctions, it is worth recalling that Europe lifted its sanctions, including the 2012 oil embargo, on the day when the Treaty was signed.
Other sanctions were lifted by the European Union on trade in precious materials and gold, as well as on shipping and insurance.
As already mentioned, after signing the Treaty, the United States lifted sanctions on the Iranian funds frozen in their banks and on the financial assets of the Shi’ite Republic, as well as on part of the oil ones.
Nevertheless, currently President Trump does not want to maintain the agreement reached with Iran in 2015, unless it includes “expanded” safeguards.
Is it a way to favour Saudi Arabia unilaterally? Why? What does the United States get for it? Would it be more useful than a peaceful Iran entering the world market and, consequently, also abandoning dangerous anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli positions?
The US President essentially wants in-depth international inspections for Iran’s specifically military facilities, be they nuclear or not, besides additional sanctions if the Islamic Republic exceeds specific levels of missile tests, be they nuclear or not.
Certainly if President Trump participated in the talks on the North Korean nuclear system with a tough and isolated position, at least as far as the JCPOA is concerned–which many US analysts predict will “be dead and gone in May” – it would be impossible for Kim Jong-Un, for example, to take him very seriously.
Moreover, a few days ago the US President announced an increase in tariffs and duties on Chinese products to the tune of 60 billion dollars.
Obviously President Trump is putting pressures on China for North Korea to make less military investment, but China has well-known and powerful commercial countermeasures to take and it will certainly not leave North Korea alone, especially in a situation of exacerbated Sino-American relations.
Finally, the US President threatened to withdraw a substantial amount of US troops from South Korea.
This makes the traditional US ally in the Korean peninsula, namely South Korea, less loyal and provides to Kim Jong-Un additional cards to play during the negotiations – and the North Korean leader has already proved to be an excellent poker player.
The strategic aim underlying President Trump’s operation is obvious. He wants to favour- far too much – the old circle of interests between the United States and Saudi Arabia, which is connected with economic assessments (the military and non-military Saudi investment in the United States) or with the maintenance of the petrodollar system – which is essential for the whole Sunni and US horizon – so as to later isolate Iran as a “rogue state” and only terrorist country, thus forgetting the well-known ties existing between the Gulf petromonarchies and the Salafist, Qaedist and neo-Caliphate Middle East jihadism.
In simpler terms, “withdrawing” from the Treaty means that the United States wants to return to the pre-JCPOA sanction regime, which implies the return to stricter regimes for both the UN and the ever more reluctant European allies, who have already much business in place with Iran.
Germany is already lobbying in the EU for new sanctions against Iran, which, in its opinion, would convince President Trump not to withdraw from the JCPOA.
As Voltaire used to say, “a little evil is often necessary for obtaining a great good”, but in this case it is unlikely that the mechanism will work.
In this case President Trump would say that sanctions are fine with the EU and would add new ones.
To the delight of Saudi Arabia which, if deprived of geopolitical and military control east of the Middle East, would become much less tractable than it currently is.
Fighting each other – “Befriend a distant State and strike a neighbouring one”, as taught by the everlasting Chinese 36 Stratagems of the Art of War (and not only applying to war and military strategy).
This holds true also for Israel.
Certainly the pressure on the border with Syria must be relieved and Israel is right in conveying harsh signs of its presence. However, are we sure that an all-powerful Saudi Arabia throughout the Middle East still remains friendly to the Jewish State, albeit secretly? What about Palestine?
If, on May 12, President Trump reintroduces sanctions, Iran will no longer be able to export oil or anything else, since it would incur US “secondary sanctions” and any bank acting as a broker in Iran’s transactions would be excluded from the North American circuit, which is certainly no small thing.
The US President, however, can reduce the financial isolation of any country by declaring that one of its banks “has significantly reduced Iranian oil imports”, which provides further room for political autonomy for President Trump.
In fact, the EU is studying mechanisms to shield against US secondary sanctions, but May 12 is very close.
There is also the concrete possibility that President Trump may want to “make an agreement to have another agreement”: the US President may want to make a new JCPOA, with more sanctions, to force the Europeans to follow him in this adventure.
This would be the US President’s real goal, i.e. a EU economy again ancillary to the US cycle – as at the time of Kissinger’s “Year of Europe”.
This would be currently impossible.
The EU Member States also know that the sanctions on Iran increase the oil barrel price by one or two dollars.
And these sanctions against Iran cost to the United States over 272 million US dollars a year.
Approximately 315,000-420,000 fewer jobs for the US rednecks.
What are the possible solutions? A proposal for a new JCPOA to be redrafted immediately, with a specific note in addition to those already present in relation to the IAEA checks on any nuclear weapon systems that could be installed on ICBM carriers.
Abolition – after a three-month standby period – of any secondary sanction procedure, after Iran declaring the size and structures of its missile program which may be used with very unlikely nuclear warheads.
Apart from the technical work carried out by the Vienna-based Agency, political control powers should be granted to a joint committee including JCPOA members and representatives appointed by the UN Security Council, without fearing any possible overlap, which can only do good.
We should make President Trump understand that, while it is true that the EU is the largest commercial region imposing import duties, repeating this model in the United States is not at all useful, neither for America, nor for Europe, nor for the Middle East countries which must let be developed in peace.
It is our primary interest for three main reasons.
Firstly to avoid being tied up, hand and foot, to Saudi Arabia alone; secondly to avoid financial transfers from the Sunni Middle East in one direction only and thirdly to avoid having to cover up, indefinitely, some countries which pay lip service to the fight against “terrorism” and, indeed, finance terrorists massively.
Whither the Arab and the Muslim world?
An agreement to establish diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel and a Saudi-Pakistani spat over Kashmir coupled with feuds among Gulf states and between Turkey, the kingdom, and the Emirates drive nails into the notion that the Arab and Islamic world by definition share common geopolitical interests on the basis of ethnicity or religion and embrace kinship solidarity.
The UAE-Israel agreement weakens the Palestinians’ efforts to create a state of their own but their criticism of the UAE’s move to become the third Arab country after Egypt and Jordan to officially recognize the Jewish state is based on a moral rather than a legal claim.
The UAE and Israel see their relations with the United States and the perceived threat from Iran as bigger fish to fry.
Both countries hope that an upgrading of their relations will keep the US engaged in the Middle East, particularly given that it puts pressure to follow suit on other Gulf states that have similar concerns and have engaged with Israel but not to the degree that the UAE has.
The UAE and Israel further worry that a potential victory by presumptive Democratic candidate Joe Biden in the US’ November presidential election could bring to office an administration more willing than President Donald J. Trump to seek accommodation with Iran and emphasize human rights and basic freedoms.
The establishment of diplomatic relations strengthens the UAE’s position as one of the United States’ most important partners in the Middle East and allows Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to argue that his hardline policy towards the Palestinians does not impede a broader peace between the Jewish state and Arab nations.
Mr. Netanyahu is however concerned that his argument may resonate less with a Biden administration that potentially could be less empathetic to Israel’s annexationist aspirations on the West Bank as well as with the right-wing in Israel that may not feel that the UAE is worth surrendering what they see as historical Jewish land.
Ironically, the price of suspending annexation in exchange for diplomatic relations with the UAE gets Mr. Netanyahu off the hook in the short term.
Mr. Netanyahu had pledged to annex parts of the West Bank on July 1 but has dragged his feet since because the Trump administration, while endorsing the principle, opposed any tangible move on the ground. Mr. Trump feared that annexation would have pre-empted his ability to claim some success for his controversial Israel-Palestinian peace plan.
Emirati officials had made clear that a formal annexation of parts of the West Bank, captured from Jordan during the 1967 Middle East war, would preclude the establishment of formal relations with Israel.
The question now is whether the UAE will put paid to that notion by opening their embassy in Jerusalem, whose status under international law has yet to be negotiated, rather than Tel Aviv.
So is what the UAE, alongside Jordan and Egypt, will do if and when Israel legally incorporates West Bank lands sometime in the future.
The UAE’s willingness to formally recognize Israel constituted the latest nail in the coffin of Arab and Muslim solidarity that has been trumped by hardnosed interests of the state and its rulers.
As Messrs. Trump and Netanyahu and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed were putting the final touches on their coordinated statements, traditional allies Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were locked into an escalating spat over Kashmir.
India last year revoked the autonomy of the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir and imposed a brutal crackdown.
Muslim countries with Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the lead, much like in the case of China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims, have been reluctant to jeopardize their growing economic and military ties to India, effectively hanging Pakistan out to dry.
The two Gulf states, instead of maintaining their traditional support for Pakistan, feted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as developments in Kashmir unfolded.
In response, Pakistan hit out at Saudi Arabia where it hurts. In rare public criticism of the kingdom, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi suggested that Pakistan would convene an Islamic conference outside the confines of the Saudi-controlled Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) after the group rejected Islamabad’s request for a meeting on Kashmir.
Targeting Saudi Arabia’s leadership and quest for Muslim religious soft power, Mr. Qureishi issued his threat eight months after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan under Saudi pressure bowed out of an Islamic summit in Kuala Lumpur convened by the kingdom’s critics, including Qatar, Turkey, and Iran.
Saudi Arabia fears that any challenge to its leadership could fuel demands that Saudi Arabia sign over custodianship of Mecca and Medina to a pan-Islamic body.
The custodianship and Saudi Arabia’s image as a leader of the Muslim world is what persuaded Crown Prince Mohammed to reach out to Israel primarily to use that as well as his embrace of dialogue with Jewish and Christian groups to bolster his tarnished image in Washington and other Western capitals.
The UAE’s recognition of Israel puts Saudi Arabia more than any other Gulf state in the hot seat when it comes to establishing relations with Israel and it puts Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in the driver’s seat.
That is all about interests and competition and has little to do with Arab or Muslim solidarity.
Rejiggering Gulf Security: China’s Game of Shadow Boxing
China and its Gulf partners appear to be engaged in a game of shadow boxing.
At stake is the future of Gulf security and the management of differences between the region’s conservative monarchies and revolutionary Iran.
With governments passing to one another unofficial subtle messages, intellectuals and journalists are the ones out front in the ring.
In the latest round, Baria Alamuddin, a Lebanese journalist who regularly writes columns for Saudi media, has cast subtlety aside.
Ms. Alamuddin warned in strong and rare anti-Chinese language that China was being lured to financially bankrupt Lebanon by Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite militia.
Writing in Arab News, the Saudi Arabia’s primary English-language newspaper, Ms. Alamuddin suggested that the Lebanese Shiite militia’s seduction of China was occurring against the backdrop of a potential massive 25-year cooperation agreement between the People’s Republic and Iran.
Her tirade was as much a response to reports of the alleged landmark agreement as it was to a declaration by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah that China was willing to invest in Lebanon’s infrastructure.
“Chinese companies are ready to inject money into this country. If this happened, it would bring money to the country, bring investment, create job opportunities, allow heavy transport, and so on,” Mr. Nasrallah said.
In a state-controlled media outlet in a country that has studiously backed some of the worst manifestations of Chinese autocratic behavior, including the brutal crackdown on Uyghur Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang and the repression of democratic expression and dissidents, Ms. Alamuddin did not mince words.
“Chinese diplomacy is ruthless, mercantile and self-interested, with none of the West’s lip service to human rights, rule of law or cultural interchange.”
“Chinese business and investment are welcome, but Beijing has a record of partnering with avaricious African and Asian elites willing to sell out their sovereignty. Chinese diplomacy is ruthless, mercantile and self-interested, with none of the West’s lip service to human rights, rule of law or cultural interchange,” Ms. Alamuddin charged.
She quoted a Middle East expert of a conservative US think tank as warning that “vultures from Beijing are circling, eyeing tasty infrastructure assets like ports and airports as well as soft power influence through Lebanon’s universities.”
She went on to assert that “witnessing how dissident voices have been mercilessly throttled in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang, Lebanese citizens are justifiably fearful that their freedoms and culture would be crushed under heavy-handed, authoritarian Chinese and Iranian dominance, amid the miserable, monolithic atmosphere Hezbollah seeks to impose.”
Ms. Alamuddin’s outburst implicitly recognized that China was signaling Gulf states, at a time of heightened uncertainty about the reliability of the United States’ regional defense umbrella, that they need to reduce tensions with Iran if the People’s Republic were to engage in helping create a new regional security architecture.
China was signaling Gulf states, at a time of heightened uncertainty about the reliability of the United States’ regional defense umbrella, that they need to reduce tensions with Iran.
Expressing concern about last month’s US decision to withdraw troops from Europe a day after Ms. Alamuddin’s stark criticism of China, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Assistant Secretary-General for political affairs and negotiation Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg suggested that “a more systematic framework, with organic feedback to the leadership and decision-makers” was needed for US-Gulf security discussions.
The GCC groups the Gulf’s six monarchies: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain.
China has been subtly pressuring Gulf states through academic and Communist party publications and public statements by prominent scholars with close ties to the government in Beijing.
Its messaging has primarily targeted Saudi Arabia, the one Gulf state that has so far refrained from engaging in any gestures towards Iran that could facilitate a dialing down of tension.
A recent article in a renowned Chinese journal laid out the principles on which China is willing to break with its long-standing foreign and defense policy principles to engage in Gulf security.
The principles included “seeking common ground while reserving differences,” a formula that implies conflict management rather than conflict resolution.
Most Gulf states have extended a helping hand to Iran, the Middle East country most hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Iranian and UAE foreign ministers agreed in a recent video call to cooperate during the health crisis.
“We agreed to continue dialogue on [the] theme of hope—especially as [the] region faces tough challenges, and tougher choices ahead,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Twitter.
UAE officials said earlier that there were limits to a reduction of tensions. They said a real détente would only be possible once Iran changed its behavior, meaning a halt to support for proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen and a surrender of its nuclear ambitions.
The Chinese-Gulf shadow boxing takes place against a slow-moving and seemingly troubled US and Chinese-backed Pakistani effort to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The Chinese-Gulf shadow boxing takes place against a slow-moving and seemingly troubled US and Chinese-backed Pakistani effort to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said last week without providing details that he had averted a military confrontation between the two Gulf powers. He said mediation was “making progress but slowly.”
Ms. Alamuddin’s column coupled with Saudi Arabia’s refusal to capitalize on the pandemic as way to reduce tensions, suggests that Saudi Arabia has yet to fully embrace Mr. Khan’s efforts.
Mr. Khan’s efforts are likely to be further complicated by the disclosure last month by Pakistani law enforcement that a Baloch gang leader, who was detained in 2017, had confessed to giving “secret information and sketches regarding army installations and officials to foreign agents,” believed to be Iranians.
It was not immediately clear what prompted the disclosure.
Pakistan has long asserted that Iran and India have lent support to Baloch nationalist militants responsible for multiple attacks on military and Chinese targets in the South Asian state.
“The Iran-Pakistan border issues are mainly affected by the sectarian rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. For Pakistan, this is a costly and difficult diplomatic situation at this time,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington.
Pakistan has a vested interest in helping dial down Saudi-Iranian tensions. It takes, however, two to tango and a mediator whose efforts are not burdened by bilateral issues of his own with any of the parties.
To move the pendulum, more will be required than a regional go-between or subtle nudging. With the US likely to refrain from doing the heavy lifting, that task may be left to China. If Ms. Alamuddin is an indication, China is already discovering that changing the paradigm in the Middle East is easier said than done.
Author’s note: This story was first published in Inside Arabia
Evolving Japan-UAE ties
Japan and the UAE share a unique relationship with each other. Japan recognised the UAE as an independent state in 1971 and opened its Embassy in the UAE in 1974 and on the other hand, UAE opened its embassy in Japan in 1973. Both nations share strong bilateral economic relations, dating back to 1961 when the first shipment of the crude oil was exported from Umm Al-Sharif offshore field in Abu Dhabi to Japan. Japan is known to be the world’s fourth-largest importer of oil. In 2017, it was the second-largest export market, behind China, for Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar. The UAE became the top destination in the Middle East region for Japan’s exports, valued at $7.18 billion in 2019, taking economic bilateral relations to a great level. However, on 19 July 2020, UAE spacecraft rocketed into blue skies from a Japanese launch centre at the start of a seven-month journey to Mars on the Arab’s world’s first interplanetary mission. This mission gave a boost to its strategic relations as well as space cooperation.
Understanding their bilateral relations
The longstanding cordial relationship between the UAE and Japan has been honored for decades. In 2013, PM Shinzo Abe visited the UAE and both nations jointly announced the statement on the strengthening of the Comprehensive Partnership between Japan and the UAE towards stability and prosperity. The relations between both countries have mostly focused on the economy and trade ever since they established their diplomatic relations. Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited Japan as an official guest in February 2014 to follow up the Joint Statement issued during the Prime Minister’s visit to the UAE in May 2013.
In 2016, the number of Japanese citizens living in the UAE totalled 4,000, while hundreds of Emirati citizens are in Japan for education and investment purposes.
In 2018, the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Initiative (CSPI) was signed between the two countries when Abe visited the UAE. With the signing of the CSPI, the relationship between Japan and the UAE entered a new era of strategic partnership for the future and joint cooperation strategy between the institutions of the two countries. They also agreed to increase trade in areas which included renewable energy, advanced robots, artificial intelligence and health care. Ensuring cordial energy ties are critical under the CSPI. In 2018, Japan also acquired an oil concession in Abu Dhabi for the coming 40 years which proved that Japan is an important strategic energy partner in the UAE.
The leadership of the UAE has been keen on strengthening ties with Japan in areas like education, scientific research and industry. It aims to seek its ties with Japan to new levels as Japan possesses advanced technology which would serve the sustainable and comprehensive development goals in the UAE. Cooperation is very strong in the education field. The first Japanese school was inaugurated in the UAE in 2009 and began teaching the Arabic language, Islamic education and social studies to the students of the Emirates along with the Japanese curriculum. Furthermore, around 100 students from the Emirates are studying in Japanese universities for bachelors, masters and even PhD degrees.
In 2019, an attempt of initiating to teach Japanese as a second foreign language in some UAE high schools was discussed among both countries. Akihiko Nakajima, new Japanese ambassador to the UAE affirmed that ‘both nations are currently giving importance to educational cooperation’. The friendly ties were further strengthened in recent times when Sheikh Hazza Bin Zayed Al-Nahyen, Deputy Chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Council and Dr Sultan Ahmad Al-Jaber, Minister of State and Special Envoy to Japan, attended the enthronement ceremony of the Japanese Emperor Naruhito in 2019. They wished that Japan shall achieve a brighter and more prosperous future during the ‘Reiwa Era’.
Japan and the UAE have been closely cooperating in space sciences. In October 2018, ‘KhalifaSat’ was launched into outer space from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan aboard an H-IIA rocket. In January 2020, Shinzo Abe made an official visit to the UAE and other Gulf countries to further bolster the strong ties which have been evolving on multiple fronts like trade, energy, technology, space and education. “UAE-Japan relations are historic and based on trust, cooperation, respect and mutual interests,” Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed said. Abe and Sheikh Mohammad also witnessed the signing of an Energy Cooperation Agreement between supreme Petroleum Council, represented by Adnoc (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company), and Japan’s agency for natural resources and energy.
The lift-off of the Mars orbiter named Amal or Hope probe on 19th July 2020, from a Japanese launch centre is to be followed soon by China and the United States. Amal blasted off from the Tanegashima space centre aboard a Mitsubishi heavy industries H-IIA rocket. This has given a major boost to space cooperation between Japan and the UAE. Amal is set to reach Mars by February 2021, which will mark the year the UAE celebrates 50 years since the country’s formation. It points out that the launching of Amal was well planned in line with the celebration of 50 years of the country’s formation. “The UAE is now a member of the club and we will learn more and we will engage more and we’ll continue developing our space exploration program,” UAE Space Agency chief Mohammed Al Ahbabi told a joint online news conference from Tanegashima. The Amal statecraft costs $200 million and it is about the size of a small car, carries three instruments to study the upper atmosphere and monitor climate change. Japan’s services of such launches are known well for accuracy and on-time record. However, the providers are working to cut costs to be more competitive internationally. Japan also has its own Mars mission planned in 2024, where it aims to send spacecraft to the Martian moon Phobos to collect samples to bring back to Earth in 2029.
The objective of the UAE’S mission is to provide a comprehensive image of the weather dynamics and fundamentally, building a human settlement on Mars within the next 100 days. Omran Sharaf, the mission’s project manager said, “What is unique about this mission is that for the first time the scientific community around the world will have a holistic view of the Martian atmosphere at different times of the day at different seasons. Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has said that ‘Hope Probe’ exemplifies the distinctive strategic partnership between the UAE and Japan.
It is the first time that the UAE attempted to send a deep space mission, that of a mission to Mars. It clearly sends a strong message to the Arab youth that if the UAE is able to reach Mars in less than 50 years, then they certainly can do much more. Emiratis also believed that it represented a step forward for the Arab world and for scientists.
However, energy remains a key priority in the ongoing relations between the two countries which may contribute significantly to energy development and economic diversification in the UAE and Japan. Through space and strategic cooperation, the two countries are looking to expand and deepen the fields of cooperation. A successful mission to Mars will indeed be a major step for the oil-dependent economy seeking a great future in space. The launch of the hope probe demonstrates that effective space cooperation is a driving force for strengthening their bilateral ties. Hope is expected to begin transmitting information back to earth by September 2021.
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Coronavirus: Commission reaches first agreement on a potential vaccine
Today, the European Commission has reached a first agreement with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to purchase a potential vaccine against...
Millions ‘on the edge’ in DR Congo, now in even greater danger of tipping over
Millions of lives could be lost to hunger in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), amid escalating conflict and...
Nile water is indivisible
On August 6, the international news agency Rossiya Segodnya held an online roundtable “Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan: how to share the...
Coronavirus and schools: Access to handwashing facilities key for safe reopening
Nearly 820 million children worldwide do not have basic handwashing facilities at school, putting them at increased risk of COVID-19...
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