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Saudi Arabia, Iran and the probable end of the JCPOA

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John Bolton, the current national security adviser of Trump’s Presidency who has replaced the already dismissed Gen. McMaster, believes that the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is a “strategic defeat” for the United States.

Bolton also believes that it would always be better to follow the example of the Osirak attack on June 7, 1981 with the Israeli Operation “Opera” (or Babylon) or the Israeli attack of 2007 on the alleged Syrian nuclear reactor in the Deir-ez-Zor area.

A reactor, however, manufactured by North Korea.

That was the operation Israel named “Outside the Box”.

Hence, to quote again Bolton, “to stop Iran, bomb it”.

Not so long ago, the idea of the US national security adviser was also to bomb North Korea just to stop its nuclear activity.

How can the activities of immediate revenge on the South Korean territory be considered in the US strategic equation?

“Collateral damage”, i.e. the destruction of the only credible ally, apart from Japan, throughout Southeast Asia.

Now the agreement between the two Koreas and Kim Jong Un’s request for direct talks with President Trump have materialized – certainly not for fear of Bolton’s simplistic bomb religion.

Arms, however, never make politics.

Nevertheless they can be used, as little as possible, if you still have a political strategy in mind vis-à-vis countries, such as Iran and North Korea, which have never been afraid of the US carpet bombing.

If, however, the most reluctant countries with respect to Bolton’s brilliant ideas are destroyed, what would be the political result?

It would simply be the total loss of value of the US word towards all and each of the other members of the P5 + 1;  the likely and relevant residual counteraction by both North Korea and Iran on South Korea, the Lebanon and (obviously) Israel; finally, the almost inevitable trigger of a chain of actions and reactions that would set fire to the whole Greater Middle East.

What is the first goal? Just think about it for a moment.

It is obviously the total insularization of Europe, which still believes that its union and its single currency are not against US long-term interests.

The EU and Great Britain will soon realize that the strategic automatism inherited from the end of the Second World War has no longer value in the relations between the two shores of the Atlantic.

However, what could the rational goal of this military action against North Korea and Iran be, apart from Doctor Strangelove-style libido of some US decision makers?

Very probably no goal at all or the worst possible one, i.e. the closure of the whole system between Suez and the Persian Gulf, and finally the strategic non-viability of the entire Islamic Shi’ite or Sunni world, as well as the total block of the energy, political, strategic and defensive link between the European Union and the Koranic universe.

This would not be good even for the United States.

The fact is that, strangely, the well-known and very old mistakes of the US intelligence on the North Korean,  Syrian, Iraqi or even Libyan arsenals, make most of the US defense establishment even think that it is necessary to bomb more, and not less, the Axis of Evil- as Bolton clearly says.

The less we know about Syria, Iran and North Korea, the more we destroy them. A very logical idea. Hence also the wrong places would be bombed.

Let us also imagine to what extent a tactical bombing on North Korean positions would weigh and be impactful, just now that North Korea is starting a meaningful, verifiable and useful dialogue with South Korea and its strategic allies, namely Japan and the United States.

The logical consequence would be at least the US abandonment on the part of South Korea and Japan.

All this while President Trump is declaring from the rooftops  he wants to leave Syria and thus make his Sunni allies engage on the ground – although we can easily predict they will refuse flatly.

Hence they are all very dangerous options for the United States and the whole West, which would find themselves to no longer have credibility, clout and role throughout Asia.

For a power like the United States the fact of losing face and the value of its word, as well as always and often unreasonably choosing to resort to weapons, even when this is not devoid of dangers, are satanic temptations that the United States must avoid throughout the Middle East and Asia.

Hence the counter-arguments relating to Bolton’s “carpet bombing” are even obvious.

Firstly, as shown by the data provided in the last meeting (held around March 20, 2018) of the P5 + 1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, Great Britain, United Kingdom and the United States), i.e. the group that reached the nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, the Shi’ite Republic of Iran has so far fully implemented the rules enshrined in the eaty – as evidenced by the IAEA official data.

The IAEA report of February 22 was also accepted by all the JCPOA members, including the United States, who took note of Iran’s “continued adherence” to the letter and spirit of the 2015 deal.

What is the meaning of destroying with bombs – if they ever succeed in doing so without setting fire to its borders -a country that all signatories (including the United States) consider officially compliant with the implementation of the rules enshrined in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action?

To possibly achieve Syria’s cantonization?

Paraphrasing Voltaire, a great evil for a little good.

If anything, with a view to putting an end to the Sunni jihad on the Syrian territory, the E3 -i.e. the group of the three European countries belonging to the P5 + 1 – immediately pointed out, in a confidential report, that we could sanction other new people and entities – already identified -that collaborated in the Iranian (conventional) missile tests, in the framework of the seven-year cooperation between Iran and Syria.

A German idea immediately supported by France, which fears the disruption of its positions in Syria and elsewhere.

Germany has already made clear that it will not participate in any military operation in Syria jointly with the other Western powers.

Moreover, in Bolton’s mind – following his statements  to the letter – the only alternative to the so-called Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate would be a new Sunni State in Syria.

However, how could we be sure that this new Sunni State would not soon be turned into a safe haven for the Caliphate’s jihad, which has not yet been defeated between Syria and Iraq?

Nevertheless Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar have always had quite different ideas on how this new Sunni State should be, which would probably still be at the mercy of jihadist extremism.

Said extremism would immediately expand to Iraq and Jordan, thus undermining the lopsided strategic equation left on the ground by the United States after the hasty and ambiguous victories against Saddam Hussein.

What operational option would the United States choose, if Syria were destroyed to cantonizeit ethnically and according to religious fault lines?

A divided Syria and, indeed, cantonized as a Swiss valley is of no use to anyone, certainly not to Assad, but not to the various participants in the war against him, including the Caliphate’s jihad.

But not even to the United States, if you think about it.

In the first phase of the war against Assad, Saudi Arabia had placed all its eggs in the basket of a Lebanese Shi’ite, namely Okab Sakr, an old client of the Hariri family.

As is well-known, however, this family does not currently enjoy the favour of the new master of Saudi Arabia, namely Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

In the Syrian theater, Qatar operated with a defector from  Assad’s regime and two other aides with minor roles and the new Qatari acquisition was Abdulrahman Suwais.

Nevertheless the geopolitical (and economic) clash between Saudi Arabia and Qatar immediately moved to the local Syrian clients of the various Arab powers, with Qatar using forces linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia using Sakr, its broker and intermediary for the war against Assad, that – however – collected battalions of jihadists not yet linked to the so-called Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate.

But in a quite haphazard way.

Moreover, all the three Arab and Muslim countries that supported Assad’ Sunni enemies have always thought that – apart from their rivalries – sooner or later the United States would have arrived to solve the Syrian issue for them.

This perception is the only rational factor we can note in President Trump’s current positions.

Former President Obama, however, did not claim the criterion of his “red line” in September 2013, after Bashar al-Assad allegedly using chemical weapons against a “rebellious” – i.e. Sunni and para-jihadist – part of his population.

Only in the summer of 2014 – immediately after Prince Bandar bin Sultan’s resignation as Head of the Saudi  intelligence-did real collaboration begin on the Syrian territory between Saudi Arabia, CIA and the US State Department.

Before the closure of the Syrian-Iraqi border, carried out by the so-called Caliphate in the summer of 2014, the many Sunni groups operated only with the huge resources provided by the various private donors, without much support from the Saudi government.

However, after the expansion of the Caliphate, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey agreed to support one single Sunni-jihadist movement, namely Jaysh-al Fatah(the “Army of Conquest”).

Nevertheless, some money still reached the multifarious and chaotic Sunni opposition to Assad’s Alawite and pluralist regime.

The “Conquest” movement was coordinated by the Saudi Koranic scholar, Abdullah Al Muhaysini, and the Jaysh forces operated mainly in Idlib and in Hama and Latakia.

Hence the jugular veins of the Russian-Syrian system.

In an interview of early April 2018 released to Time, however, Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman said: “Bashar can stay”.

The Saudi Prince’s reasoning is obvious: Saudi Arabia  wants to fund (possibly with a trillion US dollars)  Bashar al-Assad’s regime, even if he considers it takfir (apostate) so as to avoid Iran’s further penetration into Syria.

A Saudi strategic flexibility going as far as even creating a new relationship with the Jewish State.

What about the United States? Has it the same fantasy and creativity as Saudi Arabia?

However , the new “Sunni military alliance” – also created in 2015 around the Saudi forces – cannot replace the US military and strategic clout in the region.

Hence, according to Bolton and many of his aides, the United States should foot the bill and pay the price of the Islamic Military Alliance, an Arab NATO aimed against the Shi’ites and designed to favour the current oil balance of the OPEC Sunni system.

Hence why should the United States bring all this grist to the Saudi mill, just when the shale oil and gas make the United States autonomous from an energy viewpoint?

Moreover, during the last meeting of the “Sunni NATO” held at Manama in October 2017, the Head of this Alliance, namely Pakistani General Raheel Sharif, did not  mention any ongoing operation between Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

Therefore the limit of the Sunni engagement in Syria has  already been tacitly achieved.

Hence if the United States commits itself to fighting Iran – passively and in vain – after the manipulated destruction of the JCPOA, it will only serve the Saudi interest and not its own.

Yet another long war that will lead to nothing, but only to an increase in the US military budget – the now well-known North American military Keynesianism.

Real interests of the United States – no longer servants to  the House of Al Saud – which would be the interest of stabilizing the Middle East system to the lowest possible nuclear and conventional potential, possibly with a Conference between the P5 + 1 and Iran also meant for the new strategic redesign of the whole region, to be agreed also with Israel.

Nevertheless the European sanctions against Iran – the substitute for the US break with the JCPOA which, in all likelihood, will take place after May 12 – should anyway  be supported by all 28 EU Member States.

This would be the project of the E3, the EU countries of P5 + 1.

This is clearly just a way to avoid the May 12 deadline  proposed by President Trump – a snack of good European cuisine offered to the United States with a view to preventing it from reaching the bad military lunch against Iran.

However, how would the other non-European signatories of the 2015 deal react, when seeing that the United States increasingly behaves as a semi-legal actor and as a fully selfish element in the international geopolitical concert?

Obviously if the United States unilaterally withdraws from the JCPOA, the chances of a war against Iran will increase significantly, but is it certain that the United States will  win it quickly and without extensive damage? Not at all.

Moreover, are we sure that the future world is still unipolar like the one immediately after 1989, as some residual and naive theorists of US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan still think?

Should we not currently say that both the great operations for “exporting democracy” have been a clear military, strategic, economic and geopolitical failure?

Iraq was almost given away to Iran which, in fact,is already using the Shi’ite majority of the Iraqi population as leverage. Afghanistan is still a strategic void where nothing has been decided yet, after almost two decades of war, while China is building its own Beijing-Kabul railway.

Hence if the EU accepts President Trump’s diktat on Iran to limit or abolish Iran’s missile activities, including the conventional ones, and its support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime, it will not achieve any of its goals.

Not even in this case is it conceivable that the United States limits their demands on Iran.

Iran, however, could choose to remain in the perimeter of the July 2015 deal, by stopping any regional agreement with Western powers and reacting immediately to local threats.

Another option – already partially verified in the recent meetings between the Iranian Foreign Minister and the  British government – could be to collaborate with the individual European countries of P5 + 1 on issues other than those pertaining to the nuclear deal as – in this case –  for the resolution of the Houthis’ Shi’ite insurgency in Southern Yemen.

A further option could be President Trump’s walking out of the JCPOA agreement- without saying goodbye – but  not preventing the European countries to keep on having economic relations with Iran, and avoiding secondary and non-territorial sanctions, especially in the financial and banking sector.

An unlikely scenario – the war in the Middle East is also a war against Europe, for its final disruption and destructing as a US ally that believed to be more important than the United States.

However, anything can happen. The instability and volatility of the current US Presidency bode well.

Furthermore, if China, Russia and the EU remain party to the 2015 deal, Iran will have every reason to stay within the JCPOA perimeter and thus remove any US justification for a military attack on Iran or for a further phase of US sanctions only.

Moreover, considering the unreasonable and never decisive  US presence in Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, Iran could also play the card of further military pressure on US targets in all these regions, thus making the US actions extremely costly and, above all, harmful to one or more US Sunni allies.

Conversely, if President Trump re-imposes all sanctions, including the secondary ones, but walking out of the  JCPOA, also Iran could withdraw from the July 2015 deal but remain in the nuclear non-proliferation system led by IAEA – and the two things are not connected at all.

Once again, what would be the rationale of a future US  military attack on Iran?

In all likelihood, Russia and China would maintain  relations with Iran, thus giving away the entire Shi’ite arc to Russia and China, which will use it excellently to ban all US presence beyond the Persian Gulf.

Hence the US strategic subjection to Saudi Arabia would be complete.

Moreover, Iran could make some surprise moves like the recent one by Kim Jong Un and inevitably make the United States sit at the bilateral table of talks on nuclear and even conventional weapons – and from a position of strength.

Having played all its cards on the fight against Iran, Saudi Arabia would be definitely taken aback and could not opt for a blind support to the United States during the new talks.

There is no guarantee it would be such as to serveall the Saudi regional interests.

Finally, the most unlikely scenario could be a EU that succeeds in convincing the United States to fully remain in the JCPOA, without any additional or already envisaged sanctions.

It is very unlikely and it is now clear that the US deep state wants to “bring democracy” also to Iran and, possibly, to the Shiite-Alawite part of Syria, thus destabilizing the most important Middle East buffer State and ultimately playing Russia’s and China’s game.

Clearly they will firmly keep the non-Sunni areas of the Syrian cantonization and will operate on them to reach the Arabian peninsula, thus heavily influencing the Sunni canton dreamed of by Bolton.

Obviously this will not happen with the war, but with the economic and infrastructural agreements we already see at work.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Saudi religious moderation is as much pr as it is theology

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Mohammed Ali al-Husseini, one of Saudi Arabia’s newest naturalized citizens, ticks all the boxes needed to earn brownie points in the kingdom’s quest for religious soft power garnered by positioning itself as the beacon of ‘moderate,’ albeit autocratic, Islam.

A resident of Saudi Arabia since he had a fallout with Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite militia, Mr. Al-Husseini represents what the kingdom needs to support its claim that its moderate form of Islam is religiously tolerant, inclusive, non-sectarian, pluralistic, and anti-discriminatory.

More than just being a Shiite, Mr. Al-Husseini is the scion of a select number of Lebanese Shiite families believed to be descendants of the Prophet Mohammed.

Put to the test, it is a billing with as many caveats as affirmatives – a problem encountered by other Gulf states that project themselves as beacons of autocratic interpretations of a moderate strand of the faith.

Even so, Saudi Arabia, despite paying lip service to religious tolerance and pluralism, has, unlike its foremost religious soft power competitors – the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Turkey, Iran, and Indonesia, yet to legalise non-Muslim worship and the building of non-Muslim houses of worship in the kingdom.

Similarly, the first batch of 27 newly naturalized citizens appeared not to include non-Muslims. If it did, they were not identified as such in contrast to Mr. Al-Hussein’s whose Shiite faith was clearly stated.

The 27 were naturalized under a recent decree intended to ensure that Saudi Arabia can compete with countries like the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Singapore in attracting foreign talent. About a quarter of the new citizens, including Mr. Al-Husseini and Mustafa Ceric, a former Bosnian grand mufti, were religious figures or historians of Saudi Arabia.

In doing so, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman linked his economic and social reforms that enhanced women’s rights and catered to youth aspirations to his quest for religious soft power and leadership of the Muslim world. The reforms involved tangible social and economic change. Still, they refrained from adapting the ultra-conservative, supremacist theology that underlined the founding of the kingdom and its existence until the rise of King Salman and his son, the crown prince, in 2015.

Prince Mohammed’s notion of ‘moderate’ Islam is socially liberal but politically autocratic. It calls for absolute obedience to the ruler in a deal that replaces the kingdom’s long-standing social contract in which the citizenry exchanged surrender of political rights for a cradle-to-grave welfare state. The new arrangement expands social rights and economic opportunity at the price of a curtailed welfare state as well as the loss of political freedoms, including freedoms of expression, media, and association.

A series of recent op-eds in Saudi media written by pundits rather than clerics seemingly with the endorsement, if not encouragement of the crown prince or his aides, called for top-down Martin Luther-like religious reforms that would introduce rational and scientific thinking, promote tolerance, and eradicate extremism.

Mamdouh Al-Muhaini, general manager of the state-controlled Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath television networks, spelled out the top-down process of religious reform that would be led by the crown prince even though the writer stopped short of identifying him by name.

“There are dozens, or perhaps thousands, of Luthers of Islam… As such, the question of ‘where is the Luther of Islam’ is wrong. It should instead be: Where is Islam’s Frederick the Great? The King of Prussia, who earned the title of Enlightened Despot, embraced major philosophers in Europe like Kant and Voltaire and gave them the freedom to think and carry out scientific research, which helped their ideas spread and prevail over fundamentalism after bitter clashes. We could also ask where is Islam’s Catherine the Great…? Without the support and protection of these leaders, we would have likely never heard of these intellectuals, nor of Luther before them,” Mr. Al-Muhaini said.

Messrs. Al-Husseini and Ceric represent what Saudi Arabia would like the Muslim and non-Muslim world to take home from their naturalization.

A religious scholar, Mr. Ceric raised funds in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Malaysia during the Bosnian war in the 1990s and defended issues close to Saudi Arabia’s heart even if his own views are more liberal.

Mr. Ceric argued, for example, that opposition to Wahhabism, the kingdom’s austere interpretation of Islam that has been modified since King Salman came to power, amounted to Islamophobia even if the cleric favoured Bosnia’s more liberal Islamic tradition. The cleric also opposed stripping foreign fighters, including Saudis, of Bosnian citizenship, granted them for their support during the war.

To Saudi Arabia’s advantage, Mr. Ceric continues to be a voice of Muslim moderation as well as proof that Islam is as much part of the West as it is part of the East and the hard to defend suggestion that being a liberal does not by definition entail opposition to ultra-conservatism.

Referring to the fact that he is a Shiite, Mr. Al-Husseini said in response to his naturalisation by a country that was created based on an ultra-conservative strand of Islam that sees Shiites as heretics: “The glowing truth that cannot be contested is that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is open to everyone…and does not look at dimensions of…a sectarian type.”

Beyond being a Shiite Muslim cleric, Mr. Al-Husseini is to have been a Hezbollah insider. A one-time proponent of resistance against Israel, Mr. Al-Husseini reportedly broke with Hezbollah as a result of differences over finances.

He associated himself on the back of his newly found opposition to Hezbollah with the Saudi-backed March 14 movement headed by Saad Hariri, a prominent Lebanese Sunni Muslim politician.

As head of the relatively obscure Arabic Islamic Council that favoured inter-faith dialogue, particularly with Jews, Mr. Al-Husseini ticked off another box on the Saudi checklist, particularly given the kingdom’s refusal to establish diplomatic relations with Israel without a clear and accepted pathway to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While Mr. Al-Husseini’s history fits the Saudi bill, his impact appears to be limited. He made some incidental headlines in 2015 after he used social media to urge Muslims, Jewish, and Christian clerics to downplay religious traditions that call for violence.

Mr. Al-Husseini spoke as the tension between Israel and Lebanon mounted at the time after Hezbollah killed two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border attack.

Earlier, Mr. Al-Husseini seemingly became the first Arab Shiite religious figure to address Israelis directly and to do so in broken Hebrew.

“We believe that not all Jews are bad [just as] not all Muslims are terrorists. Let us cousins put our conflicts aside and stay away from evil and hatred. Let us unite in peace and love,” Mr. Al-Husseini told an unknown number of Israeli listeners.

Mr. Al-Husseini’s presence on social media pales compared to that of the Muslim World League and its head, Mohammed Al Issa. The League, the one-time vehicle for Saudi funding of Muslim ultra-conservatism worldwide, and its leader, are today the main propagators of Prince Mohammed ’s concept of moderate Islam.

Mr. Al-Husseini’s 47,00 followers on Twitter and 10,200 on Facebook pale against his Saudi counterparts who propagate a message similar to his.

The League has 2.8 million Twitter followers in English and 3.4 million in Arabic in addition to 662,000 in French and 310,00 in Urdu. The League boasts similar numbers on Facebook. The League’s president, Mr. Al-Issa, has 670,000 followers on Twitter and 272,000 on Facebook.

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Vienna Talks: US-Russia-China trilateral and Iran

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Talks between Iran and other signatories to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) 2015/Iran Nuclear deal regarding the revival of the deal resumed at Vienna on November 29, 2021 after a hiatus of five months (the talks which began on April 2021 have been stalled since June 2021). The US has not been participating directly in these talks.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi who won the June 2021 election has not been opposed to engaging with other signatories to the JCPOA, including the US, but has repeatedly stated, that Iran would only return to full compliance to the 2015 agreement, if its key demands are addressed favorably, and would give precedence to its national interest.

 EU political director, Enrique Mora sounded optimistic with regard to the resumption of the talks, and while talking to reporters said:

‘I feel positive that we can be doing important things for the next weeks’

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Ali Bagheri Kani, also the country’s chief nuclear negotiator,  said that the US is adopting a ‘maximum pressure’ approach (referring to economic sanctions) which would not help in achieving any genuine results.

Ali Bagheri Kani’s statement underscores the fact that any significant headway with regard to the Iran nuclear deal is likely to be an uphill task.  Iran has increased its uranium enrichment and uranium stockpile, away above the limits agreed upon during the 2015 agreement, and has also restricted access of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to it’s nuclear program. Tehran has also made it clear, that if the US lifts all economic sanctions, it will get back to full compliance to the agreement of 2015. Tehran is also seeking a guarantee from the US, that in future it would not withdraw from an agreement, as Donald Trump had done.

 The Biden Administration too has been adopting a more aggressive stance vis-à-vis Iran in recent months (Iranian officials have gone to the extent of saying that Biden’s Iran policy is no different from that of Trump). The US seems to be unwilling to remove all sanctions against Iran. US has also been saying that if diplomacy fails it will need to explore other options against Iran and would not refrain from exerting more pressure . On Monday, a US State Department spokesman categorically stated that ‘If Iran demands more or offers less than a mutual return to compliance, these negotiations will not succeed,’.

US-Russia-China trilateral and Iran

In recent weeks, Washington has made efforts to reduce tensions with Beijing and Moscow, sending out a message that it is keen to work with both countries on certain issues – especially Afghanistan, Climate Change and Iran.

Both Moscow and Beijing have adopted a different stance from Washington on the Iran issue. Washington’s decision to host a Democracy Summit (December 9-10, 2021) has not gone down to well with either especially Beijing.

 During a video conversation on November 24, 2021 with Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi not only supported Tehran’s demands with regard to the JCPOA, but also criticized the Summit For Democracy saying that it will only create further divisions globally.  Russia’s Ambassador to Tehran, Levan Dzhagaryan, also supported Tehran’s demands saying some of them were pertinent. In a newspaper interview he said:

‘For example, they, the Iranian side, want to guarantee, let’s say, in future Americans wouldn’t repeat the same step as they did before.  The Iranian side also needs some guarantees from the European businesses to fulfill and to implement all that contract. It is quite logical’

US President, Joe Biden while seeking to have a working relationship with China and Russia has also been trying to work together with democracies, and also send out a message that democracies can deliver (hours before his conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping on November 14, 2021, Biden signed into law an ambitious 1.2 trillion USD infrastructure package). The Summit for Democracy was aimed at greater coordination with other democracies, especially US allies, on important global issues, but it remains to be seen if the Summit will raise tensions between Washington and Beijing and Moscow, and thus indirectly act as an impediment to further progress on talks related to the Iran nuclear deal.

While Biden’s emphasis on democracies working together, and the need to check China’s growing clout is legitimate, it is important that he does not make the same mistakes as Trump and does not compel Iran to become an appendage of China (imposition of further sanctions at a time when Iran’s economy is in the doldrums will only increase the Anti-US sentiment in Iran). It is also important that the US works closely with its allies on the Iran issue. France, Germany and UK should be playing a more pro-active role in the revival of JCPOA and should not be quiet bystanders. Iran on its part also needs to demonstrate flexibility and pragmatism.

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Testing the waters: Russia explores reconfiguring Gulf security

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Russia hopes to blow new life into a proposal for a multilateral security architecture in the Gulf, with the tacit approval of the Biden administration.

If successful, the initiative would help stabilise the region, cement regional efforts to reduce tensions, and potentially prevent war-wracked Yemen from emerging as an Afghanistan on the southern border of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf of Aden and at the mouth of the Red Sea.

For now, Vitaly Naumkin, a prominent scholar, academic advisor of the foreign and justice ministries, and head of the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, is testing the waters, according to Newsweek, which first reported the move.

Last week, he invited former officials, scholars, and journalists from feuding Middle Eastern nations to a closed-door meeting in Moscow to discuss the region’s multiple disputes and conflicts and ways of preventing them from spinning out of control.

Mr. Naumkin, who is believed to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, co-authored the plan first put forward in 2004. The Russian foreign ministry published a fine-tuned version in 2019.

Russia appears to have timed the revival of its proposal to begin creating a framework to deal with Houthi rebels, seemingly gaining the upper hand against Saudi Arabia in Yemen’s seven-year-long devastating war.

The Iranian-backed rebels appear to be closer to capturing the oil and gas-rich province of Marib after two years of some of the bloodiest fighting in the war. The conquest would pave the way for a Houthi takeover of neighbouring Shabwa, another energy-rich region. It would put the rebels in control of all northern Yemen.

The military advances would significantly enhance the Houthi negotiating position in talks to end the war. They also raise the spectre of splitting Yemen into the north controlled by the Houthis and the south dependent on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“The battle for Marib could be a final stand for the possibility of a unified Yemen,” said Yemeni writer and human rights activist Nabil Hetari.

A self-declared independent North Yemen would potentially resemble an Afghanistan sitting on one of the world’s critical chokepoints for the flow of oil and gas. North Yemen would be governed by a nationalist Islamist group that presides over one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, struggles to win international recognition, restore public services, and stabilise a war-ravaged economy while an Al-Qaeda franchise operates in the south.

The Russian initiative also appears geared to take advantage of efforts by Middle Eastern rivals Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Turkey, and Iran to reduce regional tensions, get a grip on their differences, and ensure that they do not spin out of control.

Russia seems to be exploiting what some describe as paused and others as stalled talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran mediated by Iraq. Iraqi officials insisted that the talks are on hold until a new Iraqi government has been formed following last month’s elections. The discussions focused at least partially on forging agreement on ways to end the Yemen war.

Mr. Naumkin suggested that the Russian initiative offers an opportunity to carve the Middle East out as a region of cooperation as well as competition with the United States in contrast to southeastern Europe and Ukraine, where US-Russian tension is on the rise.

In the Middle East, Russia and the United States “have one common threat, the threat of war. Neither the United States nor Russia is interested in having this war,” Mr. Naumkin told Newsweek.

A State Department spokesperson would not rule out cooperation. “We remain prepared to cooperate with Russia in areas in which the two sides have common interests while opposing Russian policies that go against US interests,” the spokesperson said.

The Russian proposal calls for integrating the US defense umbrella in the Gulf into a collective security structure that would include Russia, China, Europe, and India alongside the United States. The structure would include, not exclude Iran, and would have to extend to Israel and Turkey.

UAE efforts to return Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the Arab, if not the international fold, although not driven by the Russian initiative, would facilitate it if all other things were equal.

Inspired by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the proposal suggests that the new architecture would be launched at an international conference on security and cooperation in the Gulf.

Russia sees the architecture as enabling the creation of a “counter-terrorism coalition (of) all stakeholders” that would be the motor for resolving conflicts across the region and promoting mutual security guarantees.

The plan would further involve the removal of the “permanent deployment of troops of extra-regional states in the territories of states of the Gulf,” a reference to US, British, and French forces and bases in various Gulf states and elsewhere in the Middle East.

It calls for a “universal and comprehensive” security system that would take into account “the interests of all regional and other parties involved, in all spheres of security, including its military, economic and energy dimensions.”

In Mr. Naumkin’s reading, Middle Eastern rivals “are fed up with what’s going on” and “afraid of possible war.” Negotiations are their only remaining option.

That seems to drive men like UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, his Saudi counterpart Mohammed bin Salman, Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Iranian leader Ebrahim Raisi to reach out to one another in a recent flurry of activity.

“These are talks between autocrats keen to protect their own grip on power and boost their economies: not peace in our time, only within our borders,” cautioned The Economist.

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Tourism36 mins ago

Coronavirus pandemic could cost global tourism $2 trillion this year

The coronavirus pandemic will likely cost the global tourism sector $2 trillion in lost revenue in 2021, the UN’s tourism...

Development5 hours ago

Despite COVID-19 connectivity boost, world’s poorest left far behind 

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Middle East7 hours ago

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How Smart Investing can be a Significant Strategy for Traders

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Global ICT Excellence Awards rated highly Moscow for the startups ecosystem development

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Africa11 hours ago

Q&A: Arguments for Advancing Russia-African Relations

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ISIS-K, Talc, Lithium and the narrative of ongoing jihadi terrorism in Afghanistan

Chinese and Russian efforts are underway to strengthen the Taliban government economically and militarily, along with legitimacy and international recognition....

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