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US Foreign Policy in Crisis

Mohammad Javad Zarif

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Following the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is the third multilateral agreement that the current United States administration has withdrawn from. The administration has also put in jeopardy other multilateral arrangements such as NAFTA, the global trade system, and parts of the United Nations system, thus inflicting considerable damage to multilateralism, and the prospects for resolving disputes through diplomacy.

The announcement on 8 May 2018 of United States’ withdrawal from the JCPOA and the unilateral and unlawful re-imposition of nuclear sanctions — a decision opposed by majority of the American people — was the culmination of a series of violations of the terms of the accord by this administration, in spite of the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency, as the sole competent international authority had repeatedly verified Iran’s compliance with its commitments under the accord. The U.S. decision was rejected by the international community and even its closest allies, including the European Union, Britain, France and Germany.

On 21 May 2018, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a baseless and insulting statement, issued a number of demands of and threats against Iran in brazen contravention of international law, well-established international norms, and civilized behavior. His statement reflected a desperate reaction by the US administration to the overwhelming opposition of the international community to the persistent efforts by the White House to kill the JCPOA, and the ensuing Washington’s isolation. Mr. Pompeo, in his statement, attempted to justify the US’ withdrawal from the JCPOA and divert international public opinion from the unlawful behavior of the United States and its outright violation of UN Security Council resolution 2231; a resolution drafted and proposed by the US itself and adopted unanimously by the Council. Mr. Pompeo’s 12 preconditions for Iran to follow are especially preposterous as the US administration itself is increasingly isolated internationally due to its effort to undermine diplomacy and multilateralism. It comes as no surprise that the statement and the one made by the US president on Iran were either ignored or received negatively by the international community, including by friends and allies of the United States. Only a small handful of US client states in our region welcomed it.

I seriously doubt that had the US Secretary of State even had a slight knowledge of Iran’s history and culture and the Iranian people’s struggle for independence and freedom, and had he known that Iran’s political system—in contrast to those of the American allies in the region—is based on a popular revolution and the people’s will, would he have delivered such an outlandish statement. He should, however, know that ending foreign intervention in Iran’s domestic affairs, which culminated in the 25-year period following the US-orchestrated coup in 1953, had always been one of the Iranian people’s main demands since well before the Islamic Revolution. He should also be aware that in the past 40 years the Iranian people have heroically resisted and foiled aggressions and pressures by the US, including its coup attempts, military interventions, support of the aggressor in an 8-year war, imposition of unilateral, extraterritorial and even multilateral sanctions, and even going as far as shooting down an Iranian passenger plane in the Persian Gulf in 1987. “Never forget” is our mantra, too.

The Islamic Republic of Iran derives its strength and stability from the brave and peace-loving Iranian people; a people who, while seeking constructive interaction with the world on the basis of mutual respect, are ready to resist bullying and extortions and defend in unison their country’s independence and honor. History bears testimony to the fact that those who staged aggression against this age-old land, such as Saddam and his regime’s supporters, all met an ignominious fate, while Iran has proudly and vibrantly continued its path towards a better and brighter future.

It is regrettable that in the past one-and-a-half years, US foreign policy—if we can call it that—including its policy towards Iran has been predicated on flawed assumptions and illusions—if not actual delusions. The US President and his Secretary of State have persistently made baseless and provocative allegations against Iran that constitute blatant intervention in Iran’s domestic affairs, unlawful threats against a UN Member State, and violations of the United States’ international obligations under the UN Charter, the 1955 Treaty, and the 1981 Algiers Accord. While rejecting these fictitious allegations, I would like to draw the attention of U.S. policymakers to some aspects of their nation’s current foreign policy that are detrimental to the entire international community:

Impulsive and illogical decisions and behavior of the US President—and efforts by his subordinates to find some justification to persuade a reluctant domestic and foreign audience—have already surfaced as the main feature of the decision-making process in Washington over the past 17 months. This process, coupled with ill-conceived and hasty explanations to justify outcomes, usually lead to contradictory statements and actions. As an example, in his role as CIA Director, Mike Pompeo once in a Congressional hearing emphatically stated: “Iran has not violated its commitments.” Later, and following the US President’s decision to withdraw from the accord, now Secretary of State Pompeo in his statement on May 21 emphatically stated that “Iran has violated its commitments.”

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that some aspects of US foreign policy have been put up for auction—far beyond the routine lobbying practices. It is, for instance, unprecedented that a US president should choose the very country he had called “fanatic and a supporter of terrorism” during his election campaign as the destination for his first foreign visit as president, or to publicly make aspects of his foreign policy positions contingent on the purchase by one or another country of arms and other items from the United States. It has also been reported that in some other cases, mostly illegitimate financial interests have been the main basis for the formulation of mind-bogglingly ill-conceived US policy positions.

Contempt for international law and attempts to undermine the rule of law in international relations have been among the main features of the current administration’s foreign policy. To the extent, according to media reports, that the US negotiators in the G7 Summit were even insisting on deleting the phrase “our commitment to promote the rules-based international order.” This destructive approach began by showing contempt for the fundamental principle of pacta sunt servanda, which is arguably the oldest principle of international law. The US withdrawal from some international agreements and undermining others, coupled with efforts to weaken international organizations, are examples of destructive moves so far by the US government, which have unfortunately darkened the outlook for the international order. Obviously, the continuation of such policies can endanger the stability of the international community, turning the U.S. into a rogue state and an international outlaw.

Predicating decisions on illusions is another aspect of this administration’s foreign policy. This has been especially evident with respect to West Asia. The illegal and provocative decision regarding al-Quds al-Sharif, blind support for the cruel atrocities committed by the Zionist regime against Gazans, and aerial and missile attacks against Syria are some of the more brazen aspects of such an unprincipled foreign policy.

The statement made by Mr. Pompeo on May 21 was the culmination of a delusional US approach to our region. Ironically, the U.S. Secretary of State tried to set preconditions for negotiations and agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran at a time when the international community is doubtful about the possibility or utility of negotiation or agreement with the US on any issue. How can the US government expect to be viewed or treated as a reliable party to another round of serious negotiations following its unilateral and unwarranted withdrawal from an agreement which was the result of hundreds of hours of arduous bilateral and multilateral negotiations, in which the highest ranking US foreign affairs official participated, and which was submitted to the Security Council by the US and adopted unanimously as an international commitment under Article 25 of the Charter?

Recent statements and actions by the U.S. president, including reneging on his agreement with the G7 while in the air flying back from the summit, are other examples of his erratic behavior. His remarks immediately following his meeting with the leader of the DPRK regarding his possible change of mind in 6 months are indicative of what the world is facing—an irrational and dangerous US administration. Does the US Secretary of State really expect Iran to negotiate with a government whose president says: “I may stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong. I don’t know if I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse”? Can such a government really set preconditions for Iran? Isn’t it actually confusing the plaintiff for the defendant? Mr. Pompeo has forgotten that it is the US government that needs to prove the credibility of its words and legitimacy of its signature, and not the party that has complied with its international obligations and sticks to its word. In fact, the truth is that all US administrations in the past 70 years should be held accountable for their disregard for international law, and their violations of bilateral and multilateral agreements with Iran. A short list of the rightful demands of the Iranian people from the US government could include the following:

The US government must respect Iran’s independence and national sovereignty and assure Iran that it will end its intervention in Iran’s domestic affairs in accordance with international law in general, and the 1981 Algiers Accord in particular.

The United States must abandon its policy of resorting to the threat or use of force – which constitute a breach of the preemptory norms of international law and principles of the Charter of the United Nations – as an option in the conduct of its foreign affairs with or against the Islamic Republic of Iran and other States.

The US government should respect the State immunity of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is a fundamental principle of international law, and, while rescinding previous arbitrary and unlawful financial judgments, it should refrain from executing them in the US and extra-territorially.

The US government should openly acknowledge its unwarranted and unlawful actions against the people of Iran over the past decades, including inter alia the following, take remedial measures to compensate the people of Iran for the damages incurred, and provide verifiable assurances that it will cease and desist from such illegal measures and refrain from ever repeating them:

its role in the 1953 coup that led to the overthrow of Iran’s lawful and democratically-elected government and the subsequent 25 years of dictatorship in Iran;

unlawful blocking, seizure and confiscation of tens of billions of dollars of assets of the Iranian people after the Islamic revolution, or under various baseless pretexts in recent years;

direct military aggression against Iran in April 1980, which was a blatant violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iran;

provision of massive military and intelligence assistance to the Iraqi dictator during the 8-year war he imposed on the Iranian people inflicting hundreds of billions of dollars of damages on Iran and its people;

responsibility in the enormous suffering that Iranians have incurred over the past 3 decades as a result of the use by Saddam of chemical weapons, whose ingredients were provided by the US and some other western countries;

the shooting down of an Iran Air passenger plane by the USS Vincennes in July 1988—a flagrant crime that led to the murder of 290 innocent passengers and crew, and the subsequent awarding of a medal to the captain of the ship rather than punishing him for his war crime;

repeated attacks against Iran’s oil platforms in the Persian Gulf in the spring of 1988;

repeated and unwarranted insults against the Iranian people by calling the entire nation “an outlaw and rogue nation” or “a terrorist nation”  and by including Iran in the so-called “axis of evil;”

unlawful and unreasonable establishment of a bigoted list of the nationals of some Islamic countries, including Iranians, prohibiting their entry into the US. The Iranians are among the most successful, educated and law-abiding immigrants in the US and have done great service to American society. They are now prohibited from seeing their loved ones, including even their aging grandparents;

harboring and providing safe haven to anti-Iranian saboteurs in the USA, who openly incite blind violence against Iranian civilians, and supporting criminal gangs and militias and terrorist organizations, some of which were listed for years as terrorist groups by the US and later removed from the list following intense lobbying by those who have received money from them. Some of those lobbyists  now occupy high-ranking positions in the Trump administration;

support provided to Mossad for the multiple terrorist assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists;

sabotage of Iran’s nuclear peaceful program through cyber-attacks;

fabrication of fake documents to deceive the international community over Iran’s peaceful nuclear program and to create an unnecessary crisis.

The United States government must cease its persistent economic aggression against the Iranian people which has continued over the past four decades; nullify the cruel and extensive primary and extraterritorial sanctions, rescind hundreds of legislations and executive orders aimed at disrupting Iran’s normal development which are in flagrant contravention of international law and have been universally condemned, and compensate the Iranian people for the enormous damages to the Iranian economy and its people.

The US government should immediately cease its violations and breaches of the JCPOA, which have caused hundreds of billions of dollars in direct and indirect damages for disrupting trade with and foreign investment in Iran, compensate Iranian people for these damages and commit to implement unconditionally and verifiably all of its obligations under the accord, and refrain (in accordance with the JCPOA) from any policy or action to adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran.

The US government should release all Iranians and non-Iranians who are detained under cruel conditions in the US under fabricated charges related to the alleged violation of sanctions, or apprehended in other countries following unlawful pressure by the US government for extradition, and compensate for the damage inflicted on them. These include pregnant women, the elderly and people suffering from serious health problems; some of whom have even lost their lives in prison.

The US government should acknowledge the consequences of its invasions and interventions in the region, including in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf region, and withdraw its forces from and stop interfering in the region.

The US government should cease policies and behavior that have led to the creation of the vicious DAESH terrorist group and other extremist organizations, and compel its regional allies to verifiably stop providing financial and political support and armaments to extremist groups in West Asia and the world.

The US government should stop providing arms and military equipment to the aggressors—who are murdering thousands of innocent Yemeni civilians and destroying the country— and cease its participation in these attacks. It should compel its allies to end their aggression against Yemen and compensate for the enormous damage done to that country.

The US government should stop its unlimited and unconditional support for the Zionist regime in line with its obligations under international law; condemn its policy of apartheid and gross violations of human rights, and support the rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian State with al-Quds al-Sharif as its capital.

The US government should stop selling hundreds of billions of lethal—not beautiful—military equipment every year to regions in crisis, especially West Asia, and instead of turning these regions into powder kegs it should allow the enormous amount of money spent on arms to serve as funding for development and combating poverty. Only a fraction of the money paid by US arms customers could alleviate hunger and abject poverty, provide for potable, clean water, and combat diseases throughout the globe.

The US government should stop opposing the efforts by the international community for the past 5 decades to establish a zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. It should compel the Zionist regime—with its history of aggression and occupation—to de-nuclearize, thus neutralizing the gravest real threat to regional and international peace and security, which emanates from the most destructive arms in the hands of the most warmongering regime in our time.

The US government should stop increasingly relying on nuclear weapons and the doctrines of using nuclear weapons to counter conventional threats—a policy that is in flagrant contravention of its commitment under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, the 1995 NPT Review Conference Declaration, and UN Security Council resolution 984. The U.S. should comply with its moral, legal and security obligations in the field of nuclear disarmament, which is a near unanimous demand of all United Nations Member States, and virtually all people across the globe, including even former US Secretaries of State. As the only State that is stamped with the shame of ever using nuclear weapons itself, it is incumbent on the US to relieve humanity from the nightmare of a global nuclear holocaust, and give up on the illusion of security based on “mutually assured destruction” (MAD).

The US government should once and for all commit itself to respect the principle of pacta sunt servanda (agreements must be kept), which is the most fundamental principle of international law and a foundation for civilized relations among peoples, and discard in practice the dangerous doctrine which views international law and international organizations as merely “a tool in the US toolbox”.

The aforementioned US policies are examples of what has resulted in Iranians distrusting the American government. They are also among underlying causes of injustice, violence, terrorism, war and insecurity in West Asia. These policies will bring about nothing but a heavy toll in human lives and material assets for different regions of the world, and isolation for the US in world public opinion. The only ones benefitting are and will be lethal arms manufacturers. If the US government summons the courage to renounce these policies in words and deeds, its global isolation will end and a new image of the US will emerge in the world, including in Iran, paving the path to joint efforts for security, stability, and inclusive sustainable development.

I admit that regrettably, it is not realistic to harbor a hope for such a change in US behavior. Thus, at the global level the Islamic Republic of Iran has for years promoted inclusion, multilateralism, dialogue, respect for the rule of law and nuclear disarmament through initiatives such as Dialogue among Civilizations and WAVE (World Against Violence and Extremism), and participated actively in international efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament and a rule-based international system. We have also presented practical proposals and engaged in serious diplomatic efforts to end regional conflicts in Syria and Yemen through diplomacy from the earliest stages of these unfortunate conflicts, sadly, to the deaf ears of the United States that continues to support aggressors and terrorists in every conflict in our region. And following the United States’ withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iran has earnestly engaged with the remaining JCPOA Participants (EU/E3+2) in a good faith effort to salvage this unique global diplomatic achievement. We continue to do so as of this writing.

Nationally, Iran has ensured its security and stability in the past 4 decades on the basis of its inherent domestic capabilities and its reliance on the great Iranian people, not on any foreign power’s benevolence or patronage. Despite foreign pressure and while expending comparatively the least amount in the region on armaments, it has become stronger, more stable and more advanced by the day.

And regionally, in contrast to the US and its foreign policy, Iran—in accordance with its constitution—neither seeks to dominate nor will it ever submit to domination. It believes that the era of regional and global hegemony has long passed, and any effort by any power to achieve it is futile. Instead of yielding to foreign domination or trying to dominate others, countries in our region should seek to create a stronger, more prosperous and more stable region. We in Iran view our security and stability as inseparable from those of our neighbors. We have a common history and culture as well as indivisible opportunities and challenges, and can only enjoy security and stability at home, if and only if our neighbors enjoy internal and international stability and security. We expect other regional countries to adopt a similar approach, and instead of insisting on the failed experiment of “trying to purchase or outsource security,” concentrate on dialogue, mutual understanding, confidence building, and cooperation with neighbors.

The Islamic Republic of Iran views the establishment of a “Regional Dialogue Forum” in the Persian Gulf as the best means to resolve regional crises and create a stronger region. We can begin adopting confidence-building measures to bring regional countries closer to each other on the basis of such principles as the sovereign equality of states, non-resort to the threat or use of force, peaceful settlement of disputes, respect for territorial integrity of other States, inviolability of international boundaries, non-intervention in domestic affairs of others, and respect for the right of peoples to self-determination. By fostering common understanding about threats and opportunities at the regional and global levels, we can move towards achieving a non-aggression pact and creating common mechanisms for regional cooperation. We firmly believe that we, regionally—as the inheritors of the richest civilizations the world has ever known—should stand tall and can solve our own problems amongst ourselves and secure a better future for all of our children without outside interference and patronage, both of which come at a heavy cost to our collective dignity as well as our future development.

First published in our partner MNA

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Shifting Middle Eastern sands spotlight diverging US-Saudi interests

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A series of Gulf and Middle East-related developments suggest that resolving some of the Middle East’s most debilitating and devastating crises while ensuring that efforts to pressure Iran do not perpetuate the mayhem may be easier said than done. They also suggest that the same is true for keeping US and Saudi interests aligned.

Optimists garner hope from the fact that the US Senate may censor Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman for the October 2 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul; the positive start of Yemeni peace talks in Sweden with an agreement to exchange prisoners, Saudi Arabia’s invitation to Qatar to attend an October 9 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Riyadh, and a decision by the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC) to cut production.

That optimism, however, may not be borne out by facts on the ground and analysis of developments that are likely to produce at best motion rather than movement. In fact, more fundamentally, what many of the developments suggest is an unacknowledged progressive shift in the region’s alliances stemming in part from the fact that the bandwidth of shared US-Saudi interests is narrowing.

There is no indication that, even if Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani decides to accept an invitation by Saudi king Salman to attend the GCC summit rather than send a lower level delegation or not attend at all, either the kingdom or the United Arab Emirates, the main drivers behind the 17-month old economic and diplomatic boycott of the Gulf state, are open to a face-saving solution despite US pressure to end to the rift.

Signalling that the invitation and an earlier comment by Prince Mohammed that “despite the differences we have, (Qatar) has a great economy and will be doing a lot in the next five years” do not indicate a potential policy shift, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash insisted that the GCC remained strong despite the rift. “The political crisis will end when the cause behind it ends and that is Qatar’s support of extremism and its interference in the stability of the region.,” Mr. Gargash said, reiterating long-standing Saudi-UAE allegations.

Similarly, United Nations-sponsored peace talks in Sweden convened with the help of the United States may at best result in alleviating the suffering of millions as a result of the almost four-year old Saudi-UAE military intervention in Yemen but are unlikely to ensure that a stable resolution of the conflict is achievable without a lowering of tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Even humanitarian relief remains in question with the parties in Sweden unable to agree on a reopening of Sana’a airport to facilitate the flow of aid.

More realistically, with the Trump administration, backed by Saudi Arabia and Israel, determined to cripple Iran economically in a bid to force it to alter its regional policies, if not change the regime in Tehran, chances are the Yemeni conflict will be perpetuated rather than resolved.

To Yemen’s detriment, Iran is emerging as one of the foremost remaining shared US-Saudi interests as the two countries struggle to manage their relationship in the wake of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. That struggle is evident with the kingdom’s Washington backers divided between erstwhile backers-turned-vehement critics like Republican senator Graham Lindsey and hardline supporters such as national security advisor John Bolton. The jury is out on who will emerge on top in the Washington debate.

The risks of the Saud-Iranian rivalry spinning out of control possibly with the support of hardliners like Mr. Bolton were evident in this week’s suicide bombing in the Iranian port of Chabahar, an Indian-backed project granted a waiver from US sanctions against the Islamic republic to counter influence of China that support the nearby Pakistani port of Gwadar.

Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Revolutionary Guards spokesman Brigadier General Ramadan Sharif suggested without providing evidence that Saudi Arabia was complicit in the attack that targeted the city’s police headquarters, killing two people and wounding 40 others.

Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency, believed to be close to the Guards, said the attack was the work of Ansar al-Furqan, an Iranian Sunni jihadi group that Iran claims enjoys Saudi backing.

Iran’s allegation of Saudi complicity is partly grounded in the fact that a Saudi thinktank linked to Prince Mohammed last year advocated fuelling an insurgency in the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchistan that incudes Chabahar in a bid to thwart the port development while Mr. Bolton before becoming US President Donald J. Trump’s advisor called for US support of ethnic minorities in Iran.

In a bid to create building blocks for the fuelling of ethnic insurgencies in Iran, Pakistani militants have said that Saudi Arabia had in recent years poured money into militant anti-Iranian, anti-Shiite madrassas or religious seminaries in the Pakistani province of Balochistan that borders on Sistan and Baluchistan.

The divergence of US-Saudi interests, agreement on Iran notwithstanding, was on display in this week’s defeat of a US effort to get the UN General Assembly to condemn Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip. Saudi Arabia, despite the kingdom’s denunciation of Hamas as a terrorist organization and its demand that Qatar halt support of it, voted against the resolution.

The vote suggested that Mr. Trump may be hoping in vain for Saudi backing of his as yet undisclosed plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute that is believed to be slanted towards Israel’s position.

Saudi ambassador to the UN Abdallah Al-Mouallimi said the defeated UN resolution would “undermine the two-state solution which we aspire to” and divert attention from Israel’s occupation, settlement activities and “blockade” of territories occupied during the 1967 Middle East war.

Saudi Arabia’s changing status and the divergence of longer-term US-Saudi interests was also evident in this week’s OPEC meeting in Vienna.

To get an OPEC deal on production levels, the kingdom, once the oil market’s dominant swing producer, needed an agreement with non-OPEC member Russia on production levels as well as Russian assistance in managing Iranian resistance, suggesting

The agreement, moreover, had to balance Mr. Trump’s frequently tweeted demand for lower prices, and the kingdom’s need for higher ones to fund its budgetary requirements and Prince Mohammed’s ambitious economic reforms and demonstrate that the Khashoggi affair had not made it more vulnerable to US pressure.

The emerging divergence of US-Saudi interests in part reflects a wider debate within America’s foreign policy community about what values the United States and US diplomats should be promoting.

With some of Mr. Trump’s ambassadorial political appointees expressing support for populist, nationalist and authoritarian leaders and political groups, the fact that some of the president’s closest Congressional allies back the anti-Saudi resolution illustrates that there are red lines that a significant number of the president’s supporters are not willing to cross.

All told, recent developments in the Middle East put a spotlight on the changing nature of a key US relationship in the Middle East that could have far-reaching consequences over the middle and long-term. It is a change that is part of a larger, global shift in US priorities and alliances that is likely to outlive Mr. Trump’s term(s) in office.

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Qatar’s decision to leave OPEC

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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The Emirate of Qatar will leave OPEC as from January 1, 2019.

The primary reason for this choice is the Emirate’s project to become the world leader in the natural gas market, raising its production from 77 million tons per year to 110 million tons. However, there is obviously also a geopolitical and energy decision underlying Qatar’s current choice.

This is the Emirate’s final response to the boycott and blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia on Qatar in June 2017, with the support of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen, Maldives, the Libyan GNA, Egypt and Jordan – based on Saudi Arabia’s generic accusation whereby Qatar was supposed to sponsor and support “terrorism” on its own.

The blockade was imposed two days after President Trump had met as many as 55 Heads of Arab and Muslim countries to build a sort of NATO equivalent, always against “terrorism” – an alliance to be set up immediately to counteract, above all, the Shiite and Iranian danger.

Let us leave aside the twenty-eight pages taken from the report of the US Senate on September 11, which would definitively prove the connection between those Al-Qaeda operatives and the Saudi regime – as well as the many multiannual reports of private and public funding to the jihadists and finally the lines of credit opened again by eminent citizens of the Wahhabi Kingdom in favour of Al Baghdadi’s Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate.

The Saudis, however, are too rich not to be believed, especially by the USA – hence the great blockade on Qatar succeeded also with the support of some Western countries.

For the whole Middle East, their troops, like the US ones, reported to CENTCOM, at the Al Udeid base  having its headquarters precisely in Qatar.

The strategic characteristics of Qatar, which today wants to build its autonomous natural gas organization –  independent of the oil one of OPEC, which does not deal with gasand is, however, dominated by Saudi Arabia –  are many and particularly interesting: firstly, the Qatari people are probably the richest citizens in the world.

If we assume that the Americans’ average income is 100, that of Qatari citizens is 187.4.

Just about the size of the Falkland Islands, the Emirate has 1.9 million residents, with a very high and growing share of immigrants.

From 2000 to 2010 the Emirate’s economy grew by a 12.9% average per year.

Its future growth up to 2022 is expected to be 18% higher than the current one.

There is also an interesting geopolitical sign: Qatar  participated – with great commitment – in the Western operations against Gaddafi by supporting, in particular, the black market of Cyrenaica’s oil, together with the Turkish intelligence services.

Nevertheless Qatar supports also some “rebel” jihadist Syrian groups against Assad, thus doing half a favour to US allies – while hosting, since 2013, a political office of the Afghan Taliban, which is well known and also frequented by the US intelligence service operatives.

Qatar’s global industrial and financial investments, however, are manifold.

Through its sovereign fund, the Emirate owns significant shareholdings of the Agricultural Bank of China – and certainly the Qatari decision to leave OPEC has been blessed by China. It also has shareholding in the Airbus Group; the London Stock Exchange (15.1%); Volkswagen (17%); Lagardère, a large and diversified media and publishing company; the Paris St.Germain football club; the Virgin megastore;  the HBSC, one of the largest banking groups in the world; Credit Suisse (5.2%) and Veolia, a French water and gas utility and service company.

Not to mention the countless real estate operations: Porta Nuova in Milan; Westin Excelsior in Rome; Gallia in Milan; Costa Smeralda in Sardinia;  Deutsche Bank; Barclay’s; Royal Dutch Shell; Tiffany; Siemens; the Heathrow airport; Walt Disney and the Empire State Building.

In addition to many other shareholdings not mentioned in this paper.

However, it has also a 3% shareholding of Total, which for Italy is an extremely important sign; a majority shareholding of the Miramax entertainment and movie company, as well as shareholdings in Rosneft, the Russian giant of natural gas and raw materials, and in the big five-year project for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in Germany and in the EU – a 30 billion US dollar project, of which 10 invested for Germany alone.

Therefore, between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, in the fight  between oil producers and natural gas extractors, there is a real war for the hegemonic conquest of technologically advanced areas and of Europe, in particular, with a view to definitely acquiring markets and using their diversification opportunities.

Moreover, Qatar is at least as rich in natural gas as Iran (and, together with the Shiite Republic, it participates in the exploitation of the South Pars II marine field), but also as the Russian Federation.

The new  Qatar-centred “gas OPEC” means, therefore, that there is no longer the US-friendly Sunni oil OPEC,  precisely the one that organized the great petrodollar recycling started after Egypt and Syria’s Yom Kippur war against Israel in 1973.

Oil recycling at a “high” price against the US dollars which, after the end of the Bretton Woods agreements, led to the new hegemony of the US currency and its inappropriate exchange rate, despite its internal fundamentals.

“The dollar is our currency, but it is your problem”, FED Governor Paul Volcker said to his fellow Governors of the European Central Banks.

At that time, there was not yet the weak and irresolute timidity of the Euro to make the picture more complex.

The European currency is not a lender of last resort, but it plays the game of the global currency as an alternative to the US dollar, with the operational results we can imagine.

It is therefore no mere coincidence that the only strategic uses of the Euro were the minimum Iranian ones, in the oil Stock Exchanges of the islands in the Persian Gulf, or the more paraded than real ones by Saddam Hussein.

In essence, reverting to the geopolitical sense of the very recent Qatari decision to leave OPEC, this means that the 600,000 barrels/day of oil extracted from Qatar are considered fully marginal by it and certainly can never compete with Saudi Arabia’s 11 million barrels/day of Saudi Arabia.

Qatar plays the game with its natural gas – it does not play its oil cards.

The current Qatari operation, however, implies a strategic choice in the near future, which could be the creation of a “gas OPEC” with Russia and Iran, in view of a doubling of the LPG prices in 2019, with China becoming the world’s LPG top consumer and the USA the world’s top oil extractor, albeit with the new and expensive shale techniques, which generate profits only with high oil barrel prices.

Or an economic and financial alliance between Qatar, China, Japan and Russia, which could marginalize the dollar area by reducing it to oil.

At geopolitical level, this will certainly mean greater instability – not necessarily fully peaceful – between the Emirate and the Saudi Kingdom, while the former will invest – also within the EU – in the industrial processing  of LPG, which mainly regards plastics, resins and all synthetic products from hydrocarbons.

If Russia – which also plays on the Saudi table – will be able to control its oil production, in line with the Sunni OPEC, the Qatari operation will be successful, but only for the creation of the new LPG market, and Qatar will not affect the positions already reached by Saudi Arabia and its  allies.

Conversely, if Russia and Iran increase oil production, the pro-Saudi OPEC will definitely collapse and the African, Indonesian and South American production areas shall  look for other regional cartels and, hence, for other geopolitical axes.

Furthermore, the bilateral relationship between the USA and Saudi Arabia will be put to an end, given the new US production and oil power, its global exporting capacity and, finally, its autonomy from the Middle East political and financial cycles.

Moreover, according to the Emir’s policy lines, the Qatari economy  is focused on attracting and accumulating foreign investments, especially after the 2017 blockade, which has attracted much capital from Asia and the Middle East itself,  in addition to the opening of new ports and the creation of  new Special Economic Zones.

Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have used the so-called Arab “springs” to broaden their personal power and create strong competition among the Gulf countries.

Moreover, Qatar has used the phase following the Arab “springs” to redefine its traditional expansion axes: the special relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood and its traditional link with Iran.

The Emirate, in fact, believes that the Muslim Brotherhood is the central axis of Arab politics and, hence, intends to support it.

While all the others repress it, in line with Saudi Arabia.

Even after the fall of the “Muslim Brotherhood” regime in Egypt – with the coup organized by Al Sisi in 2013 against Mohammed Morsi – Qatar keeps on supporting the fraternal Ikhwan or also Hamas and all the other organizations that have integrated into the global network of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Saudi tension with Qatar also results from the Qatari geo-economic link with Iran and, above all, from Iran’s  economic growth after the 2014 JCPOA agreements on the Iranian nuclear capacity. Saudi Arabia wants to avoid said agreements leading to the economic, oil and military recovery of the Shiite Iran.

Furthermore it cannot be ruled out that, in the near future, Saudi Arabia – possibly supported by the USA, which now believes in every “counterterrorist” storytelling – even organizes a coup against Al-Thani and the current Qatari ruling elite.

The sequence of attempted and failed coups is already long.

It would be a geopolitical suicide, but it may happen.

Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries are now dependent on the remittances sent from Qatar by their fellow citizens to their homeland, even if, as countries, they sided with Saudi Arabia during the blockade imposed on Qatar in 2017.

Since the beginning, however, Tunisia refused to condemn Qatar (and Italy should be more careful to these infra-Islamic shifts), while Turkey – which operated with Qatar  during the Libyan jihadist uprising – does not accept the Saudi diktat. The same obviously holds true for Iran and – probably less intuitively – for Oman.

After an ambiguous phase, even the Russian Federation  – which had not well foreseen the internal conflict on Qatar within the Gulf Security Council in 2017 – has gradually  linked itself to the Emirate, even without questioning its ties with Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, the United States has even discovered it still has a large military base in Qatar and hence cannot afford a worsening of the infra-Arab conflict and, above all, of the infra-Wahhabi conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Obviously the issue of relations between Qatar and “terrorism”, or the link between Qatar and Iran, is a completely uncertain and widely manipulated issue.

The Emir’s speech that expressed support for Iran and Hamas and criticized the other governments of the region – a speech that allegedly was to be held on May 23, 2017 – was never delivered. There had been announcements widely publicized by the Saudi and Emirates’ news agencies, but the Emir’ speech had never been delivered.

In this regard, the official Qatar’s news agency in Doha talked about the hacking of Qatari websites, but not even this is certain.

There is also the issue of the one billion US dollars paid  as a ransom to “bandits” in Iraq by some members of the Emir’s family.

It is ascertained that part of that money arrived at the Syrian Al-Qaeda “section”, Jabhat Tahrir al Sham, with a share of funds that – not too strangely – later reached the Iranian government.

Certainly there is also the already-mentioned support for the Muslim Brotherhood and there are now ascertained links between the Ikhwan and some Iranian financial and political-military networks.

Everything is possible in the Middle East.

In Doha there is also a “historical” office of the Palestinians and also one of Hamas, which has always been an integral part of the Muslim Brotherhood, while it is certain that large amounts of money were sent by Qatar to the Egyptian Brotherhood during Morsi’s government and that the Ikhwan militias from every part of the Middle East were trained in Qatar.

Obviously, at least initially, the guerrilla warfare in Libya after Gaddafi’s fall was a clash between the forces supported by the Qatari intelligence services and those organized by the other Emirates, with a specific role played by Turkey – a loyal ally of Qatar – above all at economic level.

Westerners’ stupidity did the rest.

Moreover, Qatar also sent its troops so that the Sunnis could regain control in Bahrain during the 2011 Shiite uprising.

Nor should we forget that, apart from the Al Udeid US base in Qatar, Turkey itself is building its base in Qatar for as many as 5,000 soldiers – a base located in Tariq bin Ziyad, south of the capital city.

However, how does the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – the instrument of confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar – work?

Is it not affected – like OPEC – by an internal weakness that blocks it for any relevant decision?

The GCC was founded in 1981. However, the monetary union, which has been gradually abandoned by Oman and the Emirates, has never been reached.

And the GCC still regards Iran as an “imperialist” factor of radical destabilization of the Arabian peninsula, especially with the organization of Shiites in Saudi Arabia and in other areas of the Emirates.

The Shiites within the Saudi regime account for 15-20%, especially in the major oil extraction areas. Obviously the Saudi regime does not want to destabilize these areas and, above all, it does not want to break the link between the USA and the Sunni world of the Arabian Peninsula – a break that, in the near future, would lead to the victory of the Iranian  Shiites.

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Middle East

Iran: Which way to go?

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The US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), seriously hampered the chances for keeping the landmark accord in place.

The accord, signed in 2015 by the P5+1 group of countries — China, Germany, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — with Iran, requires Tehran to maintain a peaceful nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

According to the IAEA, Iran strictly abides by the terms of the JCPOA, while the international community is unable to do the same, no matter how much politicians in the EU and other countries would like to stick to its provisions – all because of US pressure.

Sadly, the United States has financial and economic levers to punish not only Iran, but also foreign companies doing business with the Islamic Republic. Given the choice of either maintaining business relations with the US and the rest of the world or with Iran alone, there is little wonder which of the two options they will go for. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they will do this under US pressure. Business always goes where the money is and sticking with the US looks a more profitable way to go. This is exactly what business-savvy Donald Trump is staking on.

In 2018, some 100 foreign companies, including big ones as Shell, Volkswagen, Daimler, Peugeot, Airbus, Total, PSA, Siemens, and Russia’s LUKOIL and Zarubezhneft, started pulling out of Iran even before the US sanctions, announced by President Trump in May, actually took effect. However, although bending under Washington’s pressure, the authors of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) as well as the European Union as a whole and many other countries around the world are still interested in keeping the nuclear accord alive. Why?

First, the JCPOA is a truly historic document which, possibly for the first time ever (not mentioning, of course, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons – NPT) has curbed the nuclear ambitions of a particular country and put its nuclear program strictly in line with international laws and IAEA requirements. This is a vivid example of the world countries’ effective diplomatic work, which created a precedent of genuine confidence of the parties for the sake of preserving the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Secondly, Iran a leading player in the volatile region of Western Asia, which incorporates the Middle and Near East, the Caucasus, the Caspian Sea zone, and Central Asia.

Thirdly, it should be borne in mind that Iran is a powerful source of hydrocarbons, and that its territory is an important transit route for oil, natural gas and other products to the world market. A well-educated population and a relatively developed industry and agriculture attract the attention of world business. In addition, the 70-million-strong Iran, which boasts one of the world’s biggest militaries, is an important factor in West Asian and world politics.

What needs to be done to resist US sanctions and, thereby, save the JCPOA?

To solve this complex task, Iran and all countries willing to preserve the accord, above all Britain, France, Germany and the EU as a whole, should work together. This is already being done now with the direct and active participation of Russia and China.

Today, the main priorities are:

Providing legal assistance to companies doing business with Iran. The practical implementation of the EU-declared blocking statute, which declares null and void US sanctions against Iran on its territory, prohibits European companies from observing them, as well as implementing any decisions by foreign stemming from these sanctions. The blocking statute also allows European organizations to take legal action to make up for the losses incurred as a result of the implementation of sanctions at the expense of persons who caused these losses (meaning the US government).

It is also necessary to establish an independent payment system that would safeguard European businesses against US sanctions on Tehran (a special purpose vehicle, SPV, to facilitate financial transactions with Iran) with the possible involvement, among others, of the French and German central banks.

The EU is creating a special legal entity to carry out transactions with Iran. Other participants will be able to join in, which will allow European companies to work with Iran in keeping with European legislation – something like the SWIFT banking system, only on a European scale and based on the euro.

This will be an extremely difficult task for Europeans, both from “political” (a real challenge to the US) and technical standpoints. EU foreign policy chief, Frederica Mogherini, said: “The involvement of the Finance Ministers of the E3 [France, Germany, UK] is of key importance at this stage. They are working hard to finalize it. I cannot tell you a date, but I can tell you that work is continuing and is progressing in a positive manner.”

In his turn, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that this was fraught with problems.

“We need to redouble our efforts here and this is what we are doing now with both Europeans and Iranians.”

Meanwhile, the Iranians, who have so far been strictly implementing the terms of the 2015 nuclear accord, are losing faith in the EU’s ability to resolve the problem. Therefore, it may take several months to see whether this plan is really working.

Speeding up the process of shifting to the use of national currency in trade with Iran (primarily by Russia, China, India, Turkey, which have done this before) would be of much help to Tehran.

In order to move around the financial and banking hurdles erected by the United States, it would be advisable to enlist the help, whenever possible, of Islamic banks in Muslim countries for cash transactions to and from Iran. The Islamic banking system has its specific features that are hard to destroy from the outside, even by a financial superpower like the United States.

The same is true about small and medium-sized companies in Muslim countries used as intermediaries in financial transactions with Tehran. Moreover, it is small and medium businesses, and not necessarily in Muslim countries alone, that can play the main role in maintaining trade and other economic relations with Iran.

Therefore, it would be equally desirable for the EU to provide legal and financial assistance to small and medium-sized companies in Europe, which are willing to do business with Iran, and to shift the main load from big companies to medium and small firms for financial transactions with Iran in Euros. Even though they will hardly be able to completely replace the giant companies, small and medium-sized firms have all they need to offset at least part of the losses. According to Iranian estimates, Tehran hopes to establish business relations with many of the 23 million or so small and medium-scale enterprises in Europe in order to circumvent US sanctions. Moreover, Iran has good experience in getting around tough sanctions between 2012 and 2016.

What can Tehran do under these circumstances?  First and foremost, it should establish a business triangle of Iran-EU, Islamic banks and Islamic small and medium-sized businesses, build close trade and economic partnership with European and other small and medium-sized businesses. This is quite feasible because the Americans will find it hard to keep an eye on a huge number of enterprises, much less trace their transactions in Euros, especially if the European Union contributes to such cooperation with Iran.

Iran’s Supreme Economic Coordination Council recently allowed the country’s private sector to sell crude oil abroad as a way of circumventing US sanctions. This is the first time the Iranian private companies have been granted permission to trade in oil. Tehran should avail itself of this opportunity as soon as possible.

As for Iran’s time-tested methods of tackling sanctions like, for example,  the use of “ghost” oil tankers, which switch off their automatic identification system (AIS) transmitters not to disclose their route and destination, as well as selling “unrecorded” oil at reduced prices, I can assume that these methods have been used before and are being used today.

It seems that, in view of the situation at hand, Tehran should also recall its oil-for-goods project with Russia, prepared back in 2014, whereby Iran supplies oil to Russia (at least 100,000 barrels per day – about 5 million tons a year) in exchange for industrial equipment and machinery. Four years ago, the plan was never implemented in full because Iran, already withdrawing from the sanctions regime in keeping with the JCPOA, was no longer interested in it.

There was only one shipment made in November 2017, to the tune of 1 million tons. The project could be revived now. Russia’s Promsyryeimport, which is part of the Russian Energy Ministry and was created expressly with this project in mind, will implement the Russian side of the deal.

A program of developing two Iranian oil fields, Aban and Peydar, by Promsyryeimport (which replaced Zarubezhneft) and Iran’s Dana Energy Company, could also be considered.

Overall, the across-the-board cooperation between Russia and Iran against US sanctions could contribute very significantly to minimizing their impact.

Tehran will certainly put to maximum use the great potential of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which proved so effective during the period of hard-hitting sanctions of 2012-2016 and which controls between 25% and 35% of the country’s economy and 25% of all its capital.

In 2012-2016, the IRGC set up a large-scale system of circumventing the sanctions by controlling considerable “gray” financial flows to, through and out of Iran. IRGC intelligence was gathering information abroad about the “weak” spots in the sanctions system, about the most effective ways of circumventing sanctions, and was also obtaining data on new technologies Iran was not allowed to buy.

Iran and countries opposed to US sanctions against it are looking for ways to ease their impact. Even though completely neutralizing the negative effect of these sanctions will hardly be possible, a certain let-up is quite possible.

Well, the Iranian response to the US sanctions could at times be controversial, but Washington’s exit from the JCPOA and the US sanctions themselves are by no means legal either.

In October, President Hassan Rouhani warned that the previous four months had been a difficult time for the Iranians and that the coming few months would be equally hard. He said that the government would make every effort possible to tackle the situation. Meanwhile, Tehran says it will stick to the terms of the JCPOA as long as its other signatories (save for the US, of course) do the same. Can they do this?

The situation is complex and unpredictable. For Iran, much will depend on whether the JCPOA is kept alive without the US, if Tehran is able to maintain, albeit limited, financial and economic cooperation with foreign countries, primarily with small and medium-sized businesses, and whether it is satisfied with the results of this cooperation.

How will the sanctions, and especially the fall in oil production and exports, affect the national economy and the life of ordinary Iranians? A good question, given the impact the internal political situation can have on the alignment of political forces in the country.

The outcome of this struggle may not take too long coming. Maybe six months, when a European mechanism against Washington’s unlawful withdrawal from the JCPOA and the resumption of its sanctions on Iran is already in place and the deadline set by President Trump for the eight importers of Iranian oil has expired.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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