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Turkey, Iran and the new Middle East equilibria

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It should never be forgotten that, since the sixth century AD, the displacement of Turkish tribes to Persian territories has generated a Turkish diaspora to Iran, which now accounts for approximately half of the current Iranian population.

Obviously the Turkish Shiites in Iran have always been in favour of a stable peace between the two countries, as early as the “Peace of Zuhab” signed in 1639, which defined the borders between the two countries.

 The stable and continuous relations between modern Iran and Turkey returned to a relative splendor with the rise to power of Erdogan’s AKP in 2002 – a party originated from the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood.

That was the start not only of the neo-Ottoman  foreign policy and the new importance of Central Asia in Turkey’s power projection, but also of the idea of Davutoglu, the Foreign Minister of Erdogan’s first government, who theorized the principle of “no contrast with  neighbours”.

While previously Turkey was projected – in an objectively anomalous way -onto the European West and the Western Mediterranean region, from the Balkans to Italy, Davutoglu’s “moderate Islam” (just to use one of the most well-known nonsense of Western geopolitical jargon) is interested in Asia, in the pan-Turkish reconstruction of a new Turkish influence, going precisely from Iran to China’s borders and beyond, towards the Islamic Xinjiang of Turkish ethnicity.

 Alongside this original commitment to Central Asia, Erdogan uses the new Turkish international prestige to create his own independent actions in the Middle East.

A de facto agreement between Iran and Turkey has been reached in Syria, especially considering the Kurdish claims, which dangerously affect both Turkey and Iran.

While the Iraqi Kurds become independent, consequently Iran witnesses a reduced influence of the Iraqi Shiites. Hence there is also a reduction of the Iranian influence on  Iraq, which has long been an actual enclave of Iran.

 Furthermore, for Turkey, the agreement with Iran and the Russian Federation is a mandatory way for closing the  Kurdish PKK’s leeway in Syria – a party supported, like the other factions of the Kurdish people, mainly by the United States.

 Both Iran and Turkey do not acknowledge and recognize the result of the 2017 Kurdish referendum, which regarded the independence of the Iraqi Kurdistan.

 It was precisely in that year that a stable military alliance between Turkey and Iran was designed, with a meeting between the respective Chiefs of Staff.

 An alliance that also regarded possible common actions.

  The two countries also have Islamic opponents. In particular, both Iran and Turkey fear the creation of a new axis between Saudi Arabia, Emirates and Egypt, supported by the USA – an axis that is above all against Turley, considering its interest in the Persian Gulf and Africa (with the Maghreb region) and is certainly also against Iran.

Moreover, while Turkey has made the most of the new space created by the US madness of the Arab Springs, Iran  has correctly analysed the Arab Springs, above all as a threat to itself, to its security and to its interests in the Arab and Islamic world.

It should also be recalled that the beginning of the war in Syria led to a deterioration of the relations between Turkey and Iran: the former openly supported the Sunni insurgency against Bashar al-Assad, even supplying soldiers and weapons to the “rebel” groups, while the latter was, from the beginning, on Bashar’ side.

Currently, however, the strategic calculations are evidently in favour of an alliance between the two countries.

 There is still an economic link between Turkey and Iran, which is not particularly strong: Iran supplies 20% of the natural gas and 30% of the oil used in Turkey.

Nevertheless, non-oil trade between the two countries is still worth less than 10 billion US dollars a year.

Furthermore there is still a not negligible strategic dispute, namely Idlib. It is still in the hands of the Jihadist “rebels”, whom Turkey supports while Iran besieges. Whoever prevails in Idlib – even with Russia’s hegemonic presence – will have a sort of “mortmain” on the rest of Syria in the regional clash between Turkey and Iran.

 In Iraq, Turkey also tends to protect the Sunni minority population, while Iran has now the actual power in the majority Shiite Iraq.

 Turkey has always played many complex roles in Iraq, even before the US victory in the war against Saddam Hussein.

 Turkey, however, has always refused pressure, even from the United States, to tie itself to the Sunni producers of the Gulf, to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. It has always planned strong diversification of its crude oil imports, also with purchases from Iran, which implies an inevitable strategic correlation with Iran.

 Not to mention the fact that Iran has a great plan at strategic and energy levels, i.e. to permanently avoid the Gulf of Hormuz and make most of the natural gas and oil it extracts transit through the Turkish territory, which would avoid any possible blackmail by Saudi Arabia and its allies, be they Islamic or not.

With specific reference to the relations between Turkey and the United States – the other inevitable factor of the Turkish strategic dilemma – so far the latter has not offset, with its economic power, the damage to Turkey resulting from sanctions against Iran.

Furthermore, noone – apart from the EU and only to a limited extent – has yet provided any support to the Turkish economic and political “effort” of having to manage 3.6 million Syrian refugees who have remained on Turkey’s territory.

 Therefore, the United States absolutely needs to use Turkey – the second NATO military force after the USA – as a bulwark against Iran. Turkey, however, absolutely needs also Iran from the energy viewpoint and for settling  the Kurdish issue between Syria and Iraq.

As already seen, the trade-off between Turkey and Iran is simple: the Shiite Republic supports – with a favourable flow of oil and gas – the Turkish economy, which the USA does not want or can no longer back, while Turkey is now Iran’s only safe passage to avoid the sanctions imposed by the USA on oil and natural gas.

Hence, if the alliance between Iran and Turkey becomes economically relevant, we can no longer imagine scenarios capable of enabling the USAto have a direct and successful contrast with Iran.

 In Syria – the conflict that will determine and distribute the new strategic potentials in the Middle East and in the rest of the world – Turkey endeavoured with Saudi Arabia to create the “rebel” group Jaish Al Fatahin 2015, but the Russian intervention immediately made Saudi Arabia lose any  interest in Syria and forced Turkey to focus  its interest, in Syria, only on the Kurds of the YPG.

Once again, however, we record a gradual divergence of interests between Saudi Arabia and Turkey: while the former started the great exclusion of Qatar – the substantial economic ally of Iran  – in June 2017, also with the US collaboration, the latter immediately supported Qatar.

It did so also with the construction of a new Turkish military base in Qatar.

 Immediately after Turkey’s support for Qatar – also at material level -Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Emirates met at a high level precisely with the leaders of the Kurdish YPG.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia financially supported the Kurds in Raqqa and in the other Syrian areas freed from Isis with the YPG weapons. This is certainly an infra-Islamic clash mainly regarding the freedom of passage towards the European markets, as well as the Turkish or Saudi hegemony in the Maghreb region, made porous, pervious and unstable as a result of the US-sponsored Arab springs or of the insane masochism of some European powers.

Meanwhile, Turkey is trying to expand its influence out of the Middle East, with a view to influencing it from outside.

In this case, the primary focus for Turkey is Pakistan. There was already a “High Level Dialogue” between the military leaders of the two countries, operating since 2003, but Pakistan fully trusts Turkey, one of the very few Islamic countries that did not leave Pakistan alone in the worst of times.

  Also in those times when the US support was lacking.

Turkey has explicitly and, possibly, directly supported the “country of the pure” in its territorial and political claims in Kashmir, in exchange for Pakistan’s technical and intelligence support with regard to the Kurdish issue.

 Also the exchange of weapons between Turkey and Pakistan is remarkable – mainly Turkish heavy weapons, helicopters, aircraft and tanks.

 Also in this case, Turkey has managed to get into a context of bilateral relations between the USA and Pakistan that were very tense, especially after the killing of Osama Bin Laden by the US Special Forces in Abbottabad.

Moreover, Turkey always pursues its commercial aims  by stimulating, at the beginning, the exchange of weapon systems.

 Reverting to the link between Turkey and Iran, as recently said by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the sanctions on Iranian oil, which often transits through the Turkish territory, are worth at least 50 billion US dollars a year, with a sanction-related direct loss of at least 10 billion US dollars.

The US overt aim is to eliminate all Iranian oil exports.

Cui prodest? Firstly, the block of Iranian oil exports greatly favours the North American producers that now sell at least 2,575 barrels a day.

 The USA is currently the major producer of crude oil in the world and it is slightly ahead of both Saudi Arabia and the  Russian Federation.

 Secondly, the sanctions against Iran also favour Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni producers in the Gulf, that would  cover – with their oil – the market previously held by Iran.

 And, from the very beginning, China and Turkey have been the harshest opponents of the US sanctions.

 The two largest consumers of Iranian oil and the two countries that are building – with due slowness – two geopolitical areas which are increasingly far from the possible operations and influence of the United States.

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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China in the Middle East: Stepping up to the plate

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By defining Chinese characteristics as “seeking common ground while reserving differences,” a formula that implies conflict management rather than conflict resolution, Messrs. Sun and Wu were suggesting that China was seeking to prepare the ground for greater Chinese engagement in efforts to stabilize the Middle East, a volatile region that repeatedly threatens to spin out of control.

The scholars defined China’s goal as building an inclusive and shared regional collective security mechanism based on fairness, justice, multilateralism, comprehensive governance, and the containment of differences.

By implication, Messrs. Sun and Wu’s vision reflected a growing realization in China that it no longer can protect its mushrooming interests exclusively through economic cooperation, trade, and investment.

It also signalled an understanding that stability in the Middle East can only be achieved through an inclusive, comprehensive, and multilateral reconstructed security architecture of which China would have to be part.

Messrs. Sun and Wu’s article, published in a prominent Chine policy journal, was part of a subtle and cautious Chinese messaging that was directed towards players on all sides of the Middle East’s multiple divides.

To be clear, China, like Russia, is not seeking to replace the United States, certainly not in military terms, as a dominant force in the Middle East. Rather, it is gradually laying the groundwork to capitalize on a US desire to rejigger its regional commitments by exploiting US efforts to share the burden more broadly with its regional partners and allies.

China is further suggesting that the United States has proven to be unable to manage the Middle East’s myriad conflicts and disputes, making it a Chinese interest to help steer the region into calmer waters while retaining the US military as the backbone of whatever restructured security architecture emerges.

Implicit in the message is the assumption that the Middle East may be one part of the world in which the United States and China can simultaneously cooperate and compete; cooperate in maintaining regional security and compete on issues like technology.

That may prove to be an idealized vision. China, like the United States, is more likely to discover that getting from A to B can be torturous and that avoiding being sucked into the Middle East’s myriad conflicts is easier said than done.

China has long prided itself on its ability to maintain good relations with all sides of the divide by avoiding engagement in the crux of the Middle East’s at times existential divides.

Yet, building a sustainable security architecture that includes conflict management mechanisms, without tackling the core of those divides, is likely to prove all but impossible. The real question is at what point does China feel that the cost of non-engagement outweighs the cost of engagement?

The Middle East is nowhere close to entertaining the kind of approaches and policies required to construct an inclusive security architecture. Nevertheless, changes to US policy being adopted by the Biden administration are producing cracks in the posture of various Middle Eastern states, albeit tiny ones, that bolster the Chinese messaging.

Various belligerents, including Saudia Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Turkey, but not Iran or Israel, at least when it comes to issues like Iran and the Palestinians, have sought to lower the region’s temperature even if fundamentals have not changed.

A potential revival of the 2015 international Iran nuclear agreement could provide a monkey wrench.

There is little doubt that any US-Iranian agreement to do so would focus exclusively on nuclear issues and would not include other agenda points such as ballistic missiles and Iranian support for non-state actors in parts of the Middle East. The silver lining is that ballistic missiles and support for non-state actors are issues that Iran would likely discuss if they were embedded in a discussion about restructured regional security arrangements.

This is where China may have a significant contribution to make. Getting all parties to agree to discuss a broader, more inclusive security arrangement involves not just cajoling but also assuaging fears, including whether and to what degree Chinese relations with an Iran unfettered by US sanctions and international isolation would affect Gulf states.

To be sure, while China has much going for it in the Middle East such as its principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of others, its affinity for autocracy, and its economic weight and emphasis on economic issues, it also needs to manage pitfalls. These include reputational issues despite its vaccine diplomacy, repression of the Uyghurs in the north-western province of Xinjiang, and discrimination against other Muslim communities.

China’s anti-Muslim policies may not be an immediate issue for much of the Muslim world, but they continuously loom as a potential grey swan.

Nevertheless, China, beyond doubt, alongside the United States can play a key role in stabilizing the Middle East. The question is whether both Beijing and Washington can and will step up to the plate.

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The US doesn’t deserve a sit on the UNHRC, with its complicity in the Saudi war crimes in Yemen

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A family in the Al Dhale'e camp for people displaced by the conflict in Yemen. YPN for UNOCHA

Last week, the US State Department communicated its intention of joining the UN Human Rights Council later this year. The UN General Assembly will be voting this October on who gets to join the 47-member UN Human Rights Council. 47 members is less than a fourth of all UN member states, so only very few countries get a seat and a say.

The United States does not deserve to join the UN Human Rights Council, with its complicity in the Saudi war crimes in Yemen.

The Human Rights Council is often criticized, especially by the right in the US, for having only bad human rights actors with atrocious records as members. But the US is not an exception to the atrocious human rights record club. 

In the seemingly war-less Trump period, the US nevertheless still managed to get engaged in war and war crimes in the completely devastated Yemen, which was hit by the worst humanitarian crisis and famine over the last years, after US-backed Saudi forces basically flattened the country. Over 13mln people suffered from starvation. Media and human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch alike have pointed to US complicity in war crimes in Yemen.

Months ago, I criticized UNICEF chief Henrietta Fore for lauding the Saudis’ “humanitarian leadership” in Yemen for the price of USD 150mln. The UN blue-washing partnerships were possible after UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres removed Saudi Arabia from the UN blacklist in 2020 to make sure the rivers of cash by the Saudi humanitarian heroes kept flowing in the UN’s direction. But in October this year, it is not Antonio-it’s not a big deal-Guterres that decides who gets on the UN Human Rights Council. It’s all the UN member states. And many of them will not be impressed by the Saudi humanitarian leadership.

And even though a month ago, new US President Joe Biden announced that the US is ending its support for the Saudi offensive – and in parallel the US intell revealed the Khashoggi report which outlined the Saudi prince’s involvement in the murder of the journalist – questions still persist about the US role in the Yemeni situation from now on. 73% of all Saudi arms imports come from the US. The US State Department will simply be playing on words from now on in redefining what constitutes “offensive” support for the Saudi coalition, as the State Department Spokesperson Ned Price seemed to suggest. Any military expert knows how difficult it is to differentiate between offensive and defensive capabilities. Unless it’s really barb wire standing on your border, it’s pretty hard to make the case that something will serve for only defensive purposes. Especially if the “defense-only” capabilities are for a war-driven Saudi-led coalition. So, basically the Biden policy is the Trump policy, but much more polished. The language is more technocraticly elegant, but the essence is the same – just like many of the other decisions by the Biden Administration in its first weeks. It’s basically Trump, only the phrasing is much more polished and professionally shrewd.

This week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized Yemen’s Houthies for breaking the peace in responding to the Saudi forces, but it is safe to say that there isn’t much peace to break in Yemen, and the US has also taken care of that. So, Blinken’s statement reveals a new doze of hypocrisy – hypocrisy, which also characterizes the US’s decision to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council.

Biden’s Syria strikes that left many Biden supporters quite surprised last week also indicated that many of us who thought Biden would be a classical Democrat centrist were actually wrong. Biden has much more in common with the right now, judging by his very first policy choices – at home and foreign policy wise.

The US government will have to try a bit harder than “we are not Trump”, if it wants to convince the rest of the countries in October that it deserves a sit on the human rights table. If the Biden Administration continues the same way, it’s not going to be able to do so.

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Beyond the friendship diplomacy between Morocco and Mauritania

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Over the past decade or so, many politicians and diplomats have held that the most significant bilateral relationship has been between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. That remains true today, and it will be likely the case for long- term partnership to come, even as the sort of that relationship changes over time. Due to, diplomatic rapprochement between them and bilateral cooperation on several levels, Mauritania, tends formally to withdraw its full recognition of the Polisario Front “SADR” before the term of the current president, Mohamed Ould Al-Ghazwani, ends.

Yet, the truth is that Mauritania has unalterably shifted from the previous engagement with Morocco to the recent conflict with it on nearly all the key fronts: geopolitics, trade, borders security, finance, and even the view on domestic governance. To that extent, Mauritania was the most affected by the Polisario Front militia’s violation to close the Guerguerat border crossing and prevent food supplies from reaching their domestic markets. This crisis frustrated Mauritanian people and politicians who demanded to take firm stances towards the separatists.

In the context of the fascinating development in relations between Rabat and Nouakchott, the Mauritanian government stated that President Ould Ghazwani is heading to take a remarkable decision based on derecognized the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and Polisario Front as its sole representative and follow up the recent UN peace process through the case of Western Sahara conflict under UN Security Council resolutions.

Similarly, the United States announced that “Moroccan (Western) Sahara is an integral part of The Kingdom–a traditional Ally, and it supports the Moroccan government’s constitutional procedures to maintain Moroccan Southern provinces strong and united.” It was rapidly followed by all major countries of African, and the Arab Middle East also extended their supports to the government in Rabat. What a determined move against the Polisario Front separatism in a sovereign state!

During the Western Sahara dispute, the Moroccan Sahrawi was humiliated to the end by Polisario Front: it not only lost their identity but also resulted in the several ethnics’ claim for “independence” in the border regions within. currently, Morocco is the only regional power in North Africa that has been challenged in terms of national unity and territorial integrity. The issues cover regional terrorism, political separatism, and fundamental radicalism from various radical ethnic groups. Although the population of the “Polisario groups” is irrelevant because of Morocco’s total population, the territorial space of the ethnic minorities across the country is broadly huge and prosperous in natural resources. besides, the regions are strategically important.

In foreign affairs doctrine, the certainty of countries interacting closely, neighboring states and Algeria, in particular, have always employed the issue of the Western Sahara dispute in the Southern Region of Morocco as the power to criticize and even undermine against Morocco in the name of discredit Sahrawi rights, ethnic discrimination, social injustice, and natural resources exploitation. therefore, local radical Sahrawi groups have occasionally resisted Morocco’s authority over them in a vicious or nonviolent way. Their resistance in jeopardy national security on strategic borders of the Kingdom, at many times, becoming an international issue.

A Mauritanian media stated, that “all the presidential governments that followed the former President Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidala, a loyal and supporter to the Polisario Front, were not at all satisfied with the recognition of the SADR creation due to its fear that it would cause reactions from Algeria. however, Mauritania today is not the state of 1978, it has become a well-built country at the regional level, and the position of its military defense has been enhanced at the phase of the continent’s armies after it was categorized as a conventional military power.”

This is what Mauritania has expected the outcome. Although neighboring Mauritania has weeded out the pressures of the Algerian regime, which stood in the way of rapprochement with the Kingdom of Morocco, and the Mauritanian acknowledged that Nouakchott today is “ready to take the historic decision that seeks its geopolitical interests and maintain strategic stability and security of the entire region, away from the external interactions.” Hence, The Mauritanian decision, according to the national media, will adjust its neutral position through the Moroccan (Western) Sahara issue; Because previously was not clear in its political arrangement according to the international or even regional community.

Given the Moroccan domestic opinion, there is still optimistic hope about long-term collaboration on the transformation between Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, even considering some temporary difficulties between the two in the Western Sahara conflict. For example, prior Mauritania has recognized the Polisario since the 1980s, but this recognition did not turn into an embassy or permanent diplomatic sign of the separatist entity in Mauritania, the Kingdom has a long-standing relationship with Mauritania and the recent regional politics would not harm that, because it’s a political circumstance.

Despite the strain exerted by the Polisario Front and Algeria on Mauritania, and intending to set impediments that avoid strategic development of its relations with Rabat, the Mauritanian-Moroccan interactions have seen an increased economic development for nearly two years, which end up with a phone call asked King Mohammed VI to embark on an official visit to Mauritania as President Ould Ghazwani requested.

For decades, the kingdom of Morocco has deemed a united, stable, and prosperous Maghreb region beneficial to itself and Northern Africa since it is Kingdom’s consistent and open stance and strategic judgment. Accordingly, Morocco would continue supporting North Africa’s unity and development. On the one hand, Morocco and Mauritania are not only being impacted by the pandemic, but also facing perils and challenges such as unilateralism, and protectionism. On the other hand, Rabat opines that the two neighboring states and major forces of the world necessarily established their resolve to strengthen communication and cooperation with each other. To that end, both states would make efforts to set up long-term strategic consensus including mutual trust, reciprocal understandings, and respect to the United Nations and the current international system based on multilateralism.

In sum, both Morocco and Mauritania are sovereign states with a strong desire to be well-built and sophisticated powers. Previous successes and experiences in solving territorial disputes and other issues have given them confidence, which motivated both countries to join hands in the struggles for national independence, equality, and prosperity. In sense of the world politics, two states promise to advance the great cause of reorganization and renovation and learn from each other’s experience in state power and party administration.

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