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Despite differences Gulf States able to preserve regional dynamics- Interview

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Emphasizing significance of the role of regional countries in ensuring the the Persian Gulf security, Dr. Bilgahan Alagoz says Despite all the problems between Iran and the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf, this region has always been able to preserve its own unique dynamics.

Tensions between Iran and the US in the Persian Gulf region has resulted in recent logical moves and measures of the Persian Gulf littoral states which are based on their national interests and logic of costs and benefits. If the counties’ tendency toward getting closer to Iran is not just a short term tactic, this will pave the way to end disastrous war in Yemen and avoid more destruction and massacre in the region.

We reached out to Dr. Bilgehan Alagoz, Lecturer at Marmara University Institute for Middle East Studies, Istanbul to shed more light on the issue.

Recently we have seen tensions in the Persian Gulf such as attacks on Japanese ships and etc. Some experts make a relation between the tensions and the US efforts to contain its global economic rivals especially China, Japan and EU. What do you think of this?

I agree with the opinion that there is a direct connection between the tension in the Persian Gulf and the US efforts to contain its global rivals. In a speech to the UN General Assembly on 25 September 2018, Trump gave the key points of his foreign policy approach, which he called “Principled Realism”. In his address to the UN, Trump put special emphasis on China and Iran. Thus, Trump’s China and Iran policies are interconnected. Trump’s main goal is to contain China, which he regards as the greatest rival for the world economy. In this context, China’s dependence on the Persian Gulf oil is noteworthy. China meets most of its oil needs from both Iran and the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf. Therefore, the United States has increased its influence in the Persian Gulf through pressuring Iran in order to implement a policy of containment of China. Iran’s threat of closing down the Strait of Hormuz and the rise in oil prices are unfavorable developments for China when Beijing enters into the negotiation process with the United States. For this reason, it is necessary to evaluate Trump’s successive decisions on Iran and Persian Gulf within framework of this background.

In addition, there is also rivalry between the United States and other actors, namely Japan and the EU regarding Persian Gulf. Trump is critical of the EU’s failure to comply with its harsh policy against Iran Particularly critical of France and Germany on the issue. Finally, French President Macron invited Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif to the G7 meeting, which is being held in France. Considering the fact that, the United States has recently added Zarif in the sanction list, this move of France means a clear difference between France and the US regarding Iran. Japan has a similar attitude with the EU, too. Japan maintains positive ties with Iran but also appease the US. Therefore, I can say that global actors, China, Japan and the EU, have not yet met the US policy on Iran.

Accusing Iran of being behind recent tensions in the Persian Gulf, the US has asked for formation of a coalition to maintain security of shipping lines in Hurmuz Straight which even many of its close allies have rejected. How successful the US initiation can be? What can be the consequences of such an act while Iran believes the security of the region should be provided by the regional countries without presence of foreigners?

Despite all the problems between Iran and the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf, this region has always been able to preserve its own unique dynamics. Iran and the Arab countries have mostly succeeded in keeping diplomacy active in the Persian Gulf. During the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the 2003 Iraqi War, or during the period of the highest tension that occurred in 2006-2007, diplomacy has always been the main instrument in the region. Therefore, I do not believe that the military coalition that the US is trying to form will be accepted by the regional dynamics.

How successful the US policy of maximum pressure on Iran have been? How diplomatic is the US approach that asks for talks while is sanctioning Iran and even Iran’s foreign minister?

I think at this point we should examine Trump’s Principled Realism doctrine in details.  The starting point of this approach is based on the refusal of globalization. The idea of institutionalism that emerged with the concept of globalization is what Trump opposes most. According to Trump, multilateral agreements involving the US through regional and global organizations operate against the interests of his country. Therefore, on the axis of Principled Realism, the era of bilateral agreements to which the United States is a party must begin and the US should be a superpower that focuses on protecting its national security and economy, rather than being the country that establishes the security of other states. This is the core point of his approach towards Iran. Trump believes that the JCPOA, which is a multilateral agreement, is contrary to the interests of the United States. Thus he aims to make a bilateral agreement with Iran through maximum pressure strategy.

I believe that Iran and the United States will start bilateral negotiations. Trump has repeatedly stated that he does not seek a regime change in Iran, and he mentioned that the only issue he wants to talk about is Iran’s nuclear program. I think this will finally create an opportunity for the two countries to run diplomatic channels. Next year there will be parliamentary election in Iran and presidential elections in the United States. So I don’t know if the two countries start talking before or after the elections. However, I believe that the talks between the two countries will not be a long way away.

What could be the message of downing of the US drone and seizure of the UK’s oil tanker by Iran for some Arab kingdoms of Persian Gulf?

We witness a demonstration of power policy between Iran and the USA. It is clear that both actors act as rational as possible. However, the use of hard power instruments creates a risk to regional stability. Oil sales constitute the most important income of the countries in the region. It is clear that a serious problem in the Persian Gulf will prevent this. Therefore, it is possible to say that the countries of the region are worried about any conflict between Iran and the USA. I believe that the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf do not welcome tension between Iran and the USA. As a matter of fact, the recent increasing diplomacy between Iran and the regional actors confirms that regional actors are open for dialogue rather than conflict.

How do you evaluate the Russia’s plan for security of the Persian Gulf while Iran insists on providing the security by the regional states?

Russia has shown a very active foreign policy in recent years. The annexation of the Crimea, its military presence in Syria and the Caspian Agreement signed last year show that Russia has an increasing role in the region. In this context, relations between Russia and Iran are noteworthy. Throughout the history, Iran has been Russia’s gateway to the Persian Gulf. For this reason, the fact that Russia has security plans for the Persian Gulf directly concerns Iran. Although the two countries are cooperating on many issues, I believe that it would not be appropriate for Iran to see Russia showing more military presence in the region. Despite the fact that Russia’s involvement appears to be a factor balancing the US military presence, Iran is aware that Russia’s security plans for the Persian Gulf will create instability in the region. For this reason, it would be a more appropriate strategy for Iran to increase contact with the regional actors and to emphasize that the security of the region should be provided by the countries of the region.

From our partner MNA

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Middle East

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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Middle East

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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