13.01.2014 Author: Viktor Titov

Complicated situation around Iran and the KSA

445The situation around Iran continues to be quite difficult, despite significant progress in the normalization of relations between the West and Iran and the achievement of an interim agreement on the Iranian nuclear program in Geneva on November 24 at a working meeting of the “six” international negotiators and a Tehran delegation. President Rouhani failed to gain the immediate trust of the USA and its allies with his major changes to the accents of Iran’s foreign policy, although the process proceeded in the right direction relatively quickly.

The fact is that much of the negative role, being played in Washington, comes from the Republicans and other conservative forces sitting in the US Congress. First, they approved a list of 19 individuals and entities that fell under sanctions for involvement in Iran’s nuclear program, which forced the Iranian delegation to leave the conference room in Geneva on December 13, since the interim agreement of November 24 provides for the non-imposition of any additional sanctions against Tehran. Then, a group of senators prepared a list of new sanctions against Iran in late December, if negotiations on the nuclear issue reached a deadlock. In response, Iranian parliamentarians prepared their list of appropriate measures that could be applied in case the U.S. toughened its position and the negotiations were derailed. Although it is clear that President Obama himself is interested in the successful completion of the Geneva process, since this would contribute to significant freezing of the Iranian nuclear program, the normalization of relations with Tehran, and allow Washington to continue on a course aimed at reformatting its policy in the Middle East, which started in October 2013.

That is when the U.S. Administration finally realized the fatality of placing its stakes on supporting those forces in the Arab world that assisted radical Islam, extremism and even terrorism, by financing and providing military assistance to organizations and groups affiliated with al-Qaeda or currents even more radical in their ideologies. Their goal is to transform the Arab world into a radical Wahhabi Caliphate. Moreover, it was only this example of a bloody war in Syria that made American strategists realize this fact, and they started developing new approaches to their policy in the region. This explains the change of attitude towards Iran, which can become a real counterweight to the aggressive policy of Saudi Arabia, even more so, since the oil dependence of the U.S. economy has been substantially reduced after the “shale revolution”, and the importance of the Wahhabi Kingdom has decreased as well, in terms of the world’s energy supplies.

At the same time, American and European companies are interested in participating in the modernization of the Iranian economy and the development of large oil and gas projects that were frozen because of the sanctions. In addition, Iran is a very large market, given its 70 million people and solvency thanks to vast oil and gas resources of this country. Their development, especially the South Pars Gas Field, will require tens of billions in investments and the latest technologies, including for the creation of facilities for liquefying gas for export. Iran’s power industry, industrial sector, telecommunications, and transport infrastructure have huge investment opportunities. In other words, this is a very tasty area for Western business, which is much more promising than the economies of the GCC countries, where labor resources are limited.

Thus, Saudi Arabia became nervous as it realized that its place as the main strategic ally of the USA in the Persian Gulf might soon be taken over by Iran. The more so, knowing that Tehran played this role in the 1970s under the Shah’s regime. Moreover, if one considers Iran’s powerful armed forces, which will surely be modernized, one can understand what Riyadh is afraid of – a complete change in the regional balance of forces, where Saudi Arabia will fall into the shadows of Iran and Iraq.

Nevertheless, instead of making steps towards Tehran, the stubborn and conservative aging leaders of the KSA started, simply saying, to “play dirty tricks” through the development of an entire network of anti-Iran intrigues. At first, the Saudis tried to push Israel into joint strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Then, when this idea had failed, Riyadh decided to put together an anti-Iran military bloc by transforming the GCC from an economic and political union of Arabian monarchies into a military alliance. At the last summit of the organization in December in Kuwait, the Saudis put forward a proposal to create a sort of a “Gulf” NATO to deter Iran. Although, as it is well known, Iran never attacked its neighbors during its modern history after the Khomeini Revolution, but only fought to repel the aggression of Iraq, started in 1980 at the instigation of Saudi Arabia, the GCC countries and the United States.

So far other members of the Council – with the exception of Bahrain, whose royal regime entirely depends on Saudi bayonets (Saudi troops were brought to the island in February 2011 to suppress actions of the Shiite majority population) – are reacting coolly to all this. Only a kind of military command was established, but there are no common armed forces. Moreover, small Arab principalities of the Gulf will hardly wish to worsen their relations with Iran, at the time when this country is coming out of Western isolation.

Moreover, Riyadh revived talks of a regional missile defense system called “ParsPRO” to repel possible missile and air strikes on the GCC from Iran. Its components, based on the purchase of the “Patriot” systems, would be placed virtually everywhere – from Kuwait to Qatar and the UAE. At that, they planned to spend up to $20 billion for just the first phase. Moreover, this was done despite the fact that in early December, the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited four Gulf countries and put forward a number of interesting initiatives to strengthen stability and security in the Gulf, which received positive feedback from Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and Oman.

In any case, we can be sure that Tehran can overcome the remaining difficulties in the coming period and make a leap forward, despite the machinations of Saudi Arabia and the pressure of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. Russia understands this, and is getting ready to expand its cooperation with Iran – a country that is a friend of the Russian Federation. It is no mere chance that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made an official visit to Tehran in mid-December, and that the capital of Iran hosted a meeting of the Joint Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation.

Viktor Titov, PhD in History, a political observer on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook.


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