Friday, 29 November 2013

Iran Yields To The Wests Demand On Nuclear Issue, by Akbar E Torbat

Iran Yields To The Wests Demand On Nuclear Issue, by Akbar E Torbat    
29 November, 2013
Countercurrents.org

After investing about forty billion dollars in its nuclear facilities, Iran has agreed to nearly shutting them down. This has been done quietly since the new government of President Hassan Rouhani took over in August 2013. Some opposition groups see Rouhani as the West's stooge who tries to abandon Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the West's support for the survival of the clerical regime in Tehran. To downgrade Iran's nuclear activity, Rouhani has combined the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran with the Power Ministry. The daily Kayhan reported on November 20, 2013, nearly all the IAEA requests in Geneva meetings had been already implemented since Rouhani took over and practically most of Iran's nuclear facilities were almost shutdown.

As has been reported by the Associated Press, for sometime a series of secret talks had been going on behind the scenes between the US and Iran in Oman and elsewhere, and Sultan Qaboos of Oman had played a role as go-between in these talks. The Deputy Secretary of State, William Burn, and Jake Sullivan, a foreign policy advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, had met at least five times with the Iranian officials. [1] The secret talks paved the way for the official negotiations to finalize an agreement on the nuclear issue. The multilateral negotiations took placed in Geneva in three rounds between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, the so-called P5+1. After completion of the third round in Geneva on November 23, 2013, a temporary agreement was signed. The official texts of the agreement and its attachment have not been released. The Fars News Agency posted a text that was not in consistent with the White House's Fact Sheet released a few hours later. Here are the key items of the Fact Sheet:

Iran's Concessions
Iran has agreed to stop enriching uranium beyond 5 percent; a level that would be sufficient for energy production, and would dismantle links between its networks of centrifuges. The agreement does not require Iran to stop enriching uranium, or to dismantle any of its existing centrifuges. However, its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent level would be diluted or converted into oxide so that it could not be readily used for medical purposes and its stockpile of 3.5% low enriched uranium would not increase. Iran has agreed not to install any new centrifuges, start up any that are not already operating or build new enrichment facilities. Also Iran has agreed not to produce fuel for the heavy water reactor it is building in Arak. Iran has agreed to technically disable its nuclear activity at least for six month. Furthermore, Iran has accepted what previously was called Additional Protocol, according to which, IAEA inspectors can inspect any locations related to the Iranian nuclear activity at any time they deem necessary.

The red line for Iran has been to preserve its nuclear capability, but not to manufacture nuclear weapons. Iran's red lines include not halting uranium enrichment, not to close the Fordow facilities and the Arak Heavy Water reactor construction, and not to let the enriched uranium out of Iran. The red line for the Western powers has been any capacity that can enable Iran to manufacture nuclear weapons.

Iran Gets “peanuts” In Return
Iran receives a very small portion of its own money in return for practically shutting down its nuclear facilities. The United States facilitates about $7 billion in sanctions relief. Iran's frozen foreign exchange assets in foreign financial institutions is about $100 billion. Iran receives only $4.2 billion of its oil sales, nearly $15 billion of its revenues during this period will go into restricted overseas accounts, and $400 million from the restricted Iranian funds is to be transferred to educational institutions in third countries to pay for the Iranian students' tuitions. [2] Except for some minor matters, the sanctions will largely remain intact, and only will not increase. This limited sanctions relief is done by President Barack Obama's executive order, which does not require the approval of the Congress. In reality, the sanctions had already reached to the point of diminishing return and even being negative, which means they were squeezing the economies of the Western countries more than Iran.

Because Iran's right to enrichment was not acknowledged in the agreement, all the previous sanctions for Iran's enriching uranium, including the UN sanctions will remain in place. After the agreement was signed, the US Secretary of State John Kerry and the British Foreign Secretary William Hague both said Iran's right to enrich uranium was not recognized in the agreement. The United States has disputed Iran's right to uranium enrichment under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Under Article IV of the NPT, each non-nuclear state has the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Since the text of the Treaty does not explicitly indicate enrichment, it has been disputed in the negotiations.

Reactions in Iran
On November 20, three days before the agreement was reached in Geneva, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei gave a strong speech in front of his top military commanders and about 50,000 heads of Basij (volunteer) militia. He lashed out at the Western imperialists and summarized some historical facts, including their roles in wars and slave trades, and the US dropping of two atomic bombs on Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Khamenei repeated his previously stated phrase “heroic softness” to pretend he is not yielding and to save his face. Khamenei said "We do insist that we will not step back a bit from our rights". While “I do not intervene in the details of these talks, there are certain red lines and limits that have to be observed. They [Iran's nuclear negotiators] are instructed to abide by those limits." Despite the strong tone of his speech, there was no response from the US officials. That meant the US officials knew that he was just preparing his military men to accept the forthcoming agreement he had secretly agreed on.

According to Kayhan, Mohammad-Hassan Asfari, a member of the Majles National Security and Foreign Policy committee and some other members of the parliament had met with the Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at his office. They wanted to send one person from the parliament to witness the negotiations in Geneva, however Zarif had said Rouhani did not permit such participation. Zarif had said he would not give any details of the deal until an agreement was reached.

Some members of the Iranian parliament (Majles) strongly criticized the signing of such a shameful agreement. According to Articles 125 and 77 of the Iranian Constitution, agreements with foreign governments have to be approved by the Majles to be binding. [3]The clerics have strong influence in the parliament; about forty of the members are clerics and some of the rest are either relatives of the clerics or their supporters. Some Majles members have friendly relations with London. Historically, the British have used their power of the purse to influence the Iranian parliament. That means despite wide protests from the opposition groups, the agreement may pass in the parliament.

The opposition groups were shocked by hearing the news of the agreement, which they perceived it as an outright yield on behalf of Iran. In Iran, most of the university students, labor organizations, and the secular groups do not have positive opinion of the clerics ruling Iran. In the US, the Iranian lobby organizations cheered signing of the agreement as win-win situation. However the opposition groups perceive the agreement as betraying the Iranian nation and think Iran has lost to the Western powers who themselves have the lethal weapon of the last resort. They compare the agreement to such disgraceful agreements in Iranian history as the Turkamanchai agreement in 1828 with Russia, upon which Iran lost its provinces in south Caucasus to Russia and also the 1919 agreement with Britain, upon which the then Prime Minster Hassan Vossogh-eldoleh received bribes from Britain to sign what would result in Iran becoming a British protectorate, but that agreement was eventually annulled by the Majles.

Will this agreement be annulled similar to the 1919 agreement? It remains to be seen what reactions the Iranian people, the military, the Revolutionary Guards, and the Majles will have regarding this shameful agreement.

Akbar E. Torbat (atorbat@calstatela.edu) teaches economics at California State University, Los Angeles. He received his Ph.D. in political economy from the University of Texas at Dallas.
[3] “The President or his legal representative has the authority to sign treaties, protocols, contracts, and agreements concluded by the Iranian government with other governments, as well as agreements pertaining to international organizations, after obtaining the approval of the Islamic Consultative Assembly. http://www.iranonline.com/iran/iran-info/government/constitution-9-1.html


Thursday, 28 November 2013

Pakistan’s Foreign Policy Challenge

The strategic environment around Pakistan is evolving and changing rapidly. Unfortunately Pakistan’s internal environment remains unchanged and, if it is evolving, then so far there are no signs that it is evolving in the right direction. So while the strategic environment warrants an adjustment of foreign policy to take advantage of the changes or at least remain in sync with them the domestic scene does not support such an effort. Pakistan does not have a foreign minister and many embassies await ambassadors. The world is moving on and it is doing so without Pakistan on board.
The elimination of the late TTP leader and the fragmentation and in-fighting it caused should have been a game changer for Pakistan and a spark for decisive action. Instead there were endless discussions on martyrdom and, surprisingly, even divided opinion on whether a friend or an enemy had been taken out. It was stated repeatedly that the drone strike had scuttled a peace dialogue — a dialogue that had not even started. The protests against US drone strikes have gained momentum and a political party has taken upon itself the task of blocking NATO logistics through Pakistan. Public opinion, already against the US, is being stoked to new heights by political leaders seemingly unaware of ground realities. The bottom line that will eventually prevail is that while Pakistan must strongly protest drone strikes on its territory it must take advantage of the consequences and keep in mind the economic compulsions that underpin its foreign policy.
The Iran–US Intermediary Nuclear Deal has altered the scenario. Israel protests because it has to for political reasons. The Arab world that supports the Sunni faction of Islam worldwide is silent so far and the reason is that they are realists and understand that they have to now realign attitudes and policy in line with the changing environment. There has been a surge in Sunni-Shia confrontation in the wake of the ongoing war on terror and the violence in the Middle East. There are fears that a resurgent Iran will support the Shia faction strongly as it did after the US invaded first Afghanistan and then Iraq giving Iran a decided advantage till the sanctions kicked in with real bite. Much will depend on how both sides manage their policies in the future. Pakistan has excellent relations with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries and Turkey. Iran is Pakistan’s neighbor with a shared land border in its restive province of Baluchistan –the scene of much external meddling. Pakistan should see a decided advantage in the improving Iran-US relationship and Iran playing its role in the region. This should shape a trend in foreign policy that leads to excellent bilateral relations. A delay in the right overture could forfeit all likely advantages. Pakistan needs Iranian political and energy support just at it needs the support of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.
The US-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement has been resoundingly approved by the Loye Jirga and, President Karzai’s timeline notwithstanding, it is likely to become operational. This will mean US troops presence in all the nine bases in Afghanistan. Afghanistan will also need at least 4 billion dollars per year to maintain its security forces. India, Iran, Central Asian States, Russia and China all have their own interests and are likely to be supportive of the US-Afghan alliance and the resulting environment. Should the peace efforts with the Taliban fail and should the TTP continue its violence in Pakistan then there will be a situation where the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan needs the TTP and in return the TTP will expect support in their insurgency against the Pakistani state. This scene will give a boost to militancy and terror within Pakistan and beyond. There will inevitably be an opportunity for Russia and China to assert themselves in pursuit of their interests and the states that are not comfortable with the Iran-US thaw and US presence in Afghanistan may look to them for improved relations. Pakistan needs to figure out how it wants to respond to this evolving situation.
Pakistan faces new and complex foreign policy changes. It needs internal stability and strength to pursue its foreign policy interests. This is not the time to create internal instabilities. This is the time for internal harmony so that the government can govern.

Can’t a Pakistani and Indian live in harmony? We used to… By Asma Khan Lone

Can’t a Pakistani and Indian live in harmony? We used to…
  Published: November 29, 2013
Like most Pakistani’s, I too experienced an overload of nationalistic fervour when I left Pakistan and that too for India. India evoked a psychological barrier and conjured the dreaded feeling of being ‘the other’ even though I had spent my formative years away from the jingoistic identity formation of the Zia years and had been brought up with the tolerant outlook of my parents (although my Kashmiri father did have staunch nationalist ideals).
In hindsight, it was a sad, instinctive conditioning.
I remember our Indian neighbours in the UK, where I spent most of my childhood, and despite the exchange of formal pleasantries between our elders, the children hardly interacted together. However, both communities ganged up against the ‘gora’ supremacy, in school and otherwise. It definitely was not religion that divided us (at least not back then) and I fondly remember my cousin’s neighbourhood in Karachi that had a healthy sprinkling of Hindus, Christians and Parsis and we all played together – completely oblivious to the division of religion.
Rather than religion, the reticence towards each other was more the result of the respective national identity building and historical hang-over, both real and imaginary, that each side bore.
The first thing that struck me in Delhi was that partition had been as catastrophic for ‘them’ as it was for ‘us’. It was a mutual wound, yet both sides were unmindful of its impact on the other, each feeling that they had been violated more. It was akin to the holocaust when millions were forced to leave their homes, their livelihoods and their way of life, the only one they knew of, and migrate to an alien existence. Unlike those who migrated to Pakistan in the pursuit of a new dawn and hope, these people stepped out into the unknown along with the insecurities and instabilities that came along.
While the journey for those migrating to Pakistan had been painful and demanded huge sacrifices, it was voluntary and the result of a conscious choice, driven by a zeal for their new homeland. On the other hand, for those migrating in the opposite direction it was an ugly imposition. Without going into the ideological and historical events of the division, it was and remains an emotional tragedy for the migrants to India; a rupture that they have not quite come to terms with.
Most of the people that one comes across, in Delhi, have antecedents tracing to Lahore and hence, along with being the political capital of India, Delhi exhibits the most rigidity concerning relations with Pakistan, especially in comparison to the rest of India.
Like Pakistani’s they too are victims of a one-sided and faulty historical orientation.
The second thing that struck me was that Indian youth exuded hope, resilience and drive underlined by pride in their national existence, quite unlike the youth of Pakistan. Although most of us in Pakistan exhibit the first three characteristics – an aspect repeatedly verified by the accolades we receive on various fora internationally – we have somehow failed to associate it with our national moorings.
Not that we do not love our country enough. In fact, successive generations seem to have a heightened sense of awareness and attachment with their national identity but the failures of successive governments have eroded our hope and failed to evoke faith and inspiration in our polity.
Now, compare this to the emerging economic powerhouse that India has been dubbed as, the ‘soft power’ that it exports through its culture, the position that it is globally acquiring through its skilled human resource – be it in the Silicon Valley or the financial empires of the Mittals or Ambani’s; the literary acknowledgement through the Pulitzer and Booker awards, the academic laurels of Nobel Memorial prizes or even the titles of international beauty pageants.
There is no doubt that India flaunts a rising curve.
Although the cause of much of the euphoria in India was real, much of it was inflated too. I recall reading a commentary somewhere about how India is like the US; self -confident and with a brimming sense of self-importance, whereas, Pakistan is like Britain, self-critical and self-effacing.
Whether real or imagine, the resultant ‘middle kingdom’ syndrome had however, raised the bar for India and especially for its youth. On the other hand, we only have narratives of missed opportunities and false dawns to cling on to. Reflecting upon the exuberance of the Indian youth, I often found myself wondering if they could do it, why couldn’t we.
After all, failures only whet ones appetite for excellence.
It was these series of seemingly non-descript monologues that went a long way in re-kindling my own drive as an individual and in my hope as a Pakistani.
It was in India that I acquired insights into the complex intricacies of human bonds and identity. Despite the ideological or intellectual barriers I faced in Delhi, I did manage to develop a certain bond with the city. In spite of seemingly socio-political anomalies of my association with India, there was a certain association developing. At the core of this new intimacy lay the relationships and interaction that form the basis of human existence.
Although there were a couple of Muslim families in our neighbourhood, they mostly kept away in apprehension of the fallout of my Pakistani antecedents and my husband’s Kashmiri roots in an increasingly jittery India. My husband was based in Kashmir while my kids and I were stationed in Delhi for most of the winters. Increasingly, I found support in my non-Muslim neighbours and friends.
From facing day-to-day challenges of settling into a new place, to helping out in times of crisis like needing medical attention or being stuck in another part of the city while my child was stranded in school, these neighbours invariably came to my rescue. It was then that I started understanding that the essence of human relationships transcends compartmentalised religiosity or even geography, and is based on basic human instincts of goodness.
I was not alone in this new-found realisation.
My Hindu Indian friends also came to know of the shared humanity of people across the border in spite of the religion they professed. For many of them, I was the first Muslim and Pakistani that they had met.
Of course, the regular India-Pakistan wrangling continued, sometimes in the most basic forms with my kids and their friends not talking to each other every time Pakistan beat India or vice versa.
However, for every down I faced, it was redeemed by a high – be it the wishing of ‘Independence Day’ to my kids on August 14 in the school assembly by the principal, or a fellow Facebook activist profusely apologising to me on behalf of a Kashmiri Pandit for his untoward remarks as we slugged it out on a Facebook page ‘promoting’ Kashmiri Muslim and Kashmiri Pandit harmony.
Aside from these ideological confrontations, I noticed that my kids gravitated the most towards their Kashmiri Pandit classmates in school. This made me wonder about the place that culture occupied in one’s identity and especially, what we had made of it in Pakistan.
Why have we not been able to construct a more diversified understanding of our identity, rather than rushing into a homogenised religious interpretation?
Although religion was one of the essential ingredients of our identity, it was not the only one. Denying our cultural roots, we thus stood exposed to a cultural hegemony of which the Bollywood faces on our billboards are just an optic insinuation.
On a positive note, however, the Pakistani ‘lawn wars’ have arrived in India, despite all the obstacles. A manifestation of our ‘soft power’, it represents both the vigour of our indigenous culture as well as being a preview of what can be in store if only we have the determination to do so.

Iran’s Nuclear Deal

The battle of spin has started in earnest. Soon after the historic deal between Iran and the so-called P5+1 represented by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the White House and IRNA released fact sheet of the interim agreement.
“Iran retains the technology and material to produce fuel for a weapon for now, [but] the deal adds time to an Iranian nuclear “breakout”, [while] Iran will receive some financial relief, but most sanctions will remain.”   New York Times
The freeze would last six months, with the aim of giving international negotiators time to pursue the far more challenging task of drafting a comprehensive accord that would ratchet back much of Iran’s nuclear program and ensure that it could be used only for peaceful purposes.
Key points of the deal include:
1.    Iran will stop enriching uranium beyond 5%, and “neutralize” its stockpile of uranium enriched beyond this point.
2.    Iran will give greater access to inspectors including daily access at the Natanz and Fordo nuclear sites.
3.    There will be no further development of the Arak plant which it is believed could produce plutonium.
4.    In return, there will be no new nuclear-related sanctions for six months if Iran sticks by the accord.
5.    Iran will also receive sanctions relief worth about $7bn (£4.3bn) on sectors including precious metals.

Iranian People, true beneficiaries
Between the Iranian government, P5+1 powers and the Iranian people, the greatest beneficiaries undoubtedly seem to be the people of Iran:
·         The threat of military strike has been at least temporarily lifted;
·         Warmongers ranging from Israel and Saudi Arabia, to US neo-cons and their Iranian expat employees, to the pestiferous components of the ruling regime in Iran, to those among the expat opposition who hate the Islamic Republic far more than they care for the well-being of Iranian people, are all categorically discredited;
·         Aspects of the sanctions  that were directly effecting Iranians are somewhat modified – such as provisions “to defray the tuition costs of Iranian students”, or for “Iran’s purchase of food, agricultural commodities, medicine, medical devices”;
·         The anti-war and anti-sanction movement got a moral boast, while AIPAC and its willing or implicit supporters among the Iranian expat opposition have received a major blow;
·         Agency and confidence for future actions are confirmed among the Iranian people whose ballot box option in June’s presidential election put into office a president and a foreign minister who are far closer to their aspirations than the previous government.
US
What Iran considers its “right to enrich,” American officials signaled a possible workaround last week, saying they were open to a compromise in which the two sides would essentially agree to disagree, while Tehran continued to enrich.
“For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian
nuclear program and key parts of the program will be rolled back,” Obama
The interim deal capped five days of marathon negotiations; two months after Iran first signaled publicly it was warming to the West. The risky covert diplomacy paid off for Obama in a six-month agreement that aims to pave the way for a broader accord to curb Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.
Israel
Israel has managed to safeguard its nuclear arsenal while putting pressure on Iran not to even come close to the possibility of developing a nuclear weapon. As far as the prospect of peace in the region is concerned, the fact that Iran will be stopped from developing any nuclear weapon is, of course, good news. Be that as it may, the clear loser in this deal is still Israel.
The fact that US officials have reportedly been negotiating with Iran in secret for months prior to this deal, without even informing Israel, is yet another indication that we are witnessing the threshold of a much wider implication of this deal.  
“What was concluded in Geneva last night is not a historic agreement;
it is a historic mistake.” Bibi
Bibi certainly has shown a pragmatic side in the past, a side that is unlikely to bubble up considering the deal appears to be somewhat tougher than had been expected. Of course despite lack of US support, Bibi will aim to derail the deal by working with the Israel lobby (which must be very concerned about its own vulnerabilities given both the degree of public support for an Iran deal that the recent Washington Post and CNN polls have shown and comments like Goldberg’s) to get new sanctions legislation through Congress or by resorting to some kind of provocation (short of attacking Iran as he and his ministers have so often threatened to do).
And, of course, even pale praise for the agreement by Bibi would surely strengthen the position of his “sincerest friends” in Tehran — the hard-liners who oppose any rapprochement with Washington. But, assuming Iranian compliance with the deal, including the significantly enhanced inspections provisions, he’s going to have to be much more discreet than he has been, at least for the time being.
Regional Shift
The Islamic Republic is at the heart of any future regional shifts of power. US failures in Afghanistan, and more importantly in Iraq and Syria, have already strengthened Iran’s hand. And the newly gained confidence in Tehran will be further enhanced by the removal of economic sanctions, and buttressed by a bigger role in a weakened region.
Syria: Tehran is likely to ensure Assad’s survival, and along with Russia, assist in his rehabilitation as an acceptable regional leader. Tehran and Moscow are eager to end the war and shift the emphasis from ousting Assad to “fighting terrorism” in Syria.
Iraq: The country is in a quagmire 10 years after the military invasion. It’s terribly polarised between Sunni and Shia forces and hundreds – even thousands – of people are killed every month by suicide bombings. Tehran exercises major influence in the country, over Nouri al-Maliki’s government, and among the Shia majority. And as of late, the authoritarian Maliki has emerged as an indispensable link between Tehran and Washington as he spearheads the fight against “extremist Sunni groups”.
Saudi Arabia: The wars in Iraq, Syria and the conflict in Lebanon have deepened the rift between Riyadh and Tehran. Saudi-Iranian antagonism could lead to major sectarian escalation with incalculable price for the region; OR it can act as a deterrent.
Afghanistan: Washington can use all the help it can get to maintain control after 2014 US/NATO withdrawal. With a certain influence over Afghanistan’s northern regions, Tehran could be of aid if it chooses to facilitate stabilize Afghanistan and discourage the return of the Taliban.

On rogue intelligence agencies

For a while now, the premier intelligence agency of a nuclear armed state has been conducting itself in a dangerous manner. The agency has spent enormous amounts of money to carry out terrorist activities on foreign soil, destabilise democratic governments in an attempt to increase its spheres of influence, kidnap and torture civilians without due process, and has assassinated individuals deemed unfriendly.
This agency, for all intents and purposes, has gone rogue.
The country in question itself has a tarnished record. It constantly violates human rights and international laws, has been responsible for various wars which it has many times unilaterally initiated or instigated. It also has a history of financially and politically supporting dictatorial regimes.
The rogue agency in question, is the CIA. And the country in question, is the United States of America (USA).
The tools by which we determined that the agency has gone rogue have the ones used by the US to categorise other agencies.
The US used these tools, in their most famous example, to claim that the Pakistani-run intelligence agency ISI has gone rogue. To argue their point, they have cited the following two examples, among others.
First, the US claimed that the ISI cannot be reined in by its civilian governments; that it instead jealously guards its operations and even spies on its civilian government.
Secondly, the US went as far as to say that the ISI does not even answer to the Pakistani military. The US claimed that the operations of the ISI, like allegedly supporting the Taliban and other terrorist organisations, was contrary to public statements by the Pakistani military establishment.
The US has categorically stated that as such, the ISI had become a ‘state within a state’.
The allegations, for the most part, do ring true. And they are as true for the ISI as they are for the CIA (and now the ISI).
The CIA fit both these criterion and has demonstrated its independence from the American civilian government and military, when during several congressional hearings, it has repeatedly refused to hand over control of its international drone campaign, only relenting finally to a slow transition over the course of several years. The CIA carried out drone strikes, contrary to repeated assurances by the civilian government of America’s will to adhere to international laws. And all of this comes after decades-old history of military coups, terrorism, supporting non-democratic actors and most recently, spying on American allies.
The fact that this is happening in the world’s most powerful nuclear armed state is all the more worrying.

Pak Generals r lucky, they get lucrative jobs in other countries after retirement- ISI chief becomes spy chief again.

Pak Generals r lucky, they get lucrative jobs in other countries after retirement- ISI chief becomes spy chief again.

WHY THE IRAN DEAL SCARES SAUDI ARABIA

WHY THE IRAN DEAL SCARES SAUDI ARABIA
F. Gregory Gause
After the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany concluded a preliminary agreement with Iran on Sunday, it did not take long for regional critics of the deal to react. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, blasted the agreement as “a historic mistake.” Saudi Arabia, the other American ally in the Middle East worried about an opening to Iran, took a different approach, issuing a carefully worded statement that cautiously welcomed the deal.
The Saudis have no allies in American politics to rally against the Obama Administration, and no desire to set themselves against the other international powers who signed the agreement, including their security partners France and Great Britain, their fellow oil producer Russia, and their major oil customer China. But they are as unhappy as the Israelis, if for slightly different reasons. The Saudis are not merely concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. They have a more profound fear: that geopolitical trends in the Middle East are aligning against them, threatening both their regional stature and their domestic security. The Saudis see an Iran that is dominant in Iraq and Lebanon, holding onto its ally in Syria, and now forging a new relationship with Washington—a rival, in short, without any obstacles to regional dominance, and one further emboldened to encourage Shiite populations in the Gulf monarchies, including Saudi Arabia, to oppose their Sunni rulers.
In recent weeks, that fear has been on display in a series of vocal complaints about American outreach to Iran and the Obama Administration’s broader strategy in the Middle East. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the superstar Saudi financier, is something of a black sheep in the ruling family, but a public criticism of Obama that he made last week reflects a strong sentiment among Saudi √©lites. “America is shooting itself in the foot,” Alwaleed told the Wall Street Journalseditorial board. “It’s just complete chaos. Confusion. No policy.” A few days later, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in London, Prince Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz, called the negotiations with Iran “appeasement,” and indirectly threatened that Saudi Arabia would obtain its own nuclear weapons if necessary.
These very public denunciations of Washington reflect the same worries that motivated Riyadh to perform an extraordinary gesture of discontent at the U.N. in October. Famously low-key in their diplomacy, the Saudis drew attention to themselves by campaigning for a seat on the U.N. Security Council and then theatrically rejecting it, something no country has ever done. (The move even came as a surprise to Saudi diplomats, who had gone through extensive training to prepare for their new responsibilities.) “This was a message for the U.S., not the U.N.,” the Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan, who spent twenty-two years as an ambassador in Washington, reportedly told a Western diplomat.
At that time, the immediate cause for Saudi displeasure was Syria. Riyadh had enthusiastically backed President Obama’s threat to use force against the Assad regime after a chemical-weapons attack on a Damascus suburb in August. The Saudis hoped that an American strike would draw the United States into greater and more direct military involvement in the campaign to bring down Assad. The deal negotiated between the U.S. and Russia to remove Syria’s chemical weapons—a diplomatic victory for the Obama Administration—was seen in Riyadh as not only a missed opportunity to deal a decisive blow to Assad but as an acknowledgement that the regime was a legitimate international partner rather than a pariah to be overthrown. With the U.N. Security Council committed to the chemical-weapons deal, the Saudis decided that it was a club they would rather not join.
When Secretary of State John Kerry went to Riyadh on November 4th to reassure the Saudis of the continuing American commitment to their security, the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, referred to Syria as “an occupied land.” No one had to ask the Prince, “Occupied by whom?” Since the mid-aughts, Riyadh has tried to check the growth of Iranian power in the Arab world, and almost all of its attempts have failed. The Saudis backed the anti-Syrian March 14th Alliance in Lebanon in two electoral victories, only to see Iran’s ally Hezbollah remain the dominant force in Lebanese politics. They were powerless to arrest Iran’s growing influence in Iraq, watching helplessly as Tehran orchestrated the coalition politics that kept Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in office after the 2010 elections. In 2007, King Abdullah brokered a deal between Hamas and Fatah, which was intended to draw Hamas away from Iranian patronage. But the deal broke down within months, after Hamas took control of Gaza and turned again to Iran for support. Across the region, the Saudis were losing and the Iranians were winning.
This was not simply a geopolitical setback for Riyadh. The Saudi leadership believes that increased Iranian power will lead to political mobilization by Shia inside the Sunni-ruled Gulf states. The Saudis and their allies in the Gulf remain certain that Iran meddles directly in their domestic affairs, but they are also convinced that Iran’s heightened regional role will inevitably inspire Shia discontent, which makes Iran’s ascendance an indirect threat to the stability of the Gulf monarchies.
It was through this lens that the Saudis viewed the sustained and peaceful demonstrations in 2011 against the Sunni monarchy in Shia-majority Bahrain, even though there was no objective evidence of an Iranian role in the protests. The Arab Spring also brought down Riyadh’s most important Arab ally, Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt. But there was one bright spot for the Saudis amid the regional upheaval. The uprising against Assad in Syria, Iran’s closest ally in the Arab world, represented the best chance in a decade for Riyadh to roll back Iranian power.
For the Saudis, therefore, Obama’s refusal to take action against Assad was seen as another example of Washington’s inability to appreciate both the dangers and the opportunities of the Arab Spring. Standing aside while Mubarak fell—as the Saudis saw it—was bad enough, but embracing a Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo, which was an unreliable partner against Iran and a challenger to Saudi authority over the interpretation of Sunni Islam, was even worse.
The Obama Administration views its opening to Iran as part of a broader effort to bring stability to the region, and sees an Iranian commitment to foreswear nuclear weapons as a benefit to allies like Saudi Arabia. But the Saudis, without a seat at the negotiating table, fear that Washington will ratify Iranian hegemony in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and the Persian Gulf in exchange for a nuclear deal.
Dealing with the United States, the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal once said, “makes a sane man go mad.” There is no doubt that American policymakers have often felt the same way about Saudi Arabia. The current tensions between Washington and Riyadh, however serious, are hardly unprecedented: the unlikely allies have never seen eye-to-eye on regional issues. The Saudis did not like the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979, the crowning diplomatic achievement of the Carter Administration; nor did they appreciate the American invasion of Iraq, in 2003. The Americans, meanwhile, have had their own complaints: on oil policy, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Saudi funding for radical Islamic causes. The rhetorical volleys of the past few months are minor compared to the most serious episodes of tension between the two allies: the oil embargo imposed by Saudi Arabia in 1973 to protest American support for Israel during the Yom Kippur War, which sent a permanent shock through global oil markets, and the aftermath of September 11, 2001, when few Americans thought it a coincidence that fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.
The present disagreements between the Saudi and American governments will not lead to a permanent rupture in the relationship, as the Saudis themselves acknowledge. The core interest that has held the Saudi-U.S. relationship together for many decades—Persian Gulf security and the free flow of energy resources from the region—remains intact. But the nature of the recent disputes suggests an underlying conflict between the two allies. The problem is not that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have divergent goals in the region: both countries want Assad out, an Iran without nuclear weapons and diminished regional influence, a stable Egypt, and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The problem is that they have very different views about how important these goals are, and how much effort should be expended to achieve them.
Saudi fears that Washington will sell out their regional interests in a “grand bargain” with Iran areexaggerated. The American policy in the Gulf, for many decades, has been to prevent any other power from becoming dominant, and Washington is not about to turn the keys over to Iran. But the Saudis are correct to worry that the U.S. will not insist that any nuclear deal includes concessions from Iran on regional geopolitics. They are also right to conclude that Washington regards Assad’s ouster as a lower priority than Riyadh does, and that the U.S. does not see the Palestinian issue as central to its policy in the region.
The Obama Administration does think that the U.S. is overcommitted in the Middle East, and seeks to “pivot” at least some American foreign-policy resources and attention to East Asia. Substantial increases in domestic production have made the Middle East less important to American energy calculations, though Persian Gulf oil and gas will remain significant for decades to come. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates have almost all the world’s spare oil-production capacity; only they can bring substantial amounts of oil onto the market in a short period of time to make up for production lost elsewhere. That is reason enough for the U.S. to maintain good relations with Saudi Arabia. But the overall trend is toward a diminished role for the Middle East in the global energy market.
Still, there are many common interests to keep the allies united, including shared worries about Iran’s regional influence and about Al Qaeda and its affiliates. The Saudis do not have any alternatives at present to the security provided by their ties to the U.S.: the Europeans are too weak militarily, Russia is in decline, and China has neither the capability nor the inclination to project power into the Persian Gulf. But over time, we can expect to see more periods of turbulence between Washington and Riyadh. The allies may not disagree on their goals, but their priorities will increasingly differ. When the end of the “special relationship” finally arrives—likely decades from now—it will end not with a bang but with a gradual drift apart.
F. Gregory Gause is a professor of political science at the University of Vermont and a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Doha Center. He is the author of “Oil Monarchies” and “The International Relations of the Persian Gulf.”