December 11, 2013

Iran Offers a New Security System for the Region

So, as expected, in Geneva a framework agreement was signed between the “Six” and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The negotiations were difficult. Not without intrigue.

During negotiations, Washington once again “set up” their partners. Faced with a tough position of France on the issue of functioning of the heavy IR-40 reactor in Arak, the Americans relented and agreed to its demands. Tehran had to settle for a compromise, and as a result, an agreement was signed by all participants. After signing the document, the USA said they were ready to agree to work on launching and operation of the reactor, if the work conformed to the Geneva agreements. In fact, this means that the USA will support Iran if it decides to run the reactor, causing the greatest concern in Israel, Saudi Arabia and France, provided that the reactor will be monitored by the IAEA. Against which, by the way, Iran never spoke.

So, as expected, in Geneva a framework agreement was signed between the “Six” and the Islamic Republic of Iran

So, as expected, in Geneva a framework agreement was signed between the “Six” and the Islamic Republic of Iran

Certainly, this is an important international event, but not the end of the process of settlement of the “nuclear issue”. Over the next six months, the parties will need to solve many problems of various kinds. However, today we can confidently say that the Iranian reformist President Hassan Rouhani has won. Having lost almost nothing, he returned the situation to the level of two years ago. Moreover, he proved that his policy of rapprochement with the West is effective and beneficial to Iran. But it's not only the matter of the talks with the “Six” on the nuclear issue. He took the first step on the way of reformatting the entire Middle East in accordance with the new concept of the system of security.

In support of the “Joint Action Plan” (the document drawn up in Geneva) were not only the members of the “Six”, groups of international mediators and the EU leadership, but equally respected states like Japan, India, Italy, and Turkey. The Swiss agreement was approved by secular regimes in the Arab world — Syria, Iraq, Algeria and Pakistan, and — this is very significant, — the Gulf countries, of course, with the exception of Saudi Arabia. It is significant that the smaller Arab monarchies of the region did not support Riyadh, taking sides with the international community. And did so not only Qatar, but the quite independent UAE, and Kuwait, which owes much to the Arabian Kingdom since the time of the Iraqi occupation of 1990-1991, and Bahrain, the authorities of which were helped by Riyadh in 2011 to resist during the people's uprisings. This is a very bad omen for the ruling dynasty of the KSA.

The most important among the achievements of the negotiation process is, on the one hand, — recognition of Tehran's right to the production of uranium fuel for nuclear reactors, and on the other — the actual termination of independent works of Iranian scientists on heavy water reactors, and hence, on the plutonium direction of the nuclear program of IRI. At least, the West and Russia in this matter were unanimous — Iran is not allowed to conduct their own research and work in this area, except for the enrichment of uranium.

Complete cessation of work on the launch and operation of IR-40 reactor in Arak also means that future negotiations will be connected with the struggle among the countries of the “Six” for the right to build and supply nuclear fuel in this direction of the nuclear program.

Strange as it might seem, but such a situation is quite favorable both, to Iran, and to the countries of the “Six”. They are discovering quite a promising market, where they can earn good money on the construction of heavy water power reactors and supplies of nuclear fuel for them. And the already started struggle of France for concessions clearly confirms this.

Iran, in its turn, now is able to skillfully balance on contradictions within the “Six”, choosing a more reliable partner, and more profitable conditions and prices. At this, he reserves the right to independently develop the uranium energy program, which guarantees a certain independence from external suppliers and from political pressure from outside.

November 26th, A. A. Salehi, the Head of the Atomic Energy of Iran said that, having signed the agreement with the “Six”, Tehran has not lost anything, and the system of anti-Iranian sanctions has got “staggered”. He pointed out that Iran only agreed to suspend the enrichment of uranium to 20%, but plans to increase its production with enrichment to 5%.

Already on the 28th of November, Iranian authorities officially invited the IAEA inspectors to inspect the previously not available for international inspection nuclear heavy water reactor in Arak. November 29th, Tehran let know all interested parties that it would suspend implementation of its nuclear program in late December 2013 or early January 2014.

The United States, in turn, promising to suspend for six months its demands for reducing purchases of Iranian oil in the world, made ​​it clear that this does not mean an increase in oil exports from Iran. So said the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in particular, meaning a temporary exemption from the regime of the US sanctions of China, India, South Korea, Turkey, Taiwan, Malaysia, South Africa, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

Besides, the USA has thawed bank assets worth about 10 billion US dollars, of which 3 have already been promised to be given to Iran in the nearest future. It has been lifted restrictions on automobile and petrochemical industries.

The European Union also said that it would partially lift its sanctions against Iran in December 2013. Which sanctions, and to what extent they will be lifted — has not been reported yet. Most likely, it will be the EU countries' unfreezing assets, letting Iran to the system of international payments, as well as the removing restrictions on imports of Iranian oil.

There are losers. They are Israel and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And while Israel still has room for maneuver, the Kingdom does not. If the KSA does not accept this situation, it will be coolly, “written off”. If it agrees to this state of affairs — perhaps it will be left as it is. But most likely, the Saudis will not accept a subordinate role; too vague for them would be the situation in the Gulf and Middle East region. That is why there will be a further rapprochement between Israel and KSA, which will cause further turmoil this time in the Arabian Peninsula.

There will be a further rapprochement between Israel and KSA, which will cause further turmoil this time in the Arabian PeninsulaThere will be a further rapprochement between Israel and KSA, which will cause further turmoil this time in the Arabian Peninsula

Such a prospect is being complicated by the Syrian problem. Firstly, it is clear that Saudi Arabia has remained virtually on its own with the war, which could not be won by the whole coalition, uniting the United States, several European countries and almost two-thirds of the members of the Arab League with the militants gathered from the whole Middle East. Today the number of militants has declined significantly, and the main sponsors of the war have stepped aside. At this, Qatar's going away is unlikely to please even Saudi Arabia. Apparently, the financial position of Qatar is extremely difficult. Emir Tamim's rapid stepping aside from most political projects of his father may indicate only that Qatar overestimated its abilities and hard times begin for it. In such circumstances to dictate its conditions to the Saudis is somewhat awkward. They need not to finish the war victoriously, but to look for a good excuse to get out of it.

Secondly, Saudi Arabia, like Israel, cannot help worrying about the improvement of relations between the USA and Iran. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, having strong links to America, to all this being the Chief of Saudi Intelligence Services, better than other Saudi princes is informed about the details of the upcoming talks on Syria and is well aware that Syria is already history.

Chief of the KSA Intelligence Services, Prince Bandar bin SultanChief of the KSA Intelligence Services, Prince Bandar bin Sultan

Since the holding of the Conference on Syria is a closed issue, Saudi Arabia has already resigned and is orienting its “own” Syrian opposition to participate in it. The negotiations should end in a compromise — otherwise there will be no point to conduct them. And the only question of the conference is the question of power.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on November 25 officially announced that the Peace Conference on Syria, “Geneva-2” will open on the 22nd of January, 2014. This means that a coalition government will be formed at any positive result of the negotiations. As to its structure and how it will be dividing portfolios — this is their (the talks) aim.

Key Ministries and Departments of the Syrian government are as follows: Economic, Oil, Army, Police and Intelligence Agencies. Capture of at least one of them by the opposition makes its chances in the upcoming presidential election already not illusory, but quite real. Of two — very real. What could not be reached by fighting, one can try to do through diplomacy.

The Conference will fail if the opposition does not get at least one of the above-mentioned Ministries. No one will dare to do this, so sharing will be necessary. Actually, Prince Bandar's visit to Moscow must be connected with the demands of Saudi Arabia, regarding the list of desired by it Ministries of the Syrian government.

Damascus has officially confirmed its participation in the “Geneva -2.” The government delegation will be headed by Foreign Minister of SAR V. Muallem. It has also been stated that the delegation “is not going to succumb to pressure from Western countries and to agree to the resignation of President B. al-Assad”.

The Head of the main organization of the Syrian opposition — the National Coalition of Opposition and Revolutionary Forces — A. Jarboe has also said that the organization will participate in the “Geneva -2” and is ready to discuss the transfer of power to the “transitional administration, endowed with all the powers”, but that “there should be neither Assad nor his environment”. The National Coalition is aware that the opposition should participate in the “Geneva-2” as a united front, but realizes that to achieve this would be “very difficult”. Thus, the internal opposition in the face of the National Coordinating Committee “does not agree to participate in the peace conference “Geneva -2” under the aegis of the Istanbul coalition”.

S. Idris — the Head of the armed wing of the Syrian Free Army — has said that “the conditions for conducting the conference “Geneva -2” are unacceptable, we will not be able to take part in them. We are not going to stop the hostilities for the duration of the conference or after it”.

The already difficult situation is getting more complicated due to the fact that within the dynasty there is no consensus about what exactly should the country's politicians stick to in the today's situation. Therefore, until the consensus is reached, or at least some common approaches are developed, from Saudi Arabia we should not expect concrete actions.

The subtlety of the situation is in the fact that Russia has something to think about. Strengthening of Iran in the region and in Syria, in particular, are not too much to Russia's liking. Iran as a rogue state — is a problem, but Iran as a regional leader will create inconveniences to many. Therefore, the presence of a certain counterweight to it in the region is useful not only for the USA, but also for Russia.

The situation is the same in Syria. There Iranians today have strong positions. While Russia is providing Syria with economic, political and military assistance, Iran is trying not to lag behind in this. Iranian specialists of “Al-Quds” (a kind of Special Operations Forces of AGIR) actively assist in the staff planning, advisory work. Iranian contacts in “Hezbollah” managed to overcome the split in the organization in relation to the Syrian conflict and led to direct participation in the war of fighting units of the movement.

This means only one thing — the influence of Iran and Russia in the post-war Syria will be, at least, equal. Iranian rigidity in defending its interests is undeniable. And Russia needs a counterweight to Iran's influence and capabilities. As such the pro-Saudi opposition may be beneficial. Especially if it, this way or other, will have to be included into the government.

So the visit of Prince Bandar to Moscow in late November of the outgoing year, of course, is of interest. Before this there was a meeting on August 27, 2013, and the topic of the negotiations makes it clear that Russia will have to take into account the interests of the Kingdom simply because they to some extent are useful for it. But for which exactly Ministries Bandar is asking for himself, and in what Putin can support him — is not a simple question.

It should be noted that Bandar also has a pressure tool. He comes not as a suppliant. Having got engaged in the image project of the Olympics, Putin could not imagine the events of the Arab Spring. Now the safety of this international action becomes a paranoid idea of the Russian authorities, and it is ridiculous not to assume that this is no secret to Prince Bandar.

He has something to offer in exchange for Russia's agreeing to his version of the distribution of portfolios of the Syrian government — security of the Olympics. Not in vain the Tatarstan mujahedeens have demonstrated their ability to launch missiles at important objects. Perhaps the negative result was originally programmed. More reliable rockets can be chosen, and there are men to launch them. They can be found in the same Syria. And no security cordons can prevent the rocket launch.

But, as the saying goes, time will tell.

While the international community was still discussing the results of the Geneva Agreement, in early December Iran announced its readiness to start negotiations with Saudi Arabia.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran sees as its priority opening a new page in relations with its neighbors in the Persian Gulf”, — said the Speaker of the Iranian Foreign Ministry Marzieh Afham at his weekly press conference.

Speaker of the Iranian Foreign Ministry Marzieh AfhamSpeaker of the Iranian Foreign Ministry Marzieh Afham

According to her, the recent visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to the Gulf countries was aimed at transition to a new stage in relations with these states. The main task of the countries of the region, according to the Speaker, should be to ensure stability and security.

Judging by the statement of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, it may come to preliminary consultations, the subject of which will be a new security system in the region. Besides, the Iranians hope to discuss territorial problems as well — between Iran and the United Arab Emirates there remains the unresolved dispute over the belonging of the islands of Abu Musa, Greater and Lesser Tunb. This debate is of extreme concern for Saudi Arabia as the strategic position of the islands allows Iran to threaten all the Gulf States with closing the Strait of Hormuz.

Between Iran and the United Arab Emirates there remains the unresolved dispute over the belonging of the islands of Abu Musa, Greater and Lesser TunbBetween Iran and the United Arab Emirates there remains the unresolved dispute over the belonging of the islands of Abu Musa, Greater and Lesser Tunb

This problem has a 30-year old history and to the present day has not been solved. At the time, the Arab League proposed to bring the matter to the International Court in The Hague.

The main problem lies in the approaches. Iran offers to share the entire Persian Gulf between adjacent States in equal proportions — 20 % of the shelf of the Gulf to each country. Accordingly, the territorial question of belonging of the islands, according to the Iranians, has to be solved on the basis of this principle.

Iran's proposal to discuss the territorial dispute looks an outright concession, as previously Iranians flatly refused to raise this issue. During exacerbations of the situation in the Gulf, Iranian garrisons on the islands would be brought into full alert, which directly jeopardized all shipping in the Gulf.

If the territorial issue is resolved, it will be possible to build a new security system. This will certainly seriously ease the situation in the region. But if Saudi Arabia is ready to deal with it is the big question. In the UK there are groups that use the tensions with Iran as a base for their gain. And so the question of whether Saudi Arabia will accept Iran's offer has not been clearly answered.

So, the active work of the new team headed by President-Reformer Hassan Rouhani within a relatively short period of time has fundamentally changed the situation around Iran and is changing the situation in the Middle East. We can confidently say that 2014 will be filled with Middle Eastern events.