The week ahead promises to be of momentous importance for the Middle East – and for international security. Two templates are overlapping in Tehran. One, Iran’s Majlis is voting today on a legislation to put embargo on oil exports to Europe w.e.f coming week. The indications are that the law will sail through and may forthwith secure the approval of the Guardian Council.
Iran’s retaliation has huge implications for international security. Put simply, we are all wading into unchartered waters. There is high probability of a chain reaction with oil price skyrocketing. The analysts have only been dabbling in the subject, as the latest disclosure by Reuters from Tehran suggests.
The Reuters report says that all European companies with pending oil contracts with Iran are going to be hit. For Italy’s Eni, for instance, the buyback contracts are worth $1.5 billion. Again, around 70 refineries in Europe will need to be shut down if the light, ‘sweet’ crude from Iran is unavailable. So, it all goes far beyond a matter of shortages in crude supply that Saudi Arabia can somehow make up.
Significantly, Saudi FM Prince Saud Al-Faisal has been quoted as saying that there is no ‘binding decision’ by the GCC countries in response to the EU’s sanctions against Iran and adding, most interestingly, that they will only defer to decisions made by the UN. The FM underscored the importance of a “balanced market” for oil.
Riyadh is obviously having a multitude of considerations, which certainly includes Saudi Arabis’a long-term relationship with Iran and the logic of geography that places the two countries as neighbours. Prince Faisal was speaking on the sidelines of a GCC-Turkey conference in Istanbul on Saturday where Turkish FM Ahmed Davutoglu categorically distanced his country from sanctions against Iran.
Meanwhile, the IAEA inspectors have arrived in Tehran. Iran’s dialogue with the IAEA is resuming after a gap of 3 years. Most western assessments are already pessimistic about the prospects of the talks, while Iranian FM Ali Akbar Salehi has sounded hopeful.
The IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano, ominously, has harped on the “possible military dimension” to Iran’s nuclear programme. Unlike Mohammed ElBaradei, who had a mind of his own, Amano holds the American brief and seems to be working toward the objective of referring Iran to the UN Security Council.
Ironically, he acknowledges that he has no proof in hand that there is any military content to Iran’s nuclear programme. Equally, the renowned former IAEA director Hans Blix has suggested that there is still room for diplomacy.
But if the intention is to browbeat Iran, the inspectors aren’t going to get anywhere. The supreme leader’s advisor and elder statesman Ali Akbar Velayati has forewarned that Iran won’t blink. Tehran is on guard that the IAEA inspectors are possibly holding a western brief. Velayati said: “We [Iran] have always been open with regard to our nuclear issues and the IAEA team coming to Iran can make the necessary inspections. We will, however, not withdraw from our nuclear rights as we have consistently acted within international regulations and in line with the laws of the non-proliferation treaty. Furthermore, wherever Iran has any nuclear activities, the IAEA cameras have constant monitoring.
Velayati clarified that the nuclear matter is a state matter and therefore the ultimate decision lies with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The crux of the matter is that the nuclear issue is in actuality an existential issue for Iran. It is being used as a wedge to bring about regime change in Iran. Even the GCC states comprehend this although western propaganda casts them otherwise.
The UAE paper The National carried an editorial, amidst all the brouhaha, exhorting Washington to be sensible enough to get down from the high horse, as Tehran cannot unlearn its grasp of nuclear technology. The well-known Middle East correspondent and author Patrick Cockburn has a fine opinion piece throwing light on the politics behind the Iran nuclear issue.
The one silver lining in the overall grim situation, however, must also be noted. Washington can’t force the pace of confrontation against Iran. Aside being strapped for cash, Pentagon also needs to develop a bomb that could be powerful enough against Iran, which, of course, takes time. Conceivably, the US defence secretary Leon Panetta confessed this loudly enough for Tehran to hear.
– January 29, 2012