Tag Archives: United States

Can Obama & Rouhani End Iranian Nukes+Oil Crisis? – My Beijing press interviews in “Sanlian Lifeweek”

August 3, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (third left) gives letter of appointment to new president Rohani (third right). by: Sanlian Life, Beijing

August 3, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (third left) gives letter of appointment to new president Rohani (third right). by: Sanlian Life, Beijing

What does H. Rouhani’s  election mean for the Iran nuclear crisis?  What separates the US and Iran in negotiations? What’s the role of oil?

The Beijing-based weekly, SanLian Lifeweek, interviewed me several times in recent months on the US-Iran crisis (also on Iranian-Egyptian relations, the South China Sea disputes, and Russia’s trade surge in Latin America).   Below are their three articles on US-Iran relations quoting me and other experts.  Since these are in Chinese (my name O’Donnell appears as “奥唐奈”), I’m including my written English answers to their questions.

(1a) Chinese:  “Iran’s new president: US-Iran talks turnaround and challenges” P20-21观察 3 August 2013

(1b) My English answers (full text):

Q (Sanlian Lifeweek): When election has just ended, many assumed that Rohani’s win will possibly bring a breakthrough in Iran-U.S. relations. Recently, with him showing the intention of appointing Mohammed Javad Zarif, who many of us know well from his days in New York as the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, as the new foreign minister, some believe that US-Iranian negotiation is now realistic for the first time in many years.

Do you agree with this comment? If not, what kind of difficulties do you think Rohani will be facing domestically in seeking moderate U.S. policies? Continue reading

My talk: JFK Institute, Berlin: How “The Global Barrel” shapes Washington-EU relations

You’re invited to my lecture at The JFK Institute of North American Studies at Freie Universität in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday 6 PM. Here is the flyer, then the Abstract.  Tschüß!

ABSTRACT:

“The Global Barrel”

Today’s globalized market-centered energy system defines Washington’s relations with the EU, Japan and OPEC states Continue reading

Why is Chinese production in Iraq booming, and in Venezuela lagging?

Iraqi oil production has surged. Source: EIA

[Updated/edited 5 June] The New York Times had an interesting article: “China is reaping biggest benefits of Iraqi oil boom” on June 2, 2013.  The question that comes to mind is …

Why is Chinese production in Iraq booming, and in Venezuela lagging?

As late as 2007 and 2008, China clearly intended its investments in Venezuela to be its largest anywhere, to ramp up development of Venezuela’s huge Faja Orinoco extra-heavy oil reserves.  In those years, Iraq was still mired in sectarian war.  Yet, here we are in 2013, with Chinese production in Iraq surging and its companies’ production in Venezuela lagging.  Why?  Let’s first look at the Chinese relationship and logic in Iraq, then in Venezuela.

Geostrategic interests behind profit issue

The NYT article says that Chinese success in Iraq is largely because their oil companies aren’t especially interested in profits because they don’t have to answer to investors demanding higher returns; they just want to secure oil to bring home.

Yes, but one should see that this is also strongly a geostrategic imperative for Beijing. It is true Chinese firms can get along with lower profits, and they also have much more cash than others, which also helps them get in now at small profits for the long run.  However, unlike other firms, they are under specific instructions by Beijing to persist at getting into countries with huge reserves like Iraq and Venezuela because it is in the geostrategic energy interests of Beijing to do so.

Chinese geostrategic motivations to stick in Iraq (and Venezuela)

Before examining the better situation, on the ground, for Chinese firms dealing with Baghdad as verses Caracas, it is important to recognize Beijing won’t ever give up on either state. Beijing is the one power having serious reservations about too much reliance on the US/Saudi-dominated “global barrel” market-and-security system.  It is the only major power (aside from Russia) with aspirations to project power against the USA and its naval carrier fleets, at least in its near-home waters.  For any such confrontation of any duration, it needs  to have a certain significant percentage of oil brought directly home independent of the USA and the global market the USA dominates.  So, China’s energy firms tend to blend their deepening integration into global oil-market processes with old-fashioned bi-lateral mercantilist relationships with producing states like Iraq and Venezuela. (See also the Addenda below.)

Different contractual and working relationships in Iraq and Venezuela

Venezuelan oil production has lagged. EIA 2012

Chinese firms are clearly more willing to work with the difficult  resource-nationalistic conditions imposed by the Iraqi and Venezuelan states.  However, in many ways Iraq’s are more difficult, yet Chinese–and many others–do better getting production going in Iraqi than Venezuela.  Why? Continue reading

Listening to Saudi Oil Minister Al Naimi at CISIS in Washington: Bad news for Venezuela & Iran?

Al-Naimi at CSIS

Al-Naimi at CSIS

 Last week in Washington, I attended a talk by Saudi Oil Minister and head of Aramco, Ali al-Naimi, at CSIS.  Energy and foreign policy veterans from Daniel Yergin to Brent Scowcroft and Dr. James Schlesinge were on hand to hear al-Naimi’s views. You can read the transcript here, or watch the video embedded below.

Al-Naimi’s contrasted his central theme: “the enduring relevance of oil,” to the predictions made for many years by the adherents of “peak oil”–a theory that he said had itself “peaked in 2009” and has now been shown to be “utterly incorrect.”

Bad News for Venezuela and Iran?

Listening to him describe the global impact that the U.S.A. tight-oil “revolution” will have on the market,  plus with Alberta’s heavy oil and so many other new sources from around the globe all coming to market, brought to my mind images of the 1980′s.  The 1980′s were the “lost decade” in Latin America. It strikes me that, if he’s right about the trajectory of the global oil sector, the consequences for OPEC’s “price hawk” faction would be sobering. Continue reading

“Tough Policy Choices Await Chavez Successor”- My viewpoint in Petroleum Intelligence Weekly

Below is a “Special Reprint of Petroleum Intelligence Weekly for The Global Barrel”–I was quoted in three EIG articles last week.

A special thanks to James Bourne, Energy Intelligence’s Senior Editor for Latin America. James is moving on to new challenges in Singapore   His frequent calls with probing questions and insightful analysis of Venezuela and Latin America will be sorely missed here!!  Una buena despidida – mucho éxito en todo! 

tough_choices_after_chavez_energy_intell_11Mar13

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Did Iran release Abu Ghaith to show the USA its good faith in February nuclear negotiations?

Abu Graith and Bin Laden after 9-11, video, Oct 7 2001 (Hurriyet, 7feb13)

Abu Ghaith, arrested by the US March 7, after his release by Iran, shown alongside Bin Laden in October 7, 2001 video after 9/11 attacks (credit: Hurriyet)

Is Tehran serious about nuclear negotiations with the P5+1?

If Tehran wants an agreement, how might they demonstrate good faith to Washington? Consider the following:

In the month before the recent round of negotiations held in Almaty, Kazakhstan on February 26 and 27, Iran released into neighboring Turkey Osama Bin Laden’s brother-in-law, Mr. Suleiman Abu Ghaith.  The Islamic Republic of Iran had been detaining him since his capture some 11 years ago, when he entered Iran along with other top Al Qaeda leaders to escape the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.  His precise date of release into Turkey is not clear, however, according to the English-language Turkish paper, Hürriyet, he was arrested by Turkish authorities in an Ankara “luxury hotel” on a “tip from the CIA.”  Turkey then held him for “33 days” before deporting him to Jordan on March 1, and he was arrested by the U.S. on March 7. Continue reading

Chavez’ Legacy for Venezuela’s poor & institutions: Watch my German TV News Interview

Deutsche Welle, the German international TV service, interviewed me on the
legacy of Hugo Chavez on  their live evening news broadcast Journal  from Berlin.  I tried to relate two, strikingly contradictory aspects of President Chavez legacy:

The outpouring of sincere affection for him from the poor and many others in Caracas, which the world is witnessing, as the embodiment of their liberating political awakening.  And, in contrast, the utter shambles in which Hugo Chavez, as a practical political leader of 14 years, left the Venezuelan state and economic institutions, including PDVSA.  My segment comes at 4:08 minutes into the video stream here:

As Chavez’ oil alliance with China gets serious, Beijing holds PDVSA to its word

Groundbreaking at CNPC refinery for PDVSA heavy oil, set tol be China's largest.

Groundbreaking, PetroChina-CNPC refinery for PDVSA heavy oil. It is to be China’s largest. (April 2012)

Over the past few weeks, I have been looking at the state of the Venezuelan-Chinese oil alliance that Hugo Chavez has so fervently championed.  The picture that emerges is not what one might expect. Here is an overview, in qualitative terms. [Correction: I originally wrote Ramirez reported that PDVSA produced "60,000" new barrels of Faja oil in 2013. He actually said "20,000".]

A. Structural Changes – Vertical Integration with China

Till now, commentators have looked primarily at the obligations of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (BRV) to send oil to China to repay Beijing’s huge loans.  However, there are major changes afoot in the structure of this relationship, no matter who succeeds Hugo Chavez.  Developments on the ground in both countries show an energy infrastructure buildup will soon bring significant cross-border vertical integration.  Soon, Venezuelan oil will not be shipped to China simply to fulfill financial-and-contractual obligations, but also for locked-in infrastructural reasons. 

All indications are that the Chinese side is actively fulfilling the obligations it entered into ca. five years ago (esp. December 2007) to build oil tankers, pipelines and refineries in China in order to import and process Venezuelan heavy crude.

Continue reading

Oil Prices: Saudi Pumping Surge & US-EU Iran Strategy

What are the factors driving up the price of oil? Some cite fundamentals, others over-active speculation,

Persian Gulf & Middle East (UTex Lib. 2008)

and there are certainly major geopolitical issues in OPEC‘s Mideast and North African (MENA) member states–which is what this post is about.

The Present Saudi Pumping Surge is a Key Element of the US & EU Iran Sanctions Strategy

It is certain that the Iran confrontation will only intensify as the mid-summer sanctions deadline approaches.  By July, Washington and the EU hope to significantly curtail Iran’s ability to export oil.  In this situation, it is perhaps surprising that prices have not gone higher.

This past week, the normally understated Economist, while noting the Saudis’ extraordinary efforts to pump excess capacity, nevertheless warned that the Iran crisis could trigger a worst-ever oil shock:

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China’s Iran-Oil Import Angst – Part II: 2012 Following 2010 Script

Misinterpretations of China´s Opposition in 2010 and 2012

(Continued from Monday, 13 Feb 2012) The last time the Obama Administration wanted new sanctions on Iran, in 2010, Beijing started out loudly opposed, threatening to block the sanctions at the U.N., something Beijing had never before seriously threatened.

President Obama thanked Vice Premier Xi for China's support on Iran oil sanctions. NYT photo by Doug Mills, 14Feb12.

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