It was my pleasure to be with Thierry Bros of Sciences Po University, Paris, and Peter Zalmayev, Ukrainian security analyst and executive director of Eurasian Democracy Initative on David Foster’s Roundtable on TRT World, London, broadcast 9 June 2021.
I discussed Biden’s apparent reasoning for waiving Nord Stream 2 sanctions:
First off, the German government of Angela Merkel simply would not cooperate otherwise. Allowing her pet energy project to go forward was the price she had demanded for trans-Atlantic “unity” before Biden’s summit with Putin.
(Aside: My research in Berlin and elsewhere has convinced me that, at no point from the late-Trump administration through Biden’s six months in office, did the German side actually engage in any meaningful “negotiation” or discussions with the US side to seek to find some compromise or to initiate a moratorium on construction. Not until Biden waived sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG, and decided not to sanction any German firms inolved in construction did Merkel show any real interest in discussions. She emphasized her change of attitude on negotiating with Biden about: “what now are also the necessary commonalities in the relationship with Russia” in comments during a German national broadcast interview immediately following Biden’s sanctions waiver. Until this waiver, she had held up any real discussion of the pressing issues of trans-Atlantic unity-in-general, whcih urgently needed attention.
Soldiers deployed in Poland are a kind of warning to the Kremlin. – Source: GazetaPrawna.pl
My interview on Trump’s announced US troop draw downs from Germany and partial reassignment to Poland appeared in the Polish economic press Gazeta Prawna on 25 June 2020 by the Polish journalist Artur Ciechanowicz. You can read it (a) in ENGLISH below (via Google Translate, with minor fixes) or (b) in the POLISH original at this link.
O’Donnell: Soldiers at the borders of Russia are a signal to the Kremlin [INTERVIEW]
From a military point of view, deploying too many troops too close to the border with a potential enemy is dangerous because there is a risk that they can be overrun rapidly – says Dr. Thomas O’Donnell, energy and international affairs analyst, and adjunct faculty at Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.
Question: US President Donald Trump has decided to increase the US military presence in Poland, while also reducing the contingent in Germany. Where do these decisions come from?
On the one hand, they logically result from the American National Security Strategy (NSS) of December 2017. Work on it began during Barack Obama’s term of office and was completed by the Donald Trump administration. According to the NSS, the US priority is no longer the war on terror and the situation in the Middle East, but competition with China and Russia. It is therefore quite natural that the United States moves its troops and increases its military presence in countries closer to Russia – the Baltic States, Poland and Romania. The second factor that led to these decisions was the personal involvement of Donald Trump, who is running his election campaign.
Poland’s security will increase?
As a rule, increasing the US military presence in Poland is of course good news. The Pentagon’s activities have been moving in this direction for some time, although the US military is of the opinion that this should be done a little slower and not at the expense of Germany. From a military point of view, deploying too much of the army too close to the border with a potential enemy is dangerous because there is a risk that it will be overrun too soon. There is therefore a tactical reason to keep some of the army a little further from the Russian border. Therefore, the rapid relocation of a significant number of soldiers to Poland is viewed skeptically by some American commanders. Remember, soldiers deployed in Poland are a kind of warning against the Kremlin. There are enough of them for Vladimir Putin to think twice before doing anything. However, not enough – even after increasing the quota – to stop the first strike. The rule is simple here: if Russia decided to attack Poland and American soldiers would die, it would mean a war with all the power of the US. Neither any president nor Congress would hesitate a single moment.
Some American commanders are opposed to the permanent presence of US troops in Poland. Why? Continue reading →
Last week, Gillian Rich at Investor’s Business Daily (Washington), asked me (Berlin) and others about the OPEC’s 20-21 June meeting. Below here, I give my views in more detail, including the tie-in to the Trump project to isolate Iran and my comment about Putin likely betraying the Iranians again. The IBD piece is here: Trump Could Make OPEC’s Next Meeting As Dysfunctional As G-7 Summit. 15 June ’18.
We spoke about market and geopolitical aspects. On the latter, I emphasized both the Trump Administration’s evolving plan to sanction and isolate Iran, and Russia’s new role as a central player with OPEC ever since the 2016 joint Russian-OPEC decision to raise production.
That’s when Putin played a new role for any Russian leader. Not only did he coordinate Russian oil policy with OPEC’s, he got personally involved in heated discussions, getting on the phone late in the last night with Iranian and Saudi leaders to get the deal sealed. Continue reading →
To put Iran’s recent production increases in perspective: On its own, for 37 years, Iran has struggled to produce two-thirds of its pre-revolutionary level of 6 million barrels/day. Now, domestic opposition is again limiting foreign oil companies’ participation to boost production.
Since the Obama-administration’s and Europe’s nuclear sanctions were lifted early this year (marked ‘e’ on the chart), Iran has been expanding its production and exports more rapidly than most experts had expected. Tehran has actually tripled exports since late-2015 (see point ‘f’). But, here’s the big question: Can Iran sustain this years’ production gains?
If to, this could seriously undermine Saudi Arabia’s global oil-market share, and boost Iran’s sanctions-damaged economy to a long-awaited recovery.
The short answer: Now that foreign sanctions are finally lifted, the battle to boost Iran’s oil exports has shifted to a domestic clash over whether to allow foreign oil companies to have significant upstream involvement. This is a domestic Iranian issue with a long history.
Let’s start with some historical perspective: The Iranian National Oil Company (NIOC) can only do so much on its own to boost production. After decades of sanctions, it lacks the needed technology and finance. I told CNNMoney‘s Matt Egan, on Wednesday, that the faster Iran expands on its own, the faster production will plateau. (His CNNMoney article today quotes me .).
This was what happened after the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.(‘b’ on the chart). By about 1992, production had plateaued at almost 4 million barrels/day, under 2/3 of the pre-revolutionary, late-1970’s level of roughly 6 million barrels per day. (‘a’ on chart). The Iranian president at the time, Rafsanjani, argued to religious conservative and nationalist members of the Majilis that only foreign oil companies’ technology and investments could expand production further. However, he only won grudging approval for an offshore project due to fears that foreigners would bring their irreligious ways ashore and/or undermine the hard-won nationalization of Iran’s oil sector. Continue reading →
This Wikistrat Report on the Saudi kingdom’s “reform” plans and the future of oil is from a press webinar I did on 17 May together with Dr. Ariel Cohen (Atlantic Council, Washington) and Prof. Shaul Mishal (Middle East Division, IDC Herzliya & Tel Aviv U.). A nicely done report on oil market and geopolitical hot topics.
Presidents Rouhani of Iran and Putin of Russia holding discussions
(AICGS Analysis, by Tom O’Donnell) Since Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, decided to annex Crimea and back east Ukrainian separatists with troops, many have worried he might use his “energy weapon” to counter U.S.-EU sanctions, as Russia supplies around a third of the EU’s natural gas imports. But what about Russian retaliation in the oil sector?
That’s hard to imagine. While gas is marketed in bi-lateral, pipeline-mediated relationships, oil is not. It’s liquid, fungible, and marketed in a unified open market—“the global barrel” [and name of this blog, T.O’D.]—which means there are no bi-lateral oil dependencies.
So, when EU leaders were cajoled by Germany’s Angela Merkel into joining the United States in applying sanctions, Russia could do little to retaliate from within the oil sector. In reality, it is the EU and the U.S., not Russia, that have an “oil weapon” in hand. And, the flurry of Russian oil diplomacy with OPEC, Iran and China over the past couple of weeks has a distinct whiff of desperation to it. Continue reading →
EU Foreign Affairs Representative. Federica Mogherini, and Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, announce the P5+1 deal with Iran. 3 April 2015
On April 3, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, together with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced a framework agreement significantly limiting Iran’s future nuclear program.
Clearly, this deal was only possible with the patient collaboration of the British, French, German, and EU foreign ministers and U.S. secretaries of state. However, this common front was only forged through a multiple-step process orchestrated by Mr. Obama, beginning when he took office. Continue reading →
EU and Iranian foreign ministers in Vienna (Austrian Foreign Ministry)
My latest at the IP Journal of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP): US-EU Cooperate on Iranian Nonproliferation: Agreement positions Tehran as regional leader — IP Journal 14/08/2014
Although negotiators failed to reach agreement on Iran’s nuclear program by the late-July deadline set last November, as Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif put it: “We have made enough headway to be able to tell our political bosses that this is a process worth continuing. … I am sure Secretary Kerry will make the same recommendation.” Indeed, Washington, Brussels, and Tehran readily agreed on a four-month extension.
This represents a sea change in tone from the period prior to November 2013, Continue reading →
Kiss between Rafsanjani and Saudi ambassador stirs controversy Former Iranian President, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani (R) exchanges greetings with the new Saudi Arabian ambassador to Iran, Abdulrahman Bin Groman Shahri in Tehran, Al Monitor, April 22, 2014. (photo by Twitter/ISNA)
Appreciation: I am honored to again be invited by my Iranian colleagues in New York, Professors Reza Ghorashi, Hamidah Zangeneh and Hamid Sedghi, to join this panel and discuss the geopolitics of US-Iranian relations. And, my thanks to Prof. Sedghi for reading my paper as I am teaching in Berlin and cannot be with you today. I only ask that those who dislike my message, kindly refrain from shooting the messenger.
The US-Iran nuclear confrontation finally appears close to resolution. This is because both Presidents Obama and Rouhani desire a diplomatic solution, and both countries need to move on. With such an agreement, it is possible that relations will slowly become normalized.
Of particular note—as a direct consequence—are the recent secret negotiations between Iran and Saudi Arabia towards a rapprochement. These were initially facilitated by Oman (e.g. see reports here, here, and here). Until very recently the Saudis had remained fiercely opposed to any US deal with Iran. However, the Saudi’s are realists, and know when it is time to adapt. Figure 1. is a photo of kisses exchanged on 22 April between ex-President Rafsanjani of Iran and King Abdullah’s ambassador to Iran, which caused quite a stir in the region. Agreements reached in these recently revealed negotiations have already significantly affected the presidential-succession crisis in Lebanon, sectarian conflicts in Iraq, and the conflict in Yemen. Next the two sides are expected to negotiate regarding their interests in the Syrian conflict.
In addition, the nature of the US-Saudi relationship is changing, transferring much more responsibility on the Kingdom and its Gulf partners for their own defense–albeit strongly supported with US weapons and logistics. This is part of the US disengagement from direct regional interventions, which will be significantly furthered by a successful US-Iran agreement (e.g., see here and here, and this report on Saudi defense buildup from Balfour at Harvard).
Geneva negotiations between P5+1 and Iran in early November (Reuters)
In September, President Obama came under withering criticism in Washington for not punishing Assad after crossing his “red line” on chemical weapons. By October, even Riyadh had joined those in the State Department, the White House and Congress who, according to US press reports, saw Mr. Obama as “aloof” and “indecisive” on Syria.
While Mr. Obama’s refusal to arm the more democratic and secular rebel forces has indeed permitted Assad to retrench–increasing the humanitarian disaster as well as the ability of jihadi forces to insinuate themselves into the conflict– nonetheless, imagining this is due to presidential indecision ignores the realpolitik driving his policy.
Why Has Obama Not Forcefully Supported Syrian Rebels? The Iran Factor
Consider first: What if forceful US action in Syria had scuttled any talks with Iran, or, for that matter, if the present negotiations in Geneva between the P5+1 and Iran end up in failure? Continue reading →
[Note: This post on the Iran crisis is in Spanish, consisting of my written answers to the host of “Agenda” on the Deutsche Welle network–the German international TV service.]
Hoy mi blog es en Español. Trata de la crisis nuclear entre Iran y los EEUU. Aquí abajo están mis respuestas que escribí a las preguntas del entrevistador de el programa ‘Agenda’ en Deutsche Welle, la red internacional de televisión de Alemania (con algo explicaciones adicionales).
Pregunta: Irán quiere poner en marcha las negociaciones con grandes potencias por el tema nuclear, porque creé usted que lo hace ahora? En qué términos?
Repuesta: Pues, permítame explicarle las razones por las cuales ambos lados ahora quieren reiniciar negociaciones:
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 →