Category Archives: negotiations

The EU-US “Oil Weapon”: Putin’s overtures to OPEC, China & Iran reveal desperation

Foto: Presidents Rouhani of Iran and Putin of Russia holding discussions 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

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The P5+1–Iran Deal: Obama’s Initial Challenge was to Rally EU-3 Allies to the Cause

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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

“Oil & the US-Iran Crisis” – My talk at American University, Washington DC:

If you are in Washington, DC, this historical overview of the US-Iran Crisis and the role of oil might be of interest:
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My talk on Iran, NYC | After an Iran-USA deal: A Mideast without democracy, run by Iran & Saudi Arabia?

Figure 1.  Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani (R) exchanges greetings with the new Saudi Arabian ambassador to Iran, Abdulrahman Bin Groman Shahri in Tehran, April 22, 2014. (photo by Twitter/ISNA)    Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/04/rafsanjani-saudi-ambassador-kiss-controversy.html#ixzz32ktJuoKR

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.

Introduction

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).

How are these new developments to be understood? Continue reading

For Obama, an Iran deal trumped Syrian aid: USA “core interests” are in “flow of energy”

Geneva negotiations between P5+1 and Iran in early November (Reuters)

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

DW in Spanish || Obama y Rouhani: ¿Llegarán a un acuerdo nuclear/petrolífero?

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[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:

(a) Para el gobierno de los EEUU Continue reading

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