Category Archives: Syria

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

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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

Venezuelan Faja Surprise: USA’s Harvest sells not to China but Indonesia

Petrodelta,SA rig in the south of Monagas state, Venezuela (PDVSA 2011 Annual Rept)

In March, U.S.-based Harvest Natural Resources (HNR) had disclosed to shareholders it was in exclusive confidential negotiations with a national oil company (NOC) to sell its 32% stake in Petrodelta SA–a lucrative, mature, medium-heavy Faja oil field in the south of Monagas state, in which PDVSA holds a 60% share.  Thursday evening, Harvest surprised observers by announcing they had signed an agreement with the Indonesian National Oil company, Pertamina.

The big question immediately being asked was: “Indonesia?  Why not China?”  I was quoted at length Friday morning on this question by Bloomberg’s Nathan Crooks in Caracas (See:

Continue reading

PDVSA ships fuel to Syrian regime: Chavez risks sanctions?

[Edited Tues  630 EDT] The Negra Hipólita, a tanker operated by an affiliate of PDVSA, should be arriving at the Syrian port of Banias after a 15-17 day voyage from the Venezuelan refinery at Puerto La Cruz (El Universal, 17Feb12).

Syrian tanks are seen in Bab Amro near the city of Homs,12Feb12. Photo Reuters

Puerto La Cruz produces about 187k bbl/day and, the Negra Hipólito, if fully loaded, will deliver 47,000 (47k) tonnes of diesel fuel to alleviate reported widespread shortages of fuel in Syria. That’s about 330k barrels of fuel usable as home heating oil, or as fuel for Assad’s Russian tanks “indiscriminately” shelling neighborhoods, as in the city of Homs.  Note:

In Vienna, the U.N. chief demanded the Syrian regime stop using indiscriminate force against civilians caught up in fighting between government troops and Assad’s opponents. “We see neighborhoods shelled indiscriminately,” Ban told reporters. “Hospitals used as torture centers. Children as young as ten years old jailed and abused. We see almost certain crimes against humanity.” (Time World, Syrian Troops Shell Central City with Tanks. 17Feb12).

What, however, is the geopolitical significance of this shipment?  Let’s examine three issues:

  1. Chavez’ motivations: Why risk sanctions?
  2. Is this a significant material assistance to Assad’s regime?
  3. Has Chavez blundered by miscalculation? Continue reading