Friday, November 29, 2013

US-Iran deal: Why the Saudis are upset


After years of efforts US diplomacy has got an opening with Iran. Barack Obama’s team has succeeded in persuading Iran to sign an agreement with the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany to consider halting its nuclear weapons programme.
Israel is the the most vocal critic of this agreement for obvious reasons. Israeli leadership does not want its enemy number one and the friend of Hezbollah, the government of Iran to come any closer to the US. Rather, they would like Iran to be declared a pariah and be condemned. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has termed the agreement “a historic mistake.”. But Saudi Arab is more uncomfortable with the Iran getting any recognition. Although, Saudi Arabia welcomed the deal but their unhappiness can be seen on all the signals coming out of Riyadh.
But first one must understand the contours of the Iran nuclear deal. The agreement requires Iran to halt or scale back parts of its nuclear infrastructure. In exchange the US and allies will ease the sanctions which the Iranian people are facing for decades. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was visibly happy after the deal was signed between US, France, Britain, China, Russia and Germany and Iran on the other. He said “It is important that we all of us see the opportunity to end an unnecessary crisis and open new horizons based on respect, based on the rights of the Iranian people and removing any doubts about the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.”
The deal is a first step towards a more comprehensive nuclear pact to be completed in six months. Both sides have been able to get some concessions. If this deal is followed up, Iran might use nuclear power for power generation but they will not be able to build a nuclear weapon without being detected. Iran will receive some relief in trade sanctions and access to some of its frozen currency accounts overseas.
It seems Iran was very keen to get this agreement in place. The president of Iran was a very satisfied man when he got the news. He said “Let anyone make his own reading, but this right is clearly stated in the text of the agreement that Iran can continue its enrichment, and I announce to our people that our enrichment activities will continue as before.” America was not happy with this enthusiasm of the Iranian president. John Kerry said “There is no inherent right to enrich.” US president Obama was positive about the outcome of the negotiations. He said “diplomacy opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure — a future in which we can verify that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon.”
There is some good news for India though. The Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project may now fructify. It will save a lot of Indian money that is spent on import and transportation of petroleum products from Iran. Day after the deal was signed in Geneva the Pakistan prime minister’s advisor, Sartaj Aziz happened to be in Tehran for a meeting. He met with the Iranian foreign minister. After the meeting it was said that both the countries have agreed that the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline would be discussed in Tehran between Inter-State Gas System Ltd of Pakistan and the Iranian nominated company – Tadbir Energy Gaspar Iranian Co. in the first week of December. Now even the US will not have any problems with the project and once this pipeline project is completed. It will be very useful for all the three countries.
So this agreement is going to be an important milestone in the efforts of the international community for lasting peace in this region. But there are many countries who are not happy with this development . The anger of Israel is understandable but the attitude of Saudi Arabia is avoidable. It seems they want to be the most important ally of US and do not want anybody else to come close to America . But the scenario is changing very fast and Iran seems to be heading towards becoming a significant diplomatic resource for America.
There is no doubt that America has stopped taking Saudi Arabia as seriously as it used to during the presidency of George Bush.
There are many reasons for Saudi Arabia to get upset with the US but the most immediate before this agreement is the American attitude towards Bashar Al-Assad of Syria . They expected an American air strike on Sriya after reports of use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime but the Americans did a deal with the help of Russia. The deal negotiated between the U.S. and Russia to remove Syria’s chemical weapons was seen as diplomatic victory for the Obama Administration. But the Saudis did not like it. They wanted the US to use this opportunity and bomb the Assad regime .
Saudi Arabia has been trying to check the growth of Iranian power in the middle east. They could not stop the influence of Hezbollah in Lebanese politics. They could not do anything to stop Iran’s growing influence in Iraq. Despite Saudi opposition Iran has kept the Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in office. Saudi Arabia tried to create a wedge between Iran and Hamas but failed and today the Hamas is very powerful and very close to Iran. In whole of West Asia and North Africa Saudi Arabia was fast losing influence and Iran was winning. F. Gregory Gause, an expert in West Asian politics and oil monarchies says that increased Iranian power will lead to political mobilization by Shias inside the Sunni-ruled Gulf states. Saudis and their allies in the Gulf remain certain that Iran meddles directly in their domestic affairs, but they are also convinced that Iran’s heightened regional role will inevitably inspire Shia discontent, which makes Iran’s ascendance an indirect threat to the stability of the Gulf monarchies.
In the wave of democratic movements, Saudi Arab has lost very important allies in the region. The Arab Spring brought down Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt. He was a very trusted friend of the regime. The age of domination by Saudi Arabia in the area is coming to an end. May be they remain the leaders of the Sunni rulers of middle east but Shia regimes will be close to America and the concern of Riyadh is that Obama Administration will be supporting Iran. Obama believes that better relations with Iran will bring stability to the region, and sees an Iranian commitment to forswear nuclear weapons as a benefit to allies like Saudi Arabia. But the Saudis, without a seat at the negotiating table, fear that Washington will ratify Iranian hegemony in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and the Persian Gulf in exchange for a nuclear deal.
That is the reason this deal that was signed by the five permanent members of the security council and Germany on one side and Iran on the other is going to play a very important role in the geopolitical scene of West Asia. It might also be the beginning of the end of the Saudi hegemony over the relations with America.

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