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27.11.2014 Author: Viktor Titov

Iran’s Nuclear Programme: Who’s in Charge in Washington

2342342In Vienna, just what everyone expected to happen happened, when for the tenth time, Iran and the “six” international mediators failed to reach consensus on a final agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme (INP). One of the main reasons for this was the powerful efforts of Riyadh and Tel Aviv to disrupt the agreement.

Just one day before the cut off date, 24 November, the preparation of the “fallback” became well known, which, in particular, provides that only the basic principles of the deal will be signed in the interim, but “some controversial details” will be subject to separate consultations. This wording “some controversial details” hides the main issue that once again caused the negotiation process to break down: withdrawing sanctions against Tehran.

Many people naively thought that the main confrontation at the negotiating table is taking place between Iran and the United States, and the actual closing of the “nuclear dossier” of Tehran only depends on Washington. Since the real role of the USA in everything associated with it has been well known for a long time, it is necessary to clearly understand what hindrances can be placed in way of an agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme by Washington’s main allies in the Middle East – Israel and Saudi Arabia. Obama has once again failed to overcome these obstacles. For the long time being the two “pillars” of the US presence in the Middle East, Tel Aviv and Riyadh, for all of their common interests on Iran, have still tried to demonstrate a certain distance between themselves. After all an open alliance between the Wahhabi Arab monarchies, even the self-proclaimed protector of all Muslims, and the Jewish state, which is “repressing the Palestinians” and occupying part of the Arab territories, would look extremely odious. Everyone understands this, but remains silent.

However, with his inconsistent and adventurous politics Barack Obama has turned the Middle East into a zone of ongoing conflict and unmanaged chaos that threatens the national security both of Saudi Arabia and Israel. The strategic partnership between Washington and the two states is now at threat due to Obama’s stupidity. And the White House’s stated intention to normalise relations with Iran would mean cancelling the results of Israel and Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy efforts of the last decades. “Colour” revolutions in the Arab world, the war in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, several coups in Egypt, instability in Lebanon, armed conflicts in the Palestinian Authority have de facto clearly identified the spheres of interest for Tel Aviv and Riyadh. Saudi Arabia and Israel have had to endure ambitions of regional leadership by Erdogan’s Turkey, a NATO member. But the assumption of the same role by Tehran, demonstrated in the conclusion of conflict with the United States and the continuation of its nuclear programme – this would be too much for the Saudis and Israelis. After all, the entire map of the region would have to be redrawn. They devoted a place for Iran a long time ago – this is the place of an enemy, a revolutionary Shiite expansionist, a threat to the energy security of the West, etc. Especially when there are hundreds of billions of dollars on this map, rich oil and gas reserves, financial interests of American and European business, and the very survival of the Al Saud dynasty. And Saudi Arabia and Israel succeeded, albeit at the last minute.

To do this, Saudi Arabia threw on the table the most important trump card to influence the US – it simply threatened to stop oil dumping against Russia and thereby stop the degradation of the Russian economy, which would mean a shameful failure for Washington in Ukraine and the area of the EU. Over a few hours the Saudis suggested to the White House that on November 27 at the meeting of OPEC ministers they would go with Moscow’s proposal to cut oil production. And it worked. On November 25 in Vienna Saudi Arabia has officially announced to Russia, Venezuela and a number of OPEC countries that it won’t be cutting its oil output. Saudi stayed true to their word on Iran. The Especially since the Republicans, long-standing and reliable partners of Riyadh, gained additional leverage after congressional elections over the White House and its “lamest of lame ducks”: Obama and Kerry. Although they were already limping – in Iraq when ISIS was on the verge of taking Baghdad. So the President and US Secretary of State, living out the rest of their time in the White House, will not have the final word on the Iranian issue. When faced by an ultimatum from Israel and Saudi Arabia, they simply surrendered. And the next few months will bring nothing new: either Iran will have to give up “in full ” by capitulating on all counts both its nuclear dossier and sovereignty over oil and gas, or Obama will have to take a suicidal step and give in to Tehran. And then leave the White House early after his impeachment.

It is unlikely that the Iranian leadership will raise the white flag and accept the role of a US-Israeli-Saudi puppet. Sanctions, of course, are badly affecting Iran. Last year, Iran’s GDP decreased by 5.8% and the country has yet to overcome the recession. Iranian public and private companies are able to sell crude oil on foreign markets, such as in China and other Asian countries. However, their partners are in many cases the target of Western sanctions and bear financial losses. This has led to a significant reduction in demand for Iranian oil in the markets. In addition, Iran’s access to credit in international financial markets has been almost completely blocked. Its billions of dollars in Western bank accounts have been frozen, and attracting foreign investment in the Iranian economy is extremely difficult.

Furthermore, Iranian society is now deeply split on the issue of lifting sanctions. Many ordinary Iranians are extremely tired of the economic difficulties caused by them. But in political circles, even those in opposition, there is an understanding that Iran cannot afford to completely abandon its nuclear programme. Otherwise – goodbye independence. The events surrounding Ukraine demonstrated this once again. Many people understand the fact that the West is deliberately dragging out negotiations in an attempt to create an internal transformation of the regime towards a pro-Western, or “colour” revolution in Iran.

All this means that in the coming months the Iranian elite will fiercely bargain on the final wording of the future agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme. However, it is in favour of the Conservatives that Iran still received an ​​important gesture from the West. On 24 November in Vienna, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that every month until the end of June 2015 Iran would receive $700 million from frozen accounts as part of the extension of the interim agreement on its nuclear programme. A political agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme is expected to be achieved by March next year. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also spoke in favour of an early conclusion of the agreement without waiting until 30 June.

The passions in Iranian society are affected by the split within the ruling class. The intention of the former President of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stand for election to the Majlis (unicameral National Parliament) has invoked resistance from President Hassan Rouhani and his entourage. After all, one cannot exclude the fact that Ahmadinejad will try to put himself forward at the next presidential election in Iran. And as the date of the next parliamentary elections to be held in March 2016 approaches, the domestic political struggle in Iran will escalate.

But whatever happens now in Iran, it is naive to believe that Tehran will completely abandon the enrichment of fissile material. The question about the number of nuclear facilities and centrifuges in which such enrichment is conducted is very important, but from the point of view of Tehran, it is not the main issue. The main thing that Iran is seeking from the Western powers is the complete cancellation of all previously imposed sanctions against it in exchange for certain guarantees from Tehran on the nuclear issue. In this regard the leadership of Iran calculates that the country is in a favourable geopolitical situation, because the West desperately needs the support of Iran’s opposition to Sunni extremism and terrorism in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Only Iranian leaders should not forget who now manages the activities of the White House on Iran. And we must remember that to maintain control of key points in the region, the economy and the US military machine is simply not up to the task. That is why Washington has only one option: to return to the long-proven scheme, in which police functions are performed by regional players, which today are Saudi Arabia and Israel. It is interesting to know whether Tehran understands this.

Viktor Titov, Ph.D. (Candidate of Historical Sciences), is a political commentator on the Middle East, exclusively for the  online journal “New Eastern Outlook”.

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