EADaily editor-in-chief Vigen Akopyan answers questions of the agency's Middle East editorial office concerning Iran’s nuclear deal made in Vienna on July 14 2015.
What was the point of Russia’s efforts towards Iran’s nuclear program, if its economy that is already in a heavy situation will become even weaker when Iran starts selling its oil?
Well, let me start from an important detail. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov practically did not participate in the marathon talks in Vienna. He joined the group of negotiators at the end of the talks, just before signing of the agreement. Russia preferred to act “at a distance” saying that the negotiations must not be failed and all the sanctions against Iran must be rescinded at the moment of the deal. The second condition was not fulfilled – U.S. and EU hinted that the sanctions will be lifted gradually and Tehran appears to have agreed with it.
In the course of the talks, there was only one thing the parties had no doubts about – the key signatories must be Iran and U.S.. Russia’s role in the process was mediatory and even safeguarding. Russia insured Iran against the West’s “all on one” pressure and then, at the UN Security Council, together with China it demonstrated a strong stand against encroachments upon Iran’s security and its sovereign right to develop its civil nuclear program.
The foundation of Russia’s efforts was political, of course. Moscow comprehended that if Washington and Tehran arrive at a compromise, nothing will hold them from signing the agreement. The status of a broker/mediator in talks requires constructive actions. Foreign Minister of Russia Lavrov came out with a statement on the issue saying that the oil component in the international policy is very important for Moscow, but the Russian foreign policy toward the friendly Iran cannot depend on this local economic aspect only.
As regards the prospects of Iran’s oil industry, first, Iran is not interested in low oil prices; second, Iran recovered about 4 million barrels of oil daily and exported about 2.5 million before the sanctions. The embargo-induced oil recovery in Iran averaged 2.85 million barrels daily, of which half was exported to China and Japan. Experts say Iran will hardly manage to export any solid volumes of oil within the nearest future : 1 million barrels by mid-2016 at best.
Iran will hardly manage to increase oil recovery either. Constitution of Iran bans foreign and private management of natural resources, which seriously limits foreign investments that are so necessary for the country. Almost all the explored deposits in Iran have been exhausted and serious investments in oil prospecting are a necessity now. This process will take many years, assuming that, for instance, China’s current need in oil exceeds the oil recovery forecasts in Iran, even if sanctions are rescinded. What if they are not rescinded? The U.S. and EU promise to lift the blockade of Iran’s economy within 10 years, as far as the IAEA will be confirming that Iran is implementing its commitments regarding its nuclear missile program. If inspectors find any violations by Iran, the sanction will automatically come into effect again.
Russia had political motives. So what was behind the efforts of Iran and “Western partners”? The U.S. and European analysts say the key reason of the deal was not the economic weakness of Tehran, but the West’s zeal and desire to take control over Iran’s resources.
For the time being, it is not that essential how the world and oil prices will change after the sanctions against Iran are lifted or whether Europeans will receive the cherished alternative-route gas and other resources or not. It is much more essential to analyze the dramatic international situation and the disastrous regional situation in which the Middle East compromise was achieved. It was the military and political situation in the region, not the economic interests of certain countries and companies that dictated the agreement of Iran and the world powers and makes the agreements made in Vienna viable. The operative situation in the region still makes Russia seek rescinding of the sanctions against Iran.
It is noteworthy that Moscow focused on lifting the arms embargo. Opponents of Putin’s policy immediately linked it to the greed for gain and blamed Russia for its desire to “flood” the region with weapons, however, speedy improvement of Iran’s armed forces may become the last opportunity to stop the expansion of the so-called Islamic State the militants of which smartly handle the advanced grenade-launchers and other weapons made in the United States.
I would like to recall that Tehran’s official stand is that the Islamic State of Iran and the Levant (ISIL) that has turned into the Islamic State (IS) with the expansion into the seized territories is a result of the activity of the United States and its allies. Tehran does not believe that U.S. really fights IS. The statements of U.S. President Barack Obama that the victory over IS will not come soon just confirm Tehran’s suspicions.
Iranian Armed Forces' Chief of Staff Major General Hassan Firouzabadi said Tehran has proofs that U.S. supplies the IS militants with arms. He said the U.S. air forces aircrafts regularly fly to the airports under control of the IS delivering weapons, money, and provisions. He said the United States imitate a confrontation with the IS, while, in fact, they monitor the situation, conduct reconnaissance, and drop provisions to the militants.
In the meantime, experiencing all possible sanctions and persecution, suffering real military losses, becoming a target for sophisticated terrorism when physicists are killed by unmanned aerial vehicles, Iran has been involved into a multi-front war. It is not clear either what is taking place inside the Iranian elite in this crisis period. As President Hassan Rouhani goes on historical compromises concerning the idea of national importance, – nuclear program – Aytatollah Khamenei attacks the United States on Twitter saying that the policy of the U.S. administration in the Middle East runs contrary to Iran’s policy.
On the heels of the framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program made in Lausanne on April 2, CIA Director John Brennan linked Tehran’s “unexpected acquiescence” with the hard times for Iran that was “on the brink of economic collapse.” According to the CIA chief, Hassan Rouhani, who took office in August 2013, exerted genuine efforts to persuade Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Khamenei that an intermediary solution is necessary to settle the conflict around Iran’s nuclear program. Considering that in March the Middle East media reported that Ayatolah Khamenei was hospitalized over an early-stage of oncologic disease, the future domestic policy situation in Iran and its possible foreign policy are becoming two unknown variables. Iran can get rid of the West’s pressure without any fundamental domestic changes, as the true task of the United States is to overthrow ayatollahs’ regime and the country has never concealed that.
Neutralizing Iran is an important geopolitical task for Washington that will never put up with the idea to create a mono-polar world. Otherwise, U.S. will be reluctant to pay its huge debts. Neutralization of Iran will weaken China and Russia. The motivation of the lofty U.S. administration remains unchanged. U.S. will get an opportunity to influence the political processes and promote its ideas in destabilized regions. U.S. is haughty enough not to respond to the heaviest accusations of the world community – not the puppets, but realistic people. After all, Iraq’s destruction and destabilization of the neighboring regions started with a military campaign of the United States and their allies for invented reasons and without UN Security Council’s resolutions to overthrow Saddam Hussein. U.S. openly attacked another country without sanctions of the world community. Yet, it does not hurry to call itself an aggressor. Instead, it blames Russia for trying to protect Russians near its borders and inside the country.
Stirring up an atmosphere of unlawfulness and violence, the United States actually contributed to escalation of inter-religious and inter-ethnic enmity in Iraq. Taking foothold in Baghdad, U.S. helped the so-called “Arab Spring” to spread and destabilize many countries in the region. Libya has plunged into an inter-tribal war and continuous regress that make the country a long-term donor of human resources for terrorists. With the direct financial and military assistance of the United States and other Western countries, we are witnessing a phenomenon of the so-called “democratic Syrian opposition” that has miraculously divided into “moderate” and “radical” ones. Later, Iraq’s territories were seized and fundamentalists united under the flags of the Islamic State.
With a helping hand of the United States, Iran has been actually involved into the war in the territory of Syria and Iraq, and apparently had to open a new front in Yemen against Saudi Arabia. The war in the region is in full swing, and U.S. pretends as if it tries to correct the results of its failed policy in the region. It says Iran made concessions because of economic sanctions. In fact, the situation worsened also because of war. U.S. makes believe that it wants to help Iran fight “the evil” they gave birth to.
Are Iran’s efforts to promote its own Islamic fundamentalism “to the north” predictable? Are ayatollahs better than IS and Taliban?
Look at the map of the region’s Shiites and Sunnis (see the illustration enclosed to the interview – editor’s note) and you will make sure that Iran’s religious expansion into the north may touch just the bordering Azerbaijan with overwhelmingly Shia population and will have no substantial effect in view of the level of secular traditions, national culture, and the language of Azerbaijanis.
Generally, the term “fundamentalists” is usually applied to describe the Sunnites, while Shia are called radicals. It is a simplified approach, indeed, but the history of the Islamic fundamentalism emerged among the Sunnites. Wahabbism - the current official ideology of Saudi Arabia – was founded by theologist Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb in the 18th century. The most influential organizations of Islamists – Muslim Brotherhood – was founded in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna, who was a Sunnite too. For the time being, radical Sunnites, first of all, Salafis and Wahhabis are often called fundamentalists. It is Sunni ulemas that propagate the ideas of Salafism.
As to Iran, it is a theocratic state that looks to protect its borders and wealth and does not seek to expand its territories unlike the terrorist IS. Although Shia preachers also work actively in the Islamic countries and societies in the Greater Caucasus, Volga region, and Middle Asia, it is incomparable to the mass recruitment of people by the Islamic State via Internet with the connivance of the U.S. leadership that quite efficiently controls the World Wide Web when it comes to other problems. Dozens are reported to join the Islamic State from many countries, including the European ones, every day. Iran’s problems are not in the north, and it will not be acting in the given direction.
It turns out that the United States forced Tehran to the nuclear deal in Vienna. In such case, Russia contributed to the process in vain, didn’t it?
I repeat, Russia’s major task is to prevent a larger scale crisis in the Middle East. It is not for nothing that Sergey Lavrov said on the heels of the meeting in Vienna: “Importantly, normalization of the Iranian issue removes all pretexts for the use of force against that country, which some politicians viewed as a “real alternative” to negotiations.”
In response, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said, “the accord won't preclude military action if needed.”
I am sure that the United States and Israel have developed a plan of attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities yet long ago. It would become a real disaster for the Iranian people. On the other hand, look at Turkey’s policy – the leadership of that country does not hint at any real actions against the IS. The flow of militants and weapons via the Syrian-Turkish border continues. While Turkey is feeding the terrorist infrastructure against Iran, U.S. toughens the blockade and Israel increases its offensive capabilities. It was vital need for Iran to get out of that stalemate.
There is another important aspect – the process of the Eurasian integration, expansion of the SCO and evolution of the Eurasian Economic Union. Iran received an opportunity to ease the foreign policy tension and recover its economy to more freely in the international issues. Hence, in the case of Iran, rescinding of the West’s sanctions may boost integration into the East – something the traditional partners of Iran – China and Russia – are very interested in.