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November 23, 2014 No.
5890

Apprehensions In Gulf: Nuclear Agreement With Iran Will Come At Expense Of Arab Interests

Intensive talks between Iran and the P5+1 have recently been underway in Oman and in Vienna, in a bid to reach an agreement on Iran's nuclear program by November 24, 2014, which marks the end of the second six-month extension allowed for in the Geneva document signed in November 2013.

Articles published in the Saudi press ahead of this date expressed apprehension regarding a possible agreement, on the grounds that it would increase Iran's influence at the expense of the Arab states. Many of the articles warned that the U.S. might make far-reaching concessions to Iran regarding its nuclear program, or, alternatively, would reward it for making concessions in this domain by giving it a free hand in the region, to the Arabs' detriment. Other articles directed harsh criticism at Obama for preferring to cooperate with Iran and abandon his Arab allies, and called on the Arabs to perform a strategic reassessment and seek other partners instead of the U.S. Some writers also noted that Iranian progress towards the bomb could set off a nuclear arms race in the region by compelling Arab countries to arm themselves with such weapons as well.[1]

Articles on this topic in the Qatari press were fewer, but made similar arguments. The London-based Qatari daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi editorialized that, whatever happens, Iran will come out the winner - since an agreement would mean recognition of Iran as a legitimate nuclear power, and even if no agreement is signed, the negotiations themselves have placed Iran on a par with the world's leading superpowers. The editorial stated further that the Arabs will find themselves surrounded by nuclear powers, forcing them to reassess their strategies. Liberal Qatari journalist 'Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari assessed that Iran will not make real concessions in its nuclear program, adding that whoever thinks this program is peaceful is na├»ve. He also mentioned that Iran has managed to convince the U.S. that an Iranian fatwa banning nuclear weapons exists, though this fatwa is in fact entirely fictional.[2]   

The following are excerpts from some of the articles on this issue published in the Saudi and Qatari press.

Al-Arabiya TV Former Director: Continuing Iranian Nuclear Program May Spark Nuclear Arms Race In Region

"Several articles published in the Saudi press warned that a nuclear deal between Iran and the West could set off a nuclear arms race in the region. In a November 11, 2014 article, the former director of Al-Arabiya, 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, criticized the Obama administration for excluding its Arab allies from the negotiations and for keeping the talks confidential, adding that previous experience has shown that America's promises to refrain from making concessions to Iran are not always reliable. He also said that the Iranian nuclear program is clearly military in nature, and warned that allowing Iran to continue it could prompt other regional countries, headed by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, to seek nuclear weapons of their own. The following are excerpts from an English translation of his article published on alarabiya.net.[3]

"U.S. President Barack Obama seems enthusiastic about the beginning of a new era with Iran and the restoration of good relations with Tehran, which was once an important ally during the Shah's rule and until his downfall. This is why Americans and Europeans are meeting with the Iranian delegation in the Omani capital as they race against time to reach a solution to the Iranian regime's nuclear aspirations.

"We in the Middle East have serious reservations about these negotiations and the first of them is the secrecy surrounding the talks! Obama's administration intentionally kept its contacts and negotiations with Tehran a secret, even from its own regional allies. Such an approach contradicts with the usual American approach, such as the [approach it used in] negotiations with North Korea. In that case, all concerned countries in the region shared their secrets and weighed in on the decision making process, and countries like South Korea, Japan, China and Russia were involved in the negotiations alongside the American delegation. However, when it came to negotiations with Iran, the U.S. shut the door in the face of its allies and of other directly involved countries, like the Gulf countries, Turkey, Egypt and Israel.

"Secondly, American reassurances that concessions will not be made have proven not to be true on several occasions. The last of these concessions was America's acceptance of 1,500 uranium-enriching centrifuges after it said it won't allow more than 500. This came in addition to a series of concessions Washington made in the field of boycotted and frozen assets.

"Thirdly, the Iranians made a comment regarding their demand to expand their influence in the region. Although Washington denies that it will accept such conditions, there are doubts prevailing in the region among those who worry that Iran will be left free to further sabotage the region...

"Fourthly, there is the nuclear program itself. The U.S. seems to have backtracked on its pledge to prevent the Iranian regime from possessing the capability to produce nuclear weapons and this will lead to a change in the balance of power in the region in a very dangerous manner. We, as well as the West, are aware of the fact that Iran does not need nuclear energy to meet its energy needs because it holds the world's fourth-largest proven crude oil reserves - that is more than Iraq, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. So why would Iran spend huge funds for nuclear energy when it can produce petroleum [at] very low cost? It's because Iran seeks to produce nuclear weapons, and a country with such a mentality and persistence indicates it has dangerous and hostile intentions.

"If negotiators in Muscat allow Iran to pursue its nuclear program, we will enter a very dangerous phase. The balance of regional power will be disrupted and this will force regional countries - mainly Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt - to look for means to build a deterrent nuclear power. This will make the Middle East region, which threatens the world with al-Qaeda and ISIS, more dangerous due to the presence of five nuclear countries including Iran and Israel.

"Why is Obama so concerned with sealing a deal with Iran? There's no logical reason. We saw how American sanctions succeeded in exhausting the Iranian regime and led it to the point of Tehran thinking that its nuclear program may led to the collapse of the regime. However, the porthole which Obama's administration opened for the regime in Tehran pushed the Americans, and not the Iranians, to present more concessions in exchange of promises from Khamenei's regime. These promises are not based on halting the nuclear program but only slow[ing] down its implementation. We are not criticizing the negotiations because we [do not want] Western countries [to] reach an agreement that ends the crisis with Iran. Any agreement that tames the hostile Iranian political mentality and disarms its nuclear weapons serves the interest of the entire region. However, we do not think that the suggested agreement curbs these nuclear aspirations and it does not deter the mentality of chaos which Tehran has practiced non-stop since the 1980s..."


Iran sits at the negotiation table, hiding the nuclear bomb behind its back (Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, November 23, 2014)
 

'Al-Hayat' Columnist: An Iranian Bomb May Prompt Gulf States To Obtain Nuclear Weapons From Pakistan

Lebanese-American journalist Raghida Dergham writes in a November 14, 2014 article in the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat  that chances for a nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 powers, led by the U.S., are slim. This, because the gaps between the sides are two large, and also because the Republican U.S. Congress will not agree to a nuclear Iran, and neither will Israel, which sees this an existential threat. Furthermore, she says, "a nuclear Iran may spark a nuclear arms race in the region. Obviously, if Iran is allowed to become nuclear, the Gulf state will make efforts to obtain a nuclear bomb from Pakistan or some other source."[4]

Article In 'Al-Sharq Al-Awsat': Iran's Reward For Giving Up Its Nuclear Program Will Be A Free hand In The Region, At The Arab's Expense

Some of the articles referred to the letter that U.S. President Barack Obama reportedly sent to Iranian  President Hassan Rohani, which they described as reflecting an American bias towards Iran and a negative policy vis-a-vis the Arabs. In a November 10 article, Egyptian intellectual Mamoun Fandy mentioned this letter, and claimed that the U.S. has for years been cooperating with Iran and pursuing a policy that empowers it. He added that, today, the U.S. is again willing to reward Iran for giving up its nuclear program by strengthening its  influence in the region at the Arab's expense, and called on the Arabs to respond to this danger by formulating a new vision of their national security interests.

He wrote: "First, just so we don't feel too shocked, [let me mention that] the secret contacts between the U.S. and Iran, which also involve Israel, are neither new nor surprising. The U.S. archives contain plenty [of evidence] of this... and there are [also] scholarly books that document these secret contacts.

"Tehran's foreign policy should not be divined from the mutual accusations it exchanges with Washington in the media, but rather from the perfect coordination and cooperation between them on the issue of Iraq since 2003 and on the issue of Afghanistan following 9/11. Looking at the outcome of all these events, from [what happened in] Afghanistan to the ousting of Saddam Hussein, one finds that [these outcomes] steadily increased Iran's involvement and its strategic spreading [of its influence] in the Arab arena... [Former U.S. presidents Ronald] Reagan, [Bill] Clinton and [George] Bush Jr. [all] coordinated [with Iran] on Iraq and Afghanistan.

"In an interview he gave to Tom Friedman,[5] Barack Obama spoke of what he called 'an order that dates back to World War I' in the Middle East. This is code for redrawing the borders and re-dividing the influence spheres [in the region]. In this context, it must be understood that, in return for [giving up] its nuclear [program], Iran will get to increase its influence in the region. Otherwise... what is it getting in return for giving up its nuclear [program] and transferring [parts of it] to Russia? [Only] the lifting of the [economic] siege or friendly relations with Washington?

"The issue of transferring Iran's nuclear program to Russia is no different from [the idea of] transferring Syria's chemical weapons to Russia in return for letting the [Syrian] regime endure or giving it time to eliminate its enemies. We begin to see the outlines of the increasing division of influence between Russia and Washington, as part of what Obama called the buckling of the post-World War I order... Obama's position on Syria and on the Iranian nuclear program conveys a dangerous message regarding [an American bias] in the region that is detrimental to the strategic Arab interest.

"Since the Arabs were absent from the talks on Iran's nuclear program in Geneva... they became [part of the price] of the [nuclear] deal. What Iran gets in return for [giving up] the nuclear program is the absence of any constraint on its influence in the Arab countries. That is, Iran has been given a free hand in the region... In this situation, do the Arabs now have an option to become a side in the negotiations, instead of being placed on the table [as part of] the deal?"...

"We must regard Obama's letter to the Supreme Leader with all the seriousness it deserves, for it marks the end of an era and the dawning of a new one. Decision-makers in the Middle East must continue discussing and brainstorming, in order to divine what this implies in terms of formulating a new conception of regional security, in which the Arabs must play a central role."[6]

Saudi Columnist: Having Been Excluded From The Nuclear Negotiations, The Arabs Have Became Part Of Price Of The Deal

Columnist Jasser Al-Jasser wrote in a similar vein in the Saudi daily Al-Jazirah: "Several analysts, if not all, regard Obama's letter to [Iran's] Supreme  Leader as [indicative of] a pro-Iranian bias and as a continuation of Obama's negative policy towards the Arabs. This, because it allows Iran freedom of action in the Arab region despite all the suspicions about the Iranian regime's complicity in terror. This American and Western bias in favor of Iran and against Arab interests refutes everything that has been said about the nature of the U.S. alliance with the Arab countries. The agreement that the Americans currently  want to sign with the Iranian regime places the Arab interests 'on the [negotiating] table,'  after the concerned Arab countries have been kept away from the negotiations. The absence of the Arabs [from the negotiations] has  led to the expected results: Iranian interests may grow stronger and gain precedence in the Arab region, at the expense of Arab interests. This obligates the Arab states, and particularly the Gulf states, to reassess their strategy and the nature of their relations with the powers that struck this deal ÔǪ"[7]


"The nuclear negotiations and Iran's time-wasting policy" (Makkah, Saudi Arabia, November 23, 2014)

Saudi  'Al-Watan' Daily: Gulf States Must Seek Alliances With Other Countries, Stop Relying On The US

The November 12 , 2014 editorial of Saudi government daily Al-Watan referred to the talks that took place between Iran and the P5+1 in Oman ahead of the Vienna negotiations. The article claimed that the Obama administration has decided to bet on Iran against the Arab countries, which is a losing bet, and urged the Arabs to adopt a new strategy of forging alliances with countries other than the U.S.: "There are other indications that the [Oman] talks are to Iran's benefit, or that Iran gains more [from them] than  the six countries [ the P5+1]ÔǪ The Obama administration, backed by several E.U. countries, has reshuffled the cards in the region. This is nothing new in the policy of the U.S., which always makes alliances strictly in accordance with its political interests and calculations. The only permanent thing in U.S. policy is the impermanence of [its alliances]. But the American bet on Iran is misplaced, for betting on one regional country against several neighboring countries is a strategic mistake that only time can remedy, and by the time this happens it will be too late. Therefore, the Arab regimes, and especially the Gulf regimes, should not rely exclusively on their old alliances with certain powers, but should seek to formulate a political strategy to check the Iranian danger by [forging] various alliances with other countries that wish to form economic and political partnerships with the Gulf states.

That said, we should not exaggerate the danger posed by the Iranian nuclear program, because this is a weak political bargaining chip that is no longer effective in an age when many countries possess such weapons The real danger will be the new Iranian approach and the new direction Iran will take if and when the nuclear program succeeds."[8]

Saudi 'Al-Sharq' Daily: The Nuclear Deal Is Meant To Cover For The Failure Of Obama's  Foreign Policy

A November 13, 2014 editorial in the Saudi daily Al-Sharq claimed that Obama is the weakest president the U.S. has ever known, for he has not managed to make a single achievement during his presidency and has failed to resolve any of the Middle East crises, from the Palestinian problem to the Syrian one. Hence, said the editorial, Obama is trying to renew the relations with Iran, at any price, so as to have something to show for his two terms in office.

"U.S. President Obama, who did nothing in the domain of U.S. foreign policy during his six years at the White House except pull the American troops out of Iraq, and who has failed to resolve the crises in the Middle East, is now trying to score an achievement, and the Iranians aspire to score [an achievement of their own] by renewing their relations with Washington. Obama, whose party lost to the Republicans in the midterm Congressional  elections a few days ago, has not managed to advance the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and his policy towards the so-called Arab Spring revolutions has yielded disastrous results in the region, especially in Syria, which, thanks to his positions, has become a hotbed of terrorism of every kind, [both] Assad's state-terrorism and the terrorism of ISIS.

"President Obama is [responsible] for the worst period in U.S. history, as confirmed by public opinion polls in the U.S., and that is what prompted him, now that his second term in office is drawing to a close, to rush forward [in trying to] resolve the Iranian nuclear issue. This is a last-ditch effort to put some wind into the sails of his administration and his party before the start of the next presidential election, and make some slight achievement - because, as long as there is willingness in [both] Tehran and Washington to resolve the issue, and as long as the American president gives it priority, it should not be too difficult to achieve a breakthrough on this front.

"Tehran will probably be happy to reopen the embassy of the 'Great Satan' on its soil, since nothing but its interests [really] concerns it..."[9]

 


Every round of negotiations ends up in the same place (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, November 14, 2014)

'Al-Sharq Al-Awsat' Former Editor: Whatever happens On November 24, 2014, The Situation In The Middle East Will Get Worse

In a November 13, 014 op-ed in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, the daily's former editor, Tariq Al-Homayed, wrote that, no matter whether an agreement is reached by the November 24 deadline, the situation in the region will get worse. The following are excerpts from the article, as published in the daily's English edition: 

"The media spotlight is currently focused on the talks between the US, EU and Iran in Muscat, ahead of a November 24 deadline to reach a comprehensive deal on Tehran's nuclear program. But the question is: what happens after the deadline? US Secretary of State John Kerry said last week that Washington and its partners will not consider extending it again if there is no agreement. Nevertheless, Kerry did not rule out the possibility of extending the deadline in the event an agreement on the key issues had been reached, with only the technical details remaining to be finalized. Will the deadline be extended? What will be the alternative if the talks fail to reach an agreement? What will the situation in the region be like? What will relations between the WestÔÇöand the US in particularÔÇöand Iran be like? Will they be in a state of war? Or will the ÔÇ£no-war, no-peaceÔÇØ situation continue? Does this mean that Iran will carry on with its nuclear program? What will the position of Israel be on that? Strangely enough, these significant questions are being ignored, not only by media, but by some Arab politicians who use a strangely optimistic tone when talking about the negotiations with Iran...

"Therefore, the pressing question remains: what will follow the November 24 deadline? The Obama administration, due to the nuclear talks, has neglected some significant regional issues, exposing one of its most significant regional allies to danger, all with the hope of achieving a political victory, namely a nuclear agreement with Iran. Obama is approaching the final stretch of his second and last presidential term with his approval rating in the basement, given his lack of real achievements. The question I pose to the US and the West is this: what will come after November 24? As for the region, is it prepared for the worst? Whatever it is, what is next is going to be absolutely worse."[10]


The U.S. and Iran play over the sleeping Arab's head (Aljazeera.net, November 23, 2014)

 

'Al-Quds Al-Arabi': Whether An Agreement Is Signed Or Not, Iran Wins

Al-Quds Al-Arabi editorialized: "Apparently two main issues still remain for last-minute haggling [between Iran and the West]: the number of centrifuges [that will remain in Iran's possession], and the timeframe for the complete lifting of the sanctions, whose gradual removal will begin immediately upon the signing [of the agreement], allowing billions of dollars to pour into Iran's depleted coffers. This not only means the salvation of [Iran's] exhausted economy, but will necessarily increase [Iran's]  regional influence, and will possibly finance its continued strategic expansion, which recently reached the Bab Al-Mandeb strait.

Whatever happens in the next few hours, Iran will comes out the winnerÔǪ while the Arabs will face a decline in their strategic status as a result of the agreement, on many levels. The negotiations have given [Iran] a political status equal to that of superpowers such as the U.S. and the E.U. Moreover, any agreement will constitute a rare international endorsement of Iran's right to enrich uranium, which means recognizing it as a legitimate nuclear power. Even if Iran does not manufacture a nuclear bomb, it will possess the material capabilities and know-how necessary to attain such [weapons], should it want to. Nuclear weapons are by  nature weapons for deterrence rather than for [actual] use. Therefore, the mere capability to obtain them  constitutes a form of deterrence... Countries possessing nuclear energy, such as India, managed to make a major industrial and economic leap [forward] within a few years. In other words, a nuclear agreement enables Iran to join the march of 21st-century progress.

"As for the Arabs, the signing of a nuclear agreement between Iran and the West means falling between [the arms of] nuclear vise extending from India to Israel through Pakistan and now, [if the agreement materializes], through Iran [as well]. This will transform [the Arab countries] into an island of strategic weakness within a region armed to the teeth with weapons of mass destruction. Instead of dealing with this frightening strategic imbalance, the Arabs are mired in wars - either internecine wars or wars against terror organizations

"The Arabs should view the expected nuclear agreement as an historic turning point with existential [importance] that compels them to stop and strategically reappraise their future on the map - [a map] that has room only for the strong, that respects only the large, and that will not hesitate to expel [the Arabs] from both geography and history if they insist on continuing to bury their heads in the sand."[11]

'Al-Quds Al-Arabi': Gulf Reconciliation Was Vital Given The Threat Of An Agreement Between Iran And The West

Another editorial in Al-Quds Al-Arabi identified the Gulf states' common apprehension of a potential agreement between Iran and the West as one of the factors that accelerated the signing of the November 16, 2014 reconciliation agreement between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE on the one hand and Qatar on the other: "The current [Gulf] reconciliation efforts are of especial importance considering their timing especially in light of assessments that Iran may reach agreement with the West regarding its nuclear program. [If this happens], it will provide Iran with a new victory and with international recognition of its status as a regional power - [a status] that it is fiercely pursuing on the ground. Indeed, it has managed to expand its hegemony in Yemen and to complete the Shi'ite Crescent that competes with the ISIS Crescent, which recently made its plans clearly known. This poses a grave danger, even when the Arabs are united against [Iran], and all the more so when they are divided and fighting each other. It would probably be no exaggeration to say that the Arabs are facing an existential threat, and not merely a challenge to their strategic status The success of the [Gulf] reconciliation will thwart the open Iranian attempts to gain exclusive control the Gulf states after the signing of the nuclear agreement, as well as [Iran's] efforts to make Egypt neutral by seducing it with political and economic payoffs in the new regional situation [that will emerge][12]

Qatari Journalist: Iran Will Not Make Meaningful Concessions; Khamenei's Anti-Nuclear Fatwa Does Not Exist

Qatari cleric and liberal journalist Dr. 'Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari wrote in the daily Al-Watan that Iran will make no genuine concessions in its negotiations with the superpowers, and that whoever believes its nuclear program is aimed at electricity production is na├»ve. He also reiterated his claim that Khamenei's alleged fatwa banning nuclear weapons is a fabrication:

"All signs indicate that Iran will manage to continue its nuclear program... Iran will not step back or give up what it regards as its legitimate right to obtain nuclear technology. [According to its viewpoint,] if less noble countries, such as Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea, have managed to obtain nuclear weapons, how can the international community deny this to Iran, with its noble civilization...? Iran thinks this is its chance, now that the man in the White House is so eager to complete this historic deal and thereby score a historic achievement that previous presidents did not manage to attain. True, the current Iranian president is 'flexible,' but Rohani's flexibility is prudent and calculated. It will never transcend the level of tactical [negotiation] methods or undermine [Iran's] strategic principles. Iran will not make meaningful concessions that will harm its capacity to enrich [uranium]. If it negotiates over enrichment levels, it will not open all its facilities to inspection, and if it allows [the inspection] of some, [this will be in return for] the lifting of the sanctions, if only a gradual one. This explains the statement Rohani made in a meeting with young people. 'You ask me if we are winning in the nuclear negotiations?' he said. 'The answer is yes, we are!'

"Whoever believes that Iran spent these astronomical sums only for the sake of 'electric energy' is either na├»ve or a fool. One has to throw out one's brain to [believe this]...!  Why does Iran need  to produce electricity in dangerous [facilities that can] disastrously leak radioactivity into the waters of the Gulf, and are [also] very expensive, when it has dozens of sources of cheap and safe energy like oil, gas, [hydroelectric] dams, and sun- and wind-[powered facilities]?!...

"Despite this, Iran managed to market [the notion that its nuclear] program is civilian, and to gain the confidence of our major ally [the U.S.] and of the international community, who want to believe this for the sake of their own economic interests and goals!"

Al-Ansari explains that Iran achieved this goal by financing and supporting a large-scale information apparatus to promote the notion that its nuclear program is peaceful. To this end, it forged a network of unofficial contacts in the U.S. by opening Iranian centers and institutions in this country; exploited its regional influence, including its influence on Western and U.S. interests in the region; and utilized various diplomatic and religious  resources. He continues: "Iran distributed a fatwa allegedly issued by the Imam Khomeini or by Khamenei banning the possession and use of nuclear weapons. Iran managed to convince the U.S. president that [this fatwa] exists, and [Obama] frequently mentions it and tries to convince the American people that it exists! I'll have you know that this fatwa does not exist... In fact, every Muslim knows that such a fatwa contravenes the Koranic verse "and prepare against them all that you can" [Koran 8:60], which obliges the Muslims to use every means of power, including nuclear [weapons], to deter the enemies, though not for offensive purposes. Furthermore, any fatwa can be abrogated by a counter-fatwa, according to the circumstances, situation and interests. In addition, the religious principle of taqiya in dealing with enemies [i.e., hiding one's true beliefs to avoid oppression] is a fundamental principle of the Shi'a."[13]


 Al-Watan (Qatar), November 24, 2014

 

Endnotes:

 

[1] It should be noted that, a year ago, ahead of the signing of the Geneva document by Iran and the P5+1, Saudi Arabia voiced similar apprehensions about the Iran-U.S. rapprochement and about a possible increase in Iran's regional influence at the Arabs' expense. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1032, "Saudis Infuriated, Insulted By U.S. Efforts At Rapprochement With Iran," November 1, 2013.

[3] English.alarabiya.net, November 11, 2014. The text has been lightly edited for clarity. For the Arabic version, see Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 11, 2014.

[4] Al-Hayat (London), November 14, 2014.

[5] The New York Times (USA), August 8, 2014.

[6] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 10, 2014.

[7] Al Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), November 14, 2014.

[8] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), November 12, 2014.

[9] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 13, 2014.

[10] Aawsat.net, November 13, 2014.

[11] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), November 22, 2014.

[12] Al-Quds Al-Arabi  (London), November 20, 2014.

[13] Al-Watan (Qatar), November 17, 2014.