Iran’s nuclear program and international negotiations around it have entered into a new stage of heated discussions which, this time, sees new countries enter the fray to challenge the usual position of authority wielded by the UN’s five permanent members of the Security Council.
On May 19, the US circulated a draft sanctions program aimed at forging consensus in the 15 member UN Security Council (5 permanent — the US, Russia, China, Britain, and France — and 10 rotating members, which currently includes Brazil, Turkey, and Lebanon).
The push for sanctions by the US implicitly rejects a tripartite diplomatic deal reached between Iran, Turkey, and Brazil.
The tripartite deal would see Iran swap almost half of its existing supply of low enriched uranium with Turkey. This is intended to add a measure of transparency to the process of enrichment in order to ensure that Iran’s uranium is used for research and medical purposes over what the US alleges might be an Iranian attempt to develop nuclear weapons. The fuel is intended to be used in the Tehran Research Reactor, which supplies the countries medical isotopes.
A similar deal was proposed by the US, France, and Russia in October 2009, which Iran rejected after long discussion. In that particular case, Iran claimed it was worried that the agreement left it vulnerable to the West. Essentially, Iran was worried that it might hand over its fuel to France, and then France would refuse to return it after processing, leaving Iran in the lurch. One of the key differences in the latest tripartite deal is that Turkey would act as the conduit, a country which actually has good relations with its neighbour, Iran. It is presumed, then, that Iran feels more secure having a country that has not publicly supported the possibility of war against it to act as guarantor. An example of the pressure (to put it lightly) that Iran faces is that, in April 2010, the US president Obama opened the door to the launch of nuclear weapons against Iran and North Korea if deemed necessary. The US excluded these two countries from limits placed on the use of atomic weapons.
It should be made clear that the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which both the US and Iran are signatories, states that “in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, States must refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations, and that the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security are to be promoted with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources.”
The idea is that if you threaten another country with war, especially if the threatening party rattles its atomic weapons, then there would be the danger of creating an incentive for non-nuclear weapons countries to pursue a weapons program in order to reduce the urgency of the threat.
The objective of Turkey and Brazil was to persuade Iran to accept the terms of an agreement the United States had itself promoted only six months ago as a confidence-building measure and the precursor to more substantive talks. There were twelve visits back and forth between the Turk and his Iranian counterpart, some 40 phone conversations, and eighteen grueling hours of personal negotiations leading up to the presentation of the signed agreement on Monday.
The Turks and Brazilians, who felt they had “delivered” Iran on the terms demanded by the United States, were surprised and disappointed at the negative reactions from Washington. Little did they know that their success in Tehran, which had been given a 0-30 percent chance just days earlier, came just as the Americans were putting the final touches on a package of sanctions to be presented to the UN Security Council. The Tehran agreement was as welcome as a pothole in the fast lane, and the Americans were not reluctant to let their displeasure be known.
The sanctions proposed by the US would, according to the Washington Post, “expand an asset freeze and travel ban against individuals and entities linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. A critical element still to be negotiated is a list of those names.” Sanctions would also include a ban on shipments of large weapons systems “such as battle tanks, combat aircraft and missiles.”
More from the same article: “Diplomats said that some of [the] sanctions were proposed with the full knowledge they would be removed by the Russians and Chinese — but then could be revived in an E.U. resolution. Individual country sanctions could follow, and would be led by the United States and like-minded nations.”
The Daily Start reports that although the agreement reached between Iran, Turkey, and Brazil “was hailed as a diplomatic coup by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the United States and its allies Britain and France said it did not go far enough to avert the sanctions push.”
Well-informed sources close to the Lebanese delegation to the UN in New York said: ‘Lebanon has always been against any sanctions against Iran because Lebanon believes it is the right of all nations or countries to own nuclear energy.’
‘Lebanon has repeatedly reiterated its stance against the sanctions, especially that Iran is saying that the proliferation of the enriched uranium is done for peaceful purposes,’ the sources said, adding that Lebanon will abstain from the vote on sanctions.
Nine out of fifteen security council members have to vote in favour for a resolution to pass. The five permanent members of the security council have veto power.
The Brazilian foreign minister on Tuesday stated that the “agreement [between Iran, Brazil and Turkey] is a new fact that has to be evaluated.” And “to ignore this agreement would be to discard the possibility of a pacific solution.”
The conflicting proposals from the US and Europe for sanctions on one side and a tripartite deal led by Turkey and Brazil on the other also reflects a tension in international affairs as countries outside of the framework of Washington’s consensus of world order vie for alternative visions of international affairs in general. This was voiced by some Brazilian newspapers, such as Folha de Sao Paulo (quoted in the Daily Star): “The US government is more than anything looking to show who runs a hierarchy of global power that emerging powers such as Brazil and Turkey see as outdated.”
Similar sentiments challenging the existing international model centered around overwhelming US power emerged during an April meeting between Brazil, India, Russia, China, and South Africa at the Brazilian capital.
On Wednesday, Turkey’s foreign minister claimed that the US president had personally encouraged Brazil and Turkey to pursue the now contested deal with Iran. According to FP’s The Cable:
It’s true that Obama ‘encouraged’ Turkey and Brazil to hold discussions with Iran, a White House official tells The Cable, but he never indicated that a deal like the one announced this week would be sufficient to alleviate international concerns or stave off sanctions.
Nor did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spoke with Davutoglu by last Friday, give the talks an unqualified thumbs up. ‘During the call, the secretary stressed that in our view, Iran’s recent diplomacy was an attempt to stop Security Council action without actually taking steps to address international concerns about its nuclear program,’ State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
According to the White House, Obama did not mean to suggest that a fuel-swap deal alone would be enough to assuage U.S. concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.
Antonio Ramlho, a professor of international relations at the university of Brasilia has said that the “Brazilian government believes that new and tougher sanctions on Iran would not work.”
It would only contribute to strengthening Iran’s position in the region and strengthening the hardliners within Iranian society and within the Iranian government. They would be able to say that the economic problems they face were due to the sanctions imposed by the international community.
If we impose further sanctions, that will only increase the secrecy in Iran and increase the military orientation of this program.
He also expresses the view that the NPT is, in practice, discriminatory and does not treat all members as equal before international law. That some countries are viewed as irresponsible and are generally pressured not to pursue any nuclear technology despite the fact that the NPT clearly indicates their right to pursue civilian nuclear technology.
He says that, “In 1998, when Brazil signed the NPT treaty, there were arguments for and against. The argument against adhering to the NPT was that Brazil already made its program transparent, but at the same point, it had this principled position which is the one followed by India. Although we know that India had a military program, the Indian government has never agreed to adhere to the NPT [because] it is a discriminatory treaty. In 1998, the majority of the military, as well as many diplomats and experts, [thought] that Brazil should not sign the NPT, based on this argument. It is the tradition of Brazil to fight for a more fair international order that is ruled by institutions and norms [and] that considers states to be equally responsible from the point of view of international law. The argument was that we should not subscribe to a treaty that is discriminatory. This did not mean that Brazil aimed at developing nuclear artifacts or whatever.”
Despite US claims that it has Russia and China’s support in pushing for expanded sanctions, Russia has recently sent a contradictory signal, which goes some way to explaining why the US was not able to include its real wish list in the proposed sanctions. From Reuters: “A reactor being built by Russia at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant is scheduled to begin operating in August, the head of Russia’s state nuclear corporation told journalists on Thursday.”
The US has rejected Turkey and Brazil’s initiative and is trying to quickly cobble together support for its proposed sanctions. The Russian foreign minister has “called on Iran to send details of its proposed uranium swap to the UN’s nuclear agency as soon as possible.” US secretary of state Clinton has said that her government has the support of Russia and China. I have not seen any clear message from either of these countries on whether and to what extent they might support the sanctions as presented by the US.
The position of the US is that new sanctions should be applied to Iran unless it halts all enrichment activity. Period. “But that had not been the [US] Administration’s position” since a similar fuel swap deal was first tabled in October 2009. “From that point until this Monday, the Administration repeatedly indicated that Iranian acceptance of the [October] Baradei proposal would preclude the imposition of further sanctions, at least until there had been further negotiations about the broader range of issues associated with the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. At least in the near term, the avoidance of new sanctions was no longer linked to suspension. (Senior British officials told us last fall that this was why, as a matter of policy, Her Majesty’s Government did not want to see the TRR [the Tehran Research Reactor] deal go through—because it would then be practically impossible to sanction Iran over its continued refusal to abide by Security Council resolutions calling for suspension.)” write Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett at The Race for Iran.
They add that, “Now that Tehran has accepted the main elements of the Baradei proposal—the transfer of 1,200 kilos of low-enriched uranium out of Iran in exchange for new fuel for the TRR—the United States has unilaterally changed the game.”
Gareth Porter, writing for IPS, says that:
The Obama administration had not previously declared publicly that it was demanding an end to all enrichment by Iran, and had suggested directly and indirectly that it wanted a broader diplomatic engagement with Iran covering issues of concern to both states.
The new hard line, ruling out broader diplomatic engagement with Iran, and the new light on the strategy behind last year’s swap proposal confirms what has long been suspected – that the debate within the Obama administration last year over whether to abandon the demand for an end to Iranian uranium enrichment as unrealistic had been won by proponents of the zero enrichment demand by late summer 2009.
It is possible that the American claim of China’s ‘support’ of the sanctions program is in principle only. That China might support the writing of a sanction to be held in reserve but in fact back the tripartite Iran, Turkey, Brazil deal.
You can listen to an interview with Gareth Porter regarding these events on Antiwar Radio or click on the play button below.
Below are links to full texts of the proposed agreements:
On Monday Turkey and Iran agreed to swap nuclear fuel (low enriched uranium).
The deal forged with Turkey and Brazil appeared to be another attempt to stave off U.N. sanctions – a doubtful endeavor judging by reactions from the United States and other Western powers.
This article, sent to me by a friend, has prompted a short response from me. I am particularly interested in the alternative fulcrums of international power that have increasingly been voicing their visions of international relations. This voice represents a share of those ‘developing’ countries that have grown to be economically impossible to ignore, such as Brazil, Russia, India, China (collectively known as the BRIC), and also including such regional influences as Turkey.
Given this context of new challenges to the traditional power of Western states and international institutions, the case of Turkish involvement in Iran’s nuclear deal is particularly interesting.
It is in line with what the April BRIC meeting in Brasilia had articulated regarding any sanction or deal to do with Iran’s nuclear program. Specifically, the BRIC nations indicated a support for diplomatic options to deal with Iran’s nuclear program and have strongly suggested they would resist harsh sanctions. The meeting took place after the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, and brought Brazil, India, Russia, China, and South Africa to the Brazilian capital.
The meeting in Brasilia was a step toward the generation of an international order that does not marginalize participating states, now representing some of the world’s largest economies. In that case, it was strategic that the group assembled only one week prior to the annual International Monetary Fund and World Bank meeting of 24-25 April. It also precedes the G8 summit to be held in Canada this June.
Turkey wants access to more energy. It has limited options for domestic electrical generation. According to an Asia Times article by Saban Kardas, “The country’s current total proven oil reserves could meet only its consumption for a year, and entire natural gas reserves could satisfy only one sixth of its consumption for one year.” It would like to import electricity from its neighbours, including from Iran’s grid. It also seeks to expand its gas and oil imports from Iran. Imports from Iran can be key to Turkey’s energy security, helping it diversify away from overwhelming dependence on Russian natural gas. Turkey imports 2/3 of its natural gas from Russia, according to the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources. It imports 97.3% of its natural gas, and 93% of its oil.
Beyond meeting domestic demand and energy security desires, Turkey would like to improve its access to multiple sources of energy from throughout the Middle East and Central Asia in order to position itself as an energy hub. This is clearly indicated in Turkey’s latest five year energy and natural resources plan.
Turkey could then transit energy through its territory from its southern and eastern neighbours to energy consuming Europe. This transit infrastructure is to rely on pipelines, highways, and the Ceyhan port on the Mediterranean.
Its real options for sourcing such an energy corridor are Russia, Iran, Iraq, and under the Caspian Sea through Azerbaijan then Georgia or Armenia. The Caspian route will also be greatly facilitated if it has Iranian cooperation since Iran and other Caspian countries have been long negotiating how to collectively manage that body of water since the fall of the Soviet Union.
An alternative to the Caspian Sea route that Turkey seems interested in as well is to have gas pass from Turkmenistan, through northern Iran, to Turkey. Such an option would greatly facilitate access to rich deposits of natural gas in Central Asia. A submarine pipeline running under the sea would require the cooperation of many more countries via contested waters. Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran are engaged in protracted negotiations regarding how to collectively manage the Caspian Sea and how to finalize their individual zones of influence. The submarine route would also be a lot more vulnerable to future disruption.
Turkey wishes to diversify its energy imports in order to maximize its energy security and maximize the potential of turning itself into an energy hub. Turkey’s recent energy and natural resources five year plan states that, “great importance is given to the improvement of the diversification of resources, technologies and infrastructure. For this reason, the oil and natural gas exploration operations both at home and abroad have been intensified in the recent years and these shall also be continued increasingly within the period of the Plan.” (p. 13)
Turkey has, in the new millennium, shown notable examples of greater independence from US dominance of NATO. I think this has been the result of various outcomes throughout the past decade.
The war in Iraq, which was seen as an unjustified and illegal war of aggression undertaken by the US, NATO’s leader, certainly served as a catalyst. The US tried to convince NATO allies, among others, to join it in a ‘coalition of the willing’. This didn’t play too well as an example of NATO’s new post Cold War direction and helped give voice to a more independent Turkish policy.
I think the war in Afghanistan has also had an impact in drawing Turkey’s gaze to events in the region of Central Asia, where a great number of cultural similarity (in that it is an older home to Turkic peoples prior to their migration to the Republic of Turkey) has raised ideas of the origins of Turkish identity prior to their push for Westernization by way of integrating some aspect of European identity. I don’t think that this trend is in fact what some have called pan-Turkish sentiments. It is simply a greater curiosity of their non-European roots coupled with an interest in seeing how this may be used to exert influence in the energy rich Central Asian region.
We must not forget the continued failure of the project to have Turkey be accepted as European and enter the EU. It is becoming increasingly clear that the EU is not interested in Turkish accession, and that a central component of European resistance stems from their perceiving the Turks as eternally non-European.
This notion of a difference in culture between Europe and Turkey has been quite unflattering and even at times publicly racist. Interestingly, the move to further democratize Turkey (namely to apply a representative form of democracy that is rooted in a framework of institution legality) has been disempowering the ‘deep state’ under the leadership of the military, thus eroding these leaders’ ability to push for the Westernization of Turkey.
Public opinion has also indicated at least significant strains of caution and resistance to turning the national identity into a ‘Western’ one. This resistance includes opposition to the West’s wars in that neighbourhood (Iraq and Afghanistan), as well as opposition to Western governments’ support of Israel following that country’s most recent invasions of Lebanon and Gaza.
Also, Europe is really waning politically and economically. It has essentially bent knee to the US politically, which I think many in Turkey would see as less incentive to join that bloc since they wanted to join in order to gain greater influence internationally not to be bound in a structure of subservience. Further, Europe’s economy continues to falter, and if Turkey was to join the EU it would be one of the only countries in that bloc with consistent and significant economic growth. It would also be the only EU country with a significant military to speak of. Yet, it is clear that it would remain an isolated member in the unlikely case of the EU taking it in, so Turkey feels even more indignant given this scenario. Why be, on paper, one of the most robust EU members yet be isolated by others who antagonistically see themselves as techno-economically and culturally superior? Turkey is no fool, it realizes that Europe has a significant degree of vulnerability to it as a gateway to the east, and if the West is stagnating why sell yourself short?
Iran, meanwhile, has significant domestic reserves of hydrocarbons, is positioning itself as an energy transit hub (though the success of this plan remains to be seen), and can also serve as a gateway to Central Asian energy and politics.
Regarding the development of nuclear technology, Turkey, the UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia are planning to set up their own facilities and have signed agreements with the US or Europe to this end. I think they realize it would be seen as so very hypocritical if they gave Iran no possibility of access to a civilian nuclear program. Turkey resides within the Middle East after all and it is not as easy to fool their own population about the fact of burgeoning nuclear programs in that region. After all the average person tends to know more about their neighbours than say someone an ocean and a continent away.
Turkey’s Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources has published a strategic plan for 2010 to 2014 indicating the country’s aims at improved energy security while taking advantage of its geographic location to position itself as an energy transit hub. The goal is to reduce its vulnerability to potential volatility in the import of hydrocarbons such as oil and natural gas for which it relies on much of its energy needs.
The plan seeks to lessen Turkey’s import dependence, not simply by way of tapping into the national energy resources (which are very limited), but by having a renewable energy infrastructure, increasing the use of coal powered generators (which are less susceptible to fluctuations in price and availability), and diversifying its imports so that it is not so dependent on one country (namely Russia) for its energy imports. Turkey imports 2/3 of its natural gas from Russia.
The plan recognizes Turkey’s very limited hydrocarbon capacity: “In the year 2008 the total primary energy consumption of our country has been 108 million Ton Equivalent Petroleum (TEP), and its production has been 29 million TEP.” (1)
Turkey depends on imports of natural gas for about 97.3% of its needs. It produced 1 billion m3 in 2008, and consumed 36 billion m3 in the same year. Only five countries supply it with its natural gas. Russia has been the dominant source between 2001-2009, followed by Iran, Azerbaijan, and Algeria.
To provide it with additional cushion in case of supply of price volatility, Turkey plans to expand its natural gas storage capacity from 2.1 billion m3 (2008) to 4 billion m3 (2014)
Furthermore, Turkey depends on imports of oil for 93% of its needs (2008).
Diversification, in the case of Turkey, means diversifying the country’s imports as well as varying the types of energy it consumes, so that if there is trouble with one source of energy (say natural gas or oil), the incident does not cause as great a disturbance as it otherwise might.
This interest in diversification is tied to a desire for economic and energy security. For this reason, it is interested in renewable energy such as wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric dams. So, we see that a component, perhaps a dominant component, of the interest in renewable energy is tied to national security, so that a country like Turkey would seek to establish domestic electricity production using what little options it has, which in this case falls on renewable sources since it has no serious deposits of hydrocarbons.
By end of 2009, the country had enough domestic oil reserves to meet only one year’s worth of consumption, and natural gas reserves for two months.
The desire to diversify energy has also led the ministry to encourage the growth of coal power. The ministry estimates that only 32% of the potential electricity production based on domestic coal resource availability has been actualized. Over the period of the plan, Turkey plans to complete a number of coal thermal plants, totaling 3,500 MW of additional electricity supplied by 2014.
A central goal of improving the country’s energy security then is to increase the share of domestic generated electricity from hydroelectric dams and coal power plants. Turkey also plans to construct its first nuclear power plant, with an aim to have nuclear energy provide some 5% of total electricity by 2023. The plan indicates a goal to add an additional 5,000 MW to the grid from new hydroelectric projects by the year 2014. It also includes what might be a very ambitious aim of increasing the share of wind power from 802.8 MW (2009) to 10,000 MW by 2015.
According to Turkey’s General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works, hydro power supplied from southeastern Anatolia has provided some “45% of overall hydroelectric generation” to date. (2)
Turkey seeks to become an energy corridor, siphoning natural gas and oil from its south (Iraq), east (Iran, Caspian Sea basin, Central Asia), and northeast (Russia), to Europe. For this it seeks bilateral and multilateral agreements with countries of the affected region.
Turning the country into an energy hub is taking advantage of Turkey’s geostrategic location. The plan states that “Turkey is positioned in a geography where about 72 percent of the proved oil and natural gas reserves of the world are buried, especially at the Middle East and the Caspian Basin. In the period by 2030, the world’s energy consumption is projected to rise by 40 percent and is anticipated to be covered to a significant extent from the resources in the region where we are positioned.” (3)
To this purpose, the ministry focuses on the importance of turning the port city of Ceyhan into an “an integrated energy terminal where various quality and feature of crude oil may be offered for international markets, and where a refinery, petrochemicals facilities and liquefied natural gas (LNG) exportation terminal will be available.” (4)
Ceyhan is part of an existing energy corridor that went into operation in 2006. The Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Crude Oil Pipeline transfers oil from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey. From 2006 to 2009 oil loaded onto sea transports from Ceyhan totaled 800 million barrels.
Turkey also seeks to import electricity for exporting across its territory by linking up its transmission network with that of neighbouring countries.
The feasibility of the desire to turn Turkey into an energy corridor is in question. It needs to tap into proven reserves of hydrocarbons enough to provide for the markets in Europe. For this, it would need to lay down infrastructure to these regions by competing with or coming to agreements with potential suppliers in Central Asia and the Middle East as well as dealing with the main overland corridor that currently runs through Russia.
One of the key aims, according to the strategic plan, is “Aim-4: Making the free market conditions operate fully and providing for the improvement of the investment environment.” (5) The way was paved for the liberalization/privatization of the energy sector by way of the Electricity Market Law (2001), the Natural Gas Market Law (2001), the Oil Market Law (2005), the Liquified Petroleum Gases Law (2005), and the Market Law (2005).
The plan estimates that the total investment required in the energy sector is more than $120 billion by 2020. Theoretically, privatization is supposed to help bring private investment on-side.
The public sector is stepping back from directly creating electrical capacity, wanting the private sector to take the lead. Since the passing of key privatization laws starting in 2001, 12,850 MW of new capacity has been generated between 2002 to 2009, 7,000 MW of which was due to private sector construction.
The ministry has also been moving toward deregulating the pricing model of the energy market. Free floating pricing has increased from nearly 30% of the electricity market in 2004 to 50% in 2009.
The ministry’s view of consumers is interesting here, integrating the language of liberal economics into their perception of what are persons, now identified as “natural or legal persons” (individuals or corporations). This has an impact on the emerging role of corporations as empowered legal person within the framework of a liberalized political and economic model, giving them many of the rights generally reserved for individual citizens under law. One of the main advantages posited here for consumers is the freedom to choose between various distributors, and it is assumed that this will lead to competition that will increase efficiency in generation and distribution, and also reduce prices. This assumption though has not led to this fact in many cases of partial or near full privatization around the world such as in Canada’s province of Ontario, and within the US, where prices have often increased and supply has not matched demand.
(2) Accessed May 13, 2010 http://www.dsi.gov.tr/english/service/enerjie.htm
(4) Ibid., p. 31.
(5) Ibid., p. 22.
The Strait of Hormuz is one of the world’s most important waterways. Some 40% of all seaborne oil passes through this narrow passageway, which is equivalent to about 20% of total oil traded worldwide. This amounts to 16.5 to 17 million barrels per day, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The strait is vital to the international economy; it is the access point to the heart of the world’s largest producers of oil, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE, and Iraq.
This very narrow waterway lies between Iran and Oman. It is about 34 km (21 miles) wide at its narrowest point. The strait is so shallow that oil tankers can effectively navigate only some 9.7 km (6 miles) of the width. According to Finian Cunningham, writing for Globalresearch.ca, 2 miles are reserved for traffic into the Gulf, 2 miles for traffic leading out, and 2 miles as a buffer zone between the two lanes.
Cunningham writes that “[u]nder international maritime law, Iran (along with Oman) has sovereign territorial rights over these waters. Iran has under United Nations law agreed to grant ‘innocent passage’ to ships through its waters provided there is no infringement of its security.”
In comparison to the Strait of Hormuz, other significant seaborne chokepoints for the transit of oil include the Suez Canal (4.5 million barrels per day), and the Strait of Malacca (15 million barrels per day). The Strait of Hormuz does not only see more transit of oil, but it is also the passage on which the other straights depend for much of their own traffic since most oil exported from the the energy abundant Gulf states are overwhelmingly reliant on Hormuz to access global markets.
More from the US Energy Information Administration:
In 2007, total world oil production amounted to approximately 85 million barrels per day (bbl/d), and around one-half, or over 43 million bbl/d of oil was moved by tankers on fixed maritime routes. The international energy market is dependent upon reliable transport. The blockage of a chokepoint, even temporarily, can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs.
The bulk of the Middle East oil passing through the Strait of Hormuz makes its way to Asia, the US, and Western Europe.
3/4 of Japan’s consumption of oil passes through the strait.
China, the world’s second largest oil consumer, sources over 70% of its imported oil from the Middle East, according to the People’s Daily.
India depends on the Middle East for nearly 74% of its imports of crude oil (2007-8).
South Korea received over 80% of its imported crude oil from the Middle East for the greater part of 2009.
The US imports about 24% of its crude oil from the Gulf (2008).
Iran, on Monday, informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it would pursue improved enrichment of uranium at one of its nuclear plants producing medical isotopes.
“Today we handed over the letter,” Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told Press TV.
He said Iran has asked the UN nuclear agency to dispatch its inspectors to the country to oversee the process of the 20 percent enrichment work.
…Soltanieh said Iran will use its nuclear stockpile to enrich uranium to up to 20 percent to supply the Tehran research reactor which produces medical isotopes.
Juan Cole, an expert on the Middle East, has written the following on his blog about the issue at hand:
The compromise Iran offered is that they would keep sending abroad a small portion of their low enriched uranium for another country to enrich to 19.75% for the medical reactor, on a rolling basis. Salehi is saying that Ahmadinejad’s announcement was meant primarily to force acceptance of this alternative. At the same time, on Saturday Ahmadinejad seemed to say that he would accept the deal offered by the US in October. US officials were understandably skeptical about this alleged softening of Tehran’s position, and Salehi on Monday seemed to suggest that Iran was making a push for the hard liners’ compromise.
US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spoke as though Iran’s announcement that it was going to try to make its own medical isotopes with low enriched uranium was tantamount to a weapons program. Gates said that if Iran did seem to be close to getting a nuclear warhead, it would provoke a nuclear arms race in the region. But it seems obvious that it is Israel’s stockpile of some 200 nuclear weapons that is driving the already-existing nuclear arms race in the region.
The US will probably seek further sanctions on Iran at the UN Security Council, this time on its banking sector. But there is a substantial possibility that China may protect Iran by vetoing any such new program of sanctions.
The following is Press TV’s exclusive interview with Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, on February 8 (this is an excerpt, read the full interview here):
Press TV: Iran’s formal announcement of enriching 20-percent uranium; great news for Iran. Can you give us more details?
Dr. Soltanieh: Yes, upon instruction of my government today, officially, I reflected to the agency the intention of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to start its nuclear enrichment activities of uranium up to 20%, I repeat up to 20%, in order to produce the required fuel for Tehran research reactor. This has been already officially delivered about 12 o’clock today Vienna time to the agency and then also in the evening. We received the acknowledgment of the letter and also in the letter I have invited the agency inspectors to be present as of tomorrow during this whole process, to show utmost transparency in our cooperation with the IAEA; then also in the acknowledgement letter this evening the agency informed us that the inspectors will be present and supervising the whole activity.
Press TV: If this capability was within Iran’s ability, why did it leave the option open for the West?
Dr. Soltanieh: Well, in fact, as you correctly said, we have in fact this capability, technological capability, because this is a fact that Iran has mastered the enriching technology but the government of Islamic Republic of Iran decided to open a window of opportunity for the others in order to enter into a new avenue, rather than confrontation, to come to cooperation, and while we receive the fuel for our research reactor within the framework of the IAEA the technical cooperation among member states will be enhanced.
Unfortunately, we waited so long, roughly about nine months, since I sent a letter to former [IAEA] director general, asking the agency to facilitate for this exchange of the fuel and receiving of the fuel. In fact, by coincidence, I am the same one that over 20 years ago, as ambassador to the IAEA at that time, wrote a letter to Director General Hans Blix, requesting the fuel for Tehran reactor and we finally had an agreement through the IAEA by Argentina we got the fuel and we paid for it. This time unfortunately, the potential suppliers put a condition. It means not only they wanted to receive the money but they wanted to receive the material which we have produced in Natanz. Now, again this was a test of the political will of parties concerned. During the negotiation, which was held 19th to 21st of October, and I had the honor to be in charge of the delegation and the negotiator, we in fact tried to show utmost flexibility. Therefore, we accepted and agreed to send the required material for the fuel outside. The only thing is, because of the past confidence deficit, we insisted on the modality which will give the guarantee that we will receive the fuel at the end of the day, and this was the best logical, technically-sound proposal that Iran made during that negotiation.
I have to remind you that after I wrote a letter to the director general and asked him to send to potential suppliers, the director general at the time Mr. Baradei only sent the letter of course to Russia and the US and they gave us a non-paper. In that non-paper, they gave this proposal that they wanted 1,200 kilograms to be sent to Russia for further enrichment and then further on, of course, France joined it in order to do fuel fabrication. That was, in fact the proposal of those countries. But, by mistake, during the last four months, in the media you have noticed that they are explaining that that was the Geneva proposal and those three countries accepted and Iran has not accepted that proposal. This is absolutely wrong, because that was the proposal of those three countries in fact. Therefore there was no surprise that they agreed with their own proposal. But our proposal was also on the table, which was very important as I explained to you: simultaneous exchange of LEU (low-enriched uranium) produced in Iran with the fuel which will be going to be produced outside. Simultaneous exchanges swap in Iran. It is that we are ready to show compromise to send the material out although we were not obliged to do so and get the fuel. Therefore the common denominator between these two proposals was that the material, the required material, the equivalent material, could be sent out. They should have welcomed this opportunity, but for the last eight months [or] more roughly close to nine months we have been desperately waiting and we tried not to in fact further elaborate for the media. We tried to let the diplomacy work. But, unfortunately, we have been disappointed that until now today there was no response to our proposal.
The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has recently released a report on the need for a policy in regards to Sri Lanka. The report, “Sri Lanka: Recharting US Strategy After the War,” indicates that the island nation is key to US strategic interests in the region.
“As Western countries became increasingly critical of the Sri Lankan Government’s handling of the war and human rights record, the Rajapaksa leadership cultivated ties with such countries as Burma, China, Iran, and Libya. The Chinese have invested billions of dollars in Sri Lanka through military loans, infrastructure loans, and port development, with none of the strings attached by Western nations. While the United States shares with the Indians and the Chinese a common interest in securing maritime trade routes through the Indian Ocean, the U.S. Government has invested relatively little in the economy or the security sector in Sri Lanka, instead focusing more on IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] and civil society. As a result, Sri Lanka has grown politically and economically isolated from the West,” states the US Senate report.
The report’s writers make a case for a shift in US policy by emphasizing the geostrategic importance of the island: “Sri Lanka is located at the nexus of crucial maritime trading routes in the Indian Ocean connecting Europe and the Middle East to China and the rest of Asia.
“[...]A more multifaceted U.S. strategy would capitalize on the economic, trade, and security aspects of the relationship. This approach in turn could catalyze much-needed political reforms that will ultimately help secure longer term U.S. strategic interests in the Indian Ocean. U.S. strategy should also invest in Sinhalese parts of the country, instead of just focusing aid on the Tamil-dominated North and East.”
About 80 percent of China’s oil passes through the waterways near Sri Lanka, most of India’s imports of oil pass through the Indian Ocean, and “three-quarters of all Japan’s oil needs pass through [the Straight of Hormuz],” one of the chokepoints into the region’s open seas.
Robert D. Kaplan has written a noted article in the Foreign Affairs journal indicating that “India’s and China’s great-power aspirations, as well as their quests for energy security, have compelled the two countries ‘to redirect their gazes from land to the seas,’ according to James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara, associate professors of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College. And the very fact that they are focusing on their sea power indicates how much more self-confident they feel on land. And so a map of the Indian Ocean exposes the contours of power politics in the twenty-first century.” Furthermore, “Already the world’s preeminent energy and trade interstate seaway, the Indian Ocean will matter even more in the future. One reason is that India and China, major trading partners locked in an uncomfortable embrace, are entering into a dynamic great-power rivalry in these waters—a competition that the United States, although now a declining hegemon, can keep in check by using its navy to act as a sea-based balancer.”
India continues to secure its naval presence by increasing its surveillance capability. A new listening post has reportedly begun to operate in Madagascar, linked with two other similar listening posts off of India’s west coast. The system will allow for surveillance of navies in large swaths of ocean from Africa’s east coast to India’s west coast. New Delhi considers the security of these lanes as vital to its economic health. Asia Times reports that “most of India’s trade is by sea,” and that, “nearly 89% of India’s oil imports arrive by sea.”
Another report released by the US, this one by Naval Intelligence, reviews Iran’s naval history and strategy: “Iran uses its naval forces for political ends such as naval diplomacy and strategic messaging. Most of all, Iranian naval forces are equipped to defend against perceived external threats. Public statements by Iranian leaders indicate that they would consider closing or controlling the Strait of Hormuz if provoked, thereby cutting off almost 30 percent of the world’s oil supply.” The document is titled ‘Iran’s Naval Forces‘.
Al Jazeera’s Inside Story hosts a discussion on Iran’s nuclear program and negotiations to-date. The program’s guests are Seyed Mohammad Marandi from Tehran University, Patrick Clawson from the Washington Institute, and nuclear physicist and consultant to the Oxford Research Group, Frank Barnaby, from London.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has release its latest report on Iran’s nuclear program. The report is dated 16 November 2009. Read it here.
The US is making concerted effort to revive plans for a 3,300 km long natural gas pipeline that stretches from the Caspian sea through Turkey to Austria. This Nabucco pipeline is still very much in its infancy, lacking adequate supply of natural gas as well as lacking transit rites through intermediary countries in order to become viable enough to start building. This pipeline could potentially provide energy from Central Asia, and the Caucasus to Europe, diversifying Europe’s supplies of natural gas.
Russia has so far successfully maintained its dominance over Europe’s energy markets. It has done this by outplaying the US under president Bush with the important energy producers of Central Asia, by sewing insecurity into existing Western energy routes through the region by strafing yet leaving undamaged the Baku-Tbilishi-Ceyhan pipeline during the short Russia-Georgia war, and by promising an alternative to Nabucco: South Stream.
South Stream is a proposed 900 km pipeline that would cross the Black Sea into Bulgaria and branch into Austria and Italy. It is still uncertain whether South Stream, Nabucco, or both might realize expectations of providing increased natural gas supply through to south eastern Europe.
US president Barack Obama last week appointed Richard Morningstar to head up Eurasian energy policy. MK Bhadrakumar writes in Asia Times that Morningstar, under president Clinton, successfully championed the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.
In 1998, Morningstar was quoted as saying that, “the fundamental objective of the US policy in the Caspian is not simply to build oil and gas pipelines. Rather it is to use those pipelines, which must be commercially viable, as tools for establishing a political and economic framework that will strengthen regional cooperation and stability and encourage reform for the next several decades.”
Bhadrakumar states that Morningstar has been very busy and pragmatic in his first week in office under president Obama. He has been trying to win a supply deal from gas rich Turkmenistan in order to transit that energy across the Caspian sea and through to Europe. He has also stated that the US would consider striking a deal with Iran for natural gas. It has even been suggested that some Western technology may be made available to Iran’s energy sector if a natural gas deal was concluded.
Talk of purchasing natural gas from Iran can well be a carrot in negotiations between the US and Iran on the latter country’s nuclear program. Also, the US has been seeking some degree of increased cooperation from Iran in order to stabalize Afghanistan. It was today announced that Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan officials plan to meet monthly in order to cooperate on security and stability in the region.
Having Iran join the proposed Nabucco pipeline would have that energy rich country enter into what would become an increasingly competitive market for European consumers, eroding Russia’s dominance.
The likelihood of Iran joining the Nabucco project is slim in the short-term. Tensions are still high between the US and Iran, and this proposal is likely to serve both as an incentive to Iran and as a display of how serious the US is about making the proposed pipeline a reality, thus bolstering the confidence of currently lackluster potential investors.
(First published at Rabble.ca)
I quickly gathered a series of maps of oil and natural gas pipelines that criss-cross Eurasia. Notice that some of the maps, though similar, don’t outline the same routes. This is because, some of the established routes are newly constructed and were not built at the time of the map’s inception. Also, some of the proposed lines vacillate between quite possible to unlikely to ever happen. This energy network is not yet fully established and is undergoing fairly rapid changes over the years. I hope, however, that these maps can provide a sense of the energy routes that span this multi-continent network.
A general view of existing and proposed pipelines based on geostrategic parties
Central Asia and surroundings
Eastern Europe and Caucasus
From the US government’s Energy Information Administration