US sanctions and the future of Turkish-Iranian energy ties

April 17, 2019

On paper, Turkey and Iran should be natural partners when it comes to energy. On the one hand, Turkey has a growing demand for oil and gas and lacks significant domestic resources, making it highly reliant on imports. On the other hand, Iran has huge hydrocarbons reserves — the world’s fourth largest for oil and second largest for gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In reality though, things are more complicated. Energy relations between the two countries are not without their challenges, foremost among which are U.S. sanctions on Iran and disputes over pricing, although there is also a strong opportunity for greater cooperation in the form of Turkey’s efforts to become a regional energy hub.

At present, Iran is one of Turkey’s leading suppliers of oil and gas. According to figures from the Turkish Energy Market Regulatory Authority (EMRA), as of January 2019, Iran was Turkey’s third-largest source of oil imports by volume, accounting for 12.35 percent of the total, behind Iraq (23.5 percent) and Russia (15 percent). It was also Turkey’s second-largest supplier of natural gas, accounting for just over 14 percent of the total, behind Russia (31.6 percent) and narrowly ahead of Azerbaijan (13.9 percent) and Algeria (12 percent).

U.S. sanctions
The reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran in October 2018 has presented an immediate and obvious hurdle to Turkish-Iranian energy ties. In the aftermath of the U.S. move, Turkey’s purchases of Iranian crude oil reportedly fell to zero, according to news reports. Since then, however, they have picked up again. Turkey was one of eight countries that received a temporary sanctions waiver enabling it to continue buying Iranian crude for a limited period of time, on the condition that it work to reduce its imports of Iranian oil and find alternative suppliers. The waivers are currently set to expire in May, and it is unclear as yet if the Trump administration will extend them. Nevertheless, the trend when it comes to oil imports from Iran is clearly downward: According to figures from EMRA, they fell by nearly half from January 2018 to January 2019, from 22 percent of total imports to 12.35 percent.

Pricing dispute
Pricing has long been a bone of contention between Turkey and Iran when it comes to energy. Under a 25-year agreement signed in 2001, Iran exports 10 billion cubic meters of gas annually to Turkey at a price of $507 per thousand cubic meters. Turkey first objected to Iran’s prices in 2009, when it said they were too expensive and demanded a discount. Soon after, an arbitration court granted Turkey a 12.5 percent discount on the original price. In 2012 Turkey took action against Iran again, suing it for overpricing on gas sales, and in 2016 the International Court of Arbitration (ICA) ruled against Iran in its dispute with Turkey. After reviewing the case, the ICA ordered Iran to reduce its gas prices by 13.3% by the end of 2016 and pay $1.9 billion in compensation to Turkey due to overpricing.

Iran’s gas prices are indeed much higher than those of its competitors, Azerbaijan and Russia, making it unlikely that Iran will be able to maintain its share of Turkey’s energy market unless it takes action. The current natural gas contract between the two countries is set to expire in 2026, and Turkey is planning to construct infrastructure to boost imports from Azerbaijan and Russia in regions of the country that primarily consume Iranian gas at present. Considering these factors, if Iran wants to maintain its role as a key natural gas exporter to Turkey and extend the existing contract past 2026, it will need to offer additional discounts or other incentives.

Turkey’s efforts to become a regional energy hub
One major potential opportunity for closer cooperation is Turkey’s ambitions of becoming a regional energy hub, leveraging the country’s geography and pipeline network to serve as an energy corridor between the oil-and-gas-rich states of Central Asia and the Middle East and the major consumer countries in Europe. If Turkey can put in place the required infrastructure and liberalize its energy market, this goal may be achievable, and energy imports from Iran could help it to realize this objective.

In line with its broader aim of becoming a regional energy hub, Turkey is working to diversify its oil and gas supplies as a central part of its energy policy. At present, the country is planning to import more natural gas through projects such as Turk Stream, an undersea gas pipeline running from Russia to Turkey. Liquefied natural gas (LNG), primarily from Qatar and the U.S., is also playing a growing role in the Turkish energy market. Imports from the latter jumped from nothing to nearly 8 percent of the total in just one year, from January 2018 to January 2019, according to figures from EMRA.

In theory, Iran could play a greater role here as well, but boosting the volume of Iranian gas exports to sell on to other countries would not be easy. Iran needs foreign technology and financing to increase its production, but due to U.S. sanctions neither is likely to be forthcoming until Iran can solve its problems with the West over its nuclear program, missile tests, and human right issues. In addition to addressing its geopolitical problems, Iran also needs a legal framework that would help to attract foreign investment. Without foreign energy firms and foreign capital, Iran will be not be able to produce more oil and gas for export. It will also need to address the issue of reliability, which has long been a problem with Iranian gas exports. If the country is to play a greater role as a supplier, it needs to guarantee that it will not cut the flow of gas, especially in wintertime.

Despite their proximity and complementarity as producer and consumer, Iran and Turkey face considerable, if not insurmountable, hurdles to closer cooperation on energy. If they can manage to overcome the challenges associated with U.S. sanctions and pricing and leverage the opportunities presented by Turkish efforts to become a regional energy hub, the two may well be able to finally make the most of what should be a natural partnership.

Omid Shokri Kalehsar is a Washington-based senior energy security analyst, currently serving as a visiting research scholar in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. Omid is a PhD candidate in international relations at Yalova University, Turkey. The views he expresses are strictly his own.

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Iranian, Saudi Interests Conflict in Iraq’s Energy Market

The lack of infrastructure for supplying electricity makes Iraq a battleground for energy between regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia

Energy suppliers are trying to use energy exports as a key factor in shaping foreign policy and their relations with neighbors and other countries. Iran and Saudi Arabia as two key members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have their own priorities and interests in the region. Their opposing interests have forced them to support opposing sides in regional tensions, such as in Syria and Yemen. U.S. sanctions against the Iranian energy sector have given an opportunity to OPEC and non-OPEC members to export more oil to the regional and world market to take Iran’s stake in the market.

Presently, Iran exports electricity to neighboring countries and according to Iran’s 20-year development, by 2025 they must prepare all the required infrastructure to become a regional electricity hub. Iraq is the biggest importer of Iranian electricity. Both countries signed an agreement in 2005 to export Iranian electricity to Iraq.

Iraq, with huge oil reserves, has a problem in generating the required electricity and must import from its neighbors. The Iraqi government can only supply 68 percent of its electricity in normal conditions. With increasing temperatures, especially in the summer, this ineffective capacity is severely reduced. Iraq faces a shortage of 5,000 megawatts (MW), although several power plants are under construction, but the electricity demand of the country is increasing by 7 percent annually. Since the first Gulf War in 1990, the power generation infrastructure has been abandoned in Iraq. This situation worsened after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. After the end of the Gulf War, Iraq tried to attract foreign technology and financial capital to recover oil production capacity and construct an electricity grid. The Daesh problem and its negative effect on Iraqi national security is another major factor that has led to Iraq becoming an electricity importer.

Iran and Iraq have signed an agreement over exporting 150 MW of electricity to Iraq annually. This agreement is extended every year. By Feb. 11, 2019, Iran extended electricity to Iraq for one more year. Iraq imports 120-130 MW annually. But due to sanctions and Iraq’s financial problems, Iraq was not able pay for importing electricity. According to Iranian officials, Iraq is interested in paying its debt and is looking for a way to send money to Iran. Homyon Hairi, deputy to the Iranian minister of energy, believes that, “There is a positive outlook in this regard, which is to be followed by joint executive working groups.”

Iran’s gas customers

Iraq and Turkey are Iran’s major natural gas buyers. Iraq began importing gas from Iran in late June 2017, with imports of about 14 million cubic meters per day, with Turkey importing about 30 million cubic meters a day. Iran plans to export 25 million cubic meters of gas daily to Baghdad and to transfer gas to Basra province.

As mentioned earlier, Iraq is unable to pay for electricity and natural gas from Iran. According to the latest statics released by the Iranian Ministry of Oil, Iraq must pay about $2 billion to Iran over natural gas and electricity imports. It is expected to solve this problem during Iranian President Hasan Rouhani’s visit to Iraq. Rouhani has shown interest in exporting more electricity to Iraq; though he has not mentioned the methods they may be able to agree upon in paying the electricity and natural gas debt to Iran. It seems both presidents have not agreed on this issue.

Last summer, Iran cut the electricity flow to Iraq due to high domestic consumption, according to Reza Ardakanian, Iran’s minister of energy. Iran’s neighboring country has a wide range of demands, partly through Iran’s transmission lines, adding: “We are in constant touch with Iraq, and just a few days ago, the Iraqi Minister of Electricity was here and talked to us.” Stopping the export of electricity from Iran has aggravated the problem of electricity in Iraq, causing massive street protests, especially in Shiite cities, against the central government as well as against Iran.

Iran cutting electricity provides an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to use energy investments in Iraq to increase its political influence. According to the spokesman for the Ministry of Electricity, Musab Sari al-Mudaris, Saudi Arabia has agreed to launch a solar power plant with a production capacity of 3,000 MW in northern Saudi Arabia near the Iraqi border, and each megawatt of electricity will be offered to Iraq at $21, which is equal to one-quarter of Iran’s electricity exports to Iraq. Saudi Arabia has not only put electricity prices at a quarter of Iran’s electricity prices but also exported three times more exports than Iran. Saudi Arabia continues to compete with Iran in the economic sphere by building a solar power plant in Iraq and selling electricity to that country.

After Rouhani’s visit to Iraq, Saudi Commerce and Investment Minister Majid bin Abdullah Al Qasabi visited Iraq and met with Iraqi officials. According to an official statement by the Iraqi president, Iraq is interested in establishing a mechanism for joint economic interests with regional countries, especially Saudi Arabia. Last year, the Iraqi government showed interested in developing and boosting its relations with Arab countries. Iraq and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement in 2017 to form a coordinating council.

Saudi Arabia is seriously trying to expand its ties with Iraq with the aim of limiting Iran’s influence in Iraq, with at least a counterbalance to it. Of course, the United States has also contributed to this strengthening of relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, especially as the United States, like Saudi Arabia, wants to reduce Iran’s influence in the region. But the point is that all this competition will be beneficial for Iraq.

The Saudi perspective

Saudi Arabia is pursuing its main goal by strengthening its ties with Iraq: First, the decline of Iran’s influence in Iraq, and the other in attracting Iraq to its Gulf-Qatari axis. Saudi Arabia has concluded that the policy that has taken place in Iraq since 2003 is wrong and that Iraq is a fundamental part of the Arab world’s geography.

Saudi Arabia and Iraq have not cooperated for more than 27 years, and Saudi Arabia is rapidly seeking to expand ties. In the sacred city of Najaf in Iraq, Saudi Arabia seeks to establish a consulate and have a rich presence among the Shiites as well. According to Iraqi officials, this consulate will be set up soon. Cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Iraq is at an early stage and in the meantime, meetings have been held at high levels in which Saudi Arabia has pledged a $100 billion investment in Iraq and to rebuild Sunni cities such as Fallujah, Ramadi, Tikrit and Mosul.

The Saudis have focused their efforts in the province of Basra, because this province is considered the richest Iraqi province. With the implementation of large projects in the province, the Saudis hope to compete with the Iranians or even overcome them.

Iraqi officials hope that Saudis will use their money in road construction projects and re-activate the Iraqi oil export pipeline to the

Red Sea, which has been closed since 1990.

A new alliance

For about six months, officials and senior officials from Saudi Arabia and Iraq have been meeting, and there are ongoing efforts to work together and reach a new alliance. Saudi Arabia is using investments in multiple countries’ infrastructure and energy sectors to boost its political influence in the country and also trying to affect foreign policy orientation. Saudi Arabia plans to invest in an area of 1 million hectares in the livestock and poultry industry of Iraq.

The Saudi initiative, described as an opportunity to confront the influence of Iran in Iraq, is the result of efforts by former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to balance ties with his neighbors. The project was initiated by the Saudi Arabian Cooperation Council and Iraq, which was founded in October 2017.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – on his visit to India, Pakistan and China – tried to use investments in these countries’ energy sectors to reduce Iran’s role in these countries’ energy basket and energy security. Iran and Saudi are Shiite and Sunni countries looking to expand their sphere of influence in the region. Iraq with both Sunni and Shiite people is very important for Iran and Saudi perspectives and it seems that in coming years both countries will be using all instruments to increase their presence in Iraq and reduce the influence of other countries in Iraq. Saudi Arabia, with huge financial capability, will be able to play an important role in Iraq post-Daesh. Iraq needs billions of dollars for construction post-Daesh and is an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to increase its influence. Iran never wants to lose its key role in Iraq and in Iraqi Shiite groups. Iran also wants to have a role in Iraq in the post-Daesh period.

Geopolitical competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia will continue in Iraq. Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries are seeking to increase their influence in Iraq, and new U.S. sanctions against the Iranian oil sector could provide such an opportunity. However, coping with Iranian influences from politics to trade is difficult.

//www.dailysabah.com

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Strategic Port Deal with US May Affect Iran-Oman Relations


The deal will improve the United States’ ability to develop power in the Persian Gulf. 

Oman has been able to steer clear of regional disputes in recent years and play a more balanced role in the Gulf while maintaining good relationships with both Iran and the United States.

However, US sanctions against the Iranian oil sector have challenged the bulk of Iran’s energy transit and export plans, including the Iran-Oman natural gas pipeline.

The United States and Oman have signed an agreement allowing Washington to use Omani ports for commercial, military and security purposes. The agreement gives US military forces better access to the Arabian Gulf and fewer ships will need to sail through the Strait of Hormuz.

The deal will improve the United States’ ability to develop power in the Persian Gulf. The port of Duqm is strategically located outside the Strait of Hormuz and is 550km from Muscat. It’s an ideal port for the development of the sector.

Iran expressed interest in using the same ports and has many times threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, which is a strategic oil shipment route, in response to hostile US actions.

The strait, a sensitive position in pipeline projects, has always been a source of conflict between Iran and the United States. In August 2018, the United States claimed full control over the oil and gas pipelines in the area and threatened to resort to force if Iran disrupted passage of ships from the area.

Regardless of the US presence in the region and the various deals signed with Arab countries, Iran’s ties with countries such as Oman remain strong and significant.

By the end of 2018, Iran-Oman trade volume totalled approximately $1 billion. The development of a maritime transport fleet between the two countries, the facilitation of visa issuance for Iranian and Omani nationals, the increase in Iranian companies in Oman and the more competitive prices of Iranian exports in Oman have improved relations between the parties.

In 2013, Iran and Oman signed a memorandum of understanding on natural gas exports. With Iran’s implementation, the gas pipeline ran directly from the Gulf to Oman.

The 25-year contract for the transfer of Iranian gas to Oman through the pipeline was worth $6 billion. Tehran and Muscat agreed to issue 1 billion cubic feet of gas per day from Iran to Oman. Part of the gas would be converted to liquid natural gas (LNG) in target markets. The remaining capacity of the pipeline would involve future markets in the southern Persian Gulf.

Iran and Oman have agreed to change the route and design of the Iran-Oman submarine pipeline to avoid crossing UAE territorial waters. Iran’s gas pipelines to Oman would pass through a depth of about 1,000 metres, instead of 300 metres, so its distance would be slightly shorter and doesn’t cross UAE territory.

Iran has five LNG projects but, because of sanctions, these projects are incomplete. Iran planned to use natural gas to export to Oman and use some of this natural gas to produce LNG in Omani facilities.

Even if the strategic agreement between the United States and Oman does not affect the Iran-Oman natural gas project, Iran will have a hard time completing its natural gas projects and oil production capacity recovery projects without solving its problems with the West over human rights abuses and missile programme development.
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Energy investment fuels Saudi relations with Pakistan, India and China

audi Arabia uses oil and broader energy diplomacy to deepen the influence and impact of its foreign policy. One key pillar of Riyadh’s strategy is to use investment in other countries’ infrastructure to take larger shares in foreign markets and to decrease market share for rival nations.

Energy diplomacy is the interaction between two or more countries interconnected by various power-production or consumption sectors, including one or more components of trade, services, investment, technology and energy transmission. 

This kind of diplomacy deepens informal links, improves relations between countries and global engagement, and, in addition to economic and technological dimensions, can also address political and security dimensions.

Iran-Saudi competition 

Iran and Saudi Arabia, two regional rival powers in the Middle East with huge oil and gas reserves, compete on a variety of issues; however, the main confrontation between Tehran and Riyadh is on one matter: each wants to be the superior political actor in the Middle East. 

Tehran and Riyadh have faced off in geopolitical confrontations in the region for decades, including the recent wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and over the presence of IS in the Middle East. The competing strategies have centred on weakening their rivals’ standing and stabilise their own position, investing in creating domestic and foreign political pressure on the rival country.

US sanctions

Iran’s largest export destination is primarily China, followed by the European Union, India and Turkey. In 2017, China imported an average of 700,000 barrels per day from Iran. China’s growing economy is dependent on oil imports – and focusing on energy sources is the primary objective of China’s National Energy Policy.

Between April and August 2018 India imported 658,000 barrels of oil per day from Iran


Before the US sanctions on Iran, Chinese companies were actively present in Tehran’s energy industry. Iran, meanwhile, had considerable involvement in China’s energy sector through providing reliable energy for rapid economic growth. As the partnership deepened, the Chinese firms strengthened their role as an influential actor in the Middle East energy market. 
India is Iran’s second-largest oil customer. Between April and August 2018 India imported 658,000 barrels of oil per day from Iran. India is also interested in getting more involved in Iran’s oil and gas exploitation and infrastructure projects.

Saudi investments

During a recent trip to Pakistan, which met with widespread praise from compliant Pakistani officials, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced Saudi Arabia’s willingness to “help” its economy. 

Saudi oil minister Khalid Faleh said he would invest $10 billion in oil refineries in the Gwadar Port on the Indian Ocean. Direct investment in Pakistan has declined by 17 percent in recent years, and the efforts of the Islamabad government to create interest among foreign investors in a direct presence in Pakistan have not had much effect. 

Foreign direct investment in Pakistan over the past seven months has fallen by $30 million compared with the same period last year. Pakistan’s economic situation gives Saudi Arabia an opportunity to influence Pakistani foreign policy and its relations with neighbours.

In 2014, Pakistan signed an agreement with Iran to import natural gas from the Islamic republic. But due to its financial problems, Pakistan is unable to construct a pipeline to import gas from Iran. India and Pakistan signed the TAPI project with the aim of importing natural gas from Turkmenistan. Saudi Arabia also showed interest in providing financial support for the TAPI project. 

All developments in the region show Riyadh is interested in playing a role in regional energy diplomacy and geopolitics.

Saudi Arabia has an active involvement in the Indian energy market and will use its investments to influence India’s foreign policy and reduce Iran’s role in the Indian energy market. In early 2018, Saudi Aramco held 50 percent of Indian refinery shares, with a value of $44 billion, and capacity to refine 60 million tons of crude oil a month. 

India is a major oil customers of both Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the two countries are working hard to get more from India’s energy market. Saudi Arabia has been planning a massive surge into south Asia, and has allocated cash from its $500 billion foreign investment fund to India. 

Aramco set up a new office in New Delhi to oversee its participation in the Indian energy market, and last year India invited Saudi Arabia to participate in the Strategic Reserves programme.

During MBS’ recent trip to New Delhi, his first official visit to India, it was announced Saudi Arabia would invest $100 billion in India over the next two years. Based on a $44 billion investment last year in the petrochemical sector, the $100 billion reported may not be far off reality. 

Could Saudi investments in Pakistan’s Gwadar port be a threat to Indian investment in the Chabahar port in the coming years?

China has major projects such as the one road belt and the sea silk route, which will increase the role of China in regional and global markets. The new Silk Road plan is designed to invest in the infrastructure of more than 60 countries and the development of two commercial routes, the Silk Road Belt and the Silk Road of the Sea, which were presented by China in 2013.

The construction of the oil pipeline from Gwadar to China will reduce the delivery time of oil from the current 40 days to just one week



By becoming a crucial point on the route, Gwadar will become an industrial hub for the region, easily accessible to Central Asia, Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa. 

Saudi Arabia also has geopolitical considerations in Gwadar. The construction of the oil pipeline from Gwadar to China will reduce the delivery time of oil from the current 40 days to just one week, and Saudi Arabia, like most other oil suppliers, is investing in oil and gas companies in the long term for oil refineries and petrochemicals.

When bin Salman visited China, the leaders of both countries emphasised the need to develop bilateral relations and signed no fewer than 35 economic cooperation agreements worth a total of $28 billion at a joint investment forum. 

Saudi Arabia’s Aramco, the world’s largest oil exporter, will sign a memorandum of understanding with China’s Norinko Corporation to build a refinery and petrochemical project in Panjin, northeast China. Aramco also plans to raise the minimum stock in Zhejiang’s petrochemicals. Zhejiang’s petrochemicals division is building a refinery and petrochemical complex in the eastern province of Zhejiang. 

These investments help Saudi Arabia regain its position as the world’s primary oil exporter to China. Saudi Arabia is also strengthening its market position by signing oil supply contracts with non-governmental Chinese refineries. Riyadh also wants to play an important role in China’s One Road One Belt project.

Saudi investment in the Pakistan, India and China energy sectors gives an opportunity to play a key role in these countries’ energy security. Riyadh will be able to increase oil exports to these countries, while an Iran under sanctions will be unable to play an important role. 

If the US doesn’t extend its waiver to major Iran oil buyers, it is likely that Iran’s biggest customers – mainly China and India – will look to Saudi Arabia.

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MBS in China, Saudi Arabia’s new shift to Asia

The political and economic developments in the Middle East region are always at the forefront of the great world powers, and each power, using the leverage of political relations and investment, seeks to increase its presence and influence in the region using infrastructure projects to reduce the presence of competitors in this strategic region.

Major powers are always willing to have energy supplies from oil and gas producing countries, or if they can achieve it, they will prevent the control of energy sources and the routes of energy transit by rival powers.

China is now, and in the face of increasing economic growth since the 1980s, seeking to play an important role in global developments. The Middle East is one of the areas where Chinese politicians have been keen to import a significant part of the demand for oil from the Middle East. In order to increase its role, China has major projects such as the “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) plan, which will increase the role of China in the regional and global balance of power. The new Silk Road plan is designed to invest in the infrastructure of more than 60 countries and the development of two commercial routes, the Silk Road Belt and the Silk Road of the Sea, which were presented by China in 2013.

Iran and Saudi Arabia as two main members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have always had a special place in China’s foreign policy. China has paid special attention to Iran and Saudi Arabia in the road and belt project. During Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MBS) recent visit to China, officials of the two countries emphasized strengthening relations between the two countries, strengthening the linkage between the two countries’ development strategies, increasing the level of cooperation in the design of the OBOR and noted the willingness of the two countries to adopt a common policy on regional and global issues from other summits.

Before MBS’s visit to China, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, along with Iran’s Minister of Petroleum Bijan Namdar Zanganeh and their Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, went to China. Zarif wrote about the visit of the Iranian delegation to China on Twitter, which was the main topic of the talks between the two countries, as “Iran’s role in creating a new silk road, as well as continued political, security and economic cooperation.”

 

During the visit, Zarif and Zanganeh discussed the future of China’s investment in South Pars Phase 11 as well as the continuation of China’s oil imports from Iran. The China National Petroleum Corporation’s (CNPC) withdrawal from South Pars has been a major concern for Iranian authorities, since Iran needs foreign capital and technology to increase its gas production capacity.

The framework of Larijani talks with Chinese officials was the political issues of the region and the fight against terrorism. During this trip, Chinese President Xi Jinping supported the “constructive role of Iran in maintaining peace and stability” in the Middle East and announced Beijing’s readiness to build close ties with Tehran on regional issues. The potential for cooperation between the two countries is high, but at present, the volume of trade between the two countries has fluctuated in recent years from $30 billion to $50 billion. The increase in trade between the two countries has been one of the issues raised by the two countries.

 

Tehran-Beijing Ties

 

The Chinese authorities assured Iran that MBS’s visit to China would not have any effect on Iran-China relations. Maintaining a balance in China’s relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia is of particular importance to Chinese politicians, because its energy security depends to a large extent on the oil coming from these two countries. Another important point is Iran’s influence on Shiite believers and Shiite groups in the region and the influence of Saudi Arabia on the Sunni block of the region has been, and remains, a concern of the Chinese government.

The policy pursued by the Chinese government against the Uighur minority should be arguably Saudi Arabia’s objection. Last week, the Turkish Foreign Ministry spoke of the Turkish government’s formal and strong stance on the Chinese government’s detention camps for the Uighur minority. It should be noted that while China has over 1 million people from the Uighur Muslim minority held in forced labor camps, the preservation of good relations between Riyadh and Beijing and the quest for a greater presence in the Chinese energy market seems to have been more of a concern for the Saudi government. Because of this, it has been silent about China’s policy towards the Uighur Muslim minority.

 

Joining Riyadh’s Program

 

During the visit, MBS called for China to participate in the 2030 Arabian program. Saudi Arabia’s 2030 program focuses more on renewable energy and reduces its dependence on oil exports. Saudi Arabia is leveraging investment to reduce Iran’s role as its competitor. They have been using the energy market in India, and if they want to do so, will not lose sight of this leverage to reduce China’s oil imports from Iran. Although Iran can also maintain its share in the Chinese oil market by offering special discounts to Chinese customers and also insurance on Iranian oil tankers. In previous years, Saudi Arabia has been demanding a boost to its European market by offering a discount to some Iranian oil customers. The competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the market for China’s energy will surely be in the interest of China and bring the country the necessary oil under convenient and affordable conditions.

 

Ready to Buy

 

Saudi cartels have always been a favorite of Saudi officials. Saudi officials are ready to buy Chinese drills, Saudi Arabia’s consumer market is a good destination for luxury goods and expensive Chinese companies, and Chinese companies want a more active presence in all commercial and infrastructure sectors of the country. Project 2030 presents an opportunity; it’s a good place for Chinese companies, because Saudi Arabia’s shadow boom does not threaten them. The U.S. sanctions have, despite the potential of all industrial sectors in Iran, prevented Chinese companies from investing in the current situation in Iran. As expected, Saudi Arabia and China signed a $10 billion energy deal during the crown prince’s visit. Under this contract, the Aramco State Oil Company and China’s Norinko Corporation have signed a $10 billion contract to build a refinery and a petrochemical complex in the city of Punjin in northeastern China.

 

After the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and Saudi Arabia’s isolation internationally, MBS’s travels to four Asian countries can signal the importance of Asia in its new foreign policy. Iranian and Saudi officials traveling simultaneously to Beijing indicates that Iran and Saudi Arabia are calling for China’s support in regional and global equations. Given the tensions in relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia in recent years, China can also serve as a mediator for the normalization of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

 

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Iran-Gulf Energy Relations in the Time of Trump Sanctions

Analysis: Iran could easily export cheap gas to GCC nations, but only if it improves political relations with arch-enemy Saudi Arabia,

Over the past two years, Iran has bolstered its relations with several Arab countries as the Gulf crisis has deepened.

While the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] has in the past tried to present a unified, timely and relevant response to regional developments, these attempts are sometimes individualised by the actions of a member nation.

Iran’s relationship with every member of the GCC is different. Oman, the closest country to Iran among GCC members, maintains its warm political relationship with Tehran in a relatively predictable direction.

Iran-Oman relations faced few challenges either before or after the 1979 revolution. Oman’s policy of establishing close and positive relations with Iran, and a constant emphasis on the development of relations in all political, economic and cultural fields, has led Tehran and Muscat to recognise each other as strategic partners in the Middle East.

Oman also played a mediation role in Iran’s nuclear talks with the P5+1 countries and hosted several rounds of dialogue between Iranian and US foreign ministers.

Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, have built steadily during the Hassan Rouhani era. They have mutually exclusive interests in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The attack on Saudi diplomatic sites in Tehran and Mashhad also enflamed tensions more than ever.

In Iraq, since the fall of Saddam, Iran’s influence has grown significantly. Along with Iran’s allies in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, Tehran’s regional expansionism has grown and alarmed Riyadh, which is fearful that growing Iranian influence comes at the expense of its own regional power.

Saudi Arabia has used the current tranche of US sanctions against Iran to produce more oil and take Tehran’s share of the world market. Riyadh is also trying to use its investments in major buyers of Iranian oil, such as India, to persuade them to reduce Iran’s role in their energy markets.

The GCC has always viewed the Islamic Republic of Iran as a fundamental threat to its existence, and from the outset, has taken a hostile attitude towards Iran.

Meanwhile, facing the collapse of the nuclear deal and the new sanctions, Iranian officials have declared they are “ready and interested” to develop bilateral relations with Iran’s neighbours, mainly the GCC.

 

Leveraging energy resources 

Iran’s geopolitical importance is in no small way connected to the existence of huge energy reserves, drawing the attention of global powers to the region. This, along with the strategies of other regional and global powers, largely shapes the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic.

Iran’s main objective is to promote its regional status – and the biggest obstacle to achieving this is the strong US military presence in the region.

Regionalism as a main factor in Iranian foreign policy gives an opportunity for Iran to expand relations with the GCC. Iran, with huge oil and gas reserves, can be an energy supplier (mainly of natural gas) to some GCC members such as Oman, the UAE and Kuwait.

Given the fact that the Gulf countries are Iran’s top priority for gas exports, after negotiations with Oman, there is now the possibility of adding Kuwait to Iran’s list of gas customers.

Ali Reza Kamali, the former CEO of Iran’s Gas Export Company, said the current survey of Iran’s first gas exports showed it would only require the construction of a 200 kilometre pipeline to reach the markets of Oman, Kuwait, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Iraq.

While in recent years these countries have been believed to have little need for oil imports, they have little in the way of gas – except for from Iran.

If Iran does increase its gas production capacity, there is a possibility of export to the Gulf. Although initial talks for Iranian gas exports to Kuwait have not yet been finalised, the operation of the Iranian gas pipeline to Iraq could provide the foundations for the necessary physical infrastructure to provide gas onwards to Kuwait.

This means the technology and personnel to export gas through Iraq to Kuwait is largely already in place, and this programme could become operational not long after a contract is signed.

Although countries such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE do have gas resources, these consist mainly of gas with oil, and they do not have independent gas reserves. These countries are also focused on oil production.

Hamidreza Aragi, the director of Iran’s National Gas Company said that if gas contracts between Iran and neighbouring countries were signed, the security of the countries of the region would be tightly linked.

In terms of economics, politics, population, history of the formation and influence of Saudi Arabia in the Arab world, Saudi Arabia has long sought to expand its influence within the GCC as its most important member.

To enter a new era in Iran’s relations with the Council, both sides would need to be able to shift their concerns towards tangible diplomatic achievements. Iran has also to be more active in foreign diplomacy in order to eliminate problems with its neighbours.

 

To enter a new era in Iran’s relations with the Council, both sides would need ti  be able to shift their concerns towards tangible diplomatic achievements

 

Iran still has huge potential in the petrochemical sector, and exporting more petrochemicals may provide an alternative to exporting LNG while oversupply lowers the value of the LNG market.

Recent political tensions in the region have affected natural gas agreements with Iran’s neighbours, with energy experts believing political tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have an overall negative effect on Iran’s ability to conduct business over natural gas agreements with other Arab nations.

Iran enjoys good political and economic relations with Oman; however, foreign factors have delayed the project of Iranian-Omani natural gas pipeline at the planning phase.

Iran should try to reduce tensions with Saudi Arabia to a manageable level, as the relations between Iran and the Gulf Cooperation Council depend on Iran’s relations with Riyadh.

History has shown that ties between the Gulf Cooperation Council and Iran have improved as relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia improve.

/www.alaraby.co.uk

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