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Ed Webb

US-Russia confrontation could drift to Mideast - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 1 views

  • The Middle East offers many opportunities for Putin to combine business with pleasure in challenging the United States. Consider its tumultuous strategic environment: a civil war in Syria, a potential civil war in Libya, ongoing political instability in Egypt and Iraq, simmering violence in Yemen, and political uncertainty almost everywhere else. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are deeply engaged in Syria’s war, as are Iran and Hezbollah. Saudi Arabia and Egypt (among others) are frustrated with the United States — the former over Syria and the latter over America’s intervention in its complex politics, where Washington seems to have been on almost every side at one point or another and has consequently alienated almost all sides. Uncertainty about Iran’s intentions further complicates all of this, as does a weakened relationship between the United States and Israel (where Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman appears to be one of Putin’s closer personal contacts among foreign officials). Meanwhile, China has surpassed the United States as the largest buyer of Middle East oil even as broader China-Middle East trade soars. Expanded Russian arms sales — or new Russian nuclear power plants — may only further destabilize the region.
  • Saudi Arabia and Syria are Russia’s principal security concerns in the Middle East; Moscow’s pre-eminent security interest is in minimizing its own domestic terrorism problem, which means supporting a strong Syrian government that can crack down on extremists and discouraging Saudi and other financial support, whether official or otherwise, for al-Qaeda-connected opposition groups in Syria and extremists in the former Soviet Union. Russia has long viewed Saudi Arabia and Qatar as key sources of support for Chechen militia groups and two Russian operatives were convicted in Qatar in 2004 for assassinating former Chechen leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiev to cut short his fund-raising activity there.
  • The Kremlin’s position as a veto-wielding permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and its resulting place at the table in the P5+1 process, have been an enduring source of international visibility and influence only recently surpassed by Russia’s Syria role. Moscow also appreciates Iran’s restraint in the former Soviet region and, as a result, sees it as a valuable partner in managing Saudi Arabia. Fundamentally, however, some Russian officials have a conflicted attitude toward Iran, in that they welcome diplomacy as an alternative to US-led war or regime change, but are not especially eager for a US-Iran rapprochement that could undermine Tehran’s interest in their relationship.
Ed Webb

Veteran US diplomat tackles Middle East 'mess' - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • Al-Monitor:  In the old days, the Iranians and the Saudis used to talk to each other and resolve issues. Now, this is a missing piece.

    Patterson:  It goes back 20 years [to Lebanon]. This is a missing piece. And so the proxy war has gotten a lot worse and you see it all over now in frankly scary dimensions. But it wasn’t that long ago when they had some kind of relationship. … They never liked each other, but they weren’t at this level of animosity.

  • Al-Monitor:  There have been some incredibly anti-American statements lately in Egypt. [Former parliament member and current Al-Osboa editor] Mustafa Bakri openly called last week for attacks against Americans. What are we doing to counter this?

    Patterson:  We complain to the government. Mr. Bakri did sort of back off that statement. But now there has been a rash of hugely anti-American stuff in the press. This ebbs and flows, … [but] it’s really a quite dangerous game, because you fan up public opinion and then you’re hostage to public opinion.

  • Al-Monitor:  Let’s turn to Egypt. General, now Field Marshal [Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi seems on his way to becoming Egypt’s next president. How would you characterize our relationship with him and the Egyptian government at this point?

    Patterson:  Personal relationships with him have been good — certainly with ambassadors, including me and with [Defense] Secretary [Chuck] Hagel and with Secretary Kerry and a lot of people on the Hill. But it’s certainly no secret that we’re concerned about freedom of the press, freedom of association, all the fundamentals that are being thrown into question right now in Egypt, not to mention the huge economic issues.

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  • It’s like 1979. The Arab Spring has changed the situation entirely in the region all at once. … It looks like a mess … but if some of this can be successful, … it will change the chessboard. … So let’s hold out hope that some of this will work.
Ed Webb

GCC to form unified military command - Al Arabiya News - 0 views

  • The Gulf Cooperation Council has approved the formation a unified military command structure, announcing the move in a closing statement of a two-day annual Gulf summit held in Kuwait City on Wednesday.

    The bloc also agreed on the formation of a unified police force, to protect the six-member council from security threats posed to the region.

  • On Iran, the Gulf states hailed the Islamic Republic's "new orientation" in recent nuclear talks.

    The monarchies said they "welcome the new orientation by the Iranian leadership towards the Gulf Cooperation Council and hope it will be followed by concrete measures that would positively impact regional peace."

  • summit follows a rare public spat between bloc leader Saudi Arabia and Oman over Riyadh's proposal to upgrade the GCC into a union -- 32 years after its establishment
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  • Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi said Oman “will simply withdraw” from the body if the five other GCC members - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar - decide to form a union.
Ed Webb

Saudi officials sweep the streets. Labour shortages and random arrests in crackdown on ... - 0 views

  • it appears that some over-zealous inspectors may be rounding up foreigners on the mere suspicion of working illegally – contrary to the assurances given by officials when the crackdown began.

    In Makkah, a police spokesman appeared to admit that random arrests were taking place when he said the campaign in the city was focusing "on main squares and public places" and well as places that had previously been identified by investigators.

    Some members of the public have also joined in, raising fears of community-based violence directed at migrants. Yesterday Tawakkol Karman, Yemen's Nobel Peace Prize laureate, posted a photo on her Facebook page (below) which is said to show a Saudi man attempting to detain a Yemeni expatriate while waiting for police to arrive.

  • it appears that some over-zealous inspectors may be rounding up foreigners on the mere suspicion of working illegally – contrary to the assurances given by officials when the crackdown began.

    In Makkah, a police spokesman appeared to admit that random arrests were taking place when he said the campaign in the city was focusing "on main squares and public places" and well as places that had previously been identified by investigators.

    Some members of the public have also joined in, raising fears of community-based violence directed at migrants. Yesterday Tawakkol Karman, Yemen's Nobel Peace Prize laureate, posted a photo on her Facebook page (below) which is said to show a Saudi man attempting to detain a Yemeni expatriate while waiting for police to arrive.

  • it appears that some over-zealous inspectors may be rounding up foreigners on the mere suspicion of working illegally – contrary to the assurances given by officials when the crackdown began.

    In Makkah, a police spokesman appeared to admit that random arrests were taking place when he said the campaign in the city was focusing "on main squares and public places" and well as places that had previously been identified by investigators.

    Some members of the public have also joined in, raising fears of community-based violence directed at migrants. Yesterday Tawakkol Karman, Yemen's Nobel Peace Prize laureate, posted a photo on her Facebook page (below) which is said to show a Saudi man attempting to detain a Yemeni expatriate while waiting for police to arrive.

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  • it appears that some over-zealous inspectors may be rounding up foreigners on the mere suspicion of working illegally
  • fears of community-based violence directed at migrants
  • The crackdown has caused a shortage of workers in the construction industry which is said to be driving up labour costs by 
    as much as 30%. Recruiting new workers to fill the vacancies is a long and complicated business because of the kingdom's labour laws.

    Small construction firms have been especially hard-hit and 40% of them have now stopped operating, according to Khalaf al-Otaibi, president of the World Federation of Trade, Industry and Economics in the Middle East. Otaibi also pointed out that small and medium-sized firms account for about 75% of Saudi Arabia's construction industry.

  • About 300,000 Sudanese living in Saudi Arabia are facing deportation, according to reports from Khartoum. 

    The Sudanese government says it has no intention of helping them because it is too busy dealing with its own economic problems.

Ed Webb

UPDATE 1-Saudi spy chief says Riyadh to shift away from U.S. over Syria, Iran | Reuters - 0 views

  • Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief has said the kingdom will make a "major shift" in dealings with the United States in protest at its perceived inaction over the Syria war and its overtures to Iran, a source close to Saudi policy said on Tuesday.

    Prince Bandar bin Sultan told European diplomats that Washington had failed to act effectively on the Syria crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was growing closer to Tehran, and had failed to back Saudi support for Bahrain when it crushed an anti-government revolt in 2011, the source said.

    It was not immediately clear if Prince Bandar's reported statements had the full backing of King Abdullah.

    "The shift away from the U.S. is a major one," the source close to Saudi policy said. "Saudi doesn't want to find itself any longer in a situation where it is dependent.

  • he suggested that the planned change in ties between the energy superpower and its traditional U.S ally would have wide-ranging consequences, including on arms purchases and oil sales
Ed Webb

40 years after the oil crisis: Could it happen again? - 1 views

  • Forty years ago today, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) voted to raise the posted price of their oil by 70 percent.  The next day, several Arab oil producers decided to impose an embargo on oil sales to the United States to punish it for supporting Israel in the unfolding Yom Kippur War.  While the two decisions were not formally linked, policymakers have worried ever since that OPEC could again restrict the global supply of oil.

    A lot has changed since 1973.  Oil embargoes used to happen fairly frequently: There was one in 1956, and another in 1967.  Until 1973, they didn’t attract much attention.  But due to structural changes in the oil market in the early 1970s, the one in 1973 had a huge impact.  Since that time, there hasn’t been a single international embargo. (The current sanctions against Iran are an importers’ boycott, not an exporters’ embargo.)  What happened?

  • Even without an embargo, policymakers worry that OPEC manipulates the oil market. For example, James Woolsey, a former CIA director and self-proclaimed energy hawk, argues that OPEC has a grip on global oil and gasoline prices so tight that the U.S. will never be free of its influence.  Like most people, Woolsey wrongly believes that OPEC is a powerful cartel. Many economic studies cast doubt on that idea, but there are still some scholars who support the proposition.

    OPEC rarely if ever influences its members’ oil production rates.  It has almost no impact on prices.  My research looked at OPEC’s behavior since 1982, when it first adopted formal production quotas for its members.  I found that joining OPEC has little influence on new members’ oil production rates; members cheat on their quotas a whopping 96 percent of the time; changes in OPEC quotas have little impact on changes in production; and members of OPEC produce oil at about the same rate as non-members of the group, all else equal.  Any of these findings would cast doubt on OPEC’s status as a cartel; collectively they are damning.

  • Most OPEC members – from Venezuela to Nigeria to Iraq – are pumping their oil as fast as they can, with no spare capacity
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  • OPEC is a political club.  It perpetuates a “rational myth” about its cartel power to generate political benefits and prestige for its members, both at home and abroad.  As long as OPEC is viewed as powerful, its leaders can falsely claim credit at home for “managing the economy.”
  • the world would be better off if it stopped assuming that OPEC drives world energy markets.  It does not.  Most of the credit or blame for rising oil prices in recent years rests with the energy demands of Asian customers, not diabolic moves by OPEC
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