Energy superpowers Saudi Arabia and Russia on Monday signed a key deal to bolster cooperation among the world’s oil giants, as visiting President Vladimir Putin sought to defuse political tensions in the Gulf.
Putin’s visit follows attacks on Saudi oil installations that Riyadh and Washington have blamed on Moscow ally Tehran.
At a ceremony in Riyadh, Putin and his host, Saudi King Salman, penned a string of multi-million-dollar investment contracts targeting the aerospace, culture, health, advanced technology and agriculture sectors.
Key among the deals was the agreement to bolster cooperation among the so-called OPEC+ countries — the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries plus 10 non-members of the cartel.
Moscow is not a member of OPEC, but it has worked closely with the group to limit supply and push up prices after a 2014 slump that wreaked havoc on the economies of Russia and cartel heavyweight Saudi Arabia.
Monday’s deal seeks to “reinforce cooperation … and strengthen oil market stability”, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said at the signing ceremony.
Putin said “Russia attaches particular importance to the development of friendly, and mutually beneficial ties with Saudi Arabia”.
King Salman told Puting “we look forward to working with Your Excellency on everything that will bring security, stability and peace, confront extremism and terrorism and promote economic growth”.
– Role of ‘peacemaker’ –
Moscow and Riyadh, a traditional US ally, have made a striking rapprochement in recent years, marked in particular by King Salman’s first visit to Russia in October 2017.
A year later, when the Saudi crown prince, known as MBS, was under fire over the assassination of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, Putin went out of his way to shake his hand at a G20 summit, to much comment.
In an interview with Arabic-language television channels ahead of his visit, Putin praised his good relations with the Saudi royals.
“We will absolutely work with Saudi Arabia and our other partners and friends in the Arab world… to reduce to zero any attempt to destabilise the oil market,” he said in the interview broadcast Sunday.
Russian political analyst Fyodor Lukyanov said that Moscow, with its older ties to Iran and new links with Saudi, could “play the role of peacemaker” as tensions soar between Tehran and Riyadh.
These tensions spiked last month after the attacks on Saudi oil facilities that halved the kingdom’s crude output and set oil markets alight.
Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels claimed responsibility. But US officials blamed Tehran, charging that the rebels did not have the range or sophistication to target the facilities.
Tehran has denied involvement and warned of “total war” in the event of any attack on its territory.
Russia has sought to keep a foot in both camps, offering missiles to Riyadh to defend itself, while at the same time warning against “hasty conclusions” regarding Iran’s alleged involvement.
Last week an Iranian tanker was hit by suspected missile strikes off the coast of Saudi Arabia, sparking fresh fears of war.
– Syria war –
Kremlin adviser Yuri Ushakov said Syria’s eight-year-old war would also feature in the leaders’ talks on Monday.
Russia and Iran back President Bashar al-Assad, while the Saudis support the opposition seeking his ouster.
But “it is important for Russia that an Arab country participates in the political settlement in Syria,” said Lukyanov.
For now “only three non-Arab countries” — Turkey, Russia and Iran — are hosting talks, the analyst added.
In terms of business, the visit is expected to result in around 30 agreements and contracts, according to Ushakov.
A dozen of these, in the advanced technology, energy and infrastructure sectors, will be signed by the Russian sovereign wealth fund and are worth around $2 billion.
In October 2017, Russia and Saudi Arabia also signed a memorandum of understanding paving the way for Riyadh’s purchase of Moscow’s powerful S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems.
The sale never materialised, however, as Saudi Arabia eventually opted to purchase a US system.
After Saudi Arabia, Putin will travel to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday to meet the powerful crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
Turkey is telling the U.N. Security Council that its military offensive into northeast Syria was launched in exercise of its right to self-defense under the U.N. Charter.
In a letter to the council circulated Monday, Turkey said it is countering an “imminent terrorist threat” and ensuring the security of its borders from Syrian Kurds, which it calls “terrorists,” as well as the Islamic State extremist group.
Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters celebrate in Akcakale, in Sanliurfa province advance, after entering over the border from Tal Abyad, Syria, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Cavit Ozgul)
Since 2014, the Kurds have fought alongside the U.S. in defeating the Islamic State in Syria.
The fast-deteriorating situation was set in motion last week, when U.S. President Donald Trump ordered American troops in northern Syria to step aside, clearing the way for an attack by Turkey, now in its sixth day. Trump’s move was decried at home and abroad as a betrayal of an ally.
Turkey’s U.N. Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu said in the letter to the Security Council dated Oct. 9 that its counter-terrorism operation will be “proportionate, measured and responsible.”
Iran’s president is urging Turkey to halt its military offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria.
Speaking at a press conference Monday, Hassan Rouhani: “We do not accept the method that they have chosen.” Turkey says it’s fighting to clear border areas of Syrian Kurdish fighters, which it considers to be terrorists because of their links to Kurdish militants in Turkey.
While Iranian authorities have previously expressed opposition to the Turkish offensive, now in its sixth day, this was Rouhani’s first direct comment.
Iran and Russia have allied with the Syrian government in the country’s eight-year war. Syrian troops abandoned the northeast to Syrian Kurdish-led forces in 2012.
The Kurds had allied with the U.S. to fight the Islamic State group. But after American troops moved aside in northern Syria, clearing the way for the attack by Turkey, the Kurds struck a deal with the Syrian government for assistance.
Boris Johnson’s government is reportedly preparing to ask the European Union for a fresh Brexit delay “in all circumstances” as hopes of the United Kingdom and Brussels agreeing and ratifying a new deal by this month’s Brexit deadline begin to fade.
The pound surged last week when UK prime minister Johnson and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar announced they could now see a “pathway” to a deal.
The prime minister hopes to agree a deal this week before putting it to a House of Commons vote on Saturday.
However, more detailed talks between London and Brussels appear to have slowed with Buzzfeed News reporting that the UK government was now preparing for Brexit to be delayed beyond its current deadline of October 31, even if an outline of a deal can be agreed this week.
Johnson has proposed a new system for customs between Northern Ireland, Ireland, and the rest of the United Kingdom, in order to prevent a hard border on the Island of Ireland. This, in theory, would allow goods to move over the Irish border freely and without the need for customs checks.
However, while the EU is willing to discuss the proposal, officials in Brussels reportedly believe it does not go far enough, relies upon untested technologies, and will take weeks to flesh out.
The EU has highlighted a handful of problems with Johnson’s proposals, according to Tony Connelly, Europe editor at Irish publication RTE.
Under Johnson’s plan, goods that go from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and stay in Northern Ireland will be charged the EU tariff, meaning importers must claim for rebates if the UK tariff the correct charge is lower.
However, the EU believes the rebate system is complex and could take years to design, Connelly reports. The EU is also waiting for the UK to explain how goods will be tracked under these proposed arrangements.
An EU diplomatic source quoted in The Guardian newspaper said it would now be “impossible” for the UK to leave on October 31 with a “totally new concept” such as the new proposals put forward by Johnson over the weekend.
The question marks over the UK proposals mean that even if Johnson and other EU leaders agree a deal at the European Council summit this week, the latter will likely conclude it cannot be delivered by October 31.
Johnson has repeatedly insisted that the UK will leave the EU on October 31 and said he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask EU leaders to delay Britain’s exit again.
However, under the terms of the Benn act passed by members of Parliament last month, the prime minister is compelled by law to request another extension to Article 50 if he cannot secure a deal by the end of this week.
Iran said on Monday President Hassan Rouhani will not meet with U.S. President Donald Trump at the United Nations, a day after the White House left open the possibility of talks between them.
“Neither is such an event on our agenda, nor will it happen. Such a meeting will not take place,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in remarks carried by state TV.
Iranian officials have repeatedly rejected a meeting and any talks with Washington while Iran is subject to sanctions, which Trump re-imposed after withdrawing last year from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear accords with world powers.
The USS Abraham Lincoln carrier and a U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress, conduct joint exercises in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in Arabian sea on June 1.
Iran earlier condemned as “unacceptable” U.S. accusations it was behind an attack on Saudi oil plants, after the United States said it was “locked and loaded” for a potential response . The strikes were claimed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels.
“Stopping all sanctions is an indispensable precondition for constructive diplomacy. We hold meetings when we are sure that our people’s problems can be solved,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei said, according to the semi-official news agency Tasnim.
“Sanctions must be lifted, and the United States must respect the Iranian nation,” Rabiei said.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said on Sunday the previous day’s attacks “did not help” prospects for a meeting between the two leaders during the United Nations General Assembly this month, but she left open the possibility a meeting could take place.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed that Democrat Dan McCready “won the campaign” in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.
McCready lost the special election to Republican State Sen. Dan Bishop by roughly 2%, but Democrats took solace in how close the election was. President Donald Trump won the district in 2016 by around 12% over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“I’m very proud of Dan McCready. He’s a great patriot. He’s an independent voice for the district that he would have represented,” Pelosi said. “It’s too bad he’s not coming here. But he did a great job.”
Pelosi noted the difference between McCready’s performance and the performances of recent Democratic presidential nominees in the district.
“So he won the campaign,” Pelosi said. “He didn’t win the election, but he won the campaign.”
The New York Times on September 10 ran six articles with the word Trump in the headlines. Two of the stories were clearly warranted – one on Trump’s continuing resolve to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, and one on the way the commerce department played along with Trump’s false message about the Alabama destination of the recent hurricane. The other stories were tabloid-fodder.
Then midday September 10 came the news that John Bolton had been sacked. That deserved a story, so it was fair to predict the Times would run three: one on the event, one on the history of a memorable relationship, and one on “possible consequences.”
The Times on September 11 ran four stories on Bolton. News analysis on page one, by Michael Crowley and Lara Jakes, opened with this sentence: “On one foreign policy issue after another, John R. Bolton was the in-house skeptic who checked President Trump’s most unorthodox instincts.” The word unorthodox is doing a lot of work there. It would be truer to say that Trump cut down Bolton’s most dangerous initiatives: for example his idea of starting a war with Iran by an immediate violent retaliation after the bloodless downing of a US surveillance drone.
Was John Bolton a “skeptic”? An “adult in the room”? Bolton’s best-known policies have been to bomb Iran and replace the Mullahs with a US puppet government; turn Venezuela into an American oil well; exit the UN; and start World War III soon while the US can win (if we don’t tie our hands). And meanwhile withdraw from none of the following countries: Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan.
In an administration pledged to withdraw from unnecessary wars, why is the US still in Afghanistan? Why have we pulled out of the INF treaty? Why are there more trip-wires than ever to set off a war with Iran in the Persian Gulf, or with Russia in Eastern Europe? These are the strategic triumphs of John Bolton.
Bolton was originally appointed by Trump at the request of the casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. It was Bolton’s advocacy of Israeli expansion, and his detestation of the very idea of a Palestinian state, that prompted both Adelson and Benjamin Netanyahu to recommend him as the the best choice for Trump’s third national security adviser. His sacking in turn was effected on schedule to coincide with Netanyahu’s sinking popularity in Israel. The name of Adelson goes unmentioned in all the Times articles.
It appears that anyone (no matter how devious and reckless) who opposes Donald Trump can now expect to be rewarded with the honorific title “skeptic” – a word often used in the past to describe a doubter rather than a fanatical supporter of an insane orthodoxy.
We are through the looking glass.
David Bromwich teaches at Yale and is the author most recently ofAmerican