In the negotiations to somehow prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the country has been treated with rather more deference than is warranted. This might well be one of the reasons:
The Saudi government is particularly sensitive about Shiite autonomy because the minority is concentrated in the oil-rich Eastern province, and any unrest or effort at secession might devastate Saudi oil production. A year after the war in Iraq, the Saudi regime has reached out to Shiite leaders.
“Things are really better than before. And Saudi Shia are ready for more and more,” said King Saud University professor A.A. Abdul Hai, a Shiite recently appointed to a new state-sponsored human-rights commission. “It is a natural thing that the majority should get their share of things, but at the same time that does not mean they deny the rights of the minority.”
Iranian agents are busy in Southern Iraq already, doing their best to stir up trouble among the Shia there, as the British found out to their sorrow in Basra. If they now can rile up the Saudi Shiites, and sabotage the Saudi oil production significantly, Iran would effectively be the only major oil supplier left in the region. They would increase their oil revenues by a huge margin, and at the same time make oil a much more effective weapon in their arsenal. On top of that it would make the threat of using the oil weapon much more credible than before, for sharply inflated prices would make it possible for them to reduce output, or to pick and choose whom to sell oil to, and to whom not. Oil may be fungible, but in case of a real shortage that won’t help any.
Saudi Arabia, among many others, wants to avoid this outcome, so they are making concessions to their Shiite minority, as indicated in the article. A positive side-effect I’m hoping for is that the most fanatic Wahhabi doctrinaires will be marginalized in Saudi Arabia, for there is no way that can go along with concessions to a religious minority the Saudi government has to please somehow. Another side-effect could be that Saudi Arabia will be more helpful when it comes to the global war on terror, although I wouldn’t bet on it.
On the other hand there is the possibility that Wahhabi zealots could make their displeasure about any outreach to the Shia in their country known by imitating the Sunni terrorists in Iraq, and start blowing up large numbers of Shiites. They wouldn’t care that the resulting unrest could disable Saudi oil production, and thereby increase Iranian power.
In any case the Saudi Shia certainly are potential allies of Iran, and might very well be one of the reasons why the Iranian bargaining position concerning its nuclear ambitions is stronger than it ought to be on the face of it. Rebuilding the Iraqi oil industry will take years yet, and the consequences of taking out the Iranian leadership could hit both Iranian and Saudi oil production. So negotiations, fruitless as they are, will be pursued until the last illusionary hope about the peaceful prevention of an Iranian nuclear arsenal is gone (link via Daily Pundit):
President George W Bush has backed a plan to allow Iran to enrich uranium in Russia. The sudden change in tactics over Teheran’s controversial nuclear programme has angered hawks in Washington and surprised European diplomats.
Mr Bush, who met President Vladimir Putin at a Pacific Rim summit on Friday, told him he would support Moscow’s plan to offer Iran the chance to conduct nuclear enrichment at facilities in Russia. The US was previously against any deal that would allow Iran to enrich its own uranium.
The latest proposal would allow Teheran to convert uranium if subsequent enrichment, which could have weapons applications, took place only overseas, under Russian control.
European officials, who back the Russian initiative as part of a wider set of proposals to end the nuclear stand-off with the Islamic republic, have been surprised by how openly America has entered the process.
“It may provide a way out,” Stephen Hadley, Mr Bush’s national security adviser, said last week.
Russia has previously signalled that it would not support any sanctions against Iran.
The EU3 and the State Department think that that stance may change if it experiences its own snubs by the Iranians, who have shown no interest in the Russian deal.
Or maybe Putin thinks that a huge increase in the price of oil would inflate profits from the sale of Russian oil more than enough to offset any damage to his country. Even more likely, he doesn’t care much about the damage to Russia, as long as his power over the country is strengthened. And as it happens, large parts of the Russian oil industry have been nationalized lately, so that increases in revenue would go directly to the Russian state, meaning Putin.
So what’s to worry for him? If American forces take out the Mullahs, the oil price would increase drastically for a while, even if the worst won’t happen. If they acquire nuclear weapons, the increased insecurity in the region would also raise the oil price, and Russia has little to fear, for Iran wouldn’t dare to send nukes there. A man who had many thousands killed in Chechnya to show how big his testicles are won’t mind some brinkmanship, especially if he sees the result as a win-win situation. Any hopes for Russian good-will are completely out of place.
The only way to prevent Iranian nukes will be the use of force, and the sooner this is commonly accepted in the West the better. It is a question of when, and not if. Any future action will have to be evaluated in this context: What will help to prepare for the eventual strike, and what can soften the economic blow?
The two most important measures I can think of are
-Getting the Iraqi security forces up to strength as fast as possible, so that they can handle the insurgency with minimal assistance for some months
-Increasing the strategic oil reserves to the extent that they can tide the world economy over the crucial four or five months (my estimate, possibly to optimistic) during which oil production may mostly be shut down by terrorism (Iranian oil wells also likely are mined extensively).
Any ideas about other indispensable measures? (Please note that I have already dismissed a strike on Syria – without Iranian help, the country will be insignificant anyway).