Can a new Iran-Venezuela pact end either country’s economic woes?

Analysis Can a new Iran-Venezuela pact end either country’s economic woes?
The Iranian and Venezuelan political leadership have found a common enemy in Washington. (AP)
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Updated 14 June 2022

Can a new Iran-Venezuela pact end either country’s economic woes?

Can a new Iran-Venezuela pact end either country’s economic woes?
  • Agreement aims to provide stimulus, but experts say ‘two unsuccessful economies do not make a successful one’
  • Iranian drone tech, Venezuela’s uranium reserves could pose risk to Middle East, South America and elsewhere

LONDON: A newly inked cooperation deal between Iran and Venezuela will see the two pariah states further integrate their economies, but one oil-rich and legitimacy-poor state cannot fix the woes of another, according to experts.

On Saturday embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro appeared on Iranian state media in north Tehran to sign a 20-year “cooperation agreement” with his Iranian counterpart, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

The deal, according to Raisi, will see the two countries cooperate in the oil, petrochemicals, defense, agriculture, tourism and culture sectors. But more than economics, looming large in the signing of the deal — an unlikely covenant between a Shiite theocratic regime on one side and a communist dictatorship on the other — was the US and its sanctions regime against each country, as well as the two nations’ relationships with the wider international community.

“Venezuela has shown exemplary resistance against sanctions and threats from enemies and imperialists,” Iran’s Raisi said. “The 20-year cooperation document is testimony to the will of the two countries to develop ties.”

“Sanctions and threats against the Iranian nation over the past 40 plus years have been numerous, but the Iranian nation has turned these sanctions into an opportunity for the country’s progress.”

But to Yossi Mekelberg, an associate fellow with the MENA Program at Chatham House, the deal fails to address the fundamental problem in both countries: “Bad governance.”

“Iran and Venezuela could be two of the richest countries in the world, and they are not,” he told Arab News. “If you look at their natural resources, not to mention Venezuela with their natural reserves, their oil industries are falling apart.”

Now, when demand for oil and gas is skyrocketing, both Venezuela and Iran should be flourishing — but their governments have prevented the “gold rush” other energy-exporting countries are now experiencing and using to prepare for the post-fossil-fuel age.

“Iran and Venezuela are countries that could prosper — their problem is bad governance. Whether from the left or the clerical parties, regardless, they are failed states,” Mekelberg said.

He pointed out that both countries also have confrontational relationships with the US and wider international community.

“Their alliance is the alliance of those who, under sanctions, can’t really deal with their own domestic issues, then fell foul with their own regions, so they are trying to find a way out of it by supporting each other,” he said.

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“There is an internal logic to all of it, but I don’t think this is going to help them much. They need to deal with the world. Two unsuccessful economies do not make a successful one.”

With regard to energy specifically — each country’s main export — does the deal signed in Tehran do anything to help grow their economies?

Both Iran and Venezuela being major oil and energy producers, “they are not going to export to each other,” said Mekelberg.

The two countries have, however, made some progress in exchange of expertise. Iranian engineers have been involved in the repair of rundown Venezuelan facilities, and will soon start work on Venezuela’s largest refinery.

“But what they really need is investment,” said Mekelberg — something that he does not believe either country is able to do in the volumes required.

While the economic aspects of the deal are likely to raise few eyebrows — the two have cooperated for years in the illegal exchange of oil and other commodities — the potential for further defense cooperation is perhaps of more concern to those in South America, the Middle East and the US.

As early as 2006, Venezuela and Iran cooperated militarily. In a speech given to the Brookings Institution in 2009, a district attorney for New York raised the alarm about Iran’s training of Venezuelan fighters into Hezbollah-style terrorists.

“It has been reported that since 2006 Iranian military advisers have been embedded with Venezuelan troops,” the late Robert Morgenthau had said. “Asymmetric warfare, taught to members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Hezbollah and Hamas, has replaced US army field manuals as the standard Venezuelan military doctrine.”

And perhaps of further concern is the potential for nuclear cooperation. According to a 2008 report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Venezuela has an estimated 50,000 tons of uranium deposits ready to be mined.

While warnings of the potential for nuclear cooperation have persisted for years, the stalled progress in the Iran nuclear talks ongoing in Vienna, accompanied by ever-lower breakout times predicted by experts, means that the new agreement could play an outsized role in the development of Iran’s nuclear weapons.




The new deal will see the two pariah states further integrate their economies. (AFP)

“Venezuela’s support for Iran’s nuclear program has fluctuated in recent years, with intelligence sources previously indicating that (the late President Hugo) Chavez discussed purchasing uranium from Iran at the same time as entering talks to buy a nuclear reactor from Argentina,” Rhiannon Phillips, associate analyst MENA at political risk consultancy Sibylline, told Arab News.

“Cooperation on ‘defense projects’ may allude to Iranian partnerships on offensive and combat drone technology, prompting a significant concern for Western allies. This again is not a new trend, with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz outlining his concern about Iranian MoHajjer UAVs in Venezuela earlier this year, with reported ranges of up to 200 km.”

Phillips added: “Iranian support for terrorism is already a key driver of geopolitical hostilities in the Middle East, namely between Tehran (on the one hand) and Saudi Arabia and Israel (on the other hand). But it could elevate concerns among Latin American countries if Venezuelan capabilities exceed or violate the threshold of regional security.

FASTFACTS

• Agreement covers political, cultural, tourism, economic, oil and petrochemical fields.

• Iran has delivered the second of four vessels it is contracted to build for Venezuela.

“Notably, Diego Molano, Colombia’s defense minister, has already expressed concern over the presence of Iranian proxies in Venezuela, namely Hezbollah militants, and the likelihood of these groups seeking to utilize Iranian military technology to carry out domestic attacks.”

Phillips also said that Iran has long been implicated in terrorism in the Middle East — the specter of which the Iran-Venezuela cooperation agreement threatens to resurrect.

The 1994 AMIA suicide bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Argentina killed 85 people and injured hundreds more. In 2006, Argentinian prosecutors formally accused the Iranian government and Hezbollah of carrying out the bombing. And it appears that Argentina has not forgotten that attack.




Both sides are major energy and oil producers and will support each other’s projects. (AFP)

On Sunday, Argentinian authorities grounded a Boeing 747 that was sold to Venezuela by Iran’s Mahan air — an airline closely linked with the IRGC and sanctioned by the US government.

According to an Argentinian Interior Ministry document shared with Reuters by Argentine lawmaker Gerardo Milman, 14 Venezuelans and 5 Iranians were traveling on the plane. Milman warned: “Our information is that this is a plane that has come to conduct intelligence in Argentina.”

It is not clear what the agents were investigating. What is clear, though, is that Argentina, acutely and tragically familiar with Iranian terrorism, is unwilling to take the risk of waiting too long where national security is involved.


‘People will die’ if cross-border aid to Syria stops, UN says

‘People will die’ if cross-border aid to Syria stops, UN says
Updated 5 sec ago

‘People will die’ if cross-border aid to Syria stops, UN says

‘People will die’ if cross-border aid to Syria stops, UN says
  • The UN Security Council mandate allowing trucks of aid to enter Syria via Turkey is due to expire on July 10
BEIRUT: People living in Syria’s battered northwest could die of malnutrition or lack of water if Russia vetoes UN authorization for cross-border aid, an aid official said on Wednesday.
The UN Security Council mandate allowing trucks of aid to enter Syria via Turkey is due to expire on July 10. But Syrian ally Russia has hinted it may veto, prompting fears of a cut-off as Syrians grapple with drought and growing food insecurity.
Mark Cutts, deputy UN regional humanitarian coordinator, told Reuters the “eyes of the world have turned away from Syria” precisely when it most needs outside help.
“If the resolution is not renewed, we know that many people are going to suffer, people are going to die,” he said.
Around 4.4 million Syrians live in the northwestern enclave controlled by Turkish-backed groups and hard-line Islamist militants and virtually all of them — 4.1 million — need humanitarian assistance, the United Nations says.
One in three children are under-nourished and many rely on therapeutic feeding made possible by cross-border aid, he said.
“Many are in hospitals that will no longer get the medical aid they need, vaccination programs will be affected,” he said, adding that water being trucked in to hundreds of thousands of people living in camps may not reach them.
Since the Security Council first authorized cross-border aid in 2014, Russia has repeatedly threatened to veto extensions or amend language to curtail operations, arguing they violate Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and that more help should be delivered from within the country.
“The stakes are higher this year with the war in Ukraine and the tensions in the Security Council,” Cutts said.
Needs have meanwhile hit an all-time high, with more displaced families pouring into the zone, Syria’s economy deteriorating, the COVID-19 pandemic and the spike in food prices worldwide.
Cross-border military operations threatened by Turkey to oust Kurdish-led forces from some areas in the north would only add to the suffering, aid groups have warned.
Funding has also dried up, with donor countries spread thin by crises in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Yemen. The UN says it has only received a quarter of the $4.4 billion needed for aid operations to continue.
“The crisis is now worse than it’s ever been,” Cutts said.

Jordan’s King Abdullah pledges to hold those responsible for chlorine explosion to account

Jordan’s King Abdullah pledges to hold those responsible for chlorine explosion to account
Updated 29 June 2022

Jordan’s King Abdullah pledges to hold those responsible for chlorine explosion to account

Jordan’s King Abdullah pledges to hold those responsible for chlorine explosion to account
  • At least 13 people were killed and 250 were taken ill when a chlorine tank exploded at the Red Sea port of Aqaba

AMMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah II has called for those responsible for the deadly gas leak on Monday to be held accountable.

At least 13 people were killed and 250 were taken ill when a chlorine tank exploded at the Red Sea port of Aqaba, when a crane dropped it, releasing a large plume of toxic yellow smoke.

The king “stressed the need to provide transparent explanations to the public after investigations conclude, as well as identifying shortcomings and holding those responsible to account by law,” the palace said in a statement. He also offered condolences to victims’ families.

King Abdullah was chairing a meeting on Tuesday at the National Centre for Security and Crisis Management to check on the latest developments of Monday’s gas explosion.

At the meeting, attended remotely by Crown Prince Al-Hussein bin Abdullah II from Aqaba, King Abdullah extended condolences to the families of those who died in the line of duty, wishing the injured a speedy recovery.

The king, who has been following up with the Crown Prince on the details of the incident and rescue and evacuation efforts from the very beginning, stressed the need to provide transparent explanations to the public after investigations conclude, as well as identifying shortcomings and holding those responsible to account by law.

He called for all necessary precautions to be taken to avoid a repeat of such incidents in the future.

 

 

And he commended the efforts of Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army and security agencies’ personnel, especially the Civil Defense Department and civilian and military medical staff, for their swift response and high professionalism in dealing with the incident and evacuating the injured.

He said their efforts contributed to saving lives and limiting losses, and he wished a speedy recovery to those injured.

The Crown Prince spoke about his field inspection on Tuesday at the site of the incident, and his visit to the injured who have been hospitalised.

The Crown Prince reiterated the need to maintain cooperation and coordination among all the concerned entities, as all await the investigation’s findings.

Jordan’s Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh visited the site Tuesday and, citing civil defense and environmental authorities, said the gas concentration in the area had returned to normal. He said that most movement at the port had resumed, except for the exact site of the incident which was being cleaned and inspected.

Al-Khasawneh said many of those in hospitals were being discharged.

A government spokesman, Faisal Al-Shboul, told state media that eight of the dead were Jordanian and five were foreigners. Among the injured were Chinese and Vietnamese nationals, hospital officials said.

Video carried on state TV showed the moment the tank exploded, sending dockworkers scrambling to escape the toxic cloud. Some 200 people were hospitalized.

The Public Security Directorate, which initially described it as a gas leak, said authorities sealed off the area after evacuating the injured and sent specialists in to address the situation.

State-run Jordan TV said 13 people were killed. Al-Mamlaka TV, another official outlet, said 199 were still being treated in hospitals. The Public Security Directorate said a total of 251 people were injured.

Aqaba is on the northern tip of the Red Sea, next to the Israeli city of Eilat, which is just across the border. Both are popular beach and diving destinations.

Eilat’s emergency services said in a statement that there was no impact on the city but that they were following the situation closely.

(With AP)


Iran report: Nuclear talks with US end without deal in Qatar

Iran report: Nuclear talks with US end without deal in Qatar
Updated 2 min 45 sec ago

Iran report: Nuclear talks with US end without deal in Qatar

Iran report: Nuclear talks with US end without deal in Qatar
  • Iranian officials said they were hoping for progress in Qatar talks
  • The indirect talks come two weeks before US President Joe Biden's official visit to the region

DUBAI: Indirect negotiations between Iran and the US over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers have ended without breaking a deadlock over the talks, a semiofficial Iranian news agency reported Wednesday.
The US State Department and the European Union, which is mediating the talks in Qatar, did not immediately acknowledge the end of the negotiations in Doha.
However, the semiofficial Tasnim news agency, believed to be close to Iran’s hard-line Revolutionary Guard, described the negotiations as finished and having “no effect on breaking the deadlock in the talks.”
US Special Representative Rob Malley spoke to the Iranians through EU official Enrique Mora during the talks. Mora then took messages to Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani.
Tasnim claimed that the American position did not include “a guarantee for Iran benefiting economically from the deal,” quoting what it described as unnamed “informed sources.”
“Washington is seeking to revive the (deal) in order to limit Iran without economic achievement for our country,” the Tasnim report claimed.
Iran and world powers agreed in 2015 to the nuclear deal, which saw Tehran drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord, raising tensions across the wider Middle East and sparking a series of attacks and incidents.
Talks in Vienna about reviving the deal have been on a “pause” since March. Since the deal’s collapse, Iran has been running advanced centrifuges and rapidly growing stockpiles of enriched uranium.

Iran earlier warned the US to abandon the “Trump method” after the two sides opened indirect talks to revive a nuclear deal that was torpedoed by the former American president.
“We hope that, God willing, we can reach a positive and acceptable agreement if the United States abandons the Trump method,” Iranian government spokesman Ali Bahadori-Jahromi said.
He described the “Trump method” as “non-compliance with international law and past agreements and disregard for the legal rights of the Iranian people.”
The indirect talks — with the rival delegations sending each other messages from different parts of the same hotel — came just two weeks before US President Joe Biden makes his first official visit to the region, with Iran high on his agenda.
Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Iran was open to a deal in Doha, but wouldn’t cross its “red lines.”
“We are serious” in our desire to finalize an agreement, he said, stressing that his country would not retreat from the “red lines” it has drawn.
IRNA has previously described the “red lines” as lifting all sanctions as related to the nuclear agreement, creating a mechanism to verify they have been lifted, and making sure the US does not withdraw from the deal.


Syria seizes record 2.3 tons of captagon: ministry

Syria seizes record 2.3 tons of captagon: ministry
Updated 29 June 2022

Syria seizes record 2.3 tons of captagon: ministry

Syria seizes record 2.3 tons of captagon: ministry
  • Ten arrests were made and several vehicles confiscated in the crackdown

DAMASCUS: Syrian counter-narcotics units seized a record haul of 2.3 tons of the amphetamine-type stimulant known as captagon, the interior ministry announced Wednesday.
Law enforcement officers had earlier discovered 249 kilos of captagon hidden in steel machinery inside containers ready to leave the Mediterranean port of Latakia.
The ensuing investigation alerted the authorities “to the existence of a warehouse containing drugs on a farm” in the nearby province of Hama, a ministry statement said.
“The weight of the confiscated bags amounted to 2,103 kilos,” the statement said, adding that 10 arrests were made and several vehicles confiscated.
With a kilo of captagon estimated to amount to around 6,000 pills, the cumulated number of pills seized tops 14 million, the largest recorded haul by the Syrian government in years.
Several recent reports have accused senior members of President Bashar Assad’s government and security apparatus of being at the heart of the booming captagon trade.


Turkey to seek extradition of 33 suspects from Finland, Sweden

Turkey to seek extradition of 33 suspects from Finland, Sweden
Updated 29 June 2022

Turkey to seek extradition of 33 suspects from Finland, Sweden

Turkey to seek extradition of 33 suspects from Finland, Sweden
  • Extradition sought under a deal that paved the way for Ankara to back the Nordic countries’ NATO membership bids

ITANBUL: Turkey said Wednesday it would seek the extradition of 33 “terror” suspects from Sweden and Finland under a deal that paved the way for Ankara to back the Nordic countries’ NATO membership bids.
“We will seek the extradition of terrorists from the relevant countries within the framework of the new agreement,” signed on Tuesday by the foreign ministers of Turkey, Sweden and Finland, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag was quoted as saying by NTV television.