Sunday, April 13, 2008

Avoiding the Dick

Cheney cold-shouldered

Dick Cheney's belligerence and aggressive anti-Iran rhetoric is driving Arab nations into the arms of Russia

Robert Fox

There is talk of new wars across the Middle East this summer - and there is nothing new about that. What is new is the reaction of America's closest allies in the Arab world to the latest outbreak of belligerent rhetoric. Led by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, and Egypt, they have indicated they don't like the war talk from Vice-President Cheney and his team.

Furthermore, they're hedging their bets. While not exactly cosying up to Moscow they have opened up new lines of diplomacy with the Russians on a range of issues from regional security to nuclear technology, and joining the World Trade Organisation.

Israel has been carrying out a series of emergency civil defence drills, with officials warning of possible simultaneous attacks from Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories this summer.

On last month's tour of Middle Eastern capitals, Dick Cheney is reported to have blamed Iran and Syria as the primary sources for mischief in the Middle East. Both are seen as the sponsors of Hizbullah and Hamas. Damascus is the prime base for Sunni extremist groups now operating in Iraq, while Tehran is seen as the prime sponsor of trouble in the Shia communities.

And on top of all that there remain Iran's nuclear ambitions - with President Ahmadinejad announcing only a few days ago that the Iranian nuclear energy authority now has 6,000 more centrifuges up and running to enrich nuclear fuel.

The Cheney narrative of "not allowing Iran to go nuclear on my watch" has had its cover somewhat blown by recent revelations that the US has been talking quietly with Iran for some years.

One of the suggestions was that Iran would have fuel enriched outside the country, but a certain amount on enrichment could go in Iran itself, provided there is international supervision. The talks even looked at having an international approval and surveillance committee on which the Iranians said they would allow one American member.

Given the possibilities that some sort of dialogue between Washington and Tehran might bear fruit, the Arab powers were alarmed at the belligerence of Cheney's message and rhetoric on his recent tour. It sounded to them that he still very much wanted to attack Iran, or Syria, or both.

No sooner had Cheney departed than President Mubarak took off for Moscow to discuss cooperation on nuclear energy and programmes with the Russians. A few days after that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council States said they would open talks with Russia about WTO membership.

The inference is clear: the conservative Arab states now believe that, in the short to medium term at least, Russia is as good a bet for containing the ambitions of Shia Iran as a Republican regime in Washington. It will not have escaped their attention that some of the leading Iran-bashers of the Washington thinktank circuit, notably John Bolton and Robert Kagan have quit team Bush to join team John McCain.

So Russia is back in the Middle East and Mediterranean security game in a big way. Moreover it is also back in the oil security game in a big way. Moscow has just struck a big gas export deal through an alliance of its own Gazprom and Italy's ENI for the export of gas from Libya. It seems a similar deal with Algeria involving Gazprom and ENI is now on the cards.

By their misguided belligerency, Dick Cheney and co appear to have undone the legacy of their hero Ronald Reagan in isolating Russia at the end of the Cold War. It is even being whispered that the princes in Riyhadh want to sign an arms deal and defence pact with Moscow.

So Russia appears to be riding high in the Arab Middle East in a way that it hasn't since the days of Gamal Abdul Nasser and his vision of Pan-Arab socialism. Interestingly, we haven't been hearing too much from Vice-President Cheney these past few weeks.

Original article posted here.

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