Why did Moscow never rock the boat during the long negotiations between the six world powers and Iran for a comprehensive nuclear accord? Moscow’s submissive acquiescence to a deal that was orchestrated and drafted by the Obama administration had many observers guessing, given the rocky ties between them over Ukraine and world issues. Although a final nuclear accord with Iran missed yet another deadline this week, Russian obstructionism was not the cause. Indeed, suggestive clues were piling up of an understanding reached behind the scenes between Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, from which each leader got what he wanted.
The outline of their likely quid pro quo is sketched out here by DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources:
As an American diplomat put it this week, the US President staked heavily in a comprehensive accord with Iran that was designed to be “the centerpiece of the Obama legacy.”
For letting it go through, Obama appears to have granted Putin a Russian monopoly on the nuclear markets of the Middle East, including Iran.
The probable existence of a deal on these lines goes far toward accounting for Moscow’s uncharacteristic indifference to the accord still under negotiation in Vienna and, even more strangely, Russia’s nonchalance in the face of plunging oil prices and heavy loss of revenue.
Moscow aids Saudi aspiration to become nuclear power
It is just as hard to find any other explanation for the administration’s seeming indifference to the jumbo transactions for the sale of nuclear reactors and other nuclear facilities to Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, after first signing contracts for their sale to the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Jordan, which Moscow has been pulling out of its hat pell-mell in recent weeks.
The biggest of those transactions was shaped on June 19, in St. Petersburg by Putin and the visiting Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (also known as “MBS”). Russia undertook to sell and install in the oil kingdom 16 nuclear reactors designed to the same template as the Bushehr reactor Moscow built for Iran. The deal was instantly confirmed by an announcement of “a nuclear cooperation deal” on the website of the Saudi government’s King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources are in no doubt that the overt nuclear work to be conducted at the King Abdullah City, is accompanied by secret clauses covering a clandestine program already in progress to develop the kingdom’s independent capacity to enrich uranium up to weapons grade.
Russian-Saudi cooperation against Iran on oil markets
When Prince MBS was talking to Putin, Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi was meeting his Russian counterpart, Energy Minister Alexander Novak. Our sources infer that the two ministers discussed strategic cooperation on the world’s energy markets in the period subsequent to the signing of the nuclear accord between Iran and the six powers in Vienna.
Every reliable source predicts that oil prices will continue to tumble the closer the signatories come to a nuclear deal in Vienna. If the deal is consummated and sanctions are lifted, Iran is expected to boost oil production and battle Saudi Arabia for a share of the market.
Saudi Arabia, which dominates the oil market, has traditionally coordinated its output and pricing with Washington. This would be the first time Riyadh is cooperating with Moscow on this most sensitive issue since the boycott years of the seventies, when Moscow proposed replacing the petrollar with the petroruble.
Russia and Saudi Arabia will be in the same boat when Iran starts dumping huge quantities of cheap oil on the world markets to make up for the lean years of embargo on its exports.
This prognosis has already pushed the price down to $50 bpd. One would therefore imagine that Moscow like Riyadh had a vested interest in pushing the nuclear negotiations in Vienna off track rather than bringing them to a successful conclusion.
Moscow piles up contracts for Mid East nuclear reactors
This has not happened because Russian vested interests are being served another way.
A high-ranking Western diplomat close to the nuclear negotiations in Vienna divulged Monday, July 6 that Russia’s Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation may be involved in the development of a scientific and research center in Iran’s underground Fordo facility – “if such a scheme is agreed finally and in detail.”
Fordo gained notoriety some years ago when it was exposed as an underground clandestine uranium enrichment facility long concealed by Iran.
Russian nuclear work in Iran appears to be more extensive than a single scheme.
In May, the Deputy Head of Russia’s Rosatom, Nicolai Spassky, said quite openly that his company was willing to begin building two new nuclear power plants in southern Iran. “Rosatom is interested in beginning work for building Bushehr II and Bushehr III,” he said at a meeting with Iran’s ambassador to Moscow Mehdi Sanayee.
Iran was not Moscow’s first nuclear client. On February 10, Putin and President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi signed a contract for Russia to build a number of nuclear reactors in Egypt.
All in all, therefore, Russia looks as though it is cashing in handsomely on Putin’s consent to let Obama’s dream of a nuclear deal with Iran come true. Even before the nuclear accord is signed, he is raking in multibillion contracts for strewing Russian nuclear power reactors across the Middle East in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE.