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The Iran Nuclear Deal: Obligation or Opportunity?

by John Brian Shannon

It’s always helpful to look at a country’s actions over the past 200 years to help understand what its intentions may be here and now, and in the future.

The burgeoning but relatively isolated country of Iran hasn’t militarily attacked another country for over 200 years, and it was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq that militarily attacked Iran in September 1980 — a conflict that finally ended in August 1988 with 1 million casualties and an economic cost of $680 million to $1 trillion dollars — with no clear winner and no benefit to either country.

After all that blood and treasure, no benefit to either country(!) although via the UN-sponsored peace accord and as a penalty to Iraq for starting the war, Iran gained access to the Shatt al-Arab waterway which runs into the Persian Gulf.

Since 2000, Iran has purportedly financed organizations (some listed as terrorist organizations, and others not) throughout the Middle East and most recently in Syria, Iraq, and perhaps Lebanon, in an attempt to exert some control on the various forces operating around their region. (Every country uses various methods to control what happens in its own region, so no news there)

But nothing captures the world’s attention like the Iran nuclear deal.

U.S. President Donald Trump says the deal is a bad one for the West and shouldn’t have been signed and wants to walk away from the deal, reserving the right to act unilaterally if he feels the country is a danger to the U.S.A. or its Middle East allies.

Last week, France’s President Emmanuel Macron flew to Washington to meet with the U.S. President to convince him to stay in the deal or to embrace a ‘third way’ which means renegotiating some of the agreement to better suit U.S. concerns.

Iran barely signed the previous agreement… so it will be interesting to see how the U.S. can get everything it wants from a renegotiated deal while still obtaining Iran’s signature to a new agreement. A deal isn’t a deal unless both sides sign on the dotted line.

Why Would the U.S. Care About Iran? (and Syria, for that matter)

From a strategic perspective, there isn’t a country in the world that could be less important to the security of the United States than Iran, and the same goes for Syria.

Neither country has the kind of military that could threaten America, nor could they project their power anywhere near the North American continent.

Unless the United States is actively working for Israel — a country which has an irrational fear of Iran (again, Iran hasn’t invaded any other country for over 200 years) and is willing to spend billions or even another trillion dollars to wage another Iraq War-style conflict against Iran, there’s no reason for the U.S. to have any dealings with Iran whatsoever.

Iran is a regional power at best, and will remain so for approximately the next 30-years as it hasn’t the capacity to be anything else.

If the United States is actively working for Saudi Arabia — a country that views Iran as an unwelcome competitor in the race to dominate the region, the same advice applies. Why should the U.S. spend multi-billions and sacrifice thousands of young soldiers to satisfy the Saudi ambition to be the local hegemon?

It’s not like Iran is withholding oil deliveries. On the contrary, Iranian oil is easily obtainable with a phone call — the country is highly motivated to sell every drop of oil due to high spending on social programmes by the Iranian government that are funded by oil revenue.

And Iran’s crude oil is rated either #2 (sweet) or #3 (semi-sweet) which means it’s in high demand around the world. Global oil producers have already pumped all of their #2 sweet crude out of the ground years ago; only Iran and Venezuela have significant reserves of sweet crude in the 21st-century.

As for oil refineries, they need Iran’s (or Venezuela’s) #2 sweet crude oil to blend with the oil supplied by their producers which is almost always #4 (sour) or #4.75 (very sour) like the Canadian oil sands product.

Most refineries won’t accept sour crude oil unless there is plenty of #2 or #3 sweet crude blended into the sour crude. It’s just too toxic to refine ‘sour’ as it requires a much more stringent maintenance protocol, meaning the refinery needs to shut down and go into ‘maintenance mode’ more often. That downtime represents a significant loss of revenue for oil refineries.

Therefore, as long as Iran continues to ship huge quantities of sweet crude, the United States should be facilitating that oil business instead of trying to curtail it.

The EU View of Iran is a Mature View

Say what you want about the Europeans, but they don’t allow themselves to be used by countries like Israel that have an irrational fear of Iran and want to use the United States and the EU to keep the Iranians ‘down’ and in their ‘proper’ place and thereby become the regional superpower, or countries like Saudi Arabia that want to use the United States and the EU to keep the Iranians ‘down’ and in their ‘proper’ place and thereby become the regional superpower.

To oversimplify the EU view; As long as Iran’s sweet crude continues to flow (it is) and as long as Iran isn’t actively invading any other country (it isn’t) then there’s no reason to use some imagined breach of the Iranian nuclear deal to launch another trillion dollar war in the Middle East. And, as always, the EU continues to refuse to allow itself to be used by regional powers such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.

In the final analysis, the EU’s position on the Iranian nuclear deal is the most enlightened of all and it is the view the United States should support.

Is Diplomacy dead?

by John Brian Shannon | December 1, 2014


Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, speaking at the 65th United Nations General Assembly

Whether Iran has, or doesn’t have, the capability to build a nuclear bomb is almost irrelevant to our world. No country in it’s right mind is ever going to use ‘the bomb’ unless it is first attacked with WMD weapons.

By making such a big deal about it, the West (with significant cheerleading by Israel) implies that Iran’s leaders are not in their right mind. Or that future Iranian leaders won’t be in their right mind.

Which neatly puts Iran, and by extension that region of the world and the entire religion of Islam, on the defensive

Maybe that’s the whole goal, right there.

Putting Iran on the defensive and by ramping-up the pressure (almost always leads even the best political leaders to some sort of gaffe or misstep) which can then, retroactively, be used to justify whatever we later do to Iran and/or the region.

Which could entail the West becoming involved in a risky regime change, stealing their oil, and changing their culture to a adopt a more Western outlook — all of which could conceivably occur — but at great military and security cost to the West. We have the power to make it happen. The question is, should we? The payoff for the West would represent $20 trillion dollars of increased economic activity over the next 50 years, but only if we survive it. A risky bit of business, to say the least.

Maybe all of that and more is on the books for that region of the world

If so, it is thinly-disguised racism which reads like this: “Let’s prevent the Muslims from getting too advanced, there’s already 1.5 billion of them, let’s keep them in the iron age.” (My employing the term “iron age” in this context, means working to keep the Muslim nations in a permanent state of non-value-added resource extraction, and never letting them advance past that stage. By force, if necessary)

I doubt that I’m blowing any secret agenda

It’s pretty obvious to anyone with an interest in geopolitics that someone, somewhere, is driving this agenda and is pushing the West towards this potentially catastrophic and apocalyptic conclusion.

Unless it’s about regime change and stealing the oil/gas. Then it’s no longer primarily about racism, it’s about interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation and theft of resources.

Either of which read like a B-movie script from the 1960’s.

Good international relations (which are everything, as we only have one planet to live on) are of prime importance. Racism, or regime change/resource theft, must rank much further down the scale. Our survival depends on good international relations, it does not and cannot depend on racism or theft. Nor even regime change.

If we are the diplomats we think we are, then let’s prove it!

(No problem is too big for us to handle, because eventually and profoundly, it can’t be. Otherwise we cease to exist)

Surely we must delegate racism and theft to the bottom of the priority scale, to continue our civilization on this planet.

I thought all of this was agreed to at the end of WWII and again at the end of the Cold War

Why are some people now ‘cheap-shotting’ Iran and trying to unlearn what we have learned in past decades?

Rather than allow the ‘tail to wag the dog’ by defaulting to some 1960’s B-move script, diplomats must work with Iran (and the other nations of Islam) to build a paradigm of win-win success and move forward, past the present potentially apocalyptic temptation.

We are either the diplomats that we think we are — or we are racist, regime-changing, resource-pirates

By definition, we can’t be both at once.

Who are we?

As I have faith in human nature (ultimately, but with an asterisk) I hope that by empowering our diplomats towards sustainable outcomes, we will become the people that we should become — and not be a people who revert to the thinking of a bygone century. Feudalism brought us two World Wars and the Cold War we can now admit.

Why play for marbles in Iran (and Ukraine, for that matter) when we could be playing for gold bars in the Pacific Rim nations? Why spend America’s prestige and effort on mere marbles? Especially when there are boatloads of gold bars to be had with less effort and far less risk.

Part of our maturing as a civilization can be seen in the forward-thinking APEC, TPP and FTAAP, which I hope is a foreshadowing of things to come for the nations of the Pacific rim. If we allow that to become all that it can and should be, all of us will be the richer for it.

In addition to the existing economic engines of the U.S.A., EU, and BRICS, we could add depth and strength to our global economy by creating a new, interdependent economic engine, the Pacific Rim bloc, which could represent $111 trillion dollars of increased trade activity over the next 50 years. Each nation of the bloc would make its own valid contribution to a greater whole, instead of continuing with the until recently, largely unguided economics of the present pan-Pacific totality.

The pivot to Asia combined with a wealth-generating Pan Pacific multi-layered partnership could and should result in changing the entire geopolitical conversation to a grand and positive one — instead of one where everything is about sniping at Iran (the bomb) and Russia (eastern Ukraine).

It’s all how you look at things

Two men look out through the same bars
One sees mud. The other, stars!
Frederick Langbridge

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Syria: Can the ‘New Coalition’ Win Against ISIS without Syria and Iran?

Syria: Can the ‘New Coalition’ Win Against ISIS without Syria and Iran? | 15/09/14
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

‘Elusive at best’ might be the proper terminology to describe the chances of winning against ISIS without the cooperation of Syria and Iran.

Think about it for a minute. If WE don’t make friendly with the Syrian leadership and the Iranian leadership, then perhaps ISIS will.

If you look at a map of the region you will see that both Syria and Iran border Iraq, both have large populations, both are almost 100% Muslim nations and both have trust issues with the West that go back decades.

Not only that, but both Syria and Iran do billions of dollars of business with Russia every year. And, therein lies the story.

Caspian Sea region. Image by Harvard University

Caspian Sea region. Image by Harvard University


The Syrian port of Tartus hosts a Russian Navy facility (Tartus port). During the Cold War it was a massive base which you can still see today as you fly into Tartus. Many former Russian citizens live in Tartus and many Russian sailors lived with their families their entire navy careers. Except when they were at sea, or called to Russia for training, some Russian sailors had never been anywhere else in their young lives (back in the 1980’s when that base was going full tilt). Russia’s Mediterranean fleet operated out of that base and it was also the refueling base for the Black Sea fleet. Inside the sprawling Syrian federal government buildings in Tartus all the signs were written in Arabic and Russian, for obvious reasons.

When I was there a couple of decades ago, a Russian officer told me that 100,000 Russians lived in Tartus and that they easily outnumbered the Syrians, although most of them give up their Russian citizenship to become Syrians at the end of their Russian Navy career. Some of them take on Arabic-sounding names to better blend in. I verified that with at least one taxi driver and with the concierge at my hotel. It certainly seemed like it could have been true at the time. Retired Russian Navy personnel often worked as Tartus traffic cops — apparently, that’s the job to have. Nice weather, and at the end of your working life, two pensions — one from the Russian Navy and one from the Tartus police. Not a bad post-Russian Navy gig for those Russians who don’t want to move back to 8 months of bitter cold every year.

Tartus port, Syria

These days, “Officially” the Russian Navy base at Tartus, Syria is closed — or only has an official staff of 20-50 people. It depends upon whom you ask. As recently as 2012 however, Russia spent millions to dredge the Tartus harbour to allow its largest military ships to enter the port and Russian aircraft carriers and other capital ships have docked there since the dredging operations completed. Image courtesy of Google.


Iran shares a peaceful maritime border with Russia which goes back centuries. The newest Iranian nuclear power plants are of Russian design, the Russians built them with Iranian labourers for the non-technical parts and all the spent nuclear fuel is required to be returned to Russia for disposal. In fact, the Iranian’s don’t get their new nuclear fuel rods until all of the returned spent fuel is carefully weighed and examined, so that the Russians can account for every gram of nuclear material that goes into or out of Iran. (Russia has this arrangement with other countries too)

Iran Update:

As of September 15, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Iran to discuss the building of 8 new Russian nuclear power plants with the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin discuss oil-for-nuclear-power-plants in this AP photo from September 12, 2014.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin discuss Oil-for-Power policy during the SCO conference in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. RIA Novosti/AP photo dated September 12, 2014

Sometimes it isn’t all about you — or who you want on your team — it’s about preventing the other team from signing them

Unless you want them playing against you. Does everyone get that? You may not like a certain all-star NFL player and you may not want him on your team, but do you really want to get flattened by that guy every couple of weeks? Say a guy who would be the size of the great ‘Refrigerator Perry’ of Chicago Bears fame.

“Uh, welcome to the team, Mr. Perry. Take my seat!” — See what I mean? SO MUCH BETTER than getting flattened, and the food is better at home anyway. Even though some people claim that they like hospital food. Whatever.

If we don’t work it out with the Syrians and the Iranians, then the Russians will. Do we really want to drive the Syrians, Iranians, and Russians together to the point where they feel compelled to team-up to offer mutual aid to each other? Is that in our best interest?

That’s simply not in the West’s best interests and we have to find a way past it. That’s what diplomacy is all about and Western diplomats are supposed to be the best. Well, let’s see it then!

If the United States feels that it must not back down from its stance on the Iranian nuclear power file, that’s almost understandable. The Iranian nuclear ‘problem’ represents a low or non-existent risk to the Western world for the next 10 years — while clearly, ISIS represents a clear and present danger to the West over the next 10 years (if they’re not dealt with now) which means it’s time for the West to re-prioritize.

If America doesn’t feel comfortable with it, then surely some of the well-known European diplomats could assiduously work to craft an agreement between Iran and the Europeans, that would eventually become detrimental to ISIS. Even securing landing and refueling rights within Iran for Western aircraft delivering aid to Kurdistan (for example) would be a start. Similar could be done by the Europeans with regards to Syria — maybe landing rights aren’t the issue, but the ability to overfly parts of Syria is the issue. Or something like that. We have to start somewhere as the present situation will increasingly work in favour of ISIS, Syria, Iran, and Russia — and not the coalition.

For now, we’re off to a great start to tackle ISIS, but two of the major countries in the region aren’t coalition members. And that does not portend a successful outcome.

But Russia thanks us for our efforts to drive Syria and Iran even further into the Russian orbit.