The Iranian vice-President, Ali Akbar Salehi, said it clearly at the end of last August: China will play “a decisive role” in redesigning the nuclear reactor Arak-1, with a view to reducing its plutonium production, as provided for by the P5+1 agreement.
Furthermore, during the final discussions, Iran proposed to reduce the quantity of plutonium produced by Arak -1 so as to allocate the future yearly kilo of nuclear material produced to the “scientific and medical research against cancer”, but Arak-1 will anyway be China’s first prey after the P5 + 1 agreement.
In fact China will revise, reprocess and reduce the potential of Arak which, in at least two years, could produce the eight kilos of plutonium which are needed for a nuclear bomb.
However, as we can see, the sedation of the Iranian centre is based on an act of good will by Iran and the interested help of an Iranian old ally, namely the People’s Republic of China.
It will be so for the other sites relevant to the Shia nuclear power: before the arrival of the IAEA inspectors, in the facilities listed, rather generally, in the JCPOA that Westerners flaunt as their victory, Iran’s regional allies will come to neutralize the system, but for their own purposes. China and Russia in the first place.
China wants enhanced and forward protection, also at nuclear level, from a Mediterranean and Persian Gulf maritime threat.
Certainly China will also have further economic presence in Iran, thanks to this help for Arak-1 and, in the future, for other nuclear sites.
China is already a leading country in world trade: since 2014 it has been the largest importer of crude oil worldwide, while in 2013 it was the top country in world trade, with a total trade volume of 4.2 trillion US dollars.
Today, China is the largest trading partner of 130 countries worldwide.
Incidentally, in 2013 – at the height of the global crisis – China was, in fact, the largest trading partner with Iran, with a total trade volume exceeding 50 billion US dollars.
The nuclear link between China and Iran is clear: much more nuclear energy for Iran means a greater share of oil for exports – and hence particularly for China.
There is also a link between Iran’s oil domestic consumption and the export of hydrocarbons: the growth of domestic consumption in the Shia country is about 6.4% per year, with the doubling of population in just twenty-five years and the booming of the domestic automotive sector, which currently produces one million cars a year.
Iran’s oil peak was reached in 1996 and, since then, oil production has decreased.
Iranian experts maintain that, from 2008 onwards, if there is no increase in the extraction activity, Iran will have no longer oil to export. Nevertheless, nobody knows the truth – as is also the case with Saudi Arabia, where the amount of oil reserves is considered a state secret.
According to 2014 data, currently the amount is 3,375,000 barrels/day, while Saudi Arabia – which is also struggling with the aging of many of its wells – reaches 11,624,000 barrels/day, again according to the latest data available, namely 2014.
On the other hand, as we have already noted, currently Iran’s domestic energy consumption is worth more than 250 million oil equivalent.
According to official Iranian sources, if the sanctions are lifted, the Shiite Republic will extract 500,000 barrels/day for exports while the amount declared for the current year, 2015, is 2.8 million barrels/day.
But the Chinese and Russian technologies can discover many new oil sites, which the restrictions on technological exchanges and trade have prevented from probing. Also the ENI experts, who know the region, are optimistic about Iran’s oil and gas potential.
On the other hand, while the sanctions against Iran are not taken seriously by Russia and China, let alone to what extent the other Asian countries feel pressured to follow the US and EU sanction policy.
In addition, even the US military experts maintain they cannot launch a long-range attack against Iran, because they have no conventional weapons suitable for carrying it out with credible success.
This is the cat-and-mouse game that Iran has long been playing with the United States and its Western allies, which culminated with the signing of the JCPOA.
Moreover, no one can predict, as strategist, whether the US conventional attack on Iran would set fire to the whole Persian Gulf, thus destabilizing both the oil and non-oil world trade.
We must also take into account the creation of the New Development Bank of BRICS and China’s Asian Infrastructure Development Bank, as well as the closure of the Western strategic space which has become final after the nuclear deal of the P5 + 1 with Iran.
Briefly, for a strange twist of fate, and particularly for the Western strategic inability – only based on political correctness, good intentions and noble feelings – Iran is back again on the market-world thanks to its nuclear threat – precisely what had excluded it from the normal cycle of globalization.
According to the Iranian Oil Minister, Bijan Namdar Zaganesh, the Iranian oil reserves are currently estimated at 157.8 billion barrels, according to the BP data.
With the lifting of sanctions, Iran will have more funds to support its nuclear plan, when Western pressures end, but this does not mean that the problem of Iran’s nuclear weapons shall not be raised again in the future.
Nevertheless, in that case – as inadvertently suggested by Mahmoud Ahmadinedjad, President of the Shiite Republic from 2009 to 2013 – it will be placed in a different strategic context: the expansion of the Iranian power in Central Asia and in the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) – hence, at that juncture, the game will be between Iran and Turkey.
Obviously NATO will stand watching in a wait-and-see attitude.
The jihadists of the Ferghana Valley are supported by the Iranian Wahhabi organizations, but most Muslims of the Sunnah in Central Asia are followers of the Hanafi school.
It is the most “liberal” school of Sunnism, which favours dialogue and the peaceful conversion of the “infidels”. It also favours – in the Sharia law – reasoning by analogy, and not the letter of the text, the quiyas. This is an affinity with the “party of Ali”, the Shi’a.
Hence – as already foreshadowed in an old speech delivered by Sheikh Al Qaradawi, the religious leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who now lives in Qatar – there will be a way to silence the political-theological disputes between Sunnis and Shiites, faced with the possibility of striking a final blow against “Jews and Crusaders”.
Hence while Iran can join the SCO as soon as sanctions are lifted – as Russia wants – this will hold true also for the whole Central Asian bloc – the old Mackinder’s Heartland which, if held in possession was safe from any thalassocracy – and the USA are precisely hegemonic as to their possession of the sea.
None of the US potential regional allies is satisfied with the Iran-P5+1 agreement.
Neither Egypt, which is afraid of the Shia power’s expansion into the Greater Middle East, nor certainly Israel, which knows all too well that the agreement can be easily circumvented by Iran. Not even Saudi Arabia and the small, albeit courageous, Jordan like it.
Abandoning its own allies to support an enemy power which, soon after having put its economy back on track, will start again rearming with nuclear weapons, with reactors placed in Yemen, in the Houthi area, or in the Syria stabilized by the Russian (and Iranian) intervention of recent days, or with smuggled material which will come from India or from its regional competitor, namely Pakistan. This is exactly what has happened with the JCPOA, if we analyze it from the global strategy perspective.
Giancarlo Elia Valori (@GEliaValori)
Honorable of the Académie des Sciences of the Institut de France.