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Despite reports, Saudis not about to sell oil to Israel
by Raphael Ahren

Several Israeli and Arab media outlets quoted Riyadh’s oil minister purportedly considering exports to the ‘Jewish state.’ But the stories were likely based on a hoax

Saudi Arabia is most likely not willing to start selling oil to Israel, despite various news reports to that effect in the Israeli and Arab media this week

Quoting the Kuwaiti news agency KUNA, several news outlets reported that Riyadh’s oil minister Ali Bin Ibrahim al-Naimi raised the prospect of exports to Israel during a conference of the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries last week in Vienna.

“We do not hold a grudge against any nation and our leaders promote peace, religious tolerance and co-existence,” many papers quoted al-Naimi as saying. “His Majesty King Abdullah has always been a model for good relations between Saudi Arabia and other states — and the Jewish state is no exception.”

This statement was quoted in many Israeli and international news outlets, including TheMarker, Israel Hayom, The Jewish Press and i24News.

Many Arabic news sites also carried the statement, quoting Israeli reports citing KUNA.

The reports are most likely based on a hoax. A thorough online search found no such story on the website of KUNA, the Kuwaiti news agency.

It seems that the apparently false news reports are all based on an article on an obscure website, which seems to regularly fabricate reports on Israel and the Muslim world.

A report on AWD News, which was likely the genesis of the apparent hoax, stated that al-Naimi, the Saudi oil minister, “told reporters that his country is after gaining money in the oil lucrative market and even if Israel intends to purchase oil Riyadh will supply Jewish State with abundant reserves, KUNA News Agency reported.” The article goes on to ostensibly quote al-Naimi, saying in the Saudi king’s name, that Riyadh “always emphasized on good mutual relations between Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and all countries and Jewish nation is not an exception.”

Dr. Joseph Mann, an expert on Saudi Arabia and the Middle East oil industry, said he was surprised when he read about al-Naimi’s supposed willingness to do business with Israel in the press this week.

“It’s sounds odd. He would have to get authorization from the king before saying such a thing. He’s smart enough to know not to say something like that,” he told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

Last week’s OPEC conference in Vienna, during which al-Naimi was supposed to have made the comments about “the Jewish state,” was one of the most important meetings for the oil industry in a decade, Mann said. “It’s unlikely that they had time to discuss trade with Israel.”

Furthermore, the reports quote al-Naimi as having made his statement on Sunday, November 30, at the sidelines of the OPEC conference. But the event, which received much international press coverage, had ended three days earlier.

The Foreign Ministry declined to comment but an Israeli official intimated the report was likely a fabrication.

The purported use by a Saudi minister of the terms “Jewish state” and “Jewish nation” to describe Israel also rather undermined the report’s credibility.

The Dubai-based AWD News regularly publishes reports that stretch the bounds of plausibility, including quirky conspiracy theories and news stories that sometimes have little in common with reality.

If the story is a hoax, this would not be the first time the site, whose acronym stands for Another Western Dawn, has managed to fool the media on a story about Saudi-Israel relations.

On August 21, during Israel’s military campaign against Gaza-based Hamas and other terror groups, AWD published a report quoting the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal as saying that Arab states should rethink their hostility toward Israel.

“All Arabs must learn that futile and endless resistance against omnipotent and mighty IDF will only bring havoc, destruction and loss of lives for themselves… Hamas and Islamic Jihad are responsible for the catastrophe inflicted on Gaza. Therefore, I believe we must start to ponder over usefulness of animosity toward democratic Israeli government,” he was quoted saying.

While plainly fabricated, al-Faisal’s ostensible comments were widely reported in the Israeli press as fact. Even then-finance minister Yair Lapid appeared to have believed the report. During a speech in September, he quoted the Saudi minister’s purported statement as fact.

On September 6, AWD News published an ostensible interview with Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the country’s current defense minister and deputy prime minister, in which he also allegedly made some improbable statements.

The prince was first quoted as offering his “condolences to all victims of this war, Palestinians and Israelis alike.” He then ostensibly went on to lash out at Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal for his opulent lifestyle in Qatar, and lament that Israel did not finish its job in Gaza.

“One year ago, we could topple the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt with the help of Egyptian patriots and we hoped Israelis could emancipate Gazans from the rule of Hamas and its dark reign, but due to huge pressures exerted by the so-called human rights organizations , IDF’s objectives were not fulfilled,” he was quoted saying.

This report, too was evidently false.

All this having been said, Saudi Arabia was, however, less vocal in condemning Israel over this summer’s Operation Protective Edge than during past such conflicts. Jerusalem and Riyadh have numerous mutual interests and it is widely assumed that the two countries cooperate on a wide range of issues, including the exchange of intelligence, though not oil.

“The Saudis are pragmatists, and in recent years they have found that better ties with Israel can be beneficial to them,” Mann, the Bar-Ilan expert, told The Times of Israel.

With Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and Islamic State, the two countries have several enemies in common. “However, they will never acknowledge any ties with Israel publicly, in order not to endanger their own regime’s stability.”

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There’s More Stalling A Nuclear Deal With Iran Than You Might Think
by MintPress News Desk and Arron Merat

LONDON, United Kingdom — Another deadline, another speculative media whirlwind, another series of late-night talks in a Viennese luxury hotel and another opportunity elapses for world powers and Iran to cut a deal exchanging sanctions relief for further transparency of the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.

Last month marked the latest failed attempt to reach an agreement in a decade of nuclear talks with Iran, first by the Europeans — remotely directed by the Americans — and then by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) plus Germany, led by the Americans. The latest round of talks, which started last autumn, have been extended to July 1.

This time the impasse has been variously ascribed to the number of centrifuges Iran is allowed to spin, the speed at which US sanctions are lifted, and the duration that it will be treated differently from any other signatory to the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) vis-à-vis inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Ostensibly these negotiations are about securing a safer world, but they are just as much about winning a political narrative to sell to stubborn political constituencies in Washington and Tehran. The US needs the story to be about how it bent Iran’s will, while Iran is pursuing a narrative that it will not be bent.

So what are the factors putting a deal out of reach?

Hardliners on both sides
The political systems in both Iran and the US have hardliners back home who oppose any deal between the two nations. The enmity felt by the respective hardliners, rooted in war and revolution, is real and deep. But hardliners in the US, principally the large pro-Israel congressional constituency and their donors, exercise much more power over the fate of the negotiations than their Iranian counterparts.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei exercises considerable control over the most powerful sections of the Iranian right, various parliamentary conservative alliances and key paramilitary groups. Although he must assuage the spoilers with a sellable political narrative, they wield no real leverage over him.

Unlike Obama, Khamenei owes little to his noisy hardliners constitutionally. The specter of a GOP-led Congress (which sits in February) is a clear and present danger to Obama’s ability to give Iran the minimum that it needs from a deal, which, according to the Iranian press, was the principal reason a deal couldn’t be sealed on Nov. 17.

The minimum Iran needs from a deal is significant and permanent sanctions relief. America says its sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place, while Iran contends that it came to the table because the US dropped its erstwhile insistence of “zero enrichment” for Iran’s nuclear program.

Either way, the sanctions have been a major stumbling block for the talks. The sanctions that have been doing the most damage to Iran’s economy (2012’s Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Act, and 1996’s repeatedly rolled-over Iran and Libya Sanctions Act) were signed into law by Congress and therefore need Congress to lift them. Obama can waive sanctions for 120 days at a time by presidential order and keep Congress at bay by vetoing new sanctions legislation, but he will need Congress, which will be dominated from February by a GOP looking to deny the president a legacy.

Iran knows this and is wont to agree to irreversible legislative changes on its own — for example signing up to the Additional Protocol of the NPT for greater inspections — without confidence that Congress will help Obama legislatively with his side of the bargain.

Iran has learned this from experience. In 2005, President Hassan Rohani, then Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, signed up to the Paris Agreement with European powers to temporarily freeze its nuclear program on the understanding that its NPT rights — to pursue a peaceful nuclear program — would be recognized and Europe would veto a UN Security Council resolution for which the US was pushing.

Europe never lived up to its side of the bargain and Iran elected a president who ordered Iran’s centrifuges to be turned back on. Under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s premiership Iran increased the number of centrifuges seven-fold.

Russian gas, Chinese goods
The Iranian, US and European negotiating teams want a deal for its stated aims: sanctions relief and a theoretical reduction in the proliferation risk. Europe and Iran — and to a lesser extent the US — may also reap commercial rewards by a lifting of sanctions and the opening up of Iranian markets to European firms, particularly in the fields of oil, gas, petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals.

The West and Iran also hope to make geo-strategic gains as a deal could catalyze greater cooperation diplomatically and militarily against shared interests in the Middle East, principally the stabilization of Iraq and Syria. But questions remain over whether Russia and China are honest participants in the negotiations because they both have much to gain from the status quo of a sanctioned and isolated Iran.

The integration of Iran into the world economy would mean a tough competitor for Russia’s gas export business to both Europe and China. It would also give Iran’s importers greater choice than China for consumer goods, which currently enjoy a huge market share in Iran.

While the US is often seen as the most intractable negotiating partner in the talks, many observers, including Rohani’s own aide, have said that China and Russia are in fact the biggest spoilers to a deal.
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