Monday, 17 February 2014

Syria: The Failure of the Geneva II Conference and Energy Power Politics.

The Geneva II talks between those representing both sides in the Syrian Civil War have  been suspended without any set date for their resumption. The appalling scale of the killing of civilians goes on without any prospect of resolution. At present the death toll is estimated at around 140,000 dead.

Jonathan Steele writes in the Observer,
'Rather than trying to score propaganda points or blame the other for Geneva's lack of progress, Washington and Moscow need to build on the common ground between them. Neither wants the total collapse of Syria's institutions or its secular multicultural tradition'.
Steele is right to emphasise the fact that neither global power has an interest in Syria's secular institutions being overthrown and the country becoming dominated by Islamist fanatics and a base for those affiliated to Al Qaida. The spectre haunting them is Syria becoming like Afghanistan in the 1990s.

The problem is that the West ( the USA, France and Britain ) are reluctant to put too much pressure on Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Saudi Arabia is intent on financially backing jihadists to overthrow Assad just as Qatar is giving aid and arms to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

True, Washington has been prepared to engage with Iran over its nuclear programme to the displeasure of Qatar. Getting Iran to work with other regional players such Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey is going to be difficult because of the lucrative energy interests at stake in this war.

Having been prevented in 2013 from launching missile strikes against Assad by Russia negotiating with the Syrian state to surrender its arsenal of chemical weapons, the US has sought to take a more diplomatic direction and exploit the new Iranian president's desire for sanctions on it to be removed.

Western policy, indeed, has been based on the fear of Iran shoring up Assad as a client and thus being able to realise its plan to export LNG from the South Pars gas field via pipeline by 2016. The pipeline would go through a Shia dominated Iraq via Syria onto the Eastern Mediterranean and hence EU markets.

France and Britain have been far more reluctant to do anything that would challenge Qatar over its backing for jihadists than the US. One reason is  the rival Qatari pipeline that would bring LNG to Europe direct instead of having to be loaded onto tankers rounding the Iranian controlled Straits of Hormuz.

Both France and Britain have become ever more dependent upon Qatari LNG. Consumer complaints about high gas prices in Britain mean the need to accept the emirates policy in Syria as it helps in enabling British corporations such as Centrica to strike deals over LNG rather than see it shipped elsewhere.

One additional reason for the stalemate at Geneva II and why France and Britain want Assad to go and a regime favourable to its energy interests to be installed is the that both depend on a colossal amount of investment from Qatar vital to boost their ailing economies.

As regards Britain, Milad Jokar points out,
'The Qatari investments are also important in Great Britain. With 20 percent of the shares of the London Stock Exchange, Qatar is the main shareholder of Barclays. The Emirate has also invested massively in the Olympic Games, it has financed 95 percent of the highest building in London (the Shard).'
The US, in its turn, has broad strategy of isolating Iran by thwarting its influence west through a pipeline via Syria and to the east through the planned pipeline to Pakistan. By retaining influence in Afghanistan, thus ensuring the war aim of construction of the TAPI pipeline, Iran's regional power against the USA's Gulf allies can be degraded.

These salient geopolitical factors are all part of the New Great Game for control over supplies of oil and gas that are being used up and diminishing across the globe with worldwide industrialisation. Those concerned with the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria need to be concerned with it and urgently..

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