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Iran and Saudi Arabia: China’s new launch pads in the Middle East

Two years ago, the Washington Post had reported, based on analysis of satellite pictures, that Saudi Arabia was making a missile factory near the central Saudi town of Al-Watah.

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Iran & Saudi Arabia

New Delhi, Sep 18 : China has flagged Iran and Saudi Arabia as its bridgeheads for expanding its influence in the Middle East, taking advantage of Tehrans international isolation and Riyadhs focus on nuclear energy.

Faced with renewed pressure from the United States, which has attempted to disrupt Iran’s economic lifelines, including critically important oil and gas exports, and much more, Iran has reached out to China for support.

China, in turn, has grabbed the strategic opening, keeping in mind, its larger ambition of drawing the Middle East in its orbit of influence.

In June, Iran approved a quarter century blue print of strategic collaboration with China, with bold economic and security dimensions, worth around $600 billion. Under the pact, energy hungry China will buy Iranian oil, Tehran’s primary export, for 25 years, at highly concessional rates. In return for assured energy supplies, China will revive Iran’s moribund economy, which would be integrated in a China-centred ecosystem, covering trade, finance, investments, and market access. China would also cyber-network Iran, piloted by the telecom giant Huawei, especially in the 5G domain.

Specific infrastructure projects, the foundations of Iran’s new economy, would include airports, high-speed railways and subways. China would also develop free-trade zones in Maku, in north western Iran; in Abadan, where the Shatt al-Arab river flows into the Persian Gulf, and on the gulf island Qeshm, the New York Times reported.

China plans to establish a joint commission for developing weapons and tap Iranian talent for scientific research, including cyberwarfare. This initiative is expected to anchor China’s military presence in the Middle East, bolstered by an unprecedented ability to gather intelligence in the region. In going ahead with the deal, China, for the first time, would become a frontline player seated in the Middle East cockpit, empowered to seriously influence the region, which includes Israel, Iran’s arch-foe.

China’s military ambitions in the Middle East also stood out with its participation in 2019, in a trilateral naval exercise in the Indian Ocean, with Iran and Russia as partners.

China’s massive outreach to Iran, fully recognizes Tehran as a geopolitical pivot — a country whose importance is derived by its sensitive geographical location. Iran sits on the doorstep of South Asia, Central Asia and Europe. Its external orientation has a major spill over impact, across a large geographical space, across contiguous regions.

China views Iran as a launch pad for spreading the Beijing centred Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive transcontinental connectivity project, meant to launch China’s rise as an unrivalled great power.

China wants to extend the $62 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a part of BRI in more than one direction. In the north, it has already announced its intent to stretch CPEC to resource rich Afghanistan, which has massive reserves of lithium, the feedstock for the electric car revolution that China wants to lead. Already, the Afghan Taliban are in deep conversation with the Chinese for projects that can be kick-started after a new government takes over in Kabul, following the ongoing US brokered reconciliation talks between Taliban and the Afghan government.

In case Iran agrees, CPEC can also be extended westwards from Pakistan’s contiguous Baluchistan province through which a large section of the corridor passes. In case that happens, Tehran will inch closer to being co-opted in the rapidly expanding Chinese political orbit.

China has also gate-crashed into the inner core of Iran’s rival-in-chief, Saudi Arabia, by agreeing to partner with Riyadh in the nuclear arena — a zone where most countries are reluctant to enter. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohamed bin Salman has been quoted as saying in 2018 that in case Iran develops a nuclear bomb, Riyadh will also follow suit.

Blinded by its ambition to bulldoze into the Middle East, China is reported to have shared technology to enrich uranium — the feedstock for a bomb. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with China’s help , has built a facility for the extraction of uranium yellowcake, a potential precursor to fuel a nuclear reactor. The plant is located near the remote desert city of Al Ula, the daily reported. The presence of the site, which has not been publicly acknowledged has raised serious concerns that Saudi Arabia, engaged in a seething and violent geopolitical rivalry with Iran, in several regional theatres including Yemen, Lebanon and Syria, may be engaging in the nuclear weapons programme with the support of China.

Uranium when lowly enriched is used in electricity generation, but when refined to purity above 90 per cent, it can be used to making the core of an atomic bomb.

The Saudi Energy Ministry has “categorically” denied to the Wall Street Journal that the Kingdom has built a uranium ore milling facility. But he acknowledged that Chinese companies have been contracted for the exploration of uranium within Saudi Arabia.

The recent interaction between China and Saudi Arabia can be traced to a 2012 agreement for the peaceful development of atomic energy. Subsequently, Riyadh has signed agreements with China National Nuclear Corp and China Nuclear Engineering Group Corp.

China and Saudi Arabia have been partners in beneath- the- radar covert collaboration in the past. In 1988, Saudi Arabia bought Chinese DF-3 Silkworm ballistic missiles, which have been reportedly embedded with the Kingdom’s Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF).

Two years ago, the Washington Post had reported, based on analysis of satellite pictures, that Saudi Arabia was making a missile factory near the central Saudi town of Al-Watah.

Middle East

Crude oil: Biden presidency likely to be a huge win for the Middle East

A Biden win will likely be an upward catalyst for oil prices because it will increase costs for shale patch and will likely result in a weaker U.S. dollar, the report said.

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New Delhi, Oct 16 : A Biden presidency is likely to be a huge win for the Middle East to gain back the market share as it restricts shale production and can be supportive for crude oil prices.

According to a report by Motilal Oswal Financial Services, for years, if not decades, OPEC members have been jousting for market share, which is, of course, the reason why the latest Saudi-Russia oil price war happened in the first place.

“A Biden presidency is likely to be a huge win for the Middle East to gain back the market share as it restricts shale production and can be supportive for crude oil prices,” the report said.

Talking about the OPEC approach, Trump would likely continue practicing Twitter oil diplomacy, which he started in his first term to urge OPEC plus producers to increase or cut supply during their meetings in Vienna. He takes credit for helping to negotiate an end to the March oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

“Under Biden, any US diplomacy toward OPEC might return behind the scenes. Antitrust legislation against OPEC would only see renewed interest if gasoline prices soar,” the report said.

Crude oil investors are facing a confused stance as US President Donald Trump’s presidency brings stability and Presidency under Joe Biden might bring uncertainty and more volatility in the market.

Prices can remain in levels of $45 as President Trump would like to keep prices at this level to make sure gasoline prices remain in control, which remains a main concern of taxpayers in U.S.

If U.S. voters decide to stay the course, the current push for energy dominance through increased drilling will continue. He is seen as a promoter of Shale which might put pressure as any stimulus and benefit to shale sector would lead to overproduction and more responsibility on OPEC plus to cut production and bring balance in the market.

Compared with a second term of the Trump administration, a Biden presidency could be a positive for U.S. oil and gas drillers because tougher regulations on hydraulic fracturing would likely reduce production, raising crude prices to levels of WTI $45-$55 in coming months after elections. If they elect a new president, the challenger has pledged to end new drilling on public lands and move toward a carbon-free future.

With his $2 trillion plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions, Joe Biden might seem a far-from-ideal president for the Texas oil and gas industry. Looks like for Crude oil to rally, markets are praying for Vice President Biden to win and bring back optimism in the market as demand recovery is stalling and it might take more months for crude demand to recover.

A Biden win will likely be an upward catalyst for oil prices because it will increase costs for shale patch and will likely result in a weaker U.S. dollar, the report said.

However, headwinds remains to this optimistic view that if sanctions are pulled off from Venezuela or Iran, they might re-emerge as a significant oil exporter, it might put pressure on prices and can force adjustment in production for the three big oil producers and likely a reduction in through cycle prices which can push additional pressure on prices and bring back glut fears and push prices to levels of $35.

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Disaster

Palestinian official praises China’s COVID-19 response

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Coronavirus Russia

RAMALLAH, Oct. 15 : A senior Palestinian official on Wednesday praised China’s model in confronting the novel coronavirus in order to protect the Chinese people.

Hanna Issa, deputy commissioner-general for Arab and China relations in the country’s major Fatah party, said that China’s COVID-19 response has won the respect of the world.

“China had followed strict precautionary and preventive measures for months to fight the unprecedented pandemic,” Hanna said at a virtual symposium with the Communist Party of China and 50 other political parties from around the world.

He said that China has helped many countries fight the novel coronavirus by providing essential information about it and sharing its experiences in confronting the public health crisis.

In addition, China has donated large sums of fund to the World Health Organization to support its efforts to combat the disease and sent medical delegations, equipment and medical supplies to more than 130 countries around the world, including Palestine, he added.

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Disaster

Iran records highest daily deaths from COVID-19 as Iraq’s death toll surpasses 10,000

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Corona Death Body

CAIRO, Oct. 14 : Iran recorded on Wednesday 279 deaths related to COVID-19 during the past 24 hours, the highest daily fatalities in the country, raising the death toll to 29,349. Meanwhile, the total number of deaths from the virus in Iraq exceeded 10,000.

Iran, the hardest-hit country in the Middle East region, reported 4,830 new cases, bringing the tally of infections to 513,219. The new 279 deaths took the overall death toll of the pandemic in Iran to 29,349, while a total of 414,831 coronavirus patients have recovered.

In the meantime, 3,857 new COVID-19 cases were detected in Iraq during the past 24 hours, bringing the total nationwide infections to 413,215.

The death toll from the coronavirus in Iraq rose to 10,021 after 51 fatalities were added, while the total recoveries increased to 347,396 as 3,188 more patients recovered.

Sayf al-Badr, Iraqi health ministry’s spokesman, said in a press release that the number of influenza infections will increase when the temperatures decrease in autumn, which will lead to more suspicions of being infected with COVID-19 due to the similarities of symptoms between the two viruses.

Saudi Arabia announced 501 new cases and 21 more deaths, raising the tally of confirmed cases to 340,590 and the death toll to 5,180.

The kingdom also reported 481 more recovered patients, taking the total recoveries to 326,820.

The total number of COVID-19 cases in Turkey climbed by 1,671 to 340,450, Turkish Health Ministry announced.

The death toll from the coronavirus in the country rose to 9,014 after 57 new fatalities were added in the past 24 hours, and the total recoveries increased to 298,368 with 1,396 more recovered.

More than 40,000 healthcare professionals have tested positive for COVID-19 in Turkey since the pandemic outbreak, while the number of the medical staff who lost their lives from the infection has reached 107, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on the same day.

In Morocco, the tally of COVID-19 cases rose to 160,333 after 3,387 new cases were added, which included 2,726 fatalities and 133,959 recoveries, while 525 patients remained in the intensive care units.

In Qatar, 198 new cases of coronavirus infections were detected, increasing the total number to 128,603, including 220 deaths and 125,584 recoveries.

Kuwait reported 532 new cases, bringing the country’s total number of infections to 113,269, of whom 676 have died and 105,236 recovered.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced 1,431 new cases, raising the total confirmed cases in the country to 110,039.

The tally of recoveries in the UAE rose to 101,659 after 1,652 more patients have recovered from the virus and the death toll reached 450 with two more deaths.

Oman’s Ministry of Health announced 563 new cases of infections, raising the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 107,776, including 1,061 deaths and 93,908 recoveries.

Palestine reported 532 new coronavirus cases, taking the tally of infections in the Palestinian territories to 56,999, including 49,934 recoveries and 463 deaths.

In Lebanon, 20 new deaths from COVID-19 were recorded, the highest daily increase in fatalities in the country, taking the death toll to 499, while the total number of infections went up by 1,377 to 57,246, the Health Ministry reported.

Algeria’s tally of coronavirus infections rose to 53,584 after 185 new cases were added with 1,827 deaths and 37,603 recoveries.

Libya on Wednesday said that 836 new coronavirus infections were registered in the previous day, increasing the tally of cases in the country to 45,821, while the death toll rose by 13 to 669 and the recovered cases went up by 294 to 25,301.

In Jordan, 2,423 new COVID-19 cases and 32 more deaths were recorded, increasing the tally of cases to 30,550 and the death toll to 257. The country’s total recoveries from the virus increased by 105 to 6,466.

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