Arab Digest editor William Law welcomes back Qatar University Gulf analyst Dr Ali Bakir to discuss what’s at stake for the region and beyond as the JCPOA talks, which appeared close to reaching the finish line, now seem bogged down in Vienna. What the Iranians see as a weakened US administration may allow them to drag the negotiations out and ultimately doom the deal, a scenario that could trigger a MENA nuclear arms race.
Summary: what seemed a certainty has now bogged down and the Vienna talks are at risk of stalemate with America’s Gulf allies finding themselves caught between a rock and a hard place, on the one hand worried that either the US will do a deal that gives away too much and leaves them in the lurch or on the other that a no deal scenario will further heighten their regional insecurity fears.
Arab Digest editor William Law’s guest this week is Annelle Sheline, a Research Fellow in the Middle East Program at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Their conversation explores the role that the Yemen war has played in making the already demanding challenge of bringing Iran and the US back into a nuclear deal just that much more difficult and how various actors are like pieces of a puzzle that just won’t fit.
Arab Digest editor William Law welcomes back the Baker Institute’s Kristian Coates Ulrichsen for a conversation about how the UAE and Saudi Arabia are on the sidelines but acutely watching how talks to revive the nuclear deal with Iran are faring in Vienna. Also on the table: Yemen, Syria, the Biden White House and the growing competition between the two GCC neighbours on the economic front.
Summary: Iran is seeking to maintain its successful asymmetric warfare advantages by attempting to secure a continuation of the status quo in Vienna, happy to trade short-term acquisition of nuclear weaponry for relief from sanctions and continued progress with its programme of regional interventions. With the United States pulling back, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh are preparing themselves to be able to disrupt that status quo should it threaten them.
Summary: the kingdom has built a ballistic missiles factory and, as anxieties over a new JCPOA deal grows in Riyadh, are ramping up production with assistance from China.
Arab Digest editor William Law is joined by the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Cinzia Bianco. Cinzia takes an insightful look at the year just past in the Middle East and North Africa, from coups, to Covid, to MbS and MbZ, to alliances abandoned and new ones forged. And she offers her predictions for 2022.
Arab Digest editor William Law welcomes back the geopolitical analyst and commentator Samuel Ramani to discuss how, in the past decade, Russia has consistently played a strong hand in the Middle East, buttressing relations with MENA states and presenting itself as an honest disputes mediator while exploiting anxieties and uncertainties to advantage as America continues to pull away from its longstanding role as the region’s guarantor of security.
The Baker Institute for Public Policy’s Kristian Coates Ulrichsen joins Arab Digest editor William Law in a conversation about how Qatar is renewing independent foreign policy initiatives that are gaining pace as the small Gulf state plays a pivotal role, assisting Washington in smoothing out the rough edges from Joe Biden’s abrupt and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Summary: while the Gulf states watch with nervous apprehension as President Biden tries to revive the nuclear deal, China is shattering the sanctions and giving Iran an economic lifeline that could wreck hopes for a renewed JCPOA.