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Press review: Iran to toughen up on Trump and Russia eyes big energy deals on Arab markets

Top stories in the Russian press on Thursday
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani Iranian Presidency Office via AP
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani
© Iranian Presidency Office via AP


Kommersant: Iran ready to retaliate against Washington’s pressure

US President Donald Trump’s threats against Iran and Washington’s potential withdrawal from the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal have sparked a political storm in Tehran, Kommersant writes. President Hassan Rouhani warned that "neither Trump nor ten other Trumps" can roll back its benefits to his country, while Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif promised a tough response, if the US designates the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.

Meanwhile, the experts interviewed by the paper believe that Washington’s policy, which is aimed at exacerbating bilateral relations, will push Iran’s conservatives towards taking a harder line and demanding the resumption of its nuclear program.

"One of the consequences of US pressure inside Iran will be a retaliatory onslaught by the opponents of the nuclear deal who consider it disadvantageous for the country. There is no doubt that the campaign against the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in the Islamic Republic that has scaled down recently will get a second wind after Trump’s scheduled Middle East speech," Rajab Safarov, Director General for the Study of Modern Iran, explained in an interview with Kommersant. He added that reformers in Tehran led by President Rouhani would try to preserve the deal reminding their opponents of the dividends that it has given the country.

Considering that neither the IAEA nor the majority of the group of six world powers have objections against the deal, experts believe that Tehran can take advantage of the disagreements between Washington and its European allies to gain political dividends.

"Inside the country, it will actively use tough rhetoric against the US to persuade the nation that at a critical moment the Islamic Republic will be able to stand up to Washington’s pressure by boosting its defense capacity, even by developing its missile programs. On the other hand, on the international stage, Iran will adhere to a fundamentally different line showing restraint and the ability to carry on dialogue," said Alexey Malashenko, an expert at the Moscow Carnegie Center.

According to the Malashenko, that would make it possible to foster ties with the part of the Euro-Atlantic community, which is no longer ready to see Iran as the regional "evil empire" and seeks to develop business and political ties with Tehran using the opportunities offered by the nuclear deal.


Izvestia: Moscow sees no threat to S-400 deal with Ankara

The recent remarks by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu who said that Ankara may renege on its purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile systems does not put the arms deal with Ankara in jeopardy, some high-ranking Russian diplomatic sources informed Izvestia.

"The decision on buying them is not made by the country’s foreign minister, and the recent remarks are nothing more than an attempt to exert pressure," one source said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier threatened that if Russia rejected joint production of the S-400 missile systems, Ankara could sign agreements with another supplier.

The Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation said in September that Moscow and Ankara had signed a contract for the delivery of Russia’s S-400 missile systems to Turkey. It was stressed that the details of the agreement could not be disclosed because of the "specificity and sensitivity of the issue."

According to Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of Russia’s Federation Council (upper house) International Affairs Committee, the Turkish side makes public statements to exert additional pressure on Russia.

"Such negotiations are held behind closed doors and are based on trust by the negotiating parties with one other. When one of the parties starts making public statements, that only means that it has exhausted its arguments," Kosachev told the paper. "That should not affect the Russian negotiators’ stance, as yielding to this kind of pressure is tantamount to setting a precedent, which can be used by other contractors."

Franz Klintsevich, First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Defense and Security Committee, confirmed in an interview with Izvestia that Russia is ready to supply the S-400 missile systems to Ankara.

"However, the provision of key technologies for such a serious type of weapons to a NATO member-country is out of the question," he stressed.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: Afghanistan seeks full-fledged SCO membership

Moscow recently hosted a meeting of the Contact Group of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). At present, Afghanistan has SCO observer status and would like to become a full-fledged member like India and Pakistan, which joined the organization recently. Kabul hopes that would facilitate cooperation with Russia and China to help it fight the Taliban (outlawed in Russia), Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes.

However, given the Moscow meeting’s importance, its participants cannot fail to take into account Washington’s stance, which has plans to boost its contingent in Afghanistan by 4,000-4,500 troops.

Senior Research Associate at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, Vladimir Sotnikov, told the paper that Afghanistan is seeking full-fledged SCO membership hoping that Russia and some Central Asian countries will help Kabul stabilize its domestic situation. Besides, it expects to expand cross-border trade with those Central Asian countries that are the members of the organization.

Despite the fact that Afghanistan is Washington’s closest ally in Southwest Asia, the government of President Ashraf Ghani believes the SCO is a good platform for overcoming some kind of international isolation and developing military-technical cooperation with Russia, China and Kazakhstan, which could supply weapons to Kabul.

As for the United States, the analyst noted that it regards Afghanistan as its foothold. That’s why Afghanistan’s SCO membership could be out of tune with Washington’s interests. On the other hand, the US would not hinder Afghanistan’s accession to the SCO, he added.


Izvestia: Russia and Saudi Arabia planning major joint oil venture

The Russian Direct Investment Fund, Saudi Aramco and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia have plans to build their own plant, Izvestia writes. Saudi Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources and Chairman of Saudi Aramco Khalid bin Abdulaziz al-Faleh told the paper on the sidelines of the Russian Energy Week that Saudi Aramco plans to establish a joint oilfield service company with the Russian Direct Investment Fund. According to the minister, the company will be able to work not only in Russia and Saudi Arabia but also in the Middle East region.

So far, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, Saudi Aramco and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia have not bought the asset that could turn into a joint oilfield service company in the future. The asset in question might be the Eurasia Drilling Company (EDC) owned by businessmen Alexander Dzhaparidze and Alexander Putilov. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak earlier said that a Russian-Saudi fund would like to invest $150 mln in its minority stake.

The Saudis’ interest in the EDC is quite understandable, as it is the biggest independent company in Russia, which generates a positive cash flow, said Viktor Khaikov, President of the National Association of Oil and Gas Service.

"By owning such an asset, Saudi Aramco can reduce its dependence on the largest international service companies. Taking into account the fact that the company calculates its costs in rubles, its competitiveness is much higher. This is a significant positive factor before the upcoming Saudi Aramco IPO," the expert explained.


Vedomosti: Russia’s Novatek ready to supply gas to Morocco

Russia’s Novatek natural gas producer sees Morocco as a promising market for supplying liquefied natural gas (LNG) and is interested in taking part in the construction of a regasification terminal, Vedomosti quotes the company’s CEO Leonid Mikhelson, as saying.

LNG from Russia can fully or partially replace supplies of pipeline gas to Morocco from Saudi Arabia, as negotiations with Riyadh on extending the contract are still underway, Mikhelson noted. The CEO added that a decision is expected to be made in early 2018.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak earlier highlighted Russian companies’ interest in supplying LNG to Morocco and building the necessary infrastructure. Novatek is ready to take part in implementing large-scale projects, the minister said specifying that Russia’s energy giant Gazprom could be involved in them, in addition to Novatek. A Gazprom official confirmed in an interview with Vedomosti that the company "is interested in supplying LNG to Morocco and is ready to consider participation in related projects."

Novatek’s new project Arctic LNG-2 could be the source of LNG supplies to Morocco, according to Fitch analyst Dmitry Marinchenko. "The opportunity to both supply LNG and ensure the construction of infrastructure could be one of the competitive advantages for the company, which needs to look for potential markets for its next LNG project now," the analyst stressed.


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