MS Risk Blog

Russian interests and goals in Sudan

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Russia has significant stakes in the conflict that broke out in Sudan on 15 April between the Sudanese military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), respectively led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (known as “Hemedti”). Moscow’s main interests in Sudan are access to its gold reserves and its plan for establishing a naval base in the country. Although some reports claimed Russia has provided support to the RSF, Moscow will likely refrain from overtly favoring either side and will maintain a balanced approach, focusing on forestalling any potential democratic transition in Sudan while maintaining its commercial and military presence in the country.

Moscow’s involvement in Sudan can be traced back to November 2017, when then-President Omar al-Bashir met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi and sought to establish a new alliance with Russia. During Bashir’s visit, the two countries inked agreements on gold mining concessions and the establishment of a Russian naval base in Port Sudan on Sudan’s Red Sea coast. These constitute Moscow’s two main interests in Sudan today. Even though a coup deposed Bashir in April 2019, Russia continued strengthening its presence in the country and maintained close ties with the two leading figures that rose to power in the coup’s aftermath, Burhan and Hemedti.

Russia’s interest in the gold reserves of Sudan, which is Africa’s third-largest gold producer, is directly tied to the Wagner Group, the mercenary network managed by oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin. Right after Bashir’s meeting with Putin, employees of Meroe Gold, a company controlled by Prigozhin, arrived in Sudan and started exploiting the country’s gold reserves. According to reports, the Russians buy large amounts of gold from local miners and send it to a processing plant near the town of al-Ibaidiya, northeast of Khartoum. The gold is then smuggled out of Sudan either through flights from Khartoum and Port Sudan’s airports to the Syrian port city of Latakia, where Russia has a major airbase, or through a land route to the Central African Republic (CAR), where Wanger has also established a powerful presence. Amassing gold has enabled Moscow to accumulate wealth bypassing international sanctions imposed after its 2014 and 2022 invasions of Ukraine. A large portion of the money has reportedly been used to finance Wagner’s operations in Ukraine.

After Bashir’s ouster, both Burhan and Hemedti assisted Russia’s siphoning of Sudanese gold. With the ruling generals’ consent, Wagner’s dealings have circumvented state institutions and financial monitors, resulting in potentially hundreds of millions lost in government revenue and leading some officials to accuse Russia of “pillaging Sudan”. In return, Wagner’s mercenaries deployed in Sudan and provided training and weapons to the military and the RSF. They also assisted Sudanese security forces in cracking down on popular pro-democracy protests in 2018 and 2019, supporting both Bashir at first and Burhan and Hemedti after their coup. In October 2021, Russia supported a new coup by Burhan and Hemedti that overthrew a transitional civilian government formed after Bashir’s fall.

Russia’s plans for a naval base in Sudan, if realized, would also significantly bolster its strategic posture. With Moscow is seeking to increase its influence in Africa in the context of its broader global confrontation with the US and its allies, a military presence on Sudan’s strategic Red Sea coast would serve multiple Russian interests. First, it would provide Moscow with a foothold in a critical shipping lane between Europe, Asia, and Africa through which passes around 10% of global trade. Second, combined with its naval base in Tartus, Syria, it would enhance Russia’s presence in the Eastern Mediterranean by alleviating Tartus’ resupply commitments and allowing it to develop into a multi-purpose naval base, as described by Russian experts. Third, it would enable Russia to broaden its reach and project military power into the Indian Ocean, where the Soviet Union had important naval facilities that were lost after its collapse. Moscow would thus be in a better position to challenge the US and other major Western powers’ interests.

According to a draft 25-year agreement approved by the Russian government in November 2020, Russia will be able to station up to four warships, including nuclear-powered ones, and 300 personnel at the base. In exchange, Sudan will receive weapons and military equipment. Nevertheless, despite its significance for Moscow, the naval base project was significantly derailed after Bashir’s ouster in 2019. After the second Russian-backed coup in 2021 again isolated Sudan’s military from the West, prospects for the base’s opening warmed again. Still, since ratifying the deal requires approval from the parliament, which does not exist in Sudan since the 2019 coup due to political infighting, and the country is currently mired in chaos due to the ongoing conflict, it is unlikely that the Russian base will be operating any time soon.

Under these circumstances, which side does Russia support in the conflict between the two generals? According to analysts, in 2021 and 2022 Wagner strengthened its ties with Hemedti and the RSF. Prigozhin’s main motive was gaining access to more gold in territories Hemedti controls. The RSF have reportedly provided security for Wagner’s smuggling operations. Furthermore, RSF support is crucial for Wagner’s smuggling to the CAR, which borders Sudan’s Darfur region where Hemedti has his base of operations, and access to Libya, where both Wagner forces and the RSF support warlord Khalifa Hifter. On the other hand, Burhan is seen as less close to Russia, and his main patron, Egypt, opposes the establishment of the Russian base in Sudan. Last April, media reports said that Wagner and Hifter provided weapons to the RSF, including surface-to-air missiles.

Still, experts are cautious about the extent of direct Russian involvement in the conflict, since instability in Sudan poses a threat to Russia’s interests in the country. So far, neither side seems capable of achieving a decisive victory. Support for Hemedti would probably not be enough to enable him to take power and form a stable government, while completely alienating Moscow from Burhan’s faction which has also received Russian backing in the past. Furthermore, it would worsen relations between Russia and Egypt, a crucial regional partner for Moscow. And as long as the conflict persists, the goal of establishing a naval base in Sudan will remain unattainable. As for Wagner, Sudan’s destabilization due to continued conflict could hinder its gold smuggling operations. More recent reports have suggested that rumors about Wagner’s assistance to the RSF may be exaggerated, and Prigozhin himself has publicly offered to mediate between the two sides, denying involvement in the fighting. Thus, it seems likely that Russia will try to balance between Burhan and Hemedti and officially support a diplomatic solution to the conflict. Moscow’s main goals in Sudan will likely be preserving its Wagner-linked commercial interests and preventing any potential democratic transition that could end authoritarian rule. According to Samuel Rabani, such a transition is not in Russia’s interests, as a more democratic government would likely seek improved relations with the West and would not tolerate its opaque economic activities and gold smuggling.

In conclusion, despite its significant interests in Sudan, Russia is unlikely to provide significant support for either side, since it has good relations with both generals. Instability in Sudan does not serve Moscow’s goals, as it hinders both its gold smuggling operations and plans for establishing a naval base. Therefore, Moscow will likely pursue a balanced policy, declaring its support for a diplomatic solution, while seeking to preserve its commercial interests in Sudan through Wagner and keep alive its project for establishing a naval base, if and when conditions allow for it.

Nicaragua: a repressive regime towards Catholics

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Daniel Ortega’s regime maintains constant and violent pressure on its population, and in particular it has targeted the Catholic Church since 2018, which it has accused of supporting the opposition, spreading false news, and conspiring against the state. In 2023, it is highly likely that the Nicaraguan regime will seek to silence Catholics in order to maintain its power and it is probable that the anti-Catholic measures will maintain a status quo in the next 6 months. It is also likely that neighboring countries will not take concrete action against Nicaragua in the next 6 months or be directly affected by the repression. The measures against the Church are very specific to Nicaragua and it is unlikely that a similar situation will prevail in a Central American country such as Honduras or El Salvador, despite their undemocratic regimes.

Member of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and President of the Republic of Nicaragua since 2007, Daniel Ortega has governed his country with authoritarianism. This authoritarianism took a more repressive and violent turn in April 2018, when major riots broke out in the streets, demanding social and political reforms. Out of fear for its power, the regime severely repressed the riots, resulting in hundreds of deaths, injuries, and arbitrary arrests. In a country with a Christian tradition, where 50% of the population claim to be Catholic, the Church has sought to mediate with the demonstrators and has never condemned the riots, sometimes even going so far as to give refuge. It was since been accused by the Ortega regime of spreading false news, fueling the demonstrations and conspiracy. The situation has only worsened since 2018, with international observers regularly expressing concern about attacks on press freedom, religious freedom and human rights, with the security forces not hesitating to arbitrarily arrest and sometimes torture anyone suspected of being an opponent of the regime. Daniel Ortega’s regime therefore meets with little resistance, and it is possible that the population is too afraid to demonstrate and revolt regarding the violence exerted.

In March 2023, a United Nations (UN) report went so far as to describe these violations as crimes against humanity, thereby demonstrating the scale of the repression. The NGO Nicaragua Nunca Más estimated that more than 50 religious leaders have fled Nicaragua because of the situation. Since 2018, at least 529 attacks against Catholics have been listed by Martha Patricia Molina, a researcher and lawyer, including 84 attacks the year of the anti-regime social riots, 80 in 2019, 59 in 2020, 55 in 2021, 161 in 2022 and 90 between January and April 2023, raising fears that 2023 will be even more repressive than 2022. The increase in actions taken in 2022 could be the result of a wider crackdown, not just on the Church but on opponents in general, as in February and March the authorities opened a series of trials held behind closed doors against political opponents. Catholic institutions and associations are dissolved one after the other by the regime. On 7 March this year, the Catholic University John Paul II and the Autonomous Christian University Association of Nicaragua (UCAN) were dissolved. According to the Nicaraguan Freedom Foundation, on 13 April, while religious processions were banned during Easter, the authorities confiscated a monastery in the town of San Pedro de Lóvago in the diocese of Juigalpa and arrested 20 people elsewhere in the country. On 18 May, Catholic University of the Immaculate Conception in Managua was also dissolved. People close to Bishop Rolando Álvarez, a mediatic critic of the regime who was sentenced to 26 years in prison last February and who refused to join the 222 political opponents released by the authorities, are also targets of pressure. On 3 April, the authorities expelled Donancio Alarcon, a Panamanian priest in charge of the parish of María Auxiliadora, diocese of Estelí, whose apostolic administrator was Bishop Rolando Alvarez himself. Although Donancio Alarcon is Panamanian, his expulsion did not arouse massive indignation in his home country. The effects on Nicaragua’s neighbours are negligible for the moment. On 18 May, Yonarqui de los Ángeles Martínez García, Bishop’s lawyer, had his license to practice law in the country revoked by the Supreme Court of Justice, without any reason being given. Later, on 27 May, the national police opened an investigation into several Catholic Church dioceses in the country on suspicion of money laundering and consequently froze several bank accounts, marking a significant step towards discrediting the Catholic Church and attacking its funding.

The rupture with the Church was consummated when on 12 March the authorities unilaterally closed the Vatican embassy in Managua and broke off all diplomatic relations with Rome. This measure only served to increase international pressure, as the Vatican sought to use its influence to win over other countries. As an example, on 21 April, the US bishops, through the USCCB Committee on International Justice, called on the US government to take action against the Ortega regime. On 11 May, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, has declared Nicaragua in a report as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) due to the increasing persecution of the Church and Catholics, a similar level shared with North Korea and China. Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, officially condemned Ortega’s regime for its religious persecution in a speech a few days later, on 21 May, without explicitly announcing any sanctions. Few days later, on 31 May, John Kirby, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications for the Biden administration condemned Ortega’s attempts to discredit the Church by accusing it of an illegal money laundering scheme. Despite the US support it has managed to obtain, the Vatican seems powerless to combat the repression in Nicaragua which seems set to last.

Violence in Mexico Reaches Tourist Areas

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The recent string of Cartel violence in tourist areas in Mexico suggests that the weakening of the Sinaloa Cartel and Mexico’s decreased willingness to cooperate with U.S. law enforcement agencies are causing Cartel’s to become more emboldened and operate more frequently.

Over April, there has been a string of incidents related to cartel violence in the coastal state of Quintana Roo, especially the tourist sites of Cancun and Tulum. Cartel violence in Mexico is increasing and has been over the past year. Whilst the victims of the violence have not been in extreme numbers, the frequency of the attacks have been increasing. The latest statistics available show that the homicide rate in 2021 was 28 homicides per 100,000, with around 90 percent never reported. The increase in cartel violence is likely a result of the U.S. government indicting 28 Sinaloa cartel members, including three of ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s sons; Ovidio Guzman Lopez, Jesus Alfredo Guzman Salazar, and Ivan Archivaldo Guzman Salazar. The charges against the members have weakened the Sinaloa cartel’s power, which appears to have driven them to increase activity and rival cartels to challenge their position. Mexican President Lopez Obrador’s criticisms to the U.S. charges exemplifies the deteriorating relationship between the two countries. The cartels have likely taken advantage of the deteriorating relationship which has decreased the DEA’s ability to operate in the country.

On 14 April, the U.S. Department of Justice announced charges against twenty-eight Sinaloa cartel members in response to the growing fentanyl crisis. The U.S. saw a rapid increase in the amount of fentanyl overdoses in 2021, with around 70,000 people dying from overdoses in 2021, almost a four-fold increase over five years. In 2022, the DEA seized more than fifty million fake prescription pills laced with fentanyl along with more than 10,000 pounds of fentanyl powder. The indictments were aimed at hitting the cartel’s global network; a complex manufacturing and supply network including Chinese and Guatemalan citizens supplying chemicals required to make fentanyl, as well as running suspected drug labs in Mexico.

Mexican President Lopez Obrador’s response to the U.S. Department of Justice’s announcement may have emboldened cartels to act more freely. On 17 April, Lopez Obrador criticised the Sinaloa investigation by the Drug Enforcement Association (DEA), claiming it was “abusive, arrogant interference that should not be accepted under any circumstances.” The increased hostility towards the U.S. was highly likely a result of U.S. allegations of corruption in Mexico back in March, which furthered the already souring relationship between the two countries. The Mexican government has imposed restrictive rules on how agents can operate in Mexico, and slowed down visa approvals for a time since the return of General Salvador Cienfuegos who was on U.S. charges of aiding a drug gang in 2020. The continued deterioration has aided in leading to a dramatic increase in cartel violence as the reduction in ability for the DEA to move against the cartels appears to have emboldened them giving them freedom of movement.

The spread of cartel violence to tourist towns supports the theory that cartels are increasing their span of influence. On April 26, authorities discovered eight bodies dumped in the tourist city of Cancun. Whilst not unusual for bodies to often be found dumped and mutilated by the cartel, they are rarely found in Cancun, which is the heart of Mexico’s tourism industry on the coast. This also coincides with the fighting for territory between cartel’s, which is likely a result of the recent decrease in the Sinaloa cartel’s power with the capture of Guzman’s sons. The cartels often use violence to send a message to those who would challenge them. Whilst the bodies have not been identified, it is likely that they were either dumped there to send a message to those who would challenge the currently weakened Sinaloa cartel, or as a message to challenge the Sinaloa cartel by either the Gulf cartel, the New Generation Jalisco cartel, or Grupo Regional, all of whom have been identified as operating in the area. The most likely of the three being the Jalisco cartel as they are well known rivals of the Sinaloa cartel.

With both the limitations imposed on U.S. operatives in Mexico by the Mexican government as well as the weakening of the Sinaloa cartel, who are considered the most powerful in the world, it is likely that cartel violence will continue to increase unless drastic measures are taken. The increase in trends in both fentanyl smuggling and cartel violence over the past few years are indicative of this argument.

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In August 2022, Colombians brought a left-wing politician to power for the first time. The new president, Gustavo Petro, decided from the start of his mandate to implement one of his electoral promises, namely to negotiate “total peace” with the armed groups that are ravaging the country. These negotiations led to a ceasefire on 1 January, which was sometimes poorly respected – as April Indepaz reported 80 ceasefire violations since – but also led the government to take concrete measures to show its goodwill, sometimes contested by the opposition. The negotiations brought both encouraging results and defeats, casting doubt on the authorities’ ability to really succeed in this ambitious medium-term plan.

In 2016, the right-wing government of Juan Manuel Santos negotiated peace agreements with armed rebel groups, including the notorious Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). These agreements included components for comprehensive land reform in rural areas, political recognition of the groups to allow them to participate in public life, an end to the decades-long conflict that caused the death of 262,197 people, mainly civilians, a solution to the problem of illicit drugs, an agreement on victims of the conflict, and finally mechanisms for implementation, verification and complaints. While these historic agreements earned the Colombian president the Nobel Peace Prize, the authorities are struggling to implement them seven years later. Moreover, one of the weaknesses of the 2016 agreements is that many armed rebel groups have not adhered to them. Thus, the National Liberation Army (ELN), the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), the Gaetanist Self-Defence Militia of Colombia (AGC), also known as the Clan del Golfo, and dissident factions of the FARC have rejected the agreements and continue to operate in Colombia. Colombian security agencies estimate that there are 17,600 members of armed rebel groups still in activity. In this context, the negotiations begun in October 2022 by the left-wing president elected the same year and himself a former guerrilla of the 19th of April Movement (M-19), Gustavo Petro, are hopeful.

On 1 January 2023, the government announced a 6-month bilateral ceasefire, renewable, between the authorities and the armed rebel groups still operational in order to support the peace negotiations. But only a few days later, the ELN and its 5850 estimated members announced that they were rejecting the ceasefire, forcing the government to resume fighting against the organization without, however, putting an end to the negotiations. The ELN will not apply the ceasefire for a time, after the 17 January and 13 February emergency meetings in Venezuela and Mexico respectively lead to a solution. Despite the difficulties, President Gustavo Petro multiplied goodwill gestures to facilitate the negotiations. On January 24, he declared that the country would reduce its efforts to forcibly eradicate coca crops. It was for the authorities to change tactics and focus on prosecuting drug trafficking leaders and offer economic alternatives to coca farmers instead. On 1 February, the president pledged to pay compensation to the victims of the extermination of members of the Patriotic Union (UP) by the government of the time in the 1980s-1990s. On 9 February, he announced the opening of “sanctuaries” for members of the groups to ensure their safety and to show goodwill in the negotiations. On 16 February, he also announced that it would submit a bill to limit prison sentences to 6 or 8 years for drug traffickers if they stopped their activities, leading to criticism from right-wing parties who accused the government of promoting the creation of a narco-state.

On 13 March, it was the turn of the right-wing Clan del Golfo to cause difficulties. At the time, the north of the country was experiencing major demonstrations and damage, often very violent, by illegal miners protesting government measures to combat illegal gold mining. The Clan del Golfo, involved in this type of illegal activity in the region, was quickly accused of being responsible of the riots, which imposed a blockade on the 16 neighboring villages and de fact prevented the 250,000 inhabitants from accessing basic necessities such as food and medicine. On 20 March, the authorities unilaterally decided to suspend the ceasefire with the organisation and to resume the armed struggle. The riots did not officially end until 6 April, but the ceasefire was not reactivated. On 21 April, the Clan del Golfo, through its lawyer Ricardo Giraldo, declared that it was ready to resume negotiations if the government recognised its political status. But this point is not on the agenda today according to Gustavo Petro, who considers the organisation to be more of a cartel than a right-wing political movement.

However, on the same 13 March, the Colombian president announced that the Estado Mayor Central (EMC), a splinter group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that chose not to negotiate the 2016 peace plan, was ready to begin peace talks, marking a significant step forward for the government. And therein lies the ambivalence of the current negotiations, with the government showing both encouraging results for what it calls “total peace” and setbacks that jeopardize such an ambition. With little support from the opposition and sometimes a few dissenting voices within his own party, Humane Colombia (HC), the president must deal with these domestic challenges and convince people of these measures, which are more social than repressive, in addition to having to reassure his US ally that this policy is well-founded, as it is a major supporter of Colombia’s fight against drug trafficking. In these conditions, it is uncertain whether Gustavo Petro will be able to impose a “total peace” in the country.

Iran’s Nuclear Deescalation: Motives and Regional Implications

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After a long period of tensions over its nuclear program, Iran recently moved to renew cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This shift was probably aimed at averting further international pressure against Iran, and in particular the danger of an Israeli military strike against its nuclear infrastructure. With Tehran seemingly seeking to avoid escalation and restoration of the previous nuclear deal being unlikely, the US and its allies will likely also refrain from more aggressive moves and accept the status quo. Furthermore, this will facilitate the process of reconciliation between Iran and its Arab Gulf rivals, benefiting China’s interests in the region.

On 4 March 2023, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi, during a visit to Tehran, announced a new agreement with Iranian authorities regarding the country’s controversial nuclear program. According to the joint statement between Iran and the IAEA, the two sides agreed to increase inspections at the Fordow fuel enrichment facility, a critical part of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, and reinstall monitoring equipment that Iran had removed in 2022.

This apparent breakthrough came after years of escalating nuclear tensions between Iran and the West. Since former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement in 2018 and reimposed sanctions against Iran, Tehran had been gradually escalating its violations of the deal, enriching uranium above the agreed 3,67% limit and increasing its enriched uranium stockpiles. Although President Joe Biden’s administration joined European Union (EU)-mediated negotiations on rejoining the pact in 2021, they stalled in September 2022, while Iran further intensified its enrichment activity to 60% in November of that year. Last February, IAEA inspectors discovered uranium particles enriched up to 83,7%, near weapons-grade 90%. A quarterly meeting of the IAEA’s 35-member Board of Governors last month was expected to censure Iran for its advances and refusal to cooperate with the agency. Considering these developments, why did Iran decide to renew cooperation with the IAEA?

First, the timing was important. As a result of Grossi’s visit, the IAEA’s Board of Governors finally refrained from approving a resolution censuring Iran. A particularly important dispute concerned an IAEA investigation into the presence of uranium traces at three previously undeclared locations in Iran. During Grossi’s visit, Tehran also pledged to provide information on that issue, despite previously demanding the shutdown of the investigation. Iran thus managed to avoid another escalation of tensions and a potential referral to the United Nations (UN) Security Council that could have resulted in the reimposition of UN sanctions, lifted in 2016 as part of the JCPOA (separate from unilateral US sanctions imposed since 2018).

Second, another important factor probably was Iran’s concern about potential US or, in particular, Israeli military action. Israel considers Iran’s nuclear program to be a major threat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly threatened direct military strikes against Iran in order to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon. According to recent reports, Israeli officials warned the US and European governments that such a strike against Iran could be triggered if Tehran enriches uranium above 60%. The US has also made clear that “every option is on the table” to prevent Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons. Considering Israel’s existential fears over Iranian nuclear activities and Tel Aviv’s and Washington’s willingness to strike against Iran’s interests in Syria and elsewhere in the region, Iranian leaders most likely take these threats very seriously.

With the threat of military escalation looming, Iran’s rapprochement with the IAEA almost certainly averted this risk in the short term. It also provided some reassurance to the international community that Iran is not actively seeking to develop nuclear weapons, limiting support for any potential attacks by its enemies, particularly Israel. At the same time, “freezing” the status quo, at least temporarily, benefits Iran, as it provides important leverage. As of mid-February 2023, the country has reportedly amassed 87 kg enriched to 60%. This can be rapidly enriched to weapons-grade 90% and its quantity is enough for developing “several” nuclear weapons if Iran decides to do so, as Grossi had estimated last January. This enables Iran to threaten its Western adversaries with a ratcheting up of its nuclear program if they make further aggressive moves against it, while being far enough from weaponization to calm fears and discourage them from supporting an Israeli strike.

The US and its European allies, despite their dissatisfaction with Iran’s nuclear progress, are likely to accept this new reality. Despite early expectations, hopes for restoring the JCPOA have dimmed. Due to the much more advanced stage of the Iranian nuclear program compared to 2015, Iran’s military support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its violent suppression of the anti-regime protests that erupted last September, and the new rounds of Western sanctions triggered by these policies, the US president is unlikely to risk political capital in order to rejoin the deal. At the same time, Washington is also unlikely to support military action against Iran, which would risk embroiling it in a new major conflict in the Middle East, divert attention and resources away from confronting Russia and China, and disrupt oil production and transportation in the Gulf, further destabilizing global energy markets. Although Iran’s uranium stockpile is significant, the US intelligence community estimates that Tehran would need one year to actually produce a functioning nuclear weapon with it. In a February interview, CIA chief William Burns said that the US does not believe that Iranian leaders have yet made a decision to do so.

Notably, recent reports indicated that the US has explored the idea of providing partial sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for Tehran halting its enrichment at 60%, although the Iranians have apparently rejected it so far. Still, these moves demonstrate that, with the restoration of the JCPOA being an unlikely prospect and its unwillingness to respond militarily, the US is willing to accept the reality of Iran being a nuclear-threshold state, as long as Tehran does not start actively pursuing nuclear weapons and allows IAEA inspections for verification purposes. Without Washington’s backing, Israel is unlikely to attempt a military strike against Iran on its own and will likely also adjust itself to the current situation, although it will almost certainly continue its policy of containing Iranian influence throughout the Middle East. After all, its aforementioned warnings show that Tel Aviv does not view Iran’s current uranium enrichment levels as an imminent threat, as long as Tehran doesn’t go beyond that.

Third, Iran’s moves to deescalate nuclear tensions are taking place within the context of its wider shift toward reconciling with its regional adversaries and its policy of building close ties to China. Last month, Iran agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, and it is also improving relations with other Arab Gulf rivals, such as the UAE. China, which mediated the agreement between Tehran and Riyadh, has a vital stake in stabilizing the Gulf region and ensuring the stable flow of energy supplies from the region. As Arab Gulf states also felt severely threatened by Iran’s advancing nuclear program, the latest Iran-IAEA deal assuages these concerns and facilitates their rapprochement with Tehran. This serves Chinese interests as well, since it makes it easier for Beijing to maintain close relations with both Iran and its Arab partners and solidify its influence in the Gulf.

In conclusion, the agreement between Iran and the IAEA will help calm concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities and reduces the risk of military conflict in the region. A lot of difficulties lay ahead, as the IAEA has said that the monitoring gap of the past two years makes verifying the peaceful nature of these activities more complicated. But it was clearly demonstrated that Tehran seeks to avoid escalation, at least for now. The US and European countries share this stance. The deal will also make it easier for Arab states to move ahead with their reconciliation drive with Iran, indicating an overall desire to better manage regional rivalries.