Why we need a deal with Iran

An official from Iran's Atomic Energy Organization speaks on his mobile phone in front of uranium enriching centrifuges at an exhibition of Iran's nuclear achievements at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran on April 20, 2009. (Reuters photo)

An official from Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization speaks on his mobile phone in front of uranium enriching centrifuges at an exhibition of Iran’s nuclear achievements at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran on April 20, 2009. (Reuters photo)










By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

As the deadline looms for the announcement of some sort of nuclear deal between the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany on the one hand and Iran on the other, there has been much agonizing in the Middle East and in the US of how this may be a bad deal for the Gulf countries, Israel and the US. Bad because US President Barack Obama is allegedly being too soft in the negotiations with the Iranians, in the hope of reaching a landmark agreement that will be a lasting legacy of his presidency, even if it is detrimental to American interests.

First we had the shameless appearance of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the US Congress on March 3, lecturing American politicians on the dangers of a bad deal with Iran. Nancy Pelosi, minority leader in the House of Representatives, visibly displeased by his remarks said his speech was “condescending” and “an insult to the intelligence of the United States.”

Then we had the letter written by 47 Republican senators on March 9 addressed to the leaders of Iran warning them that any nuclear deal reached between Obama and Iran, that was not approved by the US Congress, could be revoked by the president who is elected to office in 2017, and that Congress could modify the terms of the agreement.

For sure the growth of the Iranian nuclear program, and the discovery of a secret, military component of it in 2002, has led many critics to be wary of Iran’s true intentions. No one really doubts that the country needs nuclear energy to produce electricity, just as Gulf countries are investing in nuclear energy for the same reasons. By doing so, both Iran and the Gulf countries will be able to divert much less crude oil to produce electricity, and be able to export that oil where they can get much more money for it.

In 2006, Iran had only 164 centrifuges that it uses to produce uranium. Today it has more than 15,000. Jeffrey Lewis, a director at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in the US, wrote in Foreign Policy magazine recently that the reluctance of American hawks to reach a nuclear deal with Iran over the past ten years is what has allowed, in part, the Iranian nuclear program to expand so aggressively. “One of the most frustrating things about following the past decade of negotiations is watching the West make one concession after another – but only after the Iranians had moved so far forward that the concession had no value. The people arguing now for a ‘better’ deal at some later date are the same people who in 2006 said 164 centrifuges was way too many and, that if we just held out long enough, we’d haggle the Iranians down to zero. Look what that got us,” writes Lewis.

If the deal is agreed to, Iran would freeze its nuclear program at current levels for the next ten years, allow more intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the US and the UN would lift many of the economic sanctions that have made life so difficult for all Iranians. Some critics are worried that the Iranians are only bluffing in the current negotiations, claiming that their only goal is to get the sanctions lifted, and that as soon as they are the Iranians will ramp up their nuclear program once again. In order to avoid this happening, the US could lift some of their sanctions temporarily for six months, subject to inspections of Iranian nuclear installations. If they passed, then the sanctions would remain lifted for a further six months. That way the threat of the sanctions returning, and the use of regular inspections, could be a good way to keep the Iranians on their toes and make them stick to the agreement. It would also allow the US to retain the stick of sanctions, which are notably easier to lift than to impose.

For sure, Iran’s continued expansion of influence in the Arab world, in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen is extremely worrying to the Gulf Cooperation Council member states and is unacceptable. Already in Iraq, a vast network of Shia militias from Iran have been deployed to ostensibly fight the menace of the Islamic State forces, but many see it as a strategic move to effectively make Iraq a satellite-state of Iran.

In the end, a nuclear deal with Iran, even one that is not liked very much by all parties, will be better than no deal. A deal allows the continued presence of IAEA inspectors in Iran and keeps Iran engaged with the rest of the world and the expectations that come with it of acting reasonably responsibly. We all know that a nuclear deal will not necessarily mean renewed diplomatic relations between the US and Iran, as the Supreme Leader of Iran still believes that America is the Great Satan. So all of us in the Gulf can breathe easy again and not worry that a nuclear deal with Iran will suddenly eclipse the relationship that the US has had with Gulf countries for decades.

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A new seafood restaurant in Jeddah: The Manhattan Fish Market

DINERS in Jeddah are always looking for the next trendy and fun place to eat at and be seen at. Java Lounge and Senses were once the hottest places to dine at in this Red Sea coastal city. Not any more. Now, Balsamico 2 in the Diner’s Square on Malek Road, and Sushi Yoshi in the Attalah Center near the Sheraton Hotel on the North Corniche, are the in places to be seen at.

Somewhere in the middle of the latest cool places to eat at are places like the relatively new Manhattan Fish Market, which opened on Andalus Street next to Ruby Tuesday’s last September.

Part of a Malaysian chain of seafood restaurants, with branches in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, Manhattan Fish Market has been struggling to make a mark on the local food scene that is extremely fickle and hard to please. But it has all the necessary attributes: A contemporary and trendy design which isn’t overwhelming, very friendly staff and good food.

“We have a good turn-out during lunch time because there are many offices nearby,” said Jojo Talisayon, the restaurant manager. “But we’ve also had a harder time introducing this brand to Saudis as this is our chain’s first branch in Saudi Arabia.”

I recently ate dinner at the restaurant with a friend and was pleased by the whole experience. We both had the Manhattan Seafood Chowder soup to begin with (SR22), which was appropriately tomatoey and fishy tasting. We shared a portion of Garlic Butter Mussels (SR42), which are flown in from New Zealand. Use the sliced French bread that is served with them to sop up the garlicky sauce that covers the mussels.

For the main course, I opted for the Manhattan Flaming Prawns (SR69), which were served with delicious Garlic Butter Rice. My friend had the Grilled Platter for one (SR76), which was a combination of fish and prawns. If you want something more grand, go for the Grilled Flaming Lobster which costs SR270.

If you have children, they can have Fish and Chips for SR18 or Calamari Rings with Orange Juice for SR18.

Throughout the meal we drank Iced Lemon Tea (SR12), which was constantly refilled by our attentive Filipino waiter. For dessert, we shared a Manhattan Mud Pie (SR26), which was a combination brownie-chocolate ice cream cake that was a wonderful end to the meal.

“We’re planning to open another branch of this restaurant this year in Jeddah,” added Talisayon, who is optimistic that business will pick up once people have tried the restaurant.

For reservations call +966-2-614-1900.

Period piece set in Russia on Saudi TV Channel 2

Russian Cannon at Ely CathedralImage by Shelley & Dave via Flickr

When I first moved to Jeddah in December of 1987 there were only two TV channels to watch. Well, there were actually three sometimes: Channel 1 and Channel 2 of Saudi TV, and Egyptian television, that we were able to catch when the weather was good.

Orbit launched pay-television in 1991 and shortly afterwards satellite dish receiver sets were flooding the market and we had a chance to escape from the mediocre fare that Saudi TV offered us. Channel 2 was especially annoying with its Saudi presenters who mangled the English language with their strange “American” accents, and American TV series that were butchered beyond comprehension by censors eager to chop out any kiss, hug or untoward contact between the opposite sexes.

Not much has changed. Both Saudi TV channels now have snazzier graphics, but not much else has improved. Thus it was with pleasure that I stumbled upon the period drama The Castle this morning in my hotel room.

Set in 19th century Russia, this super-production of Saudi TV was filmed in 1999 in Syria, with the outside shots done on location in Russia. Starring the famous Saudi actor Nasir Al-Gasabi of Tash Ma Tash fame, the series was written by Farouq Mohamed and filmed by Yevin Felerov.

Dubbed into English, the series looks like something out of Dr Zhivago but with Arab actors and sentiments. It was funny to watch Saudi actors with their dark olive skin, wearing 19th century outfits and sporting long hair tied back in ponytails. Set in vast homes, with candles everywhere, there are velvet cushions, brocade curtains, and fur throws on heavy, carved-wood beds.

The dialogue is typically Arab, with a young, beautiful woman asking her father about a man that he wants to marry her off too. A scheming older woman, but beautiful and with hair for days, asks an innocent maid where certain keys to bedrooms of male relatives are kept, and the maid happily tells her where they are kept.

I find it ironic that I only discovered this gem of period Saudi television ten years after it was filmed. I blame Orbit for that. BBC eat your heart out!

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