Khashoggi Smokescreen: Turkey’s Economic Concession, Aramco IPO and NOPEC

Khashoggi, Khashoggi, Khashoggi.

The journalist whose name we will not forget easily as the world media points all its antennas at it. This article digs deeper into why this issue has been blown out of proportion when it is known that all three nations, US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia routinely silence dissent often through assassination.

Brunson out the backdoor

Those who have been following the spat between the US and Turkey are aware of CIA operative turned “pastor” Andrew Brunson being released from Turkish prison. The Turkish public was against being bullied by the US in releasing Brunson scot-free and Erdogan would have had his work cut out if he allowed that to happen without a convenient scapegoat, i.e. the Khashoggi incident.

In fact, it was known before the final trial that Brunson would be released and that the trial was a mere formality. The Economist wrote:

At a hearing on October 12th, the case turned positively surreal. Witnesses who previously claimed to have seen him cavorting with Kurdish separatists withdrew their statements. The prosecutor asked for a reduced sentence. The judge gave the pastor three years, but ruled that he had spent enough time in pre-trial detention, and had him released. A day later, the man at the heart of a crisis between two nato allies was on a plane home.

NBC wrote about a ‘secret deal’ between the US and Turkey that meant the sanctions be lifted off Turkey and the relationship be strengthened once more:

The White House does not plan to publicly address Brunson’s release in advance of his court hearing out of concern that doing so would jeopardize it. Officials from both countries have signaled Brunson’s possible release in recent weeks.

Under an agreement senior Trump administration officials recently reached with Turkey, Brunson is supposed to be released after certain charges against him are dropped at his next court hearing, currently scheduled for Friday, the senior administration officials and a person briefed on the matter said.

It is clear that the Khashoggi murder and the media frenzy behind it acted as a cover to allow America and Turkey to hash out their differences. Former United States ambassador Matthew Bryza has said Turkey’s relationship with the U.S. is “back on track” following the release of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson. However, he went on to reveal that the Turkish public is on two sides of the fence on the issue:

“there are two different camps of thought. On one side, the release is seen as a concession by the Turkish government to the United States, however the other side views it as a legal decision that is part of a larger negotiation process.”

While it wasn’t simply the easing of economic pressure upon Turkey but also to come between her and Russia on the issue of withholding delivery of 100 f-35 fighter jets to Turkey unless Erdogan’s government shelves its purchase of the S-400 air-defence system from Russia.

Obviously, Erdogan has been shown his place by America, beneath their boot, as America has still not removed sanctions or done any significant reversals on their policy with Turkey. Turkey’s presidential spokesperson Kalin said:

“Our expectation is that they [sanctions] are lifted in the shortest time period. This will be a positive step in the process of bilateral relations becoming normalized,”

“Another issue, as you know, is the telephone conversation Mr. President had with Mr. Trump. The shared determination regarding the renormalization of the Turkey-U.S. relations following the release of pastor Brunson was expressed there,” Kalın said, referring to the telephone conversation between Erdoğan and U.S. President Donald Trump on Oct. 21.

Turkey’s role in Syria is key for America’s objective in the region. One of Erdogan’s main concerns is the migrant crisis that looms over Turkey every time a main rebel-held area is attacked. Turkey has been instrumental in disarming some of the rebel factions who trust Erdogan over Assad or Putin, and the Turkish Army has been widely accepted by the Syrian population over the mercenaries and rebels. With the Saudi’s cornered on the issue of Khashoggi, there is likely a deal done between Turkey, US and Saudi to foot the bill of migrant crisis to follow. Not only that, America has deployed even more military support to the Kurdish factions bordering Turkey and bolstering the idea of a Kurdish state. There seems to be no compromise from America on this issue, despite Turkey’s clear frustration.

Privatising Saudi oil – Aramco IPO

Since Mohammed bin Salman announced the privatisation of Aramco, i.e. the initial public offering (IPO) of Aramco shares, many knew this was a death wish for the Saudi economy which is heavily dependent on petrodollars. Hence, Vision 2030 was announced to diversify Saudi’s portfolio and create a sustainable economy without the reliance on oil and gas.

Since the sanctions on Iran has been reintroduced and the price of a barrel almost doubled, Saudi have been dragging their heels on privatisation of Aramco, much to the dislike of America. Bloomberg wrote:

“The program is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Vision 2030 to transform the economy and envisages the sale of stakes in ports, railways, utilities and airports. When the government began to consider the plans almost three years ago, Brent crude traded at less than $40 a barrel.

With oil prices now twice as high, there seems to be less urgency, even though the International Monetary Fund in July recommended privatization be accelerated. News in August that the sale of shares in Saudi Arabian Oil Co. was on hold was the most dramatic suggestion that officials were taking their feet off the pedal.

“It is undeniable that the privatization schedule is running behind what was initially assumed,” said Jean-Paul Pigat, head of research at Dubai-based Lighthouse Research.

Not only have they taken their feet off the pedal on Aramco IPO but also the other sale of stakes in airports and power plants.

“Among proposed transactions yet to be completed are plans to sell a stake in King Khaled International Airport, which are on hold”

“The sale of the $7.2 billion Ras Al Khair power plant is also yet to be done. BNP Paribas was hired to advise on the deal in September last year.”

And it goes on to question the Saudi government’s real commitment to reform or whether its mere lip service to America, “…they raise questions about the government’s commitment to reform and whether its targets were realistic”. Saudi halted their plans for IPO of Aramco in August – something major that the US is now punishing them over.

Saudi dares to venture towards China

Another angle is that the US is not happy with Saudi venturing towards China, especially in the case of Aramco. Where a recent deal means 170,000 barrels per day to the refinery in Eastern China.

Saudi Aramco, in a statement on its website, said that since 2006, no entity has “delivered more oil to China” than the Saudi oil company. Aramco added that it is working on the creation of “major refining, marketing, and petrochemicals” joint ventures in China, India, and Malaysia to support its “existing assets in the US, South Korea, and Japan”.

The senior vice president of Saudi Aramco stated: “This increase in customer base is due to our continued focus and attention to the Chinese market.”

Milking OPEC just like JASTA

The ‘NOPEC’ (No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act) aims to allow U.S. legal action against manipulating the oil market by OPEC mentioning oil prices in public. Similar to JASTA (Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act) which allows victims of Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to sue the Saudi government.

Previous US Presidents signalled that they would veto any move to make it law due to the fact it could be reversed upon America when they manipulate the markets, but Donald Trump has been a vocal critic of the OPEC (Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries).

Reuters article on “Don’t mention the oil price” states:

Saudi Arabia would often signal a preferred price level when speaking about OPEC policy and seek to push through actions to achieve that.

That has made OPEC and its unofficial leader, Saudi Arabia, nervous about what it might mean for NOPEC, or No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act.

And how the Khashoggi murder and subsequent pressure on Riyadh help Trump push this act through the doors of Senate:

A Senate source familiar with the bill said renewed interest in NOPEC was likely, as lawmakers weigh any actions in response to Khashoggi’s disappearance.

End of Crown Prince bin Salman?

At the end of it all, despite all of the above, it begs the question. Is this leading to the end of bin Salman? Or was he used as a mere scapegoat for America to push through its other key objectives?

In my opinion, there’s little to suggest that America is done with bin Salman who has been working tirelessly and quite successfully for the Americans, whether that is to do with secularising the Kingdom, footing the bill for America and containing Iran’s ambitions. It may lead to sanctions, but nothing that will affect America economically as that is counter-productive to the objectives they wanted to achieve above. Hence, this is the reason Donald Trump has been vocal about America’s deals with Saudi not being interrupted and how it will affect hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Once Saudi returns to their stands and Turkey agrees to their terms the Khashoggi frenzy will soon die out and the media will turn their attention to the next objective set out by the capitalists in charge.




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