Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, posponed his visit to Spain./ Picture: IRNA.
Luis Ayllón. Madrid.
These days, the Spanish Government tries to move in the turbulent waters of the always delicate situation in the Middle East. It is not easy to make everyone happy in the area, especially if one wants to safeguard not only political interests but also economic ones. The Spanish diplomacy is juggling things around to restore relations with Iran in view of a possible agreement on the nuclear programme without upsetting Israel with its rapprochement to the ayatollahs’ regime and, especially, to Saudi Arabia, Iranians’ traditional enemies.
The Spanish authorities have been fast to reactivate relations with Iran, as soon as the relaxation of the western sanctions has taken place in view of a better aptitude on Teheran’s rulers to reach an agreement. The Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, who met the new President, Hasan Rohani, in New York, gave his minister for Foreign Affairs, José Manuel García-Margallo, the green light to go to the Islamic Republic few months ago. The objective is to recover the relationship the two countries have been shaping for two decades, especially during the Government of José María Aznar, who travelled to Iran in October 2000 and who received, two years later, the then Iranian Prime Minister, Mohamed Jatami, in Madrid.
It is possible that this new rapprochement does not please Israel very much, since it still does not trust the words from the new Iranian authorities about the true objectives of their nuclear programme. However, the consequences can especially be noticed in the relationship with Saudi Arabia, as it has already been explained in The Diplomat.
Naturally, the great interest of Spain lies in counting on Iran again as an oil supplier, something it had to give up being disciplined after the adoption of sanctions by the EU and the United States. Spain, which purchased almost 52 million tons of oil a year from Iran, was one of the most damaged by the punitive measures and had to look for other countries where supplying itself with crude, other than Russia, from where it already imported. Mexico was one of them, as well as Saudi Arabia, which started to supply 14 per cent of the oil consumed by Spain.
Purchases from the Saudis also had another positive effect: Riyadh started to regard Spanish products and the big offers made by Spanish companies for its big projects of infrastructures with sympathy. Spanish exports tripled in 2013, reaching 103 million euros and a consortium of companies of our country got the high speed train Medina-La Meca, valued at 6,700 million euros, opening the door to other contracts, such as the one FCC got to build three metro lines in the Saudi capital, a contract valued at 6,000 million euros.
The King’s visit to Riyadh: key for the Saudis to keep their bet on Spanish companies
The great fear is that if Spain buys oil from Iran, Saudi Arabia, despite the good work of His Majesty the King –which helped with the grant of the AVE (Spanish high speed train) project–, sets aside offers by the Spanish companies or stops some of the projects where several companies of the IBEX35 are involved.
Perhaps, that is the reason why the visit the Iranian minister for Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif, planned to make to Spain on 16 May has been postponed, at least until June. It did not look sensible that García-Margallo met him in Madrid and left next day accompanying the King Juan Carlos in his visit to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, during the last stage of his tour of the Gulf countries. Therefore, the Monarch’s presence in Riyadh will be, under these circumstances, quite important to stop possible annoyance of the Saudi authorities.
In relation to Israel, the Spanish authorities –who have been waiting for the visit of the Prime Minister, Benjamín Netanyahu, for a while, hope, according to sources consulted by The Diplomat, that the economic relations are not affected, since there are important projects set in motion and others Spanish companies are aiming at. Among the first ones, we can find the agreement signed recently between Unión Fenosa Gas and the Israeli company Tamar to export natural gas from Israel to Europe through a liquefaction plant that the Spanish company has in Damietta’s harbour, in Egypt, a contract which means more than 20,000 million dollars in gas sales during the next fifteen years.
Among the second ones, the construction of a high speed line connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean or of three metro lines in Tel Aviv, as well as the extension of some harbours; subjects that were tackled during the visit of the minister for Public Works, Ana Pastor, to Israel about a year and a half ago.