The Middle East Channel

Iran signs IAEA agreement after failing to reach a deal with world powers

Talks between Iran and six world powers on Iran's nuclear program ended Saturday without an agreement, but the parties agreed to meet again on November 20. Several reports have emerged over the breakdown of talks on Saturday, some saying France failed to endorse the proposal insisting on restrictions on a heavy-water plant in Arak. However, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, "The French signed off on it, we signed off on it, and everybody agreed it was a fair proposal." He continued, "Iran couldn't take it at that particular moment; they weren't able to accept." At a news conference on Monday in the U.A.E., Kerry mentioned that Washington is not in a race to reach a deal, but that he hoped the parties would reach an agreement within months. After the talks, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, "We are all on the same wavelength, and that gives us the impetus to go forward when we meet again." Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported it signed a joint statement with Iran on a technical agreement for nuclear cooperation. The "roadmap for cooperation" grants broader access for IAEA inspectors to Iran's nuclear sites, particularly the planned reactor at Arak and the Gachin uranium mine.


The main opposition Syrian National Coalition has agreed to participate in proposed international peace talks in Geneva. In a statement Monday, the western-backed umbrella organization outlined conditions for its attendance requiring a guarantee that relief agencies would be given access to deliver humanitarian assistance to areas under siege and that political prisoners, particularly women and children, would be released. Additionally, the statement reiterated demands that President Bashar al-Assad step down in any transitional government. The coalition has called for goodwill measures from the government, and on Sunday a deal was reached to ease a blockade on the rebel-held town of Qudsaya, near Damascus. However, it is unclear if this was a pointed goodwill gesture. Meanwhile, Syrian forces backed by Hezbollah fighters reportedly overtook an army base near Aleppo's airport. Opposition forces have held nearly half of Aleppo since a siege on the city in July 2012, but the base has reportedly exchanged hands three times since Friday. In northeastern Syria, fighters associated with Syria's Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) have made a string of military gains, establishing a significant geographic presence.  


  • Thousands of foreign workers turned themselves in Sunday after clashes between police and protesting migrant laborers in Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh killed at least two people.
  • Iran's Deputy Industry Minister Safdar Rahmatabadi was shot and killed Sunday in Tehran, seemingly assassinated by someone traveling along with him in his car.

Arguments and Analysis

'Jordan: surprisingly stable for the moment' (The Economist)

"Whereas ordinary Jordanians seem simply relieved that their king has kept them out of neighbouring conflicts, those troubles have driven a wedge into Jordan's political opposition. Secular groups are fiercely divided between friends and foes of Syria's embattled regime. The Muslim Brotherhood, long the most powerful opposition force in Jordan in its guise as the Islamic Action Front, has also split into warring camps, with the recent overthrow of Egypt's Brotherhood president prompting some of its Jordanian adherents to argue for a less combative approach.

In a sign of declining opposition clout, street protests against cuts in food and fuel subsidies have drawn diminishing crowds. Policy changes as well as luck have helped to blunt criticism of the king. Queen Rania, whose glamorous profile riled conservatives, has largely withdrawn from the public eye. Constitutional reforms have gone part of the way to meet reformers' demands, and high-profile anti-corruption cases have partly appeased critics of the government.

Yet the mood in the kingdom remains anxious, not merely because neighbouring troubles could still prove contagious. Further cuts in subsidies are needed to trim a perilously chronic budget deficit and some fear that, with the organised opposition in disarray, any renewed eruption of street protests would be leaderless and hard to control."

'The myth of military might in R2P choices' (Liam Mahony, OpenDemocracy)

"Decision-makers truly concerned with protecting civilians need to recognize this unconscious assumption that privileges the military option. Rather than reacting to knee-jerk pressures to do something, or to do more, policy decisions should be based on a careful context-based analysis of each particular case, and an extremely cautious assessment of reasonable expectations of consequences. This kind of assessment is necessary before military action, before economic sanctions, or any other pressure.

Those in power who order atrocities -- whether President Assad or an armed group leader in the Congo -- are most often interested in sustaining or increasing their own power. Such power is political, economic, and military and it depends on their relationships with others. A strategy to protect civilians must examine the real interests of these people, identifying all the political, economic and military relationships they have that present opportunities for leverage. From that analysis, a nuanced and more complex strategy would combine the range of tools of leverage available. These in turn would be tailored to maximize their combined impact, and the strategy would assess the projected balance of consequences with an emphasis on minimizing negative impacts on civilians."

'R2P down but not out after Libya and Syria' (Gareth Evans, OpenDemocracy)

"But while R2P may be down, it's not out, for four reasons I will spell out in turn. First, there is effectively universal consensus now about its basic principles. Second, those principles have shown their worth in real-world cases, and the Security Council has continued to invoke them, even after it divided over Libya and became paralysed on Syria. Third, there is a principled way through the dilemma now facing policymakers as to how to react to the chemical weapons atrocity in the face of likely Council vetoes. And fourth, it is possible to see how the consensus that matters most -- in the Security Council, on the hardest of cases -- could be re-created in the future. 

As to R2P's general acceptance, the best evidence for R2P lies in the statements made in successive annual General Assembly debates on the subject since 2009. No state now disagrees that every sovereign state has the responsibility, to the best of its ability, to protect its own peoples from genocide, ethnic cleansing, and other major crimes against humanity and war-crimes. No state disagrees that others have the responsibility, to the best of their own ability, to assist it to do so. And no state seriously continues to challenge the principle that the wider international community should respond with timely and decisive collective action when a state is manifestly failing to meet its responsibility to protect its own people."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber


The Middle East Channel

Yemen and the GCC: Benefits of Labor Market Integration

From the coast of the Red Sea to the western edges of Oman, Saudi Arabia is constructing a 1,100-mile patchwork of sandbags, fences, and electronic detection systems along its border with Yemen. The kingdom is rightfully concerned about its southern neighbor, which presides over a deteriorating security situation and the world's second-largest stockpile of weapons -- a combustible combination. Thousands of drug smugglers and arms traffickers have slipped across the border into Saudi Arabia, which has witnessed a recent spike in terrorist attacks launched by Yemen-based militants.

By sealing its border with Yemen, Saudi Arabia pursues its immediate security interests but fails to address the root causes of instability in Yemen -- where nearly half the population lives below the poverty line. Rather than inhibiting the cross-border movement of Yemeni citizens and workers, Saudi Arabia should work to better integrate Yemen and its labor force into the region's economy. Indeed, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states can play a crucial role in stabilizing Yemen, and the Arabian Peninsula more broadly, through increased labor market integration.

Saudi Arabia has historically held its doors open for Yemeni workers, who entered the kingdom without visas and provided a source of cheap labor for the oil-rich country. The kingdom hosted more than a million émigré Yemeni workers during the 1980s. However, when former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh failed to condemn Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Saudi Arabia and the neighboring Gulf monarchies expelled their Yemeni workers. Nearly one million Yemenis returned to their homeland, but the government's inability to absorb the deported workers triggered a subsequent economic downturn and contributed to the 1994 civil war.

Once again, Yemen is faced with a new wave of expelled workers as Saudi Arabia deals with an employment crisis at home. Approximately 200,000 Yemeni workers have already been deported since March, and on November 4, planned government raids on businesses and shops brought eerie silence to the streets of Riyadh. As the crackdown continues, the flood of repatriated nationals could plunge Yemen into deeper economic crisis.

However, it is not too late to get Yemen back on the road to recovery. The GCC must help by welcoming Yemeni workers into its labor market. Although it may be an unpopular move due to security concerns, labor market integration in the Gulf will bring long-term prosperity and stability to the region. Europe's recent experience with economic integration demonstrates the positive impact of labor mobility on new member states' economies and political systems.

Fifteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, eight former communist states in Central and Eastern Europe -- the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia -- entered the European Union (EU). During that period, the prospects of EU integration had attracted considerable foreign investment and incentivized policymakers to carry out democratic and market-oriented reforms based on the Copenhagen Criteria. The criteria stipulated that candidate countries must build stable democratic institutions that guarantee the rule of law, human rights, protection of minorities, and the existence of competitive market economies. Over time, the economies of the post-Soviet states improved -- unemployment fell, living standards rose, and budget deficits shrank. Democratic institutions also began to emerge. Today, as Western Europe suffers from an ongoing financial downturn, Estonia, Slovakia, and Slovenia are helping to bail out their western neighbors.

Drawing lessons from the EU enlargement process, granting Yemeni workers access to the GCC labor market could help jumpstart economic recovery in Yemen and stabilize the broader region. First, the inflow of remittances could save Yemen from its looming economic collapse. According to the Sheba Center for Strategic Studies in Yemen, Yemeni expatriates sent home around $1 billion in remittances in 2010. Yemen's deputy finance minister, Jalal Omar Yaqoub, estimated that remittances could generate twice the combined benefits from foreign aid, free trade, and debt relief. Bypassing corrupt and bureaucratic channels, remittances sent home directly can support families and improve their financial welfare.

Second, the GCC can provide job opportunities for Yemeni workers in the private sector. In Yemen, around 35 percent of the population remains jobless, and the youth unemployment rate is close to 50 percent. Moreover, the country is dealing with a host of existential challenges, including food insecurity, water shortages, and extreme poverty. To lift Yemen out of this cycle of scarcity, the GCC must help by extending work visas and permits to Yemeni workers, who exhibit linguistic and cultural affinity with their GCC neighbors and are willing to work in low-wage jobs that are traditionally filled by non-nationals.

Some in the GCC have expressed concern about importing Yemeni labor at a time when GCC countries are contending with high unemployment rates among nationals. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), roughly 30 percent of Saudi young people were jobless in 2012, and fears of a disgruntled populace have pushed Riyadh to increase the quota for Saudi nationals to fill private sector jobs.

Although the kingdom is contending with its own employment crisis, absorbing additional laborers from Yemen will not harm its economy. On the contrary, Yemeni workers, who typically fill low-skill jobs that Saudi nationals do not desire, have historically provided an abundant source of cheap labor that boosted growth in the Saudi private sector. To achieve sustained growth, GCC markets need to generate jobs for their own job entrants. But they also need to fill job positions in sectors that are unpopular among GCC nationals, such as construction and agriculture.

Finally, the GCC can follow the EU model and use its labor market as leverage to push for necessary institutional reforms in Yemen. For instance, Saudi Arabia and other GCC members could encourage the Yemeni government to establish clear business regulations and laws that criminalize bribery. They could also push Yemeni policymakers to institute a government ID system to strengthen border security. Not only can the ID system alert security officials if traffickers exit or enter the country, it can also facilitate tax collection and allow GCC employers to conduct background checks on their potential hires. The institutional reforms that tackle both economic and security concerns will inevitably attract investments from countries in the Gulf, especially those that host a substantial Yemeni diaspora population.

Saudi Arabia and the GCC know all too well that a failed state in Yemen is a threat to regional security, which is why in 2011 the GCC helped Yemen achieve a political settlement and rescue it from the brink of a bloody civil war. Now, the GCC is hesitant to lend a hand when it comes to addressing Yemen's socioeconomic woes. By fencing the border and expelling émigré Yemenis, Saudi Arabia is alienating its impoverished neighbor and exacerbating the current crisis. Instead, Saudi Arabia and the GCC should bolster Yemen's economy by integrating its workers, as Gulf security is ultimately contingent on an economically stable Yemen.

Abdulwahab Alkebsi is the regional director for MENA and Africa at the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE).