In recent weeks, tensions between Iran and the United States have increased noticeably. Iran refused to halt its nuclear enrichment program and the International Atomic Energy Association notes that the country may soon have the ability to produce its own nuclear weapons. In response, the United States has tightened its economic sanctions and, together with Israel, threatened Iran with a possible military invasion. For its part, this past January 23, the European Union decided to prohibit the importation of Iranian petroleum, as well as freeze the Central Bank of Iran’s assets.
Meanwhile, the Iranian government has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz. This action would detain a third of the global maritime transportation of petroleum, as a dozen oil tankers carrying a total of about 17 million barrels pass through the strait daily. As a result of these tensions, the price of gasoline in the United States has increased ten percent in the last month.
The simultaneity of the meeting between Obama and Netanyahu and Biden’s visit to Mexico is no coincidence. Nor is the recent signing of a new agreement for the joint exploitation of oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico mere coincidence. Today, guaranteeing free access to Mexican oil is reemerging as a central priority for U.S. foreign policy.
Mexico is the U.S.’s second-largest oil provider, only after Canada and at the same level as Saudi Arabia. The country sells around 500 million barrels annually to the United States. In the event of a major conflict in the Middle East, Mexico would immediately be called upon to increase its production to compensate for the loss. Remember that Mexico is not part of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and can freely manage its rates of production to support the military adventures of its neighbor.
Now more than ever it important for Washington to guarantee the traditional obedience of the Mexican authorities. The first question that Biden will ask the Mexican presidential candidates today will be with respect to their oil policy and the possibilities for greater privatization and foreignization in the industry.
The meetings with the presidential candidates won’t be horizontal, friendly discussions, despite how much they all strive to present themselves as such, but harsh interrogations on the part of the vice president. The three candidates will find themselves at a frank disadvantage, due to the fact that if the U.S. government perceives that any candidate could adversely affect its interest, it will not hesitate to intervene to derail his or her campaign.
Nonetheless, it will be very important to discern the key differences in nuance that each candidate projects before and after his or her meeting with Biden. While we can well expect to learn in the next Wikileaks release the shady agreements each consented to, especially on the part of the PAN and PRI candidates, at the very least we will see the type of relationship each presents to our neighbor to the north. Specifically, we should ask how far the each candidate will be prepared to harness the enourmous power that Mexico has in the bilateral relationship to strengthen economic development and national sovereignty, or conversely, seek to take personal advantage of the relationship to serve his friends and business and political allies.
Also, it is necessary to figure out how much each candidate will be able not only to leverage the relationship, but also to increase Mexico’s negotiating power and influence. For example, is there a candidate who would be prepared to align themselves with OPEC in order to stop being the scab for other oil-producing countries? Would one of them openly explore the option of legalizing the transport of illegal drugs to the U.S. border? Would one of them have the fortitude to condition the export of petroleum on the better treatment of compatriots on the other side of the border? Would one of them have the guts to formally request a U.N. arms embargo on and stricter sanctions for nations that allow the sale of weapons to Mexican criminal groups?
Strong, blunt actions like these are needed to correct the course of foreign policy so lost in recent decades. This Monday we will see lots of smiles and hugs, but what really matters are the interests and actions behind the scenes." Spanish original