Sanchez: Morocco, Qatar and Nigeria to seduce Biden

Spain, Pedro Sanchez, Morocco, Qatar, Nigeria, Algeria, gas,

The international agenda of the Moncloa has focused on meetings that will allow it to become independent of Russian and Algerian hydrocarbons. All ‘partners’ of the United States

On June 14, the image of Pedro Sánchez approaching Joe Biden in the corridors of NATO headquarters as a « bilateral meeting » occupied all the news. A ‘rudeness’ that the president of Spain has been trying to amend for a year. The threat from Russia and the economic alerts makes the friendship of the US President more necessary than ever. Sánchez has opted to curry favor with Biden through an energy alliance with both the White House and his regional partners. « Spain wants to regain a privileged position in its relationship with the US, » says José María Peredo, professor of international relations at the European University. “The situation of the war in Russia is causing it to strengthen the geopolitical relationship as well as in the energy issue. In this scenario of interests, rather than values, energy is a key factor. Spain has an active role because it links the energy issue with its foreign policy interests”, adds the professor. The first is Morocco.

The photo of last April 7 of Sánchez in Rabat with the King of Morocco, Mohamed VI. A handshake that evidenced PM’s change of position with Western Sahara. A decision that opened a diplomatic crisis with Algeria, the great supplier of gas to Spain through a gas pipeline. The Algerian malaise set off energy alarms during the gas price crisis after the invasion of Ukraine and the corresponding sanctions on the necessary Russian gas. Since this year, the US supplies 34.6% of all the natural gas that enters Spanish territory and reaches 13,103 gigawatt-hours (GWh), the largest amount of US gas in the history of the records of the Reserves Corporation Strategic Petroleum Products (CORES) dating back to 2004.

A figure that far exceeds the 25% figure assumed by US methane carriers in the December 2021 hydrocarbon statistical bulletin. All eyes were on the US and Joe Biden. Morocco is the strategic ally of the US in North Africa and Algeria is Russia’s classic partner in that geographical area. In this context, from the sector they see it understandable that Joe Biden’s team is behind an improvement in relations between its two allies, Spain, and Morocco, during the crisis between the West and Russia. With this operation, Biden would achieve a better relationship between two ‘colleagues’ and ensure that he maintains his position as the largest gas supplier in Spain. “Spain has an active role because it links the energy issue with its foreign policy interests. The first thing we are going to do is disassociate ourselves from Russia and then we are going to diversify our hydrocarbon suppliers. This is where the change in the relationship with Algeria is interpreted in its approach to Morocco, the visit of Qatar and Nigeria”, points out José María Peredo.

Qatar, a new partner

The other nod to Biden from Spain came on May 18. A massive delegation landed in Spain accompanying the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamin Bin Hamad Al Thani. Qatar maintains this type of strategic dialogue with very few countries: France, Italy, UK, Japan, Turkey and China. But, above all, in the current geopolitical context after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the country dominated by the Al Thani family has positioned itself as one of the United States’ great Middle Eastern partners. « Qatar is the world’s second largest producer of natural gas, » recalled Pedro Sánchez’s team in their official statement after the meeting. But Spain, now, is not a preferred buyer for Qatar, as shown by Cores data. In the first quarter of 2022, even though natural gas imports are the highest for this period since 2008, arrivals from the Middle East (Qatar and Oman) have barely represented 3%, with a drop in deliveries from Qatar 67.4% between January and March.

Pressure on Sánchez from Brussels

The reactivation of Sánchez’s international agenda is also marked by pressure from Brussels to seek more allies to ensure supply. « The geopolitical situation and dependence on Russia for Europe’s energy supply is contributing to the escalation of gas and electricity prices, » recalls Carlos Solé, partner responsible for Energy and Natural Resources at KPMG in Spain. « The recommendations of the European Commission to curb the rise in prices point to an acceleration in the penetration of renewables and the energy transformation of the sector towards the reduction of dependence on fossil fuels and decarbonisation, the reduction of demand with the improvement of energy efficiency and the search for supply alternatives to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russia », clarifies the KPMG partner.

A friend in West Africa

The last chapter of Sánchez’s agenda with Biden’s ‘partners’ has been this week with the visit to Madrid of the president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari. The first visit to Spain by a Nigerian head of state in the last 17 years. A meeting that served for Spain to smile at Nigeria as one of its main « and most reliable » energy suppliers -gas and oil-, and for Nigeria to approach its second largest client with its hydrocarbons. The great power of West Africa has become one of the countries that has most increased its shipments of gas carriers to Spanish ports, along with the United States, after the closure of one of the gas pipelines in Algeria.

Nigeria started 2021 representing 7.9% of all the gas that entered Spain and, after the closure of the Maghreb pipeline in November, it rose to 17.4%. It is no coincidence that the US and Nigeria came to the rescue of Spain when Algerian gas stopped pumping due to its conflict with Morocco. Both countries maintain great bilateral relations. The relationship between Nigeria and the US is strategic for both parties, with the security component gaining weight and the importance of Nigerian oil and gas losing ground due to the exploitation of its own resources in the US. For its part, the US participates in surveillance and control tasks in the Gulf of Guinea through the “African Partnership Station” initiative and provides military, intelligence, and anti-terrorism cooperation.

Therefore, Pedro Sánchez has worked with great allies of Joe Biden in recent months and has managed to reduce his energy exposure to Russia and, above all, to Algeria. A diplomatic job that will end on June 29 with the NATO Summit in Madrid. A meeting where Pedro Sánchez and his team hope to turn that corridor conversation into a meeting with honors.

Voz populi, Jun 05, 2022

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