Operator: Welcome to The Atlantic Council Member and Press Call on the Saudi Aramco attack. Please be aware that each of your lines are now in listen-only mode. We will open the lines for questions following the speakers’ opening remarks.
Please remember to press star followed by the number one key on your telephone to ask a question. Questions will be taken in the order which they are received. Please be sure you introduce yourself when asking a question. I will now turn the call to The Atlantic Council who will introduce the call and begin our discussion. Mr. Bell, please go ahead.
Randy Bell: Hi, everyone. Thank you all for joining the call today. My name’s Randy Bell. I am the Director of the Global Energy Center here at The Atlantic Council.
It’s our pleasure to have with us today Kirsten Fontenrose who’s the Director for Regional Security in the Middle East programs at The Atlantic Council. We have Phillip Cornell, a non-resident senior fellow in the Global Energy Center here at The Atlantic Council, and he’s also a former Senior Corporate Planning Advisor at Saudi Aramco and also former Senior Advisor at the IEA.
We have Jean-François Seznec who worked in Saudi Arabia for many years, and Ellen Wald, also a non-resident senior fellow here at The Atlantic Council who is the author of “Saudi, Inc.”.
So we’ll get started with a few – a brief conversation among this group, and then we will open it up for your questions. So I want to just level set here by talk – by asking what specifically happened and what do we know right now. So maybe we can start here with Kirsten.
Kirsten Fontenrose: With what specifically happened on the attack?
Randy Bell: Yes.
Kirsten Fontenrose: So what we don’t know is almost more important. We still do not have confirmation of the attack origin, and you see the rumors flying. I think the biggest challenge for the administration actually is going to be convincing the international community that this attack did originate in Iran if, in fact, that’s what their intelligence is indicating because they will not be able to declassify information if it came from partner intelligence services.
And we know from past experience it’s very difficult to convince the international community of the administraiton’s take on these things if they cannot reveal some of this. So what we do know is anywhere between 10 to 17 projectiles were fired.
Most of the points of impact are on the western side Abqaiq. The Houthis have claimed 10 to 11 drones, but there 17 points of impact. Could have been a combination of drones which would probably be the (inaudible) UAx model and cruise missiles, again, not determined quite yet.
I want to throw something in here. It is possible that the attack could have come from a proxy force in Syria which ahs not really been discussed but it think would be worth people looking into.
We’ve ruled out Iraq based on Secretary Pompeo’s conversation with the Iraqi Prime Minister where he stated definitively that we’ve ruled that out. I think that was important because Iraq is fairly angry with the U.S. after the Israeli strikes inside Iraqiu territory in the past two weeks blaming the U.S. for being complicit in the carrying out of those strikes without warning the Iraqi government.
So the fact that the secretary came out and very vocally said this did not come from Iraq is a nice symbol and like message that he’s sending to the Iraqi government that we’re definitely not trying to increase our tensions with you here.
Until we know whether or not these came from inside Iran, it’s going to be unknown how they will be reacting because that does change everything. That is a zeitgeist shift.
Everybody’s been planning for attacks from proxies coming from all angles, but there was not an assumption that if the Iranian regime would actually determine it was in their best interest to strike from their own territory, and we can get into why they might have done that in a bit if you would like to.
Randy Bell: Yes. And it seems that President Trump has just tweeted or announced in some form that he has told the Saudis that the attacks did come from Iran. Phillip, you actually lived at Abqaiq for a little while. I’m wondering if you could talk about the – what the facility does and how these attacks impact Saudi Arabia’s ability to produce and export oil?
Phillip Cornell: Sure, absolutely. Yes, well so, I mean, Abqaiq is a very central facility in the entire sort of chain along Saudi oil production. It’s about – we’re talking about something that’s about 60 kilometers south of Dhahran where the headquarters of Aramco is.
So it serves as a central point for oil processing, the processing of crude. Particularly at Abqaiq were talking about stabilization. What does that mean?
It means that, well, for a lot of sort of heavier sour crudes that are coming out of Iran – Saudi Arabia’s major fields, particularly places like Ghawar but also farther fields, places like Shaybah, that oil needs to be stabilized, which means separating hydrogen sulfide from the sour crude to sort of make it sweeter and also to remove gases in order to make it safe for transport further downstream for refining.
So what’s happening at Abqaiq, as I said, it’s about 60 kilometers from the main center. It has these – a capacity for oil processing and crude processing of about 13 million and about seven million – it’s only running at about half capacity, so seven million barrels per day typically are processed at Abqaiq.
That represents a significant portion of Saudi production at the moment which is just south of 10 million barrels, about 9.8 million. And the country overall had a production capacity to sort of north of 12 million to about 12.5 million barrels per day when it’s really pushed.
So those are sort of the general numbers. Now, what does Abqaiq look like specifically? Well, in order to get these – this stabilization done, there’s sort of 18 critical stabilization towers, and these are sensitive pieces of equipment where basically the has rises and heavy crude sort of remains at the bottom of the tower.
These have been recognized by critical infrastructure protection, by critical infrastructure community as particularly important because they can take longer to repair. And what’s happened in this attack I think very notably is that some of the more immediate images that have come out subsequently and photographs that have been released by the U.S. government show very specific accurate targeting of those particular infrastructures.
At Abqaiq, there’s 18 of these. 10 are sort of clustered in a line in the north. Eight are in the south. It looks like these attacks were in that sort of northwest corner of the facility, and initial reports are that five of these towers have been taken out or have been hit, so that’s five out of 18 stabilization towers as well as some of the surroundings. (Ihrohr) tanks which is where they hold some of the crude as it’s waiting to be – to go to this process.
So what does that mean for capacity? It means that of the seven million barrels that’s currently processed there, each of those towers is about 700,000 barrels per day. So in terms of what’s been taken off just doing some sort of back of the envelope, that’s about 3.5 million barrels per day in stabilization capacity that’s been taken offline by these towers going down.
Now, as I said, there’s extra capacity there, and the 5.7 million barrel number that we heard from the Saudis over the weekend is obviously very shocking in terms of it’s percentage of global output, but that really represents sort of a shutin of the facility in the immediate aftermath which means evacuating personnel and taking most of that effect of that facility offline until initial damages and repairs can happen.
And those fires have already been put out. A lot of the capcity of that 5.7 million was expected to come back online today or maybe tomorrow, so we’re going to have to see the initial damage reports that the Saudis are planning – well, have said – told us that Aramco has told us they’re going to release tomorrow to see what the extent of that damage is.
In terms of getting back on their feet quickly, these – indeed, these towers, there’s a reason why they have been – have been noticed because they can take weeks or months to get specialized parts there.
Now Aramco has made huge improvements over the past several years in terms of improving their own resiliency. That means with things like transport redundancies but also with prepositioning of specific parts that are needed to replace critical parts of the chain.
These could, indeed, take a lot longer. The good news is that there is a lot of spare stabilization capacity in the system to be able to continue throughput, and there’s also a significant amount of Aramco stocks that are available to tap as those repairs are happening and that can make up for whatever shortfall actually we do actually see over a longer period.
For the moment, they’ve already alerted their buyers – their main buyers that obviously this incident has happened, that they don’t expect to have a shortfall of export deliveries to fires, but they have asked for some flexibility in terms of the – in terms of the crude quality that they can expect on those deliveries because obviously what this does is it impedes the short-term ability to produce light sweet crudes which Saudi is obviously known for.
And so, over the sort of next few weeks and months, I think we’re going to see sort of a short fall on that side of the crude market, of the crude slate, and also a demand for refined products in the kingdom to the degree that they’re refining systems has sort of gotten a monkey wrench in it for the moment.
Now what does Abqaiq look like? I mean, it’s – it does have this large stabilization ability. It’s also as, Randy, as you mentioned, I mean, I lived there when I was working at corporate headquarters. It’s also an overflow for the main corporate residential camp at headquarters. So there’s – if you just look at the satellite pictures, at least half of the territory is covered by terracotta roofed – red-roofs and houses that are there.
That camp was evacuated over the weekend. The reports are that the people have started to come back. But just to emphasize that we’re not just talking about infrastructures themselves can get hurt, but it’s really about taking into account the safety of the other people that are working there which is something that’s of great, deep seriousness to the company and that those in themselves can end up causing outages.
So I think, again, we’re going to have to see tomorrow what the sort of long-term damage is and what the expected reduction in exports in particular in Saudi production is going to be. Even if it’s a couple of million of barrels a day for several weeks, that’s very significant.
Now there’s, as I said, Saudi stock. There’s also commercial stocks in the market. We’re coming out of a period in the market that was relatively oversupplied. And so there is some slack in the market. But the numbers are still very, very big.
And I think as Kirsten mentioned, as I think is going to be the point on this call, the implications are not just this attack. The implications are given that this situation could escalate, not just in this attack but in previous attacks for example earlier in the summer, things like the east west pipeline.
The (inaudible) or whoever is launching these drone attacks have proven that they have the means for relatively long range, very accurate and very cheap ways to attack very specific infrastructures that have been pinpointed and already arranged.
So, I think — yes, I think the big message going forward is that they — there absolutely are the means to attack the very specific points that hurt. Where as (inaudible), we have been concerned about how many hundreds of missiles could it take from Iran to actually take out a facility like this. With this kind of accuracy, that calculus changes quite a bit.
Randy Bell: Phil, thank you. That’s very, very helpful. And actually points very well to my next question which is what does this mean for regional security and how do we interrupt Trump’s lock and loaded tweet yesterday? I’d like to go to Jean-François on this.
Jean-François Seznec: Well, I think Phil pointed out the major problem. He said this is very likely to escalate. And there is absolutely no way that the Saudis cannot respond. They will very — be very pleased to know that it’s coming from Iran.
And unfortunately if this escalates by some attack against Iranian say gas assets center or wherever, it will become a major problem because then they will send more — the Iranians may send more missiles towards (inaudible) and other places.
In any case, we’re talking war here. And there’s an inertia for war which scares me. Sort of reminds me of my readings on First World War here where everybody wants to have the war but everybody also knows that they will win the war in 30 days.
And we have this issue, it’s sort of scary. And I think the Iranians are playing with fire. They think that the president here, and they may be right, but they think the president will not react in a very negative fashion. They think that Mohammad bin Salman is weakened in this country very substantially. Their further U.S. support will be lukewarm at best.
So therefore, I think from a regional standpoint, we’re really heading towards war. That scares me quite a bit. It could change a lot of things in the very near future, definitely will bring a much higher price of oil even though only two millions is out of service for the moment. It could be much more than that.
Now, the interesting other actors that will be impacted on this are the Russians who will end up doing extremely well out of this because they will produce more barrels for more money. The United States will actually fair badly because our fracking cost are down but our fracking income will go up quite substantially.
So that’s pretty good too for the U.S. in many ways. It’s actually the worst loser in all this, besides of course Saudi Arabia and Iran, the worst loser is China who is going to lose a billion — $1.1 billion every time the price of oil goes up by $1. So, assuming all of the — their supplies on the Gulf are impacted.
So, I think it’s — this is a — the momentum — a momentous time in the Gulf and I have been working there for over 40 years and looking at it for over 40 years. And we’ve had many, many crisis but I think this is the one that really can turn into a major (inaudible).
Randy Bell: Thank you, Jean-François. Ellen, I’d like to hear your perspective on this. What do you think the Saudis and the Emiratis want right now, particularly the Saudis where we just saw that while the Americans are telling Saudis that the attacks came from Iran, the Saudis are not quite as sure on that very point?
Ellen Wald: I think that that’s a very important point of inflection right now because if the Saudis accept this decision or this — the implications that Iran did send these missiles and or drones into Saudi territory, it really I think does put a lot of pressure on the Saudi monarchy to make a — to initiate a response to that and potentially a military response. And that’s really not something that Saudi Arabia is equipped to handle on this.
The Saudi military is not prepared to fight a protracted war with Iran in anyway. And it’s not for the best even something that Mohammad bin Salman as potentially popular as he is internally can really ask us as people at this point.
And keeping in mind the fact that we upping American sales as weapons to Saudi Arabia was a very, very controversial move last time within the U.S. government. It could potentially be very difficult to get more weapons from the United States.
And I think he’s really treading a very tight line here because if he accepts this, then he — have gotten himself into a hard rock and a hard place. It’s very hard to see the U.S. fighting this battle for him given the fact that Saudi Arabia is not particularly popular with the American people right now.
And they really — the United States can’t make this oil argument either that we need to come to their defense because we need their oil because it’s become very clear to the American people that we don’t really need their oil.
Yes, oil prices are up dramatically percentage wise and dollar wise. However, there’s still (inaudible) where oil prices were last year. On October 3rd, (inaudible) hit a high of $86.29. And right now (inaudible) hasn’t even passed the $70 mark.
So, it will be very, very hard to convince the American people that this is something worth while for them keeping in mind that it would also be potentially catastrophic to Trump’s reelection campaign. So, I’m very hesitant to suggest that America will actually get itself into a military conflict with Iran for Saudi Arabia.
In terms of the market, I do see this evening out quite a bit as Phillip mentioned around a great deal of redundancy and need to respect that at least a portion of the capacity that was taken off will come back off online quite soon though they are not in the business of giving hourly updates. So, we’ll have to wait and see what that damage report that they’re going to release tomorrow says.
And I do think that there are implications for Saudi Arabia’s position in (inaudible) market and in (OPEC) in the long-term, particularly because they will be drawn on a lot of stored oil to fulfill customer requests. And Saudi stocks for oil have been drawing on those for quite some time in order to maintain a lower output for (OPEC). And this…
Randy Bell: Ellen, we lost you there for a moment. So, I’d like to — are you back?
Ellen Wald: Can you hear me?
Randy Bell: Yes, we can…
Ellen Wald: Hello?
Randy Bell: …hear you.
Ellen Wald: Oh, OK.
Randy Bell: Yes.
Ellen Wald: I’ll just quickly cover the oil market. My point was this. Saudi Arabia may be less inclined to support any continued or further (OPEC) cost because it’s going to need to be (inaudible) stored oil that it’s selling to customers right now.
And so it would not — it’s not going to be likely to want to cut any further. And in fact we may see once production is (inaudible) that it will pump added math under its (OPEC) quote of 10.3 million barrel per day.
Randy Bell: Got it, thank you. I’d like to turn to Kirsten on this topic as well on the security — regional security perspective because Kirsten, you came from U.S. government recently. You have a perspective on what — how the U.S. thinks but also on how the Saudis and the Emiratis think.
Kirsten Fontenrose: Sure. I’d say first to the president’s comment on locked and loaded (inaudible), I think that this comment is intended to send a message that the U.S. is capable of responding connectedly but it is not a message that there is an impending response. He likes to use high perbly and he likes saber-rattling and he likes drama.
And we’ve heard comments like this even more strongly worded in previous scenarios where there has not been a response. I do think that his comment about waiting to see what the Saudis say is really, really important here. Because he’s giving them the right to say we do not think there’s space for a response.
Why is that important? The president knows that at the end of August when Prince (inaudible) was visiting Washington, he told senior leaders at State, DOD and the CIA that while they support economic squeezing the regime, they do not support going to war.
So, the president knows that. And so he’s probably looking at Saudi to say no — no, let’s handle this another way really going towards nobody’s interest. No one wins here. The UA and Saudi Iran are frontline. Saudi will suffer militarily. They’ll suffer from foreign direct investment flees.
There’s no — nothing for them to win here. The U.S. is an election season. American voters do not want to go to war. Congress would likely not approve sending America to war.
And the president would have a very tough time arguing that this (inaudible) impact on U.S. national security to invoke the War Powers Act, to do more than just sort of a tit for tat kind of proportional little strike on either an Iranian oil facility or an (inaudible) base on the naval coast or something like that.
And then Iran can’t afford to go to war. I mean really economically cannot afford to go to war. And their military is not in any shape for a war, even if you look at them from the air and you see that they have one of the top ten air forces. Go on the ground and try to turn any of that on and about 50 percent of it unmaintained and nonfunctioning.
So, this is not something they can win. There’s nobody who benefits from escalating this. I do think we’ll probably see a proportional response of some sort. But I think most of what will happen will actually be behind the scenes. I think were going to see an escalation in cyber and covert activity.
Randy Bell: Now Jean-François, you’ve had a couple people sort of disagreeing with you. What do — how do you respond?
Jean-François Seznec: Well, I totally agree with what has been said. I mean this is — what we hear from Kirsten is common sense. But we’re not dealing with common sense here. We are dealing with the fact that yes, the Saudis have to retaliate one way or the other.
In one form or the other, other was the position even of the Crown Prince who would be seen as weak in the country. And at this point, he doesn’t have many friends even in his own country at the higher level. I think the same thing. I think the Iranians have made the decision that Trump is a paper tiger and they may be totally wrong there.
But everybody makes these assumptions that know it will be solved. But we are at the point where they retaliate. Then if they retaliate, the Iranians would (have tried) to retaliate even more.
And we are just in a inertia of war. We really are in that situation right now. And that’s what’s so scary is that people all agree that it is not good for anybody but there is — nobody can stop it, I think.
Randy Bell: I want to tie this back to the oil market. Earlier this morning, President Trump, tweeted that the U.S. doesn’t need Middle East oil but they — we would help our allies. There are a number of different ways of interpreting this. Phillip, what are — what are your thoughts on President’s Trump tweet?
And what are the — how does the oil market respond if the delay — the delays in getting the facility back online fully go longer than some would initially have expected?
Phillip Cornell: Sure. Well, I mean think that the tweet about not needing Middle East oil is nonsense. But as Kirsten has said, I mean it’s a guy who like hyperbole and maybe we shouldn’t be looking there for technical accuracy.
No, but indeed no matter how much oil the U.S. produces or exports, the global oil market is a unified market at the (inaudible) commodity. So events like this, major events in one part of the Middle East will have a major impact on the market generally.
Now, I think as Jean-Francois noted, it’s not like there are no winners out of this situation. I mean obviously a big conflict in the Middle East is a — is a huge danger. It has major impacts. There are big humanitarian impacts, big economic impact.
But for a lot of major producers around the world, of which the U.S. is now definitely the biggest or one of the top ones. Those higher prices are going to be a boon after a very soft sort of structural softness in the oil market that we’ve seen over the past year.
And that seems to be a reasonable short to medium and even long term outlook given weakness in demand that’s coming out of the current trade situation globally, given surging unconventional supply, and over the long term given technology changes that are going to reduce the need for oil in places like transportation.
So geopolitical risk, which had been undervalued, I think arguably recently, is now very much part of the game again. I think — if anything what this has done is sort of focus minds on the fact that oil still matters.
Middle East oil still matters. And this is still a place that can have major disruption. Depending on how, I think the response to — from a technical perspective in terms of how — what’s the impact on Saudi production and how fast it gets repaired.
And also given how fast this escalates. That kind of price, that kind of risk could be priced into the market for a shorter or longer period.
But if it actually moves the forward price curve out and this looks like something that has — that is not going to be baked in this kind of risk because either things get worse or now there’s a realization that there’s tension around here or there’s the capacity of the Houthis or Iranian allies to actually attack these facilities.
That could mean a longer term implication for the oil price, which would then impact production. So for example, we could see greater pumping in North America. Now overall, the Houthis, yes, are in a position to lose from this.
I think there was a lot of efforts that they had been trying to orchestrate at OPEC and elsewhere in order to put a floor under these prices and try to raise them. I mean they’ve been doing everything they can to try to raise the oil price. Why?
It’s because they’re in a sensitive moment right now when they’re trying to not only eventually move toward the Saudi (Ramco ITO) but (varnish) a lot of their state assets and leverage them to raise international capital because they’re undergoing massive investments and trying to diversify their own economy away from oil.
Now that gives a sort of timetable advice that they’re stuck in or had been stuck in where you’re going to see sort of a long term decline or softness in oil prices just a moment when they were trying to really pump them up and prime the pump to show — to polish their own assets that they were sort of putting on the market.
This definitely would raise the price but I think it’s going to have a negative impact on the attractiveness of Aramco shares going into an IPO. And as Kirsten mentioned, into a whole host of other — the attractiveness to capital markets, the attractiveness to foreign direct investment, which they’ve been trying to court aggressively.
So overall, even if we — even if you see a boon in the price for a lot of Middle East producers, it comes at a very, very high cost and it’s probably not going to achieve the sort of ends that they had been looking for by trying to pump the price in the past.
Randy Bell: Jean-Francois has intervention and then I want to go to Ellen on a question to the IPO and Saudi’s broader diversification plans. But first, Jean-Francois.
Jean-Francois Seznec: Just a short point, we keep hearing that the United States does not need crude oil anymore. Well, the fact is we’re still importing quite a bit. I checked the figures this morning, in the last week of August we were importing net 850,000 barrels net.
But we were importing in fact, 5.3 million barrels of crude every day. So we’re not totally out of the woods. There are ups and downs.
I mean there was a couple of weeks where we were actually exporting more than we were producing. But by in large we’re still — we’re still importing quite a bit. And we’re not totally immune to the world market. So that’s really the little point I wanted to remind everyone.
Randy Bell: Thank you Jean-Francois. Ellen, following up on Phillips comment about the Aramco IPO. What does this — what do you think these attacks mean for the IPO and the kingdoms broader diversification plans?
Ellen Wald: This — these attacks — the vulnerabilities that Aramco faces as a major oil producer in the Middle East is well known, I think, to people who are very familiar with the subject. But I think that a lot of potential equity investors are those who are just coming to this out of interest for — of the Aramco IPO were perhaps less familiar with this.
So the attacks really bring this home and raise that specter of future attacks and how Aramco is ready and dealing with security to defend against these attacks. How Aramco responds in the coming days will be very important but it will also be important to see how the companies resiliency is hyped up by the Saudi government.
If the Saudi government was thinking only about the IPO right now, which it’s clear they’re not and for good reason, they would be minimizing this attack and show casing (Ramco’s) resilience in the face of a threat. But they’re not.
And so this is a question that is going to have to be answered and there could be a price tag on it, essentially that the value could be cut as a result of this. There’s also a question of will Saudi Arabia go through with this planned 1 percent IPO of shares on the Saudi stock exchange in November.
And there’s talks that they may delay this but the implications of this are huge. So just to familiarize (inaudible) is the Saudi stock exchange. It’s a fairly small stock exchange. It dropped 3 percent immediately when it opened on Sunday before for various forces helped prop it up and it wasn’t down nearly as much.
But imagine in a future where Aramco shares are listed solely onto (inaudible) and an event like this occurs, I could see some very bad implications for a Saudi stock exchange that could potentially crash market.
And so that really underscores the risk associated with listing a (Ramco) onto (inaudible) alone. In terms of the larger Saudi diversification efforts, this attack really underscores the extent to which the Saudi economy is still very much based on production of oil and petrochemicals.
So one of the implications is that Saudi petrochemicals sector will not be receiving as much (feed) stock as it normally does. And we could see as much as a 5 percent drop in earnings in the third quarter from petrochemical companies. And this (will have) a very negative effect on the Saudi economy going forward.
Randy Bell: Ellen, thanks so much. I’d like to turn it over to questions from people on the line right now. So the operator will tell you how you go about asking those questions.
Operator: As a reminder, to ask a question you will need to press “star,” “one” on your telephone. To withdraw your question press the “pound” or “hash” key. Please stand by while we compile the Q&A roster. Your first question comes from the line of (Hans Mound), (Three Systems). Your line is open.
(Hans Mound): Yes. This is (Dr. Hans Mound). Thank you for putting this together. It’s very informative. I was interested to find out does Aramco or Saudi Arabia employ counter drones and did it just fail or what happened there.
Randy Bell: Kirsten, why don’t you take this.
Kirsten Fontenrose: Sure. The problem they’ve got is (someway from Sunday to) protected on the ground. But the counter drone piece is really, really difficult because when you — one of fears actually is that one of the Saudi responses will be to turn around and immediately by from defense contractors these sort of off the shelf counter drone response capabilities that won’t be effective.
So if you’re going to look at a counter drone capability you have to look at the weather, the wind conditions, the temperature, the terrain, the distance from your adversary, what you think the payload is going to be, and one size does not fit all.
So if they tried to outfit all of their oil facilities, for instance, or all of their critical infrastructure with the same system, it would fail. The one thing they’ve got going for them is that there’s less of a payload question because if you’re coming over many of the parts of Saudi that surround this facility, you’re just on desert land and there’s not the same issues about dropping a drone out of the sky over a civilian settlement or something like that.
So it could be a little bit easier but they don’t have them in place. Now what I hope Saudis not do is run out and impulsively buy whatever friends of theirs in the defense contracting business tell them is smart without first testing them at these facilities.
But that does mean that there’s a time lag between what they install and what the threat may pose, so they’re going to have to balance that.
Randy Bell: Great. Thank you …
(Hans Mound): I absolutely agree. Thank you.
Randy Bell: Thank you. And remember if you have a question hit “star,” “one.” We’ll move on to the next.
Operator: Your next question comes from the line of (inaudible) with Argus Media. Your line is open.
Male: Yes. Hi, I want to go back to a point I think Kirsten made earlier on whether U.S. can persuade anyone by releasing the data. I’m wondering even if evidence is declassified, do you think it’s going to persuade any foreign government in a sense that if someone was predisposed to think Iran is capable of (carrying) such attacks, they probably will stick to that opinion even without (satellite data) and such.
But if more information is available, do you think it’s going to persuade others to support a more — a stronger course of action against Iran than they otherwise would have been predisposed to?
Randy Bell: That’s a fantastic question. We’ll start with Kirsten but I think others would also have some responses to that. Kirsten.
Kirsten Fontenrose: Short response, I think yes in terms of some of our partners like Europe. I think you’re absolutely right that in some cases some folks are not going to buy into data that’s released by the U.S. no matter what because of preconceived notions.
I mean, drawing on my social science background, we know that if you repeat something and it’s against what someone believes, it actually just reinforces what they originally believed. So denials are often very ineffective. But if we do have data that can be released, then it at least poses of a challenge to the naysayers in claiming whatever conspiracy theory they might be clinging to.
But I think when it comes to partners like those in Europe, then the data will be critical in bringing them around to — maybe not a stronger response, (just) a realization that more needs to be done about Iran in this — in this — in — in terms of proxy activity and the missiles program.
Randy Bell: So I want to expand on that question just a little bit and go to Ellen and Jean-Francois and perhaps, Phillip, you have a thought as well on if this convincing data were to come out that Iran was responsible, how that would actually change relationships in the Gulf and in the GCC where there has been divisions on how to best approach — how to best approach the tensions we’ve seen over the past few months. So Ellen first, please.
Ellen Wald: I do think that it would certainly heighten the (inaudible) but also anti-Iranian fervor. I think you’d certainly see Saudi Arabia looking to really gather its cadre of allies even more closely than it has been. But I think for the most part, Saudi Arabia’s goal in (setting up) Iran as its major enemy in the region has really been largely designed as a way to bolster the new monarch and his sons, (because) nationalist credentials.
And I’m not sure that they’re really ready or prepared for any kind of serious escalation here. In particular, Iran serves a very important purpose for them, and a military conflict and potentially dealing with it would then remove that boogeyman, which is quite valuable to the creation of this nationalist fervor in favor of the crown prince and the king.
So as I said before, they’re walking a delicate line. They’ve already — you know, they’re (closed) with the UAE and (buffering), and so it would be very — it’d be hard to see what they would — what they can do to escalate this even more without resorting to a military response, but the president does seem to have put that in their hands, which — and so we’re going to have to see what their response is.
Randy Bell: Jean-Francois.
Jean-Francois Seznec: Well, I think — I think there’ll be some consequences for sure. And in fact, one of the smaller consequences but maybe one of the more important one is that all of a sudden Qatar will be under enormous pressure to settle with Saudi Arabia.
And I think the administration here will feel that they have to settle with Qatar very quickly, that the Saudis will have to settle with Qatar because Qatar will be one of the main launching area against Iran, especially with the low hanging fruit is the — as I mentioned earlier, the gas installation right across the border. So I think we will — we will see some changes there.
I think the crown prince today must be really wondering what he’s going to do. But unfortunately I believe, personally, that he will feel that he had to respond very strongly one way or the other. And Mohammed Bin Salman doesn’t seem to be the kind of person who really thinks of whatever he can do, he just wants it and he will have to do it.
Because his position within the family is weakened in many ways, by the — with the — the problems he has with his cousins and brothers and so on, but also within the — the — with the merchants and just with the civil service, as we saw last week when he took over Saudi Aramco, which was quite a big surprise.
So I think he will need to whip up the nationalist fervor, which Randy mentioned, and I think we will see some very strong action, which again will start the retaliation they started fearing earlier.
Randy Bell: Thank you. Why don’t we move on to the next question.
Operator: Your next question comes from the line of (Michael Shilton) with U.S. Senate. Your line is open.
(Michael Shilton): Yes, hi, this is (Mike down) here. Can you hear me?
(Michael Shilton): OK, great. First of all, thank you so much for doing this very timely discussion. My question latches onto the previous one about the calculus inside the kingdom, and particularly Mohammed Bin Salman.
So for a number of years, the kingdom has been pushing on Iran as its primary foe, they lobbied heavily, as you know, against JCPOA. I guess the common phrase is that they’re always willing to fight for the last American.
In this case, in pushing such a hard line against Iran, do you see any kind of miscalculation, especially under MBS, because as was mentioned before, I think Saudi Arabia is so heavily involved and dependent on its petro chemical industry, a large portion of it is immobile and very easily targetable from Iran, in case there is an escalation.
Randy Bell: I think everyone is going to have an opinion on that. Let’s start with Ellen and then go to Phillip.
Ellen Ward: So I think that’s a very, very good question. And in some respects, it does require a little bit of a tea leave reading, which I don’t — I don’t really like to do, but I do think that — I’ll talk about the petro chemicals industry (really) more. But that is an issue — security is an issue, but one of the things is that this has been known for quite some time.
And the risks and the vulnerabilities of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry are known. In fact, in I think 1999 the state department did an assessment or asked, at least, its people in the kingdom to do an assessment of the risks to Saudi oil infrastructure, what were the risks of terrorist attacks, and they concluded that the risks were actually quite low, given the fact that the industry is very spread out.
Now obviously they weren’t taking into account the new kinds of technologies that we have today, but it is important to consider the fact that oil infrastructure is very spread out and would take an incredibly well coordinated attack to really take out all of these petro chemical and oil facilities. So the risks are known, but they’re not perhaps as mad as people think they might be.
Randy Bell: Thanks, Ellen. Phillip, do you have any thoughts on this?
Phillip Cornell: Sure. Well, I mean, I think, it — as you said, follows on a little bit on the last question. I think as Jean-Francois said earlier in the call, the position that we find ourselves in is one where the Iranians have essentially be squeezed all the way to the point that there’s essentially zero exports, or maybe 100,000, 200,000 barrels of exports coming out, which means that they’ve now been backed into a corner and we don’t really see a way out.
We’re talking about a very different environment I think than 2015. What troubles me is that there’s this systematic dismantling of institutions and commitments that have been designed to underpin stable oil markets for a long time.
I mean, in 2015 the recognition that this region was so critical and so vulnerable and so delicate from an infrastructure or economic point of view was particularly part of the impetus (kind of trying) to tamp down some of the threats or — or — or the relationship with Iran that led to the JCPOA.
And we’ve obviously gone in a very different direction now where we’ve decided, OK, we’re going to go on this all out campaign. Mohammed Bin Salman came in and needed to show strength early on and I think was behind this.
But as we’ve come down the path I think now in Washington, a lot of the White House realizes there was no off ramp that was built into this strategy, which means that you scratch your head and say, OK, there’s no way for the Iranians to come out of this except by upping their proxy attacks and supports.
And suddenly we’re realizing that even though it would have been — as Jean-Francois mentioned, this sort of mutual assured destruction, everybody in the region always had a lot to lose by, for example, closing the Strait of Hormuz or other things that could really hurt both sides. But at this point, we’ve squeezed the Iranians so far that they have nothing really left to lose by this.
And then for us to turn around and realize now how vulnerable the infrastructure in the region is maybe a little bit too late. And I think that that kind of — the way that this has come about is indeed going to make it harder to bring allies, for example, in Europe on board to get behind any military action to basically address a situation that has been largely created over the last year or two.
And I think that’s going to be — that’s going to be a struggle. Obviously allies also realize how important this is. We have other — I was also working (at DIEA) for a long time, working also on strategic stocks, and that’s a major response from the coordinated international community to try to calmly provide some kind of insurance to calm the market when these kind of unpredictable events happen.
And that kind of — I think we’re not at that point yet, but if things escalate, it could turn out that those strategic stocks are extremely important and that the SPR is important.
And of course we’ve seen the president, just in the last 24 hours, has authorized the use of the U.S. SPR if necessary, but let’s remember that in his first budget one of the first things he wanted to do was slash the SPR in half, if not more, on this — based on this idea that was retweeted again that apparently because we export the Middle East isn’t as important anymore.
I think this is a rude awakening to those kinds of realities, and a reminder that some of those institutions, plans, processes, and commitments that were always in place to keep this region stable might have had some value all along.
Randy Bell: Phillip, thank you. Everyone does have a comment here, so Jean-Francois.
Jean-Francois Seznec: Well, Phillip mentioned my little piece on that this morning where I talked about mutually assured destruction of the oil facilities, which kept both sides pretty quiet. Now that the Iranians have nothing to lose, yes, they’re really going at it.
And one other — I also would like to point out that Ellen made a very good point on the petrochemicals issue, is that the plants are very widespread, they’re all over the place, they’re in many different industrial cities, so it would take an enormous amount of work by the Iranians to make some impact, but one plant is worth $10 billion to $20 billion, so even if you destroy one or two you — you’ve made your point. So I think they might try to do that as well. So I’ll just leave it at that.
Randy Bell: Thank you, Jean Francois. Kirsten?
Kirsten Fontenrose: I think that Jean-Francois’s point is critical there, that the first thing that would happen if there’s a declaration of war is that the next day about a half dozen additional Saudi Facilities would be hit.
Kirsten Fontenrose: And so who wins — who wins there? What we — what we know inside Saudi is that day-to-day recently the decisions on Yemen have been put in the hands of Khalid bin Salman, Prince Khalid bid Salman, the Deputy Minister of Defense.
This is a good sign as far as we were concerned, because he’s often a voice of reason at the table among the elite decision-makers in Saudi. Now that this has expanded, it’s going to be back in Mohammed bin Salman’s lap, so what do we think he’s going to do?
I can tell you that when the president speaks with him, he asks very tough questions, sometimes leading questions, are you sure you want this, where do you want to — is this what you want, do you know what will happen if?
So it will be a conversation about second and third order effects that will take place, and then it’ll just be an issue of how much they think it’s — they’re willing to risk.
Randy Bell: Thanks. And as Jean-Francois mentioned, the Atlantic Council published a piece this morning, which you could find on our blog, on — a number of quick takes on the situation. So you can find that on — at the Atlantic Council website. Moving on to the next question.
Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Joel Gehrke with Washington Examiner. Your line is open.
Joel Gehrke: Hi, thanks for doing this. Joel Gehrke from the Examiner. I was just wondering — we’ve talked about Iran being backed into a corner and having little incentive not to conduct such attacks.
I wondered how that fits into the talk we’ve heard about a potential letter of credit that even President Trump had talked about and there were — then some reports — there were some reports that he’d discussed privately with John Bolton.
So I’m wondering, does the — maybe on the policy piece, do you think that the Europeans will see this incident as a motivation to proceed with something like that letter of credit?
And do you have any sense of — from reading the tea leaves of why the Iranians, with all this talk in the air about some kind of relief, perhaps some kind of diplomatic effort from the U.S. side, why they would do this at this juncture? It sort of — it sort of seems like not taking yes for an answer.
Randy Bell: Kirsten.
Kirsten Fontenrose: The Iranian regime is — has flat out said that they don’t think Europe can pull this off, so I’m not even sure — I think Iran loves the offer, but they’re trying to sort of call the bluff of both Europe and the U.S. on this.
I think the — that the U.S. will not happily move toward approving Europe extending this kind of loan right now, because the theory is that this kind of activity is financed by Iran’s decisions to forget services for their people and instead put their money into this kind of (proxy) activity.
So the president will likely think why should I send them a loan if it’s just going to make more of this possible? He has to be convinced by Macron or partners in Europe that the funding would only go to diapers and breast milk, that kind of thing, I don’t know. I just don’t see the president saying sure, let’s load their coffers again.
Joel Gehrke: I want to take off with the second half of that question, and with the signals it seems potentially last week that there might be an opportunity for Iran to — for the sanctions to be eased a little bit. And Ellen, I wonder what your thoughts are on why this would happen after those — that we were seeing those signals and the oil market was responding pretty forcefully to the prospect of more Iranian barrels on the market.
Ellen Wald: I’m sorry, you — I lost you for one second. Could you just repeat the question?
Joel Gehrke: Yes, so last week the oil market responded pretty forcefully to the — first to John Bolton leaving and then again to the prospect — the hints that their sanctions might be relaxed and there might be more Iranian barrels on the market. Why do you think this happened just now, in the context of a possible opening between the U.S. and Iran?
Ellen Wald: Well I wouldn’t be surprised — I wouldn’t be surprised to see that this is an attempt to reescalate a situation which appeared to be deescalating with the departure of John Bolton.
I do think oil markets reacted a bit prematurely to John Bolton’s departure because it’s highly, highly, highly unlikely that the oil sanctions would be the first sanctions to be relaxed in the event that there were — was going to be any relaxing of sanctions (precluding) or following a hypothetical meeting between President Trump and President Rouhani at the U.N. meeting.
So that seemed to be a very — they were really jumping the gun there, oil markets. And they were also reacting at the same time to news in — global economic news of declining demand growth. So there’s more than one part when it — to the story generally when oil prices react to something like that.
I do think we’re seeing oil prices jump now, though they are kind of leveling off in some respects at the moment, but I do think that they will be more sensitive to any movement in the geopolitical sense between the U.S. and Iran and Saudi Arabia, including any kind of potential negotiations.
Randy Bell: Thank you. Let’s move on to the next call, please.
Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Robert Freedman with Johns Hopkins University. Your line is open.
Robert Freedman: Thank you. Thank you very much for this. My question is there’s been a steady escalation of Iranian actions, from seizing tankers to attacking the East-West Pipeline, and this is the most important of all, or most severe of all, if there is no reaction by the Saudis or the United States, what is to stop the Iranians from continuing their escalation?
Randy Bell: We’ll start with you, Kirsten.
Kirsten Fontenrose: Well I — one of my responses to that is what is to stop them even if there is a reaction? Iran is sort of backed into a corner where their only choice is to escalate, unfortunately, but the big — I think the big question is why now? Why are they choosing to do this now when there were hints at possible talks, when the president was considering a — approving Europe’s extension of the $15 billion loan.
(It would it create) a stronger position for themselves at a possible negotiating table, in which case it’s a drastic misread of the administration? Was it to drive up prices on the 100,000 to 200,00 barrels per day that they export, in — which sort of seems like a big — much more risk than reward? Why is it that they think it was in their interest to do this now?
And I can’t answer that.
Jean-Francois Seznec: Well I…
Randy Bell: Jean-Francois.
Jean-Francois Seznec: I think that we have — in Saudi Arabia I think we have probably internal politics at play here in Iran, and I think their — the actual leadership of Iran may not have known about this very well. They knew about things happening, but it — this may have come directly from the more hardline elements who want to find — who want to fight the softline element.
And this why it’s so difficult to deal with Iran, because we don’t know whom to deal with. And I think the Saudis themselves have their own internal issues, as I mentioned earlier. So we’re talking about very difficult situations there where no one knows who’s doing what to whom. And the reaction will make all the difference in the world. We cannot really decide how that’s going to happen.
Randy Bell: Thank you. Ellen, do you want to chime in on that?
Ellen Wald: Sorry, I did again lose the — lose the line for a second. I — do you think you could just let me know the question again?
Randy Bell: If there’s no — if there’s — Iran has been ratcheting up tensions; if there’s no reaction, what’s to stop them from continuing to ratchet up tension?
Ellen Wald: Yes, it’s entirely possible — one of the things we have to remember — and in fact we did see news that Iran stopped an oil tanker from the UAE, this wasn’t a crude oil tanker, this was a fuel tanker carrying a very, very small amount of fuel in violation to the (rassage) of the kind of huge oil tankers we’re usually talking about, and they claim that this was fuel smuggling.
So there’s a lot going on here, and there’s a lot of moving pieces, and we could definitely see Iran continue to ratchet up tension. I wouldn’t be surprise however to see — this — the attack that we saw on Abqaiq was incredible precise and I think required a lot of advance planning and a lot of knowledge of exactly what goes on at this plant and the oil industry as well. And I don’t think that’s the kind of thing that we can just see willy-nilly. It’s not the same as attaching a limpet mine to a tanker or stopping something in the Persian Gulf for a little while.
So it — I don’t if we’ll see an escalation in terms of (greater effect of attacks) like the one that we saw. This could be the extent of it. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more (in terms of) a mild nuisance going on in the Gulf.
Randy Bell: (Thank you, we have two)…
Ellen Wald: Of course the market is more attuned to that now, however, so it may (produce greater swings).
Randy Bell: Yes, thank you. We have two more questions that we’ll take. We’re just about out of time, so we’ll move on to the next question.
Operator: Your next question comes from (Stephen Keenan) of the Atlantic Council. Please go ahead, your line is open.
(Stephen Keenan): Thank you for a very informative discussion. I worked in Iran 40 years ago, when the Shah was trying to start the beginnings of an automobile — he wanted to manufacture Iranian cars. So I delivered cars from Germany through the Eastern Bloc and Turkey into Tehran and Iran and sold them — helped sell them.
My question to you — and so I look at it as an American who is working in Iran with 17,000 other Americans working at the time.
And I may be naïve but I think that most of the Iranian people would love to see those days come back. What do you feel the chances are of our president saying we need to have a talk. The president credits himself as being a great deal maker.
So does it pull it pull all the (Amerax), Kuwait — we don’t hear too much about what’s going on with Kuwait with this situation with Iran and Saudi Arabia. And my question to you is that I’ve heard that Oman was trying to do negotiations between the (Amorites) and Saudi and Iran.
How much traction was that going — was there actually going on with Oman being a lead negotiator. And do you feel calling — our administration calling for talks would be at all benefit? Thank you.
Randy Bell: Kirsten …
Kirsten Fontenrose: Sure.
Randy Bell: Since you have the most direct recent insight into the administration.
Kirsten Fontenrose: Yes. I mean Oman is one of my favorite places in the world because they’re always trying to create peace and I don’t think they actually get enough credit for the kinds of things that they — that they do.
I mean (the) Netanyahu visit last week — or I’m sorry, last year to Oman just being one of those scene setting events that they stage, I think Sultan Qaboos has a great legacy for peace building.
But in this case, the Omanis call on both sides to come and discuss conditions for moving forward and both sides say thank you Oman, we respect and love you but we’re just not there yet.
So I — the — and for instance, the back channel of conversations that the U.S. government was going to have with the Houthis were going to be a first — a first Omani effort to bring people to the table and the Houthis gave the U.S. government the hand on that in a really poorly thought out move.
But right now the lack of back channels through Oman or elsewhere with Iran is one of the things that concerns our Department of Defense, for instance, because this is the first time we don’t have kind of a phone to pick up in case things get really hot.
Randy Bell: Great. Let’s do the — let’s do the final question right now since we’re running out of time.
Operator: Your last question comes from Thomas O’Donnel of the Hertie School of Governance. Please go ahead, your line is open.
Thomas O’Donnel: Hi, yes. This is Tom O’Donnel in Berlin. And frankly lots of pieces of my question have been dealt with by now. But I would put it this way. Could you please try and — can you hear me OK, yes?
Thomas O’Donnel: Could you just — yes. Could you just (amuse) me of my sort of paradigm I’ve been working on and that is that essentially what the United States wants in this escalation, the sanctions and so forth with Iran, is not regime change and war but rather it’s a negotiation to be able to tone down or deemphasize commitments to the Middle East while still maintaining its role there so it can concentrate on other things.
Great power of contention issues, other places. Given that, it looks like negotiations were — the possibility on both sides were arising. That the sort of more conservative (motive) seems in favor.
And clearly Pompeo said it very directly. So what I’ve been looking at these various attacks so far, before this big one as, is something ancillary to that. Is Iran trying to — as far as that paradigm goes, trying to say to the United States; look, we can do serious damage to position themselves in negotiations.
Now, I could still fit this into that in some degree but it’s very risky if it comes from the (molders) who want to negotiate because this can clearly get out of hand. So is it that or is that some other elements in Iran, the revolutionary guard are trying to break out of that and make an impossible situation where they could take power and so forth. I realize that some pieces of this has been discussed already.
Male: Thanks so much. And that’s a great closing question. So I think everybody will probably want to say something on this. So why don’t we start with Phillip, we’ll go to Ellen, Jean-Francois, and then end with Kirsten. Phillip, are you still on the line.
Phillip Cornell: Sorry. Can you hear me?
Male: Yes, we can hear you.
Phillip Cornell: OK. Great. Yes, no I would say that the overall paradigm that you — that you discussed of this sort of — some kind of a disengagement to some degree from a traditional role that the U.S. has been taken — taking.
And then coupled with this sort of maximum pressure leave the situation where, for the Iranian — yes, and of course this had to do with internal politics and there are various different factions in there they’re going to be competing for.
And by the way, also internal politics among the Houthis where this still could have come from though even though — even if it may have been Iranian provided. It means that now they’re in a position where these kind of responses are essentially, I think Jean-Francois mentioned, sort of trying to call the bluff as what they see as a paper tiger.
Because they see that the U.S. has run down all of their policy options short of military action, which as we’ve discussed here is probably something that is not in our interest or in our allies’ interest in the region.
But short of that it means that going forward for the — trying to reach out feelers for these discussion whether it was next week as the U.N. or otherwise that sort of — that — that’s what the U.S. — that’s what Washington — that’s the card that Washington has left to play.
And so whether these attacks were either meant to play up the Iranian head — hand ahead of those conversations or exactly meant to torpedo them to prove that there’s no other option in the U.S. policy quiver short of — short of military action.
That’s probably — that’s probably where they’re coming at it from. But again, Iran is a decision making structure, it’s not monolithic so it’s worth taking into account those sort of domestic actors.
Male: Thanks Phillip. Ellen.
Ellen Wald: Sure. I was add — just add very briefly to that that particularly on — in terms of Iran’s own decision making structures that it’s not just an issue of say hard liners versus moderates, which is the line that we hear time and again. It’s much more complex than that and there have — there have been reports about — (involves economy) doing extremely badly.
And then there have been (heavier reports say) well, these indicators that you’re looking at are not really as bad as you think they are. They don’t mean what you think they are in terms of for Iran.
I think that they’ve gotten themselves into a very difficult situation. If there is any kind of real military conflict that involves more than just the al Quds Force, they could find themselves — it could be very difficult to convince their population that this kind of military conflict is a good idea.
When it comes to this idea of regime change and what not, I don’t think that that’s really a serious option. There’s definitely been talk of kind of this kind of bring back the shaw and the — and right now that takes the form of this (inaudible) and while they sometimes get interesting press coverage and some — and get a lot of presence on social media perhaps, they’re not really — they don’t really have a big hold in Iran and I would say that they’re really not a viable option.
And I don’t think that that regime change is really in the president’s goals at this point. So I don’t see that as a viable option here.
Male: Thank you, Ellen. Jean-Francois.
Jean-Francois Seznec: Well, I think as Phil mentioned that we don’t really know who’s making the decisions in Iran and that the efforts to negotiate lately have been shot down by the extremist by — within Iran on that.
And I agree with that in the sense especially that I think the more extreme elements in the Iranian governments feel very strongly that the U.S. and the Saudis are paper tigers and that they will not retaliate and they’ve really put their money on that.
And they may be right. If they are wrong then it will just bring this escalation that we’re mentioning earlier.
Male: And let’s close out with Kirsten.
Kirsten Fontenrose: Sure. The U.S. definitely not seeking regime change and the reason is because what comes next could be worse. There is a smart assumption that the IRGC likely has a plan in place for regime replacement, not only in the instance of the U.S. action but also looking at, for instance the potential death of the supreme leader.
So the (inaudible) know that the population does not support them. The population does not support this regime. They’ve actually had to switch to a lot of nationalist rhetoric because they found that the ideological rhetoric was kind of losing people.
But the U.S. rhetoric now, this hardline rhetoric does help them justify themselves and this conflict helps them align popular support behind them. So it — this is only helping them stay in power, this entire conflict.
So there’s a little bit of self preservation in their continuing escalation. But I think that — the thing I’m going to be watching most closely is the response you get out of Iran to the comments from Saudi Arabia this morning about them not thinking that the assertion from the U.S. that the attack came from within Iran is necessarily definitive.
Because that is as close to a good will gesture as we are going to get. That is Saudi Arabia saying Iran, we are granting you plausible deniability. And if Iran can take it, even if analyst say there’s no way that’s possible, this attack was too well coordinated, the weaponry was too significant.
It — Saudi and the U.S. both would likely latch on to that and say OK, it was a rogue Houthi element. It was a rogue IRGC. It was a PMF force who tramped — went over the border to Syria.
I mean people are looking for a way out so this doesn’t continue to escalate. And if I’m Iran, I’m going to take them up on this both as a face saving measure and as a way to avoid getting into a military conflict I cannot win.
Male: Thank you Kirsten, Phillip, Jean-Francois, Ellen for this fantastic conversation. Thank you all for joining us on the line today. We really appreciate your interest. We actually — for a while we’re crashing the system. We had so much interest, so apologies if it took you a little while to get on the call.
You can continue to follow our coverage at the Atlantic Council’s website. And as I mentioned earlier, we did publish a blog post this morning that had quick takes on the situation from a number of people on this call as well as from others in the Atlantic Council network.
If you have any questions you always can feel free to reach out to us and we’re happy to continue this conversation offline. Thanks all.
Operator: This concludes today’s conference call. You may now disconnect.