Analysis & Opinions - The National Interest

Will Russia Torpedo the Iran Nuclear Deal?

| Mar. 10, 2022

Russia's new demand for guarantees could have nothing to do with the nuclear issue

The onset of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine cast a dark shadow over ongoing talks in Vienna to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On March 5, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov demanded "written guarantees" that Western sanctions over Ukraine "will by no means affect our right to free and full-fledged trading, economic, investment, military and technical cooperation with Iran." Lavrov's demand has stoked concerns that Moscow may try to take the JCPOA talks hostage in order to reap benefits for "sanctions-busting," or to leverage the JCPOA as a bargaining chip to reach a deal with the West over Ukraine.

Iranian reactions to the Russian foreign minister's comments suggest that Tehran was neither consulted nor even informed beforehand by their Russian counterparts. On March 7, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, who is officially in charge of coordinating Iran's position in the nuclear talks, wrote on Twitter that Tehran is "assessing new elements that bear on the negotiations." Shamkhani stressed that "Vienna participants act & react based on interests and it's understandable," implicitly alluding to Russia. Hours later, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Iran was awaiting "clarification" about Moscow's position, adding that Russia's approach to Vienna talks had been "constructive" up until Lavrov's comments.

Interestingly, Russian diplomats in Vienna and Tehran appeared to possess little knowledge about the reasoning behind their foreign minister's comment. Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia's permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and chief negotiator in Vienna, presented a document about guarantees for Russian civilian nuclear cooperation with Iran under the JCPOA. The document did not extend to sanction exemptions for Russia's economic, investment, or military-technical cooperation with Iran. Similarly, Russia's Ambassador to Iran Levan Dzhagaryan described reports about Russia's demand as a "misunderstanding." But Lavrov's phone conversation with his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, that same evening left no doubt that Moscow seeks concessions from the West beyond the original JCPOA. "The revival of the JCPOA must provide for all participants to have equal rights in relation to the unhindered development of cooperation in all areas without any discrimination," said Lavrov....

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For Academic Citation:

Azizi, Hamidreza and Nicole Grajewski."Will Russia Torpedo the Iran Nuclear Deal?" The National Interest, March 10, 2022.