Moscow places a diplomatic stick in Washington’s wheel

The political agenda today is rich in events, in this regard it is important not to miss some important reference points. So, the other day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow would support a return to the nuclear agreement with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – JCPOA) only if Washington guarantees Moscow that current and future sanctions against it “will not infringe on Russia’s interaction with the Islamic Republic”. Lavrov clarified that the agreement is almost ready, but, on the one hand, Tehran is “seeking more clarity on some issues”, on the other, Moscow has problems.

According to the Russian Foreign Minister, the agreement with Iran opens the doors of this country for cooperation in the field of the “peaceful atom” and other sectors of the economy, including with Russia. But, Lavrov added, “the avalanche of sanctions that has fallen on Russia from the West, and which, as I understand, has not yet ended, forces us to demand clear guarantees that these sanctions will not affect the regime of trade, economic and investment relations that is laid down in the agreement with Iran.” At the same time, he specifically mentioned the future military-technical cooperation between Russia and Iran.

In this regard, “Moscow demands written guarantees on this issue at the level of at least the US Secretary of State.” Translated into ordinary language, this means that the negotiations in Vienna on the JCPOA may be suspended. This move was not anticipated by other participants of the negotiation format in Vienna.

According to EU representative Enrique Mora, who predicted that the negotiations would reach the final stage, some “surprises” were expected only from the Iranian side, which had “certain unresolved topical issues” up its sleeve.

A paradoxical situation has developed. Earlier, Russian diplomacy acted as almost the main mediator between the United States and Iran. It was about the Russian version of the JCPOA, which provides for the limitation of the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for the partial lifting of sanctions.

In turn, Tehran had to commit not to enrich uranium to 60%, and to transport the already accumulated reserves of highly enriched uranium to Russia. In the event of Washington’s withdrawal from the new agreement, the Iranians would still have the right to increase their nuclear potential, which was actually a deterrent for Washington.

Russia has made considerable efforts to convince Iran to compromise. It is no coincidence that this issue was discussed recently in Moscow during the talks between Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Earlier, Putin discussed this issue during virtual talks with US President Joe Biden. Then the parties expressed the hope that the negotiations, which were resumed last November in Vienna, “will allow all participants to find the optimal solution”.

But the situation has changed. Previously, Israel demanded that the United States refuse to sign the JCPOA, threatened to “preserve the freedom of hands” and, if anything, “bomb nuclear facilities in Iran”. As Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, “even with the resumption of the JCPOA, according to the most conservative estimates, Iran will have a nuclear potential within five years. No diplomatic steps or agreements will stop the Iranian nuclear program. This is a problem of the international community and, first of all, our problem.”

Now Moscow is blocking the agreement. During a recent visit to the Russian capital by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the Iranian issue was on the negotiating agenda in his dialogue with Putin. As stated by the Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post, “the Ukrainian crisis and the Iranian nuclear program are objectively bundled into one package.”

Moreover, Israel is concerned that Moscow intends to develop military cooperation with Tehran, despite US sanctions. This is an open Russian challenge to Washington, which has no alternative agreement on Iran or other proposals.

In addition, the Americans would like to play Tehran according to their scenario: to release Iranian oil to the market in order to bring down prices for it and replace Russian oil in the event of an energy embargo against Moscow. There have been reports that Biden’s advisers are discussing the possibility of his visit to Saudi Arabia “during March” to try to convince Riyadh to increase oil production.

Now the United States has to set its priorities in the Middle East differently. So far, they have rejected Moscow’s demands for “written guarantees” of non-proliferation of Western sanctions imposed against Russia on its relations with Iran. But that’s for now.

As for the position of Tehran itself, by all indications, the current course of events is not a surprise for it. It will not bring the situation to an armed conflict with Israel, if only because it is unprofitable for it to turn itself into an exclusively “Israeli problem”. In addition, Moscow has made it clear to Iran that it intends to forestall a negative scenario for it during negotiations with Israel.

Thus, it can be stated that there are signs of closer cooperation and cooperation between Moscow and Tehran in the field of defence, and in some areas a common political and strategic position and common actions have begun to form.

Elena Panina, Director of the RUSSTRAT Institute

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