Russia can play constructive role in bringing JCPOA back to life

March 14, 2021 - 22:36

TEHRAN – The failure of a European-led process to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal could create ripe conditions for Russia to take charge of the process and play a greater role as a party that enjoys good relations with both sides of the dispute.  

Private talks between Iran and the West hit a dead end after the European-brokered mediation process failed to break the ice. The Europeans, who acted as a go-between, further disappointed Iran and exacerbated its suspicions about the sincerity of their diplomatic efforts.

Over the past days and weeks, several capitals around the world have been engaged in a flurry of diplomatic efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Vienna, Geneva, Brussels, Paris, Berlin, Washington, New York, and Tehran have been playing host to these efforts, according to Press TV. 

These efforts came on the heels of a last-minute deal between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency which ensured cooperation between Tehran and the UN nuclear watchdog in light of the implementation of a nuclear law passed by the Iranian Parliament that obligated the Iranian government to halt the implementation of the Additional Protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) after the Europeans failed to get the U.S. to lift sanctions by February 23.

With the deal, a potential showdown between Iran and the West was postponed for a period of three months. But the deal also marked the beginning of a race against time to save the deal. To this end, Iran and Europe started to discuss a gradual process to revive the JCPOA.

According to Press TV, the Europeans received messages from Iran outlining “a-step-for-a-step” proposal for Tehran and Washington to revive the JCPOA. 

“Based on the proposal, some steps on the part of the U.S. could be followed by some steps on the part of Iran, the American steps featuring unfreezing of part of Iran’s overseas assets,” Press TV reported.

The U.S. principally didn’t object to the proposal but at the same time, it did not want to release Iranian frozen assets before any informal meeting -even a closed-door one- can take place. Iran and the U.S. also had different views about the volume of money that must have been released. Press TV said the volume oscillated between $1 and $15 billion.

The proposal went nowhere. And it’s unclear yet if discussions about this proposal or a similar one would be resumed at a later stage. But the whole melodrama showed how Iran-Europe relations have been damaged over the past few years. And that begs the question: who will mediate between Iran and the U.S. at a time when Europe is no longer seen as a fair meditator?

Whether Iran will again entrust Europe to once again play the role of mediator remains an open question. But Russia, as a member of the JCPOA, seems to be ready to fill the vacuum. Russia has been a staunch supporter of the JCPOA and it has long said that it seeks to preserve the deal. Russia had even tried to play a sort of mediation role between Iran and the U.S. during the Trump administration. 

Back in July 2020, Russia worked hand in glove with the Iranian government to prevent a total collapse of the JCPOA. At that time, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif left Tehran for Moscow while Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was heading to Iran. The chief Iranian diplomat was tasked with delivering an “important message” from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. At the end of his visit, Zarif said in a tweet that he “delivered important message to President Putin,” and held “extensive talks” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on bilateral cooperation as well as regional and global coordination. According to Zarif, Iran and Russia had “identical views” on the nuclear deal.

Two days after Zarif’s visit, President Putin and his American counterpart “thoroughly” discussed several “issues of strategic stability”, including Iran’s nuclear program, in a telephone call.

“The situation with the Iranian nuclear program was touched on. Both sides emphasized the need for a collective effort to maintain regional stability and the global nuclear non-proliferation regime,” the Kremlin said in a statement at the time. 

Meanwhile, Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s permanent representative to International organizations in Vienna, described the conversation as “very encouraging.”

“A very encouraging news. Not happens every day. The leaders of Russia and [the] U.S had an exchange of views on Iran-related issues. Both sides underlined the need for collective efforts to maintain stability in the region, as well as global regime of nuclear non-proliferation,” Tweeted Ulaynov on July 24, 2020.

As Europe’s suspicious behavior increasingly drives a wedge between Tehran and Brussel, Russia once again stands as a counterbalance to the European oscillation. Of course, Russia may not be interested in taking up the role of mediator. But that does not mean the Europeans can easily earn the trust of Iran again. Recent developments showed that Iran is increasingly moving away from a European mediation. In fact, Iran seems to be not trusting Europe even to exchange messages between Tehran and Washington. 

Following the European effort to put forward a resolution at the IAEA’s board of governors against Iran, Tehran suspected the Europeans of providing the new U.S. administration of “misleading” consultation, according to Press TV.

“Iran’s concern about the role played by the European sides was so serious that prompted Tehran to relay indirect messages to them indicating that if Iran and the U.S. were supposed to exchange any messages at all, the official channel through the Swiss Embassy that represents the U.S. interests in the Islamic Republic would serve as a better conduit than the European vehicles,” The Iranian news network said, adding, “This means that not only does not Tehran consider the Europeans to be any better than U.S. President Joe Biden himself, but also it suspects that they could be providing wrongful and misleading consultation and assessments to the new American administration. Therefore, it would be better for any potential messages to be relayed through Switzerland.”

Press TV also said that during the deliberations over the proposal, the Europeans even showed no interest in lifting sanctions on Iran’s oil export, calling such a move “difficult measure.” They also regard Iran’s potential cessation of 20-percent enrichment as only a small step, something that may further erode trust between Iran and Europe.

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