Iran, Russia intensify consultations as nuclear talks kick off

April 27, 2021 - 20:43

TEHRAN – The Russian Federation has played a constructive role in the nuclear negotiations leading to the signing of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Even after the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the deal Russia continued to play that role. 

Russia is a signatory to the nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) along with other remaining signatories such as China, France, Germany, Iran, and the UK. The United States also was a party to the deal but it withdrew from the JCPOA on May 8, 2018, imposing far-reaching sanctions on Iran. 

Russia paved the way for Iran and the West to implement the nuclear deal. For instance, it was Russia that facilitated the transfer of Iran’s enriched uranium outside of the country. In December 2015, Iran announced that it successfully transferred 11 tons of its enriched uranium to Russia, a move that helped Iran implement the JCPOA. 

Following Trump’s withdrawal, the nuclear deal began teetering on the brink of total collapse as the United States deprived Iran of the economic benefits promised in the nuclear deal. Russia, as a responsible party to the JCPOA, unequivocally condemned the U.S. non-compliance with the JCPOA and, at some point, it even sought to soothe tensions between Tehran and Washington when the three European signatories to the JCPOA -France, Germany, and the UK- were blandly issuing political statements calling on the U.S. to stop efforts aimed at killing the nuclear deal.

The Russian efforts to save the JCPOA were done despite the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin had famously said on May 15, 2019, that he was no longer willing to play the role of firefighter to extinguish the fire the Americans lit by withdrawing from the JCPOA. 

“We regret that the deal is falling apart… After the signing of the agreement Iran was and still is the world's most verifiable and transparent country in this sense… Iran is fulfilling all of its obligations… Russia is not a fire brigade. We cannot rescue everything that does not fully depend on us. We've played our part,” Putin said at the time.

A year later, Putin appeared to be assuming a new role in preventing a total collapse of the deal after he received an “important message” from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on July 21. The message was delivered by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. At the end of his visit, Zarif said in a tweet that he “delivered an 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 then-President Trump “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 after the call, which was described by Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna, as “very encouraging.”

In the meantime, Russian strongly supported Iran during its showdown with the Trump administration over the expiration of the UN arms embargo against Tehran, which the previous U.S. administration worked its butt off to extend but failed to do so. 

Russia continued to defend the JCPOA after Joe Biden come into power. Russian officials highlighted the failure of the so-called “maximum pressure” campaign launched by the Trump administration against Iran. 

“Why do almost all countries support the restoration of JCPOA? Because it is a key element of the international non-proliferation architecture. The deal, if restored, can provide credible assurances of the peaceful character of the Iranian nuclear program via intrusive IAEA verification,” Ulyanov tweeted last week.

He added, “Some people oppose JCPOA restoration. But is there a realistic alternative? No. Maximum pressure policy totally failed and just prompted the development of the Iranian nuclear program beyond 2015 parameters. This is a matter of fact. Does anybody want this trend to continue?”

Highlighting the failure of the U.S. economic pressure has been a remarkable position with which Russia put diplomatic pressure on Washington to encourage policy reconsideration on Iran. 

“Some people can’t draw lessons from the mistakes of the past. Do we need further evidence to recognize the total failure of the maximum pressure policy? Did ‘Pompeo’s 12 points’ materialize? The arguments of opponents of the JCPOA can’t be taken seriously,” Ulyanov wrote on Twitter in mid-March. 

Now that Iran and the P4+1 have resumed nuclear talks, Russia also tries to positively influence the talks. Iran has appreciated this role by intensifying consultations with the Russians. On Tuesday, top Iranian nuclear negotiator Seyed Abbas Araghchi held a trilateral meeting with the Russian and Chinese envoys to the talks. The meeting was held hours before another meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission, indicating the importance Iran attaches to consultations with the Russians and the Chinese.

Ulyanov, who represented Russia in the trilateral meeting, described it as “very fruitful.”

“We compared notes and exchanged views on the way ahead towards full restoration of the nuclear deal. It was a very fruitful meeting,” he tweeted on Tuesday.

On the other hand, Araghchi underlined the shared views of Iran, Russia, and China on the nuclear talks.  

“The heads of delegations of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Russia, and China stressed the common ground of the three delegations and the need for continued consultation and serious coordination between the three countries in these negotiations,” the Iranian nuclear negotiator said in a statement after the trilateral meeting.

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