Uncertainty hangs over Iran nuclear deal

Uncertainty hangs over Iran nuclear deal

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian attends a meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister in Moscow on March 15, 2022. (AFP)

An unexpected casualty of Russia’s war on Ukraine could be the revival of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. After almost a year of arduous and sometimes deadlocked negotiations in Vienna between Iran and the P5+1 group, it finally appeared that a deal was in sight. Even the Russian envoy to the talks, Mikhail Ulyanov, tweeted on March 3 that the negotiations were “almost over”. Western diplomats agreed it was only a matter of hours before a deal was struck. But a day later, as Russia woke up to an unprecedented series of punitive Western sanctions, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would insist on written guarantees before backing a new nuclear deal with Iran. .
Even the Iranians, who counted on Russian support when they joined the talks last year, were shocked by the Kremlin’s about-face. An Iranian official has criticized Moscow for linking US sanctions against Russia to Moscow’s approval of any revised nuclear deal with Tehran, according to media reports. A diplomatically beleaguered Kremlin now plays with any card it can get its hands on, even if it means the collapse of the Vienna talks.
Officially, Tehran blamed the United States for the sudden “pause” in negotiations and urged Washington to reconsider its position. Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said this week that reports in Western media that the talks would be blocked primarily by Russia’s request were part of the US strategy. “Reducing what is happening in Vienna to a single element – that is, Russia’s request – is what the United States wants so that everyone forgets their own responsibilities. No one must forget that the responsible party because we are still at the point of no agreement, it is the United States,” he said.
But instead of pressuring America’s European allies, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian flew to Moscow on Tuesday for talks with his Russian counterpart. It underscored how Tehran considers Russia to have the final say on what now appears to be a difficult deal. What Moscow wants are guarantees from Washington which should guarantee “that the current (sanctions) process launched by the United States will in no way harm our right to free trade and economic and investment cooperation and full and military-technical cooperation with Iran”. Lavrov had said on March 4.
The so-called pause is good news for a number of parties that had resisted reviving the Iran nuclear deal on a number of issues, including Tehran’s regional behavior. This matters not only to Israel, but also to Gulf countries and others who see Iran’s proxies wreaking havoc in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

What is now clear is that the Iran nuclear deal has become a pawn in a complex geopolitical chess game.

Osama Al-Sharif

But that may not be the case for the Biden administration and its European partners. The war in Ukraine and the punitive measures taken against Moscow have changed the agenda and made the conclusion of an agreement with Iran even more urgent. The West’s dependence on Russian oil and gas has dampened the full effect of the sanctions. While the United States has banned imports of Russian oil and gas, the EU has not, leading to sharp spikes in energy prices around the world.
Suddenly, Washington felt that it had to lift sanctions on Venezuelan and Iranian oil exports in order to slow down energy markets and speed up the process of finding other suppliers for its European partners. Moscow knows Washington’s motives and understands the danger it faces if the EU stops, even after several months, importing Russian oil and gas.
For now, the Iran deal has become hostage to an inconclusive war that Russia has launched and whose devastating global effects are spreading every minute. Closer to home, Iran chose to send its own message to the United States and Israel by launching 12 ballistic missiles at a target or targets in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil on Sunday. . Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps claimed responsibility and said it hit Israeli “strategic centers”. The American consulate in Erbil was not targeted. It was a rare occasion when Iran, rather than its proxies, fired on Western targets in Iraq.
While Israel and the Kurdistan government have denied the Iranian allegations, the incident showed how complex and interconnected the regional situation has become. Israel has been targeting Iran-linked positions in Syria for years.
It’s unclear whether Moscow’s new stance on the Vienna talks will derail a deal or just delay it. The Biden administration is running out of time. Tehran wants an end to sanctions, while Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who has offered to mediate between Moscow and Kyiv, could score points with Russia that could turn the Vienna talks hiatus into a deadlock. What is now clear is that the nuclear deal has become a pawn in a complex geopolitical chess game.

• Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.
Twitter: @plato010

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