Iran-Russia relationship looms over nuclear talks and Ukraine war

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In recent weeks, the Pentagon confirmed that Russia now has Iranian-made combat aircraft, another sign of deepening relations between the two countries. US officials warn that Russia is likely to deploy Iranian drones capable of making weapons on the battlefield in Ukraine.

In response to reports that Iran was preparing to supply Russia with several hundred drones, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Putin’s attempt to strengthen ties with Iran represented a “deep threat.”

Although the first Iranian drone shipment to Russia has so far proven unreliable, more installments could help augment Russia’s depleted arsenal. Russia has lost dozens of surveillance drones since the invasion of Ukraine and is now running out of weapons and precision-guided missiles.

The United States began supplying Ukraine with high-mobility artillery missile systems in June, which can be used to fire multiple precision missiles at Russian military targets from about 50 miles away.

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Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, center, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, greet each other while Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi stands right, during their meeting in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, July 19, 2022.
(Office of Iran’s Supreme Leader via AP)

However, despite comments by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Monday that referenced Iran’s latest response, the possibility of a new nuclear deal with Iran in the short term seems unlikely, and the Moscow-Tehran relationship continues.

Russia has been trying to strike an arms deal with Iran since October 2020 when United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 imposing an arms embargo on Iran expired. It is unclear whether Russian officials would have been quick to reach out to Iran had it not been for the indirect war it is waging against the United States and the West in Ukraine.

“The deepening of the relationship between Russia and Iran is, at least in part, an unintended consequence of Washington’s use of sanctions policy. Having concluded that Russia’s relationship with the West is irreparable, Putin is focused on Asia and working to develop new trade and trade partnerships with other authoritarian regimes. Like China, Iran and North Korea,” said former DIA intelligence officer and Head of Doctrine & Strategy Consulting, Rebecca Kofler.

In an effort to stave off international isolation, Putin has sought closer ties with Iran as evidenced by his visit to Tehran in July, a trip that was his first venture outside the borders of the former Soviet Union since the invasion of Ukraine. Observers say that a closer alliance between Russia and Iran will help the two countries mitigate the impact of Western sanctions by opening new markets for their products and strengthening military cooperation.

“Russia’s relationship with Iran is a marriage of convenience, but it is nonetheless a marriage, with a host of serious consequences for the United States and our allies,” former Deputy National Security Adviser Victoria Coates said. She continued, “For example, they will be able to join forces to evade US sanctions on Russian oil exports. Once their oil is cycled through Iran, Russia will continue to supply their war machine in Ukraine. Iran can also persuade Russia to activate the systems,” Coats told Fox News Digital. The S-400 missiles in Syria would be a big complication for Israel.”

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Israel has recently become more vocal in its efforts to forge a renewed nuclear deal and, according to reports, remains pessimistic that a new agreement could prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Current Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid has argued that the risks involved in a new deal are greater than the previous one.

Reviving the Iran nuclear deal was a top priority of the Biden administration. Opponents of the deal pointed out that temporarily restricting Iran’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for sanctions relief, allowing the release of billions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets as well as oil and gas revenues, would make the deal flawed from the start. Unfreezing funds that are currently unavailable could help Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, transfer billions of dollars to hostile armed groups. In response, Iran’s regional opponents could be intimidated into developing or acquiring their own nuclear weapons.

Under the terms of the original Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran received sanctions relief in exchange for severe restrictions on its nuclear program. While the new deal is expected to include a strict monitoring system to verify that Iran is meeting its commitments, the physical nuclear restrictions will expire after several years.

“Ultimately, this issue boils down to the fact that we cannot base a sensitive national security issue like preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb on such an imaginary and unenforceable international agreement. The threat of a nuclear Iran, given Tehran’s repeated pledges to annihilate the United States And Israel is a deadly serious matter and cannot be outsourced to the United Nations.”

Observers argue that Putin demonstrated disdain for international norms by trying to bolster Russia’s relations with the Islamic Republic during a critical period when Iran was violating its commitment to non-proliferation. Iran is said to be enriching uranium to a purity of 60% and approaching the 90% purity required for nuclear weapons.

As one of the world’s leading atomic energy experts, Russia has helped build and operate atomic reactors in Iran. However, as Iran’s nuclear weapons pose a strategic threat to its national security, Russia has been instrumental in the diplomatic success that led to the 2015 agreement.

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Former Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (center right) and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov (center left) sign agreements after their talks in Tehran, Iran, in April 2021.

Former Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (center right) and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov (center left) sign agreements after their talks in Tehran, Iran, in April 2021.
(Iranian Foreign Ministry via The Associated Press)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has demanded that no Ukraine-related sanctions interfere with potential business in Iran. Giving Russia a mediating role in shaping the Iran deal could give the world’s most sanctioned country undue influence.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said that although the JCPOA would not provide a means for the Russian Federation to evade sanctions related to Ukraine, the US would not impose sanctions on Russia for “conducting or participating in nuclear projects that are part of the JCPOA.” “.

Russia may have already signed a contract with the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to develop projects at the Bushehr nuclear plant. “If Russia becomes the custodian of Iran’s enriched facility, it will continue to stream revenue to Russia that is said to have provided them with about $10 billion under the JCPOA in exchange for their services,” Coats added.

Having already earned billions of dollars building Iranian nuclear reactors, Moscow will undoubtedly hope to sell weapons to Tehran for billions more. Koffler argues that a new nuclear deal with Iran could give Russia the means to resupply its war machinery and prolong the conflict in Ukraine.

“The Biden administration should abandon its hopes that Putin will help the United States broker a good deal with Iran. Nothing Moscow might prepare for Washington regarding assistance with Iran and the JCPOA can be trusted. Although little can be done in At this stage, to rein in Russian-Iranian cooperation, abandoning the JCPOA would at least eliminate Russia’s role in it,” Koffler noted.

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After months of indirect negotiations between the United States and Iran in Vienna and more recently in Qatar, it remains uncertain whether a new Iran nuclear deal will be reached. Given Iran’s demand that the United States ensure Tehran continues to receive sanctions relief if the deal subsequently collapses, experts warn that the Biden administration may have to make concessions with dire ramifications for the region as a whole.

Coats said the nuclear deal “must be carefully and diligently planned by the Biden administration and by the elected representatives of the American people in Congress.”

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