Prolongation of Nuclear Talks, Russia’s Trump Card in Bargaining with West

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mahmoud Shouri
Head of Eurasia Studies, Center for Strategic Research (CSR), Tehran, Iran

Russia’s position in the process of nuclear negotiations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1 group of countries has been among important issues that have been followed with special sensitivity in Iran. For various reasons, including nuclear cooperation between the two countries and similar political positions taken by Tehran and Moscow at international and regional levels, the public opinion in Iran expects Russia to provide the Islamic Republic of Iran with more support than other member states of the P5+1 group in the ongoing marathon talks over Iran's nuclear energy program. Although such expectations may not appear unusual in moral and human terms, in reality, it is only interests that determine various countries’ positions in the area of international relations.

There has been a general media lull with regard to Russia’s positions during nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 group and even published reports on this issue are somehow vague and conflicting. Although Iran's Foreign Minister [Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif] has thanked [his Russian counterpart, Sergey] Lavrov for his country’s nuclear positions, such a gesture can be well considered a mere diplomatic compliment. This is true as some members of Iran's nuclear negotiating team in the past had complained about unexpected positions taken by the Russian representative in the talks. However, there are a few points which should be taken into account with regard to Russia’s positions in nuclear negotiations.

Firstly, the general assessment made by Iran's nuclear team of Russia’s positions during nuclear talks has not been totally negative. In other words, Russia’s positions in the negotiations, have been geared to cooperation and generally positive.

Secondly, the main sides with whom Iran has been engaged in nuclear talks are the United States followed by the UK, France, and Germany. This means that the two countries of Russia and China have never had independent complaints about Iran's nuclear activities. For this reason, if Iran manages to forge an agreement with the Western sides over any of the issues that are currently the topic of negotiations, Russia and China will not try to obstruct that agreement.

Perhaps, it is true that Russia and China are expected to work for speeding up the general process of negotiations or try to tone down the positions taken by Western countries and take more serious steps in this regard. However, even in this regard, there are two points, which should not be forgotten. The first point is that it is quite possible that Russia, as a result of its own interests, may not be willing for the negotiations to reach a rapid conclusion. Of course, this does not mean that Russia is opposed to final resolution of Iran's nuclear issue or is willing to see nuclear talks crash.

However, it means that prolongation of the negotiations will be possibly a better and more desirable option for Russia. A few days ago, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with US Secretary of State John Kerry. Following the meeting, Lavrov raised the possibility that nuclear talks may extend beyond the current deadline set for the negotiations on November 24. Lavrov added that, even if that happened, it would not be a tragedy. Therefore, one can be certain that Russians do not necessarily believe that conclusion of the negotiations before the deadline will be to their benefit. This is true as rapid resolution of Iran's nuclear issue will do away with one of the major problems with which the United States is dealing right now. On the other hand, it may dampen the interest of Iran for further cooperation with Russia. Therefore, any expectations of Russia should be adjusted in accordance with these realities.

The second point is that following developments in Ukraine and imposition of sanctions by the Western countries against Moscow, possible removal of the West’s sanctions against Iran will leave Russia alone with its own Western sanctions. It will also possibly give more latitude to Western states to further intensify their sanctions against Russia. Certain remarks made by some Iranian officials about the Islamic Republic’s readiness to transfer its natural gas to Europe and substitute its gas for the Russian gas, has already stirred concerns in Russia.

Of course, these considerations are only based on a pessimistic assessment of the existing situation. In the meantime and from a different viewpoint, removal of sanctions against Iran may provide more fertile grounds for further expansion of relations between Tehran and Moscow taking into account that both countries have been taking active steps to this effect in recent months. At any rate, Iran and Russia have opened a new chapter in their relations, which are now supposed to be less affected by external factors than before. This issue is a critical issue with direct implications for the national interests of both countries.

Key Words: Prolongation of Nuclear Talks, Russia, Iran, West, Sanctions, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Sergey Lavrov, John Kerry, Natural Gas, Ukraine, Shouri

Source: Etemad Newspaper
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

*Photo Credit: Press TV