US: Deepening Iran-Russia alliance is ‘profound threat,’ as JCPOA proves elusive

“Russia deepening an alliance with Iran is something that the whole world should look at and see as a profound threat.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian shake hands during a joint news conference in Moscow on August 31, 2022. (Photo: MAXIM SHEMETOV/AFP)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian shake hands during a joint news conference in Moscow on August 31, 2022. (Photo: MAXIM SHEMETOV/AFP)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – The State Department expressed its concern about the increasingly close ties between Russia and Iran, as the Iranian Foreign Minister visited Moscow earlier this week.

“Russia deepening an alliance with Iran is something that the whole world should look at and see as a profound threat,” a State Department Spokesperson told Kurdistan 24.

Are Russia and Iran Manipulating the EU?

In a press conference on Wednesday, along side Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian discussed the status of the talks to revive the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which Donald Trump left in 2108.

Both Lavrov and Amir-Abdollahian sought to portray Iran as the party that was being reasonable in the negotiations, while suggesting that any problems were the fault of the US.

That is worth noting, as energy supplies are a major factor in the confrontation between Europe and Russia over the latter’s brutal and unprovoked assault on Ukraine.

Europe became heavily dependent on cheap Russian energy in the years after the Cold War. But now Europe is trying to minimize those energy imports in order to deny Moscow funds for its war in Ukraine, and Europe is seeking alternative energy supplies.

At the same time, Russia is threatening Europe with even greater energy cuts that, if imposed in the winter, will literally leave people freezing—in scenes not seen in Europe for decades.

The European Union (EU) plays an intermediary role in the JCPOA talks. Those talks should have nothing to do with the Ukraine conflict. They involve two different issues!

But given the current international situation, there is an interrelationship, because of the key role of energy in both. The EU interlocutors in the JCPOA talks, led by its foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, are eager to revive that agreement and restore Iran’s oil exports. Indeed, they make little effort to conceal their eagerness.

However, in doing so, they risk becoming the unwitting tools of Moscow. Three times over the past two months, Borrell has promulgated the expectation that a revival of the JCPOA is imminent.

Read More: EU-sponsored Iran nuclear talks end, again, with no agreement

As Israel’s Prime Minister has complained, the unseemly haste to reach an agreement sends “the wrong message” to Tehran.

Moreover, if there is an expectation that the JCPOA is about to be restored—as Borrell has been suggesting, perhaps as a pressure tactic—yet none is reached, that creates a problem, particularly, if the US is seen to be the unreasonable party, blocking an accord.

Such a perception could play into Russia’s hands. If an energy crisis makes the winter in Europe difficult, European publics may resent Washington for contributing to their woes.

That would serve Moscow’s goal of dividing the US and Europe. Thus, it is crucial that the US, and the EU, are clear about the positions of the parties to the JCPOA negotiations, and who is raising what obstacles, and

Iranian-Russian Position on Renewing the JCPOA

“Russia supports reviving the nuclear deal and lifting the sanctions imposed against Iran,” Lavrov told journalists on Wednesday, while Amir-Abdollahian said that Tehran was studying the “final” EU text of the accord, before it would relay its views back to the Europeans, who would pass them onto the Americans.

The following day, on Thursday, the US received the Iranian response from the EU intermediaries and promptly described Tehran’s position as “not constructive.” On Friday, The Washington Post reported, citing an administration official describing Tehran’s response, “If there’s any movement, it’s in the wrong direction.”

The Post noted that expectations had risen of an imminent conclusion of an agreement, attributing that to Borrell. “Public optimism that the negotiations were on the verge of a successful conclusion, at least among those who favor such an outcome, began to rise in late July,” the Post said, “when E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell sent all participants a ‘final text’ he said reached the limits of possible compromise.”

However, there is still no agreement, as key issues remain unresolved.

Outstanding Issues

There are three outstanding issues. The most serious involves the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA.) Its work is independent of the JCPOA.

In 2019, the IAEA discovered traces of enriched uranium at three undisclosed sites in Iran. It has repeatedly asked Iran to explain that finding—which may suggest that Iran has conducted secret nuclear work. However, Iran has declined to do so, and the IAEA’s inquiry remains open.

Iran is demanding, as a condition for restoring the JCPOA, that the IAEA end that inquiry. The US has refused that demand.

“We have communicated to Iran, both in public and private, that it must answer the IAEA questions,” White House National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby stated on Wednesday. “Our position on that is not going to change.”

In addition, Iran wants any new agreement to be binding on future presidents. If the JCPOA were a treaty, the Biden administration could do that. But a treaty requires approval from the US Senate by a two-thirds majority. There is simply no way that the administration could gain such support.

Thus, the US cannot meet this Iranian demand. It is simply impossible.

Finally, Iran is demanding that the US remove Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its list of terrorist groups, but the US has refused that as well.

Thus, it is difficult to see how, as things stand now, there can be any agreement on restoring the JCPOA. Indeed, those thinking otherwise, including Borrell and his team, might consider the possibility that Moscow and Tehran, which are increasingly close allies, are merely playing with them.