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In Moscow, Iran Seeks to Salvage Nuclear Deal

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian heads to Russia in an effort to remove the latest roadblock to a revived nuclear agreement.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov welcomes his Iranian counterpart.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov welcomes his Iranian counterpart.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov welcomes his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, prior to their meeting in Moscow on Oct. 6, 2021. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at Russia’s slow rolling of the Iran nuclear deal, the latest from Ukraine, and others news worth following from around the world.

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Iran and Russia to Discuss Stalled Nuclear Deal

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at Russia’s slow rolling of the Iran nuclear deal, the latest from Ukraine, and others news worth following from around the world.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Iran and Russia to Discuss Stalled Nuclear Deal

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian is in Moscow today to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, as Tehran seeks to remove a new roadblock in its quest to return to the 2015 nuclear deal and remove punishing sanctions.

Like the world’s energy markets, food markets, and traditional geopolitical alignments, Russia’s war in Ukraine has had an indirect effect on the deal’s endgame. Moscow now demands its own sanctions removals in return for any deal, a move that could blunt Western attempts to force Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government to incur tangible costs for its invasion.

The United States is so far holding firm, with one Biden administration official saying there was no “scope for going beyond” what has already been agreed to in Vienna. The official said that the administration “would know within a week whether or not Russia is prepared to back down,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Is it dead (again)? With Russia pursuing an unpredictable course, officials in Vienna appear to be preparing an alternative deal without Moscow’s input. Such a deal would need to find replacements for Russia’s role in removing enriched uranium from Iran as well as its expertise in converting its Fordow nuclear facility into a research role. One former Iranian official, speaking to Middle East Eye, said the absence of Russia on those fronts was “no big deal” since “the U.S. and Europe can easily find another country to do that for Iran.” 

Iran’s side. If Iran is purely motivated by reviving its economy, a deal that leaves out Russia would still be less destructive than the sanctions-riddled status quo. Although Iran’s exports to Russia doubled from $400 million to $800 million from 2019 to 2020, that still represents a small percentage of Iran’s overall exports. Far more valuable is its relationship with its Asian partners. China, India, Japan, and South Korea made up around 72 percent of Iran’s exports in 2019. (China was the destination for $12.1 billion of those exports, 48.3 percent of Iran’s total.)

Iran’s longtime alliance with Russia (underscored by its apparent support for Russia’s war) as well as budget-boosting oil prices both serve to complicate the picture. On Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said that a deal without Russia wasn’t under consideration and laid the blame on the United States for delays.

“Downgrading what is happening in Vienna to one element—meaning Russia’s demand—is what the U.S. wants so everyone would forget its own responsibilities. No one must forget that the party responsible for the fact that we are still at the point of non-agreement is the U.S.,” he said.

Khatibzadeh said if Washington “adopts a suitable political decision today, delegations can return to Vienna tomorrow.”


What We’re Following Today

Ukraine latest. Peace talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials will resume today via videoconference as Russia continues its assault on Ukrainian cities with artillery and missile fire. The discussions began on Monday but yielded no concrete outcomes.

In the background, a negotiated end to the fighting may come with the help of Israel. Both Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke separately with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday, with Zelensky later adding in a video that the talks were “part of a negotiation effort to end this war as soon as possible. With a fair peace.”

As FP’s Michael Hirsh wrote on Monday evening, the talks aren’t yet a harbinger of peace to come: “Senior diplomatic sources privy to the talks say there has been a softening of language on both sides, but they do not believe Putin is yet ready to engage in serious diplomacy as he maneuvers for a battlefield advantage in the nearly three-week-old war, during which Russian forces have been hampered by fierce Ukrainian resistance.”

Meanwhile, China’s role in Ukraine is under the microscope, with news reports suggesting Russia had asked for Chinese military equipment, including drones, in late February and that China was open to the arms transfer. A senior Biden administration official refused to comment when asked by reporters on a Monday evening call whether the United States had any evidence that China had supplied any economic or military support to Russia thus far.

Ireland’s week in Washington. Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin arrives in Washington today for talks with U.S. congressional leaders. The Irish leader meets with U.S. President Joe Biden on March 17 for the traditional St. Patrick’s Day reception at the White House.


Keep an Eye On

India’s Russia bailout. India is prepared to take advantage of high energy prices by purchasing deeply discounted oil offered from Russia, according to a Reuters report. “Russia is offering oil and other commodities at a heavy discount. We will be happy to take that,” one Indian official, who would not say how much oil was under consideration, told the news agency. The news follows another report from February that indicated India would allow Russian firms to transact business in rupees to circumvent U.S. sanctions.

Uganda’s succession. Uganda’s military has denied that Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the son of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, has retired from the service, a move interpreted as paving the way to succeed his father, since active military leaders are barred from political participation. The military has maintained that he remains in active service, contradicting a tweet from Kainerugaba, issued last week, in which he announced his retirement. The tweet remains up but has been followed by a video where the general promises to retire in eight years’ time instead.

Turkey’s new electoral rules. Turkey’s ruling alliance has put forward a draft bill that would lower the total vote threshold for new parties entering parliament from 10 percent to 7 percent in a move that has been criticized as a maneuver designed to pick off members of an opposition coalition who may now wish to go it alone. The bill’s probable passage makes any snap election more unlikely, since the legislation would take a year to come into effect.


FP Recommends

High oil prices mean a lot more than higher costs at the gas station, exacerbating everything from inflation to climate policy. On this week’s episode of Ones and Tooze, FP columnist Adam Tooze once again joins co-host Cameron Abadi to explore what the world will look like if oil prices keep climbing.

FP’s Amy Mackinnon contributed to today’s brief.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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