Iran on August 31 claimed to have delivered a “peace initiative” for ending the Ukraine war to Russia. The proposal was said to have come from an unnamed European leader.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian announced the handing over of the initiative while standing next to Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov during a news conference in Moscow. The proposal, he said, was originally given to Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi. Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency earlier on August 31 said that it was French President Emmanuel Macron who channelled the peace move via Tehran. However, no officials have commented on whether that was the case.
“There are ideas to help establish peace and stop the fighting in Ukraine, and I shared these ideas with Mr Lavrov,” Amir-Abdollahian said, adding that the proposal included points on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, where there are fears that artillery shelling could cause a nuclear accident, and prisoners of war.
While Iran has several times called for the fighting in Ukraine to be stopped through dialogue, it has not condemned Russia for invading Ukraine and has accused Nato of provoking a situation that turned into an armed conflict by pushing forward with its expansion plans.
Since the war began, Moscow, under an unprecedented hail of sanctions from the West, has turned to Iran to build up alternative trade and investment, open up new export routes for the shipping of Russian goods and provide military assistance in the form of combat drones. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Tehran in July, where he met Raisi, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and also Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Analysts, meanwhile, continue to puzzle over what the reinstatement of the 2015 nuclear deal, or JCPOA, between Iran and the major powers would mean for the Russia-Iran relationship. For the past year, Iran has remained difficult to please when it comes to exactly what it wants to see in a drafted new version of the deal to persuade it to come back into the agreement. However, there are growing reports of soundings taken in Iran that indicate officials have concluded that they need a revived JCPOA to help address economic stress among Iranians that by now is causing street protests on an almost daily basis.
If Iran signed up for a restored nuclear deal, and the Biden administration also moved to take the US back into the agreement, in return for the curbing of the Iranian nuclear development programme, economic sanctions on Tehran would be lifted and, given its huge oil and gas reserves, Iran could substantially increase its energy shipments to help address the growing energy crisis much caused by Russia squeezing its energy supplies to the West.
Tensions over oil sales to China
Energy analysts have already detected some tensions between Tehran and Moscow, with the latter partly responding to Western sanctions by selling an increasing amount of discounted oil to China—an important ‘under the radar’ market for Iran, which given existing US sanctions, must struggle undetected to find buyers willing to purchase its oil.
Despite the risk of Iran becoming something of an unlikely energy saviour for the West amid the Kremlin-provoked energy crisis, Russia remains publicly supportive of bringing back the JCPOA.
“Russia supports reviving the nuclear deal and lifting the sanctions imposed against Iran,” Lavrov reiterated at his press conference with Amir-Abdollahian.
Nevertheless, despite some reports of a done deal, there is no clear confirmation from any of the JCPOA signatories—apart from Iran and Russia, they are the UK, France, Germany and China, with the US having unilaterally withdrawn from the agreement in May 2018—that a reconfigured nuclear deal to everybody’s satisfaction can be signed and sealed in the weeks ahead.
A major sticking point remains what guarantees US President Joe Biden is prepared to give Tehran on the compensation it would receive should a successor pull Washington out of the relaunched JCPOA, the same way his predecessor Donald Trump abruptly ended American participation in the original agreement. The difficulty is that the JCPOA only has the status of a political understanding, not that of a legally binding treaty.
In Moscow, Amir-Abdollahian repeated a previous statement that Iran was carefully reviewing a Washington response to a proposed final text for the return of the JCPOA drafted by the European Union.
He added, without elaborating: “We need stronger guarantees from the other party [the US] to have a sustainable deal."
Amir-Abdollahian also returned to another unresolved difficulty, namely uncompleted probes by the UN’s atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, into alleged suspect uranium traces and other evidence discovered in connection with Iran’s nuclear programme. The IAEA should scrap its "politically motivated probes" of Tehran's nuclear work in advance of any new JCPOA agreement, said Iran’s top diplomat, in a reference to how Tehran claims its foe Israel contrived to trigger the probes.
Following Amir-Abdollahian’s comments, Reuters reported White House national security spokesman John Kirby as saying the US was awaiting a response from the EU and the Iranians to its feedback on the drafted text.
"While we are, as I said earlier, cautiously optimistic [on achieving a new JCPOA], we are also pragmatic and clear-eyed and we realise that there's still gaps, and we’re trying to close those gaps in a good faith way, negotiating through appropriate channels and not through the public," Kirby added.