Russia's invasion of Ukraine effectively saved the US-Iranian "nuclear deal" talks, which by February of this year were in a deep and hopeless coma.
The war in Ukraine has created the biggest challenge for the West in recent decades, forcing it to rethink the foundations of its former policies and adapt to a long, debilitating and difficult confrontation with Russia. In order to better prepare for this, Western countries had to reconsider some aspects of their foreign policy, especially when it became clear that the war between the Russian Federation and Ukraine is serious and for a long time, this is a conflict smoothly turning into a resource war, a marathon in which will be done not for a one-time massive strike, but for attrition, demoralization and flank attacks.
In this context, the "Iranian factor" suddenly took on a new meaning. If before the war the United States was already ready to give up on “nuclear talks”, then after it began, the value of the nuclear deal with Iran increased dramatically, giving the Democrats in Washington who supported it more arguments in favor of concluding a treaty.
First, the signing of the "nuclear deal" was unexpectedly intertwined with the domestic political interests of the Joe Biden administration. The release of a huge amount of sanctioned Iranian oil, in theory, could affect world markets and slow down the rise in gasoline prices in the States themselves, which cost Biden his rating. Stabilization of the situation in the United States could improve the prospects of the ruling Democratic Party in the midterm elections to Congress in November.
Second, from Washington's perspective, a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the 2015 nuclear deal is officially called, could help stabilize the Middle East.Since his inauguration, Joe Biden has continued Trump's strategic course of a gradual “withdrawal” from the Middle East, reorientation of resources to the Asia-Pacific region and rivalry with China. The outbreak of a large-scale war in Europe has accelerated the process of self-withdrawal of the States from the direct control of the region (or its attempts). But in order to go about their business and not worry about the future of the post-American Middle East, Americans need at least temporary stabilization, a respite, freezing problematic areas, preventing another big conflict, in which the United States will again be forced to get involved and stay there for decades. . "Nuclear agreements" with Iran are seen by Democrats as one of the best, less painful, ways to achieve such a temporary balance and stability.
Thirdly, the geostrategic value of Iran has grown in the context of the unprecedented sanctions war between the West and Russia over Ukraine. The United States and some European allies undertook to oust Russia at least from the European energy market, at the very least - to deprive it of part of its oil and gas revenues from energy exports, prices for which remain high, allowing Russia to stay afloat in the face of sanctions pressure. Iran is one of the few countries that has excess oil reserves, similar in consistency to Russian grades, and ready to be released to world markets. These several million barrels of sanctioned oil can play a significant role against the Russian Federation: stabilize or lower prices, help European allies replace Russian oil, reduce dependence and diversify, accelerate the displacement of the Russian Federation from the oil business. In other words, Iranian oil has become for the United States an important element of the energy war against the Russian Federation,
For Iran itself, the war in Ukraine has also become a time of opportunity in the context of “nuclear talks”. Realizing that their potential role for the West has now increased, the Iranians have actively joined the game on anti-Russian sentiment, sometimes even blackmailing the West by drifting towards China or the Russian Federation in the event of a failure of negotiations on a nuclear program. The situation also allowed them to demand big concessions from the US, taking advantage of the fact that the Biden administration needs the treaty more than its absence in the face of a big crisis in Europe. In addition, Iran and Russia are rivals when it comes to energy or regional security in the Middle East. The war in Ukraine provides Iran with an opportunity to join the redistribution of the European energy market at the expense of the Russian Federation (which they are happy to do, increasing their share and returning to the big oil game), as well as to strengthen their positions in the Middle East, while Russia is busy fighting sanctions,
The above shows that the war in Ukraine has created a context in which nuclear talks have become more desirable and meaningful for both Iran and the US. However, this did not lead to a quick conclusion of agreements, although it revived them.
At the moment, the US-Iranian negotiations are at the final stage. After two unsuccessful attempts to reach an agreement in April and June, EU representatives made one last attempt to pull the negotiating process out of the impasse. The final draft text of the agreement proposed by them , despite the initial skepticism, nevertheless caught on in the capitals of the two states, and revived hopes for a positive result. Over the past week, Iran and the United States have been negotiating the final touches on this text of the treaty. And now we are waiting for a concrete answer from Washington and Tehran: whether they will sign it or not.
We do not know for sure what exactly is spelled out in the text of the agreement proposed by Brussels. According to Qatari Al-Jazeera TV sources , Iran's abandonment of its nuclear program and return to the provisions of the JCPOA will be carried out in four stages, 60 days each. In other words, Iran's return to compliance with the treaty will stretch for 8 months. The United States pledges to lift sanctions on 150 Iranian businesses and 17 banks on the first day after the conclusion of the treaty (the lion's share of the Trump-era sanctions that Tehran demanded to be lifted). On top of that, $ 7 billion of Iranian money blocked in the accounts of South Korean banks will be unfrozen.
In exchange, Iran agreed to waive the demand to remove their Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the list of terrorist organizations (although its removal would not significantly change anything, they are already under international sanctions), and to provide the IAEA with additional information about found traces of nuclear materials at one of the facilities, so that the UN would formally close the related investigation launched against Iran in 2019 (the United States promised to contribute to this). The Iranians have previously demanded that these investigations be closed as a precondition for the signing of the treaty. Now, apparently, this requirement has been abandoned. And, of course, Tehran agreed to return inspectors to all nuclear facilities and turn on surveillance cameras there again.
The agreement provides for Iran's export of 2.5 million barrels of oil per day 120 days after the signing of the agreement. That is, the return of Iran to the world energy markets will take time and will not give an immediate effect.
Judging by these bits of information in the press, the US has made many concessions to the Iranians, which is why the draft agreement is eagerly criticized both in the US Democratic and Republican parties, which oppose the deal, and in Israel, which is hostile towards Iran and the prospects agreements with him.
However, three problems remain with this agreement, which can either prevent the signing of the agreement or disrupt its implementation in the first months / year.
The first is the lack of guarantees of the long-term agreement. The key issue in the negotiations was the so-called "economic guarantees". Iran insisted that Washington, in one way or another, legally guarantee that after the deal was concluded, Iran would not be subject to new sanctions, it would be allowed to conduct foreign economic activity freely, and that the United States would not withdraw from the treaty if the White House administration was changed. In the USA, of course, they cannot guarantee anything. Biden cannot push the “nuclear deal” through Congress due to a lack of votes in support of the treaty. No one in Tehran will believe his promises, and the Americans cannot really give any guarantees of a sharp turn a la Trump. According to the Al-Jazeera TV channel, allegedly the treaty itself will include a clause stating that the United States undertakes not to impose sanctions related to the nuclear program against Iran and not to withdraw from the treaty in the next 2, 5 years, that is, until the end of Joe Biden's term. However, it is already unknown what will happen after the midterm congressional elections in November: will the new Congress want to pass any new bill on comprehensive sanctions against Iran, citing any other reason related to national security? And what will happen after the 2024 presidential election if the Republicans return to power? In other words, for many, the signing of an agreement between the US and Iran will be seen as a temporary lull that may be broken in the near future. Will the new congress want to pass some new comprehensive sanctions bill on Iran citing any other national security reason? And what will happen after the 2024 presidential election if the Republicans return to power? In other words, for many, the signing of an agreement between the US and Iran will be seen as a temporary lull that may be broken in the near future. Will the new congress want to pass some new comprehensive sanctions bill on Iran citing any other national security reason? And what will happen after the 2024 presidential election if the Republicans return to power? In other words, for many, the signing of an agreement between the US and Iran will be seen as a temporary lull that may be broken in the near future.
The second problem is Israel's reaction. Few people know exactly how Israel will react. Earlier, Israeli leaders have repeatedly hinted that they will continue to wage a quiet war with Iran, and do not intend to stop. While the current administration of Yair Lapid is unlikely to go into direct confrontation with the US over Iran, any next government could do so, especially if Benjamin Netanyahu suddenly returns to power. The aggravation of the Israeli-Iranian confrontation can lead to the breakdown of the agreements and neutralize their effect. Israel is already actively lobbying the United States not to sign the "nuclear deal", insisting that it will not solve the problem, and that Iran will earn billions of dollars after the lifting of sanctions, in their opinion, it will immediately spend on regional destabilization.
The third problem is that some restrictions imposed on the Iranian nuclear program by the 2015 treaty expire in 2025. There is no information about how this issue was resolved during the negotiations. If not, there is a risk that some of the restrictions, for example, those related to uranium enrichment, will be lifted after 3 years and not extended. However, it is possible that the Iranians and the six international mediators will discuss this issue separately in subsequent years.
If implemented, the "nuclear deal" has the potential to help the United States in the global energy confrontation with Russia, as well as provide a long-awaited respite in the Middle East, which they will use to further turn to Asia. In addition, if the agreement is implemented, and the parties do not again become involved in some kind of friction or minor conflicts, the United States and Iran will be able to establish ad hoc cooperation in other areas, including the development of the North-South transport corridor, in which India participates - a close US ally against China, countering Turkish and Russian influence in the South Caucasus, stabilizing the political situation in Lebanon and Iraq, developing the peace process in Yemen.
However, there is no certainty about this. As I described above, the "nuclear talks" and potential deal between the US and Iran are fragile and unreliable. There is no trust between the parties. Iran is well aware that the United States is dependent on its electoral cycles, and due to deep domestic political polarization, there are no guarantees that after some time the United States will not withdraw from the treaty again. In turn, the United States also understands that the Iranians are not going to close the nuclear program so easily, still fearing an attack from the Americans or their Middle Eastern allies. There are no illusions about regional security either: Iran will not surrender its allies and spheres of influence in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.
Therefore, the best compromise would be to revive the ad hoc partnership of the Obama era, when both countries preferred to maintain a balance in the region, inclining their proxies to agreements, but at the same time not solving anything concrete. This did not help to resolve differences or regional conflicts, but it avoided large-scale escalations of the kind that occurred under Trump and almost led to war. Against the background of the post-electoral political crisis in Iraq, the socio-economic collapse in Lebanon, the aggravation of the situation in Syria and other processes, the States need to temporarily return to freezing and cooperation, even if this will have to rely on old elites or agreements.
In the context of "nuclear negotiations" Ukraine and Russia occupy different sides of the barricades. It is beneficial for us to conclude this agreement, although it may be temporary and not solve the problem, in fact, of nuclear non-proliferation. Because the “deal” will hit Russia’s revenue streams, weakening their negotiating position over time, while giving Iran at least some incentive not to get too close to Russia, risking new sanctions. The desire to reintegrate into the world economy and develop trade and economic cooperation with foreign markets can be a good “carrot” for Iran, because of which they will remain neutral regarding the war in Ukraine and will not undermine Western sanctions against the Russian Federation.
Russia, on the contrary, after February 24 was interested in the “nuclear negotiations” stalling and failing. In this they have a situational interest with Israel. Moscow believes that the failure of the talks and the return of the United States to Trump's policy of "maximum pressure" will put Tehran in a "narrow corridor" situation, when they have nothing left but to get closer to other anti-Western countries, helping them to undermine the position of the West in the world, including including in the context of the political and ideological lines of the split in Ukraine.