Russia and Iran cozy up with fresh nuclear endeavors

Amid skyrocketing tensions between Washington and Moscow over Syria and Ukraine, Russia continues to cozy up with Iran; on 12 March, officials in Tehran announced that in exchange for hundreds of thousands of barrels of Iranian oil per day, Russia will build two additional nuclear power plants in Bushehr, next to the site of the already existing Russian funded plant.

Initial reports indicated that a preliminary agreement was struck between the Russian nuclear company Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation and the Iranian government, but the final details of the deal have yet to be fully worked out. Al Arabiya reported that Russia refused to even confirm or deny Iranian media reports of the fresh deal but did note that Moscow officials stated “that they would not break U.N. sanctions.”

While Moscow has consistently supported Iran’s nuclear endeavors in the past, the timing is particularly notable; while further Iran-Russia cooperation on Tehran’s nuclear pursuits was almost certain even before Russia invaded Crimea and subsequently was threatened with serious U.S. sanctions, the timing of such an announcement is especially worthy of attention.

No direct reference

In January, initial reports surfaced indicating that Russia and Iran were in talks to facilitate an “oil-for-goods swap” but there was not a direct reference to the “goods” being nuclear facilities. Nonetheless, the US still expressed concerns; spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, Caitlin Hayden said that the potential deal “would be inconsistent with the terms of the P5+1 agreement with Iran and could potentially trigger U.S. sanctions.” One month later, when reports detailed that it was increasingly likely Russia would actually build two nuclear sites, the US responded to the potential deal, stating that it brought forth, “serious concerns.”

As the nightmare in Syria continues to drag on, any substantial progress on nuclear talks seems even more unlikely

Brooklyn Middleton

At time of writing, there has been no official elaboration detailing whether or not the building of the two nuclear facilities would directly violate the interim deal agreed upon in Geneva only four months ago by the P5+1 group.

While it remains unclear to what degree the bartering for oil in exchange for additional nuclear facilities would derail the already strained nuclear talks, what is certain is that as US.-Russia relations continue to get icier, Tehran-Moscow relations continue to get warmer.

Imminent

With that said, several days before Iranian media reported that a deal with Russia was imminent, the US reported that it did not assess that unfolding events in Ukraine would undermine any future negotiations with Iran; the US State Department attempted to quell fears that introducing sanctions on Russia for its unilateral invasion of Ukraine could potentially compromise nuclear talks with Iran with State department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki stating, “We don’t agree with Russia on every issue but Russia is not a part of negotiations as a favor to the United States. They have also publicly spoken about their concerns regarding Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon.“

While the latter point of this is certainly true, the notion that Russia would not intentionally undermine or at the very least temporarily derail the nuclear negotiations seems at least a little bit overly optimistic. It certainly would not mirror Russian President Vldadmir Putin’s recent and repeated attempts to undermine the US on both the Syria and Ukraine fronts; this was most recently demonstrated by responding to President Obama’s threat that “there will be will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine,” by almost immediately requesting his upper house of parliament allow “Russian forces be used until the normalization of the political situation in the country.”

With the next set of nuclear talks slated to take place on March 17 in Vienna as Russia faces a looming threat of sanctions, and as the nightmare in Syria continues to drag on – any substantial progress on nuclear talks seems even more unlikely.


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Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst reporting from Israel. Her work has appeared in Turkish and Israeli publications including The Times of Israel and Hürriyet Daily News. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as the emerging geopolitical threats Israel faces as it pursues its energy interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. She is currently researching Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups to complete her MA in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton

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