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Would an arms deal with Russia scupper Iran nuclear talks?

If an agreement is reached with Iran on its nuclear program, the benefits will be much broader

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Published: Updated:

For the Islamic Republic, one of the most significant by-products and benefits of the ongoing nuclear talks is not solely linked to the future prospect of Iran’s nuclear program.

In fact, the international legitimacy that Iranian leaders are gaining from the ongoing nuclear negotiations bear much more positive consequences for Tehran’s strategic, geopolitical, and military power in the region.

At the beginning of this year, Sergei Shoigu, a Russian political figure, was the first Minister of Defense to visit Tehran in 15 years. This week, President Vladimir Putin paved the way for delivering a missile system to the Islamic Republic by lifting a ban on the sale of advanced and sophisticated Russian air defense missiles to Tehran.

The ban was imposed in 2010 as result of UN Security Council resolutions, as well as pressures and lobbies from the United States and Israel. Nevertheless, Iran’s military power and the Russian-Iranian Partnership is shifting as the P5+1 (the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China) and the Islamic Republic have reached a framework for the final nuclear deal.

Rise in Russian-Iranian partnership

For Iranian leaders, the progress in nuclear talks can significantly increase their geopolitical and economic influence in the region through global trades that could bolster Tehran’s military and defense system.

For example, the S-300 surface-to-air missile system can provide the Islamic Republic with a powerful deterrent against attacks on its nuclear sites. Iranian leaders can utilize the S-300 surface-to-air missile system to further protect their nuclear facilities and deter any strikes (including ballistic missiles or cruise missiles) against their nuclear reactors.

In addition, the arms sale will strengthen Iran’s geopolitical and strategic stance against other regional state actors as well as global powers such as the United States, as Iran will be more emboldened to scuttle other rivals’ foreign policy objectives in the region.

For the Russian leaders though, it is crucial to be ahead of the game when a final nuclear deal is going to be reached between the P5+1 and the Islamic Republic. Taking action will ensure that Moscow can reap a significant amount of trade profits (whether militarily or non-militarily) from Iran.

For instance, Russia has long been negotiating to intensify its oil-for-goods barter deal with Tehran. Moscow can place its military deals with Tehran based on the oil-for-goods exchange program. This will provide Russian leaders with a leg up in Iran’s energy and financial market before the final nuclear is signed.

Iran would welcome any military deal that can further advance its regional hegemonic ambitions

Majid Rafizadeh

As a framework for a final nuclear deal has been reached, and considering the prospects of the deal, several powers will sense the urge to immediately intensify their trades (including arms, goods, oil) with Iran. Before European countries tap into Iran’s market, Russia is attempting to secure its profits from its arms client (Iran), maintain its strategic alliance with it, reassert its military cooperation with Tehran, and enjoy a significant share in the country’s market.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense stated that Moscow is ready to quickly strike an arms deal, worth approximately $800 million. In other words, the prospects of a nuclear deal have prompted a race for several countries to benefit from the easing of UNSC sanctions. A competition to secure trade with Iran has already been initiated. And Russia, a long-term strategic ally of the Islamic Republic would not desire to fall behind.

As Andrei A. Klimov, the deputy chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Federation Council (Russia’s Senate), stated to the New York Times, “we need to think about the future of our trade partnership [with Iran]….We don’t want to wait for anybody else; it is a kind of competition, if you like.”

Iran would welcome any military deal that can further advance its regional hegemonic ambitions. As Iran’s deputy defense minister, Reza Talaienik, responded immediately to Russia’s decision to lift the ban, by telling the Tasnim News Agency, “if Russia fulfills its commitment to deliver the S-300 missile system to Iran, it will be a step towards boosting the relations and collaborations between the two countries.” He added, “It will be a step forward…definitely helping to strengthen Iran’s ties and interactions with Russia.”

In addition, as Tehran is considered a strategic ally of Moscow, bolstering Iran’s military power will also further advance Russia’s strategic and geopolitical objectives in the region. The heightened tensions between the Obama administration and President Putin pushed Moscow much closer to the Islamic Republic as well.

No Opposition from the West

Although some experts, policy analysts, and politicians might argue that Russia’s move would complicate the nuclear talks in the next two months, it is unlikely that any opposition from the Obama administration or Western allies would scuttle a final nuclear deal because of an Iran-Russia arms deal.

The recent developments clearly reflect the fact that Iranian leaders will not moderate their objective for regional supremacy, or scale down their military rule in other regional countries. The easing of sanctions appears to be utilized by Iranian leaders to further invest in the country’s military and ratchet up Iran’s political, economic, and strategic influence in the Middle East.

In closing, Russia and the Islamic Republic have utilized the international legitimacy, gained from the nuclear talks, in order to strengthen their arms, defense and strategic ties.

This international legitimacy will not only bolster Iran’s military power, which would further destabilize the region and raise the security concerns of other regional state actors, but will also set a global race to increase trade with Iran, including in arms sale landscapes.
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Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar at Harvard University, is president of the International American Council. Rafizadeh serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. He is also a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. Rafizadeh served as a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at rafizadeh@fas.harvard.edu.

Rafizadeh is a regular political analyst and contributor for national and international outlets including CNN, BBC TV and radio, ABC, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, RT, CCTV and Aljazeera English. He is frequently quoted in major news outlets including CNN, BBC, Aljazeera and he regularly writes for both academic and non-academic papers such as New York Times International, Foreign Policy, Aljazeera, Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The Atlantic, Newsweek, Yale Journal of International Affairs, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, George Washington International Review, to name a few.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.