Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 110

The five-power agreement on Iran reached in Vienna on June 1 represented a victory for Russian diplomacy, in that Moscow and China’s tenacity forced Washington to consent to direct participation in talks with Iran, provided it ceases uranium reprocessing and enrichment under IAEA verification ( June 6). In return, Iran stands to receive several concessions.

Although these concessions have not been formally spelled out, they likely include a proposal to allow Iran to upgrade its civilian air fleet by using parts from Boeing and to allow Tehran to purchase U.S. agricultural technology. Russia, China, the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the UK), and the United States would also support an Iranian civilian nuclear energy program, including a light-water reactor, to supply uranium fuel. It could also be built as a joint project with other countries. Washington and the European governments would also support Iranian membership in the World Trade Organization. There is also some mention of unspecified security guarantees.

But should Iran spurn this offer, there are also unspecified “disincentives,” including sanctions, even though Russia opposes even the mention of sanctions (, June 6). These disincentives also include a return to the UN Security Council ( (June 6). There are evidently some signs that Iran might accept an agreement to this effect, although nothing definite has been said (Kommersant, May 29).

Russia’s reaction to this package is instructive. President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov both supported this proposal (RIA-Novosti, June 2). Some Russian media even went so far as to say that Iran’s failure to accept these terms would be “disastrous” or that the package represented Iran’s “last chance” (Rossiya TV, RTR Channel One, June 2).

However beneath this apparent agreement Moscow continues to resist U.S. policy. Putin has stated his opposition to the invocation of sanctions, which he called “premature,” as well as his opposition to the use of force “under any circumstances” (RIA-Novosti, June 2). Although Lavrov supports the idea of bilateral talks between Washington and Tehran, he also said that the term “sanctions” appears nowhere and the agreement rules out the use of force (Itar-Tass, June 2; Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 5; Interfax, June 4, 5).

Thus if Iran refuses the agreement, the parties would go back to the UN Security Council, but it is most likely that Russia would continue to oppose any penalty for Iran’s violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (Kommersant, June 2). In other words, Moscow’s opposition to any enforcement of the treaty and genuine pressure upon Iran remains unyielding. In fact, Lavrov is trying to expand Iran’s status in world politics by urging its cooperation with the Black Sea states (IRNA, June 6). Therefore it is not surprising that British commentators are “perplexed” by his statements, and that other Western diplomats fear this agreement will enable Iran, with Russian support, to string out future talks for a very long time while further developing its nuclear weapons (New York Times, June 2).

Lavrov also carefully distanced Russia from Washington’s compromise, saying it is not known why America acted now, and he is clearly skeptical about the shift reflecting any substantive change in Washington’s real position. Indeed, he carefully evaded saying that Iran should give a yes-or-no answer. Instead he wants Tehran to make “a constructive response.” In other words what is important is to play for time and to enhance Russia’s status in the region and in the “Big Five,” so that its power to veto further American initiatives remains unchecked. Iran’s nuclearization is evidently a secondary consideration. Lavrov insisted that the six powers devise a unified position for future talks that is acceptable to Iran, not prevent Iran’s access to modern technology, and assuage international anxiety about its nuclearization (Asia Times Online, June 6).

These statements suggest a continuing determination to frustrate all American initiatives vis-à-vis Iran, which are increasingly being narrowed to either accepting a nuclear Iran or confronting Iran with force, probably unilaterally. Obviously both alternatives are unpalatable to Washington, but the White House lacks both international support for taking on Iran and is encumbered with the unending war in Iraq. Veteran Russian analyst George Mirsky has commented that not only did Washington run into a dead end with Moscow and Beijing, Iran clearly remains adamant about building a nuclear weapon and will defy everyone. Ultimately, Mirsky observed, only Israel will be able, willing, or feel impelled to stop Iran (Russian Center TV, June 1).