Farhad Ibragimov: "Russian-Iranian have a lot of space for improvement"
Expert of the Valdai International Discussion Club, political analyst and Iranist Farhad Ibragimov spoke about relations between Russia and Iran.
- In early November, Iran once again refused to follow part of its obligations under the nuclear deal. In your opinion, how far can all of this go?
- Iran's behaviour is pretty consistent. Tehran has repeatedly warned that it will gradually move away from the nuclear deal, because it is not being executed by one of the parties - the United States, which violated the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan (JCPOA). Tehran has been waiting for a year for the Europeans to make their decision and force Americans to return to the negotiating table. But, as we can see, this did not happen. That's why Iranians are taking such steps, to encourage Europeans, who, according to Tehran, can put pressure on the Americans.
I would like to emphasize that the United States, not President Barack Obama, signed the JCPOA, despite what current president Donald Trump likes to say. When nuclear deal was signed in 2015, it was not the presidents who signed it, but representatives of the six countries — the Russian Federation, China, Germany, France, Great Britain and the USA. The deal was signed on the conditions that if someone violates its terms, then the JCPOA will become invalid. We must thank the IAEA inspectors, who have repeatedly stated that there are no violations by the Iranian side. However, Trump was not convinced, he decided that the Iranians behaved "inconsistently", "aggressively", despite the fact that no facts confirmed that, there was no evidence of this. So he left the nuclear deal.
There is no guarantee that the nuclear deal will be preserved, although Iranians are interested in preserving it, no matter what the hotheads from the conservative wing of Iran say. In a sense, the nuclear deal is a conductor of the Iranian position on the international scene, it allows Iranians to establish contacts with European partners who have not withdrawn from the nuclear deal.
Another thing is problem is how to effectively preserve it. After all, Europeans believed that even if Americans exit the deal, then the INSTEX mechanism could be created, which would allow to bypass American sanctions on trade with Iran. However, Europeans failed - they lacked either willpower, or economic capabilities, or simply desire to achieve that. Other experts believe that if after putting relations with the United States and relations with Iran on the same scale, it's clear what Europeans would choose.
Recently, many countries are simply trying to safe face. We see this on the example of Turkey, Iran, Europe. Europeans are completely dependent on the US. The fact that Europe independently makes any decisions is a myth. The EU is pretty nervous about this, since it considers itself capable of making decisions and promoting its ideas in the international arena on any agenda. They're trying to safe face, showing that no one can order to them around, including the Americans. Byt recent events prove the exact opposite of that.
That's why Iranians behave, as the West says, "aggressively". Although 4.5 percent enrichment of uranium is not a critical level. To really enrich uranium, 90 percent is needed. This is a signal that Iranian side is sending specifically to its European partners, and not to Russia or China. Prior to the agreement in 2015, Iran enriched uranium to the level of 20%. That is, things could be much worse.
- Why is Tehran not agreeing to a new deal with the US?
- Theoretically, Tehran could sign a new agreement with the United States. Trump puts forward proposals that American inspectors (and not IAEA or UN inspectors) would monitor the Iranian nuclear program. In Tehran, there are forces that are not at all against, they say, they have nothing to hide. However, for Iran, this is a matter of principle. Tehran’s consent to Washington’s terms gives the Americans carte blanche: another year or five years later another president will come and say: “I don’t want this nuclear deal, I don’t like it. Let it be in my opinion.” That is, every four years or the terms of the transaction will change for eight years. It looks completely illogical and stupid, in my opinion, because there is an agreement that is signed once. You can make any additions that would suit all parties, this is another question. This is completely normal, there is such a thing in world practice. not in this case, because the conflict is very complicated.Incidentally, Russia took an active part in the negotiations.
China helps economically, and Russia politically. Its political weight speaks for itself, and events in the Middle East confirm this. If not for the efforts that Russia has been making for 10-15 years, then there would be no close nuclear deal even with the great desire and desire of the Europeans. Moscow is interested in ensuring that this deal is preserved, but the Iranians do not see any other way that could get out of this situation, and it leaves much to be desired.
- At least she's not a stalemate?
- There's no stalemate, but if Trump’s closest allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia will continue to put pressure on the US administration, then situation could become stalemate. And Iran is very annoyed by that.
- If we talk about Russian-Iranian relations, what are the current prospects for bilateral cooperation?
- Recently your colleague Yulia Yuzek was arrested in Iran on suspicion of violation of migration rules. There was information that she was threatened with 10 to 20 years in prison, but in the end she was released. Iranians thus demonstrated that it didn't want to hurt relations with Russia.
Russian-Iranian relations are not chaotic, they are consistent, with both Russia and Iran upholding pragmatic position. Both countries face common challenges and threats and experience sanction pressure. Authorities of our countries behave pretty pragmatically, they look into the future, they understand that there's no getting away from each other, so we need to develop relations in a variety of areas: political issues, security issues, economic issues, energy issues, and humanitarian issues. Russia and Iran share common views on many problems. Syria has become a platform where Russia and Iran have proven that they can cooperate in resolving very serious problems. In addition, Russia has made great contribution to resolving Iran’s nuclear issue by managing to make Iranians and the West to seat at the negotiating table. Geopolitical triangles like Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran, Russia-Turkey-Iran have also been created.
Bilateral trade, however, is pretty chaotic - it's either increasing or decreasing based on economic situation in Iran, which leaves much to be desired. Today, Moscow and Tehran are actively developing cooperation to establish energy systems in Iran. If Russia is not there, then China will take its place. China, to give it its due, was the only country that saved Iran from economic catastrophe in the 2000s. Sanctions against Iran have been in force for 40 years since the establishment of the Islamic Republic. The West wanted to drive Iran into a corner so that it could not develop, although it ranks third in the world based on oil reserves and fourth based on gas reserves. In the 1990s, China overtook Russia's place in Iran. At that time Moscow simply lost. Metro in seven cities of Iran is being built by the Chinese. Well drilling, tunneling, trains - everything is Chinese. But Tehran is not being fooled, it understands where it stands in regards to Chine. China sets conditions that Iran, even if it would like to do it, simply cannot refuse. For example, if Brent oil today costs $56-60, then Chinese buy this oil for $25-30, two times cheaper. From economic point of view, it's not profitable for Iran, but from political point of view, it simply has nowhere to go. Russia doesn't need Iranian oil - we have enough of our own.
When sanctions were lifted from Iran for a short time in 2105, Iranians entered into agreement on supply of ten American aircraft with Boeing and one hundred French aircraft with Airbus, and not with our company Sukhoi Superjet. Iranians have their own national economic interests, but despite all these nuances, Russian-Iranian relations have a lot of space for improvement.
To be continued