Last Friday I wrote a post on Russia’s recent attempts to court North Korea and Iran. In the post I noted that the Kremlin’s strategy was already paying dividends as both regimes had indicated that they were interested in pursuing Moscow’s various initiatives.
This no longer holds true with regards to Iran Iran. Over the past couple of days Tehran has taken a number of actions that can only be interpreted as rejecting Russia’s engagement efforts.
This began when Iran’s ambassador to Russia announced Tehran was filing a lawsuit against Moscow in the International Court of Justice over the Kremlin’s failure to deliver S-300 air defense missile systems to Iran. In December 2007 Russia and Iran signed a contract in which the Kremlin pledged to sell the S-300 systems to Iran.
In September 2010, however, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued a decree banning the sale of all weapon systems to Iran, including the S-300 system. Although Medvedev said the June 2010 U.N. sanctions against Iran forced him to take this action, the reset in relations between the United States and Russia is likely to have played a role in Medvedev’s decision. In any case, the timing of Iran’s announcement of the lawsuit was odd coming as it did on the heels of closely engaging with Moscow. Thus, Russia was not alone in being surprised by Iran’s sudden legal complaint.
The lawsuit was quickly followed by an Iranian oil ministry official’s announcement that Russia’s semi-official energy giant, Gazprom, had been dropped from a major oil field development project near Iran’s border with Iraq. Although Gazprom had never actually signed a contract to develop the oil field, semi-official news sources in Iran had reported that a deal was close to being completed in March 2010. The oil ministry official cited Gazprom’s lengthy delays as influencing Tehran’s decision. The same official went on to say that a consortium of Iranian companies would replace Gazprom on the project.
On the same day of this Gazprom announcement, the director of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO), Fereydoun Abbasi, gave an interview with an official news outlet discussing Russia’s nuclear proposal, which I discussed in my previous post. According to the English-language news article, Abbasi said that “Iran would study Russia’s ‘step by step’ plan” but quickly added “I don’t think Iran-G5+1 talks can resolve the issue in [the] near future,” referring to the five permanent members of the U.N. Security council and Germany that have previously negotiated with Iran over its nuclear program.
But in the Farsi-language version of the article, Abbasi went much further, stating, “We will no longer negotiate a fuel swap and a halt to our production of fuel. The United States is not a safe country with which we can negotiate a fuel swap or any other issue.”
The fuel swap deal refers to a creative proposal the West first offered Iran in the fall of 2009. The proposal had Iran shipping much of its low enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia and France who would then enrich it 20% levels- the amounted needed to use it for medical purposes, as Iran’s claims it is trying to use its nuclear program for-before shipping it back to Iran. In return, Iran would agree to stop domestically enriching uranium to the 20% level. Enriching the uranium abroad would prevent Iran from diverting the nuclear fuel for military purposes, which require uranium to be enriched to at least 90%.
Although Iran refused the West’s nuclear-fuel swap proposal in the fall of 2009, it concluded a similar deal with Turkey and Brazil in May 2010. The later deal was rejected by the West.
Abbasi declared that Iran was now capable of domestically enriching enough uranium at 20% levels and therefore had no reason to conclude a nuclear-fuel swap agreement with the West, according to the LA Times’ Babylon & Beyond. Although this technically doesn’t rule out future Iran-G5+1 talks, the nuclear-fuel swap proposal held out the best prospects for a nuclear deal between the G5+1 and Iran. Thus, Abbasi’s comments represent a significant setback for nuclear diplomacy with Iran.