Iran looks at life beyond the nuclear deal and the Russia-Iran-India trade route
By needling Iran, the US has pushed it closer to China & Russia. A new trade route from Russia to India through Iran could be a game changer
The Iranian Nuclear Deal is in the throes of death, and like most of the ills that peg the region, the United States is responsible. After negotiating for 14 months to re-enter the deal following USA's unilateral withdrawal from it under Donald Trump’s presidency, the process has hit a wall.
The US, during these negotiations, put one obstacle after another, mostly at the behest of Israel. While all technical details had been thrashed out, the only issue that was left was the delisting of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) list. Iran insists on this delisting because it was brought on by the Trump Administration following the conclusion of the JCPOA and hence violates the deal in spirit.
The US has baulked at the suggestion. The very strong Israeli lobby in the US joined ranks with the lobbies representing the Persian Gulf monarchies in putting unprecedented pressure on the White House to not agree to this. US President Biden, a long-term beneficiary of such lobbies, does not have the political capital to oppose them. The deal, therefore, is stuck.
It is not that Iran considers the lifting of this designation as a prerequisite for the deal. However, Americans have been asking Iran to give them assurances related to not harming American officials—both military and civilian—in retaliation for the assassination of General Solemani. Iran considers that revenge account to be still open and hence won’t give any such guarantee. Meanwhile, both sides have tried to give negotiations a nudge by resorting to familiar tactics.
Iran, as is its right per the finer details of the JCPOA, has started enriching uranium to a higher purity. It is currently enriching uranium up to 60% purity. The West sees it as just a small technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%. Iran on its part has always maintained that its nuclear programme is civil and the West and its myriad intelligence agencies have never managed to submit any proof to the contrary.
However, this talking point has stuck in the public debate because of the lopsided power balance between the Western Media and the media of the Third World. Under JCPOA, Iran is allowed to enrich Uranium at 3.67 per cent, but if a party violates the deal—in this case, the US—Iran can slowly remove that cap.
On the American side, it assumed—incorrectly—that the current dispensation in Iran was no different from the previous one and shall not resort to brinkmanship. It, therefore, asked one of its several minions—this time Greece—to apprehend and confiscate a Russian-flagged and Iranianowned oil tanker in high-sea piracy. The Greek court found merit in the US’ argument. Iran promptly retaliated and waylaid two Greek Tankers.
This time the Greek Judges saw merit in Iran’s argument and decided to release the Iranian tanker with its cargo. One can ask here why Greece would act upon US’ missive when it knew that Iran had coerced the UK government to release its tanker similarly only a few months ago?
Iran, on its part, is looking at life beyond the nuclear deal if it cannot be revived. While its 25-year strategic deal with China turned more than a couple of heads in the Western Hemisphere, what it is going to do with Russia shall likely give the Western capitals more sleepless nights.
Iran is a champion in bypassing sanctions; a game Russia has just entered. Needless to say, Russia is eager to learn from Iran’s expertise in this regard as it prepares for the long haul. Sources say that some of the things are already in motion. It also helps that contrary to popular belief, Iran is more self-dependent in some areas of manufacturing than Russia is. Iran is sharing know-how on how to maintain oil & gas rigs and refineries in the absence of Western spare parts. The same goes for aviation and automobiles.
Then there are other areas of cooperation as well. Russia was instrumental in bringing Iran to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). In what is being seen as an extension of the same step, President Putin, at the convention of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council recently proposed making permanent what is now a temporary free trade agreement between the EAEU and Iran. Sources in Iran say that this shall be done by November at the latest.
However, what is even more critical is the draft agreement that President Raisi proposed to President Putin during one of their meetings. This draft agreement is in line with the agreement Iran struck with China, sources in Tehran say. Speaking on the occasion, President Raisi said that the deal shall build upon “the very good experience of cooperation between Iran and Russia in Syria in combating terrorism… [and shall expand] to the economy, politics, culture, science, technology, defence, and military spheres, as well as security and space issues.”
Russia is also reportedly expanding the capacity of the Caspian port of Makhachkala. This port shall be critical to the North-South corridor that connects Iran to the Eurasian market and Russia to the Global South via the Iranian ports of Chahbahar and Bandar Abbas. Russia finds this route lucrative now considering its other routes for business—the Northern Sea, the Black Sea and the Red Sea—are under the control of NATO countries or its allies.
The project was moribund because India dragged its feet under American pressure. Now that Russia wants it badly, expect things to move fast. In fact, sources in Tehran have confirmed to this correspondent that some of the goods recently imported by India from Russia have come through this channel.
IAEA’s open collaboration with Israel and banned terrorist group MEK, has peeved Iran. The US and its European partners pushed a resolution criticising Iran at the IAEA. In retaliation, Iran has removed 27 cameras from its nuclear sites turning the IAEA blind. IAEA too had assumed that the current dispensation in Tehran would play footsie like the previous one. Tehran disappointed. The next few weeks are therefore going to be crucial.
(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)