On Iranian New Year, Russia hints it May Swing Support to Tehran over Crimea Sanctions

(By Juan Cole)

Iran may have gotten a New Year’s gift via the Crimea crisis, as Russia threatens to play the Iran card over proposed US sanctions. As I argued in the New York Times, Russia and Iran are being driven closer to one another as both are now under a US and Western European sanctions regime. Russia had earlier wanted to avoid unnecessarily angering Washington over Iran, but is signalling that it no longer cares what the US thinks on this issue.

The vernal equinox this year falls on March 20, and it is celebrated in Iran and some surrounding cultures as New Year (Now Ruz). Ancient Iranian legend says that New Year celebrations were switched from the fall to the first day of spring by the mythical king Jamshid, who also established the elements of a flourishing civilization in ancient Iran. (I retell this story in my sword and sorcery novel, “Fall of the New Year Throne”).

Among the rituals of the Persian New Year are house cleaning, buying a new suit of clothes, and making a household display of seven items that begin with the letter “s.”

Iran’s house cleaning this year is its negotiations with the five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5 + 1) over its nuclear enrichment program, in an effort to reassure the world that it is purely for civilian purposes and does not aim at producing a nuclear weapon.

On Wednesday, the day before Now Ruz, another round of negotiations was concluded in Vienna, with some optimism that progress is being made. Among the specifics discussed were Iran’s plans for a heavy water nuclear reactor at Arak. Heavy water reactors produce plutonium, which can be used for bomb-making. I would say the reactor has to be a light water facility, but apparently there may be a compromise whereby the heavy water reactor could be kept by Iran but with some sort of safeguard. The delegates also discussed Iran’s specific needs with regard to enriched fuel for its 3 nuclear reactors at Bushehr.

As the meeting was breaking up with a sense of accomplishment, however, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov unloaded a bombshell: Russia may cease complying with economic and financial sanctions on Iran over its nuclear enrichment program.

“”We wouldn’t like to use these talks as an element of the game of raising the stakes taking into account the sentiments in some European capitals, Brussels and Washington… But if they force us into that, we will take retaliatory measures here as well. The historic importance of what happened in the last weeks and days regarding the restoration of historical justice and reunification of Crimea with Russia is incomparable to what we are dealing with in the Iranian issue.”

A lessening of Russian economic pressure on Iran at this juncture would weaken the Western hand in the negotiations and strengthen Iranian hard liners opposed to the talks and to any concessions to the West over Iran’s enrichment program. Iran maintains that it has a right to enrich and to close the fuel cycle under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The treaty does make those guarantees, but the US manages to interpret it so as no to afford them to Iran, and Washington has gotten the UN Security Council to go along with it on this matter. A Russian defection from that consensus would be a game changer, especially since China already rejects unilateral US sanctions on Iran.

So as the house cleaning is proceeding, Iran may have just gotten a new suit of clothes from Ryabkov.

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Related video:

Reuters: “Delegates gather for Iran talks”

17 Responses

    • I think they were well aware of the possibility. In fact, the whole point of destabilizing Ukraine may have to drive a wedge between the US and Russia and trash any joint effort to work out a deal with Iran on the nuclear issue. I’ve been convinced for some time now that the neocons are simply not rational when it comes to Iran (never mind Israel) and still want to “march on Teheran” like in the good old days (2003). Since Rouhani’s election last year there’s been a distinct danger that US-Iranian relations might actually improve. This has to be stopped at all costs.

  1. “Haaretz”- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon have ordered the army to continue preparing for a possible military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities at a cost of at least 10 billion shekels ($2.89 billion) this year, despite the talks between Iran and the West, according to recent statements by senior military officers.

    Is this saber rattling or more evidence showing Netanyahu to be a world class deranged warmonger? This could have dire consequences now that the US has committed itself to join in the chaos should Israel start a war with Iran. Once again we find ourselves on the doorsteps of another PNAC inspired disaster.
    An interesting question would be….What if Russian/ Irani entered into a similar pact? We could find ourselves in a hell of a mess thanks once again to our neocon friends and Israel should Netanyahu carry through with his threat.

    As a side note….The man who has the distinction of never being right, Bill Kristol, was on ABC’s This Week chastising the American public for being war weary. Kristol’s very appearance on a national political program shows the neocon influence. In a perfect world he would be only welcomed on AIPAC’s website.

    • “In a perfect world he would be only welcomed on AIPAC’s website.”

      In a better world he would be in The Hague.

    • If wars with Iran and Russia broke out simultaneously, William Kristol and the neoconservatives would be living in their perfect world.

      Kristol’s eyeballs and ears would start glowing in the dark.

  2. The effect of Ukrainian-Crimean situation on Iran’s relations with the West and with Russia is very complex and it can go either way. Some argue that Russia’s spat with the West will persuade her to cooperate more with Iran and there has even been some talk of buying half a million barrels of oil from Iran in return for Russian goods (military equipment, possibly SS400 missiles?), while others have said that the West may show its displeasure of Russian action by intensifying hostility towards Syria and Iran. Others have argued that the West may get closer to Iran in order to turn her against Russia. Many Iranians are aware of these problems and have warned the officials that Ukraine is a geopolitical dispute between Russia and the West and Iran should remain neutral in the whole affair link to iranreview.org

    Iranians remember that Russia voted with the West in all the Security Council resolutions against Iran and went along with most of the sanctions imposed on Iran, cancelling some military agreements. At the moment, the biggest game in Iranian foreign policy is to resolve the nuclear dispute with the West and to have sanctions lifted. They would be foolish to jeopardize the success of the talks by provoking the West as the result of getting close to Russia.

    On a different note, in view of today being Nowruz, which is celebrated by more than 300 million people in Iran and many surrounding countries, here is a song sung by a popular Iranian singer called Hayedeh, which is called Nowruz Eve, for your Persian speaking readers or for all those who likes exotic music and dancing link to youtube.com

    • Great post.

      “Others have argued that the West may get closer to Iran in order to turn her against Russia. Many Iranians are aware of these problems and have warned the officials that Ukraine is a geopolitical dispute between Russia and the West and Iran should remain neutral in the whole affair ”

      The probability that this scenario will ultimately unfold is frequently being underestimated. In times of geopolitical realignment and great changes/shifts, it is rare for things in only one region to experience the alterations while conditions remain static in other areas.

      Not to overstate the odds, but there is no specific reason why American-Iranian relations must remain how they are indefinitely. The conditions that gave rise to the current problems occurred decades ago and cannot be considered a permanent, perpetual basis for how to conduct relations between the two countries.

      In addition to the changing foreign policies of both countries, there is the fact that the U.S. is not as militarily involved in the Middle East as it was a few years ago; a trend which may continue to accelerate. If the risk of military conflict diminishes and the clashes over influence morph into something less hostile, there becomes less of a reason for an Iranian turn toward Russia for support.

      Obviously, other scenarios are also very possible, yet it cannot be ruled out that Western policy makers will consider going this road.

  3. One way that the Israeli/AIPAC control over American foreign policy has harmed the US and international diplomacy is that the severe Iranian sanctions, driven by Israel, which also sanction European firms who do business with Iran, has caused Europe to become dependent on oil imports from Russia which now supplies most of Europe’s oil.

  4. Iran’s revolution was on the premise of no dependency or alliances to east or west, Iran knows Russia even better then it knows the west and these guys are not known for gifting, only taking their pound of flesh or what clothes you have on your back, the west cannot stomach an independent Iran and wants regime change and Russia wants Iran’s oil off the market .how can we forget their animosity toward Iran. And this is just recent history. This little finger armed Saddam, this little finger provided political cover and satellite intelligence while egging him on, this little finger supplied chemical for weapons to be used on her and this little finger provided financing to dismember and bleed Iran. Iran at the moment is taking Russia to the world court for signing a contact and taking money to provide air defenses and failing to do so, sounds familiar? They can bribe china, pressure India, threaten Pakistan, coddle the family owned countries and adore the Zionist or even buy Russia with offering them the Ukraine, but they can’t leverage Iran or force her to do anything she is not willing to do and for that Iran can hold her head high while meeting and negotiating .

  5. 3 points:

    1) While Persion mythology claims Now Ruz was once celebrated in the fall, perhaps like the Hebrew Rosh Hoshanah, most evidence suggests that they simply took over the ancient Mesopotamian calendar when they conquered Babylon, which started their year at the vernal equinox, as also does the astrological calendar. Something else they picked up from the Babylonians who probably got it from the Sumerians was the whole system of 24 hours in a day, with 60 minutes in an hour and 60 seconds in a minute. The Persians did what the Arabs would later do in the Abbasid caliphate when they took over large chunks of Persian practices upon conquering them. There is a substantial continuity that continues today from ancient Sumerian civilization, with Now Ruz just a part of this.

    2) It occurs to me that a non-trivial part of Putin’s pique over Ukraine and Crimea was exacerbated by perceived putdowns from Obama, particularly his non-attendance at the opening of the Olympics. Probably Putin’s anger at the fall of the Yanukovych government was decisive in his deciding to take over Crimea, but I wonder what would have happened if Obama had not dissed him by failing to show up at Sochi.

    3) Joseph Dillard, It would seem that it was the dilly-dallying of the EU in its holding back on making it easier for Ukraine to sign the trade deal with them that led Yanukovych to make his turn to Russia economically that triggered the internal demonstrations that led to his fall during the Sochi Olympics, thus angering Putin. I do not see neocons playing any role in this, although their comments now are not helping the situation any.

  6. Will the US move toward Iran to further encircle Russia? There are a number of problems with that interesting possibility, but the first and greatest is something called AIPAC.

  7. The Russians would just be bringing forward the day when Israel decides to go for a strike on a recalcitrant Iran.

  8. Actually, a perfect storm is blowing for Israel. There is tension in Crimea and Ukraine. There is fear of the old Commie Bear, rearing her paws. Israel has seriously ramped up settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. There is pressure for Israel to be conciliatory with the Palestinians. A deadline on the peace talks is coming up fast: April.
    The Palestinian patience has all but run out, with Israel’s aggression and settlement activity. The misdirection with Russia and Iran takes the spotlight off Israel’s lack of good faith.
    The deadline will come and go, and no concord will be made with the Palestinians. Israel will have run out the clock, and the American election year continues to simmer. Another year will be gone, and Israel will still be King of the Hill in the occupied territories. P.S. Israel will not attack Iran. It merely has to make serious threats to accomplish her goals.

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