Russia and Global Security Risks
JCPOA: Tug of War Between Washington and Tehran
Valdai Club Conference Hall (42, Bolshaya Tatarskaya, Moscow)
List of speakers

On March 16, the Valdai Club experts discussed the future of the Iranian nuclear deal under the new US administration. The moderator of the discussion, Ivan Timofeev, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, pointed out that the Joseph Biden administration had cancelled some of the most controversial anti-Iranian measures. He raised a question: whether the return of the United States to the JCPOA is possible and what to expect from other participants in this multilateral agreement. 

Anton Khlopkov, Director of the Centre for Energy and Security, noted that the Biden administrations initial strategy, which was aimed at securing a quick return to full implementation of the JCPOA agreements, did not work. Almost all the sanctions against Iran continue to be in effect. Iran, in turn, has been reducing its obligations under the JCPOA since 2019, while legally remaining within the agreement. At the same time, the situation may still reverse itself and improve. Some reason for optimism remains in that Biden has officially named the JCPOA as one of his key political priorities; he has assembled a highly qualified inter-agency team on Iran.

According to Dmitry Kiku, Deputy Director of the Department for Control over External Restrictions of the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation, many in Washington still hesitate in acknowledging that America needs the Iranian deal in its current form. Perhaps they’re waiting for the presidential elections in Iran and will abandon negotiations if the conservatives come to power. Speaking about the position of Russia, he stressed that in the negotiations process it is necessary to take into account the interests of Russian business and seek the lifting of sanctions on Russian companies that have suffered from American anti-Iranian measures.

Anastasia Likhacheva, Director of the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, pointed out that if for the United States the Iranian deal is a political and security issue, for the rest of the participants it is a process with a strong economic dimension. Accordingly, the rest of the participants will strive not to isolate the negotiation process on the deal from other topics, but to include it in a wider agenda. Meanwhile, a solution to the Iranian problem is important for Washington, first of all, in the context of restoring relations with its allies. America's withdrawal from the JCPOA was a blow to relations with the EU, and more efforts are to be expected from the US in the direction of the American-European dialogue than on the Iranian track itself.

A view on the situation from the Iranian point of view was presented by Zohreh Khanmohammadi, PhD candidate and Researcher of Russian Affairs at the Tehran Institute. She stressed that due to the US withdrawal from the Iranian deal and the unilateral sanctions imposed by America, other participants had encountered a paradoxical situation, as they were forced to continue to fulfil their obligations. In her opinion, although the Rouhani administration seeks to return to the JCPOA and the lifting of sanctions and harmonisation of relations would be important for both sides, a US return to the JCPOA and the lifting of sanctions in the short term is unlikely due to the accumulated disagreements between the parties.

Hanna Notte, Senior Non-Resident Scholar at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) compared what is happening concerning the JCPOA to a tug of war between the United States and Iran. Considering the situation in the regional context, she noted that the normalisation of relations between Israel and a number of Arab countries is currently taking place. This has made a kind of an Arab-Israeli axis possible for the promotion of the anti-Iranian platform, which can carry out joint lobbying in Washington against the return to the JCPOA. As a result, there is the threat of an escalation of the security situation in the region.