As the Ukrainian crisis heats up, the United States and Europe face numerous dilemmas in relation to multiple files, particularly regarding Iran’s nuclear program and the ongoing Vienna talks. The stakes remain considerably high after nearly two years of talks and both Iran and the United States seem to be much more strategic in their approaches toward the final phase of nuclear talks. Some reports suggested that Iran’s approach has become much more uncompromising as it insists on the removal of sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and it wants “to open issues that had already been agreed.” Amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, Iran intends to exploit the situation and put pressure on the Biden administration to accept all of its demands.
In light of the US domestic political situation, the Biden administration is facing pressure from the Republican Party. Recently, more than 160 Republican lawmakers wrote to President Joe Biden threatening to thwart any potential nuclear deal with Iran. They warned that any nuclear deal struck without congressional approval would be opposed and overturned if the Republicans retake power. The lawmakers also expressed strong concerns about Washington’s dependence on Russia as a mediator in the Vienna talks, especially in light of its aggression in Ukraine. The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Bob Menendez complained that the Ukrainian file had distracted his colleagues from the talks with Iran. Menendez said that he was “not comfortable” with the lack of attention on Iran, adding that he was “not sure that [his] colleagues are as fully immersed on the challenges of Iran as we speak, as [he] would like them to be.”
These concerns were echoed by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham during his visit to Israel. Some domestic debates in Iran indicate that the Ukrainian crisis could turn out to be in Tehran’s interest as it is likely to push Tehran and Moscow closer together against a “common enemy” after the United States imposed sanctions on the latter. This may lead to both countries officially announcing to the media the purported strategic deal like the one signed between Iran and China.
Iran’s nuclear program is a cause of concern for Russia and the United States and both have a common interest in restricting Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Diplomats and representatives privy to inside information regarding the Vienna talks have said that the events in Ukraine have accelerated efforts to reach a deal. A senior Iranian official told Reuters “the time is running out and with what is happening in Ukraine, Russia might get busy with the crisis and then the West will be responsible for the failure of these talks.” Iran recently said that a deal can only be reached if the United States agrees to accept Tehran’s remaining demands. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh identified the key remaining demands as lifting all the sanctions, cancelling the IRGC’s Foreign Terrorist Organization designation, Washington guaranteeing that it will not exit any potential deal again, and resolving the issues over the uranium traces found at undeclared sites in Iran. Tehran has so far backed the Russian position and has blamed NATO for the escalation in the Ukrainian crisis. Iran abstained from the UN resolution condemning Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and has refrained from participating in attempts to isolate Moscow diplomatically in the international arena.
The Ukrainian crisis impacts the Vienna talks in four key ways. Firstly, energy markets have been fluctuating in the last few weeks and natural gas prices reached new highs in Europe. In case the nuclear deal is revived with Iranian demands being met, Iran’s energy sector will have its restrictions removed and will be able to trade and help in offsetting the disruption to energy supplies caused by the Ukrainian crisis. Secondly, Iran remains stubborn about its demands and insists that Washington provides binding guarantees that it will not pull out from any potential deal in the future. Considering the current US political crisis and the tensions between the Democrats and Republicans, the Biden administration is unlikely to be in a position to offer such guarantees. Hence, to force Washington’s hand, Iran intends to build pressure amid the Vienna talks to lift US sanctions and exploit Washington’s preoccupation with the Ukrainian crisis. Thirdly, Russia demanded that the recently imposed US sanctions on Moscow must not impact Moscow-Tehran cooperation and any moves to impede this cooperation would negatively impact the prospects for reviving the nuclear deal. Russia is linking the Ukrainian crisis to the Vienna talks and leveraging its position in negotiating with the West. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently said that Russia has received written guarantees from the US confirming that the Western sanctions on Russia will not target or impact its cooperation with Iran. The confirmation comes amid reports indicating that the nuclear deal is likely to be finalized in the coming weeks and escalating tensions between the US and Iran. The latter recently launched missiles that targeted the US and its allies in Erbil and although Washington condemned the Iranian actions, it has refrained from raking up the issue and is focused on reviving the nuclear deal. Fourthly, Iran and Russia have blamed the West for the ongoing Ukrainian crisis and Iranian leaders have repeatedly said that the United States is not a reliable security partner in order to reduce Washington’s regional allies and undermine European confidence in the United States.