The new Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian visited Moscow, where he met and held talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. The Iranian guest assured that relations with the Russian Federation are a priority for Iranian foreign policy. Both ministers agreed on the development of bilateral cooperation, but they placed accents on the regional agenda in different ways. For Sergei Lavrov, the priority issue was the future of the nuclear deal, while his Iranian interlocutor was more worried about relations with Azerbaijan.
Hossein Amir-Abdollahian’s first visit to Moscow as foreign minister took place less than a month and a half after he took office. Mr. Amir-Abdollahian is a career diplomat, although in recent years he was an adviser to the speaker of the Iranian parliament. As the media wrote, leaving the Foreign Ministry was due to disagreements with the head of the department, Mohammad Javad Zarif. With the latter, Sergey Lavrov always easily found a common language, and it is difficult to say how his relationship with his successor will develop.
Negotiations between the two ministers lasted two hours, and when they appeared in front of the journalists, they came to the conclusion that there was no special chemistry between the diplomats, although the mood was clearly businesslike.
The ministers devoted a significant part of their opening remarks at the press conference to the development of bilateral relations. Sergey Lavrov noted the growth in trade, which, “despite the pandemic and the continuing illegitimate US sanctions, increased by 42% in the first seven months of this year, to $ 1.9 billion.” The trade turnover in 2019, before the pandemic, was just over $ 1.6 billion. At the same time, the Iranian minister believes that more efforts need to be made to achieve serious progress in bilateral relations.
According to him, 70% of the population has already been vaccinated in Iran and, accordingly, there are no obstacles to the arrival of Iranian businessmen to Russia and the development of contacts in the trade and economic sphere. According to Sergei Lavrov, Moscow and Tehran have agreed to expedite the implementation of the contract for Sputnik V vaccine supplies to Iran. Two months ago, Iranian ambassador to Russia Kazem Jalali lamented that out of 62 million doses of the drug that Russia was supposed to send under the contract, only 1 million 20 thousand doses had been received. Since then, another 200,000 doses have been delivered to Iran.
If the plans to develop bilateral contacts do not raise questions, then, as it became clear at the press conference, Moscow and Tehran place accents on the international and regional agenda in different ways. During his public statements, Sergei Lavrov focused on issues related to the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan to resolve the situation around Iranian nuclear program (JCPOA). Recall that the document was signed in 2015 between Iran and five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany. In 2018, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal and returned to a sanctions policy against Iran. In response, a year later, Tehran began to gradually abandon its obligations under the JCPOA, which raised concerns among the international community about Iran’s possible early development of nuclear weapons. After the arrival of President Joe Biden’s administration in the White House, Washington decided to resume dialogue with Tehran. Indirect consultations began in April in Vienna, but no compromise was found in six rounds. Tehran wants guarantees that sanctions will be lifted.
Following the presidential elections in Iran in June, which resulted in the victory of the conservative Ebrahim Raisi, and the subsequent formation of the government, Tehran did not rush to resume the Vienna consultations. And the international community is already losing patience. Literally an hour before the talks in Moscow between the foreign ministers of Russia and Iran, it became known about the telephone conversation between Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on the subject of the JCPOA, which took place at the initiative of the American side. Perhaps Mr. Blinken was in a hurry to convey the message to the Iranians.
During the public part of the press conference, Sergei Lavrov did not mention the conversation with Anthony Blinken, but at the same time stressed that “the world community is waiting for the US to return to the legal field of the nuclear deal and the abolition of illegal restrictions.” At the same time, the Russian Foreign Minister noted that his Iranian guest confirmed Tehran’s readiness to resume consultations in Vienna as soon as possible, and in this his position does not differ from that of Russia.
For his part, the Iranian minister avoided answering Kommersant’s request to specify the timing of the Vienna talks, but said that during the UN General Assembly, the Americans conveyed messages to the Iranians about President Biden’s “serious intentions” regarding the JCPOA, including the “implementation rights and interests of the people of Iran ”.
However, the minister made it clear that the unblocking of $ 10 billion of Iranian assets in foreign banks would be an indicator of the serious intentions of the United States.
Despite the fact that Hossein Amir-Abdollahian had to talk about the JCPOA, he, unlike Sergey Lavrov, clearly did not consider this issue a priority. The main and very painful topic for him was Azerbaijan… The Iranian minister called the military exercises held by Baku with the participation of foreign states provocative, and also said that Tehran would not tolerate “a change in the map in the Caucasus.” “We have serious concerns about the presence of terrorists and Zionists in this region,” he said. Relations between Baku and Tehran escalated in late September, when Azerbaijan decided to prevent the entry of Iranian trucks into Nagorno-Karabakh, and also expressed concern about Iran’s military maneuvers near its border. Tehran responded with criticism of Baku, including for its military ties with Israel. It became known yesterday that Iran has closed the air corridor to Nakhichevan for the Azerbaijani military aviation.
Sergei Lavrov noted the situation in Transcaucasia, separated by commas, along with other regional topics that he discussed with his colleague, but was forced to return to this after a request from an Iranian journalist to clarify the Russian position. According to the minister, Moscow said everything long ago when it played a decisive role in stopping the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Within the framework of the agreements reached a year ago, it was a question of unblocking all transport communications and economic ties in the region.
“In this context, we discussed today the initiative to create a“ three plus three ”format: three Transcaucasian countries and three“ big ”neighbors: Russia, Iran and Turkey,” the Russian Foreign Minister said. He also made it clear that if the Iranians want to achieve non-interference in the affairs of the Caspian region of external players, they need to quickly ratify Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian, which explicitly prohibits the presence there of “military forces of any non-Caspian states.” The convention was signed by the presidents of Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan in August 2018. Iran is the last one to not ratify the document.