“The Biden administration,” notes Andrea Stricker, “has two goals that are at odds with each other.” It wishes to ramp up economic pressure on Moscow, and to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran. That deal was an economic boon to Russia, enabling the Kremlin to undertake civil nuclear projects in the Islamic Republic worth billions of dollars. In 2019, the Trump administration announced that Russian entities would face sanctions for continued nuclear work in Iran; in February 2022, the Biden administration waived these sanctions. Stricker argues in favor of a swift “course correction.”
Last month, Russia forced a pause in the Vienna talks to ensure the protection of its financial interests. Moscow seeks to resume several civil nuclear projects in Iran that it previously carried out under the JCPOA, [or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the 2015 deal is formally known], such as a $10 billion contract for Russia to build two additional reactor units at the Bushehr nuclear power plant. The Kremlin also seeks to recoup a $500 million debt for past work. More broadly, Russia wants to avoid running into Western sanctions for any such nuclear work in Iran.
Yet there is no technical reason a nuclear deal with Iran should protect the Kremlin’s interests. On March 22, when reporters asked whether Moscow had to be the party that carries out JCPOA-permitted projects, the U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan stated, “We don’t have to rely on any given country for any particular element of the deal, but that is a role that Russia played in the past.” The following day, the State Department spokesman Ned Price seemed even more amenable to protecting Moscow’s interests; he said Russia’s role was one “we’d be willing to entertain.”
This approach is mistaken, especially for an administration that claims it wants to hold Russia accountable for its aggression against Ukraine. Furthermore, according to an April 8 Washington Free Beacon report, if Moscow retains participation in these projects, several Russian state-run firms stand to benefit.