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Russia Threatens to Change Position on Iran, Imperiling Nuclear Negotiations

The U.S. and EU’s response to the crisis in Ukraine may induce Russia to “raise the stakes” by revising its stance on nuclear talks with Iran, per statements by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov conveyed on Wednesday by Reuters.

“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,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Interfax. “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.”

The Obama administration has for months held up legislation from Congress that would impose new sanctions on Iran should nuclear talks fail, telling American lawmakers and journalists that any new pressure – even if conditioned on the potential future failure of negotiations – would fracture the P5+1 group negotiating with Iran. The group of international powers includes the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany.

When the Ukraine crisis broke out, and relations between Russia and the West plummeted, White House officials emphasized their belief that the Russians would “compartmentalize” the dispute, preventing it from affecting international cohesion in the context of Iran.

Russia is central to any solution, any possible solution in Syria. Russia is central to the nuclear deal being negotiated, still negotiated, and still a very difficult one with Iran. And as the relationship runs into trouble over Ukraine, you know, the State Department has said that Russia is good at compartmentalizing these issues so it can focus on one or not on the others.

Ryabkov’s statements seem at a minimum in tension with those assurances. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday described a just-concluded round of talks as “useful.”  The next round of has now been scheduled for April 7th.

[Photo: U.S. Department of State / Wikimedia]