Russia’s role in the Vienna nuclear talks splits Iranians. Some accuse Moscow of pressuring Tehran, while others see Russia negotiating on Iran’s behalf.

With Iranians traditionally suspicious of both Russia and Great Britain, which held influence in the country from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, frequent tweets from

Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s lead negotiator in Vienna, have offered fuel for controversy.

Ulyanov, who has also spoken to journalists starved of news about the talks, said this week that Russia and China had persuaded Iran to moderate some of its demands, including an insistence that talks focus on sanctions rather than the nuclear issue.

Ulyanov also said Iran had agreed to negotiate on a draft under discussion when talks were suspended in June at the tail end of the government of President Hassan Rouhani. Officials in the new administration of President Ebrahim Raisi (Raeesi) have instead emphasized written proposals submitted by Iran at the beginning of December.

In comments to the media on December 30, Ulyanov suggested that the first half of February was a realistic target for achieving agreement on how to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

This remark was seized on by a commentary by the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) Saturday as consistent with warnings from both the United States and the three European JCPOA signatories – France, Germany and the United Kingdom – that it would soon be too late to revive the 2015 agreement. "These remarks were made by the Russian envoy despite the Iranian side's insistence that there would be no deadline,” INLA noted.

Moscow’s consistent position sincethe US left the JCPOA in 2018 and Iran began in 2019 to expand its nuclear program beyond JCPOA limits is that both should respect their commitments under the agreement.

Photos tweeted by Ulyanov of his meetings with Rob Malley, the United States official leading the US delegation in Vienna, and his December 29 reference to“close consultations and coordination”with Malleyhave spurred more controversy. Many on social media took the photo as a sign that Russia is negotiating on Iran’s behalf face to face with the United States, while Tehran refuses to have direct talks with Washington. “Isn’t this a sign of how weak the regime is?”, a post said.

Farmer in remote village

In its commentary, ILNA noted that talks between Malley and Ulyanov had “worried” Iranians who had “become sensitive in recent days about Russian moves … that Moscow is playing the Iran card against Washington.” Such Iranians, INLA continued, saw these meeting as “their country's dignity being peddled at the negotiation table.”

In an editorial Saturday headlined "Honesty, Pillar of Good Governance,” Masih Mohajeri, editor of the conservative Jomhouri Eslami (Islamic Republic) newspaper, wrote that Iranians “should not hear the news, decisions, and plans of their country from foreigners.” While Jomhouri Eslami has a small circulation, many Iranian news websites on Saturday reprinted the editorial in full.

Mohajeri recounted a conversation with a "farmer in a remote village" who had asked him why Iran’s leaders were not admitting that they had decided to agree to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement soon. "His expectation from the authorities is to be honest with the people," Mohajeri wrote.

Another commentary in Jomhouri Eslami Saturday, written by Hossein Alaei, former commander of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) navy, offered advice over the 20-year Iran-Russia pact due to be signed during Raisi's upcoming visit to Moscow."We should be vigilant so that new pacts increase the two countries' trade and be mutually beneficial rather than solving Russia's long-term problems," Alaei wrote.

More News