A prominent Iranian politician has expressed cautious optimism that the Russian invasion of Ukraine might speed up a nuclear deal between Tehran and Washington.

Negotiations between Iran and world powers to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, known as JCPOA have unofficially paused in Vienna as Iranian envoy Ali Bagheri-Kani returned to Tehran earlier this week ostensibly for consultations.

Former chairman of Iranian parliament’s national security committee, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh told Aftab News in Tehran on Friday that “the JCPOA became a victim of the war in Ukraine.” He added, “Although I am pessimistic about the long shadow of the war on JCPOA talks, but I still believe that Putin’s attack on Ukraine might lead to a willingness in the West to bring talks with Iran to a conclusion.”

Falahatpisheh noted two possible reasons for his belief that the Ukraine war might speed up an agreement in Vienna. He argued that the United States and its European allies do not want to see Iran fall further into the Russian orbit. Second, they want to end Russia’s influence in the talks.

Falahatpisheh speaking in parliament when he was a senior lawmaker. Undated

Indeed, Moscow’s chief negotiator Mikhail Ulyanov has assumed an increasingly prominent role in the talks since November, when Iran’s new delegation headed by hardliners resumed the talks in Vienna.

Many in Iranian media have questioned his role as an active mediator, showcasing his photos sitting alone with US chief envoy Robert Malley in hotel conference rooms on several occasions. Even in Tehran’s press controlled by the government, many questioned why Iran does not directly negotiate with the Biden Administration instead of allowing Russia to act as a broker.

In the same vein, some might wonder if Bagheri-Kani’s sudden return to Tehran a few days ago might not have been related to Russia’s impending attack on Ukraine.

There are some questions about what path Tehran will choose after the unmistakable jolt to international relations by Putin’s invasion.

Tehran might now calculate that it does not need an agreement with the West as long as it is able to break US sanctions and export oil, given the global need for fossil fuels amid heavy sanctions on Russia. Shipments have already reached above one million barrels a day, mainly to China. In the meantime, it can continue its uranium enrichment, become a nuclear threshold state, and have more leverage in any future talks.

The wreckage of an unidentified plane in a residential area in Kiev. February 25, 2022

The opposite is also possible, though less likely. Tehran might see Russia as isolated and not useful any longer as a diplomatic backer. It might decide to make concessions to the West now, rather than live with US sanctions, amid an environment of Western unity reminiscent of the Cold War.

But remaining a Russian ally in these circumstances might offer Iran even some military cover and weapons systems, as some sort of a ‘Cold War satellite’ for Moscow.

Falahatpisheh in his interview argued that he has repeatedly expressed his preference for a quick agreement before an external factor derails the nuclear talks. Russia is bound to use every card in its pocket now, including the Iran nuclear issue, he said.

The former senior lawmaker even went as far as indirectly hinting that Moscow has already used its influence in the Vienna talks to detriment of Iran. “Russia knew very well that in case of an agreement in Vienna and the lifting of sanctions, Iran could boost its potential for oil and gas exports to Europe and elsewhere in a short period of time and tried to control the Vienna negotiations.” He added, “If Iran had reached an agreement, now it could sell its oil at above $100 a barrel and regain its global market share.”

Falhatpisheh expressed deep regret that President Ebrahim Raisi and chief negotiator Bagheri-Kani “relinquished the management of the talks to the Russians, paving the way for a suitable environment for the Kremlin to pursue its interests”.

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