Iran-Russia ties in spotlight at G7 summit - analysis

The G7 has also expressed support for Iran’s protests as well as condemning Russia's use of Iranian drones in their war against Ukraine.

A working session at a G7 Foreign Ministers Meeting, at the City Hall in Muenster, Germany November 4, 2022.  (photo credit: Bernd Lauter/Pool via REUTERS)
A working session at a G7 Foreign Ministers Meeting, at the City Hall in Muenster, Germany November 4, 2022.
(photo credit: Bernd Lauter/Pool via REUTERS)

The European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borell indicated Iran deal talks were at a stalemate on Friday. This is not surprising, considering that Iran is backing Russia with drones, but Iran still believes it can pressure the West into a return to the deal. This sets up a complex scenario as Iran uses nuclear blackmail to potentially pressure the West; even as Iran is in crisis at home with protests and even as they do outreach to Russia. 

Let’s look at what is happening and how it all ties together. Iran’s Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian, says the Iran deal talks can be concluded. The EU disagrees and sees a stalemate. Iran is clearly messaging here. It knows that the West is walking away from these talks and it wants to get the negotiations back in the spotlight. The goal here may be for Iran to try to show it once again asked the West to rejoin the JCPOA, which the US walked away from in 2015, and that if the US and others don’t cave into Iran, then Iran will work more closely with Russia.

Or this could reveal that Iran is worried about protests and it wants to distract from them and show it can get concessions from the West. It doesn’t appear the West is interested in what Iran now has to offer, or what Iran is demanding. Iran’s supplying of drones to Russia has angered Europe and the days of Iran appeasement are over, it appears. But this won’t stop Iran from trying, an Iranian team is on the way to Vienna, or may already be there, according to reports in Anadolu.  

"We will be sending a delegation from Iran to Vienna in the coming days to start talks and strengthen cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),” Iran has said. 

Meanwhile, the EU is outraged at Iran’s export of drones to Russia. Borrell said that the EU insists that “Iran stop providing arms to Russia,” according to reports from the G7 meeting in Germany. The G7 statement notes “we, the G7 Foreign Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, and the High Representative of the European Union, underline our strong sense of unity and our unshakable commitment to uphold the rules-based international order and to protect the rights of all, including the most vulnerable.” 

 German FM Annalena Baerbock with counterparts Melanie Joly of Canada, Yoshimasa Hayashi of Japan, Antony Blinken of the US, Catherine Colonna of France, James Cleverly of Britain, Josep Borrell of EU and Antonio Tajani of Italy during G7 meeting, November 3, 2022  (credit: REUTERS/WOLFGANG RATTAY) German FM Annalena Baerbock with counterparts Melanie Joly of Canada, Yoshimasa Hayashi of Japan, Antony Blinken of the US, Catherine Colonna of France, James Cleverly of Britain, Josep Borrell of EU and Antonio Tajani of Italy during G7 meeting, November 3, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/WOLFGANG RATTAY)

The G7 statement goes on to say “together with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba we condemn Russia’s recent escalation, including its attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, in particular energy and water facilities, across Ukraine using missiles and Iranian drones and trainers.” The statement also says Iran must never develop a nuclear weapon and focuses on Iran’s drone threats.

“We strongly condemn Iran’s continued destabilizing activities in and around the Middle East. These include Iran’s activities with both ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), i.e. drones, and transfers of such advanced weaponry to state and non-state actors. Such proliferation is destabilizing for the region and escalates already high tensions,” the statement says. 

The G7 has also expressed support for Iran’s protests. The November 4 statement says “we express our support for the fundamental aspiration of the people of Iran for a future where human security and their universal human rights are respected and protected. We condemn the violent death of the young Iranian woman ‘Jina’ Mahsa Amini after her arrest by Iran’s so-called ‘morality police.'"

The EU and US support Iran protests

The EU has also been more vocal in supporting the protests, and US President Joe Biden also said he supported a “free Iran” during a speech linked to US mid-term elections. It was unclear if this was a new policy where the US would work more with dissidents or if it was just a random remark about US hopes for Iran to be “free.”

Some are concerned that Iranians could see this as a signal from the US supporting the protests and this could lead to a more brutal crackdown by the regime and lead to protesters mistakenly thinking they have more support than they do. Some have compared this to the 1991 crackdown by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on protesters in Iraq who thought the US would help them more. 

While Iran is still trying to pressure the US to return to the Iran deal, US intelligence believes, according to CNN, that “Iran is seeking Russia’s help to bolster its nuclear program.” The CNN report says that Tehran is looking for a backup plan should a lasting nuclear deal with world powers fail to materialize.

“The intelligence suggests that Iran has been asking Russia for help acquiring additional nuclear materials and with nuclear fuel fabrication, sources briefed on the matter said. The fuel could help Iran power its nuclear reactors and could potentially further shorten Iran’s so-called ‘breakout time’ to create a nuclear weapon,” CNN notes.  

This shows that while Iran is sending drones to Russia, there could be a quid pro quo here where Iran now asks Russia for more support. Russia has supported Iran in the past with nuclear and missile technology. However, Russia was also part of the JCPOA talks and the Iran deal, but their invasion of Ukraine has shifted the way in which the West perceives Russia. No longer can Russia serve as a conduit to work with Iran on behalf of the US; the way Russia tried to position itself as helpful to both sides in the past. Now Russia and Iran share many interests and both are isolated from the West.  

These new developments, most of which occurred on Friday, November 4, set the stage for a new potential phase in Russia-Iran ties; as well as a potential crisis with the US and Europe. As protests continue it is unclear if Iran will increase its crackdown. The new comments from the EU and G7 and the US appear to show growing support for the protesters. In addition critique of Iran is growing not just in Europe and the US but also in Canada and New Zealand. Countries now want Iran removed from the UN Women’s Rights Commission. For years Iran was allowed to exploit its role at the UN but now many countries in the West are trying to hold Tehran to account.