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October 20, 2022 4:47 pm
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US Still Eyeing Nuclear Deal With Iran Despite Regime’s Repression of Protests, Military Support for Russia

avatar by Andrew Bernard

Officials, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, speak at Caspian Summit in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan June 29, 2022. Photo: Reuters/Grigory Sysoyev

The Iranian military is “now directly engaged on the ground” in Ukraine to support Russian drone attacks as President Vladimir Putin’s regime struggles to repel a months-long Ukrainian offensive, John Kirby, the US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, confirmed on Thursday. But despite Iran’s Russian assistance, the US has not given up on the prospect of a renewed nuclear deal with the Tehran regime, according to experts interviewed by The Algemeiner.

Russia has obtained assault and kamikaze drones from Iran, which the Ukrainian government says have been used almost 200 times against Ukrainian civilians, killing more than 70 people and injuring over 240.

Iran’s direct support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine along with the country’s violent suppression of domestic protests comes as talks between the US and Iran to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the technical name for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – have been sidelined.

Reviving the deal was “not even on the agenda,” US Special Representative to Iran Rob Malley said in an interview with CNN on Monday. “We do believe that we need to stop this regime from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Diplomacy is a way to do that and we will see whether this is a government that is interested in reaching that deal. But at this point, the focus is on what’s happening in Iran because the talks are stalled.”

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Experts who spoke to The Algemeiner on Thursday said they believed the Biden administration was still interested in a nuclear deal with Iran, despite the country’s military assistance to Russia.

“Given Iran’s refusal to accept the terms of the new nuclear deal, the deal is not currently the administration’s priority,” said Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser with the Washington, DC,-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank

While Iranian domestic repression and Tehran’s support for Russia are significant new obstacles to a revived nuclear deal, prior sticking points between the two sides also remain.

“From the US point of view, the biggest barriers to the agreement are various Iranian positions in the talks themselves, especially Tehran’s position on the [International Atomic Energy Agency] probes,” Henry Rome, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Algemeiner.

“If Iran is open to adjusting its position, I think a deal is still possible. While the violent crackdown on protesters and Iran’s sale of drones to Ukraine have clearly worsened the overall environment, the revival of the JCPOA is being held up by these nuclear-related issues,” Rome commented.

Iran’s domestic instability might prompt the country to pursue shows of force abroad, but it has so far done so in ways that are unlikely to prompt a response from the United States or regional powers like Israel or Saudi Arabia, experts said.

“What the Iranians are doing…is a calculated show of power and military activity that sends the signal that they are ready to respond to any external attack,” said Abdolrasool-Farzam Divsallar, a non-resident scholar affiliated with the Middle East Institute.

“These types of operations beyond Iranian borders are in a very ‘cheap’ space. What I mean is that there is not a major risk of escalation from Iran’s activities…[Whereas] if they do anything against Israel or Saudi Arabia or anything like that, that’s a whole different story,” Divsallar said. “I think Israel may find itself a bit more secure.”

Even as Iran ratchets up its support for Russia against Ukraine, Israel remains hesitant to become fully entangled in the conflict. Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday reiterated that the country will not be able to send weapons to Ukraine to help fend off Iranian-made drones and missiles sent, but has offered to supply an early-warning air defense alert system to protect citizens from incoming rockets.

Ukrainian officials, however, continue to press Israel for more support.

“To have a strategic advantage over its enemy, Israel should conduct a ‘test run’ of its air defenses,”  the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said on Thursday on Twitter. “[The Ukrainian army] is the best testing ground.”

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