A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage in 2015 during the Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Centre in Vienna, Austria.Picture: Reuters
US President Donald Trump is threatening to terminate the nuclear deal with Iran, which was loudly touted by his predecessor as a major foreign policy achievement.

This rhetoric deeply worries the international community which put so much effort into convincing Tehran to give up its plans to create nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of Western sanctions. Russia shares the EU’s strong opposition to the US steps.

In 2015, Iran with China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, and the US (P5+1 group of world powers) signed a deal and adopted a joint comprehensive plan of action, which lifts UN, US and EU sanctions imposed on Iran because of its nuclear weapon programme.

Tehran, in turn, pledged to limit its nuclear activities and place them under international control.

The implementation of the deal started in January 2016.

A year later, Trump took office as president and criticised the agreements signed by the previous administration, including the deal with Iran, as an embarrassment to the US.

On October 13, Trump announced a new Iran strategy. He accused Tehran of interference in the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and called for revisiting the nuclear deal with Iran, and imposing sanctions against its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

He slammed the agreement as “the worst deal ever negotiated” and claimed Iran was not complying with its terms and had already violated it several times.

Trump did not announce a US withdrawal from the deal but warned that this might happen at any moment. Citing the North Korean issue, Trump said: “The longer we ignore a threat, the more dangerous that threat becomes.”

He has instructed his administration to study, in close contact with Congress and allies, the possibility of amending the agreement with Iran.

Trump’s statement paving the way for Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the agreement and a resumption of sanctions against Iran has unsettled world and regional powers and threatened to break the fragile status quo on Iran achieved in the past two years.

The new US strategy regarding Iran has divided the world community into those who support and those who oppose an all-out attack on Iran.

As the US’ European allies and Russia are trying to preserve the nuclear deal with Iran, the Trump administration has hurried to garner the support of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Arab states which have strained relations with Iran.

While Trump’s opponents view his initiative as an opportunity to build an anti-Iranian coalition, Russia and the EU get a chance to work closer together in order to safeguard their joint achievement - the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran.

Russia and the US’ Western European allies have been vigorously advocating the preservation of the deal with Iran, fearing that its annulment may cause a new security crisis in the Middle East and create unexpected obstacles to Western businesses wishing to work on the Iranian market.

Russia, along with other members of the P5+1 group of world powers, tried to talk the US out of scrapping the deal.

One of the latest attempts was made on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 19 when the P5+1 foreign ministers met their Iranian counterpart.

Europe and Russia did not support the US position, and the agreement with Iran remains in force.

An informed diplomatic source told the Moscow-based Kommersant business daily that Russia and European countries had tried to convince the US to stay in the deal with Iran.

Radzhab Safarov, director of the Centre for Modern Iranian Studies, which is close to the Iranian leadership, told the Interfax news agency: “So far, Iran has been able to take into account the interests of the US and its regional partners, especially in Syria.

If the Americans make a confrontational decision, they will give Iran a free hand and it will consider it justified to work out its own strategy of action in the region and the Islamic world in general.

It would be logical to assume that it will be a firm and uncompromising position signifying Iran’s readiness to face not only political but also military confrontation.”

Russia has been consistently speaking up for Iran’s interests. Calls for revisiting the nuclear deal with Iran were rejected at a non-proliferation conference held in Moscow over the weekend.

The participants unanimously insisted that the agreement with Iran should remain intact.

Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said: “The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has been implemented for almost two years and proved that the agreement is working and solving the set tasks. We see no reason or possibility to renegotiate or amend the agreement.”

Ryabkov pointed to the “fragile balance of interests relating to the fundamental aspects of security” and stressed that it would be impossible to redraft the agreement in a new format.

He also ruled out a restoration of sanctions against Iran, some of which were lifted after the nuclear deal was signed. The diplomat described the decision announced by Trump, who did not certify Tehran’s compliance with the agreement, as “irresponsible”.

Ryabkov believes that the creation of a zone free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East can help solve the Iranian nuclear issue.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Moscow would continue its policy, reiterated many times by President Vladimir Putin, to ensure the settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue and prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

Russian experts believe there are two reasons that prompted Trump to revise the US strategy with regard to Iran.

The first one is the political situation in the US.

The second is the desire to please his political allies, primarily Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The experts are certain that what Trump is doing is an absolutely reckless step that can cause deep disagreements between the US and the EU.

However, Alexander Kuznetsov, deputy director of the Institute of Forecasting and Political Settlement of Conflict Situations, finds the current situation somewhat beneficial for Moscow as it helps stabilise oil prices.

“All political problems in the Middle East push oil prices up, not down. This benefits Russia whose economy depends on the fuel and energy complex,” the Vestnik Kavkaza news agency quoted him as saying.

Also on the plus side is that Iran will better appreciate its partnership with Russia, the expert said.

“There is a very strong and influential group within the Iranian elite which desires to co-operate with the West and unblock relations not only with the EU but also with the US.

Russia is secondary to them. But the positions of this group will become weaker, while the conservative faction, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, will grow stronger.

“These are our situational allies. This would open up broad opportunities for Russia’s economic and political co-operation with Iran,” Kuznetsov said.