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The Takeaway: Ukraine war looms over Iran nuclear talks, energy markets

More on the Ukraine War from Israel, Russia, Lebanon and Gaza; Nile Dam crisis escalates … all in less than 1,100 words.
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani (R).

Hot Take: Iran nuclear deal would come at right time for global energy markets


Iran nuclear talks enter final days

The buzz in Vienna is that an agreement to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal, should get done this week — or it probably won’t get done at all.

  • Iran Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Monday, Feb. 28, that three issues remain to be resolved: the scope of sanctions relief, an IAEA investigation into uranium traces found at undeclared sites (which Iran considers politicized), and whether the United States can "guarantee" a deal.
  • Reuters reports that Iran is also asking for the United States to lift the foreign terrorist organization (FTO) designation against Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
  • Ali Hashem, who has been reporting on the Vienna talks, tells Al-Monitor that Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, returned to Vienna from Iran this week "with a clear mandate originating from the top of the establishment in Tehran that no deal is better than a bad deal, hence the redlines shouldn’t be disregarded." 
  • On March 1, Khatibzadeh tweeted that "a deal is at hand, if WH makes its mind. Iran is willing, but will not wait forever."
  • State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Monday that "we are prepared to walk away — if Iran displays an intransigence to making progress …"

Iranian official: No connection between Vienna talks and the Ukraine crisis

  • Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech on March 1, "Iran advocates ending the war in Ukraine," but "the root of the crisis … are the US policies that create crisis, and Ukraine is one victim of these policies."
  • "The war in Ukraine is an international relations earthquake, and the main players in this conflict are involved in a way or another in the talks with Iran over its nuclear program," added Ali Hashem. "Iran could be reading the developments from two perspectives. One relates to tactical gains in the path of the negotiations; second, a futuristic view that anticipates a different world in the making."
  • A senior Iranian official, speaking to Al-Monitor off the record, said, "I don't see any connection between the Ukraine crisis and the Vienna talks. It's not in the interest of anybody to make such connection."

Iran: the energy angle

The connection may be in the energy market with oil over $110 per barrel and natural gas prices hitting a new high in Europe. If there is an agreement in Vienna, Iran’s energy sector — in dire need of investment — would be open for business at a time the West is seeking to mitigate energy disruptions from the Ukraine conflict and sanctions on Russia.


From our regional correspondents


1. Israel divided over Russia’s Jewish oligarchs 

Israeli officials are torn over whether to join the United States in sanctioning Russia’s oligarchs, many of whom are Jewish or hold Israeli citizenship.

Ben Caspit writes that “the oligarchs are the latest twist in the dilemmas with which the Russian invasion of Ukraine are confronting Israel, as it seeks to balance a host of competing interests.”

Those interests include a close relationship with Ukraine’s Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, security cooperation with Moscow and Israel’s large Russia- and Ukraine-born population.


2. Isolated in West, Russia looks East  

As Russia’s international isolation grows, the country is seeking support in the Arab world.

Kirill Semenov notes that Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan paid a visit to Moscow on the eve of the Ukraine invasion. Days earlier, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev arrived in the Russian capital for talks with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. The United Arab Emirates joined China and India in abstaining from a UN resolution condemning the invasion. But whether Russia can count on NATO member Turkey’s support is a bit more complicated.


3. Ukraine invasion’s impact on energy markets 

As the crisis in Ukraine threatens the world’s gas supply, the Gulf’s oil and gas producers could serve as a source of energy stability for Europe, writes Karen Young.

The West hasn’t yet targeted Russia’s oil sector with sanctions, but major oil companies are distancing themselves from Russian gas giant Gazprom. 

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates “will determine how global oil markets can sustain a dip in Russian oil deliveries in an already very tight market,” Young writes, adding that the two oil-rich countries might seek to gain market share from Russia. 


4. Region’s wheat supplies threatened by Ukraine war

Concerns are growing in Middle East countries that depend on Ukraine for their wheat needs.

Officials in Lebanon are currently discussing alternative sources of wheat supplies, roughly 80% of which Lebanon imports from the Eastern European country. Hanan Hamdan writes that a sustained wheat shortage would exacerbate Lebanon’s already unprecedented economic crisis. 

Wheat supplies are also dwindling in the impoverished Gaza Strip. Hadeel Al Gherbawi reports that Gazan authorities are urging merchants not to panic and threatening prosecution for those who raise prices. 


5. Egypt, Ethiopia tensions over Nile Dam escalate with attention on Ukraine

International efforts to resolve the longstanding dispute between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over Addis Ababa's controversial hydroelectric dam could fall to the backburner as the world’s attention is focused on Ukraine, writes Mohamed Saied.

Russia’s invasion came days after Ethiopia announced the partial start of electricity production from its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which its downstream neighbors consider a threat to their water supply. As Ukraine’s conflict rages, the Atlantic Council’s Paul Sullivan tells Saied it “will be difficult to get the powers involved with this to focus back on the Nile issues.”


Multimedia this week: Israel and Ukraine, Yazidi survivors


Listen: Ben Caspit and former Israeli diplomat Yaki Dayan discuss whether Israel has a role to play in mediating the Ukraine-Russia conflict.

Watch: Look out for our video this week on the Yazidi Survivor's Law. The Iraqi legislation was passed one year ago this week, but as Joe Snell reports, little has changed in the way of support for these survivors of the Islamic State genocide.

Listen: Check back here tomorrow for Andrew Parasiliti’s conversation with Russia specialist Sam Charap of the RAND Corporation about what to expect next in Russia’s war with Ukraine, and what it means for the Iran nuclear deal and the Middle East.