Can Russia and Iran Still Be Friends after the Nuclear Deal?

Can Russia and Iran Still Be Friends after the Nuclear Deal?

Moscow and Tehran are learning how to agree to disagree.


The Iranian nuclear accord has not led either to an Iranian-American rapprochement or a diminution of Russian-Iranian cooperation. If anything, Russian-Iranian cooperation has increased since the accord came into effect. Nevertheless, while Moscow and Tehran have shown that they can cooperate effectively on common concerns, neither feels the least compunction about pursuing policies that the other does not approve of when their interests diverge.

So far, they have agreed to disagree on issues where their interests diverge and not allow these disagreements to affect their cooperation on those issues where their interests converge. This seems likely to remain true, unless their interests sharply diverge on issues that are of great importance to either or both. These might include Russia becoming more willing to accommodate Sunni Arabs in a Syrian peace settlement than Iran is, increased Russian support for Kurds in Syria and (more ominously for Iran) elsewhere, or a strong improvement in relations between America and the West on the one hand and Russia or Iran (but not both simultaneously) on the other. None of these or other such contingencies, though, seems likely to emerge at present, and so the current pattern of Russian-Iranian cooperation on some issues, and lack of it on others, appears likely to continue.

Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University.

Image: President Vladimir Putin meets with President Hassan Rouhani.