Russia Condemns U.S. 'Provocation' of Iran As 'Absolutely Unacceptable' As Nations Build Front Against Trump

The foreign ministers of Russia and Iran have met in Moscow in a show of solidarity against what Moscow termed "unacceptable" American provocation over the Iran nuclear deal, which remains at risk of collapse.

Javad Zarif traveled to meet Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on Monday, as the two leaders sought to breathe life into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal—in the face of continued U.S. sanctions on Iran, state news agency Tass reported.

President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the JCPOA in May 2018, arguing the agreement was too lenient on Iran. The agreement—which was also signed by Russia, China, the U.K., Germany, France and the European Union—lifted tough economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

The U.S. is now using economic sanctions in a bid to force Iranian leaders back to the negotiating table, where the Trump administration hopes to secure a new deal which includes restrictions on Iran's ballistic missile program and regional influence.

But Iran is not budging. The dispute resulted in months of tension in and around the Persian Gulf, during which multiple commercial ships were sabotaged or seized, Iran shot down a U.S. drone and Trump claimed to have ordered a retaliatory airstrike on Iranian positions, only to call it off at the last minute.

On Monday, Lavrov condemned what he called American provocation and reiterated the Kremlin's continued support for the deal. "Our American partners, with support of some of their regional allies, make blatant attempts to provoke Iran," he said.

Iran has partially suspended its compliance with the JCPOA in response to the U.S. withdrawal, building its enriched uranium stocks and increasing the level of enrichment achieved. Washington has demanded that Tehran remain in compliance, and Trump has threatened consequences if Iran continues to flout the terms of the JCPOA.

Lavrov dismissed this as hypocritical. "The JCPOA is a very delicate balance of interests, obligations and compromise," he said. "It cannot be pulled apart, when one part is to be adhered to and the other one is not obligatory. This is absolutely unacceptable."

"We understand the steps that Iran has to take to partially suspend its voluntary obligations under the JCPOA very well," Lavrov added. "These steps are a direct consequence of the U.S.' unacceptable actions regarding a crucial document that was approved by the UN Security Council."

Such actions, the foreign minister claimed, are designed to push Iran further into non-compliance and to "find a pretense to use force."

Lavrov and Zarif used Monday's meeting to boast of the ever-closer relationship between the two nations. Zarif said relations between the two nations "are at the highest level over the past decades," characterized by cooperation of "a strategic character and is especially successful in the energy and transport sectors, and in the area of maintaining peace and security."

Zarif also praised Russian and Chinese efforts to keep the JCPOA alive. He also took the opportunity to criticize the European signatories that Tehran feels are doing too little to salvage the Obama-era deal.

"Russia's and China's position on the nuclear deal is closer to that of Iran [than the position of European countries and the United States]," he explained. "Economic relations between our countries are developing despite Washington's pressure."

Last week, it was reported that Russia offered Iran the chance to buy its modern fighter jets to upgrade the country's ageing air force. International sanctions have prevented Tehran from improving its air arm, which is largely made up of Cold-War era Soviet aircraft and a handful of American planes purchased before the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

The two nations have also said they are working on a new security arrangement to stabilize the strategically-vital Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, through which some 25 percent of the world's oil supplies travel.

The joint Iranian-Russian project has complicated U.S. efforts to do the same, though the proposed American coalition has been slow to get off the ground largely as a result of European hesitance.

Iran, Russia, Sergey Lavrov, Javad Zarif
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif shake hands following a meeting in Moscow, Russia on September 2, 2019. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images/Getty