Led by the E3, the EU remained impressively united on Iran. However, Russia became less co-operative over the course of the year and opposed new EU and UN sanctions.
The US and the EU see preventing Iran acquiring nuclear capacity as one of their highest foreign-policy objectives. As a UNSC member and a partner of Iran in military transfers and the construction of the Bushehr nuclear plant, Russia has the power to obstruct or facilitate Western objectives. The dialogue between Russia and the West on Iran improved in 2010 mainly as a result of the US “reset” of relations with Russia. In 2011, the main aim of the EU, a collateral beneficiary of the “reset”, was to get Russia to support new sanctions on Iran at the UN. In broader issues of anti-proliferation, Russia and the EU continue to work together on nuclear safety in Russia, as part of previous G8 agreements, to re-orientate former Soviet military scientists, secure nuclear facilities and dismantle nuclear submarines. Diplomatically, both co-ordinated their efforts to resume work at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.
The EU remained impressively united on Iran and continued to prioritise the issue in 2011. However, Russia became gradually less co-operative than in the previous year. It tried to moderate by proposing a diplomatic solution called the “step-by-step” approach that aimed to ease the standoff. Russia also proposed a phased approach in which Iran would provide greater information to clarify IAEA concerns, with each step being met by a US reciprocal concession. Like the West, Russia continued to call for Iran to cease construction of centrifuges. But limits to the “reset” were reached by late 2011. Unlike in 2010, Russia opposed new UN sanctions and criticised new EU sanctions. It was particularly critical of proposed EU oil sanctions on Iran and attacked the new IAEA report published in November as “unbalanced”. The Bushehr nuclear power plant, built by Russian technicians, opened in August.