Iran is getting a pledge from Russia that recent United Nations sanctions will not affect energy dealings between the two countries.
Iranian state media played up a meeting Wednesday between Oil Minister Massoud Mir-Kazemi and Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko. Both Iran and Russia signed several energy agreements during the meeting in Moscow. Both also downplayed new U.S. and U.N. sanctions aimed at convincing Tehran to stop sensitive nuclear work.
The agreements on energy cooperation come as something of a surprise, given the increasing tensions between the two longtime allies concerning Iran's nuclear program. Iranian officials expressed anger earlier this week, when Russian President Dimitri Medvedev declared that Tehran would soon be able to build an atomic weapon.
It was not immediately clear what concrete results would come from Wednesday's agreements, but Russian Energy Minister Shmatko noted that "Russian companies are ready to deliver petroleum products to Iran," and that sanctions "would not hinder" either party.
Russian officials have stated several times recently that they were displeased with unilateral sanctions adopted by both the United States and the European Union, including on the sale of gasoline to Iran. The unilateral sanctions go beyond U.N. sanctions approved in May.
Iranian Oil Minister Mir-Kazemi struck a defiant tone, noting Tehran's long-standing self-sufficiency, despite its desire to cooperate with Russia.
He says that Iran has been managing its hydrocarbon industry on its own for the last 31 years, since the Iranian Revolution. He stresses, however, that because both Russia and Iran have large oil reserves, there are fields in which cooperation can be strengthened.
Iranian TV also quoted Mir-Kazemi as saying that sanctions would have "no effect on the economic and industrial development of Iran." President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made similar statements in recent days.
However, according to Iranian-born analyst Alex Vatanka of the Middle East Institute in Washington, many former Iranian officials are starting to admit that sanctions do have an effect.
"If you read comments by former officials, people who have recently left the Iranian state machinery, they are coming out and very clearly saying that sanctions do matter; sanctions do make prices go up; in some cases by a third," said Alex Vatanka. "So, Mr. Mir-Kazemi can say that Iran is continuing to produce and has done so for 31 years, but the fact is that Iran is producing at two-thirds the level it was before the revolution."
Iran's Fars News Agency recently reported that Tehran's oil exports have dropped nearly 25 percent in the last fiscal year.
Mehrdad Khonsari, a former Iranian diplomat and independent analyst, says that despite recent frictions, Russia does not want to break economic ties with Iran, but that it is clearly stalling over key items of interest to Iran.
"The Russians have been anxious, while supporting the sanctions, not to give the impression that they want to cut off all economic ties with Iran," said Mehrdad Khonsari. "But, having said that, the Russians, vis-à-vis their commitments, either with the Bushehr [nuclear power] reactor or in delivering the S-300 missiles, have always dragged their feet."
Many Iranian officials have complained bitterly in recent weeks that Russia has been taking advantage of their country due to its increasing isolation.