Iran breaching nuclear deal by providing Russia with armed drones, says UK

UK joins France in saying apparent drone supply for use in Ukraine leaves Iran in breach of 2015 JCPoA

Britain has joined France in viewing the Iranian supply of armed drones to Russia for devastating use in Ukraine as a breach of Iran’s obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal.

The joint view comes as EU foreign affairs ministers slapped human rights sanctions on the Iranian morality police over their handling of street protests and treatment of women.

The drone strikes continued in Ukraine on Monday, killing three more people, according to the mayor of Kyiv.

Despite the French-British belief that Iran is breaching the UN security council resolution that endorsed the nuclear deal by supplying the drones, there is no immediate plan to refer the issue to the UN, but diplomatic sources said the issue was live.

A spokesperson for the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said Iran’s supply of drones to Russia constituted a breach of UN security council resolution 2231, which was unanimously adopted six days after the nuclear deal was signed in Vienna, and called on UN member states to refrain “from actions that undermine implementation of commitments”.

“The UK has condemned Iran’s decision to supply drones and training to Russia. Iran supplying drones is inconsistent with UN security council resolution 2231 and is further evidence of the role Iran plays in undermining global security,” the spokesperson said.

“The UK will continue to work with our partners to hold Iran to account for its destabilising behaviour around the world.”

The French foreign ministry spokesperson last week revealed Paris had noted “a great deal of information that reports the use of Iranian drones by the Russian armed forces in Ukraine, in bombardments that were aimed at civilian targets”.

Although a ban on Iranian arms exports expired in 2020, the nuclear deal signed in 2015, known as the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPoA), retains a ban on any activity related to ballistic missiles until 2023. France and the UK say Iran, in supplying drones, is in breach of obligations under parts of the JCPoA and the missile technology control regime that limits the proliferation of missiles.

The west has the ability to “snapback” on some sanctions if it asserts Iran is breaching the JCPoA.

More practically it is inconceivable that the west will resume negotiations about renewing the nuclear deal so long as there is clear evidence that Iran is supplying arms to help Russia defeat Ukraine. The talks are effectively on hold until after the US midterm elections, even though Iran is continuing to expand its use of more sophisticated centrifuges.

The Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson, Naser Kanani, in his weekly press conference again denied Iran was supplying drones to Russia, challenging claims by the US, Ukraine and many arms specialists that Iranian-manufactured Shahed-136 drones were in clear use.

He said: “Iran has repeatedly declared that it is not a party to the war between Russia and Ukraine. Iran has not exported any weapons to any of the warring parties. As we have said many times, Iran’s foreign policy is based on opposing war, and regarding the war in Ukraine, we are also against war, and we are trying to end the military approach in this field.”


The Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, has in the recent past spoken of a new military pact with Russia, but not referred to a specific deal on drone exports. Iranian journalists have repeatedly challenged the foreign ministry about its denials.

The US warned on Monday that it would take action against companies and nations working with Iran’s drone program, describing the deepening alliance between Moscow and Tehran as “a profound threat”.

“Anyone doing business with Iran that could have any link to UAVs or ballistic missile developments or the flow of arms from Iran to Russia should be very careful and do their due diligence – the US will not hesitate to use sanctions or take actions against perpetrators,” said a State Department spokesperson.

Oleksiy Kuleba, the head of the Kyiv military administration, said last week that explosions at a military base 75km south of the city, wounding one, had been carried out by these drones.

The highly effective “kamikaze” drones have been used with great effect, and are seen as a cheap alternative to missiles.

EU foreign ministers imposed sanctions on 11 Iranian security officers and four entities including the morality police on Monday in response to the crackdown on protests triggered by the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurd.

The EU list goes further than the recently announced British and US sanctions, but still stops short of the systematic attack on Iranian regime supporters and family members in Europe that is being sought by some Iranians.

In common with Washington, the EU sanctioned Iran’s morality police and two of its key figures, Mohammad Rostami and Haj Ahmad Mirzaei. In addition, the EU designates the Iranian Law Enforcement Forces (LEF), as well as a number of its local chiefs, for their role in the repression of the protests. The EU also listed Issa Zarepour, the Iranian minister of information and communications technology, for his responsibility over the internet shutdown. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps cyber-defence command was also the subject of sanctions.

Anoosheh Ashoori, one of the former British-Iranian dual nationals released from Evin prison after nearly five years in detention, said the west needed to go much further in enforcing sanctions. “There is no point imposing sanctions only on the morality police that are not going to come to Europe. But there are a large number of children and relatives of the regime that, like the Russian oligarchs, like living the high life here and have assets here.

“Britain cannot have dealings with a regime that kills children and detains people for the amount of hair they show. This regime is brutal and has no red lines. Britain will be asked when this regime falls whether it was on the right side of history.”


Patrick Wintour and Jennifer Rankin

The GuardianTramp

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