(TheBlaze/AP) – Ties between Russia and Iran may be getting even closer, and the proof is in the cars.

Iran began exporting automobiles to Russia for the first time in five years Sunday, after meeting upgraded emission standards, the country’s largest auto manufacturer said.

Rouhani_and_Putin

The auto export deal between Iran and Russia is another step in the deepening relationship between the two countries since February (Image source: The Iran Project)

Workers at Iran-Khodro’s factory in Tehran loaded the first shipment, which includes Samand and Runna sedans. The company plans to export 10,000 cars of various models to Russia by 2015, with the vehicles selling for $13,000 to $16,000.

Iran-Khodro exported more than 12,000 cars to Russia from 2007 to 2009, but the shipments stopped when Russia adopted stricter Euro-4 emission standards.

The resumption comes at a time of greater openness to trade with Iran following an interim nuclear deal reached in November that saw some international sanctions eased in return for Tehran freezing or curbing parts of its nuclear program. Iran hopes to reach a final nuclear deal with Russia and other world powers by next month.

Geographical proximity, shared regional interests and the geopolitics of energy have connected the two states on strategic, energy-related and regional issues of late; during a televised interview in February, President Hassan Rouhani commented on Iran’s international relations, asserting that there will be a new dynamic in Iran-Russia relations, and tensions rose even higher when China called for a new Asian structure for security cooperation based on a regional group that includes Russia and Iran and excludes the United States.

And the conflict over Crimea and Ukraine may make it difficult for the United States to garner Russian support against Iran in future nuclear negotiations, as it did for the interim agreement in November 2013. This could weaken the U.S./European position on conditions that are aimed to limit Iran’s nuclear program beyond the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Since Americans and Europeans both have threatened to apply diplomatic pressure on Russia, including the imposition of sanctions, “logic follows that Russia will play Iran’s nuclear card against the United States and Europe, hoping to influence the US and European position toward Russia in Ukraine,” reports Al Monitor.

The auto deal announced Sunday reflects another step in the increasing cooperation between the two Asian countries. Russia built a nuclear power plant for Iran that went online in 2011, and Tehran and Moscow are in discussions to build more.

Iran’s Ambassador to Russia Mahdi Sanaei said he expects the volume of trade with Russia to increase this year, after plunging from four billion dollars to $1.5 billion in the four years leading up to 2013. “This was due to the sanctions imposed against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said. “However, with help of God, this downward slope will be reversed in the year 2014.”

iran car

The Samand is one of three cars from the IKCO company the Russian Standard Organization approved at the Euro IV standard, which will allow the cars to be sold in the Russian market for two years (Image source: IKCO).

Andrey Luganskiy, Russia’s trade representative in Tehran, said the exports would allow Iran to acquire Russian currency, which it can then use to buy goods that it is unable to import from the West.

Iran’s manufacturing sector has been crippled by international sanctions imposed over its nuclear program. Western nations have long suspected Iran of covertly seeking a nuclear weapons capability alongside its civilian program.

Tehran denies the allegations and insists its nuclear activities are only aimed at power generation and medical treatments.

Before the sanctions, Iran produced more than one million cars per year.

Russia is a big market, with a total of 2.78 million new vehicles sold there in 2013.

Follow Elizabeth Kreft (@elizabethakreft) on Twitter. 

Other Must-Read Stories