MOSCOW: In an effort to safeguard its trade and business interests in the face of tough sanctions imposed on it after its invasion of Ukraine, Russia on Saturday sought guarantees from the US before committing to supporting the proposed Iran nuclear deal.

The statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about the guarantees his government was seeking poured cold water on the prospects of an early revival of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal.

Commenting on the announcement by Russia, which could torpedo months of intensive indirect talks between Tehran and Washington in Vienna, an Iranian official said: “Russians had put this demand on the table (at the Vienna talks) since two days ago. There is an understanding that by changing its position in Vienna talks Russia wants to secure its interests in other places. This move is not constructive for Vienna nuclear talks,” said the Iranian official in Tehran.

Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), meanwhile, said after talks in Tehran that they had agreed on an approach to resolve issues crucial for efforts to revive the deal.

Tehran calls move ‘not constructive’, mends fences with IAEA

Speaking at a press conference, Lavrov said the nuclear talks have covered most issues and “from our point of view, if Iran agrees, this document can already be launched into the acceptance process”.

But he also cited the “avalanche of aggressive sanctions (on Russia) that the West has started spewing out”, and said: “This meant Moscow had to ask the US for guarantees first, requiring a “clear answer” that the new sanctions will not affect its rights under the nuclear deal”.

“We requested that our US colleagues... give us written guarantees at the minimum level of Secretary of State that the current (sanctions) process launched by the US will not in any way harm our right to free, fully-fledged trade and economic and investment cooperation and military-technical cooperation with Iran,” he said at a news conference.

The announcement about an agreement between Iran and the IAEA came shortly before Russia said it would seek guarantees from the United States before it backs the nuclear deal, potentially scuppering hopes the agreement could be wrapped up soon.

When asked whether Russia’s demand would harm 11 months of talks between Tehran and world powers, including Russia, Iran Project Director at International Crisis Group, Ali Vaez said: “Not yet. But its impossible to segregate the two crises for much longer.” “The U.S. can issue waivers for the work related to the transfer of excess fissile material to Russia. But its a sign that the commingling of the two issues has started,” Vaez said.

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said the UN agency and Iran “did have a number of important matters that we needed... to resolve”, but that they had now “decided to try a practical, pragmatic approach” to overcome them.

Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran’s president Mohammed Eslami said the two sides had come to the “conclusion that some documents which need to be exchanged between the IAEA and the Iranian organisation should be exchanged” by May 22.

Oil-rich Iran said this week that it was ready to raise its crude exports “to the pre-November 2018 level” — before punishing sanctions imposed by the Trump administration started to take effect.

The next few days are widely seen as a decisive point for negotiations on reviving the accord formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

“We are close. E3 negotiators leaving Vienna briefly to update ministers on state of play” and were “ready to return soon”, said British delegation head Stephanie Al-Qaq, referring to negotiators from Britain, France and Germany.

Russia is party to the ongoing talks in the Austrian capital to restore the agreement along with Britain, China, France and Germany. The United States is involved indirectly.

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2022

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