WASHINGTON: The Iranian nuclear deal could be finalised as early as this week, says a British media outlet as rapidly rising oil prices force the West to look beyond Russia.

“Agreement on the international deal on Iran’s nuclear programme could be reached within 48 hours,” Britain’s Independent newspaper reported on Saturday, quoting a senior participant in the deal talks.

Other reports do not give a specific date but claim that the United States and its allies seem ready to finalise the deal as early as possible.

“The revival of the deal first struck in 2005 would pave the way for the end of sanctions on Iran, allowing it to step up oil exports to Western countries seeking to halt their reliance on Russia for energy supplies,” The Independent added.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, who acts as UN Security Council facilitator at the nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna, told another British media outlet that “the signals are good” for agreement.

“We are getting much closer to signing a deal. In fact, some would say that there are prospects potentially for a deal this weekend” or soon after, Mr Coveney told BBC Radio 4.

The Irish foreign minister explained that western Europe wanted to move away from its reliance on the Russian oil and gas and was looking for other options.

“Iranian crude oil coming back into the market with the removal of sanctions, would be a very attractive prospect in terms of reducing pressure on oil prices,” he added.

A US television channel, CNBC, noted that “with the US terminating its imports of Russian oil and the EU looking to reduce its energy dependency on Moscow, Iranian crude is looking more alluring.”

The report noted that “a return to the 2015 deal would see the return of Iranian oil to the market at a time when crude prices have hit their highest levels in more than a decade.”

Earlier this week, Russia withdrew its threat to torpedo the revival of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal over the Ukraine-related sanctions, revising hopes for an agreement after nearly a year of talks.

The parties involved in the nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, were close to a deal in Vienna until the US and EU imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia over its Feb 14 invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow then demanded that future trade with Iran not be impacted by Western sanctions, prompting the talks to be suspended last week.

In their recent statements, Iranian officials indicated that they want the US to remove the designation of their revolutionary guard (IRGC) as a terrorist outfit before the nuclear deal is finalised.

“We are not negotiating in public and are not going to respond to specific claims about what sanctions we would be prepared to lift as part of a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” said a US State Department official when asked to comment on the demand.

But, he said, “We are prepared to make difficult decisions to return Iran’s nuclear programme to JCPOA limits.

An unrestricted Iranian nuclear programme has led to an escalating nuclear crisis and to greatly increased threats to US citizens, interests, and partners in the region.”

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2022

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