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US says Russia continues to be engaged in efforts to revive Iran nuclear deal

Top US diplomat says Russia has a self-interest in preventing Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a press conference, Stenbock House, Tallinn, Estonia on 8 March 2022 (AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday that Russia remains engaged in efforts to salvage the Iran nuclear deal, noting what he said was Moscow's self-interest in preventing Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

The comments come after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov created uncertainty around the deal on Saturday, when he said Moscow wanted a written US guarantee that its trade, investment, and military-technical cooperation with Iran would not be hindered by Western sanctions imposed since it invaded Ukraine.

"With regard to the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal, we continue to work to see if we can come back to mutual compliance with Iran on the deal," Blinken said during a press conference in Estonia, using an acronym for the formal name of the deal: the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

"Russia continues to be engaged in those efforts, and it has its own interests in ensuring that Iran is not able to acquire a nuclear weapon," he said.

As the Biden administration engages in what many say is is a last ditch effort to revive the nuclear deal it has pushed back on concerns that the Ukraine sanctions and the Iran nuclear deal were becoming intertwined.

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On Sunday, Blinken described the discussions with Tehran as "totally different" and "not in any way linked together," with Ukraine.

For weeks diplomats have said progress was being made on restoring the pact to curb Tehran's nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

Iran pushes back against Russian demands for 'guarantees' in nuclear talks
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The Trump administration pulled out of the agreement in 2018, on the grounds that it failed to rein in Tehran's support for regional proxies and ballistic missile development.

Iran maintained compliance with the accord for a few months before it began rolling back its commitments in 2019 and enriching uranium.

"It is time, in the next few days, for political decisions to end the #ViennaTalks. The rest is noise," European Union negotiator Enrique Mora tweeted Monday.

On Tuesday, a group of nations known as the "E3"—the United Kingdom, France, and Germany - called on parties to "make the decisions necessary close this deal now," and called on Russia "not to add extraneous conditions to its conclusion".

"The rate of advances in Iran's nuclear program means (the JCPOA) cannot remain on the table indefinitely. The window of opportunity is closing," UK Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Corinne Kitsell said on behalf of the group.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Monday that Tehran would not allow "any foreign elements to undermine its national interests” after Russia appeared to link efforts to revive a deal over its nuclear programme to sanctions over Ukraine.

Russia, along with China, is one of Iran's closest partners in the talks with world powers. The two countries are also allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and fought together on the same side of the country's civil war. 

The news that Moscow could potentially stymie the talks sent oil prices rising on Monday over fears that Iranian supply wouldn’t be entering into the market, just as the US and its European allies said that they were considering banning Russian crude.

On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged that "the discussion of oil is a part" of the broader negotiations around a return to the deal as the US seeks alternate oil sources to Russia, "but the most important reason is to prevent them from acquiring a nuclear weapon."

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