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Blinken says Russia and US have 'shared interest' in preventing a nuclear Iran

Despite rising tensions over Ukraine, the top US diplomat said the two countries were working together at nuclear talks in Vienna
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov speak during a meeting on sidelines of Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe meeting in Stockholm, on 2 December (AFP)

The top US diplomat told his Russian counterpart on Thursday that the two countries have a common interest in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

“We have shared interests that we are working on together, including a shared interest in Iran not acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told a gathering of foreign ministers for a European cooperation conference in Stockholm, Sweden.

Blinken held a tense meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the summit where the two discussed rising tensions in Ukraine amidst concerns that Russia may launch an invasion of the country.

Despite the tensions, Blinken said the US and Russia were “working together” at the ongoing talks in Vienna aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal.

Russia was one of the five signatories to the accord intended to curb and monitor Iran’s nuclear activity. The Trump administration pulled out of the agreement in 2018 and imposed debilitating sanctions on Tehran.

Since then, Iran has gradually expanded its nuclear activity, increasing its technical capabilities and enriching Uranium beyond the limits of the 2015 deal.

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The UN nuclear watchdog said on Wednesday that Iran has started producing enriched uranium with advanced centrifuges at its Fordow plant dug into a mountain, raising concerns amongst western diplomats over Tehran's commitment to reaching a deal.

Iran says its nuclear programme is peaceful and has called for the removal of all economic sanctions immediately, as it blames the West for failing to live up to the 2015 agreement.

Russia is seen as supportive of the Iranian position that guarantees be provided against any US withdrawal from a future agreement and the removal of all sanctions that violate the 2015 deal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi held a call discussing US sanctions before the talks began in Vienna. Earlier this year, Iran joined the Chinese and Russian-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

Moscow and Tehran have found themselves aligned on many regional issues, most notably their support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russian air support, along with ground forces supplied by Iran and its proxies are widely credited with turning the Syrian conflict in Assad's favour. 

Russia also maintains ties with Tehran’s regional foes. In August, it signed a military cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia, and Putin has positioned himself as an ally of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been ostracised in Washington over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.