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Russia's demand for US guarantees may stall nuclear talks, says Iran official

Russia asks for written guarantee from Washington that its trade, investment and military cooperation with Iran will not be hindered by US sanctions
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian meets with head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the capital Tehran on 5 March (AFP)

Russia's demand for written US guarantees that sanctions on Moscow would not harm Russian cooperation with Iran is "not constructive" for talks between Tehran and global powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal, a senior Iranian official said on Saturday. 

The announcement by Russia, which could torpedo months of indirect talks between Tehran and Washington in Vienna, came shortly after Tehran said it had agreed a roadmap with the UN nuclear watchdog to resolve outstanding issues that could help secure the nuclear pact. 

'By changing its position in Vienna talks Russia wants to secure its interests in other places'

- Iranian official 

"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, speaking to Reuters. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that the Western sanctions imposed over the war in Ukraine had become a stumbling block for the Iran nuclear deal, warning Russian national interests would have to be taken into account. 

Lavrov said Russia wanted a written guarantee from the United States that Russia's trade, investment and military-technical cooperation with Iran would not be hindered in any way by the sanctions.

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New US sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine should not have any impact on a potential revival of the Iran nuclear accord, the US State Department said in response.

Iran nuclear talks: Russia says West's Ukraine sanctions create 'problem' for deal
Read More »

"The new Russia-related sanctions are unrelated to the JCPOA and should not have any impact on its potential implementation," a State Department spokesperson said, referring to the 2015 deal by its formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. 

"We continue to engage with Russia on a return to full implementation of the JCPOA. Russia shares a common interest in ensuring Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. "

When asked whether Russia's demand would harm 11 months of talks between Tehran and world powers, including Russia, Iran Project Director at the International Crisis Group, Ali Vaez, said: "Not yet. But it’s impossible to segregate the two crises for much longer."

"The US can issue waivers for the work related to the transfer of excess fissile material to Russia. But it’s a sign that the commingling of the two issues has started," Vaez said.

Two diplomats, one of them not directly involved in the talks, said China also has demanded written guarantees that its companies doing business in Iran wouldn't be affected by US sanctions.

Such demands may complicate efforts to seal a nuclear deal at a time when an agreement looked likely. All parties involved in the Vienna talks had said on Friday they were close to reaching an agreement.

The 2015 agreement between Tehran and major powers eased sanctions on Tehran in return for limiting Iran's enrichment of uranium, making it harder for Tehran to develop material for nuclear weapons. The accord fell apart after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States in 2018.

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