image Photo: Reuters

Lavrov: nuclear deal with Iran in final phase

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian that agreement on the revival of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is in the finishing straight.

By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner

Tehran’s top diplomat arrived in Moscow on Tuesday amid expressed hopes the visit would facilitate Russian support for what he called a “good, stable and strong nuclear deal,” reported the Islamic Republic’s semi-official ISNA news agency.

According to Amir-Abdollahian, the Kremlin has so far supported the Ayatollah regime during negotiations in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers.

Negotiations in the Austrian capital were suddenly paused after Minister Lavrov unexpectedly demanded on 5 March sweeping guarantees that Russian trade with Iran would not be affected by sanctions imposed on Moscow over its 24 February invasion of Ukraine – a demand Western powers say is unacceptable and with which Washington had insisted it would not agree. The move that caused heightened concern over a collapse of the negotiations even though the text of a prospective agreement has reportedly been largely completed.

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said on Twitter that the pause was required due to “external factors,” without elaborating. The EU foreign policy chief said the sides had come very close to agreement but didn’t say when — or if — the negotiations would resume.

Moscow has issued highly contradictory statements over the cause of the talks’ suspension.

“The United States on a daily basis accusing us of slowing down this agreement – that’s a lie,” insisted Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov at a joint press while standing alongside Amir-Abdollahian.

“This agreement is not finalized in some capitals, but the Russian capital Moscow is not one of them,” said Minister Lavrov, while asserting that “All our rights from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action are fully protected. And if the Americans have not reached a final decision to endorse the agreement about the revival of the JCPOA revival, then maybe they want to place the blame on somebody else.”

Lavrov’s accusation that Washington is to blame for the stalled talks was countered by the Spokesman of President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.

“The sanctions implemented against Russia directly affect the interests of our country regarding this (Iranian nuclear) deal. So, these sanctions must be taken into account, it’s a new aspect that cannot be ignored. This is the position of the Russian Federation,” Dmitry Peskov stated unequivocally during a telephone Q&A session yesterday.

Meanwhile, the US has seemingly conceded to Moscow’s demands.

“We have made significant progress over recent days when it comes to the possibility of a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. We continue to engage with Russia on a return to full implementation of the JCPOA. I think what you heard from Foreign Minister Lavrov – I will let him speak for himself, I will let the Russians speak for themselves – but is – may well be a reflection of the fact that we, of course, would not sanction Russian participation in nuclear projects that are part of resuming full implementation of the JCPOA. We can’t and we won’t and we have not provided assurances beyond that to Russia,” stated State Department Spokesman Ned Price.

Price went on to emphasize, however, that any “new” sanctions imposed on Russia will remain intact, as they are “are unrelated to a potential return to full compliance with the JCPOA, and they shouldn’t have any impact on its implementation. And it may well be a reflection of what we’ve said all along that an Iran that is unconstrained in its nuclear program and that has no permanent, verifiable limits attached to that nuclear program – that is not in our interests, it is not in the interests of our European allies, it is not in the interests of the PRC [People’s Republic of China], and it’s certainly not in the interests of the Russian Federation.”

The State Department Spokesman continued by stressing, specifically regarding the current suspension of the nuclear negotiations, that it is up to the leadership in Tehran to take the necessary political decisions to finalize the nuclear agreement.

“There were and are a small number of outstanding issues. Now that we are this close to the finish line, those outstanding issues tend to be the hardest issues, so we’re not there yet. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. But we continue to assess that a mutual return to compliance would be the most effective, the best way to verifiably and permanently once again have those limits on Iran’s nuclear program,” he said.

Western diplomats, who spoke with TV7 on condition of anonymity, explained that one of the most stringent sanctions enacted against Russia over its offensive in Ukraine was imposed on its foreign nuclear development projects. These include 24 separate multi-billion development projects of nuclear reactors, the majority of which are being constructed for China and India, respectively.

Therefore, when the Ukraine-related sanctions brought into question Russian contracts for the development of Iran’s nuclear program once the JCPOA is potentially revived, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov declared the need for written guarantees from the administration of US President Joe Biden to ensure Moscow’s interests are preserved.

Contrary to Washington’s repeated assertion that the so-called ball is in Tehran’s court on reviving the JCPOA, earlier this week Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh reiterated the Islamic Republic’s unwavering position that it will not compromise on its red lines, including the removal of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) from the US blacklist of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

“We are not at a point to announce an agreement, and that is because some very key but limited matters remain which require decisions to be taken in Washington. As soon as these decisions are taken in Washington, we will have reached a point to return to Vienna and start the final round of talks to achieve a good and lasting agreement,” stressed Khatibzadeh, insisting, “Unfortunately the Biden administration has acted differently each day in the Vienna talks.”