March 7, 2022
France warned Russia not to resort to blackmail over efforts to revive a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, after Moscow demanded a US guarantee that sanctions it faces over Ukraine would not hurt its trade with Tehran.
Russia raised the potential stumbling block on Saturday, just as months of indirect talks between Tehran and Washington in Vienna over reviving the pact struck in 2015 appeared headed for agreement.
In Tehran, a foreign ministry spokesperson said Iran was awaiting an explanation of the Russian demand via “diplomatic channels”, adding however that the talks should not be affected by sanctions imposed on Moscow, whose contribution to negotiations so far had been constructive.
On Saturday, a senior Iranian official speaking to Reuters had called Russia’s move unconstructive.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that Russia wanted a written US guarantee that Moscow’s trade, investment and military-technical cooperation with Iran would not be hindered by Western sanctions imposed since Russia invaded its neighbor.
A French presidency official told reporters late on Sunday that diplomats tended to treat each issue on its merits and not conflating them.
“Because otherwise, in reality, it’s just blackmail and not diplomacy,” he told reporters.
All parties involved in the talks say progress has been made toward the restoration of the pact to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, which the United States abandoned in 2018. But both Tehran and Washington have said there are still some significant differences to overcome.
Western officials say there is common interest in avoiding a non-proliferation crisis, and they are trying to ascertain if what Russia is demanding regards only its commitments to the Iran deal. That would be manageable, but anything beyond that would be problematic, they say.
However, diplomats told Reuters that at least two key issues remained unresolved between Tehran and Washington, including the extent to which sanctions would be rolled back.
Iran’s top security official, Ali Shamkhani, called on Washington on Monday to make political decisions.
“Priority of Iranian negotiators is to resolve remaining issues that are considered (a)… red line. Rapid access to a strong deal requires new initiatives from all parties,” Shamkhani tweeted on Monday.
‘Trying it on’
The French presidency official urged Russia to assess what was at stake in Vienna, “that is to say Iran’s return to respecting its obligations under the JCPOA,” referring to the 2015 deal by its formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
A European diplomat added: “The Russians are really trying it on and the Iranians aren’t happy although of course not saying too much publicly. We’re trying to find a way through.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken sought on Sunday to dispel talk of obstacles, saying the sanctions imposed on Russia over Ukraine had nothing to do with the nuclear deal.
“I believe it’s not for communication with journalists at this stage, sorry to say,” Russia’s chief negotiator Mikhail Ulyanov said when asked to clarify Moscow’s position on Monday.
European negotiators have temporarily left the talks as they believe they have gone as far as they can and it is now up to the two main protagonists to agree, three diplomats said.
Russia’s concerns about the impact of Western sanctions on its dealings with Iran follow a push by senior Iranian officials for deeper ties with Russia since the election of Iran’s hardline president Ebrahim Raisi last year.
Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Khamenei, has been calling for closer ties with Russia due to his deep mistrust of the United States.