Russia brings Ukraine war sanctions in the deal on Iran nuclear program

As talks with Iran on its nuclear program were close to an agreement, Russia wants to make sure sanctions against its invasion of Ukraine will not affect its partnership with Iran.

Sergey Lavrov, Russia Foreign Minister
Sergey Lavrov, Russia Foreign Minister

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on March 5 he wanted “guarantees” that sanctions put against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine “will in no way affect the trading, economic and investment relations contained in the [deal] for the Iranian nuclear program”, according to the Russian state-run Tass news agency.

Vienna talks were close to an end with a potential agreement between world powers and Iran on its nuclear program but the recent comment from Russia’s foreign minister poses a new challenge to finding a deal.

In 2015, Iran agreed to drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. But in 2018, Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal, sparking years of tensions with the Middle East.

China, Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom and France are part of the talks in Vienna about a new nuclear deal with Iran.

Last Thursday, Russian representative in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov yet tweeted that Vienna talks were “almost over” after 11 months of a “long and grueling marathon”.

The remaining differences are less than fingers of a hand — if no one adds a new issue,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Monday. “So far Russia had shown a constructive approach for reaching a collective agreement in Vienna and we interpret what they say in this framework,” he said. “We will wait for [Russia] to give us more details in Vienna.”

As the United States and many other countries imposed economic sanctions on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, the demand adds a new layer of complexity in the discussions and may delay a deal between parties.

We’re assessing new elements that bear on the negotiations and will accordingly seek creative ways to expedite a solution,” tweeted on Monday Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. He considered that “Vienna participants act and react based on [their own] interests which is understandable”.

Khatibzadeh further considered that “peaceful nuclear cooperation” between China, Iran and Russia shouldn’t be limited by sanctions. Lavrov wants guarantees that sanctions would not affect their “trading, economic, investment, military and technical cooperation with Iran”.

But Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian Tehran holds a more firm stance than Shamkhani, saying the country would not allow “any foreign elements to undermine its national interests”, Iran’s state media reported on Monday. Lavrov later on a phone call with his Iranian counterpart argued the deal should not discriminate against any parties.

The U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken reacted on Sunday that Russian demands were “irrelevant” as the nuclear deal and sanctions on Moscow over the war in Ukraine were “totally different”.

Today, Tehran enriches uranium up to 60% purity — its highest level ever and a short technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90%. It is also far greater than the 3.67% cap included in the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium also continues to grow, worrying nuclear nonproliferation experts that it could be closer to the threshold of having enough material for an atomic weapon if it chose to pursue one.

France, which participate in Vienna talks, and regularly speaks with Russia on the Ukraine war not resort to blackmail on the nuclear deal.

Getting out of the deal was one of the worst mistakes that’s been made in recent years. It let the entire Iranian nuclear program that we put in a box out of the box,” Blinken told CBS’ Face the Nation talk show. “And so if there’s a way of getting back to reimplementing that deal effectively, it’s in our interest to do it and we’re working on that as we speak. It’s also in Russia’s interest.

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