Iranian official: Move 'not constructive' for Vienna talks

Russia says won’t back Iran nuke deal without US guarantees over Ukraine sanctions

Lavrov says 'avalanche of aggressive sanctions' mustn't impact Moscow's rights under agreement, shortly after Tehran, IAEA announce 'pragmatic approach' to resolve remaining issues

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting with his Kyrgyz counterpart in Moscow. on March 5, 2022. (Sergei Ilnitesky/Pool/AFP)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday that Moscow is demanding guarantees from the US before backing the Iran nuclear deal, citing the current wave of Western sanctions against Russia.

Lavrov said that the nuclear talks have covered most issues and “from our point of view, if Iran agrees, this document can already be launched into the acceptance process.”

But he added that there are “problems that have appeared recently from the point of view of Russia’s interests,” due to concerns over the terms of the deal concerning Moscow’s involvement in the civilian nuclear sector in Iran and arms sales to Tehran.

Lavrov cited the “avalanche of aggressive sanctions that the West has started spewing out, which hasn’t ended as far as I understand,” over the Ukraine conflict.

He said this meant Moscow had to ask the US for guarantees first, requiring a “clear answer” that the new sanctions will not affect its rights under the nuclear deal.

“We requested that our US colleagues… give us written guarantees at the minimum level of Secretary of State that the current [sanctions] process launched by the US will not in any way harm our right to free, fully-fledged trade and economic and investment cooperation and military-technical cooperation with Iran,” Lavrov said at a news conference.

Ukrainians crowd under a destroyed bridge as they try to flee crossing the Irpin river in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

A senior Iranian official criticized the Russian demand, telling Reuters it was “not constructive” to the ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna.

“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,” the unnamed official was quoted as saying.

The comments came shortly after Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency said at talks in Tehran that they agreed on an approach to resolve issues crucial in efforts to revive the nuclear deal.

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said the UN agency and Iran “did have a number of important matters that we needed… to resolve,” but that they had now “decided to try a practical, pragmatic approach” to overcome them.

Atomic Energy Organization of Iran chief Mohammed Eslami said the two sides had come to the “conclusion that some documents which need to be exchanged between the IAEA and the Iranian organization should be exchanged” by May 22.

Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency described his weekend visit to Tehran as a means “to address outstanding questions” as negotiators back in Europe appear to be reaching a deadline to see if the 2015 accord can be revived.

“It would be difficult to believe or to imagine that such an important return to such a comprehensive agreement like the [nuclear deal] would be possible if the agency and Iran would not be seeing eye to eye on how to resolve these important safeguards issues,” Grossi said. Safeguards in the IAEA’s parlance refer to the agency’s inspections and monitoring of a country’s nuclear program.

Grossi met later with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian.

International Atomic Energy Organization, IAEA, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, left, and Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian shake hands prior to their meeting in Tehran, on March 5, 2022 (AP Photo)

The nuclear deal saw Iran agree to drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of crushing economic sanctions. But a 2018 decision by then-US President Donald Trump to unilaterally withdraw America from the agreement increased tensions and attacks across the wider Mideast.

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

Iran has long denied seeking nuclear weapons. However, US intelligence agencies, Western nations, and the IAEA have said Iran ran an organized nuclear weapons program until 2003. Grossi didn’t elaborate what outstanding issues remained, but some of them may deal with ongoing investigations into that program.

In this image made from April 17, 2021, video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, various centrifuge machines line the hall damaged on April 11, 2021, at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, some 200 miles (322 km) south of the capital Tehran. (IRIB via AP, File)

The 2015 deal saw the IAEA’s then-director-general also come to Tehran and visit one suspected weapons-program site at Parchin, with inspectors taking samples for analysis.

Grossi’s inspectors also face challenges in monitoring Iran’s current advances in its civilian program. Iran has held IAEA surveillance camera recordings since February 2021, not letting inspectors view them amid the nuclear negotiations.

In Vienna, negotiators appear to be signaling a deal is near — even as Russia’s war on Ukraine rages on. Russia’s ambassador there, Mikhail Ulyanov, has been a key mediator in the talks and tweeted Thursday that negotiations were “almost over.”

Meanwhile, on Saturday, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard unveiled what it described as two new underground missile and drone bases in the country.

An online state TV report said the bases contained surface-to-surface missiles and armed drones capable of “hiding themselves from enemy radar.”

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