US accuses Russia of jeopardizing Iran talks as they enter final stage

Moscow demanding guarantees Western sanctions won’t affect trade with Iran; US says it won’t play ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ with Moscow, as Iran accuses Washington of holding up talks

Russia's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mikhail Ulyanov, is pictured at the Coburg Palais, venue of talks aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna on December 27, 2021. (Alex Halada/AFP)
Russia's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mikhail Ulyanov, is pictured at the Coburg Palais, venue of talks aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna on December 27, 2021. (Alex Halada/AFP)

With talks aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal seemingly nearing the finish line this week, the US has accused Russia of jeopardizing the negotiations taking place in Vienna.

Russia is demanding a guarantee from Washington that Western sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine will not affect Russian trade with Iran, Reuters reported Wednesday, citing a European diplomat.

“In view of the new circumstances and wave of sanctions against Russia we have the right to protect our interests in the nuclear field and wider context,” said Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s envoy to the talks.

Washington, however, rejected Russia’s latest demands, with one senior official saying the US will not play “Let’s Make a Deal” with Moscow.

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland said Tuesday that Russia was trying to gain as much as it could from the deal with Iran, as Western sanctions have crippled the country’s economy.

Ulyanov has rejected Western claims suggesting that Moscow is attempting to delay an agreement, noting that a final document agreed on by all parties had yet to be completed.

State Department Under Secretary for Public Affairs Victoria Nuland speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, Jan. 27, 2022. (Susan Walsh/AP)

“There is no final text, so how can our position delay anything if final negotiations are not finished?” he said. “A number of participants at this moment are not ready to confirm that the text is fully acceptable to them.”

In any case, two unnamed Western diplomats have told Reuters that Russia’s exact demands were unclear. Another diplomat has said that Russia’s demand for guaranteed trade with Tehran was unacceptable.

Bucking previous assessments, all diplomats expressed doubt that the talks would yield an agreement this week.

The revived deal, which would bring back the US and Iran to the 2015 nuclear accord, was said to be nearly complete and accepted by most parties.

The US unilaterally abandoned the deal in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump, and Iran has been scaling up nuclear activity, including enrichment, ever since.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani arrives at the Coburg Palais in Vienna for nuclear talks, on November 29, 2021. (Vladimir Simicek/AFP)

Iran’s top diplomat at the months-long talks, Ali Bagheri Kani, returned to Vienna on Wednesday after making a sudden trip to Tehran earlier this week for consultations, in what some viewed as a sign of the growing pressure on Tehran to reach an agreement.

Spanish diplomat Enrique Mora, who is coordinating the talks on behalf of the European Union, has suggested that whether the talks succeed or fail now depends on the Islamic Republic, and said the time had come to complete the negotiations.

“There are no longer ‘expert level talks.’ Nor ‘formal meetings,’” he wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, responding to comments by an Iranian analyst. “It is time, in the next few days, for political decisions to end the #ViennaTalks. The rest is noise.”

Mora’s comments mirrored those of British and French negotiators at the Vienna talks.

Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Enrique Mora speaks to journalists after a meeting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna on December 27, 2021. (ALEX HALADA / AFP)

The comments appeared to push back against a constant Iranian refrain in the last weeks of talks that sought to blame any delay on the US.

On Thursday, a top Iranian official said the US “has no will” to reach an acceptable nuclear agreement, as evidenced by its “unacceptable proposals” in Vienna.

Ali Shamkhani, the chair of Iran’s powerful Supreme National Security Council, wrote on Twitter that the “US approach to Iran’s principled demands, coupled with its unreasonable offers and unjustified pressure to hastily reach an agreement, show that US isn’t interested in a strong deal that would satisfy both parties.

“Absent US political decision, the talks get knottier by the hour,” he said.

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