Iran nuclear negotiations threatened by Russian war
Head of delegation in Tehran for consultations. Pressure is growing for a breakthrough, perhaps a positive one, in the negotiations. EU says the ball is in the Islamic Republic's court, which must decide whether to finalise it. In the background is the invasion of Ukraine and Moscow's attempt to put the issue of sanctions on the balance of agreements.
Tehran (AsiaNews) - The shadow of Russia's war on Ukraine hovers over negotiations for the restoration of the Iranian nuclear agreement, as do the repercussions of the conflict on the international chessboard, be it military or economic. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has already affected the prices of wheat, fuel and metals, to name but a few.
The head of the Iranian delegation to the nuclear talks with the world powers returned home late last night. Negotiations to revive the 2015 agreement (Jcpoa), which was defeated by Trump three years later, have been underway in Vienna for weeks. A sudden and unplanned trip, a sign that something is moving under the table and an indication of growing pressure for a - perhaps positive - end to the negotiations.
According to Iran's official Irna news agency, Ali Bagheri Kani's return is to be included "in the list of normal consultations" with the Islamic Republic's leadership "during the talks". However, the European Union's counterpart seems to be making it clear that the ball is now in Iran's court and it will be up to Tehran to decide whether the talks will be a failure or can be closed successfully. In a message on Twitter, Enrique Mora said that "expert-level" or "formal" meetings are no longer on the calendar because "it is time, in the coming days, for decisions to put an end to the Vienna talks".
The 2015 nuclear deal put Iran's advanced centrifuge depots under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) oversight, keeping the enrichment threshold at 3.67% purity, and stockpiles at just 300 kg of uranium. After the Trump administration cancelled the agreement, Iranian scientists have resumed production, exceeding the thresholds previously set: according to the Aiea, on 19 February stocks of enriched uranium amounted to 3,200 kg, the degree of purity has reached 60% and only a few small steps are missing to reach the fateful threshold of 90% for the production of atomic weapons.
The West's aim is to reduce Tehran's nuclear programme to a smaller and more marginal scale, in exchange for an easing of sanctions and economic support. This is despite the fact that some nations, with Israel in the forefront, consider Iran a constant threat. In recent weeks, Islamic Republic negotiators have blamed the United States for the stalemate in the talks, although the US has not sat at the table since Trump's withdrawal from the agreement. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said over the weekend that "we are close" to the agreement, although there are "a couple of issues" that remain open and important to resolve.
One of these is Moscow's request, which is part of the negotiations but in a head-on collision with the Western bloc over the invasion of Ukraine, put forward by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to provide guarantees that Moscow can continue to trade with Tehran. And without further economic sanctions being imposed on the products and goods traded. After speaking on the phone with his Russian counterpart, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian stressed that "we are against war and the imposition of sanctions, and it is clear that cooperation between Iran and any country, including Russia, should not be affected by a [hostile] climate of sanctions".
The secretary of Iran's powerful Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, has announced "creative ways" - though without going into detail - that will allow Iran and Russia to find a "solution" so they can trade despite sanctiions.
The value of the agreement is also underlined by Blinken himself, according to whom the US withdrawal "was one of the worst mistakes made in recent years". And, he continues, "if it can be restored" in an "effective" way, it is "in our interest to do so". A
While Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz has said he believes a signing is expected "within days", but this will not affect the policy of the Jewish State, which will continue to act in its own interests "regardless of whether [an agreement] exists or not".