Monday, 23 May, 2022

Iran nuclear talks paused after Russian demands

VIENNA: The EU announced a pause Friday in the talks it is chairing on the revival of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, days after fresh Russian demands complicated negotiations which had appeared close to completion.

The EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted that the pause was "due to external factors," despite the fact that "a final text is essentially ready and on the table", reports AFP.

The current round of negotiations started in late November in the Austrian capital Vienna between Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran and Russia, with the US taking part indirectly.

They had progressed most of the way toward their aim -- the revival of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which began unravelling when former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.

The EU diplomat who has been personally chairing the talks, Enrique Mora, told reporters that delegations had got to the point of "negotiating footnotes".

He praised in particular the United States and Iran for to their "very constructive, very positive approach". However, last week Russia said it was demanding guarantees that the Western sanctions imposed on its economy following its invasion of Ukraine would not affect its trade with Iran.

As with the original JCPOA in 2015, Moscow had been expected to play a role in the implementation of any fresh deal, for example by receiving shipments of enriched uranium from Iran.

After he withdrew from the JCPOA, Trump went on to reimpose swingeing sanctions on the Iranian economy, including on its vital oil sector.

That prompted Iran to start disregarding the curbs laid down in the deal on its nuclear activity, including its stockpile of enriched uranium -- now at more than 15 times the limit specified in the deal.

The JCPOA's aim was to ensure Iran would not be able to develop a nuclear weapon, which it has always denied seeking.

"Russia's gambit may be to delay the revival of the deal in order to avoid a flood of Iranian oil on the market" and the subsequent fall in prices, Clement Therme, Iran specialist at France's Paul Valery University told AFP.

"In keeping prices high, the Kremlin can use energy as a weapon against the West," he added.

As for Iran itself, "the Islamic Republic isn't in a position to counter the Russian strategy," Therme said.

"Moscow is making use of Iran's weakness."

Tehran itself has blamed the US for "creating challenges" in the final stage of the talks.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Friday the pause in talks could create "momentum for resolving any remaining issue".

"No external factor will affect our joint will to go forward for a collective agreement," he said in a tweet.

Russia's ambassador to the UN in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, told reporters outside the talks venue that he rejected "attempts to put all the blame on the Russian Federation".

"The conclusion of the deal does not depend on Russia only," he said, saying that other parties to the talks "need additional time".

Borrell said on Friday that he would "continue to be in touch with all #JCPOA participants and the US to overcome the current situation and to close the agreement".

Mora said he hoped to see the talks resume "very, very soon".