Iran's Top Diplomat Says Nuclear Deal 'Closer Than Ever' During Syria Visit

Amir-Abdollahian is in Damascus a day after Israel-UAE-Egypt summit to discuss the Russia-Ukraine war and latest developments in Iran’s negotiations to restore nuke deal

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Syria's Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad talks with Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian as he arrives in Damascus, Syria on Wednesday
Syria's Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad talks with Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian as he arrives in Damascus, Syria on WednesdayCredit: FIRAS MAKDESI/ Reuters

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Wednesday that the Islamic Republic and world powers are closer than ever to reviving a 2015 nuclear deal.

"If the U.S. acts pragmatically, we are ready to have foreign ministers of countries belonging to the nuclear deal's joint commission gather in Vienna to finalize the agreement," Amir-Abdollahian said during a press conference in Damascus alongside his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad.

"We believe that today we are closer to an agreement in Vienna than ever before."

Following 11 months of negotiations, Iran and the United States are now saying that the ball is in the other's court to revive the accord, which would curb Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for lifting tough sanctions on Iran's economy.

On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department said a return to the deal was neither certain nor imminent.

The talks were close to agreement until Russia demanded guarantees from the United States that sanctions imposed on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine would not hurt its trade with Iran.

"We have given our latest proposals to the U.S. through the European Union's Coordinator to reach a final deal. We reminded the Americans that we will not cross our red lines," Amir-Abdollahian said on Wednesday.

The foreign minister also said that Tehran welcomes new talks between Syria and certain Arab countries.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad travelled to the United Arab Emirates last week, his first visit to an Arab state since the Syrian war began in 2011, underlining warming ties with a U.S.-allied country that once backed rebels who sought his removal.

The foreign ministers of Iran and Syria, two allies of Russia, were discussing the ongoing war in Ukraine and other developments during their meeting in Damascus.

Iran is a strong ally of President Bashar Assad and has sent thousands of Iran-backed fighters from around the region to bolster Syrian government forces against opponents in the 11-year Syrian conflict. Russia has also supported Assad militarily, turning the tide of the war in his favor. The Syria war has killed nearly half a million people and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million.

Mekdad spoke to reporters at Damascus airport shortly after his Iranian counterpart arrived for talks with top Syrian officials. “We will discuss the huge developments today after Russia’s military operation in Ukraine,” Mekdad said. “We will discuss what is behind that, and we will discuss our mutual stances toward these developments.”

The visit comes a day after a summit meeting between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Egyptian President Abdel Fateh al-Sissi and the Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, which focused on the nuclear talks being held in Vienna.

Amir-Abdollahian said in Farsi that strategic relations between Iran and Syria are at their best. He later made a rare comment in Arabic, saying: “We are in the same trench, and we support Syria’s leadership, government and people.”

Like Iran, Russia a strong ally of Syria and joined the war in 2015, which helped Assad’s forces regain control of much of the country. Russia has hundreds of troops deployed in Syria and an air base on the Mediterranean coast.

Nuclear negotiations nearly reached completion earlier this month before Moscow demanded that its trade with Iran be exempted from Western sanctions over Ukraine, throwing the process into disarray. Negotiators have yet to reconvene in the Austrian capital, and its unclear exactly what hurdles lie ahead.

Amir-Abdollahian’s visit also comes two weeks after two members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard were killed in an Israeli strike near the capital Damascus.

Days later Iran claimed responsibility for a missile barrage that struck near a sprawling U.S. consulate complex in northern Iraq, saying it was retaliation for repeated Israeli strikes in Syria. The Revolutionary Guard said it fired off 12 cruise missiles at what it described as a “strategic center” of the Israeli spy agency Mossad, a claim denied by Iraqi officials.

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