New Russian Position Tying Iran Talks and Ukraine Sanctions Is 'Not Constructive,' Tehran Says

Iran agrees to a roadmap to resolve all of its issues with the UN nuclear watchdog by late June after the agency's chief says a nuclear deal would not possible without it

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IAEA's Rafael Mariano Grossi (right) speaks with Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian in Tehran, on Saturday.
IAEA's Rafael Mariano Grossi (right) speaks with Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian in Tehran, on Saturday.Credit: /AP

Russia's demand for written U.S. guarantees that sanctions on Moscow would not damage Russian cooperation with Iran is "not constructive" for talks between Tehran and global powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal, a senior Iranian official told Reuters on Saturday.

The announcement by Russia, which could torpedo months of intensive indirect talks between Tehran and Washington in Vienna, came shortly after Tehran said it had agreed a roadmap with the UN nuclear watchdog to resolve outstanding issues which could help secure the nuclear pact.

"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," said the Iranian official in Tehran.

The U.S. State Department said any new sanctions related to the fighting in Ukraine shouldn't have any impact on the potential implementation of a new nuclear deal, stressing that Russia shares a common interest in ensuring Iran never acquires nuclear weapons.

Washington continues to engage Russia on a return to full implementation of the 2015 agreement, the State Department added.

Demanding written U.S. guarantees that Western sanctions imposed on Russia over the conflict in Ukraine would not damage its cooperation with Iran, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the limitations had become a stumbling block for the Iran nuclear deal, warning the West that Russian national interests would have to be taken into account.

Lavrov said the sanctions on Russia over the conflict in Ukraine had created a "problem" from Moscow's perspective.

When asked whether Russia's demand would harm 11 months of talks between Tehran and world powers, including Russia, Iran Project Director at International Crisis Group, Ali Vaez said: "Not yet. But it’s impossible to segregate the two crises for much longer."

"The U.S. can issue waivers for the work related to the transfer of excess fissile material to Russia. But it’s a sign that the commingling of the two issues has started," Vaez said.

Two diplomats, one of them not directly involved in the talks, said China also has demanded written guarantees that its companies doing business in Iran wouldn't be affected by U.S. sanctions.

All parties involved in Vienna talks said on Friday they were close to reaching an agreement.

"We have agreed to provide the IAEA by the end of (the Iranian month of) Khordad (June 21) with documents related to outstanding questions between Tehran and the agency," Iran's nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami told a joint news conference with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi.

Grossi arrived in Tehran late on Friday to discuss one of the last thorny issues blocking revival of the pact, which in return for a lifting of economic sanctions limited Iran's enrichment of uranium, making it harder for Tehran to develop material for nuclear weapons.

"It is important to have this understanding ... to work together, to work very intensively," Grossi told the televised news conference.

"Without resolving these (outstanding) issues, efforts to revive the JCPOA may not be possible."

Iran and the UN nuclear watchdog aim to resolve a standoff over the origin of uranium particles found at old but undeclared sites by early June, they said in a joint statement, aiming to remove an obstacle to reviving the nuclear deal.

According to a timeline in the statement, Iran will provide "written explanations including related supporting documents" to unanswered IAEA questions on three sites by March 20 before other exchanges, after which Grossi "will aim to report his conclusion by the June 2022 (IAEA) Board of Governors", which begins on June 6.

A major sticking point in the talks is that Tehran wants the question of uranium traces found at several old but undeclared sites in Iran to be closed. Western powers say that is a separate matter to the deal, which the IAEA is not a party to, several officials have told Reuters.

Grossi, who also held talks with Iran's foreign minister before returning to Vienna on Saturday, said, "there are still matters that need to be addressed by Iran."

The IAEA has been seeking answers from Iran on how the uranium traces got there – a topic often referred to as "outstanding safeguards issues".

Grossi's trip has raised hopes that an agreement with the IAEA will potentially clear the way for revival of the nuclear pact that was abandoned in 2018 by former U.S. President Donald Trump, who also reimposed far-reaching sanctions on Iran.

Since 2019, Tehran has breached the deal's nuclear limits and gone well beyond, rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium, refining it to higher fissile purity and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up output. Iran denies it has ever sought to acquire nuclear weapons.

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