Iran is about to complete the nuclear deal, but Russia takes relevant measures

BRUSSELS – With negotiators finished with their work to restore the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made a deal both more urgent and more difficult to achieve.

Western governments, intent on punishing Russia for the attack, have said they want to get rid of Russian oil, which has continued to generate revenue for the country even as economic sanctions take effect force.

But to isolate Russia and keep oil flowing, the West will lift restrictions currently in place on Iran’s oil sales as part of a revived nuclear deal and Moscow will only give presents a roadblock that some fear could disrupt any deal.

Even before that, there were still three or four outstanding issues between Iran and the United States that resulted in difficult political decisions for both sides regarding the scope, senior European and US officials said. of the remaining sanctions against Iran.

The deal would severely limit Iran’s nuclear program and allow it to sell oil freely on the world market at a critical time when The war in Ukraine has threatened supplies. But to get there, the Iranians firmly demanded that President Biden lift one of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ counterterrorism designations, senior European officials said.

The corps was declared a “foreign terrorist organization” by the United States in April 2019, nearly a year after President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran deal, and any removal of that designation would be fraught with difficulties. harsh criticism of Congress.

Then on Saturday, Russia added a new complication when its foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, asked the United States to ensure that Western sanctions imposed on Russia over the war did not interfere. Russia’s future trade with Iran.

Mr. Lavrov said he wanted a written guarantee that the ‘sanctions’ ” introduced by the US would not in any way damage our right to economic cooperation and free investment. due, complete and military-technical cooperation with Iran. “

After the call between Mr. Lavrov and his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Russia said a restored nuclear deal must “ensure that all parties have equal rights” to develop “agreement” cooperation in all fields” with Iran.

There was concern that Russia, a signatory to the nuclear deal, might see an opportunity to put a hole in the sanctions on it, and the United States was quick to dismiss its demands.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the sanctions imposed after the invasion “have nothing to do with the Iran nuclear deal.” He said they were “not linked in any way, so I think that’s irrelevant.”

With Iran reportedly just weeks away from being able to enrich enough uranium to make a nuclear bomb – although weaponization will take longer – a revived deal is seen as more important. ever.

Iran has frequently denied that it intends to build a nuclear weapon, but it has enriched uranium to 60%, which is not for civilian use, and has created the uranium metal needed to make bombs.

If an agreement to restore the deal is reached and Iranian oil is returned to the market, it will be an important signal to Moscow that global dependence on Russian energy may be decreasing.

Iran can produce more than two million barrels of oil per day, and if those supplies can reach the market, price gains will be slowed.

But the implementation or re-implementation of any deal will take several months, perhaps until June. First, sanctions need to be lifted and Iran will have to export its excess uranium and then sealing many advanced centrifuges violates the terms of the agreement.

Congress has criticized a new deal. Under legislation passed in 2015, when the original deal was signed, Congress had the power to review any new deal and the Senate minority leader, Kentucky Republican, Mitch McConnell, called for “major hearings”. But even if Congress votes against that, it is doubtful that opponents can muster a two-thirds majority in both houses to overcome the president’s veto.

Negotiators believe they are close enough to completion that there are plans to sign the deal on both Saturday and Sunday. They were adjourned, and key negotiators returned to their capitals.

In a statement on Tuesday, Britain, France and Germany urged completion.

“The window of opportunity is closing,” they said. “We urge all parties to take the necessary decisions to close this agreement now and Russia not to add extraneous conditions to its conclusion. ”

But Russia is now a new unknown, and its intentions are still unclear.

If Russia wants guarantees to limit its obligations under the nuclear deal, officials say, that can be managed. If Russia’s needs are broader and include waivers of Western trade and financial sanctions, The deal can quickly die.

Iran, which wants the deal done and the tough economic sanctions lifted by the United States lifted, has criticized Russia’s new demands. Amir-Abdollahian told Iranian media on Monday that Iran “will not allow any external factors to affect the national interest to lift sanctions”.

Although Russia is a party to the treaty – the United States withdrew in May 2018 and these negotiations aim to bring Washington and Tehran back into compliance with the accord – Moscow’s approval may not be necessary in terms of the treaty. juridical. But China and Iran may not want to go on without that, and Russia remains a member of the committee that oversees compliance.

The new deal expects Russia to take large amounts of highly enriched uranium from Iran beyond the agreement’s limits, and it’s unclear if any other countries are willing to do the same. Britain and France are both signatories and are both nuclear states, so in principle they can get uranium; the important thing is to get it out of Iran.

If eventually, after 11 months of painful negotiations, no deal is reached, European officials fear more instability in the Gulf and a new race among other nations to build weapons. its own kernel.

Arriving in Estonia on Tuesday, Blinken said he did not expect Russia to interfere with progress in Iran nuclear negotiations.

“We continue to work to see if we can get back to compliance with the general agreement with Iran in the deal,” Blinken said. “Russia continues to participate in those efforts. And it has its own interest in ensuring that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon.”

The officials said the negotiated deal did not include further talks on Iran’s missile program, activities in the region or even its nuclear program, which has been targeted. Biden’s original.

There are also separate and very sensitive negotiations going on with Iran about the return of Americans being held there.

The US special envoy to Iran, Robert Malley, has suggested that securing the nuclear treaty is unlikely unless Tehran frees four US citizens, including an Iranian-American father and son, Baquer. and Siamak Namazi, whom Washington says Tehran is holding hostage. But Mr. Malley has always emphasized that people-to-people talks are separate from nuclear negotiations.

Another complication was debunked by an agreement with Iran over the weekend by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael M. Grossi, in a three-month plan to Iran finally answers lingering questions about possible military activities in the past stemming from unexplained particles of uranium found at three old but undeclared sites.

If a deal is ultimately implemented, the plan is for a ministerial meeting of the joint commission on the agreement between the current members – Iran, China, Russia, Great Britain, France, Germany and the European Union.

Mr. Blinken will send a letter confirming the US’s agreement to rejoin the treaty. Mr. Amir-Abdollahian and Josep Borrell Fontelles, Head of Foreign Policy Department of the European Union, will attend in person; others will attend virtual.

It is not clear whether Mr. Lavrov would like to attend in person.

David Sanger contributed reporting in Washington; Lara Jakes in Paris and Farnaz Fassihi in New York.

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