Accessibility links

Breaking News

Nuclear Talks

EU Envoy's Trip To Tehran On Nuclear Pact 'Better Than Expected,' But U.S. Airs Doubts

High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell in Brussels

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says obstacles to continuing talks between Iran and several global powers to revive a nuclear pact have been removed, making it possible that negotiations could be relaunched soon.

But U.S. officials quickly poured cold water on hopes of imminent progress by saying it was incumbent on Tehran to commit to an agreement.

Speaking on May 13 after EU envoy Enrique Mora returned from Tehran and reported better-than-expected progress to revive the talks after a two-month deadlock, Borrell said Iran's response had been "positive enough."

"It has gone better than expected. The negotiations were stalled, and now they have been reopened," Borrell said as he attended a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized nations in Germany, adding that he sees the prospect of "reaching a final agreement."

Iran has been engaged for a year in negotiations with Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and China directly -- and the United States indirectly -- to revive the deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The pact collapsed in 2018 when former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States and imposed crushing sanctions on Iran.

A revamped deal was reportedly close in March, but the talks in Vienna then abruptly stalled in April with Tehran and Washington blaming each other for failing to take the necessary political decisions to settle remaining issues.

Mora was in Tehran this week in what some described as the last chance to salvage the 2015 accord.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said Mora’s trip had been "an opportunity to focus on initiatives to resolve the remaining issues".

"A good and reliable agreement is within reach if the United States makes a political decision and adheres to its commitments," he said.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson responded by saying the burden was on Tehran to commit to a deal.

"Iran needs to decide whether it insists on extraneous conditions and whether it wants to conclude a deal quickly," the spokesperson said on condition of anonymity. "It's now up to Iran."

In response to a question about Tehran's reported pressure in the negotiations to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps from a U.S. list of designated foreign terrorists, the spokesperson said, "We are not negotiating in public but the bottom line is that there is no deal and no certainty of one."

Other Western diplomats have suggested Washington has signaled little chance it will agree to remove that branch of Iran's security forces from the list anytime soon.

Iran has long denied that it has tried to secretly develop nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes. Since the deal collapsed, however, Tehran has vastly expanded its nuclear work.

With reporting by dpa and Reuters

Iran Confirms Centrifuge Facility Relocated To Underground Site Over Security Concerns

Centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in Iran. (file photo)

Iran has confirmed it relocated a centrifuge facility to its underground Natanz nuclear site, days after the UN atomic watchdog said it had installed surveillance cameras to monitor the new workshop at Tehran's request, Iranian media reported.

The machines, which were moved from Iran’s now-closed Karaj nuclear site, will be used to make centrifuge rotor tubes and bellows, crucial parts for the devices that spin at very high speeds to enrich uranium gas. It raises questions about Iran's plans for the manufacturing of advanced centrifuges.

Iranian state media quoted the spokesman for the country's atomic energy organization, Behrouz Kamalvandi, as saying authorities had moved the operation to a safer place over security concerns.

Iran’s centrifuge facility in Karaj was targeted in what Iran described as a sabotage attack in June. Natanz itself has twice been targeted in sabotage attacks that Iran has blamed on Israel.

Tehran has since been seeking to ensure greater security for such sites.

The sprawling Natanz site includes a commercial-scale enrichment plant that is underground, which could offer some protection from any potential air strikes.

“Unfortunately, because of a terrorist operation that took place against Karaj, we were obliged to intensify security measures under which we moved an important part of the machines and transferred the rest to Natanz and Isfahan,” said Kamalvandi.

Isfahan is the location of another Iranian nuclear facility.

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it had installed cameras and removed seals from machines at the new workshop in Natanz at the request of Iranian authorities.

There is concern that Iran could be closer to being able to construct an atomic weapon if it chose to pursue one.

Iran is now enriching with hundreds of advanced centrifuges, some of them enriching to a purity of up to 60 percent, close to the 90 percent that is weapons-grade. That is far above the 3.67 percent cap imposed by the 2015 deal between Iran and major powers, and the 20 percent it had achieved before the deal.

Iran insists it has no plans to make nuclear weapons.

Talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna to revive the deal have stalled. The deal collapsed four years ago when former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States and imposed crushing sanctions on Iran. In the meantime, Iran has vastly expanded its nuclear work.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

Iran Opens New Centrifuge-Parts Workshop At Natanz, UN Watchdog Says

Iranian state TV shows three versions of domestically built centrifuges on a live program from Natanz in 2018.

A report by the UN's nuclear watchdog says Iran is starting to operate a new workshop at its Natanz nuclear facility that will make parts for uranium-enriching centrifuges with machines recently moved there from its Karaj facility.

"On April 12, the agency completed the installation of the surveillance cameras at this location and then removed the seals from the machines," Reuters quoted the confidential report to member states from the International Atomic Energy Agency as saying, without describing where at Natanz that location was.

"On April 13, Iran informed the agency that the machines would start operating at the new workshop the same day," it added, without saying whether it had verified that the machines had started operating.

The development comes as Iran and several global powers negotiate a revival of the 2015 nuclear accord under which Tehran had significantly limited its sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

The United States withdrew from the accord in 2018 and reimposed tough sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy. Iran has responded by gradually expanding its nuclear work.

Under the administration of President Joe Biden, Washington has expressed an interest in rejoining the agreement if Iran returns to full compliance.

Several rounds of talks over the past year have brought the two sides close to an agreement, though the discussions recently stalled over several remaining issues.

Based on reporting by Reuters

Iranian Lawmakers Set Conditions For Revival Of Nuclear Deal

The Iranian parliament (file photo)

Iranian lawmakers have set their conditions for any revival of the 2015 landmark nuclear agreement, including legal guarantees approved by the U.S. Congress that Washington would not quit it again, Iranian media reported on April 10.

In an open letter to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the lawmakers also said that under a revived pact Washington should not be able to "use pretexts to trigger the snapback mechanism," under which sanctions on Iran would be immediately reinstated.

The lawmakers also said the "sanctions lifted under the reinstated pact should not be reimposed and Iran should not be hit by new sanctions.”

The statement was signed by 250 out of 290 Iranian parliamentarians. A similar letter was issued by Iranian lawmakers in February.

Iran has been engaged for a year in negotiations with Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China directly, and the United States indirectly, to revive the deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

But the talks in Vienna have now stalled as Tehran and Washington blame each other for failing to take the necessary political decisions to settle remaining issues.

The 2015 deal gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program to guarantee that Tehran could not develop a nuclear weapon. Tehran has always denied having any plan to make nuclear weapons.

But the United States unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump and reimposed crippling economic sanctions that prompted Iran to begin rolling back on its own commitments.

Based on reporting by Reuters, irna.ir, and tasnimnews.com

Iran Blames Washington For Delay In Talks But Says Deal 'Within Reach'

Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh

Iran says the United States is to blame for a delay in continuing talks to finalize a nuclear deal with world powers that is "very much within reach."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on April 4 that Tehran "won't wait forever" after several last-minute snags threatened to derail months of efforts to revive the 2015 agreement, which curbed Iran’s sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a briefing on March 22 that the onus is on Tehran "to make decisions that it might consider difficult."

"America is responsible for the halt of these talks ... a deal is very much within reach," Khatibzadeh told a weekly news conference.

The biggest and most complicated stumbling block is reported to be Iran’s demand that the United States drop the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) -- a branch of the Iranian armed forces that plays a significant role in the economy -- from its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs).

Tehran has said that the IRGC’s removal from the blacklist is a “red line.” Washington has not directly commented on the issue, although it said separate U.S. sanctions against the IRGC would remain in place under any agreement.

In the United States, the issue is controversial given that American officials have accused the IRGC of creating instability and supporting militant groups in the region. The IRGC is also in charge of Iran’s controversial missile program.

Iran signed the landmark deal with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China in 2015. It allowed for the easing of sanctions in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear programs.

But then-President Donald Trump in May 2018 pulled the United States out of the deal, saying the terms were not strict enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and also to punish Tehran for alleged support of extremist activity in the region.

Iran has denied it is seeking nuclear weapons, saying the program is for civilian purposes, and it has rejected accusations of support for extremists.

However, after Washington pulled out, Iran has breached limits set in the deal and has insisted the United States lift its sanctions before it returns to the accord.

With reporting by IRNA

 'A Mexican Standoff': Revolutionary Guards' Terrorist Designation Last Major Stumbling Block To Restoring Iran Nuclear Deal

If an agreement is reached, it would mark the culmination of nearly a year of tough negotiations in Vienna between Tehran and Western powers. (file photo)

After months of grueling negotiations, Iran and world powers appeared to be on the threshold of agreeing to restore a landmark 2015 nuclear deal.

But several last-minute snags have threatened to derail efforts to revive the agreement, which curbed Tehran’s sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

The biggest and most complicated stumbling block is Iran’s demand that the United States drop the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) -- a branch of the Iranian armed forces that plays a significant role in the economy -- from its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs).

Tehran has said that the IRGC’s removal from the blacklist is a “red line.” Washington has not directly commented on the issue, although it said separate U.S. sanctions against the IRGC would remain in place under any agreement.

Observers said there could be a tradeoff, although they warned that the sensitivity of the matter could scupper a compromise.

In the United States, the issue is controversial given that American officials have accused the IRGC of creating instability and supporting militant groups in the region. The IRGC is also in charge of Iran’s controversial missile program. Meanwhile, for Tehran, the terrorist designation of the IRGC, a major center of power in the Islamic republic, is unacceptable.

“I think it's more likely than not that Washington and Tehran will find a way around this impasse to revive the JCPOA,” said Henry Rome, a senior analyst at the Eurasia Group in Washington, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name of the nuclear deal. “This will require some creativity and political cost, but I think there's enough incentive on both sides to push through this obstacle.”

“But it's clearly not guaranteed,” Rome told RFE/RL. “The FTO designation has attained a political significance that exceeds its practical implication, which makes compromise particularly challenging.”

'Both Sides Are Prone To Miscalculation'

In 2019, then-U.S. President Donald Trump designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization, marking the first time Washington had officially used that label on a foreign state institution. It came a year after Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and reimposed harsh economic sanctions against Tehran.

Iran responded by gradually expanding its nuclear activities, shortening its so-called breakout period for developing nuclear weapons, a move that triggered alarm in Western capitals.

Despite the high stakes, Iran and the United States have not shown any signs that they will compromise on the IRGC’s blacklisting.

Ali Vaez, the director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group (ICG), compared the situation to “a Mexican standoff.”

“It’s very difficult to find a mutually acceptable formula and this is a situation like a Mexican standoff [in] that each side expects the other to concede because they think the other needs the deal more,” Vaez said during an online panel discussion on March 29. “The reality is that both sides need it and both sides are prone to miscalculation.”

Washington-based news outlet Axios, citing U.S. and Israeli sources, reported on March 16 that Washington was considering removing the IRGC from its terrorist blacklist in return for a “public commitment from Iran to de-escalation in the region.”

Tehran is accused of supporting Yemen’s Huthi rebels, who have been fighting a deadly war against a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally and Tehran’s regional foe. The Huthis have staged cross-border assaults on Saudi Arabia, striking key energy facilities.

Meanwhile, Iranian-backed militias have been accused of launching attacks against U.S. security personnel and bases in Iraq. The U.S. presence in Iraq has long been a flash point for Tehran, but tensions spiked after a January 2020 U.S. drone strike near Baghdad airport killed top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.

The assassination infuriated Iran, which days later launched a ballistic missile attack on a military base housing international troops in Iraq that caused brain concussion injuries to some 100 U.S. troops. Iranian officials have threatened further retaliation, including targeting Trump administration officials.

The State Department on March 12 said it was paying more than $2 million per month to provide 24-hour security to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a former top aide, both of whom it said faced “serious and credible” threats from Iran.

A source close to the U.S. negotiating team in Vienna, the venue of the nuclear talks, told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda this week that one of Washington’s main demands for delisting the IRGC was a commitment by Iran not to target Trump administration officials in retaliation for Soleimani’s killing.

In a written statement to Radio Farda, the State Department said it was “not going to respond to specific claims about what sanctions we would be prepared to lift as part of a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA.”

'The Most Absurd Of Obstacles'

State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on March 30 that several issues remain unresolved in the nuclear talks with Iran, adding that the onus was on Tehran to make those choices.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on March 26 that the IRGC’s terrorist designation was a key stumbling block in the talks. But he suggested some flexibility, saying senior IRGC officials had said that the deal should not be held up over the issue if the accord serves the nation’s interests.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (file photo)
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (file photo)

Amir-Abdollahian, however, later said on Instagram that “red lines” should not be crossed. He quoted Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the late founder of the Islamic republic, who was quoted as saying, “I, too, am a revolutionary guard."

Vaez told RFE/RL that the FTO designation, which was seen as largely symbolic, has not “done anything to curtail the IRGC's influence.” In fact, he said, it had made the IRGC even “more brazen.”

“This is the most absurd of obstacles to restoring the nuclear deal,” Vaez added. “Keeping the FTO designation doesn't help the U.S. Lifting it won't help Iran.”

Before its terrorist designation, the IRGC had already been the target of numerous U.S. sanctions over its involvement in Iran’s missile program, its alleged human rights abuses and interference in Iranian elections, and its support for militant groups in the Middle East region.

Even amid the ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna, Washington has continued to target the IRGC and its affiliates with new sanctions.

On March 30, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against "an Iran-based procurement agent and his network of companies that procured ballistic missile propellant-related materials" for the IRGC.

RFE/RL Radio Farda correspondent Reza Haghighatnejad contributed to this report.

At Israeli Talks, Blinken Says U.S., Allies 'See Eye To Eye' On Iran Nuclear Issue

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid leave after a news conference at Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on March 27.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has joined his counterparts from Israel and four Persian Gulf countries for talks in Jerusalem expected to center on continuing Iranian nuclear negotiations after assuring U.S. allies that they and Washington "see eye to eye."

Host Israel has publicly opposed the 2015 deal between Iran and world powers to grant sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on Iran's nuclear program.

But the Biden administration continues talks to revive the agreement, which was abandoned by Washington in 2018.

"When it comes to the most important element, we see eye to eye," Blinken told a news conference alongside Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. "We are both committed, both determined that Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon."

Tehran has continually insisted its nuclear program is for civilian energy needs, despite accusations by Israeli, U.S., and UN officials that it hid a covert weapons effort in the past.

EU-mediated indirect negotiations between Tehran and Washington have continued since being restarted late last year, with key snags tempering suggestions that the sides are on the brink of striking a deal.

A senior adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and chief U.S. nuclear negotiator Robert Malley on March 27 sparred in separate statements over whether a deal is "imminent."

EU coordinator Enrique Mora is due in Tehran on March 27 for talks to try to bridge outstanding differences over a new agreement.

Based on reporting by AP

U.S., Iranian Officials Differ Starkly Over Whether Nuclear Deal 'Imminent'

U.S. envoy Robert Malley (file photo)

Officials in Iran and the United States have issued differing assessments of progress on a new deal to exchange sanctions relief for curbs on Iran's nuclear program, with Tehran suggesting a nuclear deal is "imminent" but Washington expressly challenging that view.

The rival public statements on March 27 hinted at disputes in the ongoing negotiations over the U.S.'s blacklisting of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), separation of the nuclear issue from other disagreements, and guarantees that future administrations would respect any deal.

"Yes, it's imminent. It depends on the political view of the United States," Kamal Kharrazi, a senior adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said at the Doha Forum in Qatar.

But the United States' lead negotiator to the talks, Robert Malley, said at the same event that he was not confident that a nuclear deal is imminent. He noted that "we have been close for some time now."

The comments came with the European Union's lead coordinator for the indirect U.S.-Iranian talks, Enrique Mora, due in Tehran to tackle "remaining gaps" to restoring the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and major world powers from 2015.

Then-U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, but current President Joe Biden took office a year ago vowing to revive it.

In Qatar, Kharrazi repeated Tehran's demand that the IRGC should be removed from the U.S. list designating it as a terrorist organization, saying it is "a national army" and as such doesn't belong there.

He said Tehran supported a deal but not at the price of "anything against our independence."

Kharrazi also said Iran would demand a period of time to verify the lifting of sanctions by the United States, and said it sought U.S. guarantees that the deal would last.

Iran has been hit hard by U.S. financial and trade sanctions reimposed under Trump, who withdrew from the deal arguing that the JCPOA failed to adequately address Tehran's alleged nuclear weapons pursuits and other nefarious activities in the region.

Malley responded that the Biden administration cannot make guarantees of what future U.S. administrations might do, and said any nuclear deal and the lifting of related sanctions were not aimed at addressing other issues, including Iran's regional policy and other sanctions.

Malley said that no matter what happens with the nuclear deal, "many sanctions" will remain against the IRGC.

"The IRGC will remain sanctioned under U.S. law and our perception of the IRGC will remain," he said.

Washington will continue to work with countries in the Middle East to reduce tensions, no matter how the nuclear negotiations with Iran turn out, Malley said.

He said any new deal will be more sustainable if a nuclear deal is implemented "faithfully" and builds on other issues for the region.

Parties have signaled for weeks that the negotiations are close to an agreement, but that "political decisions" are required from Tehran and Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also arrived in Israel late on March 26 to kick off a three-country tour of the Middle East and North Africa during which the nuclear deal is expected to figure prominently.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Iranian Foreign Minister Says Nuclear Deal Closer 'Than Ever Before'

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian (file photo)

Iran's foreign minister says an agreement to revive the 2015 nuclear accord that Tehran signed with world powers is closer “than ever before.”

"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," Hossein Amirabdollahian told a news conference during a visit to Damascus on March 23.

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

"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," Amirabdollahian said.

If an agreement is reached, it would mark the culmination of nearly a year of tough negotiations between Tehran and Western powers, although previous statements on both sides have suggested that a deal was imminent only to hit further snags.

An agreement had been close weeks earlier until Moscow demanded guarantees from the United States that sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine would not hurt its trade with Iran.

Inserting a bit of caution, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani said on Twitter following Amirabdollahian’s statement that being "near the finish line is no guarantee to crossing that."

“It requires extra caution, much perseverance, additional creativity, and [a] balanced approach to take the last step. To finish the job, there are certain decisions that our Western interlocutors need to take.”

The comments come a day after the United States said it was up to Iran to make the hard decisions necessary to revive the landmark nuclear deal and ease its sanctions-ravaged economy.

"The onus is on Tehran to make decisions that it might consider difficult," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a briefing on March 22.

Price cautioned, though, that a return to the deal was neither certain nor imminent.

Iran signed the landmark deal with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China in 2015. It allowed for the easing of sanctions in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear programs.

But then-President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in May 2018, saying the terms were not strict enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and also to punish Tehran for its putative support of extremist activity in the region. Trump also reimposed tough financial sanctions against Iran.

Iran has denied it is seeking nuclear weapons, saying the program is for civilian purposes, and it has rejected accusations of support for extremists.

However, after Washington pulled out, Iran has breached limits set in the deal and has insisted that the United States lift its sanctions before it returns to the accord.

Meanwhile, a group of Republican lawmakers in the United States sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to keep Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on the designated list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

Unconfirmed reports stated that the U.S. administration was considering removing the group from the list as part of compromises related to the nuclear talks.

“The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world today,” Representative Scott Franklin of Florida said.

“Through its sponsorship of terrorism, the IRGC is responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people and at least 600 U.S. troops. It has consistently sought the destruction of our partners and allies in the region, most notably Israel, and has been an obstacle to peace in the Middle East for decades.”

“The Biden administration simply cannot reward this terrorist regime with any sort of legitimacy from the U.S. government.”

The United States designated the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization in 2019.

With reporting Reuters, Fox, and RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Will Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine Derail The Iran Nuclear Deal?

Russia's chief envoy to the Iran nuclear talks, Mikhail Ulyanov (file photo)

After nearly a year of painstaking negotiations, Iran and world powers were on the brink of agreeing to restore the landmark 2015 nuclear deal.

But last-minute demands from Russia, one of the parties to the deal, have threatened to derail efforts to revive an agreement that curbed Tehran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

Moscow has demanded guarantees from Washington that Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine will not affect its trade and military cooperation with Tehran.

The United States has described Russia's new demands as "irrelevant." France, another signatory of the original deal, warned they could dash hopes for a revived nuclear accord.

Moscow’ actions have been met with surprise and anger in Tehran. Iran’s foreign minister told lawmakers on March 7, without naming Russia, that Tehran would not let its interests be undermined by “foreign elements.”

WATCH: Russian negotiator Mikhail Ulyanov speaking to reporters in Vienna on March 9:

Experts warn that Russia’s demands could complicate and ultimately scuttle the already fraught negotiations between Iran and world powers.

If the talks collapse, Iran could further advance its sensitive nuclear activities. It could also lead to Western countries further tightening sanctions against Tehran.

Observers say Iran and world powers could sideline Russia from the negotiations, although it is unclear whether Tehran would be willing to risk jeopardizing its relationship with Moscow, an ally.

Iran and world powers have been holding negotiations in Vienna since April 2021, with the United States taking part indirectly. In 2018, then-U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the deal. Tehran responded by gradually exceeding the limits imposed by the pact on its nuclear activities. U.S. President Joe Biden has said he is willing to rejoin the pact if Iran return to full compliance.

'Stabbed In The Back'

Ali Vaez, the director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group, says that by inserting the war in Ukraine into the complicated nuclear negotiations, Russia appears to be determined to upend the talks and take Iran down with it.

He suggested that Russia appears no longer to be interested in reviving the nuclear deal, which would allay Western concerns over Iran’s nuclear activities and allow Tehran to sell its oil. And that could bring global oil prices down.

“Neither Iran's return to the oil market nor the peaceful resolution of a Western security concern in the Middle East benefits the Kremlin,” Vaez told RFE/RL. “The leadership in Tehran is waking up to the reality that you often get stabbed in the back by those you believed to have your back.”

'Tank The Talks'

Analysts say the scope of Russia’s demands will determine whether they complicate or scuttle the negotiations entirely.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on March 5 said that Moscow wanted written guarantees that sanctions ‘‘launched by the U.S. will not in any way harm our right to free, fully fledged trade and economic and investment cooperation and military-technical cooperation with Iran.”

Russia’s new demands coincided with mounting international pressure on Moscow over its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24, a move that has resulted in unprecedented Western sanctions.

The Iranian flag waves in front of the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. “The leadership in Tehran is waking up to the reality that you often get stabbed in the back by those you believed to have your back,” one analyst says.
The Iranian flag waves in front of the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. “The leadership in Tehran is waking up to the reality that you often get stabbed in the back by those you believed to have your back,” one analyst says.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken dismissed Russia’s demands on March 6, saying U.S. sanctions that are “being put in place and that have been put in place on Russia have nothing to do with the Iran nuclear deal.”

“If it is simply exemptions that allow Russia to help Iran meet its nuclear obligations in the deal, that is one thing,” Eric Brewer, a senior director at Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a Washington-based think tank, told RFE/RL.

“But Lavrov's comments suggest Russia is after something much bigger. I don't see the United States giving Russia that type of sanctions relief, even if it endangers a revival of the [nuclear deal],” he added.

Brewer says the United States and Russia have been able to cooperate on shared nonproliferation interests in the past, even when tensions have been high. But he says it is possible that Russia’s recent demands "tank the talks."

'Critical Decision'

Vali Nasr, a professor of international affairs and Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University, says Russia’s demands have forced Iran to make a difficult choice: to stick by Russia and incur the diplomatic and economic costs of the talks collapsing or to ditch Moscow and endanger its ties with an ally.

“Iran would have to decide how important an agreement is to its national interest, and whether it will allow talks it has invested so much in and built its economic and foreign policies around [to] be taken hostage by Russia,” Nasr, who served as a senior adviser to the Obama administration, told RFE/RL. “It will be a critical decision for Tehran.”

Iran and world powers have been holding negotiations in Vienna since April 2021, with the United States taking part indirectly.
Iran and world powers have been holding negotiations in Vienna since April 2021, with the United States taking part indirectly.

Nasr suggested that sidelining Russia was possible.

“The nuclear side of things is in Iran’s hand. The sanctions are in the hands of the U.S. and Europe. Russia's only leverage is to prevent a deal,” Nasr said.

Brewer says the other parties to the deal would have to find ways to replace Russia’s technical role under the deal, including removing excess enriched uranium from Iran.

“Given enough time, you could probably come up with some workarounds for other parties to take Russia's place on these technical areas,” he says. "But it won't be easy, and time is in short supply.

"At a practical level, it would be incredibly challenging to reimplement the deal if Russia, the United States, and Europe are not in alignment on the [nuclear deal] and if Russia is actively trying to play the role of spoiler.”

XS
SM
MD
LG