Russia is demanding written guarantees from Washington that US sanctions imposed on the country will not affect its ability to trade with Iran, a move that threatens to complicate efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
Moscow made the demand as Western officials said they were close to a deal with Iran that would bring the US back into the deal Tehran has signed with world powers. This would mean that the Islamic Republic would limit its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions being lifted.
Russia, which signed the deal alongside Britain, France, Germany and China, was involved in negotiations in Vienna to salvage the deal.
Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, told reporters on Saturday that Moscow wants the US to guarantee that sanctions against Russia “do not interfere with our right to free and unrestricted trade, economic and investment cooperation, and military-technical cooperation with the Islamic Republic.”
“It would have been all right, but the avalanche of aggressive sanctions that has erupted from the West . . . require additional understanding,” he was quoted as saying by Russia’s Interfax news agency. “We need guarantees that these sanctions will not affect the regime of trade, economic and investment relations that are embedded within [nuclear deal].”
The US, EU and UK have imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia since its invasion of Ukraine, including those aimed at freezing President Vladimir Putin and Lavrov’s assets.
Iran transferred enriched uranium and heavy water to Russia after signing the 2015 nuclear deal and would have to reduce its stockpiles again if a new deal were sealed.
Ali Vaez, an Iran expert at the Crisis Group think tank, said Moscow’s demands are a “sign that the two issues are being mixed up [the Russian invasion and the Iran talks] has started”. He added that the US could issue exemptions for works related to the transfer of surplus fissile material to Russia.
Iran has ramped up its nuclear activities since then-US President Donald Trump’s decision in 2018 to unilaterally withdraw from the deal and impose crippling sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
President Joe Biden’s administration has pledged to rejoin the deal and lift many sanctions if Tehran goes back to the original deal. She has held indirect talks with Iranian negotiators mediated by the EU in Vienna.
Western officials said this week they were close to reaching an agreement but warned there were still outstanding issues that needed to be resolved.
Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, discussed with Iranian officials in Tehran one of the issues delaying the talks – a dispute over a stalled investigation by the UN’s nuclear regulator into traces of uranium found at old undeclared sites.
In a joint statement, Grossi and Mohammad Eslami, the head of Iran’s nuclear agency, said Tehran would give the UN nuclear watchdog until April 20.
Grossi will then report his conclusions by June, the statement said.
They added that they had agreed to “speed up and strengthen their cooperation and dialogue to resolve the issues.”
Before his trip to Tehran, Grossi warned that “people cannot foresee a return” to the nuclear deal if there are unresolved issues with the IAEA.
Other key sticking points include Tehran’s demands that the Biden government provide guarantees that no future US president will be able to unilaterally abandon the deal again.
Diplomats and analysts have said it is virtually impossible for Biden to offer the guarantees Tehran is seeking, but negotiators have been working on some form of assurances. There is also disagreement over which US sanctions would be lifted if Iran agrees to limit its nuclear activities.
Tehran wants all Trump-era sanctions lifted, including those related to alleged human rights abuses and terrorism allegations, not just economic measures.
Trump imposed sanctions on dozens of top Iranian officials, including President Ebrahim Raisi before he came to power last year and the office of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader. He also labeled the elite Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization.