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Russia obstructs Iran nuclear deal as Kremlin frets over its oil revenues – POLITICO

VIENNA – Moscow is making last-minute demands that could derail an international nuclear deal with Iran – and the timing may not be coincidental as the Kremlin worries about growing threats to its critical oil revenues following its invasion of Ukraine.

Hopes were high that international negotiators from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany and the EU could reach an agreement with Tehran on Saturday to tightly limit Iran’s nuclear work in exchange for sanctions relief for the Islamic Republic.

Such a deal would return significant amounts of Iranian crude to global energy markets in the coming months, and it could spell trouble for Russian President Vladimir Putin. The return of Iranian supplies would help offset market turmoil and price spikes if the West tightened its sanctions against Moscow over the war in Ukraine and banned the sale of Russian crude.

Oil sales are vital to Russia’s budget. Although Western countries have not yet directly targeted oil and gas, they have agreed to do so, and many oil traders have already begun to impose an effective embargo.

At Iran talks, Russia is demanding guarantees from the US that sanctions against the Kremlin over its invasion of Ukraine would not hamper its trade with Iran.

This new demand, which a senior Western official described as a potential “trap,” could upend negotiations aiming to secure a return to a 2015 deal on Iran’s nuclear works. It created another twist in a long-running saga that has seen the nuclear talks nearly fall apart time and time again.

Russia would play a key role in implementing a renewed Iran deal, which negotiators say they are close to achieving after 11 months of talks. Among other things, Moscow is planning to ship excess enriched uranium from Iran to Russia and to support the conversion of Iran’s Fordo nuclear power plant into a research facility.

But as the international community moves to sever ties with Russia economically after its attack on Ukraine, Moscow says it wants assurances that it can continue to benefit from a revived Iran deal. “We have asked for a written guarantee…that the current process, initiated by the United States, will in no way affect our right to free and unrestricted trade, economic and investment cooperation, and military-technical cooperation with the Islamic Republic,” he said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Saturday.

key role

The question is whether Moscow is actually demanding protection from sanctions to fulfill its key role in implementing a restored nuclear deal, or if it is a ruse to demand broader sanctions lifting, officials said. Western officials still seemed to be struggling to understand which of the two scenarios was at play.

“If they expand the scope of sanctions exemptions, we get a political issue, not a technical one, and that could be deadly for the deal,” the senior official said.

Another senior Western official said that if Russia’s demands went beyond waiving sanctions to fulfill its role in implementing a restored nuclear deal, they could potentially “hold the entire deal hostage and jeopardize their relationship with China.” Beijing is already importing significant amounts of Iranian oil and will do so even more under a restored nuclear deal.

The US State Department said the sanctions on Ukraine were “unrelated” to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the Iran deal is formally called. “The new Russia-related sanctions are unrelated to the JCPOA and should not affect its potential implementation,” a US State Department spokesman said. “We continue to work with Russia on a return to full implementation of the JCPOA. Russia has a common interest in ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. ”

The threat of further sanctions related to Ukraine is already having an impact on Russian oil revenues. Almost three quarters of Russians Crude Oil Trading has frozen after the invasion of Ukraine, Bloomberg reported, citing adviser Energy Aspects. Russia exported about 5 million barrels a day, which is about 5 percent of global consumption, it said. Iran, on the other hand, has ambitions to deliver well over 2 million barrels a day.

“It’s hard to say whether this is a technical hiccup or a political linchpin,” said Ali Vaez, Iran Project Director at the International Crisis Group. “The collapse of the JCPOA is not in Russia’s interest in the medium to long term, although in the short term it could help keep global energy prices high to put pressure on the West,” Vaez said.

“Once the nuclear negotiations in Vienna are completed, we can reach our maximum oil production capacity in less than a month or two,” Iran’s Oil Minister Javad Owji said on Thursday, according to a Reuters report, citing SHANA, the ministry’s official oil news agency. Iran produced an average of 2.4 million barrels per day in 2021 and plans to increase that to 3.8 million barrels when restrictions are lifted.

Europe and the US began to worry about rising oil prices as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Iran analyst Henry Rome of Eurasia Group argues that “the war is putting strong pressure on Western policymakers to forge a deal that will bring more Iranian oil to market to mitigate high oil prices and potential further sanctions and disruptions.” . The calculation is that a revived Iran deal could help stabilize the energy market, analysts say.

In recent days, Western officials said negotiators were within reach of an agreement, insisting only a few outstanding issues needed to be resolved. Outstanding questions include the scope of sanctions relief, including Iran’s request to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from Washington’s terror sanctions list.

“We are very close to an agreement,” Britain’s chief negotiator Stephanie Al-Qaq said on Twitter before heading to London for what appeared to be final consultations. “Now we have to take a few final steps.”

meeting postponed

Negotiations were so advanced that preparations to finalize the deal were visible even outside the Palais Coburg, the main venue of the talks in Vienna. Police have started putting up additional barricades around the luxury hotel in preparation for a meeting of ministers from Russia, China, Iran, Britain, Germany and France. Invitations were even sent out more than a week ago in anticipation of formal adoption of a restored ministerial deal; This meeting is now postponed.

Western negotiators have warned in recent months that Iran is only weeks away from having enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon. They argued that time was running out for a successful conclusion to the talks, as Iran’s nuclear advances would undermine the JCPOA’s foundations.

Underscoring this point, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in its latest confidential quarterly report, distributed to member states on March 3 and seen by POLITICO, that Iran has doubled its amount of 60 percent enriched material. That was “a hair’s breadth” away from weapon quality, Eurasia Group’s Rome wrote in a note.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine also featured prominently in the final days of negotiations, with officials stressing the need to seal the deal quickly as they began to grapple with the aftermath of that aggression on European territory.

While diplomats have been able to shield sensitive talks from global developments over the past 11 months, the recent level of Russian aggression in Ukraine has complicated the close cooperation between Russia’s chief negotiator Mikhail Ulyanov and US special envoy to Iran Robert Malley by the hour .

Meanwhile, Iran agreed to provide the IAEA with documents that answer questions about its past nuclear weapons program and potentially remove a major hurdle to restoring the nuclear deal. The agreement was reached on Saturday during a visit by IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi to Tehran.

in one Joint StatementGrossi and Iran’s nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami said they agreed to “accelerate and strengthen their cooperation and dialogue to resolve the issues,” aiming to complete the investigation by June, when Grossi will report to the IAEA Board of Governors.

Iran had demanded that the probe into its past nuclear weapons program be dropped once and for all as a condition for Tehran returning to the 2015 nuclear deal. The UN nuclear regulator’s investigation is looking into the origin of decades-old traces of uranium found by IAEA inspectors in Iran at several undeclared sites in 2019 and 2020.

After returning from Tehran on Saturday night, Grossi told reporters at Vienna airport that “there is no artificial deadline, there is no predefined outcome,” stressing that the IAEA will continue to press Iran on these issues beyond the June deadline Tehran’s answers are inconclusive.

The IAEA has believed for some time that the undeclared sites may have been active in the early 2000s, and insisted it needs credible answers from Iran on the origin of the traces. The tracks were found by inspectors at the scene after the IAEA reviewed intelligence footage stolen by Israeli Mossad agents in a high-risk operation in Iran in 2018.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was originally agreed in Vienna in 2015 by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the USA, Great Britain, France, Russia and China – and Germany. The European Union acted as mediator and coordinator of the talks.

Former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the agreement in 2018 and re-imposed nuclear-related sanctions, as well as new sanctions linked to terrorism and human rights abuses. In response, Iran began gradually expanding its nuclear program beyond the limits of the JCPOA. Iran insists that its nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

Nahal Toosi contributed to the coverage.

https://www.politico.eu/article/russia-obstructs-iran-nuclear-deal-as-the-kremlin-frets-over-oil-income/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication Russia obstructs Iran nuclear deal as Kremlin frets over its oil revenues - POLITICO

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