US won’t negotiate Ukraine-related sanctions with Russia to salvage Iran nuclear deal


The United States will not negotiate Ukraine-related sanctions exemptions against Russia to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and will instead attempt to strike an alternative deal that excludes Russia if the Kremlin does not back down not in front of last-minute requests, said a high-ranking state. said a department official.

With one of President Biden’s key foreign policy goals in jeopardy, the senior US official says Moscow has a week to withdraw its demand for written guarantees exempting Russia from any Ukraine-related sanctions that would limit future trade of Moscow with Iran. Such guarantees could undermine the range of punitive sanctions imposed by the West on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

“I don’t see the possibility of going beyond what is within the limits of the JCPOA,” the senior US official said, referring to the 2015 nuclear deal officially known as the Action Plan. overall joint. “I think it’s pretty safe to say there’s no room to make exemptions beyond these.”

Former President Donald Trump walked out of the deal in 2018 and reimposed sweeping sanctions, saying the deal had failed to stop Iran’s path to nuclear weaponry. In response, Iran expanded its nuclear work, violating most of the agreement’s limits.

The official said a deal between Iran and the United States was ‘within reach’, saying only a few issues were delaying a deal when talks in Vienna broke down on Friday due to Russia’s demand . The official called Russia’s demands “the most serious stumbling block and obstacle to reaching an agreement”.

European officials said Russia promised to respond with its specific demands for guarantees in the coming days. The US official said that if Russia insisted on its demands for guarantees or did not respond “in the coming week”, Washington should “very quickly consider an alternative path”.

Earlier this month, as Western diplomats sought to wrap up the talks, Russia sought guarantees that its work under the JCPOA would be exempt from Western sanctions against Ukraine. The United States had granted sanctions waivers for the 2015 agreement.

However, after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that Moscow wanted much broader guarantees, its chief negotiator in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, presented a second document to European negotiators on Tuesday aimed at protecting all future trade and investment against Ukraine-related sanctions.

It could not be determined whether Iran would be willing to negotiate an alternative deal without Russia, or whether China, which has moved closer to Russia, would participate. European officials also said on Friday they would be open to exploring an alternative deal with Iran without Russia.

Mr Ulyanov said on Friday that his country’s demands were not the only reason an agreement on reviving the nuclear deal had not been reached. Since the negotiations were not over, it was his country’s right to raise its concerns, he said.

Hurry up. US and European officials say Iran’s nuclear work has expanded to such an extent that the deal’s main benefit for the West – preventing Iran from hoarding enough nuclear fuel for months to a nuclear weapon – would be impossible. Iran is currently only weeks away from this so-called breaking point.

In a video message, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced what he said was the kidnapping by Russian forces of the mayor of the southern city of Melitopol. On Saturday, a new series of Russian airstrikes hit the outskirts of Kiev. Photo: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images

The United States is also on the hunt for new oil supplies during the war in Ukraine as it seeks to contain soaring energy prices. Iran could potentially provide up to a million barrels a day of new crude supplies if sanctions are lifted.

One option for the United States and its partners would be to create an interim agreement that could freeze some of Iran’s activities and cancel certain aspects of its nuclear program in exchange for some level of sanctions relief from the United States. Iran has always rejected the idea of ​​an interim agreement. OK.

Another option would be to create what the senior US official called a “replica JCPOA”, without Russia, which would assign Moscow’s tasks elsewhere in the deal.

“I think we would be open to various alternatives. We are starting to think about what it could be,” the official said. “We… at this point, are not ruling anything out.”

To further complicate any attempt to overhaul a deal with Iran: Tehran has refused to let its negotiators speak directly to the United States until Washington lifts its sanctions. Regional tensions with Iran are rising again after a missile strike early Sunday that US officials say originated in Iran and landed near a US consulate under construction in northern Iraq.

Any new deal would also trigger US legislation giving Congress time to conduct a thorough review of the deal.

The talks in Vienna, which have been dragging on for nearly a year, aim to agree on steps the United States and Iran would take to bring themselves back into compliance with the nuclear deal. If Russia’s demands can be resolved, negotiators said they could be back in Vienna within days to complete the talks.

Iran avoided calling Russia and continued to blame Washington for the failed talks. However, there have been signs of irritation from Iranian officials, who have said they will not let external factors hamper their interests.

The senior US official declined to say whether a deal would have been reached so far without Russian intervention. Among the questions still on the table is whether Iran’s Revolutionary Guards would have their list of foreign terrorist organizations removed and what conditions there might be, according to Western diplomats.

Write to Laurence Norman at laurence.norman@wsj.com

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