Russian envoy to Iran nuclear talks, Mikhail Ulyanov on December 30, 2021

Russian envoy to Iran nuclear talks, Mikhail Ulyanov on December 30, 2021

Korean Diplomat In Vienna As Russia Holds The Ring In Iran Nuclear Talks


Seeking progress in reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, a senior South Korean diplomat has met representatives of world powers in Vienna.

As a major past buyer of Iranian oil, Seoul holds around $7 billion in payments owed to Iran for purchases made before the United States imposed sanctions on Tehran’s international banking transactions. Washington began its ‘maximum pressure’ in 2018 as it left the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The South Korean foreign ministry said Thursday that Choi Jong-kun, first vice foreign minister, had called for “positive progress” with talks at "a critical juncture.” In meetings with – among others – Robert Malley, US special envoy for Iran, and Enrique Mora, the senior European Union official chairing formal talks in Vienna, Choi had “reaffirmed that our government will continue diplomatic efforts for progress…[and] actively play any role that it can possibly play.”

While two Korean banks hold money owed Iran for oil sales before ‘maximum pressure’ kicked in, the resulting stand-off with Tehran has disrupted previously lucrative bilateral trade, with Tehran restricting imports of Korean consumer durables.

Ulyanov tweeting photos

With both US spokesman Ned Price Tuesday and chief Iranian negotiator Ali Bagheri-Kani Wednesday intimating talks were progressing, Russia’s lead negotiator in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov tweeted Wednesday a photo showing remaining JCPOA participants, without Iran, meeting the US delegation.

As the US left the JCPOA in 2018, formal talks involve remaining signatories – China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, and the United Kingdom – with Washington taking part only indirectly. Sticking to JCPOA structures and to its insistence that the US as the party leaving the agreement should mend its ways before re-joining, Tehran refuses face-to-face meetings with Washington.

Ulyanov tweeted that the process was moving “slowly but steadily.” The Russian negotiator, who is Moscow’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, seems to have taken on a greater liaison role with tensions rising, at least in public, between Iran and the ‘E3’ of France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

“Regular meetings of JCPOA participants (without Iran) and the US after 6pm provide a good opportunity to take stock of the latest developments in the course of the Vienna talks,” Ulyanov tweeted.

The Russian envoy also noted that any deadlines for the talks were fluid, apparently distancing himself from European pronouncements that time is running out due to Iran’s continuing expansion its atomic program under steps began in 2019 beyond JCPOA limits.

‘European spies’

In Washington this week, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Tehran had squandered trust and that limited time remained to save the JCPOA. After transatlantic tensions during the administration of Donald Trump (2016-20), Europe has sought a more positive relationship with President Joe Biden.

Baerbock tweeted Wednesday a picture with Antony Biden, US Secretary of State, with a message that there was “no alternative to dialogue” and that the two sides had agreed to “collaborate closely” over Russia, presumably a reference to tensions over Ukraine rather than to the Vienna talks.

The latest Iranian broadside aimed at the Europeans came from Mahmoud Abbaszadeh Meshkini, spokesman of parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, in an interview with the official news agency IRNA published Thursday.

Meshkini said that with Vienna talks reaching “the content of the proposals” Iranian negotiators would not be deterred by “European spies” or by talk of deadlines.

Meshkini suggested discussions were continuing on proposals put forward by Iran and by others. The Vienna talks, which began back in April, have struggled to agree which US sanctions breach the JCPOA and exactly how Iran’s nuclear program, expanded and refined since 2019, could be brought back within JCPOA limits.

Albert Camus
Media Review (View of the Day)

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