Russia’s envoy in Iran nuclear talks, Mikhail Ulyanov, said Monday that the Ukraine crisis had nothing to do with talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Speculations about a possible US attempt to have Russia convince Iran to accept an interim agreement began three days ago when NBC News reported that Moscow, with the knowledge of the United States has proposed to Tehran a partial deal to accept curbs on its nuclear activities for limited sanctions relief.
The Vienna nuclear talks to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA, that started almost ten months ago have not succeeded and critics see an interim deal as a way for the Biden Administration to salvage its policy of negotiating with Iran to revive the Obama-era agreement. Former president Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, arguing that it will not prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power once its provisions expire in the coming years.
Speculations increased when on January 21 US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the media that American-Russian cooperation in the nuclear talks was an example of how Moscow and Washington can work together on security issues. He said that in a meeting with the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov he urged Moscow to use its influence with Iran to impress upon Tehran a sense of urgency to reach an agreement in Vienna.
This was seen by some observers commenting on Twitter and others in the Iranian media as a linkage with the Ukraine crisis and a sign that Russia was becoming the real mover and coordinator in the Iran nuclear talks.
“Some people in the West and Iran claim that there is a link between Iran and Ukraine in the Russian foreign policy. It has nothing in common with real life,” Ulyanov tweeted on Monday.
A day earlier, Blinken told CBS's Face the Nation that the Iran talks have no bearing on US positions regarding Russian threats to Ukraine.
However, some Republicans in Congress saw the reports about Russia proposing an interim deal and Blinken’s statement as a sign that a secret deal is being shaped with Russia on Iran and the Biden Administration is keeping lawmakers in the dark.
"Russia sent a secret agreement to Iran," Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas), lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Washington Free Beacon on Friday. "Russia is trying to take the lead now in the negotiations with Iran. This is a secret agreement. We haven’t seen it."
Congressional Republicans have been complaining that the Biden Administration is ignoring their requests for information on the Iran talks. More than 100 Republican wrote President Joe Biden earlier this month to end the negotiations, which have not succeeded but have provided time to Iran to advance its nuclear program.
"Reports that the Biden administration is working with the Russians on a secret nuclear agreement with Iran are doubly concerning," Rep. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee told the Free Beacon.
"First, they create a conflict of interest with Russia as we are trying to prevent an invasion of Ukraine. Second, preemptive sanctions relief, and failure to transmit an interim agreement to Congress, would violate the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. The administration needs to end their simultaneous surrender to Russia and Iran before it's too late," Rep. Elise Stefanik (R., N.Y.), chair of the House Republican Conference was quoted as saying.