Foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh during his press conference. March 7, 2022

Foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh during his press conference on Monday

Iran Walking Tightrope After Russian Demand Of Sanctions Exemption


Iran’s foreign ministry said Monday that Tehran is awaiting clarification from Moscow over its demand to be exempted from Ukraine sanctions in its dealing with Iran.

"We have seen and heard about [Russian Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov's comments in the media. We are awaiting to hear its details through diplomatic channels," the ministry’s spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said at his weekly press conference.

The comment showed that Tehran is in an uncomfortable position with its close ally making demands from the United States amid nuclear talks crucial for Iran, apparently without coordination.

Three days have passed since Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that international sanctions related to Ukraine had created "problems from the point of view of Russia's interests" regarding the restoration of the 2015 deal, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and that sanctions on Russia could complicate Moscow's involvement in Tehran's civilian nuclear program as well as arms sales to Iran.

Khatibzadeh made the comment when asked by a reporter if Lavrov's demands did not mean taking the Iran nuclear talks hostage to its own interests. Iran’s Tasim news agency in its report mentioned the loaded question, a rare practice for government-run media when an issue relates to an ally.

This was Tehran's first official reaction to Lavrov's controversial remarks which some say amounts to ruining prospects of a deal to restore the JCPOA in the coming days by pulling out of the talks. "We haven't heard about Russia's intention to withdraw from the JCPOA, this is only media speculation," Khatibzadeh said and insisted that Russia should raise any concerns it may have "within the Vienna talks".

He said Russia's concerns over Ukraine sanctions are "understandable" but appeared to be suggesting that in regard to Iran and the restoration of the JCPOA, Russia could demand exemption from US sanctions only in connection with its nuclear cooperation with Iran withing the JCPOA framework.

"Vienna participants act and react based on [their own] interests and it's understandable," Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said in a tweet Monday. "Our interactions with 4+1 are also solely driven by our people's interests. Thus, we're assessing new elements that bear on the negotiations and will accordingly seek creative ways to expedite a solution," he added.

Khatibzadeh also insisted that the process in Vienna continues "along its own path". "It's clear that Iran's peaceful nuclear cooperation with other countries, including Iran's peaceful cooperation with Russia and China, should not be restricted or affected by any sanctions. We understand [Lavrov's] remarks within the same context," Khatibzadeh told reporters.

"The path of Vienna [talks] is very clear… In the past few months, we have made every effort for the dossier to proceed with a meaningful distance from other international dossiers," he said. "We are in difficult negotiations. We have seen different reactions from different actors on different days. We are not alarmed by the positions of countries [involved in the talks], whether some stances announced by [some] countries in the past or what we are hearing these days," he added.

khatibzadeh also said that Russia's approach towards reaching an agreement in Vienna has been constructive "so far" and reiterated that Iran is awaiting to hear further details from the Russian side in Vienna, "if there is any".

The Iranian delegation's media advisor, Mohammad Marandi, told Al Jazeera on Sunday that Iran is "waiting for verification from Russians" about their demands from the US because "it's not quite clear exactly what the Russians mean".

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday dismissed Russian demands of guarantees that Ukraine sanctions would not hamper its trade with Iran. They "just are not in any way linked together, so I think that's irrelevant," he said, adding that it is in the interests of both Russia and the US that Iran is not able to "have a nuclear weapon or the capacity to produce a weapon on very, very short order."

Some media in Tehran and many Iranian social media users have interpreted Lavrov's remarks Saturday as "blackmail" and "taking the JCPOA hostage" to secure Russia's own interests.

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