European powers reportedly refuse to exempt Moscow's trade with Tehran from sanctions over Ukraine, while the talks to revive the Iran nuclear deal have paused.
As the negotiations with Iran in Vienna paused on Friday, an E3 diplomat told Reuters that there will be no negotiation on a broad exemption for Russia about the trade guarantees it has requested for Iran, adding that world powers would need to look at other options if Moscow continued to block the process of the talks to restore the deal, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The diplomat accused Russia of taking the talks for restoring the JCPOA hostage and said there was “critical urgency” to conclude the deal as further external factors could also threaten it.
The US State Department told reporters Friday that its chief negotiator Rob Malley has returned to Washington for consultations as the Vienna talks have paused and decisions must be made in Tehran and Moscow.
The French and British envoys to the Vienna talks also said that the indefinite pause in the talks announced by European Union's Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrel earlier on Friday were deeply disappointing. "External factors", presumably Russian demands for sanctions exemptions, that have held up the Iran nuclear talks must be resolved within days to prevent the process from collapsing. Details of Russian demands have not been disclosed yet.
"Fair and comprehensive deal on table - ready for conclusion. External factors must be resolved in next few days or agreement likely to unravel," the British envoy to the talks, Stephanie al-Qaq, wrote on Twitter.
The French envoy to the talks, Philippe Errera, also said in a tweet that a "good deal" was on the table and warned that there was a critical urgency to conclude a deal and a risk that failing that, the agreement would fall apart.
However, quoting a "source close to the Iranian negotiation team, Iran's official news agency, IRNA, claimed again that it was Washington that had caused a delay in finalizing the agreement by "indecision and making new demands". IRNA did not say what were Washington’s new demands.
"Meanwhile, there are also some issues such as the problems between Russia and the US that are irrelevant to the talks between Iran and 4+1 countries (France, Britain, Russia, China, and Germany) and Washington and Moscow must resolve among themselves," the source was quoted by IRNA as saying.
A deal without Russia, although theoretically possible, would further complicate the matters as Russia is the only world power cooperating with Iran on its nuclear projects including the building of nuclear power plants.
Russia also played a major role in the implementation of the JCPOA by taking the 3.67 percent uranium that Iran enriched beyond the 300 kg allowed by the 2015 agreement before Iran stopped shipping out enriched uranium in retaliation for US sanctions. Even if Iran the US talk directly, finding an alternative to fulfill Russia's role in the original JCPOA would not be easy or quick.
Sanctions over Ukraine and the ban on Russian oil imports by the US, Canada, and some other Western countries, including Japan, have driven oil prices to record highs in over a decade. Moscow is keen to keep the oil prices high but is not happy to surrender its share of the market to Tehran if an agreement in Vienna lifts the US sanctions imposed on Iranian crude oil sales in 2018.