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France ‘worried’ about delays as new Iran deal ‘close’

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Russia wants assurances that sanctions won’t stop it trading with Tehran

A French Foreign Ministry spokesman told AFP on Tuesday that a replacement Iran nuclear deal is “close,” though last-minute quibbles between Moscow and Washington could throw negotiations into jeopardy.

“We are very close to a deal,” but Paris is “very worried about risks that further delays could weigh on the chances,” the spokesman told AFP.

Negotiators in Vienna, Austria have attempted for nearly a year now to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iran Deal, which saw Iran agree to curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. The US, UK, Russia, France, Germany, China and EU were parties to the deal, which the US unilaterally withdrew from in 2018, with then-President Donald Trump accusing Iran of breaching its terms.

The new deal is expected to be a broadly similar agreement to the 2015 accord. EU negotiator Enrique Mora stated on Monday that “expert level” talks had concluded, and that all that remains is for Iran and the other parties to make “political decisions” to enter into an agreement. 

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However, in light of Western sanctions imposed on Russia following Moscow’s military offensive in Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Saturday that Russia wants “equal rights” in the deal, and written assurances from Washington that Ukraine-related sanctions won’t impact its trade and political cooperation with Tehran.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken countered on Sunday that such demands were “irrelevant,” and that sanctions on Russia over Ukraine “have nothing to do with the Iran nuclear deal.”

Lavrov’s concerns were enough to give the Iranians pause, however. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh stated that “Iran’s peaceful nuclear cooperation should not be affected or restricted by any sanctions, including Iran’s peaceful nuclear cooperation with Russia,” according to Reuters.

Iran’s top security official, Ali Shamkhani, blamed the US for any hold-ups in securing a new deal. In a tweet on Monday, he said that the “prospect of a deal in Vienna remains unclear due to Washington’s delay in making [a] political decision.”

Iran’s official IRNA news agency said that Tehran’s top negotiator Ali Bagheri would travel to Vienna early Wednesday “to continue the talks.”

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