DUBAI, March 14 (Reuters) – The United States needs to make a decision to wrap up a deal to salvage Iran’s 2015 nuclear accord with world powers, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson said on Monday amid fears that arduous talks in Vienna might collapse.
Efforts to clinch a new deal were left in limbo after a last-minute demand by Russia – now at odds with the West over its invasion of Ukraine – forced the powers to pause talks for an undetermined time despite having a largely completed text.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian will visit Russia on Tuesday, ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh told a weekly news conference, without elaborating.
“We are currently having a breather from the nuclear talks,” said Khatibzadeh. “We are not at a point of announcing an agreement now since there are some important open issues that need to be decided upon by Washington.”
The U.S. State Department said on Friday Washington continued to believe a potential deal to return to the 2015 agreement was close, but said decisions need to made in places like Tehran and Moscow.
On March 5, Russia’s foreign minister unexpectedly demanded sweeping guarantees that Russian trade with Iran would not be affected by sanctions imposed on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine – a demand Western powers said was unacceptable and Washington insisted it would not agree to.
A collapse of the talks to restore constraints on its uranium enrichment programme could result in Tehran getting within sprinting distance of developing nuclear weapons, a prospect that could ignite a fresh war in the Middle East. Tehran denies it has ever sought atomic bombs.
Still, Tehran seemed cautiously optimistic on Monday in assessing the future of the now 11-month-old negotiations.
“We will remain in the Vienna talks until our legal and logical demands are met and a strong agreement is reached,” Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, which makes the decisions in the Vienna talks, said in a tweet.
IRANIAN MISSILE STRIKE
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said he had discussed the nuclear talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov during a visit to Moscow.
Sheikh Mohammed, who spoke from the Russian capital in a televised press conference, did not provide further details.
Aside from snags in the Vienna talks, tensions have also risen since Iran fired a dozen missiles on Sunday at Erbil, capital of the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region, in an assault that appeared to target the United States and its allies.
Iranian state media said Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps carried out the attack against Israeli “strategic centres” in Erbil, suggesting it was revenge for recent Israeli air strikes that killed Iranian military personnel in Syria.
Tehran had warned Iraqi authorities many times that its territory should not be used by third parties to conduct attacks against Iran, Khatibzadeh said.
“The central government of Iraq has the responsibility to ensure that its territory is not used as a base for attacks by third parties against Iran,” said Khatibzadeh.
“Several times in the past, Iraq’s territory was used against Iran by third parties including terrorist groups such as Kurdish militants, the United States and the Zionist entity,” he added, referring to Israel.
In another setback for regional diplomacy, Iran said on Sunday it was suspending a fifth round of talks due this week in Baghdad with regional rival Saudi Arabia.