It was a mere two weeks ago that optimism for world powers reaching a restored nuclear deal in Vienna was at its highest, with especially European officials declaring a deal was imminent and within sight. But it now appears the at this point two week long war in Ukraine has upended that prior optimism as talks fall apart at the very moment it was thought they were at their conclusion.
"World powers and Iran suspended their efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear accord, reigniting a crisis that’s set to roil already surging oil markets and potentially plunge the energy-exporting Persian Gulf into a new cycle of violence," Bloomberg begins of its latest reporting on Friday. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell confirmed what he dubbed a "pause" in negotiations with a tweet, due to "external factors".
IRAN CHIEF NUCLEAR NEGOTIATOR LEAVES VIENNA AS TALKS PAUSED -IRNA
A pause in #ViennaTalks is needed, due to external factors.— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) March 11, 2022
A final text is essentially ready and on the table.
As coordinator, I will, with my team, continue to be in touch with all #JCPOA participants and the U.S. to overcome the current situation and to close the agreement.
And The Wall Street Journal writes, "The Iran nuclear talks broke off Friday with no agreement, imperiling negotiations... After weeks of round-the-clock negotiations in Vienna, the breakoff in talks significantly raises the prospect that efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal may fail."
Things began to break down when over the weekend Russia introduced its last-minute demand for "guarantees" that Ukraine-related sanctions arising from the invasion which began on Feb.24 wouldn't impact its trade partnership with Iran.
"We have asked for a written guarantee…that the current process triggered by the United States does not in any way damage our right to free and full trade, economic and investment cooperation and military-technical cooperation with the Islamic Republic," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday for the first time.
Some Western pundits accused the Russians - as one diplomat put it to the WSJ - of a likely "play to try to carve a huge hole out of the overall Ukraine sanctions."
Met this morning with the #EU Coordinator at the #ViennaTalks on #JCPOA Mr. Enrique Mora who decided to take a pause in the negotiations. However even during the pause he will continue to work with all delegations to settle the remaining outstanding issues as soon as possible. pic.twitter.com/vV5oGVq7k8— Mikhail Ulyanov (@Amb_Ulyanov) March 11, 2022
But Russia’s chief negotiator, Mikhail Ulyanov, sought to bat down the charge that it's all about Moscow throwing a monkey wrench into the Vienna process. He said Friday after the stoppage of talks was announced:
"The only thing which I want to tell you...the conclusion of the deal does not depend on Russia only."
He downplayed the idea that there is "any impasse" caused by Russian demands. Ulyanov also in a pointed Tweet charged officials in the West of "dirty misrepresentation" in trying to pin the blame for the halt in talks on Moscow...
A lot of speculations about “attempts by Russia to sabotage the #ViennaTalks”. A dirty misinterpretation. As of now a number of parties need a little bit more time to finalise the deal. Russia has always been a driving force, not an obstacle in the course of the negotiations.— Mikhail Ulyanov (@Amb_Ulyanov) March 9, 2022
With oil prices having surged to historic highs on Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the resulting rapid-fire of Western sanctions, including a US ban on Russian energy imports, cinching up the Iran deal was seen by the Biden administration as bringing some hoped-for relief.
As for Iran, its Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh described the pause as not necessarily "end of the road" - but said there's still outstanding issues that can be dealt with in this period. The overriding concern, however, from the point of view of the West and also Israel is that the more time that passes without a deal, the closer the Islamic Republic gets to advancing past key nuclear thresholds, given Tehran has already reached uranium enrichment at levels just below that needed for atomic weapons.