Sudden halt to the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear: on the verge of success a week ago, they are now threatened by Moscow, which is demanding additional guarantees.
“We have to take a break in the talks due to external factors,” Josep Borrell, the head of diplomacy of the European Union (EU) who is coordinating the process, announced on Friday.
“A final text is almost ready and on the table,” he added.
US Foreign Affairs spokesman Ned Price, meanwhile, said “we think the deal can be ‘saved’ if these decisions are made in places like Tehran and Moscow.”
“The new sanctions linked to Russia are absolutely unrelated” to the agreement and “should have no impact” on these discussions, he added.
“We have no intention of offering Russia anything new or specific.”
On March 4, diplomats spoke of an imminent agreement, but the next day Moscow, an essential pillar of the negotiations, cast a chill.
Russia, hit by Western sanctions after its invasion of Ukraine, has thus requested American guarantees that these retaliatory measures would not affect its economic cooperation with Iran.
Claims deemed “off topic” by the head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken, but which stopped the discussions dead. The head of the British delegation Stephanie Al-Qaq expressed her “deep disappointment” on Twitter, as did her French counterpart Philippe Errera.
“The conflict in Ukraine has now erupted in a very concrete way” in this file usually preserved from geopolitical tensions, commented for AFP Eric Brewer, of the American research institute Nuclear Threat Initiative.
The Russian demands “hampered the mechanism at the last minute, threatening to jeopardize the talks and prevent the reestablishment of the pact” known by the acronym JCPOA, he warned.
Tehran has been engaged for eleven months in talks in Vienna with the major powers to try to save the 2015 agreement.
Concluded by Iran on one side, and the United States, China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Germany on the other, this pact was supposed to prevent Tehran from acquiring the bomb atomic in exchange for the lifting of the sanctions which are suffocating its economy.
But it crumbled after Washington pulled out in 2018, reinstating its measures against Iran. In response, Iran gradually freed itself from the limits imposed on its nuclear program.
On leaving Coburg Palace, the hotel in the Austrian capital where the talks are taking place, EU diplomat Enrique Mora said he hoped for a resumption “very, very soon”.
“Iran and the United States have consistently shown a very constructive, very positive approach,” he said. And to add: “we are at the stage of the footnotes”.
Russian negotiator Mikhail Ulyanov for his part denounced “attempts to throw all the blame” on Moscow.
Iran, close to Russia, finds itself in a difficult position and had accused the United States on Thursday, which would have formulated “new demands”.
On Friday, the spokesman for Iranian Foreign Affairs, Said Khatibzadeh, wanted to be reassuring.
“No external factor will affect our common wish for a collective agreement,” he reacted. “The break can provide the momentum to resolve the remaining issues.”
It now remains for Tehran and Beijing to “talk to Moscow in order to normalize the situation”, underlines a European source. “This close to the finish line is really frustrating.”
Experts are worried about an “instrumentalization by Moscow of the Iranian question”, according to Clément Therme, specialist in the Middle East.
“Russia’s game may be to obtain a delay for the reactivation of the agreement in order to avoid an influx of Iranian oil on the market”, which would lower prices, he explains to AFP.
“By maintaining the barrel at a high price, the Kremlin can use the energy weapon against the West”, underlines the expert, lecturer at Paul Valéry University in Montpellier.
As for Tehran, its room for maneuver is narrow because of “the asymmetry of its relationship” with Moscow, he notes.
Especially since the Islamic Republic “refuses to negotiate directly with the United States, which increases its dependence vis-à-vis China and Russia”.
If Moscow remains inflexible, “we would be obliged to see if other options are possible” advances a European diplomat.
One thing is certain: “We don’t want to be in a binary situation of letting Russia take the JCPOA hostage”.