Iran, Russia show united front against West on nuclear deal

Tehran (AFP) –


Russia put on a united front with Iran against the United States and Europe Tuesday amid talks in Vienna on bringing Washington back into a troubled 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran and the remaining parties to the deal have been discussing how to lift US sanctions on Iran that then president Donald Trump reimposed when he quit the deal in 2018, and bring Iran back into compliance with nuclear commitments it suspended in retaliation for the US withdrawal.

"We are counting on the fact that we will be able to save the agreement and that Washington will finally return to full and complete implementation of the corresponding UN resolution," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif after talks in Tehran.

Lavrov also blasted the European Union for slapping sanctions on eight Iranian security officials, saying that the blacklisting threatens current efforts to restore the deal.

"There is no coordination at the EU. The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing," he said.

He stressed that "if this decision was taken voluntarily in the midst of negotiations in Vienna to save (the deal), then it is no longer unfortunate, it is a mistake worse than a crime".

In response to EU sanctions, Iran said Monday it is suspending cooperation with Europe on various fields including "terrorism, drug (trafficking) and refugees".

Zarif warned the US that it would gain no extra leverage in Vienna through "acts of sabotage" and sanctions.

He also blasted Israel, which Iran has accused of being behind a Sunday sabotage attack on its Natanz uranium enrichment facility, of having made a "very bad gamble".

"We have no problem with returning to implementing our JCPOA commitments," Zarif said using the formal acronym for the nuclear deal.

"But the Americans should know that neither sanctions nor acts of sabotage will give them negotiation tools and these acts will only make the situation more difficult for them."

Iran on Monday charged that its arch-enemy Israel had sabotaged its Natanz enrichment plant and vowed it would take "revenge" and ramp up its nuclear activities.

- 'Very bad gamble' -

Israel did not claim responsibility for the sabotage, but unsourced media reports in the country attributed it to the Israeli security services carrying out a "cyber operation".

The New York Times, quoting unnamed US and Israeli intelligence officials, also said there had been "an Israeli role" in the attack in which an explosion had "completely destroyed" the power system that fed the plant's "underground centrifuges".

The White House said Monday that the US "was not involved in any manner".

Zarif warned: "If (Israel) thought that they can stop Iran from following up on lifting sanctions from the Iranian people, then they made a very bad gamble.

"What they did in Natanz, they thought it would reduce Iran's leverage" in the talks in Vienna.

"But it makes it possible for Iran to legally, legitimately, and in order to make up for this terrorist stupidity, use any capacity it has at Natanz."

Zarif said Iran would make the enrichment plant "more powerful" by using advanced centrifuges.

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman said Monday that the centrifuges hit by the power blackout were first-generation ones, not more advanced models banned under the nuclear deal.

The Natanz episode, the latest in a string of incidents hitting Iran's nuclear programme, came days after the Vienna talks opened.

US President Joe Biden has indicated he wants to revive the agreement, something Israel strongly opposes, arguing that it had succeeded in sharply reducing Iran's nuclear activities.

But for now the deal remains in limbo with neither Tehran nor Washington backing down from their positions.

Iran demands that Washington lift sanctions in exchange for its return to full compliance with commitments it has suspended, while the US demands that Tehran return to its obligations before the sanctions are lifted.