A top Russian diplomat said Iran bears much of the blame for the failure to cut a deal with the Biden administration and restore the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal that President Trump repudiated in 2018.
The comments by Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia‘s permanent envoy to international organizations in Vienna, were noteworthy because the Kremlin has generally sided with Tehran in the diplomatic standoff with Washington over the fate of the nuclear accord.
Mr. Ulyanov said Iran‘s serial violations of the 2015 deal, made in response to Mr. Trump’s decision to reimpose harsh sanctions on the Iranian economy, are now making it much harder to revive the deal.
“Iran is departing further from its commitments under the initial [nuclear deal],” Mr. Ulyanov told the Russian newspaper Izvestia. “In fact, there is something irrational in it because if talks lead to an agreement, all these deviations will have to be reversed.”
The more Iran breaks its commitments to curb its nuclear programs under the 2015 deal, he added, “the more time the process will take, which will affect the time frame for the lifting of sanctions.”
Biden administration officials who were hoping for a quick and clean return to the 2015 deal have been frustrated by the lack of a breakthrough in multiple rounds of “indirect” talks with Iran now on pause in Vienna.
Hopes that the deal could be struck under outgoing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have been dashed, and now further delays could be in store as the country prepares to inaugurate hard-liner President-elect Ebrahim Raisi on Thursday.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned last week that the window for a deal might be closing, which would mark a major blow to the Biden team’s hopes of reshaping relations in the region.
“The fact of the matter is that it is Iran that has decisions to make,” Mr. Blinken told reporters on a visit to Kuwait. “This process cannot go on indefinitely.”
Iran found itself on the defensive on another front Monday, in the fallout from a deadly drone attack on an Israeli-managed oil tanker in the Arabian Sea last week that the U.S., Britain and Israel have all blamed on Tehran. A British crewman was among two aboard the merchant ship killed in the attack.
The British Foreign Office summoned Iranian Ambassador Mohsen Baharvand to protest the attack, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Iran‘s leadership must “face up to the consequences of what they have done.”
“This was clearly an unacceptable and outrageous attack on commercial shipping, a U.K. national died,” Mr. Johnson said. “It is absolutely vital that Iran and every other country respects the freedoms of navigation around the world, and the U.K. will continue to insist on that.”
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz called for international action in an address to the Knesset, charging that Iran was behind the attack on the Mercer Street tanker and at least five other incidents just in the last 12 months.
Iran, which has been engaged in a shadow war with Israel as tensions in the region have increased, has strongly denied any role in the drone strike.
Given the nuclear stalemate, Russia‘s Mr. Ulyanov argued the only way forward is for both the U.S. and Iran to go back to the status quo ante of the original 2015 deal.
He also said the change of leadership in Tehran could actually give the Vienna talks new momentum.
“We don’t know what changes are possible in Iran‘s approaches under a new president and a new government,” he said in the interview. “One cannot rule out that Iran will correct its view on some of the issues discussed in Vienna.”
But he also made clear Moscow’s rising impatience with Iran‘s approach to the talks, which include Britain, France, Germany and China in addition to the U.S. and Russia.
Asked about a string of moves by Iran to boost its stockpile of enriched uranium in violation of the 2015 guidelines, Mr. Ulyanov wryly replied, “We certainly aren’t enthusiastic about it.”
• This story is based in part on wire service reports.