Moscow said to offer some sanctions relief in return for nuclear program limits; Biden administration said to have knowledge of proposal, which would likely need US Congress review
Russia has discussed with Iran the possibility of an interim deal that would see limited sanctions relief in return for reimposing some restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear program, the NBC network reported Friday.
The outlet said the US “is aware” of the proposal, and cited multiple unnamed sources for its reporting — two US officials, one Congressional official, one former US official and four other people familiar with the details of the talks.
The sources said that while the US was aware of the discussions between Moscow and Tehran in recent weeks, US President Joe Biden’s administration was making efforts to distance itself from the proposal by Russia.
The officials told the US news outlet that Tehran has thus far rejected the proposal.
The US sources reportedly said that if Iran were to agree to it, it would be seen as a step toward a full deal in the future.
If an interim agreement were to be agreed upon as a first step toward a renewed deal, some US lawmakers would likely insist it must be submitted to Congress for review.
The sources told NBC that under one draft for the deal proposed by Russia, Tehran would commit to stopping enriching uranium up to 60 percent purity, a level that far exceeds the limits set by the original deal.
Additionally, Iran would be required to dispose of its enriched uranium stockpile, with one possibility being that it is exported to Russia.
The report said that in exchange, Tehran would receive access to the billions of dollars in oil revenues that are currently frozen in foreign bank accounts.
A senior unnamed official from the Biden administration told NBC that an interim arrangement was not under serious discussion.
“Though we cannot speak for any discussions that may have taken place between Russia and Iran, at this stage we are certain that no such interim arrangement is being seriously discussed,” the official said.
“Regarding an interim deal, we will not negotiate in the press or comment on specific claims about the negotiations. Our timeline is based on a technical assessment of Iran’s nuclear progress rather than a temporal clock,” the official said.
The report came after Iran, Russia and China began a joint naval drill in the Indian Ocean which they said was aimed at boosting marine security. Iran has been holding regular military drills in recent months.
Iran said Friday it is also in talks with Russia over the construction of two new units at its Bushehr power plant nuclear power plant.
Talks to restore the 2015 accord between Tehran and world powers — United States, France, Britain, Russia, China, and Germany — stopped last June as Iran elected ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi. The talks resumed in November.
The 2015 deal offered Iran much-needed relief from sanctions that have crippled its economy, in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
Then-US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018 and Tehran has since steadily increased its public breaches of the accord.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that there were only “a few weeks left” to save the deal, and the United States is ready to look at “other options” if the talks fail.
Officials in Israel, which is seeking significantly more robust curbs on Iranian activities backed by the credible threat of military action, have said the country is not bound by the agreement and will act as it sees fit to protect its citizens.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz called on Thursday for world powers negotiating with Iran on reviving the deal to include Tehran’s backing for proxy groups in the talks.
“Iran’s double game must be on the negotiating table in Vienna and every international effort to reach an agreement must also take into account Iran’s aggressiveness in the region,” Gantz said.
Meanwhile, Israeli fighter jets carried out a large drill over the Mediterranean that included practicing mid-air refueling, according to an unverified report in the Saudi-run London-based Elaph news outlet on Thursday.
The use of Israel’s aging mid-air refueling fleet would be the strongest indication that Israel is planning for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, or would like to project to Tehran and the rest of the world that it is preparing.