Iran 'closer than ever' to reviving nuclear deal, says Tehran

Foreign minister accuses US of delaying nuclear deal amid complications over Ukraine-linked sanctions on Russia

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and Syrian President Bashar Al Assad speak in Damascus on March 23, 2022. Sana via AP
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Iran is “closer than ever” to reviving Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said while visiting Damascus where he welcomed recent moves to reconcile Arab relations with Syria.

He also discussed Russia's war in Ukraine during talks with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and top security official Maj Gen Ali Mamlouk in the Syrian capital on Wednesday.

Iran and Russia have supported Mr Al Assad through much of Syria's civil war, which began with peaceful protests in 2011.

The government's violent response to the demonstrations led to the international isolation of Syria, which included its suspension from the Arab League.

Mr Amirabdollahian's visit to Damascus came days after the UAE hosted Mr Al Assad on his first visit to an Arab state since 2011.

“We welcome and we are satisfied with what some Arab countries are doing by normalising relations with Syria,” he said in Damascus.

The Iranian foreign minister said he believed Tehran was close to reaching an agreement over its nuclear programme and put the blame for delays on the United States, which he said should take “a realistic stance”.

Eleven months of talks to revive the 2015 deal appeared to have reached completion this month before Moscow demanded that its trade with Iran be exempted from western sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, throwing the process into disarray. Negotiators have yet to reconvene in the Austrian capital, and it is unclear exactly what hurdles lie ahead.

"If the US acts pragmatically, we are ready to have foreign ministers of countries belonging to the nuclear deal's joint commission gather in Vienna to finalise the agreement," Mr Amirabdollahian said during a press conference in Damascus alongside his Syrian counterpart.

"We believe that today we are closer to an agreement in Vienna than ever before."

The 2015 deal lifted international sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme to prevent Tehran from developing atomic weapons. The agreement collapsed after then president Donald Trump pulled the US out of the pact in 2018 citing Iran's missile development and interference in the region.

Iran has mobilised thousands of fighters from the region, including members of the Tehran-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, to boost Syrian government forces against opponents.

Mr Amirabdollahian’s trip to Damascus came two weeks after two members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed in an Israeli strike near the Syrian capital.

He said strategic relations between Iran and Syria were at their best, and later made a rare comment in Arabic: “We are in the same trench, and we support Syria’s leadership, government and people.”

Like Tehran, Moscow is a strong ally of Syria and joined the war in 2015. Its support helped Mr Al Assad’s forces to regain control of much of the country. Russia has hundreds of troops in Syria and an air base on the Mediterranean coast.

Syrian state news agency Sana said Mr Al Assad had discussed the conflict in Ukraine with Mr Amirabdollahian and they agreed that “international balance should not be subjected to dangerous shocks through which western countries threaten international peace and security”.

Officials from Iran's defence ministry were seen marketing their missiles and air defence systems at an arms exhibition in Qatar on Wednesday, despite the risk to buyers of incurring US sanctions.

The ministry manufactures arms for Iran’s military and the IRGC, which plays a key role in the creation and execution of national security and foreign policy.

Qatar is a major US non-Nato ally and hosts the largest American military base in the Middle East. The country also maintains good relations with Iran, with which it shares the world’s largest gas field.

Updated: March 24, 2022, 10:51 AM