US to continue to engage with Russia over Iran despite Ukraine invasion

Negotiators have made significant progress in the last week

 US State Department spokesman Ned Price speaks during daily press briefing at the State Department in Washington, DC, US, February 22, 2021 (photo credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/POOL VIA REUTERS)
US State Department spokesman Ned Price speaks during daily press briefing at the State Department in Washington, DC, US, February 22, 2021
(photo credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/POOL VIA REUTERS)

The United States will continue to engage with Russia over efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even though Moscow's invasion of Ukraine had made it a "pariah on the world stage," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Friday.

Price said US officials would now only engage with Russian counterparts on issues "fundamental to our national security interest." That includes the talks to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, including Russia, Price said.

"The fact that Russia has now invaded Ukraine should not give Iran the green light to develop a nuclear weapon," Price added.

'SIGNIFICANT PROGRESS'

Negotiators have made significant progress in the last week or so but very tough issues remain, a senior US State Department official said on Friday.

"There's been significant progress over the last week or two. We have significantly narrowed the areas that still need to be resolved. And so, in that sense, there has been progress that has been moving towards a potential deal," he told reporters.

"So we are in a better position than we have been. But at the same time it's important to note that very serious issues remain."

 US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley and Barry Rosen, campaigning for the release of hostages imprisoned by Iran, sit at a table during an interview with Reuters in Vienna, Austria. (credit: REUTERS/FRANCOIS MURPHY) US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley and Barry Rosen, campaigning for the release of hostages imprisoned by Iran, sit at a table during an interview with Reuters in Vienna, Austria. (credit: REUTERS/FRANCOIS MURPHY)

The aim of the negotiations is to return to the original 2015 bargain of lifting sanctions against Iran, including ones that have slashed its oil sales, in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear activities that extend the time Tehran would need to make enough enriched uranium for an atomic bomb if it chose to.

Iran has long denied such an ambition and has said that its nuclear program is for solely peaceful purposes.

Iran's lead negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, has gone back to Tehran and the senior US official said he hoped the Iranian official would return to Vienna, where the talks are held, in a positive frame of mind. However, he said that there would still be some issues to settle even after Bagheri Kani's return.

The US official also said that there has not been any deal reached in separate negotiations about the release of four US citizens whom the United States believes have been wrongfully detained by Iran.