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Breakthrough in Iran nuclear deal hoped for

By Julian Shea in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-07-18 23:49

Russia keen to link up with EU to get around sanctions imposed by the US

The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria, March 4, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

Russia has raised hopes of progress in the international stand-off over Iran's nuclear program by saying it would be willing to work with European Union countries on a payment channel called Instex that would get around United States sanctions against the country.

One year ago, the Trump administration pulled out of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as JCPOA, signed by Iran, the United States, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom, and reintroduced sanctions, amid claims Iran was not sticking to the guidelines set down for what nuclear resources it was permitted to have, and for what use.

Iran has expressed frustration that the other signatories have not done enough to help, but after several years of strained relations over issues such as alleged attempts to interfere with the EU elections and the attempted murder of a former Russian double agent in the UK, in which cases Moscow has denied any involvement, Russia has indicated it is interested in working with the EU to get around the sanctions.

Instex was launched in January and currently has 10 members, all EU states. It only came into operation last month and has been criticized by Iran for only having limited powers. Brussels is keen to have Russia involved but would like the system to be running more strongly before making changes that might need its rules rewritten.

If Russia gets its way, one thing that would need to be addressed is the inclusion of oil. Iran is keen for Europe to start buying its oil to allow the country to purchase essential medicines and commodities.

"The issue of whether or not Instex will deal with oil is a discussion that is ongoing among the shareholders," said the EU's foreign policy head, Federica Mogherini. Instex "has always been conceived to be open to third countries... and we are already seeing interest by some of them to participate in that".

A Russian government spokesman told the Financial Times newspaper: "If the encouraging statements by the EU ... will be backed up by concrete steps and practical advances, including in relation to the use of Instex for servicing trading in Iranian oil, it will help stabilize the difficult situation created around the JCPOA."

A Foreign Ministry spokesman added: "The more countries and continents involved, the more effective will the mechanism be as a whole…the full potential of Instex will only be able to be deployed if it will be open to the participation of countries which are not members of the EU."

Russia getting on board with the EU countries' system may encourage the other signatories of the 2015 treaty to act more boldly, rather than living in fear of incurring the wrath of Washington.

Russia is an increasingly important political player in the Middle East. Last month, President Vladimir Putin met his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani and said Russia would continue to help Iran with its attempt of expanding the Bushehr nuclear power facility, as well as strengthening trade ties between the countries.

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