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Iran nuclear deal talks put on 'pause' after Russia demands sanctions exemption

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Negotiations on a revived Iran nuclear deal were put on "pause" Friday after Russia made several new demands and raised objections to the economic sanctions enacted as punishment for its invasion of Ukraine.

European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell Fontelles announced the delayed talks in a tweet, writing, "A pause in #ViennaTalks is needed, due to external factors." He added that the final text of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for Iran's nuclear program is "essentially ready and on the table," pending resumed talks. Since assuming power, President Joe Biden's administration has worked with European partners, including Russia, and Iran to hammer out the details of a new arrangement after President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal reached by the Obama administration.

As part of the new deal, the U.S. would end the harsh sanctions Trump imposed on Iran and in return Iran would scale back its nuclear program.

According to the Washington Post, the negotiations were halted after Russia issued a series of demands Saturday for its trade deals with Iran to be exempted from U.S. sanctions. Russia says these exemptions must be included as a condition for participating in any revived nuclear deal.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov cited the "avalanche of aggressive sanctions [on Russia] that the west has started spewing out," and said, "This meant Moscow had to ask the US for guarantees first, requiring a clear answer that the new sanctions will not affect its rights under the nuclear deal.

“We requested that our US colleagues ... give us written guarantees at the minimum level of the secretary of state that the current [sanctions] process launched by the US will not in any way harm our right to free, fully fledged trade and economic and investment cooperation and military-technical cooperation with Iran,” he said, according to the Guardian.

Western officials have accused Russia of essentially taking the Iran nuclear deal hostage while the country continues its unjust war in Ukraine. Some are worried that Russia's late objections will prevent talks from resuming, which could kill the deal.

“It’s certainly serious. If you lose momentum at this late stage the dynamics shift in ways that it could become impossible to resume the talks,” said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj of the European Council on Foreign Relations," according to the Washington Post.

Republicans have lambasted President Biden for negotiating with Russia on the Iran deal while simultaneously insisting that Russia become an international "pariah" for continuing the invasion of Ukraine. At a press conference Wednesday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said the Iran deal would be "a massive win for Vladimir Putin" if it includes "a carveout" for Russia to trade with Iran without threat of sanctions. Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) called on Biden to walk away from the negotiations, and other GOP senators joined in with severe rebukes of the president.

Diplomats that spoke to the Washington Post said that informal talks are expected to continue and considerations will be made as to whether a final deal can be achieved without Russia. But Tehran has said it will not risk deteriorating relations with Russia by ignoring Moscow's concerns, making any deal difficult to achieve.

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