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Iran seeks ‘creative ways’ to nuke deal after Russian demand

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A top Iranian official said Monday that his country is seeking “creative ways” to restore its nuclear deal with world powers after Russia’s foreign minister linked sanctions on Moscow over its war on Ukraine to the ongoing negotiations.

The tweet by Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s powerful Supreme National Security Council, offers the first high-level acknowledgment of the demands of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

“Vienna participants act & react based on interests and it’s understandable,” Shamkhani wrote. “Our interactions … are also solely driven by our people’s interests. Thus, we’re assessing new elements that bear on the negotiations and will accordingly seek creative ways to expedite a solution.”

In recent days, negotiators on all sides in Vienna had signaled that a potential deal was close as the head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agreed to a timetable with Iran for it disclose answers to long-standing questions it had about Tehran’s program.

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But Lavrov on Saturday said he wanted “guarantees at least at the level of the secretary of state” that the U.S. sanctions would not affect Moscow’s relationship with Tehran. That threw into question the months of negotiations held so far on restoring the 2015 deal, which saw Iran agree to drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Lavrov’s demand “irrelevant” as the nuclear deal and sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine war were “totally different.” The U.S. under then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018, setting off years of tensions and attacks across the Mideast.

“Getting out of the deal was one of the worst mistakes that’s been made in recent years. It let the entire Iranian nuclear program that we put in a box out of the box,” Blinken told CBS’ “Face the Nation” talk show. “And so if there’s a way of getting back to reimplementing that deal effectively, it’s in our interest to do it and we’re working on that as we speak. It’s also in Russia’s interest.”

Speaking Monday in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said that “peaceful nuclear cooperation” between China, Iran and Russia shouldn’t be limited by sanctions. China and Russia are part of the deal, which also includes Germany, the United Kingdom and France. The U.S. has sat out of the talks since its withdrawal.

“So far Russia had shown a constructive approach for reaching a collective agreement in Vienna and we interpret what they say in this framework,” he said. “We will wait for them to give us more details in Vienna.”

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He added Iran and the U.S. continued to negotiate on a possible prisoner swap, like one that accompanied the earlier nuclear deal.

“The remaining differences are less than fingers of a hand — if no one adds a new issue,” Khatibzadeh said.

Meanwhile, the state-owned, English-language Tehran Times newspaper on Monday published an article suggesting the draft nuclear deal in Vienna would allow Iran to “keep its advanced centrifuges and nuclear materials inside the country.”

It’s “a form of inherent guarantee to make sure that its nuclear program is fully reversible if the U.S. reneged on its commitments again,” the newspaper said, without providing a source for the information.

The 2015 nuclear deal saw Iran put advanced centrifuges into storage under the watch of the International Atomic Energy Agency, while keeping its enrichment at 3.67% purity and its stockpile at only 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of uranium.

As of Feb. 19, the IAEA says Iran’s stockpile of all enriched uranium was nearly 3200 kilograms (7,055 pounds). Some has been enriched up to 60% purity — a short technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90%.


Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The massive superyacht Dilbar stretches one-and-a-half football fields in length, about as long as a World War I dreadnought. It boasts two helipads, berths for more than 130 people and a 25-meter swimming pool long enough to accommodate another whole superyacht.

Dilbar was launched in 2016 at a reported cost of more than $648 million. Five years on, its purported owner, the Kremlin-aligned Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, was already dissatisfied and sent the vessel to a German shipyard last fall for a retrofit reportedly costing another couple hundred million dollars.

That’s where she lay in drydock on Thursday when the United States and European Union announced economic sanctions against Usmanov — a metals magnate and early investor in Facebook — over his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine.

“We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets,” President Joe Biden said during his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, addressing the oligarchs. “We are coming for your ill-begotten gains.”

But actually seizing the behemoth boats could prove challenging. Russian billionaires have had decades to shield their money and assets in the West from governments that might try to tax or seize them.

Several media outlets reported Wednesday that German authorities had impounded Dilbar. But a spokeswoman for Hamburg state’s economy ministry told The Associated Press no such action had yet been taken because it had been unable to establish ownership of the yacht, which is named for Usmanov’s mother.

Dilbar is flagged in the Cayman Islands and registered to a holding company in Malta, two secretive banking havens where the global ultra-rich often park their wealth.

Still, in the industry that caters to the exclusive club of billionaires and centimillionaires that can afford to buy, crew and maintain superyachts, it is often an open secret who owns what.

Working with the U.K.-based yacht valuation firm VesselsValue, the AP compiled a list of 56 superyachts — generally defined as luxury vessels exceeding 24 meters (79 feet) in length — believed to be owned by a few dozen Kremlin-aligned oligarchs, seaborne assets with a combined market value estimated at more than $5.4 billion.

The AP then used two online services — VesselFinder and MarineTraffic — to plot the last known locations of the yachts as relayed by their onboard tracking beacons.

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