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Officials: Iran Nuclear Cooperation Can Survive Ukraine Standoff

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif holds a press conference in Tehran on Saturday. U.S. and Iranian officials said multilateral negotiations over Iran's atomic efforts could continue, despite escalating international tensions over Ukraine. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif holds a press conference in Tehran on Saturday. U.S. and Iranian officials said multilateral negotiations over Iran's atomic efforts could continue, despite escalating international tensions over Ukraine. (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

Iranian and U.S. officials said it appeared negotiations over Tehran's nuclear activities would withstand an intensifying standoff over Ukraine, Reuters reports.

The assurances came as tensions escalated between Moscow and Western capitals following the apparent Russian military occupation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. Despite the emerging confrontation, Russian specialists in Vienna on Wednesday joined counterparts from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and China to begin planning an upcoming round of atomic diplomacy with Iran.

Envoys said Russia still plans to participate in the higher-level multilateral gathering, scheduled to begin on March 17 in the Austrian capital. According to Reuters, Moscow's intention to attend is a sign that the situation in Ukraine would have no short-term bearing on the talks that Western powers hope will lead to enduring restrictions on Iran's bomb-relevant atomic activities. Tehran maintains that its nuclear ambitions are peaceful, but is seeking the elimination of international sanctions under a potential comprehensive agreement.

When questioned on how the Ukraine standoff might affect the Iran talks, Washington's envoy to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said "the overriding commitment is one of working together to resolve the Iran nuclear [dispute]."

"There are many other issues in the world that will continue to cause us to have disagreements and debates and sometimes to find ourselves in opposition to one another," added Joseph Macmanus, U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The envoy's comments were echoed by a high-level Iranian government insider, who said Tehran "would surely stay out of this dispute" over Ukraine.

"A neutral position of Iran would be enough to prevent harming the upcoming talks," according to the unnamed Iranian source.

Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on Wednesday said his country has "based all of [its] calculations on the success of these negotiations," Agence France-Presse reported. However, he reaffirmed Tehran's refusal to "close or dismantle" any atomic facilities as a condition of a potential agreement, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard on Wednesday asserted it had obtained missiles capable of carrying more than a single warhead, AP reported. Its announcement followed Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan's February claim that Tehran had tested a missile with a multiple-warhead capacity.

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