Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gestures during the meeting via video conference with people from East Azarbaijan in Tehran, on February 17, 2022. Image Credit: REUTERS

Tahran: Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dismissed as “absurd” claims his country wants to acquire atomic weapons, in remarks on Thursday amid signs of a breakthrough in nuclear talks.

The Islamic republic is locked in negotiations with world powers to revive a 2015 deal that offered it sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

The deal known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, was designed to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear arsenal - a goal it has always denied pursuing.

Tehran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri tweeted that “we are closer than ever to an agreement” late Wednesday, hours after France warned that Iran had just days left to accept a deal.

In comments aired by state television on Thursday, Khamenei said Iran “has to think about tomorrow” and that “sooner or later we will urgently need peaceful nuclear energy”.

“You can notice how the enemy alliance is pressing cruelly our nuclear issue,” the supreme leader said. “They have imposed sanctions on our nuclear energy, when they know very well that it is peaceful.

“They claim Iran will produce the bomb in some time, absurd words that make no sense and they know it very well themselves,” said Khamenei.

“They know we are not looking for nuclear weapons, but for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

“They are pushing to prevent the Iranian nation from achieving this significant progress.”

Iran has always denied seeking atomic weapons even though it reneged on some of its nuclear commitments after the United States withdrew from the accord in 2018 under then president Donald Trump.

A day earlier, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani said that Iran and relevant countries are “closer than ever” to reaching an agreement to revive the 2015 nuclear deal at the ongoing Vienna talks.

“After weeks of intensive talks, we are closer than ever to an agreement,” Bagheri Kani tweeted on Wednesday night. “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, though.”

The negotiation is underway in the Austrian capital with diplomats from China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, the five other signatories to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The deal is formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The United States is participating indirectly in the talks because it withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018 when former President Donald Trump was in office.

Since April 2021, the negotiating parties have held eight rounds of talks in Vienna to revive the accord. The parties have been reportedly working to resolve disagreement on thorny matters including sanction relief and economic guarantee.

“Our negotiating partners need to be realistic, avoid intransigence and heed lessons of past decisions,” Bagheri Kani said on Twitter, calling for “serious decisions” of the negotiating parties.