WASHINGTON/DUBAI: The United States and Iran on Thursday both denied a report that they were nearing an interim deal under which Tehran would curb its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief.
“This report is false and misleading,” said a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, referring to an article on the London-based Middle East Eye website.
“Any reports of an interim deal are false.” Iran’s mission to the United Nations also cast doubt on the report, saying: “Our comment is the same as the White House comment.”
US and European officials have been searching for ways to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme since the breakdown of indirect US-Iranian talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
That accord, aimed at keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, required Tehran to accept restrictions on its nuclear programme and more extensive UN inspections in exchange for an end to UN, US and EU sanctions.
One possible solution has been an interim deal under which Iran would accept fewer limits on its nuclear programme in return for more modest sanctions relief than under the 2015 pact.
Middle East Eye cited two unnamed sources as saying Iran and the United States had “reached an agreement on a temporary deal” to take to their superiors.
It said Iran would cease enriching uranium to purity of 60 per cent or above and continue cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog in return for exporting up to 1 million barrels of oil per day and access to “income and other frozen funds abroad.” Oil prices fell by more than $3 a barrel on the Middle East Eye report before paring their losses after the White House denied it.
The website said the talks were led by US special envoy for Iran Rob Malley and Iran’s ambassador to the UN Amir Saeid Iravani in an apparent reversal of Iran’s refusal to deal directly with US officials.
A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on any such talks, saying only that it had ways to pass messages to Iran but would not detail their content or how they were delivered.
Two Iranian officials told Reuters there had been progress but no agreement was imminent. A third said Malley and Irvani met at least three times in the past weeks but gave no details.
“There (has) been some progress and we have exchanged proposals and messages with Americans,” said a senior Iranian official. “Still, there are lots of details that we need to discuss.” The 2015 deal, which capped Iran’s uranium enrichment at 3.67 per cent, was abandoned in 2018 by then-US President Donald Trump, who reimposed US sanctions to choke Iran’s oil exports.
Iran has since amassed a stockpile of uranium enriched to 60% and the U.N. nuclear watchdog has found traces enriched to 83.7 per cent, nearing the 90 per cent regarded as bomb grade.