Iran is "in a hurry" to strike a new nuclear accord as long as its national interests are protected, its foreign minister said on Monday as Tehran and the United States resumed indirect talks on salvaging Tehran's 2015 agreement with world powers.
The talks, with European intermediaries shuttling between the two, have been held in Vienna since April amid growing Western fears about Tehran’s accelerating nuclear advances, seen by Western powers as irreversible unless a deal is struck soon.
The 2015 deal limited Iran’s enrichment of uranium to make it harder for Tehran to develop material for nuclear weapons, in return for a lifting of international sanctions against Tehran.
But it has eroded since 2018 when then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States and reimposed far-reaching sanctions on Iran. The Islamic Republic has since breached the deal's limits and gone well beyond, rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium, refining it to higher fissile purity and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up output.
"Iran is in a hurry to reach agreement in Vienna..., but this should be within the framework of our national interest," Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told a news conference in Tehran.
He urged Western powers to stop "playing with time."
Western leaders say time is running out for a viable accord and have accused Iran of stalling to increase its leverage.
Parties involved in the talks, which resumed last week after a 10-day break, have voiced hope about restoring the pact despite what Tehran has said are "key outstanding issues that require political decisions by the West."
"Talks are not at a dead-end...Iran has already taken its political decision by staying in the deal despite the U.S. withdrawal," Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said.
A senior Iranian official told Reuters that "some 30% of difficult issues remain to be resolved but it is possible to reach a deal by early March." A Western diplomat said "reaching a deal is possible around early March, if all goes well."
After eight rounds of talks, key bones of contention include Iran’s demand for a U.S. guarantee of no more sanctions or other punitive steps in the future, and how and when to restore verifiable restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity.
A second Iranian official said Tehran was also insisting on being able to seal and store its advanced centrifuges inside Iran, rather than dismantling and sending them abroad, as Western powers have called for.
He said Iran further wants the removal of some 300 extra sanctions on Iranian entities and individuals not related to the nuclear deal.
US President Joe Biden's administration has said it will remove curbs inconsistent with the 2015 pact if Iran resumes compliance with it, implying Washington would leave in place sanctions imposed under terrorism or human rights measures.
US officials have said the Biden administration cannot guarantee that a US government would never renege on the agreement because it is classified as a non-binding political understanding, not a legally binding treaty.