Iran rules out interim nuclear deal 

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TEHRAN – The latest signs show that the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is not much of a hit.

The Biden administration says the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is not on the agenda. However, on Monday, a report from Axios revealed that the US with its European partners and Israel negotiated an interim agreement with Iran that would include some sanctions relief in exchange for Tehran freezing parts of its nuclear program.

A “less on less” measure, previously reported by Al-Monitor, is based on accounts from several Israeli officials, Western diplomats and US experts. But it is quite clear that there are long odds to overcome.

If the United States, through the EU, is floating an interim agreement, Iran does not seem to be buying. Tehran authorities say time is running out, even as Iran’s economy continues to free fall and the dollar exchange rate fluctuates on news of the negotiations.

An Iranian official who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity said Tehran would not accept any interim arrangement. He called the proposal “the result of some group brainstorming, and Iran has been approached through intermediaries with similar initiatives many times.”

A senior Biden administration official, also speaking on behalf of an assignee, did not directly comment on the report, but emphasized that Washington “is in constant contact with our allies and partners, including the E3, but we are not going to engage in diplomatic negotiations or respond to rumours, many of which are simply false.” The E3 refers to Germany, Britain and France.

The US official, however, expressed deep concern about what he described as an expansion of Iran’s nuclear activities, including highly enriched uranium “for which Iran has no credible purpose.”

The official emphasized, “The United States is committed to never allowing Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. We believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve that goal, but President Biden has also made it clear that we have taken no options off the table.”

Al-Monitor was able to confirm from several sources that an interim agreement was not discussed at a meeting between the political directors of E3 foreign ministries with Iran’s deputy foreign minister Ali Bagheri Kani in Oslo a few weeks ago.

A conflicting story was presented at that meeting. Bagheri Kani confirmed the meeting in a tweet on March 22, saying the discussion covered a range of issues and took “no opportunity to clarify our views and warn against some misunderstandings. We are determined to advance our national interests, including through diplomacy.”

The E3 side preferred not to comment officially, but the Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat cited a Western diplomatic source that the meeting was mainly “an insistence on Iran to clarify the traces of highly enriched uranium.” [that were found at several undeclared sites] of up to 83.7%” A level of 90% would allow the production of a nuclear bomb.

Al-Monitor learned from several sources that the leak about the meeting caused disappointment on the European side.

An Iranian official who spoke to Al-Monitor said, “If there is no agreement within the next two to three months, it will be inevitable to negotiate another deal, and that is not an easy task at all with all the complexities inside and outside.”

Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, told Al-Monitor in an interview on March 27 that the negotiating room would never open. Iran’s top diplomat, however, indicated that he was prepared to develop cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that his country’s nuclear program does not cross red lines.

“Today we are on the road to constructive cooperation between Iran and the IAEA,” he said. “There were several delegations here and we had a more positive exchange with the IAEA. On the technical level, he will continue to cooperate with the IAEA,” said Abdollahian.

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