Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian (file photo)
Iran's foreign minister says an agreement to revive the 2015 nuclear accord that Tehran signed with world powers is closer “than ever before.”
"If the U.S. acts pragmatically, we are ready to have foreign ministers of countries belonging to the nuclear deal's joint commission gather in Vienna to finalize the agreement," Hossein Amirabdollahian told a news conference during a visit to Damascus on March 23.
"We believe that today we are closer to an agreement in Vienna than ever before," he said.
"We have given our latest proposals to the U.S. through the European Union's Coordinator to reach a final deal. We reminded the Americans that we will not cross our red lines," Amirabdollahian said.
If an agreement is reached, it would mark the culmination of nearly a year of tough negotiations between Tehran and Western powers, although previous statements on both sides have suggested that a deal was imminent only to hit further snags.
An agreement had been close weeks earlier until Moscow demanded guarantees from the United States that sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine would not hurt its trade with Iran.
Inserting a bit of caution, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani said on Twitter following Amirabdollahian’s statement that being "near the finish line is no guarantee to crossing that."
“It requires extra caution, much perseverance, additional creativity, and [a] balanced approach to take the last step. To finish the job, there are certain decisions that our Western interlocutors need to take.”
The comments come a day after the United States said it was up to Iran to make the hard decisions necessary to revive the landmark nuclear deal and ease its sanctions-ravaged economy.
"The onus is on Tehran to make decisions that it might consider difficult," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a briefing on March 22.
Price cautioned, though, that a return to the deal was neither certain nor imminent.
Iran signed the landmark deal with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China in 2015. It allowed for the easing of sanctions in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear programs.
But then-President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in May 2018, saying the terms were not strict enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and also to punish Tehran for its putative support of extremist activity in the region. Trump also reimposed tough financial sanctions against Iran.
Iran has denied it is seeking nuclear weapons, saying the program is for civilian purposes, and it has rejected accusations of support for extremists.
However, after Washington pulled out, Iran has breached limits set in the deal and has insisted that the United States lift its sanctions before it returns to the accord.
Meanwhile, a group of Republican lawmakers in the United States sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to keep Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on the designated list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
Unconfirmed reports stated that the U.S. administration was considering removing the group from the list as part of compromises related to the nuclear talks.
“The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world today,” Representative Scott Franklin of Florida said .
“Through its sponsorship of terrorism, the IRGC is responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people and at least 600 U.S. troops. It has consistently sought the destruction of our partners and allies in the region, most notably Israel, and has been an obstacle to peace in the Middle East for decades.”
“The Biden administration simply cannot reward this terrorist regime with any sort of legitimacy from the U.S. government.”
The United States designated the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization in 2019.