(Adds State Department comment, paragraphs 5-7)
By Parisa Hafezi
DUBAI, June 11 (Reuters) – Iran’s supreme leader said on Sunday a deal with the West over Tehran’s nuclear work was possible if the country’s nuclear infrastructure remained intact, amid a standoff between Tehran and Washington to revive a 2015 nuclear pact.
Months of indirect talks between Tehran and Washington to salvage the nuclear deal with six major powers have stalled since September, with the two sides accusing each other of making unreasonable demands.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s cautious endorsement comes days after Tehran and Washington denied a report they were close to reaching an interim deal under which Tehran would limit its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief .
“There is nothing wrong with the deal (with the West), but the infrastructure of our nuclear industry must not be touched,” Khamenei said, according to state media.
A spokesperson for the US State Department declined to comment specifically on Khamenei’s remarks, reiterating the Biden administration’s position that the United States is “pledged never to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon”.
“We believe diplomacy is the best way to achieve this goal on a verifiable and sustainable basis, but the president has also been clear that we have not taken any options off the table,” he said. declared, hinting at the possibility of military action.
“We will not characterize the nature of an Iranian leader’s remarks,” the spokesperson added.
The 2015 deal limited Iran’s uranium enrichment activity to make it harder for Tehran to develop nuclear weapons, in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
Then-US President Donald Trump quit the pact in 2018 and reimposed sanctions that crippled Iran’s economy, leading Tehran to gradually go far beyond the deal’s nuclear restrictions and reigniting fears Americans, Europeans and Israelis that Iran can seek an atomic bomb.
Echoing Iran’s official position for years, Khamenei said the Islamic Republic had never sought to build a nuclear bomb.
“The accusations that Tehran is looking for nuclear weapons are a lie and they know it. We don’t want nuclear weapons because of our religious beliefs. Otherwise they (the West) wouldn’t have been able to ‘stop,” Khamenei said.
Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters of state, said the country’s nuclear authorities should continue to work with the UN’s nuclear watchdog “within safeguards”. However, Khamenei called on Iranian authorities not to give in to “excessive and false demands” from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), adding that a law passed by Iran’s hardline parliament in 2020 must be respected.
Under the law, Tehran would suspend IAEA inspections of its nuclear sites and step up uranium enrichment if sanctions are not lifted.
“This is a good law…that should be respected and not violated in providing access and information (to the IAEA),” Khamenei said.
Last month, the IAEA reported limited progress on contentious issues with Iran, including the reinstallation of some surveillance equipment originally set up under the 2015 pact that Tehran ordered last year to be withdrawn. . (Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Saint Paul, Minn; Editing by Alex Richardson, David Holmes, Sharon Singleton and Mark Porter)