Iran confirms ‘exchange of messages’ with US over nuke deal

Iran’s Foreign Ministry denied reports that Iran would consider an alternative or interim agreement in lieu of the JCPOA.

By Andrew Bernard, Algemeiner

Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Monday confirmed that the US and Iran continue to have an “exchange of messages” over the possible return to the Iran nuclear deal.

Speaking at a press conference, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said that indirect diplomatic engagement between the US and Iran continues to be carried out through intermediary countries, specifically thanking Oman for its role as a go-between.

Kanaani on Monday denied that Iran would consider an alternative or interim agreement in place of the full restoration of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the 2015 Iran nuclear that the US withdrew from in 2018. A report from media outlet Middle East Eye on Thursday claimed that the US and Iran were considering such an interim deal, citing two unnamed sources. That report was denied by the White House on Thursday, and now by Iran as well, with the spokesman describing it as “media speculation.”

Rumors of a new potential nuclear deal have also raised alarm in alarm in Israel, reflected in the readout of a phone call between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated his consistent position that returning to the nuclear agreement with Iran would not stop the Iranian nuclear program,” the Prime Minister’s office said in a statement. “No arrangement with Iran will obligate Israel, which will do everything to defend itself.”

On 1 June, Netanyahu released a video saying that Israel would “do whatever it needs to do to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”

Kanaani’s denial of a possible interim deal echoes the position outlined by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamnei, who on Sunday told a gathering of Iranian nuclear specialists that he would accept a return to the JCPOA.

“There is nothing wrong with the agreement, but the infrastructure of our nuclear industry should not be touched,” Khamenei said.

At the press conference on Monday, the Iranian spokesman also said the hoped that a prisoner swap between Iran and the US could be achieved in “near future.”

Iran is currently holding several American citizens and permanent residents in prison, including one US resident who in February was sentenced to death on terrorism charges.

While not technically part of the JCPOA itself, five Americans were released from Iranian captivity in 2016 on the JCPOA’s implementation day as a result of lengthy side negotiations.

In 2022, a senior State Department official said that the four US citizens held by Iran remained a significant obstacle to returning to the deal.

“We are negotiating on the release of the detainees separately from the JCPOA, but as we’ve said, it is very hard for us to imagine a return to the JCPOA while four innocent Americans are behind bars or are detained in Iran,” the official said.

While President Biden has previously described the JCPOA negotiations as “dead” and State Department officials have said it is “not on the agenda” given Iran’s violent suppression of domestic protests and its support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Monday’s press conference confirms that the Biden administration continues to pursue a diplomatic return to the JCPOA with the Islamic Republic.

Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on 5 June, Secretary of State Antony Blinken laid out what he described as a three-pronged approach of diplomacy, economic pressure, and military deterrence for dealing with Iran.

“We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to verifiably, effectively, and sustainably prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” Blinken said. “In parallel, economic pressure and deterrence reinforce our diplomacy. If Iran rejects the path of diplomacy, then – as President Biden has repeatedly made clear – all options are on the table to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon.”