Iran’s foreign ministry said Monday that messages were going “back and forth” with the United States as its nuclear chief reiterated it had know-how for a bomb.

Spokesman Nasser Kanaani told reporters at a foreign ministry briefing in Tehran that a “series of messages” had been exchanged since European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell recently made fresh proposals over efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).

“Borrell proposed a text based on previous talks [in Vienna until March between Iran and six world powers], and both sides [Iran and the United States] received it,” Kanaani said. “Iran has passed on its own views. We have witnessed that other sides have also reacted.”

Implying that Borrell’s proposals may concern process as much as substance, Kanaani said there was a fair possibility “in the near future of success in determining a time for new talks.” All depended, the spokesman insisted, on Washington showing “readiness for a logical agreement.”

‘Realm of guesswork’

Kanaani refused to comment on reports that Borrell had suggested a partial agreement under which Iran would receive some sanctions relief over oil exports in return for restoring greater access of United Nations nuclear inspectors. “Let us not enter the realm of guess-work,” he said.

Borrell took his initiative following the failure of talks in June between Iran and the US in Qatar, which failed to bridge differences remaining after year-long talks paused in Vienna in March. The main gaps were reportedly over which US sanctions, introduced after Washington left the JCPOA in 2018, violate the 2015 deal and how Iran’s refined nuclear program would be brought back within the deal’s limits.

Monday’s statement from Mohammad Eslami, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, that Iran had the technical ability to produce a bomb – while, he said, not intending to do so – reiterated comments made last month by Kamal Kharrazi, a former foreign minister who now advises Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

The two men’s remarks reflect progress in Iran’s nuclear program. By enriching uranium to 60 percent, way above the JCPOA limit of 3.67 percent, and introducing more advanced centrifuges banned under the JCPOA, Iran has moved far closer to being able to quickly enrich to the 90 percent purity of ‘weapons grade’ uranium.This would leave only ‘weaponization’ if the Iranian leadership chose that route.

Sanctions and Biden ‘plan B’

Frustration has continued to grow in US political circles that President Joe Biden’s approach to revive the JCPOA is failing. Critics from across the political spectrum have argued the agreement is either dead or in limbo.

The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that the US was considering upping sanctions on Iran – a move that could be a way of increasing pressure in JCPOA talks or a step towards a ‘plan B’ should the talks be deemed over.

The Journal reported the US administration was considering sanctioning an Iraqi-British man, Salim Ahmed Said, it believed was involved through a network of companies in disguising Iranian as Iraqi oil. In emails to the newspaper, Said denied involvement.

US third-party sanctions, introduced since 2018, threaten punitive action against those buying Iran’s oil or dealing with it financial sector, but implementation remains discretionary. While some US officials have suggested the Biden administration has held back from enthusiastic enforcement, Iran has also developed greater sophistication in evading US scrutiny.

The Journal also quoted a State Department spokesman denying the US was stepping back from action in order to allow more Iranian oil onto the market and dampen the inflationary effects of the Ukraine crisis. Opec+, led by Russia and Saudi Arabia, are not expected to agree any significant boost in production at their meeting due Wednesday.

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