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Iran: Nuclear deal should be sealed before new president takes office

Agreement should be signed by August, before President Hassan Rouhani steps down, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei says
There are "no obstacles" standing in the way of a nuclear agreement, Ali Rabiei said during a news conference on 1 June (AFP/File photo)

Iran's government is hopeful that an agreement on the nuclear deal can be settled before President Hassan Rouhani's presidency ends in August, an Iranian government spokesman said during a press briefing on Tuesday. 

Ali Rabiei said there are "no obstacles" standing in the way of brokering a deal during negotiations in Vienna, which are currently in their eighth week. 

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Initiated by the Biden administration, the Vienna talks seek to save the 2015 multilateral agreement that former US President Donald Trump quit in 2018.

After European signatories were unable to convince the Trump administration to honour the deal, Iran began rolling back its own compliance, rebuilding stockpiles of uranium and enriching it to higher levels of fissile purity while Washington imposed harsh sanctions on Tehran's economy as part of a 'maximum pressure' campaign.

Iranian officials deny that Tehran is seeking a nuclear bomb, which they say goes against the Islamic Republic's ideology and strategic interests.

Since the Biden administration has made certain its intentions to rejoin the deal, Iran has expressed its willingness to return to compliance in exchange for sanctions relief. 

"We're close to an understanding over principal nuclear issues," Rabiei told reporters in a televised news conference on Tuesday, adding that "some differences such as Trump's sanctions and Iran's measures need to be worked out".

Upcoming Iranian elections

Iranian officials had said that ideally, the nuclear deal would be fully revived by 18 June, the date of its upcoming presidential elections, but an agreement by that deadline is unlikely. 

Now Rabiei has said that the government hopes the deal will be sealed before Rouhani steps down and the new administration takes over in August, as the incoming president is expected to be a hardliner who will be more hostile to the US and the nuclear deal.

On Monday, Abbas Araghchi, Iran's lead negotiator at the talks, told Iranian state TV that the discussions were very complicated, with a series of outstanding issues that still need to be resolved. 

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Still, Araghchi said negotiators "have now reached the main issues of dispute". 

Araghchi said it would likely take more rounds of talks before any agreement would be reached, adding that he expected delegations to return home around the end of the week having not brokered a deal. 

Iran's reversal of its various breaches of the deal are some of the remaining issues, according to sources that spoke to Reuters.

Biden has said Washington will return to the pact if Tehran first resumes compliance with its strict limits on uranium enrichment, which is a potential pathway to a nuclear bomb. 

But Iran has called for the sanctions to be removed before it moves to come into compliance, given that it was the US that first broke the deal. 

"All sanctions should be lifted and then it should be verified by Iran ... then we will reverse our nuclear steps," Saeed Khatibzadeh, a foreign ministry spokesman, told a televised weekly news conference on Monday.

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