The United States and Iran on Thursday denied a press report that they were close to reaching what was described as an interim nuclear deal under which Tehran would reduce its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Middle East Eye quoted two unnamed sources as saying that Iran and the United States had "reached agreement on an interim agreement" to be forwarded to the leaders of the two countries.
A spokesman for the White House National Security Council said: "The report is incorrect and misleading." "Any reports of an interim agreement are false."
Iran's mission to the United Nations also questioned the report, saying: "Our comment is similar to that of the White House."
U.S. and European officials have been looking for ways to restrict Tehran's nuclear program since the collapse of indirect U.S.-Iranian talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
The deal, aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, required Tehran to accept curbs on its nuclear program and more intensive inspections from the United Nations in exchange for ending sanctions on the organization, the United States and the European Union. One possible solution is an interim deal under which Iran accepts fewer curbs on its nuclear program in exchange for more modest sanctions relief than the 2015 deal.
Two unnamed sources told MEE that Iran and the United States had "reached agreement on an interim agreement" to be forwarded to the leaders of the two countries.
The report said Iran would commit to halting uranium enrichment to 60 percent purity or more, and would continue to cooperate with the U.N. nuclear watchdog in exchange for being allowed to export up to one million barrels of oil per day and receive "its income and other funds frozen abroad."
Oil prices fell more than $3 a barrel following the Middle East Eye report and then pared losses after the White House's denials.
The talks were led by U.S. special envoy for Iran Rob Malley and Iranian U.N. Ambassador Amir Saeed Irwani, apparently in retreat due to Tehran's refusal to engage directly with U.S. officials.
A State Department spokesman declined to comment on any such talks, saying only that there were ways to convey messages to Iran, but did not elaborate on their content or how.
Two Iranian officials told Reuters that progress had been made but no deal was imminent. A third said Mali and Irwani had met at least three times in recent weeks, but gave no details.
A senior Iranian official said: "There has been some progress and we have exchanged proposals and messages with the Americans. But there are still a lot of details to discuss."
Former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 deal that capped Iran's uranium enrichment at 3.67 percent. Trump has reimposed sanctions to disrupt Iran's oil exports.
Tehran has since accumulated a stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent purity, and the International Atomic Energy Agency found traces of enrichment of 83.7 percent, close to the 90 percent mark that could be used to produce bombs.