Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday the international sanctions regime has crumbled and will not be rebuilt even if Iran and world powers fail to reach a final nuclear deal by a July 20 deadline.
Rouhani told a press conference it is still possible to reach a comprehensive accord before the deadline and that his government will in any case remain committed to its policy of constructive interaction with the West.
"If we can't reach a final agreement in negotiations by July 20 ... conditions will never go back to the past. The sanctions regime has been broken," he told reporters, noting that the economic curbs had been softened by his government's policy of detente, replacing one of confrontation with the West.
- Iran would resume enrichment if nuclear talks fail
- UN probe of Iran nuke program may slow Iran talks
- Iran, US hold direct talks in Geneva over nuclear deal
Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany reached an interim deal in November in Geneva that limited Iran's uranium enrichment program in exchange for the easing of some sanctions. The agreement was intended to buy time for the negotiation of a comprehensive deal to resolve the decade-long impasse.
Western nations and Israel have long suspected Iran of secretly pursuing a nuclear weapon capability alongside its civilian program. Iran insists its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.
Rouhani said it is still possible that a final accord will be achieved between Iran and the six-nation group - the US, France, UK, Germany, Russia and China - before the deadline expires.
"During the nuclear negotiations we have displayed our strong commitment to diplomacy," Rouhani said.
"The disputes can be resolved with goodwill and flexibility ... I believe that the July 20 deadline can be met despite remaining disputes. If not, we can continue the talks for a month or more," he went on.
While an extension is possible, experts believe both sides may come under pressure from critics at home to seek better terms during this extra period, further clouding the outlook.
Top diplomats from Iran and the US have held direct talks in recent days in the hopes of narrowing differences ahead of formal talks in Vienna on June 16-20.
An outright failure of the faltering talks would strengthen the position of conservative hardliners in Iran's clerical establishment against Rouhani, who has endeavored to improve relations with the United States. The countries severed ties during a hostage crisis after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
"The West should use this opportunity to reach a final deal in the remaining weeks. American hawks and Israel will be blamed for (any) failure of the talks," Rouhani said.
Israel, Iran's regional arch-foe, has cast doubt on whether diplomacy is capable of curbing in Iranian nuclear activity and, if it cannot, has threatened to bomb Iranian nuclear sites. Its skepticism is shared by hawkish supporters in the US Congress.
The latest round of negotiations in Vienna last month ran into difficulties when it became clear that the number of centrifuge enrichment machines that Iran wanted to maintain was well beyond what would be acceptable to the West.
Under a historic interim deal in Geneva, Tehran stopped enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity in exchange for the easing of some Western sanctions. However, Iran will continue uranium enrichment up to the level of 5 percent. Uranium must be enriched to more than 90 percent in order to be used in a nuclear weapon.
Rouhani said Iran would continue uranium enrichment and that all sanctions would be lifted under a comprehensive accord.
Iran says it needs to maintain a domestic uranium enrichment capability to produce fuel for a planned network of nuclear power plants without having to rely on foreign suppliers.
Wary Western officials believe Iran will need many years to build any nuclear power station and that its underlying goal in enriching uranium is to be able to yield material for nuclear bombs at short notice, an allegation the Islamic state denies.
Khamenei weighs in on 'nuclear rights'In another sign of Iranian determination not to negotiate away its enrichment work, a top aide to clerical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran would never renounce its peaceful nuclear rights under pressure.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran will never be influenced by pressure exerted by others who seek to deprive Iran of its nuclear rights and will never back down from its rights," Ali Akbar Velayati told the official IRNA news agency.
The two sides said last month that they had intended to start writing the text of a final agreement but the full-scale drafting did not actually begin.
Rouhani, a former chief nuclear negotiator for Tehran, said on Saturday that Iran and the powers might start drafting the final agreement in next week's talks.
"The major powers and Iran have agreed on two issues with Iran: We will continue our uranium enrichment activities and all sanctions on Iran will be lifted," he said, adding that no one would benefit from the collapse of the talks.
Iran now has about 19,000 centrifuges installed, of which roughly 10,000 are operating, according to the UN nuclear watchdog. Enriched uranium can have both civilian and military uses, depending on the degree of refinement.