Iran's supreme leader said on Sunday that a deal with the West over Tehran's nuclear work was possible if the country's nuclear infrastructure remained intact, amid a stalemate between Tehran and Washington to revive a 2015 nuclear pact.
Months of indirect talks between Tehran and Washington to salvage the nuclear accord with six major powers have stalled since September, with both sides accusing each other of making unreasonable demands.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's guarded approval comes days after both Tehran and Washington denied a report that they were nearing an interim deal under which Tehran would curb its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
"There is nothing wrong with the agreement (with the West), but the infrastructure of our nuclear industry should not be touched," Khamenei said, according to state media.
The 2015 agreement limited Iran’s uranium enrichment activity to make it harder for Tehran to develop nuclear arms, in return for lifting international sanctions.
In 2018, then-U.S. President Donald Trump exited the pact and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy, leading Tehran to gradually move well beyond the deal's nuclear restrictions and reviving U.S., European and Israeli fears that Iran may seek an atomic bomb.
Echoing Iran's official stance for years, Khamenei said the Islamic Republic has never sought to build a nuclear bomb.
"Accusations about Tehran seeking nuclear weapons is a lie and they know it. We do not want nuclear arms because of our religious beliefs. Otherwise, they (the West) would not have been able to stop it," said Khamenei.
Khamenei, who has the last say on all state matters such as Iran's nuclear program, said the country's nuclear authorities should continue working with the United Nations nuclear watchdog "under the framework of safeguards."
However, Khamenei called on Iranian authorities "not to yield to the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) "excessive and false demands," adding that a law passed by Iran's hard-line parliament in 2020 had to be respected.
Under the law, Tehran would suspend IAEA inspections of its nuclear sites and step up uranium enrichment if sanctions are not lifted.
"This is a good law ... which must be respected and not violated in providing access and information" to the IAEA, Khamenei said.
Last month, the IAEA reported limited progress over disputed issues with Iran, including re-installing some monitoring equipment originally put in place under the 2015 pact that Tehran ordered removed last year.