Iran, unwilling to cede more to the Western powers than it has to, is fighting off an attempt by the United States to include Tehran's ballistic missiles within the ambit of the ongoing nuclear dialogue.
Iran's deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, declared on Monday that his country's ballistic missile programme would not be discussed during Tehran's nuclear dialogue with the six global powers.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran's defensive issues are neither negotiable nor subject to compromise, and they (defensive issues) will be definitely among our red lines in any negotiation," Araqchi said on a television show on Sunday night.
A deal signed in November resulted in the commencement of a dialogue between Iran and six acknowledged nuclear powers – the United States, Russia, Britain, France and Germany - which envisions lifting of all sanctions against Tehran within six months, provided it could be verifiably ascertained that Iran was not in pursuit of atomic weapons.
Ballistic missiles can be used for delivering nuclear warheads. But Iran insists that its missile programme does not have a nuclear dimension as it is not developing atomic weapons. Iran has developed a series of missiles, some of which may have a range of above 2,000 km.
Araqchi's remarks follow an assertion by Wendy Sherman, the lead US nuclear negotiator at the talks with Tehran, during a Senate hearing, that Iran's ballistic missile programme would be addressed as part of a comprehensive nuclear deal.
On Sunday, Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reached a seven-point agreement entailing practical steps that Tehran would undertake prior to 15 May in order to build confidence about its nuclear intentions.
But the Iranians have insisted that access to the Parchin military facility, which the IAEA has been seeking in the past, will not be granted. "Inspection of Parchin is not within the framework of these seven steps," said Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI), on Sunday.
On its part, the IAEA acknowledged that "everything has gone as planned". Yet, IAEA's deputy director general for safeguards Tero Tapio Varjoranta stressed that the seven-step plan is "the first step that is taking place now". He added, "There are still a lot of outstanding issues."
Araqchi roundly criticised the US decision of 6 February to blacklist nearly three dozen companies and individuals for evading anti-Iran sanctions. These included entities operating in Turkey, Spain, Germany, Georgia, Afghanistan, Iran, Liechtenstein and the United Arab Emirates.
But the Iranian diplomat also added the caveat that the US administration might have adopted these measures due to "domestic pressure" seeking additional unilateral sanctions against Tehran.