Iran, for now, has fended off an attempt by the United States to include Tehran's ballistic missiles within the ambit of an on-going nuclear dialogue, signaling a tussle between the two countries to draw maximum political advantage out of the talks.

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," said Mr. Araqchi, during a television talk show on Sunday night.

A nuclear deal, signed in November, resulted in the commencement of a dialogue between Iran and its interlocutors--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 above 2,000 kilometers.

Mr. Araqchi's remarks follow an assertion by Wendy Sherman, the lead U.S. 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.

Analysts say that Iran is adopting a tough posture, but, which, at the same time, is finely calibrated to ensure that there is no breakdown in talks.

The delicate balancing act was evident on Sunday when Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reached a seven point agreement entailing practical steps that Tehran would undertake prior to May 15, 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), in Tehran 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."

Reinforcing his country's finely tuned line, the head of the AEOI, Ali Akbar Salehi warned that in case the six global powers failed to abide by their commitments under the Geneva nuclear deal, Iran could return to its original nuclear activities "in a matter of hours."

Nevertheless, the Iranians couched their hardline stance in language that suggested that they were ready for a bargain. Mr. Araqchi roundly criticised the U.S. decision of February 6 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 that caveat that the US administration might have adopted these measures due to "domestic pressure" seeking additional unilateral sanctions against Tehran.

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