Iran and the US denied reports that they were close to a temporary agreement to reduce the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions.
It is no secret that US and European officials have been looking for ways to curb Iran's nuclear program since the collapse of indirect US-Iranian talks on reviving the nuclear deal, formally known as the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
One possible solution was an interim deal under which Iran would accept fewer restrictions on its nuclear program in return for more modest sanctions' relief than in the 2015 deal.
The Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council, John Kirby, said that US intelligence officials believe a UAV factory in the Russian Alabuga Special Economic Zone could be operational early next year.
The statement was accompanied by satellite photos taken in April of the plant's site, hundreds of miles east of Moscow, where the factory is likely to be built.
- "Exposing" cooperation with Russia
Kirby confirmed that US officials have also determined that Iran continues to supply the Russian army with one-way attack drones made in Iran to be used in its war on Ukraine.
He revealed that the drones were shipped across the Caspian Sea.
"This is a full-scale defense partnership that is harmful to Ukraine, to Iran's neighbors, and the international community," he said.
"We are continuing to use all the tools at our disposal to expose and disrupt these activities, including sharing this with the public – and we are prepared to do more."
Kirby reported that the US administration would issue a new advisory to help companies and other governments implement procedures to ensure they do not inadvertently contribute to Iran's drone program.
The advisory aimed "to help businesses and other governments better understand the risks posed by Iran's UAV program and the illicit practices Iran uses to procure components for it."
The US, the EU, and the UK have issued in recent months rules to cut the flow of drone components to Russia and Iran.
A National Security Council spokesman said, "Any reports of an interim agreement are false."
A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on such talks, saying it had ways to pass messages to Iran but would not detail their content or how they were delivered.
Iran's mission to the United Nations also cast doubt on the report: "Our comment is the same as the White House comment."
Reuters quoted Iranian officials saying progress had been made, but no agreement was forthcoming.
A third official said US special envoy for Iran, Rob Malley, and Iran's ambassador to the UN, Amir Saeid Iravani met at least three times in the past weeks but gave no details.
"There (has) been some progress, and we have exchanged proposals and messages with Americans," said a senior Iranian official. "Still, there are lots of details that we need to discuss."
- Pressure from US legislators
US President Joe Biden's administration has been under more pressure to halt negotiations with Iran.
Thirty-five House representatives sent a bipartisan letter to the British, French, and German leaders urging them to immediately initiate the snapback mechanism of United Nations sanctions on Iran, according to the JCPOA.
The three European countries are the only partners capable of initiating a "snapback" in the 2015 deal that canceled the lifting of UN sanctions on Iran.
The parties to the agreement rejected a previous US attempt to do so, given Washington's withdrawal from the deal in 2018 under former President Donald Trump.
In their new letter, US lawmakers specifically highlight the urgency of stepping back in light of the upcoming expiration of the UN embargo on Iran's missile and drone programs later this year.
The letter read: "It is clear that Iran has failed to live up to its nonproliferation commitments, and time is running out to curb their nuclear ambitions."
"For nearly four years, Iran has ceased implementing important commitments under the JCPOA, continues to expand its nuclear program, and has rejected all diplomatic offers. As our great nations have seen countless times, appeasing belligerent nations does not lead to peace, it only feeds even greater threats to international peace and security."
The two representatives, Claudia Tenney and Josh Gottheimer sent the message, and they were joined by 32 Republicans and Democratic Representative Jared Moskowitz.
"It is indisputable that Iran is in violation of the JCPOA, which is why our European allies must initiate snapback now to reimpose previously lifted sanctions," Tenney added.
"Snapback will send a clear message to Iran that its nuclear extortion has severe consequences and that the expansion of its nuclear program will not be tolerated. The time for bold and decisive action is now."
Gottheimer stressed that lifting sanctions on Iran would fuel its malign activities worldwide.