Congress's battle over increasing sanctions against Iran has caused "a great deal of concern" for Iranians, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Tuesday, but he stressed that negotiations are the only way forward for both sides.
"From an Iranian perspective … what has happened in the last two months has been less than encouraging," Zarif said, speaking at a University of Denver event via webcast from Vienna.
Zarif met with Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, in Vienna on Tuesday, to kick off formal talks over reaching a long-term deal on Iran's nuclear program. Ashton is representing the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China during the talks.
He stressed that "statements cannot be limited to one audience," referring to the back-and-forth between U.S. and Iranian officials who have often accused one another of saying one thing during private negotiations and another thing when speaking to a domestic audience.
But the Iranian official said the West and Iran share the common goal of making sure Iran's nuclear program is purely peaceful. He stressed that Iran is at the negotiating table "because of a single overriding fact, and that is, we have no other option. If you want to resolve this issue, the only way to resolve it is through negotiations."
And while he acknowledged that the sanctions targeting the country have crippled its economy, Zarif added that "if the intention was to stop the Iranian nuclear program, the policy has miserably failed."
Under an interim agreement diplomats reached in November, officials have until late July to agree on a long-term deal, but Zarif dismissed a specific time frame, noting that "there is no end date" because of the "common objective" the countries have.
Although the six-month period can be extended, Zarif said he is hopeful a final agreement can be reached by the July 20 deadline, but that it would take more than "one or two sittings".
Zarif largely sidestepped what other topics Iran and the West could tackle if a long-term agreement is reached, saying that he is "realistic enough to focus on this particular project," but he did suggest that the two sides could cooperate on a rise in extremism.