Iranian Official Blames Senate’s Sanctions Threats for Hurting Nuclear Negotiations

The country’s foreign minister said a final agreement could pave the way for cooperation in other areas.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif shakes hands with Secretary of State John Kerry after a statement on a landmark deal with Iran halting parts of its nuclear program Nov. 24, 2013 in Geneva.
National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
Feb. 18, 2014, 12:20 p.m.

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.

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