Javad Zarif: Iran open to negotiations
Calls for end to sanctions
Seated at the table from left, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton attend a meeting of the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany during the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters. Always scrutinized, Iran now will be under even greater watch as the U.S. looks for signals the Islamic Republic's new president is serious and powerful enough to pursue detente with Washington and an end to the painful economic penalties imposed over its nuclear program. AP photo
WASHINGTON — Iran would open its nuclear facilities to international inspectors as part of broad negotiations with the United States that could eventually restore diplomatic relations between the adversaries and those talks have the backing of the nation’s supreme leader, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Sunday.
Zarif also said the United States its allies must end their crippling economic sanctions as part of any deal. The Western-educated Zarif again repeated Tehran’s position that it has no desire for nuclear weapons but has the right to continue a peaceful nuclear program.
“Negotiations are on the table to discuss various aspects of Iranian’s enrichment program. Our right to enrich is nonnegotiable,” Zarif said during an English-language interview that comes amid a significant shift in U.S.-Iranian relations.
At the same time, Zarif’s deputy tried to calm hard-liners’ fears at home. “We never trust America 100 percent,” Abbas Araghchi was quoted as say by the semi-official Fars News Agency, which has close ties to Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard.
Iran’s nuclear ambitions have isolated its people from the rest of the world and led to harmful economic penalties. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has declared the use of nuclear weapons against Islamic law yet has maintained his nation has the right to develop its uranium program.
But Khamenei, who is the nation’s ultimate decision-maker, also has given his approval for elected leaders in his country to engage the West over the nuclear program, Zarif said.
That engagement came to a head Friday with a phone conversation between President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the first direct contact between the two countries’ leaders in three decades.
“While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward, and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution,” Obama told reporters Friday at the White House.
The potential diplomatic thaw after a generation-long freeze is far from certain, and Zarif indicated this would not be simple. Iran’s top diplomat also said his country is willing to forgive the United States’ history with Iran but will not forget decades of distrust between the two nations.
Nor was the United States rushing to forget Iran’s past duplicity, hostility and support for organizations its State Department has labeled terrorist groups.
“Obviously, we and others in the international community have every reason to be skeptical of that and we need to test it, and any agreement must be fully verifiable and enforceable,” said Susan Rice, the White House national security adviser.
Rice said sanctions would remain in place until the United States and its allies were satisfied Iran was not pursuing nuclear weapons.
The skepticism went both ways.
“Definitely, a history of high tensions between Tehran and Washington will not go back to normal relations due to a phone call, meeting or negotiation,” said Araghchi.
Araghchi also reiterated Khamenei’s statements that he is not optimistic about the potential outcome.
The focus now turns to negotiations among foreign ministers and other officials from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany. The group wants Iran to present a more detailed proposal for a path forward before or at the next round of negotiations, scheduled in Geneva on Oct. 15-16, according to an Obama administration official.