Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Iran isn’t developing a nuclear weapon and is prepared to negotiate with the U.S. about its program to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said.
“Negotiations are on the table to discuss various aspects of Iran’s enrichment program,” Zarif said in an interview broadcast today on ABC’s “This Week.”
Zarif also urged the U.S. to lift economic sanctions on Iran. The Islamic republic’s pursuit of nuclear technology has led President Barack Obama and his allies in Europe to tighten the penalties and the U.S. and Israel to threaten military action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear arms. Zarif said Iran is “not seeking nuclear weapons.”
Obama and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani spoke about the the nuclear program during a 15-minute telephone call last week that represented the first contact between leaders of the two countries since before Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979. Rouhani returned to Tehran to be greeted by both supporters and by protesters chanting anti-U.S. slogans.
Zarif also met last week with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and counterparts from five other world powers and proposed a goal of reaching an accord within a year. He called the recent talks a “necessary first step toward removing the tensions,” and said the U.S. should be willing to dismantle sanctions against his country “very rapidly.”
The sanctions will remain in effect until Iran satisfies its obligations under United Nations Security Council resolutions and commits in negotiations to seek nuclear power only for peaceful purposes, U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” program today.
While the contact between Obama and Rouhani may eventually begin the process of normalizing diplomatic relations, Rice said Iran must first follow through on its pledges to not build nuclear weapons and to stop supporting terrorists.
Even as Zarif spoke of the need for the sides to sit down and “reach a common objective,” he also said that between the U.S. and Iran, “lack of confidence is unfortunately mutual.”
Before negotiations begin in earnest, Zarif drew a line.
“We do not need military-grade uranium,” he said, promising Iran “will not move” toward obtaining it. “Our right to enrich is non-negotiable.”
Former President Bill Clinton said he sees a “greater chance of constructive engagement” with Iran now than in the past. Clinton said in an interview with ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” that the chemical-weapons effort in Syria could be a good dress rehearsal.
“We should keep working for the best and preparing for the worst,” he said, noting Iran’s pledge to refrain from seeking nuclear weapons. “We can’t take their word for it. But we can take them up on it.”
Senators Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who heads the Foreign Relations Committee, and Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post that they were skeptical of Iran’s overtures. The lawmakers support tougher sanctions and said the recent talks shouldn’t undermine “U.S. resolve to take whatever action is necessary to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, boarding a plane for the U.S. to meet with Obama and speak at the UN, was also skeptical.
“I will tell the truth in the face of the sweet-talk and onslaught of smiles,” he told reporters. Netanyahu arrived in New York today and will visit the White House tomorrow.
“A smile attack is much better than a lie attack,” Zarif said in response, accusing the Israelis of repeating since 1991 that Iran is six months away from having a nuclear weapon.
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