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Iran’s Zarif Seeks Shift Away From ‘Lose-Lose’ Sanctions

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said "we have very serious sanctions that are hurting the Iranian people." Photographer: Thomas Koehler/Photothek via Getty Images

Oct. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said he welcomes his country’s shift away from the diplomatic isolation and the sanctions weighing on his country’s economy.

Zarif said initial diplomatic discussions about Iran’s nuclear-fuel production marked a “good beginning.”

“Nobody has benefited from this pattern of relations that we’ve had over the last eight years,” he said, according to a transcript of his interview on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” airing today.

“There is need for change,” he said. “I hope that everybody realizes that we need to change that process, put an end to something that was a lose-lose situation and hopefully begin something that will be to the benefit of everyone.”

The comments reflect the thaw in Iran’s relations with the international community under President Hassan Rouhani, who took office in August pledging to improve the country’s world standing and an economy hurt by sanctions imposed because of the country’s pursuit of nuclear technology.

“We have very serious sanctions that are hurting the Iranian people,” Zarif said on CNN. Iran’s inflation rate is almost 40 percent, economy minister Ali Tayyeb-Nia said today, according to state television.

Rouhani spoke by phone with U.S. President Barack Obama during the trip to the United Nations last month, in the highest-level diplomatic encounter between the two countries since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution. Rouhani has criticized the confrontational approach of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had held the office since 2005.

Supreme Leader

Zarif met last month with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and counterparts from five other world powers and proposed a goal of reaching an agreement over its nuclear program within a year.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said he supports government diplomacy along with “whatever happened” during Rouhani’s trip to New York, the state-run Iranian Students’ News Agency reported yesterday. Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, also said that the U.S. government is “not trustworthy” and is arrogant and that some “events” during Rouhani’s visit were “out of place.”

Iran’s crude oil output, once second to Saudi Arabia’s among the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, has fallen to its lowest since 1990 under U.S. and European sanctions. The International Energy Agency said Oct. 2 that U.S.-Iranian talks are “very important” for oil markets.

Netanyahu’s Caution

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Iran is six months away from having the capability to produce a nuclear weapon. Obama said in an interview with the Associated Press published today that the U.S. considers such a step about a year or more away, though he understands Netanyahu’s skepticism toward Iran’s overtures given the history of hostility between the two countries.

“My concern and my goal is to make sure the Iranians don’t dupe us into a deal where we lift the sanctions and they retain the ability to develop at will nuclear weapons that will reach all of us,” Netanyahu said, speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation” today.

Netanyahu cited a book by Rouhani that described how Iran had been able to advance its nuclear development program in the past by creating a calm atmosphere and negotiating with the Europeans.

“Are we going to be fooled twice?” Netanyahu said. “What we want is the complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear weapons capability. I would tell them, ‘Here’s the package: if you don’t adopt it, we’ll increase the sanctions.’”

Uranium Enrichment

In his interview with CNN, Zarif said Iran has been enriching uranium in order to create fuel for nuclear power plants, and said Israel has for decades been saying that Iran is on the verge of obtaining a nuclear bomb.

“We don’t have a bomb because we don’t see it in our interests,” he said. Alternative energy sources are now a “major policy option that, both from an environmental perspective, as well as from sustainable development perspective, is being suggested and promoted at the international level,” he said.

In separate comments, reported by Iran’s Press TV, Zarif said he’s ready to give the U.S. an opportunity to show its goodwill.

Nuclear Sabotage

Iran today announced that it has arrested four people on suspicion of preparing to carry out an act of sabotage on its nuclear facilities. The country has repeatedly said, including as recently as last month at the United Nations, that its scientists have been killed and research facilities targeted by Western powers.

“For what crimes have they been assassinated? The United Nations and the Security Council should answer a question. Have the perpetrators been condemned?’” Rouhani said at the UN.

Last week, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards rejected reports that the head of the country’s cyber warfare program had been assassinated, saying only that it was probing the death of an employee it didn’t identify.

“This statement denies all the news about assassinating one of our workers after a very sudden incident happened to him,” the Imam Hassan Mojtaba division of the Revolutionary Guards Corps said in a statement on the Alborz website. “We are investigating the incident and the intention of the attacker or attackers.”

The U.K. Daily Telegraph newspaper had earlier reported that cyber warfare chief Mojtaba Ahmadi was shot dead in a targeted assassination, citing what it said was a report on Alborz. He was killed by two bullets to the heart, according to the daily.

To contact the reporters on this story: William Selway in Washington at wselway@bloomberg.net; Sara Forden in Washington at sforden@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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