Iran Minister Says Nuclear Pause Talks Will Continue

Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the Islamic Republic is committed to reaching an accord over nuclear activities even as the U.S. seeks to punish companies for possibly violating sanctions.

Zarif, in an interview today on CBS’s “Face the Nation” television program, said it was “a very wrong move” for the U.S. government to freeze assets of companies doing business with Iran while a deal aimed at keeping his country from developing nuclear weapons is being pursued.

“We are committed to the implementation of the plan of action that we adopted in Geneva,” Zarif said. “But we believe that it takes two to tango.”

High-level talks in Vienna between six countries and Iran were disrupted after the Treasury Department on Dec. 12 said it was freezing assets and banning transactions of entities that attempt to evade the sanctions, including by doing business with the National Iranian Tanker Co., Iran’s primary shipper of crude oil.

The companies designated as sanctions violators include Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing Co., an Iranian firm that the Treasury said was involved in procuring sensitive items for use in Iran’s centrifuge program, and the Exploration and Nuclear Raw Materials Production Co., a subsidiary of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, which was cited for overseeing uranium discovery, mining, and mineral processing operations in Iran.

The Treasury also said it targeted companies, including Singapore-based Singa Tankers, for providing support to the National Iranian Tanker Co.

Nuclear Accord

The Obama administration pledged in the accord reached last month in Geneva that it would oppose any new sanctions during the next six months while trying to negotiate a solution to the decade-long dispute over Iran’s nuclear activities.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week to defend the preliminary six-month accord that provides for a freeze on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for a limited easing of sanctions.

Some U.S. lawmakers oppose the deal as inadequate and are pushing for new sanctions on Iran.

“Many of us are very skeptical about the conditions under which this pause is being undertaken,” Arizona Republican Senator John McCain said today on “Face the Nation”.

New Sanctions

McCain said he was considering pushing for new sanctions that would go into effect if a broader deal isn’t reached in six months.

“There is the scenario if you were the Iranians just keep dragging out these negotiations, meanwhile the centrifuges still spin and they progress towards this point where all it takes is the turn of a wrench and they have a nuclear weapon,” he said.

Adding fresh sanctions while talks are under way would hurt relations with allies who have helped the U.S. and undermine Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Wendy Sherman, the State Department’s undersecretary for political affairs, told the Senate Banking Committee during a Dec. 12 hearing.

The U.S. and its allies say Iran is pursuing the capability to make a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian energy and medical research only.

Rice Meeting

President Barack Obama has said he is committed to trying diplomacy to resolve the tensions with Iran, even as he gauged the chances of a successful agreement on the nuclear issue as no better than 50-50 at a Dec. 7 forum in Washington.

The White House today said that National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken, along with unnamed officials from the State and Treasury departments, hosted Israeli National Security Advisor Yossi Cohen and other Israeli officials for meetings last week.

The discussions focused on efforts by nations involved in the peace talks, including Russia and France, “to pursue a lasting and comprehensive settlement that would resolve the international community’s concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program,” according to the e-mailed statement. The U.S. officials reaffirmed Obama’s goal “of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

Zarif also said today that the Iranian government isn’t holding Robert Levinson, a retired Federal Bureau of Investigation agent and Central Intelligence Agency contractor who has been missing since visiting Kish Island to meet a source in March 2007. Zarif said Iranian security officials who investigated the disappearance lost track of Levinson after he checked out of his hotel.

“We have no trace of him in Iran,” Zarif said.

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