Iran foreign minister says nuclear deal dead if U.S. passes new sanctions

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister listens to media questions during a news conference in Tehran, Nov. 26, 2013.
AP

WASHINGTON - Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the Iranian nuclear deal would be dead if the U.S. Congress imposes new sanctions, even if they do not take effect for six months, Time Magazine said on Monday.

In a transcript of the interview, which was conducted on Saturday and posted online on Monday, Time said it asked Zarif what happens if Congress imposes new sanctions, even if they do not go into effect for six months.

According to the magazine, he replied: "The entire deal is dead." Zarif was referring to a November 24 agreement with six world powers under which Tehran would curb its nuclear program in exchange for limited relief from economic sanctions.

"We do not like to negotiate under duress," Zarif added. "If Congress adopts sanctions, it shows lack of seriousness and lack of a desire to achieve a resolution on the part of the United States.

"I know the domestic complications and various issues inside the United States, but for me that is no justification. I have a parliament. My parliament can also adopt various legislation that can go into effect if negotiations fail," he added. "But if we start doing that, I don't think that we will be getting anywhere."

The White House said last week that it opposes a fresh effort by some members of the U.S. Senate to impose new sanctions against Iran, even if the new restrictions would not take effect for months.

Some senators have been discussing the idea of imposing new sanctions on Iran that would kick in after six months or if Iran violated terms of an interim deal reached November 24 in Geneva between Iran and the six major powers: Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

Those six powers and Iran began expert-level talks on Monday to work out nitty-gritty details in implementing their landmark accord for Tehran to curb its disputed nuclear program in return for a limited easing of sanctions.

The preliminary accord is seen as a first step towards resolving a decade-old standoff over suspicions Iran might be covertly pursuing a nuclear weapons "breakout" capability, a perception that has raised the risk of a wider Middle East war.

Officials met at the Vienna headquarters of the U.N. nuclear agency, which will play a central role in verifying that Tehran carries out its part of the interim deal.

The outcome of the meeting is expected to determine when Iran stops its most sensitive nuclear activity and when it gets the respite in sanctions that it has been promised in return.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it would have "some involvement" in the discussions, which are expected to continue on Tuesday. Media were barred from the floor where the meeting, held under tight secrecy, took place.

The talks are aimed at "devising mechanisms" for the Geneva accord's implementation, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi was quoted by state Press TV as saying. Iranian nuclear as well as central bank officials would take part, he said.

Western diplomats said detailed matters not addressed at the Nov. 20-24 talks in Geneva must be ironed out before the deal can be put into practice.