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Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif: 'It’s a historic opportunity for all of us'

July 17th, 2014
04:38 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

Talks between world powers and Iran over that country's nuclear program are "a historic opportunity for all of us to end a rather prolonged chapter," Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Thursday in Vienna.

A Sunday deadline is looming for negotiators to reach agreement on a comprehensive solution on Iran’s nuclear program; Iran, in return, is seeking broad sanctions relief and access to international markets. It now seems likely that Sunday’s deadline will not be met and may have to be extended.

"I think we have made enough serious discussion for us to think about the feasibility of continuing these discussions," Zarif said. "I think Secretary Kerry made that recommendation. I have made the recommendation."

“The point is whether it is possible to make a deal, we're not talking about a bad deal or a good deal, but a doable deal. A lasting deal.”

The objective, he said, “is to ensure that Iran's nuclear program will always remain peaceful. I think that is scientifically possible. It doesn't require arbitrary red lines, arbitrary numbers. You just need to find scientific ways of making sure that Iran's nuclear program addresses a practical need. And that is what we have put on the table.”

Amanpour asked Foreign Minister Zarif whether he could tell “our audience that you will agree to intrusive inspections for a long period of time?”

In other words, she asked, “What are you planning to deliver?”

The program, he said, would be “geared towards a very specific objective” – peaceful energy production – “and then if you convert this uranium that you produce into oxide and into fuel, rather than keep it in a form that can be re-enriched to weapons grade.”

In addition, he said, Iran will accept “the most serious international inspection regime that is available legally.”

“We will put in place an international mechanism in order to make sure that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons.”

Bridging the gap

To listen to the foreign minister, Iran’s solution sounds “awfully easy,” as Amanpour put it. But of course these negotiations have been ongoing for many months, since an interim agreement was agreed to by all parties last November.

“Of course we have a lot of gaps to fill in order to reach a comprehensive deal,” Zarif said. “We have made some progress. People have started to listen.”

“An approach to problem-solving is the approach that you require to solve problems. That has started rather late in the process, but it’s better late than never.”

Some analysts say, however, that a speech by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last week may have set just the kind of red lines that Zarif says should have no part in negotiations.

Khamenei reiterated that he had faith in Zarif and his negotiating team, but also said that Iran must boost its enrichment capacity, according to Reuters.

“I think if you listen to what the leader said,” Zarif said, “it makes it clear that our program has a peaceful logic.”

“Our entire nuclear program – be it where we convert yellow cake into gas and we convert gas into enriched uranium – all of this are designed specifically in order to address the requirements of a power plant. That should give you the assurance that this is not for bomb-making.”

‘Obsession with sanctions – what has it achieved?’

Even if a comprehensive deal is struck with Iran, it will take U.S. congressional approval to dismantle the extensive sanctions that have been levied against Tehran over the years.

“Have the American negotiators,” Amanpour asked, “honestly walked you through the complexity of dismantling this draconian and complex sanctions regime that’s been imposed?”

“We more or less know the complexities of the U.S. system,” Zarif said.

“But what is necessary for me, and I think this is very important particularly for our American audience to understand, is that the sanctions have not achieved anything. This infatuation with sanctions, obsession with sanctions – what has it achieved?”

“A lot of resentment of the Iranian people, who cannot buy medicine with their own money.”

“But at the same time, instead of two hundred centrifuges that we’re spinning in the beginning of these crippling sanctions, we now have twenty thousand. So this is the net, if you do an accounting, this is the net outcome of sanctions.”

Zarif nonetheless agreed that while the “Iranian people have learned to live with sanctions,” they have been “crippling” and “very damaging to the Iranian people.”

“Sanctions have cost us money but they haven't brought us down to our knees, and they will never do that.”

Instability next-door

Crippling sanctions are far from Iran’s only international affairs problem. In neighboring Iraq, Sunni extremists have taken over large swaths of the country and precipitated a political crisis.

The “extremism and sectarianism,” he said, is a threat to entire region, including Iran. “We don't like instability in our neighborhood.”

Iran has gone so far as to deploy Revolutionary Guard units to Iraq, senior security officials in Baghdad tell CNN.

“Iran, first of all, wants Iraq territorial integrity and I have spoken to almost every regional foreign minister and all of them want to ensure that Iraq remains secure with its own boundaries,” Zarif said.

As the largest Shiite power, according to diplomats, Iran has in the past gone to significant lengths to support the Shiite prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki; Ali Khedery, former long-serving U.S. Special Assistant in Baghdad, detailed the relationship to Amanpour recently.

But al-Maliki now faces an enormous political crisis at home, and Zarif seemed to indicate that Iranian support would not be bottomless.

“We're not in the business of supporting any individual. We support the Iraqi people. We support the choices of the Iraqi people, whoever Iraq can choose as its prime minister will have the full backing of Iran.”

The same, he said, goes for the Iraqi prime minister and parliamentary speaker.

He urged a “unified approach” from the international community, “not shortsighted policies.”

“It is a problem of extremism. It is a problem of demagogues using inherent resentment that have arisen out of decades of injustice in our region.”

“But these are demagogues using these resentments in order to advance a very dangerous political agenda. And this dangerous political agenda may fit in the designs of some external powers – I don't know. I do not want to espouse conspiracy theories.”

A 30 minute walk, but little else

As the chief Iranian negotiator, Foreign Minister Zarif has had little time to think of anything besides the intricately technical negotiations that have been at a fever pitch, especially in recent days.

“You have been cooped up in this hotel for the better part of the last two weeks,” Amanpour said. “This is also the city of Mozart and Beethoven. Do you ever get to think of anything other than negotiating?”

“Unfortunately not,” he said. “Over the last two, three weeks my colleagues and I have been so engaged in these negotiations that we only get a chance to go and take a walk every evening for half an hour so that we regain our sanity.”


Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Iran • Latest Episode
soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. LWJR

    Obama on the wrong track. Regime change is the only thing that will work on NO NUKES FOR THE AYATOLLAH

    July 17, 2014 at 5:28 pm | Reply
    • bobthebobthex2

      the last time we did that it caused the islamic revolution in iran. how much WORSE do you want to make it?

      July 18, 2014 at 7:21 pm | Reply
      • Joe

        Another revolution would be great! But this time it would go towards freedom. The people are on the other side this time. They have been tasting the real world for a long time and they do not want to live in caves anymore. They do not want to walk around looking like ninjas. They are afraid to speak up. When you get them alone, they will tell you that they really do not want their genitals mutilated, really.

        July 18, 2014 at 7:51 pm |
      • bobthebobthex2

        it's funny, the people support iran's nuclear program overwhelmingly. you want democracy there? you might not like the results.

        July 18, 2014 at 7:52 pm |
    • BudW

      The sooner the better

      July 18, 2014 at 7:28 pm | Reply
    • Tigress

      We are surrounded by Taliban, Al-Qaeda, ISIL, US military bases, hostile Arab states... Don't hold your breath for a revolution.

      July 28, 2014 at 11:20 am | Reply
  2. zcyrus

    More sanctions forces them to give up all. Just talking give the historical opportunity for them to make the bomb.,

    July 17, 2014 at 10:43 pm | Reply
    • Joe

      If they have the bomb, they will be able to stop the oil stealer stealing their oil.

      July 19, 2014 at 7:36 am | Reply
    • Tigress

      More sanctions will generate 20000 more centrifuges.

      July 28, 2014 at 11:23 am | Reply
  3. Etinge Onga

    Obama and west should accept what they can't change-Iran needs nukes like any other countries be for peaceful or military-or Israel should destroy it nukes to reduce regional ambitions

    July 18, 2014 at 2:05 am | Reply
    • Randy Sandberg

      Israel has not threatened to wipe Iran off the map. They could have done so already. But Iran wants to do that to Israel. Any country that sponsors suicide bombings should not have their hands on a nuclear bomb.

      July 18, 2014 at 7:25 pm | Reply
      • bobthebobthex2

        actually isreal has made veiled threats to take out the WORLD if they go down, including the west.

        July 18, 2014 at 7:27 pm |
      • Shaman707

        EXACTLY!!!!!! If our government is allowed to do this for Iran, all involved should be brought up on charges of treason. Iran has made its intentions clear for a long, long time. How anybody could think that allowing Iran to indulge in that kind of power is amazing to me. Iran is a society that needs to oust its current leadership and begin anew. If they can't do that, well, it's not our problem. Allowing them to even sit at the table where the word "nuclear" is mentioned is absolutely freaking crazy.

        July 18, 2014 at 8:16 pm |
  4. Amir

    Very realistic . People should know that a WIN WIN situation is the ONLY way to reach an agreement and no body can force iran to give up as iran is a WEALTHY nation.

    July 18, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Reply
  5. Joew

    Zarif is a lier..This regime can not be trusted and regime change is the only way to solve this.

    July 18, 2014 at 6:47 pm | Reply
    • Shish Yakoo

      Also a Reply to Yari.

      Regime change will not solve anything. It needs to be accompanied by renouncing Islam.

      Islam requires Muslims to wage a constant war on the Enemy, i.e. everybody who is not a Muslim, especially the Jews. And it rewards fallen holy warriors, aka shahibs with eternal life in heaven, seeing Allah, enjoying the services of 72 eternal virgins, and the ability to arrange a place in heaven for 70 relatives to come. Is it any wonder that good Muslims want to kill everybody, most of all themselves, in a holy war for Islam?

      Islam has backed its followers into a corner without an exit: die for Islam, or die for leaving Islam if you don't want to die for Islam.

      Think about this when you next meet a Muslim.

      July 21, 2014 at 1:17 am | Reply
  6. Thugvon

    I ❤ ☫Iran☫

    July 18, 2014 at 7:22 pm | Reply
  7. Randy Sandberg

    Are we going to keep giving Iran extensions until they develop the bomb? Their goal is to wipe Israel off the map. Their president said so and we sit idly by hoping it won't happen.

    July 18, 2014 at 7:23 pm | Reply
    • bobthebobthex2

      1. iran has had enough weapons grade uranium to make a bomb since 1968. what are they waiting on?
      2. the FORMER president didnt say what you claim he did.

      July 18, 2014 at 7:26 pm | Reply
    • rudamus

      Excellent post and right on target.

      July 18, 2014 at 7:42 pm | Reply
  8. Susan

    As a former World Power, why is the US still involved with this group? Are they holding the spot for when we have a President again?

    July 18, 2014 at 7:27 pm | Reply
  9. Nigel

    I think the main agreed is that we need boots on the ground in Iran and we need them now!

    July 18, 2014 at 7:44 pm | Reply
    • bobthebobthex2

      you first.

      July 18, 2014 at 7:48 pm | Reply
    • Yari

      You are discussing about something what you can't understand. For the first time after the revolution there are some people in Iran who believe in logic and they speak the same language as the rest of the world. Otherwise wouldn't take that long. If you look at the face of US in the past 50 years what your government did you are the first nation who used atomic bombs against others, used power to destroy other nations like in Vietnam and that region, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sumalia... etc. What you don't know about Iran or maybe you should know or try to read about it. Who did the regime change in Iran? Why your government is now against it? all problems in that region is about resources and selling the weapons by creating a problem. Iranians are very proud nation, we have long known history, the basic of science and what the west is build on it the Iranian scientist made it. It means Iran is a treat to new world order what means US domination. Ask your self what did Qaddafi in Libya? Saddam Hussein was a good accomplice to US, why suddenly he had to go and got killed? Iran is no Iraq or Libia is definitely not Pakistan or Afghanistan. In the past 35 years almost 5 million people fled the country and over the 60% of them who live in the west earn more then the local people very bright in high education. Try to check how many people are working for NASA. It means this great nation will be rising again, they will change the government in Iran when is the time and we solve our problems in our own country. The west feels treat because they understand if they don't make problems for Iranians we will reach in just 10 years the highest technological science and will be the East. We have the resources and the brains and the world can't handle that. Check US history and try to find out who inspired Abraham Lincoln on his way "the life of Cyrus the great". In the known history you can be proud on one nation and that's Iran. Democracy what you know in the west we made it 2500 years ago. If you really want to change this world and you are concern about your safety then think how you can bring peace to this world. Look at Afghanistan, Iraq and Libia. Are you safe now? all the problems are solved? If you are a humanist and you care about the world do something in your own country first. Leave us alone .....

      July 19, 2014 at 8:00 am | Reply
    • ttttt

      You are welcome to come to Iran as a tourist. As a soldier, you will not go back alive.

      July 28, 2014 at 8:20 pm | Reply
  10. polofourme

    Obfuscate, delay, lie, cheat...I say Iran has had long enough to decide whether they want to cooperate with the P5 and the rest of the world or not Extending this only emboldens the Iranians and at this point is merely a political maneuver to buy more time to advance their nuclear program. Time to fish or cut bait and the Iranians have it made their intentions clear..they are making these negotiations which never lead anywhere a joke. Time to put the sanctions back in place and ratchet them up with new sanctions that already just waiting to be imposed based on a Senate resolution. These guys are disingenuous to be kind. Time to stick it to them as hard as we can to demonstrate we are not going to play these games any longer. Pay up or shut up.

    July 18, 2014 at 7:46 pm | Reply
    • bobthebobthex2

      what exactly is it you think iran is buying time to do?

      July 18, 2014 at 7:48 pm | Reply
      • polofourme

        Its clear they are buying time to advance their nuclear capability. They are still enriching, those centrifuges are still spinning and working. They are not dumb, they want to have the capability to step over the line at a moments notice if not the right out capability to build a bomb. It not just a bomb, the material they have today could be used by terrorists to construct a dirty bomb and Iran is the leading terrorist country in the world. They have explicitly stated their goal is to destroy Israel...you don't have to be a rocket scientist to connect the dots. They have lied numerous times about their nuclear program....what more evidence do you need.

        July 19, 2014 at 8:47 am |
  11. wowlfie

    What a hypocrite Obama is. Never true to his word.

    July 18, 2014 at 7:47 pm | Reply
  12. dingburtdoltz

    Obama is NOT a negotiator and in fact his judgement STANKS! Do not put any faith in what this dumb SOB would do!

    July 18, 2014 at 7:50 pm | Reply
  13. Kevin Monroe

    Have you noticed that Iran is always willing to extend US imposed deadlines? This plays right into their NUKES plan.
    Obama snoozing the whole time. Another failed Obama promise.

    July 18, 2014 at 8:00 pm | Reply
  14. Shaman707

    I thought the U.S. didn't negotiate with terrorists? I am never surprised anymore, but it truly amazes me that the American people, of either side of the isle, are allowing our government to allow terrorists with a genuine hatred for our country, deserved or not, to have even the slightest of discussions about nuclear anything. Amazing.

    July 18, 2014 at 8:06 pm | Reply
    • Yari

      Try to solve your own domestic issues and marshal laws what you are going to get soon. Let your head free and try not to think about Iranian issues. You all need that and read something on internet about who is a terrorist your country is the biggest one.

      July 19, 2014 at 10:24 am | Reply
  15. Andrew

    Translation... we just can't handle this right now!

    July 18, 2014 at 8:21 pm | Reply
  16. joe

    A 'Historical mistake'..

    July 18, 2014 at 11:37 pm | Reply

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