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Zarif: We Only Spoke With the U.S. About the Nuclear Program

Iran's foreign minister denies that bilateral discussions with the U.S. before historic nuclear agreement dealt with rapprochement.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 11/27/2013, 5:43 AM

Iranian FM Javad Zarif on Youtube video
Iranian FM Javad Zarif on Youtube video
Screenshot

Iran's foreign minister said Tuesday that bilateral discussions with the United States before a historic nuclear agreement were limited to the atomic issue and not rapprochement with Washington, reports AFP.

Mohammad Javad Zarif's remarks came after a senior U.S. official said that a series of secret meetings between Iranian and American envoys had taken place since the June election of President Hassan Rouhani in preparation for Sunday's nuclear deal.

The Associated Press revealed on Sunday, hours after the deal was signed, that it had been made possible due to secret talks that the U.S. and Iran held since at least the month of March and were authorized by President Barack Obama himself.

"Our discussions have been limited to the nuclear issue," Zarif said in English when asked about the revelation.

"All the speculations about discussions involving other issues are flatly wrong, as we've only concentrated on the nuclear issue," he added, according to AFP.

Zarif led the Iranian team at the talks with the P5+1 group of world powers in Geneva, which culminated in the landmark agreement elusive for the past decade in freezing parts of Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for limited sanctions relief.

Iran and the United States broke diplomatic ties following the 1979 hostage taking of American diplomats in Tehran, and have weathered rising tensions in recent years over a number of issues.

Any decision on contacts with Washington, or eventual thaw in relations, rests in the hands of Iran's ultimate authority, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Zarif met face-to-face for an hour with his U.S. counterpart John Kerry in New York in late September, the first such meeting since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran.

The two also spent several hours in bilateral sessions in the nuclear talks between Iran so-called P5+1 - the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany.

"In discussions on the sidelines of the P5+1 there were various countries, including the United States," Zarif stated.

"We made it very clear that there is no problem for Iran to discuss with all the parties... on the resolution of the nuclear issue," he added.

After the agreement was reached Sunday, a senior U.S. official had said contacts with Iran were established and series of meetings to "reinforce and ultimately to being part of the P5+1 negotiations."

Iran's atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi, who was foreign minister from late 2010 to August 2013, refused Sunday to comment on the backchannel contacts.

"Do I have to answer all questions?" he was quoted by AFP as having said in English, with a grin on his face, when asked if contacts had been established before Rouhani was elected.

The deal with Iran is valid for six months and after that time, a final agreement will be worked out.

Earlier Monday, France said that some EU sanctions on Iran could be lifted in December as the nuclear deal reached over the weekend moves forward.

Speaking on Europe 1 radio, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said EU foreign ministers would gather together in "a few weeks" to discuss lifting some sanctions as part of the deal – a move he said could take place "in December."

Former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Zalman Shoval has expressed concern that Washington, in an attempt to justify the Western deal with Iran limiting Tehran's nuclear development program, would most likely “go easy” on Iran when it came to evaluating violations of the agreement.

“What worries me is that the Obama administration may 'discount' violations of the agreement,” Shoval said on Monday. “The Geneva agreement is a very bad one, and may have even been worse were it not for the diplomatic steps taken by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in recent weeks.”

Also on Monday, U.S. treasury officials stated that the deal waged between Western powers and Iran over the weekend will have very little impact on the Iranian economy.