DAVOS, Switzerland — Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Friday that a vote in U.S. Congress for more sanctions against his country will kill a likely nuclear deal with the West.
Speaking in an Associated Press debate at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Zarif warned that Iran’s parliament will retaliate if U.S. lawmakers approve fresh sanctions.
“A sanctions bill by the U.S. Congress will kill the joint plan of action that we adopted last year in Geneva,” he said. “Now the president of the United States has the power to veto it, but our parliament will have its counteraction.”
The Iranian parliament will “retaliate,” he added, by passing a bill to increase enrichment of uranium.
The United States and Iran hope that nuclear talks which include the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany can be accelerated in order to meet a March target for a framework agreement, and a final agreement by June 30.
The U.S. and its partners are hoping to turn an interim Geneva accord into a permanent deal with Iran that would set long-term limits on Iran’s enrichment of uranium and other activity that could produce material for use in nuclear weapons.
Iran says its program is solely for energy production and medical research purposes, and it has agreed to some restrictions in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from U.S. economic sanctions.
Zarif said he believes such a comprehensive deal over his country’s disputed nuclear program is almost at hand.
“We have nothing to lose by reaching an agreement and I believe we can have an agreement soon,” he said. “I believe there is a possibility, a very good probability, of reaching an agreement, and we should not waste that opportunity.”
As Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited the Swiss alpine resort Davos, their negotiating teams met in Zurich on Friday and Saturday to press for an agreement.
Zarif also disputed assertions by Germany’s defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, that sanctions were key in forcing Iran to the negotiating table.
“The reason our government is at the negotiating table is that we want to change our dynamics with the rest of the world,” he said. “Sanctions did not bring our government to the negotiating table.”
Kerry and Zarif met for bilateral talks Friday on the sidelines of the WEF meeting.
“Secretary Kerry and Iranian foreign minister Zarif just concluded an hour-long meeting in Davos,” a State Department source said, without providing more details.
Kerry and Zarif already met last week in Geneva and then again in Paris to discuss the nuclear negotiations.
Under an interim deal agreed in November 2013 by Tehran and the so-called P5+1 powers — Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States plus Germany — Iran has frozen its uranium enrichment in exchange for limited sanctions relief.
But two deadlines for a full accord cutting off Iran’s alleged ambition to build an atomic bomb have been missed.
The new Republican-controlled US Congress is considering a fresh sanctions bill, despite strong opposition from President Barack Obama, who has threatened to veto any such legislation.
Top European diplomats on Thursday appealed for US lawmakers to hold off on the threatened new sanctions, pleading for time to allow the nuclear talks to succeed.
The US government’s efforts to push towards a deal have meanwhile been complicated further by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to address Congress in March.
Netanyahu has called Iran’s nuclear push the most “vital national security challenge” his nation faces, and Obama’s allies fear his trip could be used by Israel and the Republicans to rally opposition to a nuclear deal.
Senior Israeli sources told Israel’s Channel 2 Friday night that given “the deep disagreements between Israel and the US” on the Iranian nuclear talks, Netanyahu felt that “he must present his stance even if that doesn’t suit Obama. This is a matter of substance.” The Israeli prime minister is to visit the US in early March and speak to Congress, in a trip that was not coordinated in advance with the White House.
The Israeli sources charged that the US was proving “worryingly” willing to over-compromise in the nuclear talks and was ready to allow Iran to keep more than 6,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium.
The Israeli sources further said that the US administration was taking advantage of the Israeli election season to seal a deal with Iran, and that this move must be opposed, Channel 2 reported. The fear in Jerusalem is that a US-led deal with Iran “is weeks away,” the TV report said.