Iran and the US could reach a deal on Tehran’s nuclear program within 3 to 6 months or sooner, Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday, amid a whirl of diplomatic activity.
Kerry told CBS news, however, that the US would not remove punishing sanctions imposed by the West until Washington was sure Tehran was complying with world demands to curb its nuclear activity.
“The United States is not going to lift the sanctions until it is clear that a very verifiable, accountable, transparent process is in place, whereby we know exactly what Iran is going be doing with its program,” Kerry told the US news station.
Excerpts from the interview were posted late Thursday. The full conversation will air on Sunday evening.
On Thursday, Kerry held a one-on-one meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the first high-level direct meeting between the sides since ties were cut following the 1979 revolution in Iran.
Zarif and Kerry also met within the framework of the P5+1 talks aimed at reaching a deal for Iran to pull back from its nuclear program, which is widely believed to be for military purposes. Tehran denies the charges and says the enrichment is for peaceful means.
Diplomats left the meeting cautiously upbeat, saying “a window of opportunity has opened” to peacefully settle the nuclear standoff.
The sides agreed to meet again in Geneva next month as part of a newly intense push to solve the crisis.
“We agreed to jump-start the process, so that we could move forward with a view to agreeing first on the parameters of the end game … and move toward finalizing it hopefully within a year’s time,” Zarif said after the talks. “I thought I was too ambitious, bordering on naiveté. But I saw that some of my colleagues were even more ambitious and wanted to do it faster.”
On Wednesday, The Washington Post published an interview with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, in which he called for a short time frame for nuclear talks.
“The shorter it is, the more beneficial it is to everyone. If it’s 3 months that would be Iran’s choice, if it’s 6 months that’s still good,” he was quoted as saying.
Kerry told CBS the timetable could even be shorter.
“Sure, it’s possible,” he said. “It’s possible to have a deal sooner than that, depending on how forthcoming and clear Iran is prepared to be.”
The secretary of state also listed a number of things Iran could do to assure the world it is serious about abandoning presumed plans for a nuclear weapon.
“They could immediately open up the inspection of the Fordo facility — a secret facility underground in the mountains, fortified and unquestionably not something that a peaceful program would be doing,” he said. “They could immediately sign the protocols, the additional protocols of the international community regarding inspections. They could offer to cease voluntarily to take enrichment above a certain level, keep it at a very low level because there’s no need to have it at a higher level for a peaceful program.”
The list was somewhat reminiscent of a seemingly off-the-cuff statement by Kerry last month in which he said what Syria could do to ward off a strike — namely give up its nuclear weapons — which set off a flurry of activity, culminating in Syria agreeing to have its stockpile eliminated, thereby avoiding military action.
While Kerry has ensured Israel, which wants pressure on Iran maintained, that Syria and Iran are not the same, some pundits have called for the success of diplomacy with Damascus to serve as a model for efforts with Iran.
Israeli officials have derided Iran’s seeming willingness to engage in talks as a charm offensive aimed at deflecting pressure from its nuclear program.
On Wednesday, Communications and Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan acknowledged a growing sense that Israel was increasingly isolated in its tough line on Iran.
Erdan said it now fell to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to refocus international attention “on the facts” behind the rhetoric, which made plain that Iran’s bid for nuclear weaponry had not been slowed, much less halted. “The centrifuges are spinning faster,” Erdan told Israel Radio. “There’s also a plutonium core.”
The Associated Press and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.