While he welcomes recent developments signaling improving relations between Iran and the West, these developments must be met with increased openness from Tehran about its nuclear program, British Foreign Secretary William Hague asserted on Tuesday.
In an interview with American television network MSNBC, Hague said the sanctions imposed by the West on Iran over concerns that its nuclear program is intended to produce nuclear weapons have made “an enormous difference. They have made a very big impact on the Iranian economy,” he said. “The new Iranian ministers understand the impact more than their predecessors.”
Though they won’t admit it, the sanctions are seen by the new Iranian leadership as a key incentive for Iran to pursue “a different relationship with the international community,” he added.
“They have the opportunity to show their transparency,” he said, and noted that Iran is currently working in defiance of many resolutions of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Security Council. “The readiness of all of us, including the US, to embrace talking to Iran is very clear. I hope that is really noticed in Iran.”
The comments came a day after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held a series of bilateral meetings with Western officials, including Hague. Hague welcomed on Monday Iran’s recent change of tone as well as the recent release of political prisoners.
Just hours after Iranian President Hasan Rouhani departed Iran for New York earlier in the day, his government announced that it had freed 80 prisoners arrested in political crackdowns.
“There’s a chance, I think, for improved relations with Iran,” Hague told reporters after the Monday meeting. “Because if the statements of President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif really mean something, if they really mean what they are saying, then certainly there’s a chance for us to improve relations and to work together across a whole range of subjects. But it will be important, as I have stressed before, for those statements to be matched by concrete steps and action.”
Iran’s new foreign minister will join nuclear talks with his US counterpart and five other world powers later this week, the latest sign that long-standing tensions with the West might be easing.
The talks will be the highest level contacts between the US and Iran in six years.
The meeting would be the first between a US secretary of state and his Iranian counterpart since May 2007, when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Ashton said she and Zarif had also agreed to meet with their teams again in Geneva in October. Zarif confirmed there will be another round of nuclear negotiations in October.
Iran’s new president was scheduled to address the General Assembly on Tuesday in his first appearance on the world stage since he was elected in June.
The UN Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions against Iran because of concerns it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment — a process that can be used to make fuel for both energy and nuclear weapons. The US and its Western allies have imposed even more punishing sanctions.