Iranian FM conciliatory ahead of new round of talks

Mohammad Javad Zarif posts video in which he stresses right to nuclear power, urges West to ‘seize opportunity’

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A day before a new round of multilateral negotiations over Iran’s rogue nuclear program, the Iranian foreign minister asserted the inalienability his country’s right to nuclear power but nevertheless assessed that a deal with the US and its allies was likely.

Mohammed Javad Zarif — in a five-minute clip published Tuesday on YouTube in a variety of languages — said that Iran, like other nations, had a right to self-determination that included the right to choose nuclear power for clean energy. After stressing that his country’s nuclear program was not for military purposes, as Israel and the West allege, Zarif spoke of the “historic opportunity” presented by the talks.

“What is dignity, what is respect?” he asked in the video. “Is there a price?”

“Imagine being told that you cannot do what everyone else is doing allowed to do,” he continued. “We are all endowed with free will, the ability to determine our destiny. Nuclear energy is not about joining a club or threatening others. Nuclear energy is about a leap, a jump toward deciding our own destiny rather than allowing others to decide for us.”

The minister added that for Iran, nuclear energy was a way to stop using oil and generate clean power instead. “What would you do if you were told this is not an option?” he said. “Would you back down?”

Hinting at the immense pressure brought to bear on Iran by world powers seeking to ensure, by capping Tehran’s uranium enrichment program, that it doesn’t obtain nuclear weapons, Zarif argued that there were alternatives to the current standoff.

“The choice is not submission or confrontation,” he said, before going on to allude to recent Iranian elections, which saw the rise of a relatively moderate president, Hassan Rouhani. “This past summer our people chose constructive engagement through the ballot, and through this they gave the world a historic opportunity to change course. To seize this unique opportunity we need to accept equal footing and choose a path based on mutual respect and recognition of the dignity of all peoples.”

The United States has led a global campaign of sanctions on Iran that has had a crippling effect on the latter’s economy. Recently, the Obama administration has proposed an interim nuclear deal wherein Iran would receive some sanctions relief in exchange for curbing its enrichment program. In an apparent reference to Washington, Zarif noted that strength on the international stage did not grant a country the right to interfere in another country’s affairs.

“No power, however strong, can determine the fate of others,” he said. “This is no longer an option… We either win together or lose together.”

Zarif’s statements came as Iran prepared for another round of talks with the US, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany, which are seeking a deal that will ensure Iran can’t manufacture atomic weapons. In addition to scaling back its uranium enrichment and stockpiles of the material, world powers also want Iran to halt construction of a heavy water facility that could produce plutonium, another potential track for nuclear weapons manufacturing. Iran is negotiating for a relaxing of sanctions to give its economy some breathing room while insisting on its right to enrich uranium.

At a previous round of talks in Geneva earlier this month, the two sides came close to signing an interim deal, but talks were eventually scuttled, reportedly over France’s objection to the terms of the proposal.

One version of Zarif’s video was in Persian, despite the fact that Iranian censorship has blocked YouTube in Iran, along with other Google websites.

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