Iranian FM: Sanctions benefited nuclear program

Zarif claims punitive measures led to 19,000 centrifuges, says ‘no disaster’ if deal with the West not reached Saturday

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in an interview with the BBC on November 9 (photo credit: Screenshot BBC)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in an interview with the BBC on November 9 (photo credit: Screenshot BBC)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Saturday that Western-imposed sanctions on his country have not fulfilled their goal, leading only to “some” economic hardship for Iranians while furthering Tehran’s controversial nuclear program.

“Let’s be frank. Sanctions have produced 19,000 centrifuges. And some difficulty for Iranian people. Sanctions never affected policy,” Zarif told the BBC in an interview on the sidelines of nuclear talks between Tehran and the six world powers in Geneva.

“If you want to look at this practice that has been prevalent for the past eight years, and look at the net outcome: some pressure on the lives of Iranian people and 19,000 centrifuges. I don’t think anybody can claim victory for that,” he said.

“If sanctions were to work, Iran would have stopped its enrichment program. It didn’t. sanctions produced exactly the opposite,” Zarif continued.

Regarding ongoing talks between the world powers and Iran, which hit a snag Saturday when France questioned whether the terms being discussed went far enough, Zarif said Iran was still “optimistic but probably most cautious now than a few days ago.”

“I think during this meeting or next meeting these [differences] are all areas that can be resolved,” he said.

“We may or may not [reach a deal Saturday] but this is not a disaster because we have started an important process and proved that we can continue this process to try to achieve positive results. I think we have done good work, extremely important work. I think there has already been a breakthrough in a different fashion.”

Earlier, Zarif said that talks would resume within seven to 10 days, if an agreement would not be reached Saturday.

Talks were likely to end without agreement over Iran’s rogue nuclear program, Western diplomats said Saturday, amid earlier statements to the effect that a deal was near.

The six powers are considering a gradual rollback of sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. In exchange, they demand initial curbs on Iran’s nuclear program, including a cap on uranium enrichment to a level that cannot be turned quickly to weapons use.

Israel lobbied hard against the prospective deal on Saturday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz reported to have spoken to representatives of some of the P5+1 nations. US President Barack Obama called Netanyahu on Friday after the prime minister publicly castigated the emerging deal as “very, very bad” and “dangerous” and said he had pleaded with Kerry not to sign it.

Netanyahu also spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Israeli prime minister has repeatedly warned the international community and the US against scaling back sanctions on Tehran, arguing that those same sanctions were what brought Iran to the negotiating table. Netanyahu also warned against any deal with Iran that would leave it with uranium enrichment capabilities.

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