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Iran's Zarif criticizes hard-liners for leaks on nuclear talks

In an exclusive interview, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator criticized those attacking the nuclear deal.
Javad Zarif, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich - RTSW1N5

With a new US administration that has not made its opposition to the nuclear deal a secret, Iran’s foreign minister and chief nuclear negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif took aim at those inside Iran who continue to try to sabotage the implementation of the nuclear deal and reveal contents of his confidential testimonies about those talks.

During the hourlong Feb. 11 video interview with Entekhab website, Zarif said the domestic criticism gave the opposing sides in the nuclear talks the wrong impression that Iran’s negotiators did not have the backing of Iran’s so-called hard-line “resistance” groups and that the negotiators were operating against Iran’s national interests. Zarif continued that the disclosures from his closed-door testimonies to parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission were detrimental to the talks and later the implementation, which he described as even more time-consuming than the deal.

One of the most spectacular leaks came in December 2016 from Iranian parliamentarian Javad Karimi-Ghoddousi, who said that Zarif had conceded to the commission that he had “made a mistake” in trusting US Secretary of State John Kerry. Zarif and Kerry held numerous bilateral negotiations during the nuclear talks, and the ability of the two to resolve difficult issues was instrumental in the passing of the nuclear deal.

On whether he actually ever said he “made a mistake,” Zarif said his use of the word “mistake” was in regard to making a statement publicly and not the nuclear negotiations. Zarif said he hoped that his other comments to the commission would remain confidential, not necessarily from the Iranian people but from the opposing sides in the nuclear negotiations.

In response to claims by US President Donald Trump that the nuclear deal was “the worst deal ever” negotiated, Zarif said Trump “is not aware that when someone enters a negotiation, they do not achieve everything they want.”

In response to criticism by some parliamentarians as to why he spoke English during the nuclear talks rather than the native Persian, as former nuclear negotiators had done, Zarif said, “Language is a tool.” He likened his use of English to fighters using a foreign-made plane or tank in battle and added the language one uses does not change their identity.

Zarif was unbothered by the comments of the Obama administration that the nuclear deal had prevented Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. “The Americans can make claims, but the reality of the matter is that they did not want Iran to have one centrifuge,” Zarif said. As a result of the nuclear deal, Iran will be permitted to operate more than 5,000 centrifuges. Zarif also said that up until the final days the opposing side had tried to convince Iran to accept only keeping the older IR-1 (first-generation) centrifuges and that Iran was ultimately able to keep the more advanced IR-8 centrifuges.

On criticism from former nuclear negotiator and 2013 presidential candidate Saeed Jalili regarding the nuclear deal, Zarif said, “I certainly don’t agree with him, and neither me nor a large segment of society agrees with his policies; otherwise, they would have voted for him.” In response to whether he will declare himself a candidate in the upcoming presidential election, Zarif said, “I can say this with certainty that I will never be a candidate in the presidential election because I don’t see this ability within myself.”

In regard to Quds Force Cmdr. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, one of the key members of the “resistance” groups in Iran, Zarif said there are at times “differences of viewpoints.” However, he added, “We were able to pursue an appropriate working relationship.” As an example, he referenced the Aleppo cease-fire, which allowed help to reach the predominantly Shiite Syrian towns of Foua and Kefraya.

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