Iranian Foreign Minister: ‘Very Close’ to a Nuclear Deal

Javad Zarif offers an optimistic -- if cryptic -- assessment of nuclear talks in Switzerland.

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Negotiators working to seal a deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for Western sanctions relief have less than a month to secure a framework agreement, and on Wednesday Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif offered an optimistic, if cryptic, assessment of the talks’ progress.

“We believe that we are very close, very close — and we could be very far,” Zarif told NBC. “We are very close if the political decision can be made to get to yes, as President Obama said.”

Zarif has been meeting with negotiators from the P5+1 — the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, and Germany — in Montreux, Switzerland, where talks concluded on Wednesday.

Those talks occurred under the shadow of a fiery Tuesday address to the U.S. Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who argued that the United States was on the verge of making what he described as a “very bad deal” with Iran, one that could allow the country to eventually develop a nuclear weapon even if it abided by all of the terms of the potential agreement.

The White House dismissed Netanyahu’s comments as infeasible and offering nothing new, and on Wednesday, Kerry offered another barb at the Israeli leader’s hard-line position. “Simply demanding that Iran capitulate is not a plan,” Kerry told reporters in Switzerland, adding that there were “still significant gaps and important choices that need to be made.”

Obama, for his part, told Reuters in an interview this week that it was “still more likely than not that Iran doesn’t get to ‘yes,’” but said that it was “more likely that we could get a deal now than perhaps three or five months ago.”

If the two sides agree on a deal, Netanyahu, despite his fiery rhetoric, may have sent a subtle signal that he would potentially be willing to back an agreement that would halt Iranian nuclear activity for longer than the 10 years envisaged by the Obama administration. Close observers of Netanyahu’s rhetoric on Iran noted that the Israeli leader made no reference to his long-standing demand that Iran retain “zero enrichment” capabilities — a sign he might have accepted that such terms were no longer realistic.

Meanwhile in Washington, Sen. Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced a bill that would require the president to report to Congress every 90 days on Iran’s compliance with the current interim deal and any final agreement on its nuclear program. The bill would also set up an “expedited process for Congress to vote on legislation to reinstate waived or suspended sanctions and prohibit transfers of assets to Iran if the president certifies to Congress that Iran has violated a deal,” according to a statement from Boxer’s office.

That process would not be subject to a filibuster.

NBC News

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace, its conflicts, and controversies. @eliasgroll

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