Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Dueling Narratives In Iran Over U.S. Relations

New York Times
September 30, 2013
Pg. 10


By Michael Schwirtz and David E. Sanger
Iran’s foreign minister said on Sunday that there was a “real chance” to reach an agreement with the United States over his country’s nuclear program, as long as Washington was prepared to end sanctions and recognize Tehran’s right to peaceful nuclear enrichment.
Even as the country’s American-educated foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was making his comments on ABC’s “This Week,” his deputy in Iran, seeking to reassure hard-liners there, said Tehran would never fully trust the United States.
The dueling narratives underscored the complexity of any rapprochement between the two countries, despite a series of unexpected public and private exchanges in recent weeks culminating in a historic phone call Friday between President Obama and Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani.
While Mr. Zarif is widely believed to have the backing of the country’s supreme leader to at least give negotiations a try, hard-liners among the Iranian leadership are watching warily and could try to derail an agreement.
With both the United States and Iran staking out their positions ahead of new negotiations scheduled for mid-October in Geneva, Mr. Zarif said the nuclear issue was a crucial impediment to improved relations between Iran and the United States. But he added that the “first steps” toward resolving it had been taken.
“The resolution of that issue will be a first step, a necessary first step toward removing the tensions and doubts and misgivings that the two sides have had about each other for the last 30-some years,” he said.
But even as Mr. Zarif expressed cautious optimism, the points of possible conflict between the two countries were made clear again Sunday.
A crucial demand of Iran, he said, was the removal of the international sanctions that have damaged the country’s economy. In exchange, he said, Iran would be willing to open its nuclear facilities to inspections. He did not address the sequence in which the actions would need to be taken, or the reluctance of both nations to seem to be making the first major move.
On a different talk show, “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on CNN, Susan Rice, the national security adviser, said sanctions would remain until the United States and its allies were convinced Iran was not pursuing nuclear weapons. But like Mr. Zarif, she did not discuss how a lifting of sanctions could be conducted or how much of its nuclear infrastructure Iran would have to dismantle.
In his comments on Sunday, Mr. Zarif signaled that Iran would be prepared to allow inspections, including unannounced ones, so long as they did not come in the form of demands from the United States.
“We are willing to engage in negotiations,” he said. “Of course, the United States also needs to do certain things very rapidly.”
His statement that Iran’s “right to enrich is nonnegotiable” also pointed toward a difference with the U.S. that is more than merely semantic. So far the United States has said only that the Iranians have a right to nuclear energy. The Iranians say that implies a right to enrich uranium; the West has previously negotiated deals, which ultimately fell apart, to provide Iran with nuclear fuel in a form that would be more difficult to weaponize.
In Tehran, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, sought to assure conservative factions that Iran remained skeptical of Washington and would not rush headlong into a deal.
“Definitely, a history of high tensions between Tehran and Washington will not go back to normal relations due to a phone call, meeting or negotiation,” Mr. Araghchi was quoted as saying by the semiofficial Fars news agency.
“We never trust America 100 percent,” he added. “And, in the future, we will remain on the same path.”
The tensions over the recent breakthroughs were evident in Iran over the weekend. On Saturday, dozens of protesters threw eggs and a shoe at Mr. Rouhani upon his return from an annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in New York.
At the protest in Tehran, hard-liners surrounded Mr. Rouhani’s car, shouting, “Our people are awake and hate America!”
Asked to explain such statements on Sunday, Mr. Zarif said the Iranian people hated American policies, not the American people.
“American people are nice, peace-loving, generous people who come to the aid of people in need all over the world, and this is what we respect and have a lot of admiration for,” he said.
But the policies of the American government, he said, have “unfortunately been the source of instability in our region for many years.”
Michael Schwirtz reported from New York, and David E. Sanger from Washington.

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