Last updated: September 29. 2013 12:39PM - 573 Views
Associated Press



Seated at the table from left, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton attend a meeting of the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany during the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Seated at the table from left, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton attend a meeting of the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany during the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
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(AP) Iran would open its nuclear facilities to international inspectors as part of negotiations with the United States on its enrichment program and those talks have the backing of the nation's supreme leader, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Sunday.


Zarif also said the United States its allies must end their crippling economic sanctions as part of any deal that could yield a diplomatic breakthrough after decades as adversaries. The Western-educated Zarif again repeated Tehran's position that it has no desire for nuclear weapons but has the right to continue a peaceful nuclear program.


"Negotiations are on the table to discuss various aspects of Iranian's enrichment program. Our right to enrich is nonnegotiable," Zarif said during an English-language interview that comes amid a significant shift in U.S.-Iranian relations.


Iran's nuclear ambitions have isolated its people from the rest of the world and led to harmful economic penalties. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has declared the use of nuclear weapons against Islamic law yet has maintained his nation has the right to develop its uranium program.


But Khamenei, who is the nation's ultimate decision-maker, also has given his approval for elected leaders in his country to engage the West over the nuclear program, Zarif said.


That engagement came to a head Friday with a phone conversation between President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the first direct contact between the two countries' leaders in three decades.


"While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward, and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution," Obama told reporters Friday at the White House.


That optimism was certain to be a dominate topic when Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on Sunday was on his way to the United States and has long insisted Iran be blocked from obtaining the capability of obtaining a nuclear weapon.


As he boarded his plane in Israel, Netanyahu said he was heading to the United Nations to "tell the truth in the face of the sweet talk and the onslaught of smiles."


Zarif scoffed at those concerns.


"Well, a smile attack is much better than a lie attack," Zarif said.


He also said Israeli leaders have been warning that Tehran is months away from having a nuclear weapon since 1991 and those fears have never been realized.


"We're not six months, six years, 60 years away from nuclear weapons. We don't want nuclear weapons. We believe nuclear weapons are detrimental to our security," said Zarif, a former nuclear negotiator.


The potential diplomatic thaw after a generation-long freeze is far from certain, and Zarif indicated this would not be simple. Iran's top diplomat also said his country is willing to forgive the United States' history with Iran but will not forget decades of distrust between the two nations.


The focus now turns to negotiations among foreign ministers and other officials from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany. The group wants Iran to present a more detailed proposal for a path forward before or at the next round of negotiations, scheduled in Geneva on Oct. 15-16, according to an Obama administration official.


If Iran complies, the oil-rich nation could see the easing of economic sanctions imposed after years of Iran's stonewalling inspections and secrecy about its nuclear activities. The West has long insisted on inspections, and Zarif now seems open to them.


"There may have been technical problems. They may have been problems of transparency, and we are prepared to address those problems," he said.


Zarif spoke Sunday on ABC's "This Week."


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Follow Philip Elliott on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/philip_elliott


Associated Press
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