Dueling Narratives in Iran After Breakthrough in U.S. Relations

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Iran's foreign minister said on Sunday said 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 foreign minister, Javad Zarif, was making his comments on American television, his deputy in Iran, seeking to reassure hard-liners in that country, 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 breakthroughs in relations in recent weeks culminating in a historic phone call last week between President Obama and Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, the first time the country's leaders have spoken directly since 1979.

With both sides staking out their positions ahead of possible negotiations, 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 on ABC's "This Week."

To be successful, Mr. Zarif said, the United States and Iran must move forward "within an atmosphere of mutual respect and mutual interest."

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.

"What is necessary is for the two sides to sit together and reach a common objective," he said.

The United States will undoubtedly demand that Iran grant international inspectors access to all of its nuclear facilities as a key element in any deal. Secretary of State John Kerry, in an interview with "60 Minutes" scheduled to be broadcast on Sunday evening, said Iran should immediately open its heavily fortified Fordo nuclear center to inspections.

The center, which is buried deep underground and largely impervious to a missile strike, was discovered by the West in 2009. Mr. Kerry said the Iranians could also offer to stop enriching uranium above a certain level.

In his comments on Sunday, Mr. Zarif signaled that Iran would be prepared to meet those concessions as long as they did not come in the form of demands.

"We are willing to engage in negotiations," he said. "Of course, the United States also needs to do certain things very rapidly."

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, according to The Associated Press.

"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. It was there, while driving to Kennedy International Airport on Friday, that Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Obama spoke by phone.

At the protest in Tehran, groups of 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."


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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