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Iran Foreign Minister: Any Deal With Iran Better Than Nothing


Now, Iran's foreign minister on the prospects for a nuclear deal with the West. Talks on that matter resume this week in New York. The U.S. and its allies want Iran to scale back its nuclear program to the point where it could not produce a weapon. Iran wants the West to lift economic sanctions, and a fall deadline is looming.

Iran's Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, is a key party in those talks. And in an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep, he insisted today that Iran is ready for a deal and told the U.S. that any deal with Iran would be better than nothing. Steve, what exactly did Foreign Minister Zarif say to you?

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: He made what I interpreted as a rather forward-leaning or optimistic statement when we spoke in New York overlooking - in a room overlooking the United Nations. You'll recall, Robert, that Iran and the U.S. struck a temporary deal some months ago. They've since extended it while they try to talk for a permanent nuclear deal. Zarif, the foreign minister, insists Iran does want a deal here and that they can get it if they can overcome the opposition of some, he says, in the United States and Europe. Let's listen.

JAVAD ZARIF: So if they think any deal with Iran is a bad idea, there's no amount of - I don't want to call it concession - no amount of assurance that is inherent in any deal that could satisfy them. But I think if you compare any deal with a no-deal, it's clear that a deal is much preferable.

INSKEEP: Now to people who follow this closely, Robert, I think that's a significant statement. Secretary of State John Kerry, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu - various other officials confronting Iran have said that no deal is better than a bad deal. Let's not make a bad deal here they're saying. And Zarif is essentially coming back at them and saying come on, let's just make a deal.

SIEGEL: But he's saying a deal - having a deal even if you think it's a bad deal, is better than no deal. He's not saying a deal that we Iranians think is a bad deal - stopping enrichment, getting rid of all the (unintelligible)...

INSKEEP: Oh, no.

SIEGEL: We'll make a deal that way, even though we think it's a bad deal.

INSKEEP: No, the two sides still look at this very differently and Iran is insisting on its conditions as well.

SIEGEL: Doesn't Iran's supreme leader keep voicing skepticism about a nuclear deal with the U.S.?

INSKEEP: He does. In fact just hours before this interview he was on Twitter saying that these nuclear negotiations themselves are damaging. He's so powerful in Iran, it makes you wonder, is Iran's government really committed here.

And I asked Zarif that, and Zarif responded that Iranians are suspicious because, he says, the U.S. has been less than honest. They're supposed to be, at this moment, suspending or even scaling back sanctions against Iran during this negotiating period. And Zarif claims that's not really happened. And that led me to a sort of bottom-line question that I put to Iran's Foreign Minister.

Should we believe that Iran's governing structure is ready to make an agreement?

ZARIF: If Iran's governing structure was not ready to make an agreement, we would not have had several reports of the IAEA one after another saying that Iran has lived up to all its commitment. There is no international mechanism to measure how the United States has lived up to its commitments. If there were, I'm sure the United States would have gotten a failing score.

INSKEEP: So are you ready?

ZARIF: We are ready. We are ready to stick to the negotiations. We are ready to stay with the negotiations until the very last minute. We are ready for a good deal, and we believe a good deal is in hand. We only need two sides to be able to have a deal - two willing sides.

INSKEEP: Some clarification is necessary here. The International Atomic Energy Agency actually has criticized Iran some this year but broadly speaking, Iran has gotten credit for broadly following the temporary nuclear deal.

SIEGEL: And his criticism that the U.S. hasn't been playing it straight on the sanctions?

INSKEEP: Well, the United States has insisted it will continue strictly enforcing the sanctions that are in place, just not make them worse. Iran is now complaining the U.S. has been so strict in that enforcement, it's almost as if they're increasing the sanctions. That's the complaint, anyway.

SIEGEL: What's the consensus these days about whether there actually is a possible deal in the offing this fall?

INSKEEP: Our correspondent Peter Kenyon, who follows this closely, says there's a mix of opinions. It is clear that there's still a fundamental difference of approach. Iran wants to preserve the right to do what it wants, but have full transparency, they say, so people can tell what it is. The U.S. and its allies want more concrete restrictions on what Iran can do. There's a lot of details to be worked out to resolve those two points of view, and they don't have a deal yet.

SIEGEL: Did you ask them about ISIS?

INSKEEP: I did ask about this group in Iraq and Syria. Iran is a huge player in both of those countries - very important to it. And he was very critical of President Obama's policy - said it was time for the president to acknowledge reality. And we'll here more of that tomorrow on Morning Edition.

SIEGEL: OK, thank you. NPR's Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.