Bilateral talks between the US and Iran on Tehran's nuclear ambitions began in New York today, after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said America was "obsessed" with sanctions.
Formal negotiations aimed at reaching a nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers before a November 24 deadline will begin Friday, an extension of previous discussions, which failed to reach an agreement by a July target.
The main talking point will be Iran's uranium enrichment program, which it says is needed to generate electricity. However the five permanent member of the UN Security Council — the US, UK, Russia, China, and France — which, along with Germany, are taking part in the talks, are concerned Tehran may be attempting to develop the capability to produce nuclear weapons. Iran is currently subject to UN, US, and EU sanctions over its nuclear program, which have crippled its energy and financial sectors and broader economy.
Zarif said Wednesday that Iran was dedicated to finding a diplomatic solution.
"We want to resolve this issue, I've spent more time on this issue than anything else in the past 12 months since I've been in office. We are ready to continue our negotiations in good faith," he insisted, speaking at an event held by Washington-based think tank the Council on Foreign Relations.
However, Zarif accused America of being "infatuated" and "obsessed" with sanctions.
"The US is obsessed with sanctions, because this deal would require the US to lift the sanctions and now the reason Congress is objecting to this is that it wants to keep these sanctions... Yes, sanctions have become an end in themselves, sanctions do not serve any purpose," he argued.
Zarif added that sanctions had not managed to cripple Iran's nuclear program, but had only caused widespread anti-US sentiment from the Iranian population.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told NBC News in Tehran that he believed talks could still lead to a successful resolution.
"Maybe the time could be arguable, either today or tomorrow. However, we have no doubt that the only solution to the nuclear issue goes through negotiation," he said.
A self-styled moderate, Rouhani's election heralded a thawing in American-Iranian relations, which made the current talks possible.
Many observers remain pessimistic about the chances of reaching a deal by the November deadline. However, the collapse of the talks, which would likely result in more sanctions and an unrestrained enrichment programmed by Iran, is something both sides will be keen to avoid.
Meanwhile, at a meeting of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — which is conducting a long-running investigation into suspected Iranian nuclear bomb research — officials expressed disappointment at the "very limited progress" which the investigation had achieved so far, Reuters reported. US envoy Laura Kennedy made similar comments outside the meeting, telling reporters: "We do remain concerned ... about the pace of progress in addressing the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear programmed."
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