Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview aired Sunday that negotiations over its nuclear program are not dead even though Iran is angry about a fresh round of sanctions from the U.S. Treasury Department.
The Treasury Department announced last week that it would freeze assets and ban transactions for companies and individuals that attempt to evade U.S. sanctions and continue doing business that helps Iran's nuclear industry. The move prompted Iranian negotiators to leave ongoing talks in Geneva Thursday evening, saying it was against the "spirit" of the deal reached last month to freeze Iran's nuclear program for six months in exchange for limited sanctions relief.
"That was a very wrong move," Zarif told CBS News' Elizabeth Palmer in an interview from Tehran. He said he was "saddened" by the move but that he is committed to the short-term deal meant to allow for a longer, six-month period of negotiations.
"We are committed to the plan of action and the implementation of Geneva - but we believe it takes two to tango," Zarif said.
"The process has been derailed, the process has not died," he added later. "We are trying to put it back and to correct the path, and continue the negotiations because I believe there is a lot at stake for everybody."
Many U.S. lawmakers are still eager for a fresh round of sanctions against Iran, even if they were only made operative in six months if the attempt to reach a long-term nuclear deal fails.
"I think it's probably an appropriate...move, because many of us are very skeptical about the conditions under which this pause is being undertaken. The centrifuges still spin. There is still work can be done at a place called Arak. There is, most importantly to us, implicit in this agreement the Iranian right to enrich," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"We don't think that should be the case of a country that has lied, has cheated, has concealed from the [International Atomic Energy Agency] ," McCain said. "There is the scenario if you were the Iranians just keep dragging out these negotiations, meanwhile the centrifuges still spin and they progress towards this point where all it takes is the turn of a wrench and they have a nuclear weapon."
Palmer also asked Zarif about Robert Levinson, the American who vanished nearly seven years ago in Iran when he was working for the CIA on an unapproved intelligence-gathering mission, according to an Associated Press investigation.
"I have no idea" where he is, Zarif said. "What we know is that he is not incarcerated in Iran," he said, unless Levinson was incarcerated by someone other than the government.
If he were ever found, Zarif said the Iranians "will certainly discuss" whether they would return him to the U.S.
"Everything's possible, but I'm saying that we have no traces of him in Iran," he said.
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