Iran could resume nuclear activities if West withdraws, foreign minister says

Warnings over what's in the fine print


Tehran would be able to return to its nuclear activities if the West withdraws from an agreement that is expected to be finalized in June, Iran’s foreign minister said Saturday.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview on state-run TV that Iran has the power to take “corresponding action” and “will be able to return” its nuclear program to the same level if the other side does not honor the pact.

"All parties to the agreement can stop their actions (fulfillment of their commitments) in case of violation of the agreement by the other party," Zarif said.

Iran’s chief negotiator said the framework of the deal announced by Iran and six world powers on Thursday in Switzerland was not binding until it is finalized June 30.

Zarif said Iran is “committed” to implementing its part of any final agreement providing Western countries fulfill their promises. He said Iran wants to have a “moderate, constructive and proud presence” in the world.

If the deal is finalized, it would cut significantly into Iran’s bomb-capable nuclear technology while giving Tehran quick access to bank accounts, oil markets and other financial assets blocked by international sanctions.

Despite the criticism by hardliners, the deal has been overwhelmingly backed by Iran's establishment, including President Hassan Rouhani who pledged in a speech to the nation on Friday that Iran will abide by its commitments under the nuclear deal.

Zarif received a hero's welcome upon his return to Tehran on Friday Crowds of cheering supporters surrounded Zarif's vehicle and chanted slogans supporting him and Rouhani.

Zarif said in the interview he “objected” to Secretary of State Kerry using the world “suspension” rather than “termination” regarding the sanctions against Iran.

Zarif attributed Kerry's action as being aimed at addressing rifts between the Obama administration and Congress over the deal. Republicans are almost universally opposed to President Barack Obama's diplomatic effort; Democrats are divided.

He said the deal if finalized by June would nullify all U.N. Security Council resolutions against Iran's nuclear program and lead to the lifting of U.S. and European Union sanctions.

Zarif said the Switzerland agreement showed that the West cannot halt Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes such as power generation and cancer treatment. Western countries suspect that Iran's nuclear program has a military dimension.

Without naming any country, Zarif assured Iran's neighbors such as Saudi Arabia which are concerned about Iran's nuclear ambitions that Tehran is not after regional domination.

"We are not after a nuclear bomb. We are also not after hegemony in the region, too," Zarif said.  "Security of our neighbors is our security, too."

Saudi Arabia has expressed concern about growing Iranian influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon which have large Shiite Muslim populations. A Saudi-led military coalition is now carrying out airstrikes in Yemen against Shiite Houthi rebels who are supported by Iran.

The Associated Press contributed to this report