Zarif: no fear of hardliners on nuclear deal

The Iranian foreign minister said he is not worried about a pushback from hardliners on an agreement regarding Iran's nuclear program

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Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said he does not fear opposition from hardliners as he leads negotiations to reach a comprehensive agreement about Iran's nuclear program with world powers by the end of July.

“I am optimistic” that a deal will be reached in three months, he told Reuters in Abu Dhabi. “There is the political will to get an answer,” he added as he boarded a plane back to Tehran on Tuesday.

Iran and six world powers - the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China - struck an interim deal in November under which Tehran agreed to limit parts of its nuclear work in return for the easing of some sanctions imposed on Iran for its disputed atomic program. They have set a July 20 deadline to clinch a long-term deal that would lead to a gradual lifting of all nuclear-related sanctions.

Iranian hardliners, unsettled by the shift to a more moderate foreign policy since President Hassan Rouhani took office in August, have repeatedly criticized the agreement. However, Iran's most powerful authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has backed the negotiations.

“The domestic audience will be satisfied if we have a good deal,” said Zarif when asked if he feared domestic pushback. “Of course some people will never be satisfied but that is fine because we have a pluralistic society.”

In their latest criticism of the interim agreement, some hardliners have said Iran has had difficulty receiving billions of dollars of oil revenue unfrozen under the agreement. Majid Takht-Ravanchi, an Iranian deputy foreign minister, rejected the assertion on Tuesday, saying Iran's central bank has no problem accessing the funds, according to state news agency IRNA.

Iran and the six powers ended their latest round of talks in Vienna last week and said they would start drafting an agreement ahead of their next meeting there on May 13.

The Islamic Republic denies accusations by Israel, Western powers and their allies that it has tried to develop the capability to produce atomic weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear energy program.

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