Iran FM: nuke deadline not ‘sacrosanct’

Zarif said while Iran certainly wants to meet the June 30 deadline for a nuclear deal, ‘no time deadline is sacrosanct’

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Iran’s foreign minister says his country and world powers will meet Thursday to start bringing together the elements of a draft on a comprehensive nuclear deal, with meetings starting Monday in Europe to finalize all its elements.

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said at an event Wednesday in New York that while Iran certainly wants to meet the June 30 deadline for an agreement, “no time deadline is sacrosanct.”

He met with Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday.

Zarif says Iran expects U.N. sanctions to be lifted within a few days of a deal. And he expects President Barack Obama will have to stop implementing the U.S. sanctions on his country. “How he does is his problem,” Zarif said.

He also took aim at Israel’s prime minister, who has been a fierce critic of the attempt to reach a deal with Iran over its nuclear program and who went as far as addressing Congress over the issue, to Obama’s displeasure. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Zarif called Benjamin Netanyahu’s criticism “ironic but laughable.”

“Netanyahu has become everyone’s non-proliferation guru. He is sitting on 400 nuclear warheads,” the foreign minister said.

Israel has never publicly declared any nuclear weapons.

Zarif spoke on the sidelines as world powers meet at the U.N. to discuss progress on a landmark treaty toward nuclear disarmament.

How sanctions on Iran would be lifted if a deal is reached, and how they might be “snapped back” in place, has been a key question during Iran’s months of negotiations with the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany.

Zarif suggested that the world should be concerned with any violations of an agreement by the United States, not his country.

“This is not a game,” he said. “We have a provision for snap-back if the U.S. fails, so if the U.S. wants to sell this as an achievement, be my guest.”

He rejected the idea of Iran and the U.S. re-establishing diplomatic ties if a nuclear agreement is reached, saying it was “too early and too premature.”

Iran’s first priority is its own region, he said.

The Iran talks have also made the country’s Arab neighbors nervous. When asked Wednesday whether Iran would object to Saudi Arabia asking for a similar nuclear program arrangement, Zarif said, “We would welcome it” as well as the same opportunity for any other country.

The foreign minister on Monday addressed the global nuclear conference on behalf of more than 100 mostly developing states and asserted that the biggest threat to international peace and security is the continued presence of nuclear weapons in the U.S. and the four other permanent Security Council members, Britain, France, China and Russia.

The second-biggest threat, he said, “is that Israel has nuclear weapons.”

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