Iran is willing to agree to a deal this week with world powers on its contentious nuclear program, but the "window of opportunity" to do so is “not unlimited,” says the country’s foreign minister.
In a Canadian exclusive, Mohammad Javad Zarif also told CBC News in Geneva that it appears all sides have come to the Swiss city ready to reach an agreement that all can live with.
He also had some strong words for the Canadian government, saying that Ottawa has been "disrespectful" and "rude" to Iranian people.
For years, the international community has failed to reach an agreement with Iran on limiting its uranium enrichment, which the Middle East country insists is for peaceful purposes, but many believe is intended to produce nuclear weapons.
Iranian representatives are meeting in Geneva with American and European officials to try to reach a deal that would also lift sanctions on Iran.
Zarif described Iran's openness to a deal as a "window of opportunity" courtesy of the Iranian people, who chose relative moderate Hassan Rouhani as president in June.
“That window of opportunity is not unlimited,” he said. “If we keep the window open by actions that start rebuilding that confidence then we can keep that window open."
But if forces opposed to a deal are allowed to scuttle talks, “the window can be shut rather easily and rather quickly," he said.
“I’m hopeful we can keep the window open through these negotiations.”
Iran is hoping an agreement will lift some of the sanctions that have hurt its economy and left it isolated throughout Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's eight-year presidency.
Zarif critical of Canada
Iran’s relations with the West began to thaw slightly after Rouhani was elected earlier this year. The new president even had a telephone conversation with his American counterpart, ending more than 30 years of silence between the two offices.
Iran’s relations with Canada have also been frosty since Canada unilaterally shut down its embassy in Tehran and expelled Iranian diplomats from Ottawa.
Zarif had some strong words for the Canadian government, including how it viewed the election that brought Rouhani to power.
“It is extremely unfortunate that the government in Ottawa is not recognizing the wish and the will of the Iranian people,” he said.
“It is extremely unfortunate that they have been disrespectful, they have in fact been rude to Iranian people," he added. "We expect an apology, the entire Iranian nation expects an apology, for the statements that have come from Ottawa that show total lack of understanding, in fact, absolute ignorance with regard to the realities in Iran.”
Ottawa has sounded a cautious note on the apparent changes in Iran, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper saying that deeds, not words, would prove that promises of change were genuine.
Foreign Minister John Baird told CBC Thursday that the elections were not fair because of 600 candidates, all but six were disqualified, none of them women. Baird also criticized Iran’s human rights record in an op-ed published on Thursday.
Zarif said that Canada has no credibility to speak of human rights because it consistently supports Israel in UN resolutions that seek to denounce it.
Baird also expressed skepticism about Iran’s willingness to accommodate international concerns about its nuclear program.
“I hope they're prepared to get rid of the centrifuges, comply with the UN Security Council resolutions, open up to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), but they haven't agreed to do any of those things, so we remain skeptical,” said Baird.
Despite his barbs, Zarif said he had “no problem” with Canada, and that Iran would be open if Ottawa showed willingness to mend relations.