World

Iran can resume nuclear activities if deal fails: foreign minister

Iran would be able to return to its nuclear activities if the West withdraws from a pact that is to be finalized in June, Iran's foreign minister said Saturday.

Mohammad Javad Zarif seeks to reassure country's hardliners over proposed agreement

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, standing in limousine, was given a hero's welcome when he returned to Tehran on Friday with a framework nuclear deal. On Saturday, he took to the airwaves to reassure the country's hardliners the proposed pact is good for the country. (Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press)

Iran would be able to return to its nuclear activities if the West withdraws from a pact that is to be finalized in June, Iran's foreign minister said Saturday.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, interviewed on a talk show on state-run TV, said 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 fails to honour the agreement.

"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.

Zarif, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, said the framework nuclear deal announced by Iran and six world powers on Thursday in Switzerland was not binding until a final agreement is worked out by a June 30 deadline. His remarks appear aimed at reassuring hardliners who strongly oppose the framework agreement as a good deal for the West and disaster for Iran.

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

The framework agreement, if finalized, 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.

Rouhani backs deal

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.

In the TV interview, Zarif said he "objected" to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry using the word "suspension" rather than "termination" regarding the sanctions against Iran in the statement on the framework deal announced Thursday in Lausanne, Switzerland.

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 UN Security Council resolutions against Iran's nuclear program and lead to the lifting of U.S. and European Union sanctions.

Neighbours worried

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 neighbours 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 neighbours is our security, too."

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

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