Iran rejects Obama’s demand to freeze nuclear programme for a decade

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A day after US President Barack Obama urged Iran to freeze its nuclear programme for at least a decade, the Iranian government rejected the demand as “unacceptable”.

The comments, made by Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, come as he meets with a US delegation in Switzerland for the latest round of talks over Iran’s nuclear programme.

“Obama’s stance…is expressed in unacceptable and threatening phrases…Iran will not accept excessive and illogical demands,” Zarif said, adding that neither “cruel and illegal sanctions” nor threats could prevent Iran from developing its “peaceful nuclear technology”.

In an interview with Reuters on Monday, Obama had said that the US wanted to ensure that there is “at least a year between us seeing them (Iran) try to get a nuclear weapon and them actually being able to obtain one.” Toward this end, he added, Iran should commit to a verifiable freeze of its nuclear activity, or even roll back some of its elements, for at least a decade.

The US and its European allies – the P5+1 group that includes the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany – fear that Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons. In order to prevent this, these nations have imposed a series of international sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. Iran, however, has consistently denied that it is attempting to develop nuclear weapons and has claimed that its nuclear programme is meant solely for peaceful purposes.

“Our negotiating partners, particularly the Western countries and particularly the United States, must once and for all, come to the political understanding that sanctions and agreement don’t go together,” Zarif said before the start of the latest round of talks in Montreux, Switzerland.

The talks, which come just a month before the self-imposed deadline of 31 March to draft a framework agreement, are also being attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Kerry and Zarif met in the Swiss lakeside town of Montreux as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepared to criticise the diplomacy in a speech to Congress in Washington.

Despite the tough tone of Zarif’s remarks quoted by Fars, the Iranian struck a more conciliatory tone when he spoke briefly to reporters after about two hours of talks with Kerry.

Asked if the two sides had reached an agreement, Zarif replied: “We’ll try, that’s why we are here.”

“There is a seriousness that we need to move forward. As we have said all along, we need the necessary political will to understand that the only way to move forward is though negotiations,” he added.

Speaking after the morning round of talks, Kerry told reporters: “We’re working away. Productively.”