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Full Interview With Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

NBC's Ann Curry discussed Iran's nuclear program, Iran's relationship with Israel and other issues during a one-on-one exclusive interview with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.
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/ Source: NBC News

Iran's Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, spoke with NBC News' Ann Curry Wednesday. Below is the complete interview:

ANN CURRY: Foreign minister, thank you so much for being here.

JAVAD ZARIF: Happy to be with you.

ANN CURRY: We’ve noticed a sudden flurry of meetings – is this a sign that things are getting-- bogged down or moving forward?

JAVAD ZARIF: Well-- it's a sign that we are very serious. And we want to reach a conclusion. We suggested that we needed to raise the level of technical discussions. And so we had our head of an atomic energy organization and United States for-- the secretary of energy, both-- very well known nuclear physicists-- in order to reach-- some sort of a technical understanding. And that proved to be a-- very important, useful-- step. And we have been able to move forward with a good number of-- issues dealing with the-- with the technicalities. Because we were-- said all along that our nuclear program is exclusively peaceful. And when we have experts sitting together they can ascertain that, rather easily. And I'm-- I'm very happy that that has gone well. Of course that doesn't mean that we have resolved all the issues. We have a number of issues, both technical as well as political, that still need to be resolved. But we-- we've made good progress. But long way to go.

ANN CURRY: Where's the area of the major stumbling block?

JAVAD ZARIF: Well-- as we have been saying for the past, I think, year and a half-- nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. This is a puzzle. And all pieces of this puzzle should come together in order for us to have a picture of what lies ahead. But I think the major stumbling block-- is a political decision that needs to be made. And-- and that is that we have to choose between-- either pressure or an agreement. And it seems that there is a lot of pressure-- particularly within the United States, from various courses, and we've seen some recently-- not to have an agreement. And-- there are those who simply see their-- hopes-- and-- their political future in conflict, tension and crisis. And as-- as long as that is the case, it's a very difficult environment to make political decisions.

ANN CURRY: Some of the pressure against the deal has come as recently as Tuesday from Ira-- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He caused quite a stir in Washington on Tuesday when he told Congress that this deal paves the way to war, not peace, as it would allow Iran to eventually procure nuclear weapons.

JAVAD ZARIF: Well-- Mr. Netanyahu has been-- proclaiming, predicting that Iran will have a nuclear weapon with-- within two, three, four years, since 1992. He has been on the record time and again that Iran will build a nuclear weapon within two years-- since, as I said, 1992. In 2012, he went before the General Assembly and said, "Iran will have a nuclear weapon within one year." It seems that he wants to stick to his one year-- forever. Iran is not about building nuclear weapon. We don't wanna build nuclear weapons. We don't believe that nuclear weapons bring security to anybody, certainly not to us. So-- it's important for everybody to come to the realization that-- this is about nuclear technology, this is about scientific advancement, this is about pride of the Iranian people. It's-- it has nothing to do with nuclear weapons. And once we reach that understanding, once this hysteria is out, one-- once this fear mongering is out, then we can have a deal, and a deal that is not gonna hurt anybody. This deal will help ensure that Iran's nuclear program will always remain peaceful. We have no doubt in Iran that our nuclear program is peaceful, will remain peaceful. There may be people who have concerns. There may be people who-- who may have been affected by the type of-- hysteria that is being fanned by people like Mr. Netanyahu. And it is useful for everybody to allow this deal to go through. As you know, Iran has been under more inspections over the last ten, 15 years than any other country on the face of the Earth, probably with the only exception of Japan. And we have less than a tenth of Japan's nuclear facilities. But we have gone almost through as many inspections. And over the past ten years, time and again, The IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear watchdog of the United Nations, has come out and said, "There is nothing that is going on behind-- public attention in Iran." And we are confident that, with an agreement, where we will have even more monitoring and more scrutiny-- it will be clear to the international community that our nuclear program is exclusively peaceful. I don't know why some people are afraid of that. I don't know why some people do not want to work to see that all of this hysteria that has been found over the past many years, as I said, since 1992, when we have been at-- one or two or three years away from the bomb and it hasn't materialized, I don't know why they the audacity to continue to-- to make the same statement and nobody questions them, under many times that they have been wrong.

ANN CURRY: You've mentioned the IAEA. As you know-- it says that Iran has been stalling on answering certain questions about past nuclear activities, specifically about whether or not Iran was involved in trying to develop a weapon. So why is Iran stalling on these questions?

JAVAD ZARIF: No, we're not stalling. The problem is that we have been negotiating within the group of whatever you wanna call it, E3 plus three or five plus one, about how to proceed. And we have been waiting within this process for the questions that we need to answer. Because, as you know, there have been allegations that have been made against Iran. Most of them, unfortunately, produced by Israel. And by the way, it's important to know that Israel is the only possessor of nuclear weapons in our region, is the only aggressor in our region, is the only occupier of other people's territory in our region. And it still has the audacity to go out and make claims-- about others. The prime minister, who is actually responsible for the carnage that took place in Gaza, is accusing a country that has not invaded any of its neighbors, or anybody else for that matter, for over 250 years, more than the life of many nations. We have not invaded, we have not aggressed upon any other country, all our neighbors, none of them. We have been a force for stability in this region. And it is interesting that people are making accusations against us, whose record is-- disastrous.

ANN CURRY: Israel-- through Prime Minister Netanyahu, actually made-- allegations to the opposite, it said that-- opposite point. It said-- it made the opposite point, saying that-- Iran has been-- come-- too heavy an influence in Iraq and Afghanistan and in Syria, and is actually started to gobble up these other nations. So you're saying that Iran has not done that. He's saying that it is.

JAVAD ZARIF: Well actually, we have to ask the governments in these countries. Iran has come to the aid of the Iraqi government in fighting-- against-- ISIS. It has come to the aid of the government of Afghanistan in fighting against Taliban and al-Qaeda. It has come to the aid of the people of Syria in fighting against-- ISIS and al-Nusra. But I wanna ask Mr. Netanyahu what was he doing visiting al-Nusra-- terrorists in Israeli hospitals? Why is he supporting el-Nusra? I'm not running a-- popularity contest in the United States. But he seems to be doing that. And at the same time, he's a bedfellow to the most dangerous terrorists who are fighting against all of us in the world.

ANN CURRY: Who, for example?

JAVAD ZARIF: Jabhat el-Nusra in the Golan-- where he has been openly supporting in allowing terrorists to come take refuge in Israel-- be treated in Israel, in supporting in the-- in-- including in the recent operation in-- in the Golan, with-- with Jabhat al-Nusra. It is strange that somebody has the audacity to charge Iran, which is the only country, which is-- has supported steadily the governments in the region against a terror network that has, unfortunately, been created in our region, has helped Iraq. We came to the assistance of the Iraqi government. We came to the assistance of the Kurdish people in Iraq when they were-- when the onslaught of-- of Daesh -- against Iraq started. Nobod--

ANN CURRY: Daesh, you're talking about ISIS there.

JAVAD ZARIF: ISIS. ISIS is a bad acronym, because this-- this organization is neither a state nor an Islam-- nor Islamic. So we-- we use Daesh-- as an easier acronym. But-- but it is-- it is important for everybody to recognize the factor on the ground. Fear mongering does not help. It is important to look at the realities. Our region is facing a very serious threat of extremism, of violence. And Iran has been, from the very beginning. We didn't change sides. We were, from the very beginning, on the side of those who were fighting-- these terrorists and extremist organizations. And we continue to be on the side of the government of Iraq, the regional government of Kurdistan, and the government of Afghanistan, as they continue to fight these menaces.

ANN CURRY: Let's address one of the fears that arose before Congress on Tuesday. Netanyahu strongly suggested that Iran has genocidal ambitions against the Jewish people, saying, "Iran's regime is not merely a Jewish problem, any more than the Nazis were a Jewish problem." What is your response to that?

JAVAD ZARIF: Well, it is unfortunate that Mr. Netanyahu now totally-- distorts realities of today. He even distorts his own-- scripture. If-- if you read the book of Esther, you will see that it was the Iranian king who saved the Jews. If you read-- the-- the Old Testament, you will see that it was an Iranian king who saved the Jews from Babylon. Esther has a town in Iran where-- where our Jewish population, which is the largest in the Middle East-- visit on-- on a regular basis. It is-- it is truly, truly regrettable that bigotry gets to the point of making allegations against an entire nation which has saved Jews three times in its history: Once during that time of-- of a prime minister who was trying to kill the Jews, and the king saved the Jews, again during the time of Cyrus the Great, where he saved the Jews from Babylon, and during the-- Second World War, where Iran saved the Jews. Iran has a bright record of-- tolerance to other religions. We have a Jewish member of our parliament. It is totally regrettable that somebody plays such a distortion of reality, not only of contemporary reality, but even of Biblical reality, and of the scripture to which-- they claim allegiance.

ANN CURRY: We were able to find the tweet that he referred to from the supreme leader. It happened seven months ago, the supreme leader's-- Twitter page has, quote, "This barbaric wolf-like and infanticidal regime of Israel which spares no crime, has no cure but to be annihilated." Mr. Foreign Minister, can you understand why Jews and others would take umbrage at that kind of language?

JAVAD ZARIF: No, I won't. Because this is a regime. We're talking about Mr. Netanyahu, who has-- butchered-- innocent children in Gaza. We are not talking about annihilation of Jews. We never have, we never will. Because if we wanted to annihilate Jews, we have a large number of Jewish population in Iran who not only live in the country in peace, but, in fact, have a representative in Iranian parliament allocated to them, disproportionately to their number. Every 150,000-- Iranian Muslims has a representative in the parliament, whereas less than 20,000 Jews in Iran have a representative in the parliament. So we're not about annihilation of Jews. We have a history of tolerance and cooperation and living together in coexistence with our own Jewish people, and with-- with Jews everywhere in the world. If people want to-- espouse fear mongering to fan such hysteria in the world, that's-- to their detriment. We have said, and we will continue to say, that the regime is a threat to regional peace. This is the only regime with nuclear weapons. This is the only regime that has aggressed upon all of its neighbors, has-- gobbled territory of-- of its neighbor, is occupying people's territory, is violating human rights on a daily basis. It has destroyed-- villages in retribution. The-- we're not talking about-- about a normal situation. We're talking about the oldest crisis in our region, which has persisted. He cannot hide behind the smoke-- this smokescreen-- of-- of trying to portray Iran as a threat and, at the same time, try to hide the crimes that they are committing in Gaza against innocent people. Thousands of people were driven out of their homes because of Israeli bombardment, just a few month ago. And this was the repeat of what happened a couple of years ago. And that was the repeat of what happened a couple of years prior to that. So this is a-- his-- I mean the-- almost become, unfortunately-- a practice that has been going on in-- in our region for a long time. And that is one of the most important breeding grounds for terrorism and extremism in-- in the region. The sense of deprivation and degradation that the Palestinians feel in our region has been the cause of a great deal of anger in the Islamic world and beyond, even in Europe.

ANN CURRY: So how does Iran want to annihilate the regime of Israel, since you're making the difference?

JAVAD ZARIF: We don't want to annihilate. We don't want to--

ANN CURRY: Well, the Supreme Leader--

JAVAD ZARIF: --annihilate anybody.

ANN CURRY: --tweeted that--

JAVAD ZARIF: We have-- the-- well, what he says--

ANN CURRY: --it should be annihilated.

JAVAD ZARIF: It-- it should be annihilated. That this regime is a threat, is a threat. A regime that engages in the killing of innocent children, a regime that engages in acts of aggression. Iran has not invaded any other country. We have not threatened to use force. Just exactly the opposite of Israel. Israel threatens to use force against Iran almost on a daily basis. And it has a record. Of course if they did use force against Iran, we would-- defend ourselves, as we have done with-- great sacrifice in the past. But we are not invading, we are not threatening anybody. We have not threatened anybody for 250 years. We have a record to prove of what we say. He doesn't. He has a record full of infanticide, full of killing of innocent people, full of aggression against his neighbor, full of occupation. That does not give him the authority to talk about others in the way he does.

ANN CURRY: He has talked about you, specifically. As you may have heard, he-- he-- I wanna give you a chance to respond to this. He said-- about you that the prime minister said that he wished that someone would ask you why you laid a wreath at the grave of Imad Mughniyah. He said, who has spilled more blood, more American blood, than other terrorists besides Obama bin Lad-- than any other terrorist beside Osama bin Laden. Mughniyah was a Hezbollah-- commander. He is accused of the-- in-- bombings of the-- U.S. barracks, and also U.S. embassy bombings.

JAVAD ZARIF: Well-- first of all, we have our policy differences with the United States. And it's obvious. Secondly, I'm not running for a popularity contest in the United States. We are trying to resolve a problem. He--

ANN CURRY: But what compelled--

JAVAD ZARIF: No, no, no.

ANN CURRY: --you to lay a--


ANN CURRY: --wreath at-- at his grave?

JAVAD ZARIF: He-- he is running for a popularity contest in the United States, interfering in the internal affairs of United States. And he is the one visiting al-Nusra terrorists in Israeli hospitals. It's for him to respond to those allegations. I have no problem saying that I have differences in policy with the United States. And we have difficulties in many areas. We have been proven, we have been proven, time and again, that we have supported people who stand for justice, who stand against oppression. We do not support blind terrorism. We never supported-- groups or tendencies that commit beheading in Syria and in Iraq. Prime Minister Netanyahu cannot make this unequivocal statement, which I can.

ANN CURRY: Interesting that the two of you accuse each other of essentially a very similar thing.

JAVAD ZARIF: Well-- what-- what I'm-- saying happened on Israeli television.

ANN CURRY: But-- in-- in your-- in your particular case, when you say that-- 'cause I-- I-- I'd like to find out a little bit more about your answer to this question. Maybe we don't know enough, but maybe you can explained why Mughniyah was someone you wanted to lay the wreath-- for, given that he is accused of many American deaths.

JAVAD ZARIF: No-- you see, the problem is, we're talking about a resistance to Israeli occupation, which-- was pushed out of Lebanon by a resistance movement. We're not talking about a group that came from all over the world to Syria or to Iraq to wreak havoc. We're talking about people defending their country, defending their territory against occupation. If you can go back, episodes that Mr. Netanyahu doesn't want the world to remember, Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon, bombardments of Lebanese cities, occupation of southern Lebanon, atrocities that were committed in Lebanon amounting to war crimes, these are-- areas where the Lebanese resistance fought against. They fought in their own territory for the independence of their country, for liberation of their territory from Israeli occupation. They are considered heroes in the entire Middle East. And that is where the problem lies. By portraying images that have no base in-- in truth, no base in reality, they cannot change the history. Just look at our region. Our region is going through hell. A hell that has been created because of the fact that this region has been the subject of domination, exploitation, occupation, and application of double standards for many decades. And that is a problem. Unless the West, the United States, allows this smokescreen that Netanyahu and company try to create, to hide their atrocities behind that smokescreen, and unless they start dealing with the realities of our region, we will not see peace. By accusing others of things that happened in this region for different reasons, you will not resolve the problems of this region. And it is important to go beyond these allegations. What I am referring to is something that is happening right now. Israel is-- in-- actually it's-- it's interesting. They're interesting bedfellows with Jabhat al-Nusra in the Golan. And if you look at Syria's intelligence, you will see that. That is the problem that needs to be addressed. For somebody who comes to U.S. Congress, tries to create this hysteria about something that doesn't exist. We never had the bomb. We will never have a bomb. We're not looking to have a bomb. We do not believe a bomb is in our interest. Whereas he does have a bomb. He does have two-- he has 200 nuclear weapons. He has stood against a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction. Israel is the single most important obstacle to the creation of a nuclear-free zone in the-- in the Middle East. Why nobody makes him accountable for the behavior, rather than for the allegations? He continues to create-- to make allegations against Iran. He's in no place to do that. He doesn't have the authority, the moral authority, to do that.

ANN CURRY: Moving forward and talking specifically about your negotiations in this deal, many in Congress have accused the Obama administration as being too eager to make a deal. Has Secretary of State John Kerry been a pushover in these negotiations?

JAVAD ZARIF: Oh, no, by no means. We have all tried. And we have our differences. But the United States-- tried every other option. They tried pressure. They tried espionage.

ANN CURRY: Espionage?

JAVAD ZARIF: Yes. They tried-- even sabotage. Israel tried assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists. Five Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated in terrorist activities in Iran over the past several years. The United States tried sanctions. Probably the most destructive, as they say, "crippling sanctions" that the United States has ever imposed on any other country, depriving Iranians of even the possibility to buy medicine, to send their blood for-- for blood test-- medical test abroad. This is the type of stringent sanctions that were applied on Iran. But what was the result? I think President Obama was right in saying that the sanctions caused Iran to go from less than 200 centrifuges to over 20,000 centrifuges. I think the fact that the United States has recognized the futility of pressure against Iran, the futility of sanctions against Iran, the fact that they have recognized that sanctions don't work, that pressure don't work, that threats don't work, the only way to deal with Iran is to be through respect and through negotiations. And we have moved far. You see, Prime Minister Netanyahu believed that we will not abide by the terms of the joint plan of action that we adopted in Geneva. You remember he made a lot of fuss about it two years ago when we adopted that in November, 2013. But IAEA report after another indicate that Iran has lived up to every single commitment that we made in that agreement. Iran is known for keeping its word. We have always kept our word. We have been wronged. The Iranian people have been wronged. But the Iranian people are very forgiving. We have come to the negotiating table to show to the world that we have nothing to hide, that we want to live in peace, that we want to exercise our right to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. We are willing to accept restrictions, and we are willing to live by every international standard. This process will lead to Iran accepting the most-- pervasive, the most-- stringent international inspection regime that exists. That is the additional protocol. That would require our parliament to approve. But once the parliament approves it, Iran will permanently-- this-- this-- this story about sunset clause, it is-- it's just another scare tactic. Iran is accepting, has accepted, has been a member of the NPT. We have an obligation not to develop nuclear weapons. We will remain under scrutiny forever, like any other country. This-- these negotiations are not supposed to provide Iran a free ticket. Of-- of course we don't need one, because we're not planning to build a bomb. Some people, because they have-- themself a clandestine nuclear weapons program, several hundred nuclear warheads, think everybody will seek their security through weapons. That's not what we do. We believe that our security will be-- will not be augmented by nuclear weapons. We believe actually nuclear weapons are detrimental to anybody's security.

ANN CURRY: President Obama, on Monday, said that Iran should free sensitive nuclear activity for ten years if it wants a deal. Are you balking at that?

JAVAD ZARIF: Well, I'm not negotiating publicly. We are-- discussing various measures, both transparency measures, as well as-- limitations, voluntary limitations on our nuclear program-- with the Uni-- with Five Plus One, basically-- primarily the United States, but other members of Five Plus One. We believe these are not necessary. But we are prepared to take-- to go the extra mile in order to convince the international community that our n-- nuclear program is exclusively peaceful. And we are-- engaged in very serious, high technical, discussions in which many nuclear physicists are involved, including the heads of-- the-- the our atomic energy organization, and the U.S.-- Energy-- Secretary of Energy, both of them nuclear physicists, who are trying to make sure that Iran's nuclear program will always remain peaceful. And we have no problem with that, because we want our nuclear program to be-- we know that it's peaceful. We want our nuclear program to be seen as peaceful. Because that's what we are about. We're not about engaging in nuclear deterrence. We believe nuclear deterrence is simply MAD, as the acronym stands, Mutually Assured Destruction. This is MAD. This is not something we're about. We are about developing our potential. Our scientific potential. We have been deprived, we have been denied the access to technology. And that is why our scientists had to develop this themselves. Now we have a science that has homegrown. We copied some from outside. But now we own it. It is homegrown. Our scientists developed it in spite all the odds from out-- from abroad. That is why it has become a source of price, a source of national dignity. This is not about weapons. This is about respect. This is about dignity. This is about allowing the Iranian people to benefit from the fruits of their own labor, which they paid with blood. As I said, a number of our nuclear scientists were murdered by Israeli agents, unfortunately. And nobody condemned it. The-- these are facts that have been proven time and again. This will not work. You need to have a negotiated agreement in which all the assurances that the international community, and by "international community," I mean the few countries that have concerns. Because the rest of the international community seems to be fine with our nuclear program. Other-- other countries want to have similar program, because this is-- at the edge of-- of technology. This is-- this is modern advanced technology that will be the future of-- of-- of our future generations, producing clean energy, producing-- energy that does not-- destroy the environment-- produce greenhouse gases. These are important areas of development. And our country wants to be involved in that. And we have the scientific base for it. So the best way, if-- if anybody is concerned about proliferation, the best way to make sure that this science is no harm, that we own, is not imported so that somebody can take it away from us. It's ours. The best way to make sure that this is purely peaceful is to allow it to be exercised transparently. Now, we have accepted, if-- if we hadn't agreed, because we-- we have-- we have accepted nothing until we reach an agreement. And I don't know why people do not want to have an agreement. Because if we don't have an agreement, then we don't accept anything. Then we go back to the posturing of more pressure on Iran and more centrifuges. We're not going to develop nuclear weapons. But if they put more pressure on us, they won't get more transparency. They will simply get more centrifuges. Now, if they want to-- to get more transparency, if they want to get less centrifuges, if they want to have a program, a phased program so that we contain, we limit our own scientific capability that we have right now, we can produce tens of thousands of centrifuges. But we are willing to accept limitations on that in order to reach an international agreement. We are willing to accept extra transparency measures in order to ease the concerns that we believe are misplaced. We believe these are the concerns that have been fanned by the hysteria that has been fanned by people like Netanyahu and company. But nevertheless, we are prepared to take action, to take measures, in order to ease those concerns and to allay those fears. And that, be considered to be in our interest and in the interest of everybody else. But you know what? Prime Minister Netanyahu believes that, after that, his lies will be exposed once again to the interna-- entire international community, as it has been time and again. In 1992, he said Iran was three years away from the bomb or four years away from the bomb. In 1996, he repeated that. Congress can go back to its own annals and review what he said in the U.S. Congress. He said, in 2012, before the entire world, before the General Assembly of the United Nations, with that cartoon of a bomb, that Iran was a year away from making a bomb. Now we are in 2015. Three years. And he's still repeating the same lie. Now we have an opportunity to, once and for all, put an end to that through this agreement. But if anybody's worried about tranquility, if somebody considers peace to be an existential threat, then that's their problem, not mine.

ANN CURRY: Well, one of the questions raised is, when you put a clock on it, like ten years, the question then becomes, "What happens after that?" Why not let this deal, a deal that freezes Iran's sensitive nuclear activity, essentially last forever?


ANN CURRY: Why, if you're not interested--

JAVAD ZARIF: Why should we?

ANN CURRY: --in building a nuclear bomb--

JAVAD ZARIF: Why should we?

ANN CURRY: --why not have that go forever?

JAVAD ZARIF: Be-- because this is-- we're-- we're not-- I mean we are prepared to-- freeze-- anything about nuclear bomb forever, because we're doing anything about the nuclear bomb. What we are talking about is enrichment technology which is about producing fuel for our own reactors. This is not about a bomb. We are willing to accept limits for a certain amount of time, and then we will be bound by all the rules and regulations that the rest of the international community is bound by. That Israel is not bound by. Israel has not accepted the NPT. Why don't they accept the NPT? If they are-- I mean it's interesting that the-- most outspoken person about the NPT is not a member. Don't you find that astonishing? Israel is not a member of NPT. And it-- and Netanyahu finds himself in a place to preach-- non-proliferation. He's the worst proliferator of the recent history. And with-- with 200-- 200 nuclear weapon warheads. And he's talking about non-proliferation. What we're talking about Iran is a certain amount of time, which we don't believe to be necessary. This is a show of good faith by Iran, not an obligation. We are willing to accept the obligations, not obligations that Israel had not accepted, but obligations that other countries around there, and then some, the NPT, the safeguards, the additional protocol, all other international instruments that prohibit development of nuclear weapons. Because we don't want to develop nuclear weapons. So those that prohibit development of nuclear weapons have no sunset clause, no sunset clause. Iran will no be free from the obligation not to develop nuclear weapons in ten years, in 20 years, in 50 years. These are permanent undertakings that Iran undertook when it signed and ratified the NPT, when it will ratify, if we have disagreement, the additional protocol and other international instrument. So people are simply engaged in what amounts to demagoguery. We are not about to be free to develop nuclear weapons any time in-- in-- in the future. We don't want to. And we-- we have an obligation not to.

ANN CURRY: Why should Americans trust Iran on this?

JAVAD ZARIF: Well, we're not asking anybody to trust us. There is an international system--

ANN CURRY: You are if you're trying to have an agreement.


ANN CURRY: You are asking for some trust.

JAVAD ZARIF: No, no, no. No, we're not asking for trust. We know that there is huge level of mutual mistrust between Iran and the United States. Unfortunately, between the United States and many countries. But certainly the Iranian people have witnessed the United States not paying attention to the fact that they were invaded by a neighbor, not paying attention to the fact that chemical weapons were used against them, actually, impeding Security Council action against the use of chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein. That's-- that may be ancient history for some. But it is very fresh in the minds of the Iranian people. So we're not asking anybody to trust us. And we are not going to trust anybody for the time being. We take one step at a time. This is a very viable agreement. It will be verified. We're not asking for trust. We're asking for verification. And we are accepting verification. And I believe anybody in their right mind should be actually encouraging, welcoming, such an agreement that would have a verification mechanism to insure that Iran will always live up by its commitments.

ANN CURRY: As you know, and I know, the verification process has not prevented some nations from getting a nuclear weapon.

JAVAD ZARIF: Well-- those verification-- systems have changed. First of all, we are accepting additional-- mechanisms for verification. And, we will allow the international community, we guarantee we will provide them with the assurance that Iran will never produce nuclear weapons. When-- I mean if you try to-- to show that you are asleep, nobody can wake you up. People tried to turn a blind eye to certain countries that developed nuclear weapons. Some were actually helped. Some were actually helped. Iran is not about producing nuclear weapons. We do not want to produce nuclear weapons. And we will not produce nuclear weapons. And we have the necessary international mechanisms. You see, if you-- the latest report of the IAEA that is out is the 2013 report. We- we-- not-- not the report on Iran, the general report about everybody's compliance with these norms. And if you read that report, you'll see that, after Japan, Iran has had the highest amount of inspections, and it has less than 1% failure in reporting, less than 1%. Whereas countries that have no restrictions, that are under no restrictions, are accepting no limitations, have 30, 40, 50, even a few countries with 100% failure in-- on the same report. You like it, you can check-- you can fact check what I say by looking at the 2013 report of the IAEA, the latest that came out.

ANN CURRY: So once and for all, to those who fear that, after the deadline, the sunset clause, whether it's ten years or shorter or longer, that Iran will then rush to build a nuclear bomb, you say what?

JAVAD ZARIF: I say that, after whenever this-- these specific limitations end, Iran will be bound by international obligations, like any other country, like any other country. And it will be monitored. So there is no sunset clause. The NPT has no sunset clause.

ANN CURRY: Do those obligations prevent you from--

JAVAD ZARIF: Yes, I believe--

ANN CURRY: --building a bomb?

JAVAD ZARIF: Yes, I believe they would. I mean we live in an international environment where you have international law, where you have international instruments. These instruments are there in order to make sure that proliferation doesn't take place. Now, we will have-- we will be implementing them. It's simply unacceptable for people to create this hysteria that, after ten years, Iran can build a bomb. Most countries, almost all countries with nuclear capabilities, are accepting the same restrictions that are applicable in those international instruments. It is high time to push Mr. Netanyahu to accept the same restrictions he-- he is preaching for others. Which we have already accepted, long time ago.

ANN CURRY: The Iranian leadership has made it clear that, without sanctions relief, there is no deal. What sanctions must be lifted immediately for there to be an agreement?

JAVAD ZARIF: Well-- you see-- here-- it's a principle that is involved. Sanctions-- must be seen not an as-- not as an asset, but as a liability. As President Obama rightly pointed out, sanctions have produced about 19,000 centrifuges. So sanctions cannot cripple Iran's desire and determination to exercise its rights. It can hurt the people. But the people of Iran, the latest Gallop poll that was conducted only a few weeks ago, I believe, by an American-- polling organization, not an Iranian polling organization, shows that, in spite of all the sanctions, an overwhelming majority of the Iranian population do not want the country to abandon its peaceful nuclear program. Do not. So the Iranian people would resist pressure. But the problem is, if we want to have an agreement, we want to change this precarious situation that we have that people are imposing pressure on Iran and Iran is reciprocating by moving forward with building more centrifuges. You want to change that-- environment. The only way that you can-- you can change that environment is to move away from pressure, and move to negotiations-- mutually acceptable situations, what we call a win-win situation, where, if you want to have assurances that Iran's nuclear program will always be peaceful, you will get those assurances. Ostensibly, sanctions were-- were about to-- were-- were supposed to-- the objective of sanctions was supposed to be delivering this-- this end result, that is, to convince the international community that Iran's program will always remain peaceful. Now, if you have it, why aren't sanctions for? Why should we keep the sanctions? Why should anybody keep the sanctions? Why should they accept sanctions to continue? This is a fundamental question of principle. You either move with sanctions, and that is prerogative that the United States has, and the West has. If they believe sanctions are-- good, if they believe sanctions can give them the assurance that they want, they're welcome to continue with it. And the Iranian people will continue to resist it. But if they believe that is a path that leads nowhere, and they believe they need an agreement, well agreement and sanctions are mutually exclu-- exclusive. I mean they cannot-- you cannot have a cake and eat it too. You cannot have sanctions and an agreement. You can have either. It doesn't mean that Iran will be home free. It means that Iran will be under serious international obligation to live up to those commitments. We have shown in the past one year and a half, in fact, in the past ten years, but in the past one year and a half since we had the-- joint program of action that we adopted in Geneva in November of 2013, we have shown that Iran will live up to every single commitment that is makes. The Iranian people are known for adhering to their undertakings. We have been tested by history. We're an old civilization. We've been tested by history. We haven't aggressed upon any country for 250 years. This is a history that I'm proud of. And this is a history that can provide, when all these smokescreen go away, the assurance that Iran will live up to its commitments.

ANN CURRY: So, to the idea that sanctions should be used to get better behavior out of Iran, specifically in-- in its involvement with Hezbollah and other organizations, as we heard on Tuesday, you say what?

JAVAD ZARIF: Well-- you see, we are negotiating about the nuclear issue. We are not negotiating about other issues. We decided, Five Plus One-- has a mandate to negotiate nuclear issues. And that's what we're negotiating. And that's what we're trying to resolve. So there are people who do not want to see this resolved. And that is why they're trying to complicate it. We do not need to resolve all the problems. We have a lot of grievances. The Iranian people have a huge set of grievances that we have. We're not putting those grievances on the table. We're not putting the grievances that we have about overthrowing our governments, about supporting Saddam Hussein in the war against Iraq-- Iran, about keeping quiet when chemical weapons were used against us, about providing the means to use chemical weapons against us, whole range of grievances that we have. Those are not on the table. We were supposed to deal with the nuclear issue. And it would be a huge victory. Now, look at this reality. Over the past 60 years, there have been very few problems that have been resolved diplomatically. This is a huge opportunity for the international community to resolve an issue diplomatically. We owe it to the people of the world to do our best in order to achieve this. We should not lose this opportunity. Of course if people don't see their national interests served by this, those who are involved in the negotiations can walk away. And that won't be the end of history. That won't be-- the end of the world. But we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our people, we owe it to the international community, to use the momentum that has been created in order to reach an agreement. Sanctions were there. I mean we considered them illegal. We considered them ill placed. But those who believed in sanctions believed they were there to reach an agreement. Now, if we have an agreement, which we don't yet, we're trying to, if we can an agreement, then why you need sanctions? The other issues that people are raising, and we have a few of them that we can raise on our own, those issues can be resolved in the future, can be addressed in the future separately. But we're not about to do that right now. We're not going to further complicate a very complicated issue. There's a lot to be said about extremism in-- in our region. There is a lot to be said about aggression in our region. There is a lot to be said about occupation in our region. A lot to be said. But we don't want to complicate these. And believe me, if people start saying those things, some people will not be very happy.

ANN CURRY: So let's, then, get back to the topic, specifically, about the nuclear deal. Concerns have been expressed that Iran may be hiding-- secretly some nuclear facilities. Can you state categorically that Iran-- has no nuclear facilities, no facilities it has not yet declared?

JAVAD ZARIF: I can state that categorically. But the only way for you and for the rest of the international community to find out is to allow this deal to move forward, and so there will be even additional protocol in place so that that can be inspected. Over the past ten years, as I said-- and I repeat that, Iran has been inspected more than any other country. And nothing has been found. Not-- not only no smoking gun has been found, no indication has been found. Everything that Prime Minister Netanyahu is talking about are allegations, mostly produced by him. So we-- believe categorically, and I can state that categorically, that Iran doesn't have any hidden facility. But I don't want you to believe me. I want everybody to allow an agreement to go-- to be put in place so that the international community can verify on its own.

ANN CURRY: And specifically, what would change if there's a deal that would allow for greater transparency?

JAVAD ZARIF: Nothing will change on our part. Because we're not developing nuclear weapons. We will not develop nuclear weapons. But if-- if-- this demagoguery and-- basically, fear mongering that is taking place, has taking place since 1992, we're a year or two from developing a nuclear weapon and we are still a year or two from developing nuclear weapons, according to Netanyahu-- this fear mongering will stop. And that is in the interest of everybody, to allow the smokescreens to go away.

ANN CURRY: Actually-- Prime Minister Netanyahu says that Israel believes it's less than a year. I think the U.S. says it's a year. What do you say? How far away could you technically develop a--

JAVAD ZARIF: We don't want--

ANN CURRY: --nuclear weapons?

JAVAD ZARIF: We don't--

ANN CURRY: I know. But how far away--

JAVAD ZARIF: We don't want--

ANN CURRY: --are you--

JAVAD ZARIF: We don't want to devel--

ANN CURRY: --based on what you have?

JAVAD ZARIF: We don't want to develop nuclear--

ANN CURRY: Your enrichment.

JAVAD ZARIF: We don't want to--

ANN CURRY: Your centrifuges.

JAVAD ZARIF: --develop nuclear weapons. And that is-- why that question becomes irrelevant. We have had enough fissile material for ten years. We have had enough fissile material for many bombs. But did we develop them? They're still sitting there, under IAEA monitoring. We have eight tons of fissile material, of 3.5% enriched uranium. We did not go for a bomb, because we do not believe that a nuclear weapon is-- will augment our security. This is-- a misperception. Netanyahu believes that the 200 warheads that he has gives him security. He's wrong. Wrong.


JAVAD ZARIF: Because it didn't. And it doesn't. The United States had the greatest stockpile of nuclear weapons on the face of the Earth, and look what 9-11 did. We need to change our paradigms. We need to start looking at the dif-- the situation in the world in a different way. This is an interconnected world. We are talking about globalization. This is a different world. You cannot have security at the expense of insecurity of others. And unless this paradigm shift occurs, then we will continue to at least be-- troubled by this fear that continues to-- exist-- in various parts of the world. We do not want a bomb, period. And we will never get a bomb, because we don't-- we're not about to go for a bomb. If we wanted to, we would have taken steps. Everybody knows that we didn't. We had the-- we had the material. But we didn't want to, we do not want to. It's just fan-- I mean-- fear mongering to talk about breakout. Whatever the time limits they put on this, it's hysteria. But we are prepared to provide the international community with very viable assurances that Iran only has a peaceful nuclear program, and not a weapons program.

ANN CURRY: Congress has threatened new sanctions, and is now talking about demanding approval on any deal. President Obama says that it will veto anything that jeopardizes the talks. How will Iran react?

JAVAD ZARIF: Unlike others, I'm not going to interfere in the internal affairs of the United States. I consider the-- I mean as-- as I read the American constitution, I believe the-- executive has the prerogative over foreign policy and for any foreign government, it has to lead with the executive. That's the only way you can have international affairs. So I will accept the commitment of the U.S. government, the U.S. administration, about what-- going to do. And I will-- I mean if they have an agreement, I will hold them accountable. And the international will hold the government of the United States accountable to its undertakings. Whatever President Obama and Secretary Kerry want to do with their domestic affairs is their-- their business. And-- it's a principle of international law that a foreign government is not supposed to interfere in the affairs of another government.

ANN CURRY: Unlike others, you said.

JAVAD ZARIF: Unlike others.

ANN CURRY: You're talking about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

JAVAD ZARIF: I allow people to make their own decision.

ANN CURRY: Lemme ask you about the-- odds. President Obama says the odds are still against Iran getting to yes and making a deal. Is that how you would frame it?

JAVAD ZARIF: Well-- I-- I believe-- everybody has to be prepared to get to yes. Everybody has to prepare-- to be prepared.

ANN CURRY: Are the odds against it?

JAVAD ZARIF: Well, the odds are against it until we reach an agreement. That's always the case in any multi-lateral agreement. I've been in this business long enough to know that you do not have a deal until you have the final deal. And I'm not going to make any predictions. What I can tell you is that I'm doing my best, even on the eve of our new year, I'll be doing my best, to reach a deal. I'll now continue to do that.

ANN CURRY: The Persian new year is on March 21st, technically? You will negot--

JAVAD ZARIF: 20th, 21st.

ANN CURRY: You will negotiate all the way-- past that or--

JAVAD ZARIF: I'll negotiate--

ANN CURRY: --up until that?

JAVAD ZARIF: I'll negotiate-- to any date that is necessary.

ANN CURRY: Including on Persian New Year?

JAVAD ZARIF: We have negotiated during the holy month of Ramadan. So we can negotiate on Persian New Year, if necessary. This is a historic op-- opportunity for the international community, and for the people of Iran, people of the United States, and people of everywhere else in the world, to put, in my view, an artificial problem aside. But this has been a problem that has been on the agenda of the United Nations for the past ten years. And if we can do it by a few of us spending their New Year's Eve negotiating rather than being with their families, I think all of us are well prepared to do that.

ANN CURRY: The March deadline that the president has been talking about, would you be willing to go past that if you think this is so important? How long would you be willing to talk about this?

JAVAD ZARIF: Well-- we have-- agreed in-- Vienna-- to reach an agreement-- before July. And-- I don't think it is useful to extend that deadline. Now, we are trying-- I believe we are not far from knowing how that agreement will look like. We will not have an agreement before-- end of March. It's imp--

ANN CURRY: But the political agreement, you think you could have?

JAVAD ZARIF: I mean-- it-- it-- it's difficult to talk about a political agreement. We want to have an agreement. And-- there are details that need to be worked out. We are prepared to work. I mean we are prepared to work round the clock in order to reach an agreement. We believe that we are very close, very close. And we could be very far. But we are very close, if the political decision can be made to get to yes, as President Obama said. But that political decision needs to be made by everybody, not just by one country. And everybody should avoid imposing undue pressure in order to prevent the political-- polit-- a political decision to be made by all, to reach an agreement.

ANN CURRY: Again, I think you're pointing the finger at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

JAVAD ZARIF: I-- I'm pointing the finger at anybody who-- sees peace as-- as an existential threat.