WASHINGTON — Iran's foreign minister said Sunday that his country was willing to negotiate with the United States over its nuclear program but that Washington needed to reciprocate by stopping the sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy.
Taking a tone that was conciliatory at times but mainly tough, Mohammad Javad Zarif said on ABC's This Week that the United States and Iran had taken the "first step in removing the tensions, doubts and misgivings that the two sides have had about each other for the last 30-some years."
Zarif met with Secretary of State John Kerry last week in New York, and President Barack Obama spoke by phone Friday with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the countries' first direct contact at that level since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.
Zarif also said Iranian officials do not believe the Holocaust is a myth. A statement referring to the "myth of the massacre of Jews" in a speech by the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is a "bad translation," he said.
Last week, when Rouhani made a comment in an interview on CNN in which he said he accepted the Holocaust as a historical fact, some Iranian media outlets connected to hard-line factions used the translation argument in the other direction, arguing that CNN had misconstrued Rouhani's remarks. His predecessor as president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, questioned the reality of the Holocaust several times in public statements, one of several moves that deepened Israeli fears of Iran's intentions.
Zarif insisted that Tehran never had military intentions with its uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities. "Iran is prepared to start negotiating" on the issue, he said, adding that the United States also must do certain things, including halting what he contended were "illegal sanctions against Iran that are targeting ordinary Iranians."
Iran has been hit with sanctions from the U.N. Security Council as well as additional measures aimed at its oil and banking sectors imposed by the United States and the European Union.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a leading foreign policy expert in his party, said Sunday that although they would not ignore the diplomatic outreach by Iran, they would continue to press to maintain and toughen sanctions.
"Diplomacy is our hope, but the U.S. resolve to take whatever action is necessary to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state will not be compromised," they said in an op-ed article in the Washington Post.