|It is possible to make further progress on Iran nuclear issue: William Burns||
TEHRAN – Iran’s nuclear negotiating team is quite skillful and professional and it is possible to make further progress on Iran’s nuclear issue, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns told Al-Monitor in an interview on January 14.
During the interview, Burns credits the tough-minded professionalism and “clear sense of purpose” of the Iranian nuclear negotiating team put in place after President Hassan Rouhani, in August, appointed Iran’s former UN envoy Mohammad Javad Zarif as his foreign minister, tapping him to oversee Iran’s nuclear negotiations.
“The issues remain very complicated ones,” Burns said. “Having said that, I certainly found the Iranian officials with whom we worked to be quite skillful, quite professional, and I think determined in what they see to be the best interests of Iran in trying to reach a negotiated resolution. That makes for a set of tough negotiations. But I have a good deal of professional respect for the people with whom our team and I were meeting."
With negotiations set to begin in February between Iran and the P5+1 on a comprehensive nuclear accord, Burns said President Barack Obama’s estimate of 50-50 odds of reaching an agreement is not bad, considering the context.
“The truth is, against the backdrop of the tortuous history of the relationship between the United States and Iran, that’s actually not a bad opportunity to be tested,” Burns said. “And I think it’s very important for us to test it, having created the circumstance now through the Joint Plan of Action,” he added, referring to an interim nuclear deal recently reached between Iran and world powers.
“There are no illusions about the challenge ahead,” he said of reaching a comprehensive nuclear deal. But while the issues involved in the forthcoming negotiations are “very complicated,” he said, a resolution should be achievable.
“The truth is, at the end of the day ... if Iran wants to demonstrate that it is has no interest in pursuing a nuclear weapon ... we’ve made clear, as the president has, we accept a civil nuclear program for Iran, then it should not be impossible to reach an agreement,” he said
“I have long been a believer in the importance of direct engagement or contact with people, whether they are your partners, your adversaries. It’s the only way I think to test whether or not you can make progress diplomatically, even on the hardest of issues. And the Iranian nuclear issue I think is one of the most complicated before us.”
On prospects for a broader thaw or easing of tensions between Iran and the United States, Burns said the two governments still have broad differences beyond the nuclear dispute, which remains most urgent.
“Certainly, over time I think you see a lot of potential in the attitude of Iranian citizens toward greater connections with the rest of the world and greater connections with American society, however difficult relations are between governments. Having said that, I think we both have an awful lot of baggage in our political relationship, and it’s going to take time and a great deal of effort to deal with all of the differences between us. I think the nuclear issue, as both of us recognize now, is not the only one of those differences, but it’s the most urgent. And it’s on that basis that both bilaterally and working with our partners in the 5+1 we have made some progress,” he said.
“What the long-term possibilities are between the United States and Iran is very difficult to predict right now, given the range of differences between us,” Burns said. “But I do think it’s possible to make further progress on the nuclear issue, and I think that’s extremely important.”
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