WASHINGTON – Iran will not withdraw from negotiations with world powers over its nuclear program after the US tightened sanctions against its government this week, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Sunday.
In a statement, posted on his Facebook page, the foreign minister said Iran’s response would be “proper, calculated, purposeful and smart.”
He called on conservatives in his country not to rush diplomacy to an “early death.”
Late last week, the US Departments of State and Treasury designated 19 additional companies as contributing to the progress of Iran’s nuclear program, in violation of existing sanctions passed by Congress or enacted by President Barack Obama.
“The Americans have taken improper measures in the last few days and we have given the appropriate response to them after considering all aspects of the issue,” Zarif said in the post.
The Iranian government initially responded to the new designations by characterizing them as new sanctions, which would violate the terms of the deal agreed upon in Geneva last month between Iran and the P5+1— the US, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany.
The interim deal calls for a six-month freeze of Iran’s nuclear work in exchange for modest sanctions relief, and a pause in all efforts to add sanctions to the existing regime.
White House spokesman Jay Carney responded to Iranian criticisms by clarifying that the designations “were related to the enforcement of existing sanctions, and we have made clear all along that we would continue to enforce existing sanctions.”
“We have been clear with Iran throughout this process that we will continue to enforce existing sanctions,” Carney said.
US officials notified their Iranian counterparts that new listings were coming before they were announced, the State Department said. Russia on Friday echoed Iran’s criticism of the new measures.
“The US administration’s decision goes against the spirit of this document,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
US officials have said the blacklisting move showed that the Geneva deal would not interfere with their policy of economic embargoes designed to curb entities suspected of supporting Iran’s nuclear program.
In Vienna earlier on Friday, the European Union said that Iran and the six world powers needed more time to work out complex technical steps to implement last month’s deal after four days of expert-level talks.
The new measure, the first such enforcement action since the first-step agreement was reached in Geneva on November 24, targeted entities that are suspected of involvement in the proliferation of materials for weapons of mass destruction and have tried to evade the current sanctions.
Administration officials said Thursday’s targets include companies and individuals engaged in transactions on behalf of other companies that the United States previously designated under the sanctions. They include Mid Oil Asia, Singa Tankers, Siqiriya Maritime, Ferland Company Limited and Vitaly Sokolenko.
Congress continues to wrestle with whether the interim Geneva deal requires a “trigger” bill that would enforce additional sanctions should six months pass without a final-status agreement, ending the decades-old nuclear standoff for good.
The bill under consideration needs the support of a handful of well-positioned senators, who are undecided on how best to proceed, sources tell The Jerusalem Post.
Before the Thanksgiving holiday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid vowed to schedule a vote on Iran sanctions legislation, in one form or another. And Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez, also a Democrat, was one of the first members to suggest the “trigger” approach after the Geneva agreement was forged.
“It’s very likely that we will have a sanctions bill that will take effect at the end of six months if there’s no result in the negotiations,” Sen. John McCain told CNN’s Candy Crowley on Sunday.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has consulted with members of Congress throughout the week in an effort to dissuade key members from moving forward.
“We’re happy for them to say, ‘We have them at the ready,’ and they could pass them in 24 hours in six months if they wanted to,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Thursday, discussing additional sanctions. “What we don’t want them to do is pass them now, even with a trigger. That is taking action.”
Reuters contributed to this story.