Who to believe? Maybe both.
While flying on a visit to Vietnam, Secretary of State John Kerry talked by telephone with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javed Zarif, the first discussion between the pair since the conclusion in Geneva of the Nov. 24 interim deal on the Iranian nuclear dispute.
The sides, however, issued different versions of the conversation.
The pair talked about “the importance of moving forward on implementation of the Joint Plan of Action they agreed to in Geneva and of maintaining a constructive atmosphere as the negotiations continue,” said a statement by a senior State Department official, who wasn’t further identified. “The conversation focused on the way forward.”
The Iranian version wasn’t as innocuous.
“During the conversation, Iranian foreign minister voiced Tehran’s dissatisfaction with the new U.S. anti-Iran move,” the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said, quoting a statement by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, which noted that Zarif initiated the call.
That “anti-Iran move” would be the Obama administration decision announced on Thursday to add 14 Iranian companies and four individuals to the list of entities subject to U.S. sanctions for allegedly supporting Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Iranian negotiators halted technical talks at the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, the day after the announcement and flew home for consultations.
The U.S. decision was widely seen as part of an administration effort to head off new congressional sanctions legislation by reassuring Democratic and Republican lawmakers that the interim nuclear agreement would not result in a loosening of existing measures that have helped cripple Iran’s economy.
In announcing the decision, U.S. officials declined to address whether Iran was informed in advance. Iranian negotiators, they said, were told during the talks in Geneva with the world powers collectively known as the so-called P5 Plus One that the United States would continue enforcing sanctions.
The six-month interim accord is designed to provide the confidence and time needed to conclude a final agreement. It requires Iran to eliminate its stockpile of near 20 percent enriched uranium – which is close to the purity needed for a warhead – and cap its production of 5 percent low-enriched uranium in return for very limited relief from international and bilateral sanctions.
Taking the two versions of the Kerry-Zarif telephone call together, it is likely that both are accurate, only with the State Department declining to mention the Iranian complaint about the new additions to the U.S. sanctions list.
The conversation might have gone something like this:
Zarif: Iran is dissatisfied with the new U.S. anti-Iran move.
Kerry: That’s done. Now it’s important that we move forward on implementation of the Joint Plan of Action and maintain a constructive atmosphere as the negotiations continue.