Tehran on Tuesday dismissed Western demands for immediate sanctions relief as an obvious ploy to weaken Iran.
“It is a deceitful display to negotiate over Iran’s rights,” said Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. “Once these measures are in place, one does not have to worry about these loopholes.”
The remarks came shortly after the U.S. and Russia began bilateral nuclear talks in Geneva, in the first overt evidence of new, intense diplomacy between the two countries. The talks, led by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, have been under way since Sunday and were expected to last two days.
A senior State Department official said Mr. Tillerson and Mr. Lavrov would focus “mainly on the absence of progress on the Iran issue in the six weeks since the previous high-level meeting.”
But Mr. Zarif, speaking on Iranian state television, referred to the nuclear talks as a “full-fledged negotiation.” He insisted that restrictions placed on Iran’s nuclear program by the P5+1 group, a bloc of countries including the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany, would be lifted as soon as Iran implemented its obligations under the 2015 agreement.
And in a move that highlighted tensions within the P5+1 over how the group can move forward in the wake of President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the accord, Mr. Tillerson reiterated the U.S. position that Iran was already fully compliant with the terms of the accord.
Diplomats have said that the meeting in Geneva came about as a result of last week’s warning by Mr. Lavrov that Washington had failed to show sufficient commitment in talks on new sanctions against Iran. Those new sanctions are widely expected to be imposed by Mr. Trump within days.
Mr. Zarif also dismissed the possibility of accepting significant American demands in order to maintain full compliance with the nuclear deal.
“Tehran’s position is one of complete compliance, and to the extent there have been any prior breaches, sanctions have been imposed on them,” he said. “We can understand if we have breached with the P5+1, but as long as we have been abiding by the rules of the agreement with the P5+1, sanctions are not imposed.”
During a press conference in Washington on Monday, Mr. Tillerson called on Congress to examine “all of the tools available” to continue to isolate Iran and noted that “sanctions are an important component” of that effort.
“Congress has responsibilities to consider and we look forward to seeing what they decide to do,” he said.
Russia has offered a different perspective, saying that sanctions against Iran “do not target our cooperation in fighting against terrorism, extremism and terrorism, or our interests in Syria.”
In the run-up to the Geneva talks, new indications surfaced of tension between the two countries, including a rift over military cooperation in Syria. Mr. Lavrov said on Monday that Russia would be prepared to continue military action in Syria “in connection with” the nuclear talks. But Mr. Tillerson later ruled out such cooperation.
“We have stated very clearly, and we reiterated in an April 2017 conversation that Iran could not conduct such operations and will not be permitted to do so,” he said.
Western officials were reported to be particularly concerned by comments by Mr. Zarif that Iran had killed at least a hundred Russian soldiers in Syria, a response to Mr. Lavrov’s comments. But on Tuesday, a top Iranian military official suggested that Russian casualties were far greater.
“The idea that some Iranian servicepeople kill the Russians is a sick joke,” said Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, the deputy chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces. “I have personally studied the numbers of Russian and Iranian soldiers killed in Syria and I can say that 10 times more Russians have been killed by Iranian servicepeople.”