Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has rejected allegations reportedly made by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that Tehran could be months away from developing enough “fissile material” for a nuclear bomb.
According to a brief written excerpt of an interview with NBC News published on Monday, Blinken alleged it could be “a matter of weeks” if Iran continues to lift restraints put in place by the 2015 nuclear agreement.
Zarif rejected those comments in an interview with CNN on Monday.
“I think that is a statement of concern that is more addressed to the public opinion than to reality,” the foreign minister said.
“Iran does not seek a nuclear weapon. If we wanted to build a nuclear weapon, we could have done it some time ago, but we decided that nuclear weapons would not augment our security and are in contradiction to our ideological views.”
In a full transcript of the NBC News interview sent out on Monday evening by the US State Department, Blinken said he was basing his projections on “public reports” and said the timeline would get “more acute” if Iran lifts more nuclear deal restraints.
“Now, the fissile material is one thing. Having a weapon that they can actually detonate and use is another,” Blinken said, according to the readout.
Iran began to loosen compliance with the deal after former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the agreement in 2018 as part of his administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy against the Iranian government.
As part of the deal, signed in 2015, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions.
US President Joe Biden, who took office on January 20, has promised to return to the accord and re-engage diplomatically with Tehran.
According to the excerpts of the NBC News interview, Blinken said Washington will return to the Iran nuclear deal provided Tehran gets into compliance and the Biden administration then plans to negotiate a “longer and stronger” accord.
But Iran has said it will not renegotiate the deal and placed blame on the US for its unilateral withdrawal.
“The nuclear accord is a multilateral international agreement ratified by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which is non-negotiable and parties to it are clear and unchangeable,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh was quoted by state media as saying on Saturday.
In his interview with CNN, Zarif said the US does not have “unlimited” time to rejoin the deal.
“The United States needs to come back into compliance and Iran will be ready – immediately – to respond,” Zarif said.
“The timing is not the issue. The issue is whether the United States, whether the new administration, wants to follow the old failed policies of the Trump administration or not.”
Biden has named people involved in Iran nuclear deal negotiations to key positions within his administration. That includes Robert Malley, his new Iran envoy, and Wendy Sherman, his nominee for deputy secretary of state.