VIENNA — In a message to Washington, Iran's foreign minister on Friday called for an end to "coercion and pressure" at the nuclear talks, suggesting a deal acceptable to his country will open the door to cooperation on fighting the upsurge of Middle East extremism threatening both nations' interests.
Mohammad Javad Zarif did not mention the United States by name in his video message. But with the Iran six-power talks having devolved essentially into bilateral U.S.-Iran negotiations over the past year, his comments were clearly directed at the Americans, who have been the primary drivers of the crippling economic sanctions imposed on his country over its nuclear program.
Any deal would result in an end to the sanctions. But negotiations remain bogged down ahead of the extended July 7 target date for an agreement.
The West fears Iran could develop its nuclear program to make weapons while Iran insists it is only meant to generate power and for other peaceful uses. Suggesting that Islamic extremism is a far greater threat to the world than his country's atomic activities, Zarif called for an end to "unjust economic sanctions" and for the West to join Iran in common cause against "the growing menace of violent extremism and outright barbarism."
"The menace we're facing — and I say we, because no one is spared — is embodied by the hooded men who are ravaging the cradle of civilization," Zarif said. He called for realignment from Iran's nuclear activities, saying it was time to "open new horizons to address important, common challenges."
Zarif and U.S Secretary of State John Kerry have taken the lead in the negotiations. In comments echoed by Zarif ahead of their renewed meeting on Friday evening, Kerry said the talks "are making progress." But he also spoke of "some tough issues," telling reporters, "We have a lot of work to do."
The Obama administration says that at least part of the sanctions relief for Iran under any pact will depend on Iran's full cooperation with the U.N's International Atomic Energy Agency to probe allegations that Tehran worked secretly on atomic weapons. But hopes of progress any time soon on that issue dimmed Friday.
Yukiya Amano, head of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, said his meetings with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani resulted in a "better understanding on some ways forward," but that "more work will be needed." The formulation of his statement was similar to previous ones issued by the IAEA, which has struggled for nearly a decade to resolve its concerns.
Amano's trip Thursday to Tehran was significant because it represented his last chance to secure access and cooperation before the July 7 target date.
Rouhani also provided no hint of substantial progress. Iran has previously acknowledged some activities like experiments with detonators, but says those activities had no connection to exploding a nuclear device and were instead developed for industrial purposes.
Repeating the standard Iranian line, Rouhani said after meeting Amano that the agency now understands the "pointless allegations" are "baseless."
The issue was put on the IAEA front burner four years ago when the agency published an annex of 12 alleged activities it said pointed to nuclear weapons research and development by Iran.
A U.S. intelligence assessment published in 2007 raised similar allegations, but said the work ended early last decade. Iran says the suspicions are based on doctored intelligence from Israel, the United States and other adversaries.
The U.N. agency's investigation has gained even more significance as part of the overall nuclear talks.
Amano said he discussed his agency's monitoring of Iran's commitments under any deal. Backed by the U.S., the agency seeks pervasive oversight to ensure Tehran doesn't cheat.
But Iran rejects any extraordinary inspection rules.
Speaking to reporters in Austria's capital Thursday a senior Iranian official said the IAEA's standard rules governing access to government information, sites of interest and scientists should be sufficient to ensure that his country's program is peaceful.
Iran has committed to implementing the IAEA's "additional protocol" for inspections and monitoring as part of an accord. The protocol gives the IAEA expanded access to declared and potentially undeclared nuclear sites, and to the sensitive information of the more than 120 governments that accept its provisions.
But the rules don't guarantee monitors can enter any facility they want to and offer no specific guidance about sensitive military sites — an issue of particular interest with Iran, given the long-standing allegations of secret nuclear weapons work.
Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.