World

Iran FM confident of deal by 6 month deadline

BERLIN (AP) — Iran's foreign minister said Monday he is confident that his country will be able to forge a final agreement with world powers on its nuclear program by July 20.

Mohammad Javad Zarif said a deal can be reached within the six-month deadline set when Iran agreed to halt its most sensitive uranium enrichment activities in return for an easing of Western sanctions.

"We need to use the six months that we have in order to reach an agreement, because if we lose these six months the public momentum will swing to the other side," Zarif told an audience at the German Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank in Berlin.

"I believe that we can do it by July 20th," he said, adding that Iran, the five permanent Security Council members and Germany have agreed to hold high-level meetings once a month between now and then, plus expert meetings in between. The next round of nuclear talks will take place in Vienna on Feb. 18.

Iran feels that even the perception it might be seeking nuclear weapons — which Tehran strongly denies — poses a threat to its security because other powers in the region might want to match such a capability, Zarif said.

He also warned of rising extremism in the Middle East, fueled by the conflict in Syria, where Iran has sided with the government of Bashar Assad. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have backed some of the Sunni militant groups fighting against Assad.

Iran would be prepared to use its influence with Damascus to bring about a ceasefire and the withdrawal of foreign fighters, if others used their influence on other combatants with the same goal, said Zarif. "If you can persuade them to stop fighting we can persuade them to stop fighting and end the bloodshed," he said.

But Zarif quashed any notion that Iran might be about to drop its ally in Damascus. "The illusion that Assad could be removed has been fed to the international community for the past two years and the illusion has resulted in 150,000 dead," he said.

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