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Iran Appeals for Understanding Ahead of New Talks

  • Al Pessin

Iran's Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif has issued an internet video asking viewers to understand Tehran's insistence on a right to enrich uranium, portraying the Islamic Republic as a champion of developing countries that want to stand up to world powers.

Called “Iran's Message: There is a Way Forward,” Zarif's YouTube video, which has been translated into several languages, was sent to the minister's 76,000 Twitter followers on Tuesday, one day before key talks on Iran's nuclear program resume in Geneva.

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Set by soothing music, the video opens with Zarif posing rhetorical questions.

“What is dignity? What is respect? Are they negotiable?" he asks. "Is there a price tag?”

Much of the five-minute video continues in that vein, with Zarif claiming insisting that Iranians consider uranium enrichment a right, and that Iran is asking only for the respect and dignity all other countries would expect.

Portraying Iran as a champion of the downtrodden, he says his country is standing up to “tyranny” and “demanding respect,” and that Iran is pursuing nuclear energy in order to determine its own destiny.

“There is a way forward, a constructive path toward determining our destiny, to advance, to make progress, to secure peace,” he says, reiterating his opinion that nuclear talks have not hit a “dead end.”

“My name is Javad Zarif, and this is Iran's message,” he says as the video concludes in a manner reminiscent of an American political advertisement.

Iran's demand for recognition of the right to enrich is one of the key issues being disputed as it resumes talks with the six-nation United Nations contact group. The United States, a key member of the group, says there is no such right for any country, but nations can have nuclear programs if they are verifiably not trying to build a nuclear bomb.

Zarif's video also contains a message apparently directed to hardliners in Iran, saying the choice their country faces is not “submission or confrontation,” and that the Iranian people had chosen a moderate path when they elected President Hassan Rouhani in June.

Rouhani's recent election, which led to the change in Iran's negotiating stance and made the talks possible, represents a rare window of opportunity that experts say must be used before hardliners in Iran or in the West reassert themselves.

Kelsey Davenport, a Nonproliferation Analyst at the Washington-based Arms Control Association, says while Iran and other countries believe a right to enrichment is enshrined in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it is difficult for Iran to claim such a right.

“We should not forget that Iran is actually in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty currently," she said. "So it does need to sort of answer for those past noncompliance issues before we can talk about whether or not it is in good standing with the treaty moving forward.”

Iran has enriched uranium far beyond what is needed for nuclear power and research, to a level close to what is used in nuclear weapons.

The U.N. Security Council — represented here by the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — wants that stopped and Iran's stockpile of highly enriched uranium reduced or eliminated. The group does not want Iran to finish building a reactor that could produce another nuclear weapon fuel: plutonium.

For its part, Iran wants relief from economic sanctions that have severely damaged its economy.

These talks are aimed at taking some first steps toward those goals, and setting a timetable for a broader agreement. But even this first step has been difficult and the remaining issues may not be settled this week, in the third round of talks with the new Iranian government.

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