The chief U.S. negotiator at nuclear talks with Iran said in an exclusive interview with VOA’s Persian Service on Thursday that optimism for a final deal remains.
“I believe we are making progress,” Wendy Sherman said, referring to the last round of talks on Tehran’s nuclear program currently underway in New York – and coinciding with the United Nations General Assembly annual meeting.
“That said, there are still some very crucial decisions that need to be made,” she noted.
Negotiators from the so-called P5+1 and Iran are trying to meet a November 24 deadline to secure what would be a landmark nuclear agreement.
“This is a very, very complicated negotiation, very technically detailed,” she said. “I think we have made progress while we’ve been here during the U.N. General Assembly and many leaders and virtually every foreign minister of the P5+1 has had a bilateral with Iran, and it has helped to improve our understanding.”
And mutual understanding between the United States and Iran, Sherman said, is critical.
“We each are going to have to make changes in the way that we deal with each other,” Sherman said. “We have simple objectives. The entire P5+1 has simple objectives… we want to make sure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons.”
The exact nature of the talks is unclear, but Sherman said talks with her Iranian counterparts boil down to only two things.
“One of course is the nuclear negotiations, that is central to all of our discussions,” she explained. “The other is our American citizens who are detained in Iran."
Jason Rezaian, who is a Washington Post reporter and his wife, are detained. We have no idea why,” she said, adding that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are “very adept” at using the American free press.
“And yet a journalist, an American journalist of a very large newspaper in our country is being detained for no reason,” she said. “We have American citizens – Amir Hekmati and Pastor Abedini – who have been in Iran for a very long time and we really hoped that there would be some humanitarian gestures when President Rouhani came to the United States.”
The Iranian president made mention of the nuclear talks during his Thursday address at the United Nations, saying "No one should doubt that compromise and agreement on this issue is in the best interest of everyone especially that of the nations of the region.”
Rouhani also made reference to crippling sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe.
“The ‘will of our people’ put negotiations with Western powers back on the agenda, and not sanctions and threats,” he said.
During her VOA interview, Sherman said lifting sanctions will be a boon for Iran.
“I have to tell you as soon as we suspend our major sanctions – which will happen very early in the agreement – the world will flood into Iran,” she said. “Many international delegations have already been to Iran and so they will begin to see what they can do. It will be important to show that the agreement is durable, that it will last over a period of many years because we have a long history here that we are trying to solve.”
As for media speculation about a face to face meeting between President Barack Obama and the Iranian leader on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly – or even a phone call, like the one last year that opened the way for talks – Sherman was clear.
“What’s needed right now is a negotiation that works through the details and for the leaders to make the decisions they need to ensure the international community that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful."