WASHINGTON Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the Iranian nuclear deal would be dead if the U.S. Congress imposes new sanctions, even if they do not take effect for six months, Time Magazine said on Monday.
In a transcript of the interview, which was conducted on Saturday and posted online on Monday, Time said it asked Zarif what would happen if Congress imposed new sanctions, even if they did not go into effect for six months.
"The entire deal is dead." replied Zarif. He was referring to a November 24 interim agreement with six world powers under which Tehran would curb its nuclear program in exchange for limited relief from economic sanctions over the next six months.
The Iranian foreign minister's comments had little apparent effect on U.S. senators who are preparing legislation to impose new sanctions on Iran in six months if the deal reached in Geneva goes nowhere.
Robert Menendez, the Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican Senator Mark Kirk are near agreement on legislation that would target Iran's remaining oil exports, foreign exchange reserves and strategic industries, congressional aides said on Monday.
The legislation faces an uphill battle amid opposition from the White House. It would seek to limit U.S. President Barack Obama's ability to waive sanctions on Iran and also reimpose sanctions if Tehran reneges on the Geneva agreement.
Zarif said Iran would not be pressured.
"We do not like to negotiate under duress," he told Time Magazine. "If Congress adopts sanctions, it shows lack of seriousness and lack of a desire to achieve a resolution on the part of the United States.
"I know the domestic complications and various issues inside the United States, but for me that is no justification. I have a parliament. My parliament can also adopt various legislation that can go into effect if negotiations fail," he added. "But if we start doing that, I don't think that we will be getting anywhere."
The White House last week said it opposes a fresh effort by some senators to impose new sanctions against Iran, even if the new restrictions would not take effect for months.
The State Department echoed that view, saying that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry planned to make the case during testimony before Congress on Tuesday.
"We do feel that putting new sanctions in place during the course of negotiations, even those that are delayed, would be counterproductive, and could unravel the unity of the P5+1," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, referring to the six powers - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - that negotiated the deal with Iran.
"It could certainly put the negotiations that we have all worked so hard on, that we believe is the best chance we've had in a decade to achieve a peaceful outcome, at risk," she added.
The deal with Iran is designed to provide time to negotiate a final agreement that the United States hopes would ensure Iran's nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes and that Tehran hopes will lead to the lifting of all economic sanctions.
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Alistair Bell, Mohammad Zargham and Paul Simao)