TEHRAN, March 5 (UPI) -- Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Wednesday that his government is very close to securing an agreement with the United States and its allies that would curb Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, NBC News and Iranian TV reported.
In an interview with NBC News reporter Ann Curry on Wednesday, Zarif said he feels that progress has been made in reaching a deal that would ease U.S. sanctions and keep Iran's nuclear development on a peaceful track.
"We have made good progress. But long way to go," he said. "I think the major stumbling block is a political decision that needs to be made. And that is that we have to choose between, either pressure or an agreement."
"Sanctions are an extremely important element of any agreement," Zarif told Iranian broadcaster PressTV. "It is important for the United States, in particular, and [U.S. allies] to make a decision... whether they want to have an agreement, or whether they want to continue with sanctions and pressure."
On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed members of the U.S. Congress and warned lawmakers that a deal with Iran would only open the door to war. Zarif criticized the warning, saying Netanyahu has essentially been saying the same thing for more than 20 years.
"Mr. Netanyahu has been proclaiming, predicting that Iran will have a nuclear weapon within two, three, four years, since 1992," he told Curry. "Iran is not about building nuclear weapon. We don't want to build nuclear weapons. We don't believe that nuclear weapons bring security to anybody, certainly not to us."
With a deadline approaching, the Obama administration hopes to strike a deal that aims to ensure Iran's nuclear program will never produce a weapon -- in exchange for the lifting of several crippling economic and political sanctions that have handcuffed Iran ever since its 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah.
However, there remain many questions about exactly which sanctions are to be lifted and how the U.S. government would go about easing them. Since many members of Congress oppose President Barack Obama's deal, any sanction that requires congressional approval might be difficult to obtain.
Further, Netanyahu isn't the only U.S. ally voicing deep concern over a prospective agreement. Neighbors of Iran like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who have good relations with Washington, have also expressed grave concerns about letting up economically or politically on Tehran.
"A lot of the Gulf countries feel they are being thrown under the bus," Mishaal al-Gergawi, a director of the Delma Institute in Abu Dhabi, said in a Wall Street Journal report Wednesday. "The Gulf thought it was in a monogamous relationship with the West, and now it realizes it's being cheated on because the U.S. was in an open relationship with it."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been dispatched to the Middle East to try and address concerns there. He is scheduled to meet with Saudi Arabian King Salman and other heads of state in the region who fear a deal would give Iran the power to try and dominate the Gulf.
The White House has also threatened to veto any new proposed sanctions against Iran, which has been called for by some opponents to a deal, for fear that they would likely kill any agreement, The Washington Post reported.
"The Iranian people have a lot of reasons, historical as well as current, to have questions about the intentions of the West and the United States in particular," Zarif told PressTV. "There is a lot of confidence that needs to be restored for the Iranian people in order to be able to move forward. And sanctions are very much destructive of that objective."
When asked if the United States was tough with the current negotiations, Zarif said Washington has previously attempted many tactics to control Tehran's nuclear growth -- even espionage.
"The United States tried every other option. They tried pressure. They tried espionage... even sabotage," he said. "The United States tried... probably the most destructive, as they say, 'crippling sanctions' that the United States has ever imposed on any other country -- depriving Iranians of even the possibility to buy medicine, to send their blood for" testing.
The United States has "recognized that sanctions don't work, that pressure don't work, that threats don't work. The only way to deal with Iran is to be through respect and through negotiations."
The current negotiations with Iran involve the so-called "5+1" -- comprised of the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France and Germany.
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