International

Tehran: US claim that sanctions led to nuclear deal 'delusional'

President Obama said in SOTU that sanctions against Iran made nuclear deal possible

Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, second from left, shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Iran on Thursday dismissed as "unrealistic and unconstructive" comments by President Barack Obama that international sanctions linked to its nuclear program had forced Tehran to the negotiating table.

"The delusion of sanctions having an effect on Iran's motivation for nuclear negotiations is based on a false narration of history," said Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham, as quoted by state broadcaster IRIB.

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Obama, in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, said U.S. and international pressure had led to the interim deal struck in November between Iran and six global powers, under which Tehran agreed to scale back uranium enrichment in return for about $7 billion in sanctions relief.

"American diplomacy, backed by pressure, has halted the progress of Iran's nuclear program and rolled parts of that program back," Obama said. "The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible."

Afkham, in comments posted on the IRIB website, dismissed that claim.

"It is a totally wrong interpretation of Tehran's interest to create an opportunity for Western countries to have another kind of relation with the Iranian nation," she said.

Afkham also rejected Obama's assertion that diplomacy had opened a window which could forestall any possible nuclear weapons drive by Iran.

"America considers preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon to be its biggest achievement, but it is wrong since Iran has never sought to obtain a nuclear weapon and will never do so in future," she said.

The Islamic Republic has consistently denied that its nuclear program has ever had any military aims, but Western nations who imposed the sanctions suspect Iran was positioning itself to pursue nuclear weapons in the future. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, has even issued a fatwa, or Islamic edict, condemning nuclear weapons.

Tehran has also repeatedly rejected suggestions that economic sanctions had forced it to the negotiating table, a claim many analysts say is dubious.

"They could never say that the sanctions had an effect publicly because it would look terrible in the media and to their people," Najam Haider, a Middle East historian at Barnard College, told Al Jazeera. "It would provide more ammunition to their opponents at home and overseas...and make the deal look like some kind of a capitulation."

In fact, a Gallup poll released in November found that 85 percent of Iranian respondents believed U.S. and European sanctions had hurt their personal livelihood either "a great deal" or "somewhat." Last year, then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad admitted the punitive measures had caused "problems."

No new sanctions?

Afkham’s comments Thursday are also seen as an attempt to deter Congress from pursuing a bipartisan bill that would impose additional sanctions on Iran. The bill would allow for the president to delay new sanctions while negotiations are ongoing, but Iran still saw the proposal as a violation of the deal struck in Geneva.

Under that deal, the Joint Plan of Action, Washington committed to "refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions" for six months while world powers seek to hammer out a comprehensive settlement with Iran.

“From Congress’ perspective they feel the sanctions have brought Iran to this point,” Valerie Lincy, the executive director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, told Al Jazeera. “They see this as keeping Iran’s feet to the fire, their intention is not to torpedo the talks.”

Obama has pledged to veto the bill, saying the move could derail unprecedented progress in curbing Iran’s nuclear capacity. The National Security Council and an array of Iran policy experts have also warned Congress that such tit-for-tat measures could undermine diplomatic progress.

Several sources familiar with behind-the-scenes maneuvering on the bill told Agence France-Presse that a number of Democratic senators who had additionally supported more sanctions had privately recoiled.

"I signed (the bill) because I wanted to make sure the president had a hammer if he needed it and showed him how determined we were to do it and use it if we had to,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in an interview with MSNBC. But Manchin said he now hoped Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would shelve the bill indefinitely.

The negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 powers — Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany — are scheduled to resume in New York in February.

Michael Pizzi and Amel Ahmed contributed reporting, with wire services

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