Kerry appears to reject Iran’s call for new nuclear proposal


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov take part in a press conference on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Nusa Dua on Indonesia's resort island of Bali on Oct. 7. (Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP/Getty Images)
October 7, 2013

Warming relations between the United States and Iran do not mean that the United States will back off its demands about Iran’s nuclear program or roll back missile defenses in Europe aimed at intercepting an Iranian attack, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Monday.

Iran’s foreign minister, who met with Kerry last month at the United Nations, was quoted in state media Sunday as saying that the United States should bring new proposals to a nuclear bargaining session next week. Kerry appeared to reject that, saying Iran still hasn’t responded to the last offer put forth by the United States, Russia and others, in February.

“We’re waiting for the fullness of the Iranian difference in their approach now,” Kerry said after a meeting here with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “But we’re encouraged by the statements that were made in New York, and we’re encouraged by the outreach.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani argued at the U.N. General Assembly last month that Iran’s program is not dangerous and that his country will cooperate with monitors to prove that. Sanctions are counterproductive and should end, he argued.

On the sidelines of the U.N. meeting in New York, Kerry had an unusual meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and President Obama telephoned Rouhani for the first direct contact between leaders of the two nations since before the 1979 Iranian revolution and takeover of the U.S. Embassy.

Lavrov, who plans to attend next week’s much-anticipated nuclear meeting in Switzerland, said the international group negotiating with Iran wants “a road map which would, at the end of the day, satisfy the international community that the Iranian nuclear program is entirely peaceful” and put under the full control of international nuclear monitors.

“Iran probably wants more clarity, more specific steps to be spelled out on the road to the result which we all want to achieve,” Lavrov said. “And I think this would be discussed next week in Geneva.”

A Russian reporter asked Kerry whether the apparent thaw in the long U.S.-Iranian enmity means that the missile defense architecture that is being built by the United States to protect Europe is no longer needed. For years, Russia has opposed U.S. plans to defend European allies with a network of interceptors. The United States insists that the system is defensive and is being constructed with Iran in mind, but Russian leaders have long questioned that assertion.

While Washington is eager to explore the possibility of a negotiated settlement with Iran over its disputed nuclear program, it’s too early to say whether the thaw begun at the United Nations last month will lead to a change in U.S. policy, Kerry said.

Kerry was in Bali to stand in for Obama at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Obama canceled a trip to Asia scheduled for this week because of the domestic political crisis caused by the federal government shutdown.

President Xi Jinping of China took advantage of Obama’s absence Monday to push its offers to neighboring nations.

China is next door and seeks economic ties that benefit and unite all states in the region of expanding economies, Xi said as the forum got underway. Skirting security confrontations with Japan and several Southeast Asian nations, Xi underscored Chinese commitment to a peaceful region that is good for business.

"I'm not against talking" with Iran about its nuclear program, said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "But it's actions that we want, and what we want is the complete dismantling of Iran's nuclear weapons capability - the whole caboodle."

“The Asia Pacific is a big family,” he told a group of business executives. “A family of harmony prospers. China is ready to live in amity with others.”

Kerry countered that the United States sets a model for business fair play. The world’s next star entrepreneurs will not be born out of economies that repress innovation and steal good ideas, Kerry said.

“Every entrepreneur and business in the Asia Pacific needs to know that they can reap the benefits when they develop the next big thing,” Kerry said in an implicit challenge to the alleged Chinese practice of appropriating intellectual property. “If your ideas are at risk of being stolen, and your innovations can be ripped off, you will never reach the full potential of that country or economy.”

Anne Gearan is The Washington Post's diplomatic correspondent.
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