U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in New York Tuesday to discuss the implementation of the nuclear deal finalized last year and the ongoing conflict in Syria. The meeting comes amid concerns aired by Iran over the perceived lack of relief from international sanctions that have long crippled its economy.
“We’re obviously aware of these concerns that they’ve expressed about the status of sanctions relief, and the Secretary is very mindful that that topic will come up tomorrow, that that is very much on Foreign Minister Zarif’s mind,” U.S. State Department Spokesman John Kirby said during a press briefing Monday. “It’s all part of discussing the implementation of JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. And from their perspective, this is very much an implementation issue.”
The nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers — the U.S., the U.K., Russia, France, China and Germany — was ratified in July and implemented in January. The White House says the deal would prevent Iran from getting its hands on a nuclear weapon, although Iran has repeatedly insisted its nuclear program is meant solely for peaceful purposes.
In exchange for drastically reducing its nuclear stockpile and committing to inspection and verification of its nuclear plants, economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the U.S., the United Nations and the European Union are being lifted in a phased manner.
However, banks in the U.S. are still prohibited from doing business with Iran, and even foreign lenders are barred from carrying out dollar-based transactions with the country through American banks — an issue that has rankled Iranian policymakers and the government.
“Iranian people should feel results from the nuclear deal,” Zarif said during a press conference in Tehran, after meeting EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini last week. “Iran will definitely put pressure on the United States to pave the way for the cooperation of non-American banks with Iran. ... All of the countries should take necessary measures to remove the obstacles to the implementation of the nuclear deal.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, Kerry is also expected to urge Zarif and the Iranian government to use its leverage over Syrian President Bashar Assad to ensure a peaceful, political resolution of the protracted and bloody conflict in Syria.
Iran, along with Russia, has consistently backed Assad, despite repeated calls for his ouster by the Syrian opposition. The meeting between Kerry and Zarif comes at a time when the fragile ceasefire in Syria — brokered by the U.S. and Russia earlier this year — is showing signs of crumbling, and when formal talks in Geneva between various factions in the conflict seem headed for a collapse.
“Since these talks began in Geneva, the Assad regime has worsened the situation on the ground,” Salem al-Meslet, a spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee — the U.S.-backed Syrian opposition that suspended its formal participation in the ongoing talks — reportedly said Monday. “The progress in Geneva is directly connected to the realities faced by our people in Syria. If the ground situation is not improved, it will affect the advancement of the political process.”