OSLO, Norway (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met his Iranian counterpart in Norway on Wednesday to once again discuss Iran’s complaints that it’s not getting the sanctions relief it deserves under last year’s landmark nuclear deal.
Kerry also raised the importance of Iran using its influence with Syria’s government to ensure humanitarian aid deliveries and respect a fragile truce with moderate opposition groups. He said later that the truce was “frayed and at risk” and that it was “critical for a genuine cessation of hostilities to be put in place.” He indicated that U.S. patience with Syria and its Russian and Iranian allies was wearing thin.
Kerry’s meeting with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Oslo came just a day after Iran’s supreme leader renewed accusations that the U.S. is not living up to its commitment to ease sanctions under the agreement that gave Iran the relief in exchange for curbing its nuclear program.
“The two discussed progress on the continuing implementation of the (nuclear deal), including issues related to banking and relief of nuclear-related sanctions,” the State Department said in a brief statement after the 70-minute closed-door talks in a downtown Oslo hotel.
U.S. officials have said repeatedly that the sanctions have been eased and that Iran’s complaints are due to foreign firms’ wariness to do business with the country for other reasons, including ballistic missile testing, support for Syria’s government and anti-Israel groups, and poor banking regulations.
Yet on Tuesday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Iran has fulfilled its obligations under the agreement but that the U.S. was dragging its feet on lifting sanctions in the banking and insurance sectors, and on unfreezing Iranian assets. “The Americans have not carried out an important part of their commitments,” he said. And, he said that if the next U.S. president tears up the nuclear deal, Iran will “light it on fire.”
Meanwhile, Zarif, who was already in Oslo, said “psychological remnants” of the previous sanctions regime were preventing European and Asian banks from conducting legitimate business with Iran.
In response, State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington on Tuesday that the U.S. was going out of its way to clarify what is now allowed. He said any “psychological remnants” hindering legal business with Iran are related to Iranian behavior.
“The United States is not standing in the way, nor will we stand in the way, of business that can be legitimately done and permitted with Iran since the (nuclear deal) took effect,” he said.
“What makes business nervous, what makes business reticent isn’t some lack of education or effort by the United States, but when they see missiles being shipped to Hezbollah, missiles being fired at U.S. aircraft carriers, and support to terrorist groups,” Kirby said. “That’s what makes business nervous. Those are the psychological remnants which need to be lifted.”
Kirby would not discuss reports from Iran that U.S. aviation giant Boeing had signed a deal to sell planes to the country’s main airline.
In Oslo, the State Department added that Kerry and Zarif had also discussed Syria, in which Kerry stressed the urgency of Iran pressing the Syrian government to implement “full access for humanitarian aid” and a nationwide truce.
Speaking later to the Oslo Forum on conflict resolution and mediation, Kerry said the truce “may not succeed” and that Russia, in particular needed to exert more pressure on President Bashar Assad to respect the ceasefire and allow aid deliveries.
“Russia needs to understand that our patience is not infinite, in fact it is very limited,” he said.
Kerry also spoke of the challenge of combating extremist groups and terrorism, while rejecting claims that the world is engaged in a “clash of civilizations” between the West and Islam.
“No, this is not a clash of civilizations, this is a struggle between civilization itself and barbarism, between civilization and fundamental raw political exploitations and mix of medieval and modern fascism, together at the same time,” he said.
Without adopting and following a comprehensive strategy to prevent attacks like those seen this week in Orlando, Florida and outside Paris, Kerry said the world will be left struggling with “counter-terrorism Whack-a-Mole.”
Kerry rounds out his visit to Oslo by meeting Norwegian officials before visiting an Arctic research station on Wednesday. He will then travel to Denmark and Greenland.