Iran's foreign minister said Sunday that his country will continue to abide by a six-month agreement with the U.S. and other world powers after threatening to pull out of the negotiations to protest the U.S. enforcing existing sanctions against Tehran.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told CBS' "Face the Nation" that he and other Iranian offiCIAls felt “blindsided” by a U.S. announcement Thursday it was targeting a dozen companies and individuals it says evaded current sanctions.
Officials from the U.S., other world powers and Iran were in Vienna Thursday and Friday to discuss “technical” details of a six-month interim deal to halt Tehran's nuclear development. When the Iranians learned of the U.S. announcement of the sanctions crackdown, they cut off talks and went home, prompting questions about whether the deal was dead.
Zarif said he was informed just minutes before the U.S. announcement and called the action not “useful” and the “wrong move” at a delicate time during the negotiations.
“I don't think that it was useful because by the time they conveyed it to us, the announcement had already been made,” he said.
The Iranians, Zarif said, then decided to reassess whether to continue the work on the technical details of the deal to “seek clarification about the the U.S. intentions “because the statements that are coming from the Treasury, or at least came form the Treasury ... during the past few days were not helpful.”
Despite that pause, Zarif said the Iranians decided to move forward with the deal.
“We are committed to the implementation of the plan of action we adopted in Geneva, but we believe it takes two to tango,” he said.
“The process has been derailed. The process has not died,” he said. “We are trying to put it back and to corrected the path and continue the negotiations because I believe there is a lot at stake for everybody.”
Skeptical of Iran's compliance with the deal, key lawmakers in Congress for weeks have been threatening to impose a new round of sanctions in order to keep the pressure on Tehran. Secretary of State John Kerry has urged them to hold off and allow the deal to gel.
Earlier in the week, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said his committee, which is charged with handling sanctions, would hold off for now.
The CBS News' Elizabeth Palmer, who interviewed Zarif in Iran, pressed him on whether on the whereabouts and status of Robert Levinson, an FBI agent who was reportedly working with the CIA in Iran and disappeared seven years ago.
Levinson's family has said he was working for the CIA and has accused the U.S. government of abandoning him and not pushing hard enough to try to find him during nuclear talks with Iran.
Zarif said Levinson is not incarcerated in Iran and his whereabouts are a mystery – even to intelligence officials in Tehran.
“I have no idea,” Zarif said when asked where Levin is right now.
“He is not incarcerated by the government and I believe the government runs a – pretty much [has] good control of the country,” he said.
When asked whether Iranian officials would give Levinson back to the U.S. if he surfaces inside the country, Levinson said he “cannot talk about hypothetical situations, but if we find – I mean, if we can trace him and find him, we will certainly discuss this.”
“So it is possible,” Palmer questioned.
“Everything is possible,” Zarif said, smiling. “But I'm saying that we have no trace of him in Iran.”
Kerry, appearing on ABC's "This Week," said suggestions that the Obama administration isn't pushing hard for his release “incorrect and unhelpful.”
“There hasn't been progress in the sense that we don't have him back, but to suggest that we've abandoned him or anybody has abandoned him is simply incorrect and not helpful,” Kerry said.
“The fact is that I have personally raised the issue not only at the highest level and that I have been involved with but also through other intermediaries,” he said. “And we don't have any meeting with anybody who has something to deal with Iran or an approach to Iran where we don't talk to them about how we might be able to find not just Levinson, but we have two other Americans that we're deeply concerned about.”
Kerry said the U.S. government is looking for “proof of life” and working aggressively on “several processes that I'm not free to talk about.”
At the end of the discussion on Levinson, Kerry sounded an optimistic note.
“I think the Iranian government has the ability to help us here, and we hope they will."