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Iran agrees to interim nuclear deal, but is absent from Syria peace process

January 13, 2014 at 6:37 PM EST
Secretary of State John Kerry voiced frustration with Iran's role in the Syrian civil war, ahead of upcoming peace talks in Switzerland. But some Iranian diplomatic progress has been made. Gwen Ifill reports on an interim nuclear deal that asks Iran to dial back fuel enrichment in exchange for easing of financial sanctions.
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GWEN IFILL: Now to Iran, and two different foreign policy challenges facing the Obama administration.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. Secretary of State: Let me be crystal clear about something. Iran is currently a major actor with respect to adverse consequences in Syria.

GWEN IFILL: In Paris today, Secretary of State John Kerry made plain his frustration with Iran’s role in Syria’s civil war. He said that Tehran has helped prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, undermining Western efforts to force him to step down.

JOHN KERRY: Iran is supporting another terrorist-designated organization called Hezbollah. And they are supporting Hezbollah to come out of Lebanon across the border into Syria and to be a fundamental, basic fighter. No other country, no other nation has its people on the ground fighting in the way that they are.

GWEN IFILL: Kerry is in Paris to discuss plans for a Syrian peace conference next week in Montreux, Switzerland. Iran currently is not set to join that gathering.

But, on another front, Iran reached agreement with the U.S. and five other countries yesterday to implement an interim nuclear deal. It calls for the Islamic republic to dial back enrichment of nuclear fuel. In exchange, financial sanctions will be eased, allowing the release of $4.2 billion in frozen Iranian funds.

Some in Tehran were cautiously optimistic today.

MAN (through translator): I think we can take this agreement as a very good starting point, but we have to be very cautious and remain vigilant, as America has a bad reputation and can destroy this agreement at any moment.

GWEN IFILL: But hard-liners rejected the deal out of hand. And most Iranian lawmakers are supporting a plan to enrich uranium at even higher levels.

Much of the U.S. Senate is skeptical as well. At least 57 senators now support imposing new sanctions on Iran.

This afternoon, President Obama warned against taking that move.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My preference is peace and diplomacy. And this is one of the reasons why I have sent a message to Congress that now is not the time for us to impose new sanctions. Now is the time for us to allow the diplomats and technical experts to do their work.

GWEN IFILL: For now, the agreement with Iran is set to take effect January 20. Negotiators begin talks next month on a final deal.