How Iran's Nuclear Remarks Left the State Department Confused

"Arak" does sound a lot like "Iraq."

— -- A defiant statement by the Iranian Foreign Minister linking cooperation against ISIS in Iraq to sanctions relief might actually be a giant, lost-in-translation misunderstanding, the State Department said today.

According to state-run media, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Iran would help the West with the crisis in Iraq if the West lifts sanctions – a report that has made its way into English-speaking media.

"If we agree to do something in Iraq, the other side of the negotiations should do something in return,” Zarif is quoted as saying. “"All the sanctions that are related to Iran's nuclear program should be lifted,” he added.

But State Department translators believe Zarif was actually referring to “Arak,” the nuclear reactor in Iran that shares the same pronunciation as “Iraq,” the country.

“We’ve looked at the language a couple of times, actually, and think he was not linking, in that specific quote, fighting ISIS in Iraq to lifting of Western sanctions. He was talking about making progress on Arak, the nuclear facility, to lifting of Western sanctions. Our Farsi speakers have taken a bunch of looks at it and think that he was referring to that. I’ll let him speak for himself, and if he wants to clarify and disagree with me -- I am not a Farsi speaker,” a State Department spokeswoman said.

“It’s almost unbelievable,” she added.