4/16/2021
جمعه، ۲۷ فروردین ۱۴۰۰
مصاحبه با محمدجواد ظریف در صفحه انگلیسی روزنامه اعتماد: هزینه جنگیدن از هزینه دیپلماسی بسیار بیشتر است+ عکس

مصاحبه با محمدجواد ظریف در صفحه انگلیسی روزنامه اعتماد: هزینه جنگیدن از هزینه دیپلماسی بسیار بیشتر است+ عکس

صفحه انگلیسی روزنامه اعتماد با مصاحبه‌ای با محمد جواد ظریف و تیتر «هزینه جنگیدن از هزینه دیپلماسی بسیار بیشتر است» منتشر شد.

اعتمادآنلاین| 

 

interview with mohammad  Javad Zarif Iranian  foreign  minister: Fighting  is much  more costly  than diplomacy

 

Sara Massoumi

 

While the Rouhani administration approaches its final months, the days of Muhammad Javad Zarif as foreign minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran coming to an end. Next summer, after 8 years of ups and downs in Tehran’s foreign policy, Iran’s most senior diplomat is going to hand over his legacy to his successor.  His first achievement as foreign minister, the JCPOA, was a quick success although a very difficult one, which soon became a liability for the Rouhani administration as soon as Donald J. Trump took office on 20th January 2017.   Critics inside Iran were harsh on Zarif and his team because of their  inability  to  predict  the  withdrawal of the US’s administration from the deal and that they could not prevent its consequences. We had the opportunity to interview Zarif in the second week of January. Although these days he is often asked about the issue of the new administration in the White House and the  future  of JCPOA and Iran-U.S. relations, we tried to ask  him  about his views on his legacy in the past 8 years and more profound questions about the virtue of  Iran’s foreign policy.  He was diplomatic and conservative in his answers, as he always is, but on some occasions,  in this conversation, he spoke more openly than before while sticking to the  topic of  national interests.

 

Many analysts believe Iran suffers from a sort of “strategic loneliness”. This isn’t limited to the past 40 years and the post-revolution era. Iran didn’t have any ally in any bloc, region, and framework even before the 1979 Revolution. The country has no strategic ally, either in the eastern bloc or the western front. Arab  countries  consider  Iran  as  a  rival, and in the Muslim world the country is more known for its Shia majority than its Muslim population. What measures do you think should be taken to reduce the  costs  of  this strategic loneliness?

 

Some  analysts  believe  Iran  has a number of characteristics: First, it is the first and oldest country in the world that has always existed in a fixed geographical area. Second, Iran has never sought territorial expansionism, except  for  three  periods of its  history, and has usually been invaded by others; however, it has always stood upright despite all those attacks. Those who invaded Iran are all gone, but Iran has survived. An Iranian graduate in the US recently conducted studies which have been  published as a book which states that  Iran has been attacked 444 times during the past 2,300 years. Such alienation is not limited to the post-Revolution era or the previous regime [of Shah]. Iran is in an environment where the country is different from its neighbours in terms of religion, language, and  ethnicity. Besides, Iran  is  not  an ethnicity, but a culture. Iran is composed of various ethnic groups who have lived together within a single and fixed  geographical environment, and this is another noteworthy characteristic of Iran. These  conditions  cannot  be  changed, but they can be controlled. Under the current circumstances, we should clearly see the realities: Iran is the most powerful country in the neighbourhood. Iran is a real country, rather  than an ethnic group, in terms of  population, resources, and history compared  with  its  neighbours, except for Russia. The ethnic groups inside Iran look at their “Iranian nationality” as an identity, not [as one of] the sub-identities each of them may have. These realities turn Iran into  a country whose  neighbours are worried  about. This concern is not because of the  historical background, but  because of  the realities of Iran including its human and natural capabilities, population and geographic location. It’s obvious that the littoral states south of the Persian Gulf – some of which are not even as populated as one of Tehran’s residential complex– are concerned about Iran’s power. Some neighbouring countries have resorted to coalition-building against Iran in order to allay such concerns. As an example, at the beginning  of the imposed war between Iran and Iraq, the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council was formed as a coalition to counter Iran. Some also tried, based on an incorrect assumption, to buy security from abroad. These countries’ relations with the United States of America and the heavy arms purchases of the states south of the Persian Gulf, and the type of contact they  are  establishing  with Israel these days, all indicate this reality, and are based on the assumption that they can buy security from abroad.

 

The obvious question here is: What can be done with this reality?

 

We should develop a neighbourhood policy which is based on building mutual trust and dependence. It is imperative that Iran, as the bigger country, be a pioneer in this regard. We shouldn’t expect our neighbours to look at this issue with the same level of attention as we do. Iran is more  powerful  than  its  neighbours,  and  is not worried about its own security. In fact, we have no territorial claim or interest in accessing the natural resources of other regional countries; therefore, it is Iran that can initiate this effort from a position of wealth. We shouldn’t wait  for others.

 

We have failed to criticize this power. The question that arises from your answers is that, in  the  past  two decades, the nuclear case has practically consumed a lion’s share of  the energy of Iran’s foreign policy, and  it  seems  that  the  very issue has made our foreign policy more reactive and passive. We talk of initiatives to settle the crisis in the region, but simply put, no one buys our initiatives. If the same initiative, with slight differences, is heard from the Russians or any other country, it would even be welcomed! In  the past four decades, we have failed to prevent rivalries that could be  somehow  profitable  for us from turning into  costly rivalries  for  Iran.

 

Mistakes were made by all sides, and this situation harmed everyone. It’s not a new feeling that security can be achieved through proxies. The  Iraq war was the first example of such a point of view after the 1979 Revolution of Iran. The war Iraq imposed on Iran was both a direct and a proxy war. Saddam sought to heal his own geostrategic suffocation, and both in his war against us and against Kuwait, he thought he’d found an opportunity that could help him achieve his goal. Saddam initiated the war against us at a time when he thought  Iran was in its worst conditions in terms of capabilities and domestic integrity, and that was his destiny. But the regional countries  organized  the  proxy war against us by supporting Saddam in his war on Iran. Saudi Arabia says it contributed $75 billion to Saddam in this war. King Abdullah, who was Emir Abdullah at the time, had told Americans ‘‘the head of the snake must  be cut off’’,  referring to Iran. They are still  hopeful that others will come and settle their problems for them. They started the process of proxy confrontation with Iran from the Iraq war, and proceeded with it. I’m not saying Iran has not made any mistake; Iran has definitely made many mistakes, but the fact that the proxy war against Iran was  started from the Iraq war during  a time when Iran was not able to create any security problem for other nations,  which indicates that this situation was imposed  on  us from the beginning, and has  unfortunately  continued.

 

Mr Foreign Minister, this is what we are criticized for, as well: not just in other countries. However, some of our compatriots living inside the country ask: didn’t  we seek to create proxy forces [for ourselves]? Don’t we have any proxy forces in Syria, Iraq or within the Resistance front? A Palestinian official has recently talked about suitcases full of dollars  sent  by Iran to the Resistance front. Isn’t this considered a type of outsourcing security?

 

Our  relation with regional friends is not of a proxy type. In the proxy type, you hire a group to secure your interests, and pay their expenses  for  that. The Saudi Arabian government is now spending billions of dollars  for  its  proxy moves.

 

How much do we spend?

 

I  really  have  no idea, but  John  Kerry once  told  me “if we unblock your money, you will be able to use them in the region”. Then I replied, “It’s not about spending. Your friends in the region spend hundreds of times more on equipment we can have at any point in time, so why aren’t they successful? Because  they view these costs as a proxy type.” They hired Saddam and paid him $75 billion to act against Iran. They provided Al Qaeda, Daesh, and Nusra Front with funds and weapons to  act  against Iran’s interests. Such actions paramount to hiring mercenaries, which doesn’t  work.

 

What Iran does is different. Iran supports the attitude of  resistance and standing up against excessive demands. This attitude has  created  power.  We  didn’t  try  to  expand our borders. One of  our neighbours which is present in Syria has hoisted its flag on top of government buildings all over the place, even in regions where it is active as a “peacekeeper”. Iran doesn’t hoist its flag. Iran is in Syria to support, not to give orders. We don’t, and can’t, give orders to Hezbollah. If we wanted to choose  that  path, we  would  have  definitely failed, and would have even turned into a force that uses mercenaries. The costs are much more for a force using mercenaries, and that’s something that Iran cannot afford. Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars on individuals who have finally turned into the enemies of the country. Al Qaeda, Daesh, Nusra Front and the strong wave of radical and extremist Wahhabis across the world have all been created by Saudi Arabia. When you buy a mercenary with money, and make them believe in an ideology in order to justify what they do, the mercenaries will one day believe this ideology and turn it against you.

 

Do you confirm that the Islamic Republic of Iran provides cash support to its allies?

 

Let me put it this way: you always pay for your foreign policy. We are one of the numerous countries that provide development aid. For instance, we built parliaments  of  Comoros  and  Djibouti. We  have built clinics or hospitals or have development projects in many countries. Iran doesn’t spend [much] money in  this  regard. The US, China, and even Turkey spend huge amounts  of  money  in other  countries. Contributions to political groups and parties  are part of this spending, which is paid by many countries overtly or covertly.

 

Are these contributions kept secret from us?

 

I need to repeat myself, what we do is not buying mercenaries, and this is the distinction between us and others. When Iran’s financial  resources  were much more [than today], our  friends might have made certain requests  that would have been accepted [by Iran]. During  the 11th and 12th administrations [President Rouhani’s terms in office], all  the resources available were  spent  on our own people because of a shortage of  resources and the fact that the Iranian people must be prioritized; as the famous saying goes, “never turn off the lamps  at  home to light up the mosque”. But believe me, building certain international alliances allows you to cut many of your expenses. Fighting is much more costly than diplomacy.  However, we are spending very little on diplomacy right now. The Supreme Leader has said that the cost of  diplomacy is much smaller  than the cost of conflict, therefore the path of diplomacy must be chosen. The Leader’s remark comes as he had earlier stated that he’s “a revolutionary not a diplomat”. In order to use the path of diplomacy, you should  definitely  spend  money,  and  those contributions  are  part  of  these  expenses.

 

Mr. Zarif, probably one year from now you won’t be Iran’s Foreign Minister anymore...

 

Inshallah! (laughing)

 

Your term in office had two important, but relatively conflicting legacies: success in clinching  the  nuclear  deal, which turned into a subject for criticizing you after Donald Trump took office and reinstated  the  anti-Iran  sanctions, and  the failure  in  advancing  a  successful foreign policy in West Asia, especially along the Persian Gulf, and specifically Saudi Arabia. You have earlier confessed to this failure, and have repeatedly regretted that you couldn’t advance your desired diplomacy in the region. Apart  from the usual words about  Saudi  Arabia’s  opposition and resistance to any de-escalation with Iran, a good diplomat is one who can make the impossible possible. Weren’t chances for a détente with Saudi Arabia wasted?

 

I should first tell you something. Even before Donald Trump’s presidency I used to be criticized for the JCPOA, and that will probably continue. But  the future must judge the conditions of JCPOA and the conditions it  created  for the country.

 

Part of the future is written when you talk about it. You don’t respond to many of  these  criticisms. You  always  keep saying there’s nothing to hide from people, yet you are not  forthright.

 

There are things to hide.

 

From people?

 

Not  from  people, but in today’s world you cannot choose your audience. In the past, you would deliver a speech at a mosque or a university, and a small group of people would hear you. Today it makes no difference whether you’re talking at the United Nations or your  local  mosque: your words circulate. Therefore, when you’re in the middle of negotiations – which is a place not for winning or losing but a place for reaching  an understanding  and maximizing  their own  gains  from  this understanding – there are many words to hide. My duty is to defend  Iran, not  the Foreign Ministry, myself, or  the  JCPOA.

 

Part of your silence results in the failure of a foreign policy “attitude” which comprises a balance of relations in foreign policy and de-escalation, among others. Your  silence  may  secure short- or medium-term national interests, but doesn’t it sacrifice long-term interests?

 

My duty is to keep national interests from harm at the moment. In the long-run, there are ways which will definitely be considered in the future, and people like me whose hearts beat for Iran who will think of these points.

 

In  response  to  your  question about ties with Saudi Arabia; if I myself look at the issue, I may say one or two chances have been missed. For example, when I was invited to visit Saudi Arabia, for various reasons Riyadh didn’t want  to treat me with  the  respect  an  Iranian  foreign minister deserves. Of course, the decision to not go there was not mine; I was even ready to visit there regardless of their lack  of  respect, but the county  believed it wouldn’t be appropriate. The reason I didn’t insist  was  that I, too, was of the opinion that  if  the Saudis were interested in  reaching  an  understanding, they wouldn’t have created so many obstacles and made the trip’s formalities so insulting. Maybe, maybe, though I’m not sure, had I taken that risk and convinced my country’s officials to go on that trip, it could  have turned into an  opportunity. My perception is  what  you said; Saudis  weren’t interested in a rapprochement between Tehran and Riyadh.

 

I always used the opportunities that presented themselves on the side-lines of international conferences when holding talks with Saudi foreign ministers. I even visited  the  late Saud al-Faisal’s  hotel  room in New York, and was criticized at home for doing that. They even criticized me because I had sat  on a sofa and he had sat on a chair because of his backache. Some said the Saudi foreign minister was sitting at  a  higher  position  than me. But  I tolerated all of  them. I  held talks with the next Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, on the side-lines of several meetings. I sent numerous messages to Saudi Arabia, and even in my first  weeks  at the Foreign Ministry we reached a joint solution with beloved Martyr  Soleimani for working with Saudi Arabia. We sent a message to Saud al-Faisal through Track II diplomacy, but he gave us a very frustrating response.

 

“In the first weeks of your ministerial term,” does this mean even before the official beginning of nuclear talks?

 

Yes.

 

Many claim that you spent all your power and energy on the JCPOA, and ignored Saudi Arabia and its threats at that period of time.

 

It’s definitely not true. The first article I wrote after being  appointed  as Iran’s Foreign Minister  was written in Arabic and published by Asharq Al-Awsat, which is a Saudi newspaper. My  first  serious political move was holding talks with General Soleimani  on  the  regional issues, so  that  we and  Saudi  Arabia would be able to reach a point where we can work together to end the conflict in the  sensitive parts of this region, and see if  we  can  achieve a consensus. General Soleimani was prepared in this regard. I  earlier  said  that  General Soleimani was a man of peace. It’s true that he was a very brave warrior  in  the  battlefront, but he would  also  help end  conflicts  and  achieve peace, either  in  Afghanistan,  Syria  and Yemen  and  in  other  cases, whenever  he could make  a  difference. I  recall  many  instances of General Soleimani’s collaborations, and this  one [talks on Saudi Arabia] was  the  first instance  of my term as a foreign minister. General Soleimani and I had earlier made joint efforts regarding Afghanistan and other issues, and had achieved results, but this time, I consulted with him in my first  weeks  at  the  Foreign  Ministry, and this consultation led to the conclusion that we send a message to Saudis. I sent a message to Mr Saud al-Faisal through our brothers who were present at the Track II diplomacy  meetings or one of the think tanks, and through  an  acquaintance  who  was  close  to Saudi  Arabia  and  its  then  rulers – not  those ruling  the  country  now. The general content of the message was that ‘let’s sit down  and talk about our differences in order  to help  the  people  of  these  countries’. One  of  the  points I mentioned  was  the case of Yemen. At that time, the crisis  had  not  yet started  in  the  country. With  his deep insight, General Soleimani told me about the issue of  Yemen. At  that time, I  had just returned  to  the  Foreign Ministry after a six-year hiatus, and I must admit I didn’t know Yemen was on the boil, and  things may happen. What came to my own mind [at that time] were the cases of Bahrain, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon on which we  had a row with Saudi Arabia. But General Soleimani also suggested Yemen [to be included in the message]. Finally, he [the Saudi foreign minister] gave a one-line response to my message: “The Arab world is none of your business.”

 

I  later  wrote  an  article  for  the  well-known American magazine, The Atlantic, one of the  major  points  I made  was,  “Arab  affairs are Iran’s business. We live in this world, and  all the  troubles  and  difficulties  we face stem from here. We are the Arab world’s brothers, and  have  family relationship with them. Iran is in fact much bigger than a group of Persians. In Iran we also have Arab-speaking and Azeri-speaking compatriots. What does it mean that the Arab world  is  none  of  our  business?”

 

This was the first message I sent to the Saudis at the beginning of my term, in September-October 2013, and received that response. I’d never accept the claim that  we  distanced  ourselves from the region because  of  the JCPOA. Indeed, I  paid  a  lot of attention to the region, and made many efforts to settle the problem in the region. During  the  regional visit I made in my first year in office, I travelled to [all] regional countries  except  Saudi  Arabia. My maiden foreign trip was also to Iraq. Of course that was the first trip for bilateral relations, because immediately after taking office, we attended the UN General Assembly, which is not considered a trip to the West, but just a world trip.

 

We made numerous regional trips at the time of nuclear talks, we made extensive regional efforts, and wrote numerous articles. The proposal for the formation of a regional dialogue forum was  raised  at  that time. Earlier, I  had  raised  the “Security and  Cooperation in Persian Gulf” proposal in 1992 following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, when I  was  at  the United Nations. It’s a totally  unacceptable criticism, and you can  consider  this  objective   reason  for  that: My regional visits in 2013 and 2014 were  made despite the  fact that the [nuclear] negotiations wouldn’t leave  me  any  free  time; however, I  travelled  to  regional countries  whenever  I  found the chances.

 

You always stress that foreign policy must help the people’s livelihood, not that it places further burden on their lives. Some officials in our country turn into critics of the government and even the establishment after leaving power, and speak from the position of a third party, as if they never had any power to make a change. You were Iran’s Foreign Minister for eight years. How much did you manage to decrease the negative impact of foreign policy on people’s livelihood?

 

It  definitely wasn’t  as  much  as I wanted it to  be, but I can say  with  certainly that I sacrificed  myself  and my domestic position. I avoided  making certain popular  remarks, and  made remarks  that  were unpopular, so that  foreign  policy  would not place burdens on people’s livelihoods. It was very easy for me, in all these  years to make remarks that they like, so as to reduce the huge pressure on myself inside the country, but I didn’t. I’m sure I didn’t make any move to place more burdens on people’s livelihoods, but I admit we failed to mitigate  the  impact of foreign  policy on people’s  livelihood  as  much  as I wanted.

 

From zero to 100, how much control did Mohammad Javad Zarif have on Iran’s foreign policy?

 

Zero!

 

Zero?!

 

Yes, that’s  the  case  in  all  countries.

 

So, the Foreign Minister only implements the establishment’s policies?

 

Let me revise myself. What I meant was that all foreign  ministers have zero control [over their respective countries’ foreign policy], unless it’s a foreign minister like Mike Pompeo who is hawkish and could seek to wage a war. But, a foreign minister is the one who executes [orders], and has two duties: first, as an analyst he presents the facts to the country’s top authorities as they are. One day, when the country’s foreign  policy  documents  are  released, it  will be revealed that I haven’t censored myself even once. Not when I was Iran’s ambassador or deputy foreign minister [or now that I’m  the foreign minister]. The  Supreme Leader was always very kind to me. He  said that “He (Zarif) expresses  his  opinions, even  if  they are against mine.” When I was about to leave for New York, the Supreme Leader  told  me, “You are duty-bound to tell me  your  opinion  straightforwardly, even  if you are sure your opinion is diametrically opposed to mine.” This was my duty, and I fulfilled my duty. A foreign minister also has another duty, and that’s defending the policies  adopted by their country or any part of their country.

 

You implement a “policy” in which you may have a limited role. I played a more significant role in developing the JCPOA policies, but my role in developing the regional policies was a more limited one. I had  a  considerable  role in developing Iran’s policies toward  Russia  and China. I played a very important role in developing Iran’s policies toward the Latin America, but I had only a minor influence on Iran’s regional policies. I’m not saying I didn’t have any role, but it was less significant. However, I  implemented  all  these policies, and I defend all that the Islamic Republic has done. It is possible that I do not  believe in some of these policies - not the regional policies. Some policies might have been pursued  to create  troubles for my own job, but when dealing with the world, I’m the representative of the entire ruling system of Iran, so I have to defend things I myself don’t believe in. I may even be critical of some of them, but I know those who are critical of such policies do not have the interests  of  the  Iranian people in mind.

Let  me  explain  this  with a clear  example in the  field  of  human  rights. Everyone  knows my views in this regard. They know that I believe  that  human  rights  must be observed as a necessity for Iran’s national security. Therefore, I’m definitely critical of many human rights policies. But I’m confident  that  the  countries  who  supported the murder of Khashoggi, the countries who refused to downgrade even a little bit their ties with Saudi Arabia for its part in this murder, the countries that support the Zionist regime and its suppression of Palestinian  people, such people will never feel pity for the Iranian  people. Even take a look  at a country like Canada, and see how it votes when  it comes to the UN Human Rights  Council resolutions about the Zionist regime.

 

Mr Minister, our mistakes cannot be justified by those of others.

 

That’s definitely true. What I’m saying is, that when you see Saudi Arabia is the biggest  advocate  of  a  human  rights  resolution against Iran and it joins Canada in backing the resolution, you have to admit that  the resolution is politically-motivated, and its purpose is not human rights. If you want Iran’s human rights situation to be reformed, you have to work from the inside. Foreign pressure has never helped to improve human rights in any country, and it was never meant to do so.

 

If we accept your definition of a foreign minister’s role, what’s the difference between you and your predecessors in previous administrations? You have repeatedly criticized them. For example, you stated  that opportunities were wasted in the previous administration during the nuclear talks.

 

Indeed, those wasted opportunities were not the fault of the foreign minister or administration. Other elements were to blame. The  foreign  minister  has  a duty, and  that  is  presenting the facts.

 

What differentiates a foreign minister from other people if his criticism of this reality cannot be in favour of the people?

 

You should look and see how much he has succeeded and how much he has failed [in doing so]. After all, Mr Salehi made a very courageous move when he presented the facts, an effort which finally won him the permission to attend the Muscat talks. However, even after he received permission, a group tried to obstruct his efforts. They  blocked  Iran’s  attendance and wasted one whole year. Mr Salehi will be remembered  positively, because  he  fought to  show  the  fact. One  day, it will be revealed that I, also  told  the facts; that I went abroad and advanced these realities as much as I was allowed to.

 

I should also add that a foreign minister cannot necessarily consider all the country’s reservations and interests [at the same time]. A country is not one-dimensional; it has multiple dimensions, and that’s why decisions  should  not  be  made by someone like  me  in  the  diplomatic  or by a commander in the battlefield. The decision has to be made somewhere else. I’m duty-bound to present all I see in the diplomatic arena honestly as if I were a watchdog. And that military commander is also duty-bound to present what he sees in the military field. An economic commander is also obliged to present all the facts  he  sees  in  full  honesty. I,  as  the foreign  minister, must admit that I have failed here. An economic official must say he has failed to achieve the economic goals because of external problems. All the data is gathered in the decision-making center (the Supreme National Security Council), which consists of several members including the foreign minister, the defence minister, the chief of staff of the armed forces, and the head of the Plan and Budget Organization. That is where   the  decisions  are  made. For example, why is the head  of  the Plan and Budget Organization a member of the Supreme National Security Council? Because when we want to make a decision, everything must be honestly considered, and then the decision  is  made. So,  the  foreign minister’s role  here is that of a policy-maker.

 

Mr Zarif, in the past eight years was there anything that you felt would seriously harm national interests, but you still implemented it as an executive official?

 

No, I didn’t  feel  that way about what I did myself. I defended certain moves in the international arena that I believed weren’t useful for our national interests, but those moves had been made not by me, but by others, and as foreign minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, I was obliged to defend any move  made by Iranians and by any Iranian official, no matter  if  I  agreed  or disagreed with it. But with God’s grace and  the  Supreme  Leader’s  flexibility, when I had a specific point of view, I could get an instruction that implementation was not unjustifiable for me [for the conscience of an  expert  in  international relations].

 

In one of your interviews, you stress that the Islamic Republic of Iran must maintain its fundamental difference with the United States. There is a well-known saying in the world of politics that there is no such thing as a permanent friend or foe. God knows we have repeatedly had this saying proved to us for the past 40 years. From Saddam’s Iraq, or enemy in the 8-year war to today’s Iraq which we consider Iran’s most important friend in the region; and from the Afghanistan of the Taliban, to today’s Afghanistan. Do you insist that Iran’s enemies remain eternal enemies?

 

I didn’t say “enemy”, I never use the word “enemy”.

 

But those fundamental differences have turned into enmity...

 

I’m responsible for my own words.

 

What’s the point of keeping this fundamental difference?

 

The US has a nature and identity, and so do we. These two identities have natural differences. We represent a civilization. The US wants us to turn into another entity and abandon our civilization. The US does not represent any particular civilization, but it claims that is has values that are worth fighting for. The US claims it is a different country, and believes in what it calls “American exceptionalism”. The supposition of being exceptional shapes the US policies in a way that makes its perspective different from those of a civilized country like Iran. Such perspectives consolidate our identity. I believe we shouldn’t lose these perspectives. I never believe in tension, but I believe we should keep our identity. It is our cultural, civilizational and national identity. National identity doesn’t allow an American to say, ‘If I stop protecting Iran for a week, they would be speaking in Arabic or Russian or Chinese’.

 

But we aren’t the only country in the world that has a national identity, are we? Why should we have the highest level of tension with the US?

 

I make theoretical comments, but I don’t say we should have tension with the US every day in order to maintain our identity and our different perspectives. However, we need to admit that we are different. Just as the US feels exceptional, we too have the sense of being special. No Iranian can accept that America can give them orders. No matter which group, idea, and ideology that Iranian supports. This isn’t said just by me, but also by Henry Kissinger who said, “Iran inherited the world’s oldest national identity.” The Iranian identity is the oldest cultural identity, and we cannot accept that someone else forcefully rules us.

 

For example, in the case of JCPOA, both the IRI and the USA had problems with the deal. In Europe, no one really had a problem with the JCPOA. Why? Because Americans are used to dictating [their demands] when they are interacting with others. But there was no dictation in the JCPOA. Iranians, on the other hand, have become accustomed to resistance, especially after the 1979 Revolution. There was resistance in the JCPOA, but finally it was all about interaction. That was why JCPOA was resisted against both in Iran and in the US.

 

Why does Trump say the JCPOA was the biggest-ever con perpetrated on the US? Of course, I don’t believe so, but his claim is based on his belief that the US must dictate to others whenever it sits at a table, but that didn’t happen in the JCPOA. What’s the reason that the US is now saying the timetables in the JCPOA must change or that the regional and missiles issues be included in the talks? This is where our perspectives diverge. Because they have an expression which says ‘what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable’. This ideology may work in many parts of the world, but not when it comes to Iran.

 

Mr Foreign Minister, how much are you in touch with ordinary people? The people on the streets and alleys.

 

In the past seven years and several months – which Inshallah will become eight years as soon as possible – I had a position which necessitated certain security considerations as recommended by colleagues who were in charge of that, and I believe in specialization, and I cannot make decisions about my own security. This has created a gap between me and the people. But even over this period of time, I tried my best not to be separated from people wherever I visited or whenever I went to a restaurant, even once in a year. I’m also in touch, through email and social media, with anyone who wants to contact me, and I try to always be available.

 

Have you heard the people’s voice about the costs of foreign policy?

 

Yes.

 

Does a person whose livelihood is directly impacted by the country’s foreign policy have the right to comment about foreign policy?

 

Definitely.

 

You say we should maintain our fundamental difference with the US, and I know you have made efforts to de-escalate Iran-US tensions during your term in office. I can tell you for sure that the majority of ordinary people say they are tired of this costly tension after 40 years.

 

Let me raise another fundamental issue here. I  believe  that  shifting the responsibility for all our problems onto foreigners or blaming the outside world will only result in  the  belief  among  our  people  that all  solutions are to be found outside the country.

 

This is what Mr Rouhani does.

 

As I said, I’m only responsible for my own words.

 

But you are the foreign minister of this administration.

 

Yes, and I respect his view…

 

President Rouhani says that America is the one Iranians must yell at.

 

True, and to find the reason for this, look at the  differences between the years 2016, 2017 and 2018, 2019. These years were when our inflation rate was less than 10%, and Iran had a two-digit economic growth rate. But now we have a negative growth rate, which thank God has slightly moved toward the positive area this year. What the president said can be justified, but I’m making a different point.

 

We are now in the middle of an economic war with the US. We were at war with Iraq for eight years, and that was an external reality.  We  could never ignore the war with Iraq. Now that the US is waging an economic  war  against Iran, this war cannot be ignored  either. But my point should not be mixed with political arguments. When you shift all the blame on foreigners, the people will seek all the solutions in the outside world. For this reason, with all due respect for my friends who are kind to me, I should say the president of a country must  focus  on domestic politics. You have a foreign minister  who  pursues  the  country’s foreign policy, and one of the reasons why I believe I shouldn’t become a president is that the president must concentrate on domestic politics. His focus must be on national  capacities, and a foreign policy that  facilitates  domestic [affairs].

 

Our foreign policy has costs that overshadow our domestic policy.

 

Yes, that’s right. And these foreign policy costs must be reduced.

 

To what extent are these costs caused by tension with the US?

 

To a very hight degree.

 

When are we going to resolve it?

 

Everyone  must  admit  that  in  our time, I was  the one  who paid the price of dialogue with the US for  the  first time. I sat down with the US Secretary of  State. We reached a deal with the US Secretary of State. We started implementing a deal together. Many in Iran were  opposed  to  what  we  did. Many in Iran obstructed our efforts. Now is not a good time to talk about these issues, but one day all  these  issues will finally be made clear. As a matter of fact, an election was held in the US. Some think Donald Trump won the US elections [in 2016] because of the JCPOA  and  lost  the [2020] race because of our resistance. That’s not true. Trump won and lost their elections for domestic reasons. Besides, Trump is still a serious force inside the US. He came to power and destroyed our de-escalation policy. Of course, Israel is very much into creating tensions in our region. The only regime that fully benefits from Iran-US tension  is  the  Zionist  regime.

 

You point to Trump, but we know that even if the US was governed by Obama or an administration more moderate than Trump’s, the nuclear issue would not be our only issue. You have repeatedly mentioned the nuclear program was just a pretext. Since the early days of the revolution up to now, we have held negotiations with the US on a case-by-case basis in every  period of time, but the next case has always overshadowed and destroyed  the  previous case on which the two sides  had agreed. Don’t you think it’s time for  us to negotiate with the US on a package?

 

My view about the necessity of holding negotiations with the entire world, except for the Zionist regime, is clear.

 

Do you agree that case-by-case negotiations do not work? The results of these negotiations  are short lived...

 

Any negotiation is held on a case-by-case basis, and even in “comprehensive negotiations” you need to delineate a picture of the future of relations. The reason  JCPOA succeeded unlike the previous talks was that  we  drew the  final picture  at  the beginning  of  JCPOA  negotiations  in  the  Geneva agreement, and we had  a  clear  final  picture of  our  relations.

 

In my personal view (which is not that of the country), we should delineate the final picture  of  relations  with  the US. We  should tell the US that we won’t  cooperate with you  on the issue  of   Israel, and  will continue to  disagree  with  you. We won’t  accompany  you in the case of hegemony, we  won’t  let  you  inter fere in Iran’s internal  affairs, but we don’t have any problem about  working  with  you  on the oil issue. We don’t have any problems on ensuring the security of the Persian Gulf, while we believe foreign presence creates insecurity in the Persian Gulf, and you shouldn’t be here. We believe democracy should be established in Afghanistan. Just as we both reached an understanding in 2001 in Bonn; but we believe your presence in Afghanistan in dangerous. We  need  to  clear a serious picture of the general outline of [our] future with  the US,  and  then we would negotiate on the issues we decide, not on every single issue.

 

Do you think the Establishment, not the Rouhani administration, has the resolve to draw such a picture of ultimate relations with the US?

 

The JCPOA was an opportunity for the US to create such a resolve in Iran. The Supreme  Leader said, “This is a test. If it is successful, it may be  applied  to  other  areas as well.” A  few days ago, 110 countries of the world voted against the US at the UN General Assembly, because the US failed  the JCPOA test. There  is  no doubt about it. But there is a difference  between the fact that the US can impose its policies on the world and that the world doesn’t accept the US policies. 110 is  not a small number. Most UN General Assembly resolutions are passed with 50 or 60 votes. In the case of anti-Iran human rights resolutions, the numbers of yea and nay votes are only 30 or 40 votes apart. The  US  lost  with  110  nay votes, 10 yea votes, and 40 abstentions. It means 150 countries of the world told the US ‘we are against your JCPOA policy’. So, it is the US that  failed in the JCPOA test. This country  cannot say ‘I’ve failed this  test,  now  I  want  to  add two more issues to the JCPOA’.

 

Once in an interview, the interviewer asked you on behalf of young Iranians, ‘Why should Iran always have problems with  other countries of the world?’, and you answered, ‘We have chosen to live in a different way’. You know this sentence turned into a hashtag, and  many  young people living in Iran objected to you and said what’s going on today is not their choice. They say, ‘We didn’t decide to live in tension; to buy medicine  at  five times the price’. What’s your response to these criticisms? Don’t you  see this public dissatisfaction as a threat  to  our foreign policy?

 

I’ve repeatedly said the Islamic Republic of  Iran  is  not  dependent  on weapons or the outside world, but on its people. So, it is the  people who protect our country. I  have very  clear examples I could cite in response to your question, but I’m sorry I cannot.

 

You cannot respond to criticisms against your ‘We chose to live this way’ comment?

 

Yes.

 

Don’t you think people need to hear your justification? You’ve been widely criticized for this comment.

 

This is  one of the  cases where I’m okay if my comment doesn’t make people much pleased with me. I do not mean that they have  chosen  to  fight  against   the world, but  we  make  choices  with  our every single move. We  have  chosen  not  to be like Saudi. Our  people  are  not  ready  to  live like Saudi Arabia, even for a moment. They may  say  the UAE  is  now  very  much developed.

 

But are they ready to live like that? If  they were ready to do so, such a huge crowd of people wouldn’t have shown up for [the funeral of] General Soleimani. Such a crowd wouldn’t have shown up in the ceremonies commemorating a person who was a symbol of resistance. This turnout shows their choice, and proves that  these  people  are  not  ready to tolerate coercion. This turnout shows these people would not accept anyone who  comes  to  power  and  makes decisions for them. This proves these people consider  their  hero  as  someone who has stood against the US. This shows the people’s choice. Who has forced these people to cry  for  Qassem  at home? You  know  many  of those who criticize our policies in Syria or in the region cried for Hajj Qassem at home, and  have his pictures at home. These indicate [the people’s] choice. Choice of what? That people would not accept  to  live  like Saudi  Arabia.

 

Why do you always cite Saudi Arabia as an example? Isn’t there any country between Iran and Saudi Arabia which is not  so dependent and has less problems?

 

It’s  because we are in a region  which is very much  different  from  Malaysia’s.

 

Doesn’t  the  high  rate of Iranian emigration make you worried?

 

Yes, very much.

 

Doesn’t it show that some people may mourn General Soleimani’s martyrdom, but at the same time they believe the situation inside the country is such that  they’d better leave?

 

Unfortunately, that’s true. But we have to accept this reality, that after all we have a role  to play  in  shaping  our  future. If  people go to the polls and vote, the result will definitely be  different. If people accept that elections are decisive, the result will definitely be different. We need to know that we are the ones who decide our own fate. We should accept that the people’s concerns are important to the country’s top authorities.

 

Mr Foreign Minister, when people voted for Hassan Rouhani, many predicted  that you, or someone who shares your views in foreign policy, would be appointed  as  the  foreign minister. In the Spring, when you leave office, people will ask you, ‘When you came to power, Iran was suffering from the harshest sanctions, sanctions on everything. Medicine,  staples, building  materials... are overpriced. And now that Rouhani is leaving, we are still under sanctions. What’s the difference? Who should they vote for?

 

People know that we weren’t riding on a train without any brakes. We tried, we negotiated, and  we  achieved some results. They saw the result of that deal for two years. I myself  believe we could have done much more over those two years. We could  have done much more to create impunity for the country, in two different ways, maybe two opposite ways: first, paying attention to domestic production as  underlined  by  the  Supreme  Leader, and second  making other countries dependent on Iran. When you have tens of billions of dollars’ worth of investment in Iran, you cannot  impose  sanctions  on this country.

 

You mean American investment?

 

No, European...

 

But the Europeans came here and then left...

 

That’s right, but that dependence wasn’t created. This lack of success was not totally caused by US pressure. It was partly caused by domestic pressures, bureaucratic restrictions, and certain concerns inside the country. You remember how long  the  IPC (Iranian Petroleum Contract) took, despite  the  tremendous  efforts  made by Mr Zangeneh  and  his colleagues, who managed to sell so much of our oil. What the Obama administration did was that he made the global market indifferent to Iran’s oil by gradually expelling  the Iranian oil  from  the  global  market. However, Mr Zangeneh managed to restore our oil sales  at  such a great pace.

 

Instead  of  getting  dependent  on  the  world, we should have made the global market dependent on ourselves. This is what the Supreme Leader says. He says that  the  world  must  become dependent on Iran, and we  shouldn’t be just a place for excessive  imports, but turn into part of the global value chain and production cycle. After the JCPOA, they said Iran is the best place  for investment after Mars. Why didn’t we attract all  those investments? Because  of  domestic bureaucracy, the FATF, and  other  issues. In many cases we caused the country to lose the foreign investment that could make the country immune. We just stuck to foreign trade. Foreign  trade  doesn’t  bring you immunity.

 

You have repeatedly stressed that the Islamic Republic of Iran has a Ph.D. in bypassing sanctions. Mr Minister, people should be able to use this ability. How did this Ph.D. help us when we wanted  to  purchase medicine, either for special diseases or  the coronavirus vaccine, which we keep saying was blocked by the US?

 

I said, ‘We  have  a  Ph.D. in  bypassing sanctions’ at a certain point in time, because  when  you  want  to  negotiate with another party, you can’t say ‘your sanctions have the most impact on us’ and still expect the other side not to get a lot  of  concessions from you for lifting the sanctions. But  the  reality is  that  any other country would have definitely collapsed if it remained under so many sanctions for two years. The Americans had predicted that we’d fall, and we owe this to our people’s resistance, not anyone else.

 

This is why I say we should care about our people much more than this, and know that whatever we have comes from our people. The government tried very hard, but the people were the ones who caused the  maximum  pressure  to  fail. We’ve  been at war for the  past two years, and if it wasn’t for people’s resistance, and if we didn’t have  that  Ph.D. in  bypassing the sanctions, we would have  definitely faced  more  fundamental problems. A very small sanction is imposed on one of our neighbours, and  that results in a 50-percent decrease in their currency’s value. No one can  imagine a sanction Trump  has not  imposed on Iran; if  we have a Ph.D. in sanctions, he  has  a postdoc  in  that.

 

Iran  and of course many prominent foreign policy analysts believe the US maximum pressure on Iran failed to achieve its  intended goals. However, in the past year, we witnessed two unfair and of course unprecedented assassinations: Martyr General Qassem Soleimani and Martyr Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Even if we accept that General Soleimani’s assassination wasn’t caused by a security hole – which is of course not that much acceptable considering his position and Iran’s awareness of various US administrations’ efforts to assassinate him – the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh near the capital city definitely shows a security hole. Has the Islamic Republic’s security and intelligence power degraded? Or the government  like  that  of Trump and a regime like  the  Zionist  regime,  assisted by security  institutions  like  the  CIA and Mossad, have managed to deflect Iran’s attention from real security threats in order to deal  the blows  they  want?

 

This is not in my area of expertise and responsibility, and I’m not like those who accuse  others of  negligence. But the way the  Americans assassinated General Soleimani was complete cowardice. Someone is present  in the battlefront and you have failed to assassinate him using your hirelings – the Daesh elements, so you are forced to target his civilian car in the  middle of the  night  when he is going to visit  the prime minister of another country, not using your armed forces, but with an unmanned drone, which shows your  maximum fear. This is no success for the US. General Soleimani’s flight was clear. When I was travelling to Biarritz, even though  we  were  on  an  unannounced trip, it  was  announced  that  an Iranian plane is en route, even before my plane landed.

 

General Soleimani’s plane took off from Damascus, before  Israel’s eyes, and landed in Baghdad where many Americans were present. Targeting the general in this war is no big accomplishment for the US and Trump. How  did  they assassinate Martyr Fakhrizadeh? They mounted a device on a car, and assassinated  him  remotely. These things are possible  everywhere.

 

It’s true that Trump officially withdrew the US from the JCPOA in 2018, but from January 2017 when he came to office, he relentlessly made anti-Iran moves, and imposed a huge pressure on Iran. In his first year in office, whenever he extended the waivers, he imposed new sanctions as well  so  as to prevent the waivers from making  any  positive  impact. We tolerated the  situation for four years, and Tehran is still safe. Daesh was behind our borders, but the country is still safe. The Zionist regime sought to assassinate Martyr Fakhrizadeh for years, and unfortunately it managed to do that, which is unforgivable  and we should seriously think about it inside the country. However, we  shouldn’t say  it was because of the success of the US’ maximum pressure. This pressure has failed; of course, we may have made mistakes, and some of our policies may have created  such holes. We should talk about them  separately.

 

Europe, for the second time in the past two decades, failed to deliver on its commitments in practice, and used the private ownership of its companies, financial institutions and banks as well as the US sanctions as an excuse to justify this failure. Will our view of Europe change from now on in international negotiations?

 

We didn’t trust the Europeans, and didn’t overestimate their power. In the world of diplomacy, we should make use of all the tools  available. In 2003, when the Board of Directors of the International Atomic Energy Agency adopted its resolution in September,  everyone  thought  Iran would be  on the  Security Council’s  doorstep  by  the end of  December that year. Mr Sadeq  Saba, the BBC analyst, said at the  time  that Iran faced a dilemma for the first time in its history: either to give up or to be sanctioned by the Security Council; that was what the US had sought to implement against Iran since the  early  days of the  Revolution. In  the  cases of  Iran-Iraq  war and the Resolution 598, the US sought to put Iran under the Security Council’s sanctions. At that time (in 2003), the Europeans provided us with a platform that  helped us postpone the Security Council decision until 2006. We defeated the US for three years using the  platform provided by the Europeans. We were never hopeful that the Europeans would be able to overtake the US. But had the  Ahmadinejad  administration  adopted  a reasonable policy, we could continue going forward with the same game. Our case was not referred to the Security Council by the end of that era, when Mr Rouhani was in charge of nuclear negotiations  and I was responsible  for the talks instead  of   Dr  Araqchi. Using the European  instrument, we didn’t  let  the  issue  get  out of the Board of Governors.

 

Even  then, when  the US left  the JCPOA, we  still believed  the Europeans had duties to fulfil, but  we didn’t  want  to withdraw from the deal at that time, and we believed that JCPOA was in line with our interests; therefore, this diplomatic instrument has helped us so far. I’m not saying that we abused Europe. The  Europeans  indeed proved this time that they cannot do anything when it comes to  sanctions. I’ve  said  it  to  Europeans that European companies look at Washington before looking at their own capitals. This is a problem for which Europe  must make a decision. Our companies look at ourselves, but it is the European companies that don’t recognize Europe’s independence  and  sovereignty.

 

Despite  all of that, consider  the fact that we have defeated the US three times in the past three  months  using  this  method: twice at the UN Security Council, and once at the UN General Assembly with 110 votes, which is a victory of diplomacy. We  achieved this victory  using  the  same  method that we utilized along with Europe and the P4+1. With diplomacy, you need to make use of all the instruments in their own capacity, and you cannot consider a capacity for an instrument  when  it lacks that capacity. Both in 2003 and after the US withdrawal from the JCPOA, we knew Europe was not able to resist the US, but  we  had  to  pressure  Europe  to implement its commitments. Of course, Europe  could  do  much  better  than this. In  international  relations, you  will harm yourself if you trust anyone. International relations are based on constant calculation, and also knowing that you cannot have both winners and losers in international relations. If you go after a win-lose game, everyone will lose. Some may lose more and some less.

 

Thank you very much Mr Minister.

 

(Laughing) It was a very good interview. I don’t like “What’s your opinion” interviews...

 

translated  by  reza  khaasteh

 

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