|Iran’s priority is normalizing ties with neighbors: Zarif||
TEHRAN – Iran’s priority is normalizing relations with its neighbors, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told RT’s Nadezhda Kevorkova in an interview published on Monday.
Following are excerpts of the text of the interview conducted after Zarif’s talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
RT: How far would Iran go in its reconciliation with the U.S.?
Mohammad Javad Zarif: Right now we would like to get the nuclear issue resolved. This will be a sort of a litmus test showing how much respect the U.S. has for the Iranian people. After we’re done with that, we shall see whether there is any possibility of working together in other areas. I would like to stress, however, that the nuclear program is what matters the most. The talks we’re having now are limited to this issue only.
RT: But the international media have been reporting for two months already that the nuclear program has been suspended. Is this true?
MZ: No, it hasn’t been. Our nuclear program keeps running. The fact is, our nuclear agreement does not extend beyond certain areas and issues.
RT: Forty years ago the U.S. introduced sanctions against Russia. The notorious Jackson-Vanik amendment originally targeted the USSR, but now it is no longer there. Nor are the reasons for the sanctions: Israel opened an embassy in Moscow, and Russia gave up sponsoring insurgent movements around the world. However, the sanctions survived for two more decades. What if Iran ends up in a similar situation?
MZ: First, I don’t think what you’re saying is entirely right. Today Russia has a strong policy in the international arena. I wouldn’t like to go deep into Russia’s history, but it is true that your country once went through a period you are talking about. But I don’t think it will happen again in Russia. And let me assure you this will never happen in Iran either.
RT: So you mean that the American embassy building will remain forever unused in Tehran?
MZ: The government might reopen it one day – but not at the cost of closing down the Palestinian embassy. And we will never have Israel’s embassy in our country – I can vouch for that.
RT: Is this the red line?
MZ: Yes, it’s our red line.
RT: Are you aware of rampant anti-Shia propaganda that has been leveled at Muslim audiences for the past three years? It even affects Russia, where most Muslims are Sunni. Are you doing anything about it?
MZ: We must jointly put an end to this propaganda targeting specific religious communities or ethnic groups. I could talk at length about all the numerous instances and methods of propaganda used against us. But we should not respond to this with propaganda of our own. Instead, we must come to a common understanding with Sunnis. Our disagreement is not fundamental: it merely springs from differences between certain aspects of our teachings, known as fiqh. And we still share a common outlook with Sunnis on a lot of issues.
RT: Many experts regard the current developments in the Middle East as a standoff between Iran and Saudi Arabia. What is the perception in Iran?
MZ: Our priority is normalizing relations with our neighbors. I have visited almost every neighboring country around Iran. Our greatest rift is with Saudi Arabia. The way we see it, we compete with Saudi Arabia, but that doesn’t mean that we have to engage in conflict. Even our area of competition is not as large as the scope of our cooperation with the Saudis. And I think the Saudi government is somewhat at a loss right now.
I have stated on many occasions that I am willing to pay a visit to Saudi Arabia. We have already witnessed their confusion over whether they want to be a member of the UN Security Council, and now they cannot make up their mind as to whether they are going to attend the Geneva 2 conference. This makes them difficult to deal with. It seems to me that the Saudis have become accustomed to a certain paradigm in international relations, and now that this paradigm has been shattered, they just don’t know what to do, and they are confused. We are willing to negotiate with them once they state their own readiness.
Sooner or later, Saudi Arabia is bound to face the same peril that is now haunting Pakistan. Pakistan has been notorious for training fighters for the Taliban, and now those same insurgents are at Pakistan’s throat. Saudi Arabia will get itself into similar trouble.
RT: What do you think about the situation in Iraq?
MZ: I am optimistic about Iraq’s future. I was there a couple of days ago. I was there three months ago. Iraq’s main problem is the interference from Saudi Arabia. They are the ones contributing to the rise of terrorism in the country. All Iraqi communities agree with this. And this is one of the reasons why we want to have a dialogue with Saudi Arabia. I don’t know how to describe this – but Saudi Arabia is exhibiting some uncertainty. I think we need to help them get out of that state. They are hysterical in all their relations, I think we need to help them. If we don’t help them, they will harm themselves.
RT: What would the Geneva conference’s outcome be in terms of Iran’s nuclear program? Will it speed up the process of removing the sanctions?
MZ: As for the final settlement, we will work with Russia to develop a general framework which will help us achieve that. We have had some talks with the U.S., but I think these negotiations will yield better results after our consultations with Russia. I have an idea about what kind of framework could help us achieve results. But a lot depends on the Americans here, on how they want to go about it. Because if the Americans don’t want to present a plan or a project to the Congress with the terms that we have now, they will make things more difficult.
The Congress has to ratify the agreements, and only then can the sanctions be removed. What we see in the Congress today doesn’t inspire much optimism. So we need to work with Russia and the U.S. in order to encourage the Americans to work with the Congress. Mr. Lavrov and I have been doing some preparations for it.
RT: Do you think the Saudi (government) will continue to support the war in Syria?
MZ: There are Saudi leaders who understand the reality. You probably know that currently there is a lot of controversy around the royal succession issue. There are two opposing camps here. Maybe this internal conflict is influencing the country.
RT: Do you see how the Syrian problem could be resolved?
MZ: A smart person wouldn’t be offering any prognosis, but I wouldn’t be a minister if I were smart. As for Syria, we need to find some framework that would take into account the interests of all communities in Syria and convince them that they have to go to the polls and vote for their future. There is a need for dividing the power between different communities. We see such examples in Lebanon and Iraq. I think this model would work in Syria as well. It is not right when one community has all the power, whereas others have none.
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