Iranian diplomat says missiles are matter of ‘national security’

February 24, 2018

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi has said Tehran will not compromise on its missile defense program, noting missiles are necessary to guard the country against possible foreign aggression.

“We would not negotiate on our missiles, ballistic missiles. These are a matter of our national security; nobody would compromise on their national security,” Araqchi said in an interview with the BBC in London.

Here is an excerpt of the interview:

Q: When you were in Munich I understand that you had meetings with European officials about the Iran nuclear deal, because you know President Trump has basically told Congress and European allies that they have to, in his words, fix the Iran deal by May or else the sanctions will be imposed again.

A: Well we are in close contact with E3 and EU, External Service, we consult with them very closely. In the recent weeks I have visited Paris, Berlin and now London. I have been in different places meeting European officials, E3 officials, and of course EU officials, especially Helga Schmid and her colleagues to consult about the latest developments. JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) is in a very critical moment, in the next three months I am sure we would have a big challenge. Of course this is a challenge President Trump has started more than a year ago, he tried to somehow destroy JCPOA because there is no role to fix or to change or to alter JCPOA, it's a package, it's not linked to any other issue, it's a package of gives and takes, you cannot just change one piece of that. The whole package would collapse. So he has failed to do that in the past one year and now it is up to Europeans to see how they want to face the ultimatum from wider U.S. JCPOA is not an economic deal as one may think. It's a very important deal in the field of non-proliferation regime and its importance is most related to non-proliferation. And if we lose that, we have only that a very complicated problem to the region which is already suffering from different kinds of problems, being civil wars or tensions and conflicts and, you know, terrorism, extremism. A collection of everything is in our region. I don't think to add a new crisis over the non, over the proliferation of nuclear weapons would be beneficial for anybody, in the region and outside the region.

We have already negotiated on our nuclear program and the deal has not become a successful story for Iran. Why Iran should negotiate on any other issue?

Q: But do you see as a compromise though, there was a State Department cable was leaked and it said that the Americans wrote to the European partners and said we're asking for your commitment to work together for a supplemental or follow-on agreement that addresses Iran's development or testing of long range missiles, ensure strong IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspections and fixes the flaws of the sunset clause. Now I know you say you don't want to touch the deal itself, could there be another deal or a Security Council resolution, a supplemental deal to deal with these other issues?

A: Well, JCPOA has no connection linked to any other issue as we said. When we negotiated we decided to separate Iran's nuclear program from any other issue, and that was for a reason.

Q: The ballistic missiles?

A: Ballistic missiles, regional issues, you know, any issue. We decided to focus only on Iran's nuclear, peaceful nuclear program and find a solution for that.

Q: But even now they're asking to fix it to make it IAEA inspections tougher.

A: We decided to do that intentionally for a reason, and the reason was actually to become to a successful solution. Otherwise I'm sure we would have still the negotiating if we wanted to link Iran's nuclear program with any other issue. Now, it's quite clear JCPOA is not linked to any other issue, it cannot be re-opened, it cannot be re-negotiated, there is no supplement, there is no add-on, there is no follow-on, nothing.

Q: You can't even add another deal on the side?

A: Well another deal on any other issue depends on how successful is the deal that we have already made, and we have remained fully complied to that, and the other side has not fully complied.

Q: So what is the message they gave you in Munich, because you had some high-level meetings. What did they tell you?

A: Well, as I said we have close consultations to see how we can keep the deal in place, but there are different ideas as you said. We don't care about any consultation between U.S. and E3, or U.S. and EU. What we care is that the deal should be implemented in full. We are not quite satisfied with the implementation of the deal by the other side, let alone going to discuss about any other subject. You know, any other member of JCPOA, being Europeans of the U.S., can only come to us and ask for a follow-on or an argument on any other issue only when they have fulfilled their commitments in the JCPOA. If the JCPOA becomes a successful experience for Iran, then they are allowed to ask us for any other issues to negotiate this.

Q: So when will that be, how many years will that take?

A: It can happen right now if they fully comply with their obligations. It's a fact that the U.S. is not complying, it's the fact that the U.S. is violating the JCPOA on almost daily basis.

If the JCPOA becomes a successful experience for Iran, then they are allowed to ask us for any other issues to negotiate this.

Q: You mean on the economic sanctions?

A: On economic sanctions, on this negative atmosphere of uncertainty that is created by President Trump. You know, every time President Trump makes a public statement against JCPOA saying it's a bad deal, it's the worst deal ever, I am going to fix it, I am going to change it, all these statements, public statements are a violation of the deal. Violation of the letter of the deal, not a spirit, the letter. If you just see paragraph 28 it clearly says that all JCPOA participants should refrain from anything which undermines successful implementation of JCPOA, including in their public statements of silly officials.

Q: President Macron of France has made it clear he wants to keep the deal, but he wants to have a separate agreement on your ballistic missiles. Would you agree to discuss ballistic missiles?

A: Well anybody, anybody can ask for a separate agreement, but any argument has two sides.

Q: But would you discuss ballistic missiles?

A: Well we, I, we would not negotiate on our missiles, ballistic missiles. These are a matter of our national security; nobody would compromise on their national security.

Q: You're under pressure though to negotiate.

A: No, no, no.

Q: In France they must have said that to you, in Paris?

A: No, they are allowed to ask for negotiation but the fact is we cannot negotiate on our, you know, defense systems. Especially since we have already negotiated on our nuclear program and the deal has not become a successful story for Iran. Why Iran should negotiate on any other issue? Especially on an issue which is directly linked to our national security. So we are not prepared to negotiate on our national security but of course we, you know, are ready to explain why our missile program has, has a, you know, defensive nature.

Q: You're seeing British officials here; they have raised the detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. There had been hope at the end of last year that she would be released. Did you come with any good news?

If you just see paragraph 28 it clearly says that all JCPOA participants should refrain from anything which undermines successful implementation of JCPOA.

A: Well I don't have any good news for the time being. We, in the Foreign Ministry are trying to approach this, her case, on a humanitarian basis, but of course our judiciary is fully independent and they decide on each and every case based on the, you know, regulations they have. We actually tried, as I said, to make some humanitarian approach to our judiciary, we are still working on that and I hope that we come to the conclusion to a day that we can see, you know, a better situation for Nazaneen Zagari, but it is absolutely in the hands of our judiciary.

Q: When Iran faced the biggest protest in a decade in January, there were calls for economic reform, an end to corruption. How much of that was, do you think, about the lack of progress on the JCPOA?

A: Well, it's a fact that people's expectations from the JCPOA are not met, it's a fact. Most of it is because of this atmosphere of uncertainty which President Trump has created around JCPOA, which prevents all big companies and banks to work with Iran, it's a fact, and it's a violation led by the United States. There are economic shortcomings, it's a fact, and people have every right to express themselves, and to express their discomfort of their economic situation, and I think they exercise that right. We had incidents when peaceful demonstrations turned into violence, which is quite a not a normal thing in every, you know, democratic society. I think you have had London riots in the past, Paris riots, and in all other European cities.

Iran's commitment not to ever seek or acquire or produce nuclear weapons is permanent.

Q: I'm going to ask you one last question about the Iran nuclear deal. You said it's at a critical moment. You had warned earlier that it would collapse if the United States was not part of it. Do you worry it may collapse?

A: Well we are concerned, yes, that the U.S. may finally decide to walk away of the deal. We have prepared ourselves for each and every scenario that might happen.

Q: And if they walk away it collapses?

A: Well we are not convinced that the deal can survive without the U.S. It is up to the other participants of the JCPOA to show and to convince Iranians that they can deliver JCPOA even, even without the US. This is not our understanding for the time being. If the US is out we would also actually go out because there is no deal anymore. This is what we understand, and as we see Europeans are trying to prevent that.

Q: That's what you sense from talking to them?

A: Yes, this is our understanding from what they are doing. I think they are seriously trying to prevent the collapse of the deal to prevent U.S. going out of the deal. And what is important for us is we are prepared for every scenario which may happen.

Q: Including starting your nuclear program again?

A: Of course we are not the one who violate the deal first. Well if there is no deal anymore obviously there is no restrictions in our nuclear program anymore. Don't forget that we agreed in the JCPOA to impose some restrictions on our nuclear program only for the sake of confidence building for a period of time between eight years to 15 years, and when these years are finished, it doesn't mean that Iran is allowed to go for nuclear weapon. No, Iran would become a normal member of NPT by that time, after eight to 15 years of confidence building measures. These are confidence building measures, it doesn't mean that after these periods there is, you know, Iran would have the right to go for nuclear weapon. No, Iran would still be a member of NPT still committed to its obligations and still, you know, obliged not to go for nuclear weapons, this is our policy. And in that sense there is no sense of clause in the JCPOA, it's like actually perception that Americans are spreading on others but this is absolutely wrong. Iran's commitment not to ever seek or acquire or produce nuclear weapons is permanent.

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