Sanctions are war, Zarif says

September 24, 2019

TEHRAN – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said that the United States’ sanctions on Iran are “war”.

Q: You have said there is possibility of all-out war. Can you expand on that?

A: Well, I said if there is an attack on Iran, there will be an all-out war. But I am trying as a diplomat and I think every other diplomat including my American counterpart should be trying the same to avoid war. This is our job.

Q: And do you think that war is in the edge? You smell war or you smell a retreat from a military offensive?

A: Well, I do not call it a retreat. I want to call it prudence and I hope that prudence will prevail. Accusations will not be conducive to a solution in our region. There is a war that has been going on for four and half years in Yemen.

Q: The UAE is actually pulling back.

A: The UAE is sort of hedging, but they are moving in the right direction. We hope that Saudis will also understand. Nobody wants a humiliating situation for anybody because that is not sustainable. We want a situation where everybody feels that they have won.

Q: I know, because you have been doing a lot of interviews and you have denied point blank that Iran was responsible either for the tankers in June, July or for the Saudi oil fields. Are you just going to say it again despite the evidence?


A: There is no evidence. And it would be a miracle to produce evidence, because it did not take place. Had we been behind this, it would have been disaster for Saudi Arabia. Nothing that they could have been repaired. The reason I am taking this to Yemen is because it is Yemen. It is the Yemeni war.

“Very few people are not ready to say that the most sophisticated American weaponry has been defeated by the Yemenis."Q: Do you think Yemenis did it?

A: They said they did it.

Q: They said it but very few people believe it.

A: Because very few people are not ready to say that the most sophisticated American weaponry has been defeated by the Yemenis.

Q: You say you did not do it. I want to react to some of the statements coming from Iran. One of your top commanders in response to all of this has made threats to the United States and to the U.S. bases within range. Why would they making threats if they are not engaged in this kind of offensive action or you might call it defensive?

A: Because the United States has threatened to use force against Iran. This is the practice of the United States to say all military options are on the table. Secretary Pompeo was the first which is absolutely incredible for a diplomat to make an accusation against Iran hours after the incident in Saudi Arabia. I have said it too. We have said it in a note to the United States that if the United States starts a war, it will nit the one ending it. We won’t start a war. I can promise you that our military will not start a war. But we are very clear that if we are attacked, we will defend ourselves and there will not be a limited war.

“There is no evidence (Iran was involved in attacks on Saudi oil facilities). And it would be a miracle to produce evidence, because it did not take place. Had we been behind this, it would have been disaster for Saudi Arabia. Nothing that they could have been repaired. The reason I am taking this to Yemen is because it is Yemen. It is the Yemeni war.”Q: Another one of your commanders seem to be taunting the United States, saying the U.S. essentially nothing yet, we still have so many cards on the table. Again this statement seems to suggest that if it is not your government, maybe the revolutionary guards or hardliners are in fact to take on the U.S., Saudi Arabia?

A: That is their job. If our country is attacked, then they have to defend the country. And the threat is coming from the United States. So, we have to respond to the threat.

Q: Do you think that there's a new opportunity for diplomacy?

A: I always have to believe as a diplomat that there is new opportunities for diplomacy. I think what is important is to stop terrorizing the people of Iran through sanctions that are targeting the people of Iran. Sanctions that have been targeting food and medicine of the people of Iran. So, if the United States is serious about its offers of diplomacy, they would not have taken measures that they took the day before yesterday. Putting our central bank under new sanctions. Because as you know our central bank has been under sanctions for over a year. 

Q: But the United States feels that it's either sanctions or war.

Sanctions are war. Because in a war, usually military targets are chosen. In sanctions, civilians are the targets. So, it’s war. It’s more than war. Let me go and address the United States’ saying that they want negotiations. The re-designation of our central bank has made it almost impossible for the United States to remove the central bank from the list. That means that not only this president but even the next president are boxed in this scenario of perpetual hostility against Iran. So, what is it to negotiate about if this president is incapable of undoing something that he did the day before yesterday?

Q: Foreign Minister, are you saying that there's a plan afoot to close the doors to negotiation by the U.S. president?

A: I think the only reason they re-designate our central bank is to make it impossible or very difficult for this president or his successor to remove their name from the list. The war is very high now and I think those who propose to President Trump wanted to close the door to negotiations not during his presidency but even after his presidency.

Q: So, let’s just sort of take that piece by piece. I just first want to ask you one thing about the president having said that they were going to respond militarily and then calling it off at the last moment. In public, alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he floated this notion back then that it wasn’t an order from the government, that this was a commander who shot down the drone. He was trying to say that this was a stupid act. I’m not going to respond to it because I bet it wasn’t the government’s intention. Was it the government’s intention to shoot down that drone?

A: The government does not take a decision on a case by case basis because we don’t have time to make a decision. You need to have a general order to the military person sitting in front of the missile system or behind it, depending on how you want to shoot it.

Q: Back to the Saudi oil fields. Are you surprised that such an important piece of infrastructure, such a massive piece of the global oil economic puzzle seemed to have been left without any air defenses?

A: I am not surprised because I do not believe that military capability alone can prevent disaster. That’s been what we have been trying to tell the Saudis. That they cannot buy security purchasing more war weapons. It is a much easier road if they simply start talking to their neighbors, stop bombing the Yemenis.

Q: Are you extending a new olive branch?

A: The olive branch has always been on the table and we are holding it again.

Q: We also hear from your commanders, military commanders, that they’re shortly to begin naval exercises, joint exercises between Iran, Russia and China in the North Arabian Sea, in that very critical area, very close to the Straits of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf.

A: That is not a hostile act against any country. It is the first time that we are conducting joint military exercises, but it is not like building a coalition war. It is simply engaging in a friendly action we took with our close partners.

Q: That you would agree to sign on to the additional protocol, which is most intrusive inspections several years earlier than stated. Is that correct? Had you offered that?

A: Yes, we did offer that and that offer is still on the table, provided that the United States would also do what they’re supposed to do in 2023 now, and that is to lift the sanctions though U.S. Congress. We are prepared, if President Trump is serious about permanent for permanent, permanent peaceful nuclear program in Iran and permanent monitoring of Iranian nuclear facilities, as you said, through the most intrusive IAEA inspection mechanism that exists, in return for what he has said he is prepared to do and that is to go to Congress and have this ratified, which would mean Congress lifting the sanctions.

Q: Is there any chance that Presidents Rouhani and Trump could meet at this General Assembly? President Trump has been tweeting. He sent out another tweet saying, I have no plans but, you know, nothing is ever off the table but maybe but maybe not. Are you saying that President Rouhani in this heightened atmosphere of tension would still be willing here at the General Assembly to meet with President Trump?

A: Provided that President Trump is ready to do what is necessary.

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