Amir Abdollahian says agreement in Vienna “never been closer”

February 23, 2022 - 21:37

TEHRAN — In an interview with Euronews published on its website on Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said that a deal in Vienna that would lift sanction on Iran could be reached in a matter of hours if Western powers seized the opportunity.

Amir Abdollahian added that Tehran has shown flexibility and seriousness in negotiations with the West over its nuclear policy, warning that some red lines have remained unresolved.

The following is the text of the interview:

Q: Minister, can you please tell us clearly and briefly about what you call Iran’s “seriousness” in the negotiations. Can the so-called “Iranian initiatives” at the Vienna Talks deliver concrete improvements to the quality of life for Iranians - and how quickly might they see such benefits?

A: In Dr. Raisi’s government, right from the start, our approach over the Vienna talks on lifting sanctions has been to fix this objective:
Either we don’t start negotiations at all, or if we do start, we need to make sure there’s harmony between how we’re negotiating in Vienna and the realistic approach of Dr. Raisi’s government.
So, we didn’t come to Vienna to have negotiations for negotiation's sake, but to have negotiations that result in a good agreement. I believe, we’ve never been so close to such a deal.

Q: That’s great you’re so close to a deal… but let’s be clearer answering my question. When ultimately will people see the results of this deal in their everyday lives? We talk too much in politics but there’s a belief I think you share: the isolation of Iran creates many winners but one main loser - the ordinary people and working classes of the country.
Now it seems a deal is expected within days or weeks, according to different diplomatic sources. Correct me if you have a more precise timing: we’d be very happy to hear it here.

A: Firstly, I want to correct your wording. We do not believe that Iran is an isolated country. Unilateral and unlawful U.S. sanctions have led to some problems for us. Inaction since 2015, especially from three European countries, the UK, France and Germany, has caused some problems for Iran. But despite all their efforts, even during the Trump administration and its “maximum pressure” campaign against the Islamic Republic of Iran, the isolation of Iran hasn’t happened.
You asked me if there’ll be a concrete impact on people’s lives and their standards of living. Listen… we’re approaching an agreement; there are some remaining issues which are our red lines. So far, we’ve taken lots of initiatives and shown the required flexibility at the Vienna negotiating table.
If today we’re saying we’re closer than ever to a deal, it’s because we’ve informed the Americans via intermediaries - and three European countries have been told by my colleagues in Vienna or by myself, through telephone conversations or during meetings with the foreign ministers of these three countries - we’re saying very clearly to them that “Now it is your turn”. It is time to see initiatives and flexibility from the Western side.
We believe if the Western side looks at what is going on in Vienna more realistically, in less than a few hours, we can finalize the deal. So, for us, any exact timing for a deal is in the hands of the Western side. It depends on their realism and their initiatives. We will remain at the negotiating table, applying ourselves seriously, despite the fact that on several occasions when there were difficult phases of the negotiations, the Western side raised the possibility of leaving the table.
I had a talk with Josep Borrell during the Munich Security Conference, and I said “My colleagues will stay in Vienna, applying themselves with seriousness and motivation, with the objective of reaching a speedy and good deal.”
However, if the other side doesn’t show the required flexibility and creativity, without any doubt, they will be responsible if the negotiation fails.

Q: To avoid what happened with Donald Trump, you’ve been looking for guarantees and at some point political guarantees, such as political statements. Don’t you think if American companies and businesses come to Iran, that’ll be a stronger guarantee?

A: I think one of the problems we’ve had with the JCPOA has been the role of American companies and also the place the dollar has in the bank circulation system. Even during the Deal in 2015, the Americans imposed some restrictions in this regard. That’s why, when we systematically get messages about President Biden’s goodwill and we compare them with the behavior of Joe Biden and the American administration, we realize there’s a paradox. On the one hand, they send messages of goodwill and on the other hand, at the same time, sometimes even on the same day, they impose new sanctions against some of our individuals and officials.
So what matters to us is the behavior of the Americans. We will judge them on their behavior.

Q: Is having a coherent relationship with the EU, especially in the financial and commercial fields, still a priority for Iranian foreign policy? Or is it not as important as it was in the past?

A: The foreign policy doctrine of the new Iranian government, which is well known as a popular and evolutionary government, is based on a doctrine of a balanced foreign policy, dynamic diplomacy and smart cooperation and interaction. In this doctrine, we keep an eye on all the regions of the world, including the European continent. We are interested in developing our relationship with all European countries. But we said clearly to our French, British and German counterparts that despite the importance of our ties with them, we are not going to reduce Europe to just these three countries. So we have an independent plan to develop and improve our relations with each individual European country, and we continue to take this seriously in the new government.

Q: Are you against the idea of the opening of an EU Office in Tehran? Have you talked ever about it with Mr. Borrell?

A: This subject has been raised several times. Recently even the Finnish Foreign Minister asked me about it during his visit to Iran. When I look at the past record and background, I realize that every time we got close to opening an EU office in Iran, a negative, artificial crisis against the Islamic Republic of Iran emerged within Europe. So, we understood that despite the goodwill we have towards opening an EU office, we were facing an artificial crisis within Europe, even before the office opened. So, that doesn’t improve the situation. I think the idea is still on the table and needs to be followed.

Q: In your talks in Munich, you mentioned again the possibility of exchanging prisoners. I would like to know if an agreement is achieved, will it be just for American prisoners or will it include the Europeans, especially dual nationals, who are in jail right now in Iran?

A: Well, there are a very limited number of dual-national Iranians who unfortunately took part in spying. They admitted it, and their spying has led to big disasters. For example, one of these Iranians with double nationality worked for Mossad, the intelligence service of the Zionist regime, and because of his spying, Iranian scientists were killed. So the judicial system can’t simply ignore it and move on. However, last year we reached a deal to exchange a number of prisoners on a package format, including American, British and other nationals. We agreed on the number and date but unfortunately, at the last minute, the Americans suspended the agreement. We’ve announced that we’re ready, either outside the Vienna talks or alongside them, to exchange prisoners when the other side is ready. We consider this to be a 100% humanitarian issue. We don’t see any necessity to link this humanitarian dossier to the Vienna Talks.

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