Press TV has conducted an exclusive interview with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif about the ongoing war rhetoric against the country by the US and its allies, Iran's talks with P5+1, and a range of other issues of regional and global importance.
What follows is the text of the interview.
As mentioned in our prelude there, Mr. Mohammad Javad Zarif is in the studios and we would like to first welcome him. Thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to us, I am sure you have a very busy schedule.
Talking about a busy schedule, you have been in your office for 36 days, I counted the number of days, and you had to meet with a major challenge, and that was the possible US-led military strike on Syria. It appears that the US, which is on hold right now, was in a rush to go into this war, with this military intervention, why do you think that was?
Let me first thank you for giving me this opportunity. I think a number of groups and people inside the United States, and some interest outside the United States, wanted to put the president of the US, whom I believe was reluctant to start a war, into a trap, a trap which he had unfortunately laid down for himself, and that was to get him involved in a war in order to address a hypothetical issue of the use of chemical weapons by the government of Syria. I say a hypothetical issue because there was and still is no proof that the use of chemical weapons was perpetrated by the government. Let me say that Iran, as a victim of chemical weapons, condemns any use of chemical weapons, regardless of the victims or the culprits, but we believe that nobody has the right to take the law into their own hands, that is, the United States doesn’t have any legal claim to act at the same time as the prosecutor, judge, and unfortunately the executioner, in dealing with these issue, particularly in light of the US’s own record of supporting a regime, that of Saddam Hossein, that used chemical weapons not only against Iranian soldiers and civilians but against his own people in Halabja, and these are not just allegations, but proven time and again by the United Nations teams of investigation.
Now we have a UN team in Syria that visited Syria, and that team has not produced a report yet, and if it does, it did not have the mandate, unfortunately, to determine responsibility and the situation is far from clear. Now let us hope that with the new arrangement, we will start the process of moving chemical weapons out of this region in its totality. We believe that our region [the Middle East] has enough difficulty, is in enough turmoil, not to be engulfed in a war in which chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction are used, and that is why Iran has been pushing for a region free from weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.
Now let me make one more point. The use of chemical weapons is a crime, we believe it is a crime against humanity, but we believe that also the use of force, the threat of use of force, is also a criminal offense in international law. Unfortunately it seems to me that the United States seems to be living in the 19th century when the use of force was a prerogative of states, it is not. I believe the United States, the president of the United States, who seems to be a very fine constitutional lawyer, has to look into his law books, his international law books, which he has not, I think, reviewed recently, and consider the fact, that when he concedes, as he did last night before the American people, that there is no imminent or direct threat against the United States, then the United States doesn’t have any standing under any provision of international law, to take law in its own hands.
Dr. Zarif, if Syria didn’t pose an imminent threat to the United States’ security, why is that we have heard so much talk of attacking Syria and launching a war against the country?
It seems to me, as I said in the beginning, the president of the US is being pushed into a trap that is being played by some certain interests inside the US, who seek their interests in hostility and tension, and also some interests outside the United States, unfortunately in our region, who have tried in the past two years to change the military balance in Syria, first of all to get the Syrian people involved in a civil war, not of their own making, because those who are fighting inside Syria are mostly extremists and Takfiris who have come from outside.
Do you know who is supporting them, who is funding them, who is arming them in Syria?
We all have seen the evidence of those who have been pushing for a war in our region, unfortunately, this is due to a very short-sighted view of their own interest, because a war in our region can be at east perceived in the beginning, when they start it, as a limited surgical operation, but once you unleash force, there is no way that you can contain it and I think the United States knows it. The United States tried “Shock and Awe”, if you remember [former US Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld and the terminology he used when the United States wanted to invade Iraq; he wanted to use a “Shock and Awe” operation so that it would be done within a matter of days, now how many years? Ten years, eleven years later we still have a situation where only during the month of Ramadan, I was told during this recent visit that I had to Iraq, that a thousand people were killed in Iraq in roadside bombing.
There is a need for the United States to come to the realization, and I believe this is an important realization for the United States, that not only the use of force is illegal, that not only the threat of force is against a preemptory international norm of law, but also and more importantly the use of force is ineffective. Force has lost its utility in international relations and it lost its utility long time ago.
In 1928, civilized countries decided to reject the use of force as an instrument of national policy, before then, force or war was an instrument of national policy, they thought that war was diplomacy by another means. But since then, the international community has come to its senses, believing that the use of force doesn’t provide the necessary outcome that those who started it wanted to provide and wanted to produce and that is why they have outlawed the use of force. It is not a bunch of idealistic lawyers who sat down and banned the use of force, but in fact because of the reality that it has lost the utility that.
Let me just tell you that in the 20th century, 85 percent of the cases, where a country resorted to force, have resulted in that country either being annihilated or not achieving the intended consequences of the war, so that shows to you empirically that force is no longer effective. I hope that the United States, which is the mightiest country on the face of the earth, would come to this realization that it is important to use other means of influence; force is no longer effective
That bring me to the question that the United States has time and again said and I think you made a remark on that when you were recently Iraq about “all options being on the table.” Before you elaborate on that, there has been a lot of positive reaction coming from the US based on your nomination. I am going to read you some headlines: This is someone who knows the United States very well, and with all the frustrations of the past, is still someone they know in Washington. You are known to have contact, some are calling it, which includes Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Do you think with these people that you knew from the past who now in the positions that they are, that is going to give you an edge in terms of pursuing any type of relationship with the US, if that is on your agenda.
On your first question, I believe the statement “all options are on the table” is an outdated statement because all options are not
on the table, at least for the countries that claim to be law-abiding, for countries that claim to be following the UN charter, for countries which push others to live to their international obligations under the UN charter, push others, who want to punish others for violating internationals law, they have to know that all options are not
on the table. The threat or the use of force have been removed from the table long time ago by countries, including the United States when they gathered in San Francisco and decided to save the succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in their generation caused untold misery. So this comes from the charter of the United Nations adopted under the US hospitality in San Francisco in 1945. So, they have to understand that all options are not
on the table.
On the second issue, I had encounters with a number of members of the current administration, in their previous capacity as members of US Congress and in my previous capacity as Iranian ambassador to the UN. I believe they know where I am coming from and I know where they are coming from and that is why I believe they are reluctantly being pushed into a war that they don’t want to, that they don’t need, and I believe the international community has to help them in order to avoid this catastrophe, which will burn the entire region and will burn the United States with it.
From what you said, I realize that we are thinking that the US is being dragged into the war, technically speaking, by other forces in the region or beyond this region. Can you elaborate on that, is the United States really going to launch a military strike on Syria at the end of the day or you think maybe the US is not willing to do so but there is a huge pressure on the United states to go to the war in Syria?
I hope the reason will prevail. I hope with the Russian proposal and the opportunity that has been created by the acceptance by Syria of the Russian proposal, others will stop creating excuses to push for a war, to beat the drums of war, they should understand that this is dangerous for themselves, for the region.
We have seen from the comments that we hear from some countries in the region and some countries outside the region, that a lot of people are unhappy, and this is regrettable to say, that some countries are unhappy that we are avoiding a war, I don’t know what extension of logic can in fact be used by our friends in the region who are unhappy that a diplomatic avenue is being sought and hopefully found in order to avoid a major catastrophe on their doorsteps, a major catastrophe that will lead to extremism, will lead to sectarian divide, will lead to further conflict in our region, just for a short-sighted interest to change the balance of forces inside Syria through more bloodshed, more killing of innocent people.
We all need to sit down and push all Syrian factors, encourage all Syrian factors, including the Syrian government and those who are really interested in the future of Syria to the negotiating table in order to find a peaceful solution. Syrian crisis does not have a military solution, that has to be understood by all.
: Does Iran have a practical plan at this point in time?
: We believe that we should put an end to the fighting in Syria. All sides should sit down and find a peaceful solution based on democratic principles, based on participation of all segments of the Syrian society in the governance of their country without foreign interference. I believe that that could be done.
Unfortunately a great deal of foreign intervention, a great deal of arms shipment to the various rebel groups, extremist groups, groups that have caused havoc in the region and beyond the region is continuing for very shortsighted interests.
They should know that those who help, create and breed extremism in the region [will] fall victim to that extremism. Whether that extremism was that of al-Qaeda, whether it was that of Taliban or that of Saddam Hussein.
Those who sponsor them will be their final victims.
: Let us go back to the issue of chemical weapons that we discussed earlier. Does Iran know who used chemical weapons on August 21 in Syria?
: We have indications and we had shared those indications in the past with the United States and with others that unfortunately, and this is extremely dangerous, the chemical weapons were being smuggled into Syria to groups, armed groups that are fighting the Syrian people and the Syrian government.
This was information that we had for some time. A number of arrests have been made earlier this year in the neighboring countries, indicating the fact that this was actually taking place.
: Did we get a response from the Americans?
: Unfortunately not! We alerted them, we told them that this was taking place, we told them and we still tell them that this is a continuing nightmare, chemical weapons in the hands of non-state actors, particularly extremist non-state actors is a threat to everybody.
It recognizes no borders, it will become a menace for the entire region and those who help these groups have access to chemical weapons will need to address the question how they are going to deal with that? The addresses are unknown. The possibilities for the use of these chemical weapons are unknown.
I am not in the business of fear mongering, I am not in that business but this is a real concern. We need to be able to address this issue and to find a way. Now we are very happy that the Syrians are dealing with some sort of an international arrangement to deal with their chemical weapons, but it is important also at the same time to deal with the weapons that are in the hands of the extremists.
: I like to talk about Iran’s nuclear program and the most recent news is the shift from the Supreme National Security Council to the Foreign Ministry.
Can you elaborate on that and explain that what role you are playing in that?
: Well, the president decided that the Foreign Ministry will conduct the negotiations on the nuclear issue. I think that it is a wise decision. The Foreign Ministry is responsible for the conduct of Iran’s foreign affairs and it has the ability and the machinery, the manpower to deal with these issues.
Of course, the [Supreme] National Security Council will still supervise and oversee the nuclear file and we hope to be able to move forward with negotiations. We should be results-oriented. Now, let me give you a couple of general comments about how the negotiations should proceed; we believe that the negotiations are not open-ended, that the negotiations are not an end in themselves.
We believe that the negotiations should be time-bound, result-oriented and based on good faith, equal footing and mutual respect. Now we need to change the approach to these negotiations and if I may let me describe this a little bit in a more detailed [way] and try to articulate what I mean.
I believe that the international environment after the Cold War is a different international environment in this transitional phase of the world politics, because we no longer call it International Politics, we call it World Politics because it has become so intertwined that you can no longer pursue zero-sum games, you cannot pursue your interest at the expense of the interest of others. You cannot try to have security at the expense of the insecurity of others.
If that was achievable, 9/11 would not have happened. I think today is 9/11 and it should be a reminder for all of us that if security could be achieved through military force, if military might could bring security, if security for one country however powerful and out of volatile regions of the world it may be, as the United States is and was, it cannot gain its security through the insecurity of others.
Now, if you want to address Iran’s nuclear file, you need to change your perspective, that is we should share two goals, not one goal being for Iran and one goal being for the P5+1 or whatever you want to call them, those countries who claim to be concerned about Iran’s nuclear program, that they pursue one set of objectives and we pursue one set of objectives and then there is a fight who gets more of this and who gets more of that like a childish play (game). This will not work in today’s international environment. What works is for both sides to work for the same objectives and these objectives are: First, Iran’s nuclear program must remain exclusively peaceful; this seems to be the stated objective of the other side, of P5+1.
Now, I can claim that this before them, is our objective because it is in Iran’s national security interest for the entire world to know that we do not want nuclear weapons; that nuclear weapons have no place in Iran’s security doctrine and even the perception in the world that Iran pursues a nuclear weapons program is detrimental to our security.
So, we share the first objective, we want to redefine the problems so that we can find the solution. We share the first objective, now we want them to share the second objective and I tell you why; the second objective is, the only way you can ensure that Iran’s nuclear program will remain exclusively peaceful is to allow this program to take place in an acceptable, peaceful international environment. Why? Because Iran’s peaceful nuclear capabilities are homegrown, they are not dependent on the outside so they cannot deprive Iran from (of) what is ours. We have the science, we have the technology, you cannot deprive us of our scientists, you cannot deprive us of our technological infrastructure. So this is there, you cannot wish it away.
Iran’s peaceful nuclear capability is there, so in order to achieve the first common objective we need to agree on a second common objective and that is that this indigenous capability of Iran must be exercised within a transparent, internationally recognized framework, that is the enrichment plan that is out in the open, accessible to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), could be under international monitoring, as they have been in the past several years.
This is the only way that you can ensure that the Iranian nuclear program to be an exclusively peaceful program.
: One last question Mr. foreign minister, are you optimistic about the talks, nuclear talks with the P5+1?
: I am optimistic that we will go into the talks with the determination to resolve the problem; “getting to yes” is our motto for these talks, but it takes two to tango. If the United States and the rest of the P5+1 group are not prepared to get seriously involved in this process, then it will be a totally different scenario.
I have to stress that [neither] this government nor any other Iranian government is neither willing nor capable of conceding an iota of the rights of the Iranian people. I am saying that it is counterproductive even to ask it to do so because that is not an appropriate way of ensuring Iran’s nuclear program will remain explosively peaceful.
: You are going to be meeting with Catherin Ashton on the sidelines, it has been reported, of the UN General Assembly that is coming up. I am sure that you are going to reveal some of the things that you just talked bout, I would imagine, but we are talking about how, you said, there should be a concerted effort within the P5+1 of which the United States is obviously one of the countries, but at the same time you have a country that says all options are on the table. You have a country that talks about how they are going to respect the new administration, but at the same time 76 lawmakers coming out imposing more sanctions on Iran.
What is going to be different about your approach regarding the United States, one of the countries of the P5+1?
: Well, I think that the United States can play a key role in finding a solution or preventing a solution and that is that they have to observe the first principle of any negotiations. You know, in international law negotiations are founded on one principle and that is the principle of good faith.
If the United States wants to conduct the negotiations in good faith, then it cannot call for a diplomatic solution and at the same time try to impose pressure, not only on Iran but on the rest of the international community, through arms twisting, intimidation and extraterritorial measures in order to impose restrictions on Iranian trade, which are totally against the international law, are directed against the Iranian people, are aimed against the Iranian people, aimed against innocent civilians, trying to prevent them from having access to a whole range of necessities from technology to medicine, from science to food stuff. This is a policy that will not succeed. Sanctions and intimidation will not bring the Iranian people to concede on their rights. They will only strengthen their resolve to insist on the need for respect. This is not..., the Americans are totally mistaken if they believe that Iran is willing to pay the price because it wants a weapon.
Iran is paying the price because it wants respect. We are not going to accept anybody trying to take that respect away from us. That is the bottom-line.
: So an example of a win-win situation, you have said that, Iran’s President Hassan Rohani has also said that; win-win. What scenario would that entail?
: Win-win would be an Iranian nuclear program which is transparent under the international monitoring within the framework of the international legality, that is the IAEA safeguards mechanisms, the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) regulations to which Iran is a member and which is based on cooperation.
The best way for the international community..., we should not say international community because it is only a few countries with a loud voice, and a great deal of means of public pressure, but if those countries want to make sure that Iran’s program will remain peaceful that is a way to deal with it, not through intimidation and pressure because that will not lead them anywhere and that is a win-win situation.
Iran will have its rights, sanctions will be removed and the rest of the international community can rest assured that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful and will remain, so because it is in our interest that that program should remain peaceful, it should be in their interest that that program should run transparently out in the open in a facility under the supervision of the IAEA.