Iranian Foreign Minister: ‘Arab Affairs Are Iran’s Business’

 From The Atlantic, October 9, 2017. By Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

With possible decertification looming for the Iran deal, Javad Zarif argues that his country has been unfairly maligned.

Iranians live in a troubled and unstable region. We cannot change geography, but our neighborhood was not always so stormy. Without delving too far back into history—although as an ancient peoples our memories are measured in millennia, not decades or even centuries—it’s safe to say that our region began to experience insecurity and instability when foreign, indeed completely alien powers, arrived and began interfering. The discovery of oil, a drug the West soon became addicted to, only strengthened colonial power projection into our region, and subsequently Cold War rivalry—both major factors in the U.S. and U.K. decision to overthrow the legitimate and democratic government of Iran in 1953—provided the fodder for further meddling by foreign powers and superpowers.

Today, what that meddling has wrought is a fractured Middle East. Steadfast allies of the West, rather than considering the plight or aspirations of their own peoples, spend their wealth arming themselves, sending to the West the riches their natural resources provide. They spend billions more of that wealth spreading Wahabbism—a medieval ideology of hate and exclusion—from the Far East to the Americas. They support organized non-state actors who wreak havoc through terror and civil wars. In the case of Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE went as far as officially recognizing the Taliban as the government—becoming two of only three countries in the world that did so. The U.S., meanwhile, turned a blind eye to the ideology and funding that led to the creation of al-Qaeda—and its more recent offshoots of ISIS, Nusrah, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish-al-Islam, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and the list goes on—and to the worst terror attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. The U.S. military presence in the region now aims to counter not just threats to America’s own interests, but also supposed threats to the very same allies that have supported the kind of terror now being visited on the cities of Europe and the United States.

These allies of the West—throughout their brief history as nations hostile to my country—pounced on Iran in the aftermath of our Islamic Revolution, which freed us from a dictatorship not unlike theirs and allowed us to set our own course in history, independent and peaceful but allied to neither East nor West. While we voluntarily set aside a domineering role in the region, they funded, armed, and supported Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran. His eight-year war against us resulted in nothing but death and destruction, including the first battlefield use of chemical weapons since World War I—by Saddam against our soldiers, as well as against civilians—which was met with  deafening silence by the international community.

We Iranians, punished for having the gall to declare ourselves free of domestic tyranny and foreign dominance, were denied even the most basic defensive weapons, even while missiles rained down on our cities to the cheers of our Arab neighbors. One of those neighbors, Kuwait, a major funder of Iraq’s war on us and the facilitator of its oil sales, shortly afterward became the victim of Saddam’s ambitions itself. Yet in the interest of regional peace and stability, we chose to support Kuwait’s sovereignty in the face of Iraqi invasion, despite Saddam’s offer to share the spoils with us; he even sent his fighter jets to Iran, ostensibly for safe-keeping, but really in an attempt to lure us to his side. Our leadership firmly rejected this offer despite the hostility, both overt and covert, some Persian Gulf states had shown us since the revolution. We preferred for our Persian Gulf neighbors to remain stable, functioning, independent countries, rather than enjoying the certain but brief satisfaction of seeing them receive their just deserts.

Today, some of those states—especially Saudi Arabia, the UAE and, as a result of their expensive lobbying campaigns, the U.S.—claim Iran is interfering in Arab affairs and spreading insecurity throughout the region. Ironically, though, it is they who have waged war on their fellow Arab nation of Yemen, invaded Bahrain, embargoed their kin in Qatar, funded and armed terror groups in the war in Syria, and supported a military coup against an elected government in Egypt, all the while denying the most basic freedoms to their own restless populations. Iran, meanwhile, being stronger and older as an independent state than any of its neighbors, has not attacked another country in nearly three centuries. Iran doesn’t and won’t interfere in the internal affairs of its neighbors.

Still, Arab affairs are Iran’s business. And we are not shy in admitting that non-Arab affairs are their business. How can they not be? We share borders, waters, and resources; we fly through each other’s airspace. We can’t not be interested in how our neighbors affect the part of the globe where we make our homes.

Our interest in our region’s affairs, though, is not malevolent. On the contrary, it is in the interest of stability. We do not desire the downfall of any regimes in the countries that surround us. Our desire—in principle and practice—is that all the nations of the region enjoy security, peace, and stability. Unfortunately, this is not the desire of some of some of our neighbors, whose untried leaders cherish the delusion of regime change in Iran, and support terrorist groups that seek to overthrow our government or create fear for the sake of wounding the nation. Our neighbors do this even while saying that Iran’s influence is spreading—especially since the conclusion of the nuclear agreement of 2015.

Iran’s influence, though, has spread not at the purposeful expense of others, but as a result of their and their Western allies’ actions, mistakes, and wrong choices. After the downfall of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, it was inevitable that Iran, which had housed those countries’ refugees and provided asylum to their political figures, would have greater “influence” with the friends who took over than would those who supported and financed the atrocities of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein against their own people. It was not Iran that prevented a churlish Saudi Arabia from opening an embassy in Baghdad for a decade after the fall of Saddam, nor was it Iran that insisted on war with Yemen or an embargo of Qatar.

Qatar, a country that we differ with on a number of serious issues, is a neighbor we do not want to see unstable. Nor do we want to see its independence questioned while it suffers under the thumb of its bigger Saudi brother. Since we could not allow its besiegement and suffocation, we have provided it with much-needed ports and an air corridor. We similarly showed immediate support for the democratically elected government of Turkey, which also differs from us on some issues, when it suffered a coup attempt. We brought our influence to bear in Lebanon, a troubled land where a unity government was formed after two years of objections by Saudi Arabia, which seemingly preferred the instability of infighting and sectarian divisions in the Levant to a functioning, successful state.

In Syria, we came to assist the people when, in the guise of mass protest following the Arab Spring, terrorist groups—including some aligned to al-Qaeda and Daesh—took up arms to seize power and establish a monstrous terrorist state characterized by mass and bloody beheadings. Some of the terror groups have at some point been directly or indirectly funded and armed by some of our neighbors, and in some cases by the United States itself. The millions of Syrian refugees fleeing their homes are not fleeing a man, a sect, or a government; they are fleeing war and terror. But no country has done more than Iran in the fight against Daesh and in preventing the formation of an anti-Islamic caliphate from Damascus to Baghdad.

Iran prioritized getting an agreement to solve the unnecessary nuclear crisis, precisely in order to prevent further instability in the region by eliminating one serious point of contention with Western powers. This, we hoped—and one would expect—would also benefit all our neighbors. Still, we did not neglect the other crises affecting the region, and on numerous occasions we offered plans, cease-fires, and negotiations to bring about an end to armed conflict. Almost all our offers fell on deaf ears—American and Arab alike. But just as we cannot and do not want to exclude major countries like Saudi Arabia from the regional stability equation, neither can we be excluded, for the instability of one nation affects the stability of all.

After the resolution of the nuclear crisis, our neighbors could have moved to increase trade and investment with us. They could have accepted our long-standing offer—repeated several times before and after the nuclear deal—to discuss a regional security arrangement. But they did the opposite: They doubled down on their hostility toward Iran and Iranians, and have done everything they can—from lobbying campaigns, to extreme flattery of the U.S. president, to refusing to even engage with us—to perpetuate the fallacy that Iran is the root of all problems in the region and must be confronted (or to use the popular Washington term, be “pushed back” against), before it destabilizes the entire world.

It is in this atmosphere—and mindful of our 20th-century experience with a neighbor that waged an eight-year war against our people while virtually the entire world took the side of the aggressor—that we endeavor to have a working defensive capability. It is because of the hostility shown to us since the Islamic Revolution, from within our own region and from the West, and because of the West’s refusal to sell us any defensive weaponry that might deter a future Saddam, that we have developed an indigenous capability. It includes missiles, which require testing to ensure that they perform as designed, and which are now accurate to within seven meters. (This kind of accuracy, incidentally, would be entirely unnecessary for a nuclear payload, which can miss an intended target by tens or even a hundred kilometers and still rain death and destruction on a wide area. But accuracy is absolutely crucial in striking military targets or specific terrorist camps while avoiding civilian or non-combatant deaths.) We purposefully excluded our defensive military capability from negotiations for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the nuclear deal is formally known, precisely because Iran will never abrogate its right to defend its citizens or delegate that right to an outside party. It is not intended as leverage or a bargaining chip in future negotiations. No party or country need fear our missiles, or indeed any Iranian military capability, unless it intends to attack our territory or foment trouble through terrorist attacks on our soil.

Saudi Arabia spends over $63 billion on defense annually, ranking 4th in the world behind only the U.S., China, and Russia. The UAE, a country with less than 1.5 million citizens, ranks 14th, with over $22 billion in annual defense spending. Iran doesn’t even make the list of the top 20 spenders: Its $12 billion puts it in 33rd place. It is hardly ramping up to be the new hegemonic bully in the neighborhood. Our goal is not to have the biggest or best-equipped military, or to possess trillions of dollars worth of weapons, but to have the minimum materiel required to deter and to counter threats and armed attack. Our biggest asset for stability, security, and independence is our people, who—unlike the citizens of some U.S. allies in the region—choose their government every four years.


We patrol the waters of the Persian Gulf—so named by Westerners centuries ago given that its longest shore by far is Iran’s—because Iran’s right to defend its territory from sea attack or subterfuge cannot be questioned. (Presumably, likewise, the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy have not stopped patrolling the Gulf of Mexico, or the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards.) If there are accusations warranted about “provocative behavior” in the Persian Gulf, Iran is surely the party to make them. U.S. warships and aircraft carriers the size of cities routinely bear down on Iranian naval vessels in waters that are only 10 kilometers wide in some parts. No one should expect us to ever forfeit our rights in this important waterway, which is central to our economic and national-security interests.

The Iran-phobia perpetuated by some of our neighbors—which in the age of rule by political neophytes has become a kind of hysteria—is now influencing the outlook of the U.S. This is true of the nuclear agreement and is evident more generally in the kind of open hostility toward Iran President Trump expressed in his 2017 UN speech. But the evidence for “bad behavior” by Iran is nonexistent. Iranian “aggression” is a myth, easily perpetuated by those willing to spend their dollars on American military equipment and public-relations firms, and by those promising to protect American interests rather than those of their own people. In the end, they serve neither.

The successful implementation of the nuclear deal—by Iran, at least—is proof of Iran’s good will and peaceful intentions. If we had hegemonic ambitions, an agreement would never have been reached. The JCPOA can in fact be a model for the diplomatic resolution of crises, and for peaceful outcomes in regional disputes. Rather than look at its shortcomings—for in any deal or bargain, there are shortcomings from the perspective of either side—it would behoove other countries beyond to look at its benefits. For there are also benefits for all sides, including for our immediate neighbors.

New leaders in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, exhibiting the impetuosity of inexperience—as well as the hubris bred through a supremely sheltered and privileged upbringing—have embraced an aggressive regional stance. Fearing shame or failure, they may find it difficult to back down. But insisting on the wrong course won’t make it right. Vietnam should have taught that to America, and Afghanistan to the former Soviet Union. Our regional trouble should be teaching that to our neighbors. The right approach is not difficult to uncover—it just requires open eyes, an open mind, respect for the opinions and positions of others, and a willingness to engage and search for a mutually acceptable solution to any problem. We Iranians pledged to do that with six countries when we restarted negotiations on the nuclear issue in 2013. Even if one or more of the parties abrogates the deal without reason, or refuses to fully implement its side, the approach itself was the right one. Any failure, in the end, will not come from an inherent defect of the agreement, but from a lack of good faith that will only globally discredit the defectors.

But in thinking about how to move past regional stalemates—especially with regard to the spread of terror—it might be useful for our neighbors and their Western backers to take another, more careful look at past Iranian initiatives. Iran proposed a “Dialogue Among Civilizations” in 1998, well before 9/11 and before any notion of a “clash of civilizations” took hold among the general public. In 2013, President Hassan Rouhani proposed a “World Against Violence and Extremism” (WAVE), before Daesh became a household name. Both initiatives accurately diagnosed the enabling social, cultural, and global conditions that have encouraged the formation and spread of extremist violence—conditions that are too often forgotten in otherwise laudatory pledges to eradicate the scourge.
 While clearly such forces as Daesh and its offshoots need to be defeated and their false promises exposed, a meaningful restoration of peace and stability to the Persian Gulf region hinges on the promotion of mutual understanding and regional security cooperation, which some of our neighbors have so far rejected. But there’s no reason we can’t cooperate. The ancient Persian game of chess requires either a winner, a stalemate, or surrender by one opponent in the face of defeat. It is a magnificent game, but it is just a game. In the real world, other outcomes are possible—there can be a “win-win” solution that doesn’t result in defeat for any side. To achieve this outcome, we should be erecting a working regional mechanism rather than laying more bricks in the wall of division. We can start with a regional dialogue forum, something Iran has always been—publicly and privately—in favor of.

Such a forum should naturally be based on respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of all states; the inviolability of international boundaries; non-interference in others’ internal affairs; the peaceful settlement of disputes; the impermissibility of threats or use of force; and the promotion of peace, stability, progress, and prosperity in the region. A forum based on these principles could eventually develop more formal nonaggression and security cooperation arrangements between all the parties, ensuring that the Persian Gulf does not remain a synonym for implacable troubles.

Iran will in the meantime continue on its own path of dialogue, mutual respect, and understanding. In that vein, in early October I held successful top-level meetings in Qatar and Oman, followed by a summit with Turkey in Tehran, addressing issues of paramount importance to the peace and stability of our neighborhood. It should be everyone’s fervent hope that we can have similar interactions with our other neighbors.

Saudi Arabia Wastes No Time in Backing Trump’s Iran Strategy

Just as U.S. President Donald Trump finished his speech outlining a hardline policy against Iran, Saudi Arabia was ready with a statement supporting his action.

The kingdom, Iran’s chief rival in the Middle East, praised the president for his “vision” and commitment to working with allies in the region to confront Iran’s actions, according to a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

Sunni-led Saudi Arabia had supported the 2015 nuclear agreement reached between Iran and world powers, including the U.S. In its statement, the kingdom said Iran has used the financial gains from the accord “to destabilize the region, especially through developing a ballistic missile program.”

Shiite-ruled Iran and Saudi Arabia are on opposite ends of the Middle East’s conflicts from Syria to Yemen. The kingdom has sharpened its policy against Iran with the rise of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king’s son and heir to the throne of the world’s biggest oil exporter.


Trump Threatens to Rip-Up Iran Nuclear Deal Unless US and Allies Fix ‘Serious Flaws’

From The Guardian, October 13, 2017. By,  Julian Borger, Saeed Kamali Dehghan and Peter Beaumont.

  • Trump says he will not recertify deal but stops short of pulling out entirely
  • President says US participation ‘can be cancelled by me at any time’
 Trump retains right to cancel Iran nuclear deal – video

Donald Trump has threatened to terminate the 2015 Iran nuclear deal if Congress and US allies fail to amend the agreement in significant ways.

In a vituperative speech on Friday that began by listing Iran’s alleged crimes over the decades, Trump announced he would not continue to certify the agreement to Congress, but stopped short of immediately cancelling US participation in the deal.

“Based on the factual record I have put forward, I am announcing today that we cannot and will not make this certification. We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout,” Trump said at the White House.

Trump put the onus on Congress and US allies to agree to means to toughen the conditions on Iran – and to make restriction on the country’s nuclear programme permanent. He made clear that if those negotiations fail to reach a solution – which is almost certain – he would unilaterally pull the US out of the international agreement, a move likely to lead to a return to nuclear confrontation in the Middle East.

“In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated,” Trump said. “It is under continuous review and our participation can be cancelled by me, as president, at any time.”

The international backlash to Trump’s speech was immediate. The leaders of the UK, France and Germany – also signatories of the nuclear deal – issued a statement vowing their commitment to the agreement.

“The president of the United States has many powers, but not this one,” Mogherini told reporters in Brussels.

Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog, issued a statement restating the agency’s finding that Iran was abiding by its obligations.

Within minutes of Trump’s speech, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, went live on state television.

He said: “What we heard tonight was a repeat of the same baseless accusations and insults that we’ve heard over the past 40 years. It had nothing new; we weren’t surprised because for 40 years we’ve got used to these words. With your baseless speech you made our people more united.”

Rouhani went on: “Today, the US is more isolated than ever against the nuclear deal, [more] isolated than any other time in its plots against people of Iran.”

The Iranian president shrugged off Trump’s call for constraints on Iran’s ballistic missile programme.

“Our missile and defence activities have always been important to us for our defence, and today it’s more important,” Rouhani said. “We have always made efforts to produce weapons that we need, and from now on we will double our efforts. These weapons are for our defence and we will continue strengthening our defence capabilities.”

Trump received rapid support, meanwhile, from Israel and Saudi Arabia, who have emerged as his own major allies on the world stage.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said he wanted to “congratulate President Trump for his courageous decision today” and for “boldly confront[ing] Iran’s terrorist regime”.

For European diplomats seeking to salvage the JCPOA, the days leading up to Trump’s long-awaited speech were a roller-coaster. Initially fearful that Trump could immediately trigger a possible collapse of the deal, the Europeans were buoyed when they were briefed that Trump would not call for the reimposition of sanctions by Congress.

However, in the wake of the president’s speech on Friday, the JCPOA’s survival looked tenuous.

In the speech, Trump declared: “I am directing my administration to work closely with Congress and our allies to address the deal’s many serious flaws so the Iranian regime can never threaten the world with nuclear weapons.”

He noted that congressional leaders were already drafting amendments to legislation that would include restrictions on ballistic missiles and make the curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme under the 2015 deal permanent, and to reimpose sanctions instantly if those restrictions were breached.

However, any such changes would need 60 votes in the US Senate to pass, and Democrats are high unlikely to give them their backing. Even if they did pass into law, the restrictions would represent a unilateral effort to change the accord that would not be acceptable to the other national signatories.

Hours earlier, the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson had acknowledged that it was very unlikely that the JCPOA agreement could be change, but suggested that the issue of Iran’s ballistic missile programme and the time limits on some of the nuclear constraints in the deal, could be dealt with in a separate agreement that could exist alongside the JCPOA.

Trump, however, made no reference to such a way out of the looming impasse.

He appeared to go out of his way to goad Iran, even linking Tehran with al-Qaida and the attacks on US embassies in 1998. He referred to Tehran as a “fanatical regime” and a “dictatorship”. He even referred to the body of water almost universally known as the Persian Gulf as the Arabian Gulf.

“How come a president has not yet learned the name of a famous gulf in the world, the same Persian Gulf that US vessels always pass through aimlessly?” a riled Rouhani said in his response.

“He needs to study geography, but also international law. How come an international agreement that is endorsed by a UN resolution, which is a UN document … how a US president can annul such an international document?”

The exchange of insults mirrored Trump’s continuing spat with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, adding personal animus to already tense situations on opposite sides of the world.

EU: US as No Right to Terminate Iran Accords

From Politico. by David M. Herszenhorn and Jacopo Barigazzi.

Mogherini says the United States had no right to unilaterally terminate the Iran nuclear accord | Pool photo by Dondi Tawatao/EPA

In sharp rebuke to Trump, EU’s foreign policy chief says deal will stay in place.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said Friday that the United States had no right to unilaterally terminate the Iran nuclear accord. She called the agreement “effective” and said there had been “no violations of any of the commitments” in the deal.

At a news conference at the European Commission’s Brussels headquarters, Mogherini gave a strongly-worded rebuke of the U.S., which has been a chief ally of the EU on security matters, including the response to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.

Her comments were aimed directly at U.S. President Donald Trump, moments after he gave a speech in Washington saying he would not certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement, and was asking Congress to adopt legislation that would potentially trigger the reimposition of sanctions on Tehran.

“More than two years ago, exactly in July 2015, the entire international community welcomed the results of 12 years of intense negotiations on the Iran nuclear program,” Mogherini said, adding: “It is not a bilateral agreement. It does not belong to any single country. And it is not up to any single country to terminate it. It is a multilateral agreement, which was unanimously endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.”

Joining Mogherini in what amounted to extraordinary isolation of the U.S. president, French President Emmanuel Macron, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement reaffirming their support for the accord, which they described as “in our shared national security interest.”

The Iran nuclear agreement was brokered by what the EU calls the E3+3 — the U.K., France and Germany, along with the United States, Russia and China. The group is also known as the P5+1, referring to the permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany. The Security Council endorsed the deal in a unanimous resolution.

Mogherini said the agreement — known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA — had made the world safer, and there was no reason to believe Iran had failed to keep up its end of the bargain.

“It is a robust deal that provides guarantees and a strong monitoring mechanism so that Iran’s nuclear program is and will remain exclusively for civilian purposes only,” she said. “We cannot afford as an international community, as Europe for sure, to dismantle a nuclear agreement that is working and delivering, especially now.”

“The International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, has verified eight times that Iran is implementing all of its nuclear-related commitments, following a comprehensive and strict monitoring system,” Mogherini said. “There have been no violations of any of the commitments included in the agreement.”

Mogherini noted the recent “acute nuclear threat” — an apparent reference to North Korea, which Trump has threatened to “utterly destroy.”

“The international community, and the European Union with it, has clearly indicated that the deal is, and will continue to be, in place” — Federica Mogherini

And she issued a remarkably stinging description of Trump’s break with the international community that suggested Washington’s credibility as the leader on global security issues was in jeopardy. Mogherini’s declaration that Europe and the international community would not follow Trump’s lead came after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke by telephone with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif earlier on Friday to reiterate Moscow’s commitment to the nuclear agreement.

“The United States domestic process, and I underline domestic, following today’s announcement of President Trump is now in the hands of the United States Congress,” Mogherini said. “The JCPOA is not a domestic issue, but a U.N. Security Council resolution. The international community, and the European Union with it, has clearly indicated that the deal is, and will continue to be, in place.”

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