Iran’s FM on diplomacy, domestic politics and future (PART ONE)

Those who were not part of the negotiations knew little about the atmosphere and details of the talks and were thus concerned about the outcome of the process, Zarif said.

Iran’s foreign minister says any measure he takes comes with a price for him. The head of Iran’s diplomacy machine weighs in on what the opponents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) have done to counter his efforts at home, and says that the Worriers [opponents of the president’s policy of moderation and interaction] have one main objective: “to attack the diplomatic team of the Rouhani administration”.

For the Worriers simply “attacking” is important; and the content of JCPOA, the stroll with the US secretary of state in a Geneva street, or the unplanned handshake with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly are merely what they need to use as a pretext to target the most powerful part of the eleventh government: the Foreign Ministry and the diplomat at its helm.

Mohammad Javad Zarif has had different firsts during his two years in office, among them the appointment of the first spokeswoman of the Foreign Ministry and appointment of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s first female ambassador. Zarif has appeared in parliament to defend his performance more than all of his predecessors in post-Revolution Iran. He has held more than 50 meetings with his US counterpart.

Conducting an interview with Zarif is ironically an easy, tough task. It is easy since there are multiple questions – thanks to a barrage of criticism unleashed by his opponents – to ask him about, and it is tough since his response to a seemingly simple question may play into the hands of his opponents to launch a torrent of fresh attacks against the foreign minister.

shargh-zarifSharq daily’s Maryam Yousefi was given face time with the foreign minister on the day he was expected to induct the new spokesman of his ministry. Her questions covered a wide range of issues including the Worriers, their threats and JCPOA and Zarif answered all of them despite his busy schedule. The following is PART ONE of the full translation of what Zarif said in the interview:


Following the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), three groups opposed the nuclear deal: One group at home, another in Israel, and the third were leaders of some Persian Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia. The reason behind the opposition from hardline Israelis and the Likud Party is completely clear. Riyadh has also had a foreign policy shift after the passing of King Abdullah and the rise to power of King Salman. But, what objective do the opponents of JCPOA at home pursue and who are they opposed to?

You cannot be privy to people’s intentions, but the fact is that because of long-running disagreements between Iran and the West, a sizable number of Iranian officials, elites and the Iranian nation are suspicious of Western intentions.

For the very reason, it’s natural for concerns to grow when a deal is struck, particularly over an issue which has been the bone of contention for quite a while.

The Americans and Westerners have done a great deal of injustice to the Iranian people and when a deal as such is cut, it’s very natural of the people who are suspicious of US objectives to take the agreement with a pinch of salt. I think such opposition has its roots in this fact.

Those who were not part of the negotiations knew little about the atmosphere and details of the talks and were thus concerned about the outcome of the process.

I think once we enter the implementation phase of JCPOA in earnest – and with God’s grace, we allow the international atmosphere to take a turn for the better – the Iranian mistrust of the Americans won’t interfere with the proper implementation of the deal.

We can create the conditions in a way that even if the Americans sought to throw obstacles in the way of the deal’s implementation, the international atmosphere wouldn’t allow them to do so.

For instance, in the 1990s, when the Americans were at the height of their power, they tried to slap sanctions against Iran, but nobody in the world listened to them.

At present, we have no trust in US behavior, but the difference between my friends present at the talks and I on the one hand and opponents of the deal on the other is that we believe we can create conditions which won’t allow hardline Americans to violate their obligations.


Are you saying the grave concern of the opponents of JCPOA in Iran is establishment of relations with the US?

They might be concerned about it, too, but their major concern is that the Americans may renege on their obligations and fail to implement JCPOA; that’s their real source of concern.

Worries that JCPOA may turn into an excuse for establishment of ties with America might seem real to some, but the fact of the matter is that Iran’s foreign policy is defined based on the opinion of high-ranking officials and nobody needs to be worried that for an issue of such great importance, measures which are against the wishes of officials might be taken.

I assure the opponents that the Foreign Ministry and the country’s diplomacy apparatus do not seek to go down that path.


At a time when the implementation of JCPOA is nearing, the Middle East has turned more insecure. Yet, Iran plays a more courageous role in Middle East developments and a new regional balance has emerged. How was the new balance struck?

There is not just one reason behind the emergence of an international phenomenon, rather several contributing factors must be taken into account. Iran has always been a powerful country. Its might has external dimensions, including vast geography, abundant natural resources and valuable human resources.

On top of that, Iran’s power has internal, spiritual dimensions such as the message of the Revolution, public resistance in the face of pressure and their support for the establishment.

In addition to these two, the country has external, spiritual powers, too. Iran’s support for [Lebanon’s] Resistance [Movement] and avoidance of aligning with regional dictators over the past 35 years are some of the factors in the latter group.


What is your take on the role of JCPOA in increasing Iran’s power at this juncture? 

The things I just mentioned are dimensions of Iran’s authority that have always existed, but there have been some obstacles in the way of Iran wielding power and asserting influence. One such barrier is a plot by Israel, some regional countries and hardline Americans to cast Iran as a security threat. JCPOA has foiled their plot.

In other words, it cannot be said that JCPOA is the main reason behind Iran’s power in the region. The talks that were held after the Government of Prudence and Hope took office gave more power to Iran, but it does not mean that these sources of power were non-existent in the past.

Iran had genuine sources of power, both physical and non-physical, but JCPOA has helped the country clear the hurdles that wouldn’t allow its power to turn into influence.