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

Foreign Minister Zarif says he is not running for president in 2021.

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.

Sharq 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 the THIRD and final part of the full translation of what Zarif said in the interview (PART TWO):


Opponents of JCPOA base their opposition on arguments that the Supreme Leader is opposed to the deal. However, your deputy, Mr. Araghchi, told a TV news program during the talks there was a commission overseen by the Leader. He said that the commission sent reports on the talks to the Leader. On the eve of July 14, when the nuclear deal was made public, Mr. Araghchi posted a photo of the Leader signing a document on his Instagram page. Tell us more about the commission.

The Leader closely supervised everything when it came to JCPOA and nuclear negotiations. We presented reports to the Leader in a few face-to-face meetings. The special commission which was tasked with continuous follow-up of JCPOA brought together a number of senior establishment officials.

The commission regularly studied the case and presented reports to the Leader. Immediately after each round of talks, the negotiating team submitted detailed reports to the Leader. That I have always said the Leader has been in on every detail of the talks is true, but he would not weigh in on details.

Whenever the Leader saw it fit, he would give us advice and remind us of the red lines. We tried our best to act on his guidelines.

We held talks day and night. Those sessions were solely dedicated to negotiations; no one would deliver a speech. If there was any speech, I repeated the Leader’s comments word by word.

Negotiations are different. You need to win the other side over, and a deal reached in negotiations is a text agreed to [by all sides to the talks] and does not merely represent the views of one side.

We attended the negotiations in line with the Supreme Leader’s guidelines and we used negotiating tactics to make sure the red lines set by the Leader are not crossed. We tried to take into account his views during and after the negotiations. With God’s grace, we were fairly successful and a majority of observers have attested to that.

And now, we have invested all our efforts in complying with and implementing the issues the Leader included in a letter to the president on JCPOA. The ideas that the Leader hold are in line with the spirit of JCPOA. They also include some advice to make sure that the deal is properly implemented.

Mr. Zarif, whether you like it or not, by attending the recent nuclear negotiations you shattered the taboo of Iran and the US holding talks, they cost you a lot, though. Do you think that a day will come when the flags of the two countries are put next to each other for negotiations on Tehran-Washington ties and not on other topics?

We need to pay attention to realities. Before the 11th government took office, the Leader had given the go-ahead to limited nuclear negotiations with the US.

We know the outcome of nuclear talks with the US, but we are still waiting to see whether the Americans will honor their obligations.

The negotiations I hold with US Secretary of State John Kerry or the meetings that my colleagues or deputies have with American officials are intended to make sure that the Americans will fulfill their commitments.

To us, the nuclear talks and JCPOA are important. We need to monitor the behavior and measures of the Americans in the negotiations and their performance in implementing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Only then could it be said whether or not the negotiations with the US are useful for the country. For the time being, it has not been concluded that talks with Washington can be beneficial.

If the Americans improve the atmosphere and help remove the wall of distrust through their behavior, and if they no longer seek to oppose and show hostility toward our revolution, Iran’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence, then other topics can be pondered.

What conditions are we in now?

At the moment, the Americans are going through a big test. Their performance has not been very satisfactory so far. Unfortunately, their remarks after the conclusion of JCPOA have painted an unreliable image of them in Iran, though they claim such comments are intended to win over the public opinion at home and leave these stages behind.

We need to wait and see whether the Americans can shed this image and present a different image of themselves to the Iranian, regional and world people.

Will Mr. Zarif run for president in the 2021 elections?

Do you categorically rule out that possibility?

I won’t run for president.

You put on a smile when you said “No”. Does that mean Mohammad Javad Zarif can be a future president?

My answer is still “No”. I ask God to help me with the current responsibility so that I can partly appreciate the kindness of my people. At present, all efforts of me and my colleagues focus on this issue.