Following US President Donald Trump’s move to pull out the US of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed between Iran and the P5+1 in July 2015, Iran and the remaining signatories to the deal began negotiations to find a way to preserve the deal.
Among the moves made by Europeans so far to this end, in addition to issuing statements voicing their disapproval at Washington’s move and announcing their support for preserving the deal and their commitment to its terms, have been putting forward a package of proposals to save the deal and the activation of the 1996 ‘blocking statute,’ aimed at allowing their companies to ignore US unilateral sanctions and continue trade with Iran as part of this package.
After announcing its decision, the US said it will also reinstate its unilateral sanctions against the Islamic Republic, the first phase of which took effect on August 6, to cripple Iran’s economy and claimed that it will reduce its oil exports to zero.
In reaction to US claim, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, "Americans should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace. Likewise a war would be the mother of all wars."
A few while, later, however, adopting a less aggressive stance, Trump said he is willing to enter into direct and unconditional talks with Iran. Trump’s proposal was followed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo setting a number of impossible conditions for such a negotiation between Iran and the US.
The suggestion was met with different reactions in Iran, with some describing it as an offer worth considering and some adopting a rigid stance totally against it.
Commenting on the issue in an exclusive interview with Iran Daily, Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif said “we will neither be extremely optimistic nor very pessimistic” about US proposal.
He added, “We will move forward based on our national interests. We should predict the outcome of each move first.
Excerpts of the interview follow:
IRAN DAILY: Trump has proposed Iran to enter into unconditional and direct negotiations with the US, while, a little bit later, Pompeo, set a number of conditions, which Iran will never agree to, for talks between Tehran and Washington. What do these contradictory moves and remarks indicate? Is direct negotiation between Iran and the US a possibility?
MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF: There is no consensus in the US government on this issue. Mr. Trump announces that the US is ready to enter into direct and unconditional negotiations with Iran and, two hours later, the country’s secretary of state sets three completely impossible conditions for talks between Tehran and Washington. These are indicative of confusion in US foreign policy apparatus.
All developments are required to be monitored and observed in foreign policy. We will definitely monitor and observe all – not just one – statements and moves by US officials and, then, we will make our decisions based on safeguarding the national interests. Iranian decision-makers have so far put in a prudent performance, which is acknowledged by the entire world. At present, except one or two countries, no other state supports and approves of US policies against Iran. We will move forward based on our national interests. We will neither be extremely optimistic nor very pessimistic in this regard. We should predict the outcome of each move first.
In case the US believes in negotiations, first, we must see to what extent it is willing to show good will toward an agreement which has been being implemented for more than two years and how it plans to compensate for the obstacles it has posed to the JCPOA and its violation of its terms. It is only in this case that the US would be able to put forward other proposals.
Have Iran’s negotiations with the remaining parties to the JCPOA — now known as the P4+1 — on European’s package of proposals produced any tangible result?
Europeans’ package contains a number of general policies the main outlines and topics of which have been announced including the availability of banking channels for Iran’s financial transactions and the country’s oil sales remaining at its present level. US unilateral sanctions to be reimposed in November pertain to these two sectors. Europeans have also taken other measures to preserve the JCPOA including activating small and medium sized companies and holding talks to reactivate the  ‘blocking statute’ and issuing the permit for the European Investment Bank [to do business with Iran]. As a result of the major efforts that I undertook during my visit to Singapore [a few days ago] for the conclusion of a friendship treaty with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), I came to this conclusion that Europeans not only are working within the EU to save the JCPOA, but also have made and taken extensive moves and measures outside the union to this end.
Would you please list some of these moves and measures?
For instance, Europeans have held separate talks with each country to persuade them to continue their oil purchase from Iran or have asked those states that have not been among the buyers of Iranian oil to import crude from the country. In addition, they have called on countries to adopt the same model they are using, involving activating accounts for the Central Bank of Iran in their national banks and their central financial institutes. As a result of these measures the US has been isolated.
To what extent these moves and measures will cause Iran meet its expectations within the framework of its interests?
Europeans’ measures yet fail to be at a level we expected. However, we believe that they are moving in the right direction. Some of the sanctions that went into force on August 6 such as the one targeting Iran’s international financial transactions that involve US dollars, have been among the areas in which Americans have always, even at the time when they were a member of the JCPOA, hindered Iran’s efforts. Thus, we expect Europeans to take a greater number of measures. Nevertheless, we maintain that Europeans have made good moves to preserve the JCPOA.
For instance, the recent delivery of five [turboprop] ATR planes to Iran was an outcome of efforts by the European governments and their pressures on the US. They managed to obtain the permit to send the number of ATR planes, which were available, to Tehran. This comes as the first sanction reimposed by the US on Tehran targeted Iran’s aviation sector and involved the revocation of the permit for aircraft sales to the Middle Eastern state. This move is indicative of the anti-human rights nature of the Trump administration and its moves against Iran. While Washington waited until August 6 to revoke other permits, they did not show any patience for imposing sanction on aircraft sales and reinstated it from the very first day [they withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal]. This move, per se, is enough to show the international community the extent and level of the US government’s animosity toward the people of Iran. They turn a blind eye to an issue completely humanitarian in nature and target the safety and health of Iran’s air passengers and, then, they claim to be supporting the people of Iran.
These issues show that although moves and measures by the Europeans have failed to be at a level to live up to our expectations, they have been made in the right direction. To be fair, they have fulfilled their commitments within the framework of the JCPOA. Nevertheless, we expect them to honor their commitments more practically and maintain that an important part of these promises must be implemented prior to the going into force of the banking and oil sanctions [in November].
Therefore, you believe that the P4+1 will be able to adopt a practical solution to counter US unilateral oil sanctions before the deadline for their imposition.
Based on our observations of the trend started and followed in the international community and the resistance mounted by all countries, not only the European ones, and Iran’s oil partners, in the face of the reinstatement of US sanctions, we believe that we can get the required guarantees to preserve the JCPOA. Implementing the measures required to preserve the JCPOA has been more time-taking than the Europeans thought. They are required to modify this process at the earliest.
Before the sanctions reach the stage of coming into force, we are required to make sure that they will fail to have any impact on Iran’s interests. Another important issue is that given the sanctions on precious metals and auto have taken already effect, the Europeans are expected to take the necessary measures to enable Iran use the benefit of the JCPOA in these sectors as well.
Along with their efforts to ditch the JCPOA, US officials have sent different messages to Iran proposing Tehran to enter into direct and unconditional negotiations with Washington. The offer has been met with different reactions in Iran with some believing that holding talks with the US is not a taboo. What is your take on the US proposal for talks?
Our action has always been louder than our words. Prior to this, we began negotiations with the US after obtaining the permission of Iran’s top officials. We have held the largest number of negotiations with the US. These negotiations began in 2013 and had continued up until a few while ago which has been unprecedented in the history of the US. During the negotiations with Iran, the then US secretary of state John Kerry set an all-time record in the short history of his country in term of being outside the US for conducting negotiations.
Thus, the problem is not whether to negotiate with the US or not as over the past months — prior to US pullout from the JCPOA — our diplomatic officials held talks with Washington’s diplomatic delegation. However, the question is to what extent the outcome of talks with the US can be trusted. None of the sides would like to enter a time-taking process which is full of tensions and futile.
Trusting the US administration, particularly, its incumbent government is out of the question as the world does not trust Washington. But to what extent could we be certain that when we came to a conclusion, the result [of the negotiations] will be implemented. Currently, we have an agreement which, as acknowledged by the entire world, is a good deal. It has a supervisory mechanism. The International Atomic Energy Agency 12 times reported that Iran has fully implemented the agreement. Then what was the problem that the US pulled out of the deal. In case individuals’ instant and temporary inclinations or pressures by pressure groups are to shape the policies of a country, then why to negotiate in the first place. Conducting a negotiation requires a number of preconditions and requirements which must be paid attention to seriously. Although the Islamic Republic of Iran has never been a country to reject a proposal for negotiations, certain conditions are required to be met for a negotiation to be held.
As a political figure with great popularity among Iranians, what is your comment on Iran’s unfavorable economic condition created as a consequence of the people’s concerns over the reinstatement of US sanctions?
I believe that Iran possesses numerous opportunities and capacities. What the JCPOA did was to unchain the country to use its capacities and opportunities. The US has done its best to chain the country again and has begun to create a hostile atmosphere against Iran. What has happened over the past few months [to Iran’s economy] has been more psychological and as a consequence of efforts to launch a psychological warfare against our country than as a result of something real and on the ground.
Comparing our present and past conditions, we see that prior to the signing of the JCPOA, in addition to the US, the UNSC, Europe, Australia, Canada and Japan had also imposed sanctions on Iran. But, at present, all these sanctions have been lifted.
A major part of these problems are required to be solved by the government’s effective policymaking.
President Rouhani’s implicitly warned that Iran could close the Strait of Hormuz if US seeks to stop the country’s oil exports. Has it been aimed at countering Washington’s psychological warfare?
What we announced was that we are interested in ensuring security and stability in the region. We had earlier shown our interest in this issue by accepting Paragraph 8 of United Nations Security Council Resolution 598, fighting Daesh and extremism in the region and taking other measures. We have proven that in addition to being willing to ensure the security of the entire region we intend to guarantee the security of each country in it.
As President Rouhani said earlier, we seek to amend Iran’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain. We have always welcomed dialogue. But Americans made a meaningless claim saying they seek to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero, which is impossible. The countries currently the US is negotiating with have told Washington that they will continue their oil purchases from Iran.
What was stressed by President Rouhani was in fact a warning to the US and a move to counter their psychological warfare.
What is your reaction to some countries’, particularly Oman’s, proposal to mediate between Iran and the US?
Countries send us messages proposing to mediate between the two countries. The Swiss Embassy, as US interest section in Iran, has also always passed messages [between Iran and the US] during the past 39 years and is still doing the same thing. Definitely, those regional countries possessing political wisdom, such as Oman, are not interested in seeing the present condition and would like to make a move to prevent the crisis from worsening.