“We felt that the United States had learned that at least as far as Iran is concerned, sanctions do produce economic hardship but do not produce the political outcomes that they intended them to produce, and I thought that the Americans had learned that lesson. Unfortunately I was wrong,” Zarif said Sunday in an exclusive interview with CNN in Tehran.
Zarif retained a clear belief during the hour-long interview in the Foreign Ministry that the 2015 nuclear deal could be revived regardless of the US administration under President Donald Trump denouncing it. In May, Trump withdrew from the deal, known as the JCPOA, and intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, calling it a “horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made.” The first wave of sanctions that were to “snap back” under the Trump move hit the import of car parts and precious metals, and the purchase of US dollars on August 6.
Europe pressure might help
Zarif dismissed the possibility of future talks with the Trump administration but maintained the hope that the Iran nuclear deal can be revived if pressure from the European allies would persuade Trump to change his mind.
“We do not want to revisit that nuclear deal,” he said. “We want the United States to implement that nuclear deal. Today, the closest US allies are resisting those sanctions. The US is basically arm-twisting, it attempts to put pressure. I don’t want to use the term bullying ... [but] that’s what it amounts to.”
The top Iranian diplomat said the US is addicted to applying sanctions on Iran.
“I believe there is a disease in the United States and that is addiction to sanctions,” he said, adding, “Even during the Obama administration the United States put more emphasis on keeping the sanctions it had not lifted rather than implementing its obligation on the sanctions it had lifted.”
Earlier on Sunday, Zarif tweeted criticism of the US State Department establishing the “Iran Action Group” to coordinate the US and its allies’ pressures on Iran.
He wrote, “Now an action group dreams of doing the same through pressure misinformation and demagoguery – never again!”
He told CNN that the same 50s thinking embodied the current US approach. “I think the US administration still believes that it is working with the government it installed in Iran after the 1953 coup,” he said. “As they say, they have to wake up and smell the coffee.”
Should Trump and Rouhani meet?
Asked whether Iranian President Hassan Rouhani could benefit from a one-on-one meeting with President Trump – as Trump has preferred to tackle North Korea and Russia – Zarif said the previous nuclear deal had to be respected first.
“Not when the previous huge progress that we made was thrown out,” he said of a tête-à-tête. “That [previous deal] was for us the litmus test of whether we can trust the United States or not.”
Would a lasting pact ever be possible with the man who wrote “The Art of the Deal”?
“It depends on President Trump – whether he wants to make us believe that he is a reliable partner,” he said. “Now if we spend time with him and he signs another agreement… How long will it last? Until the end of his administration? Until he departs from the place where he put his signature on the agreement?”
Further sanctions are due to kick back in early November against the Iranian oil industry, which accounts for a fifth of Iran’s GDP. Zarif said decades of pressure meant the Iranian people would be resistant to this pressure, yet it would have an impact.
“US sanctions have always hurt,” he said. “What it’s hurting, though, is people who want to buy medicine. People who want to buy food.”
Zarif said the recent economic problems, which have seen the local currency slide and fruit and vegetable prices double, were due to preparatory measures being taken.
“The economic upheaval that you see right now in Iran is because of the measures that needed to be taken to be prepared for those days, so we are prepared for the worst case scenario,” he said.
“We spent a lot of time” said Zarif, of the years-long, intense and detailed negotiations that he and then-US secretary of state John Kerry led.
“It was not an easy political decision for the Iranian government and for me personally and for President Rouhani. It may be a credit for some foreign ministers to spend hours upon hours with the US secretary of state, but it’s certainly not a credit in Iran.”
Yet he said, “That’s what diplomats are for. Part of our salary is to take personal hits for following national interests – that’s what our job is.”