Zarif Letter to UN, New York Times Op-ed

January 11, 2016

On January 8, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticized Riyadh’s policy towards Tehran and alleged that, “Some in Saudi Arabia are on a mission to drag the entire region to conflict.” In a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, he wrote that Iran had “no desire” to escalate tensions that have been mounting since Saudi Arabia executed dissident Shiite cleric Nimr al Nimr on January 2. Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Tehran after protestors attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and Consulate in Mashhad. 

In a January 11 op-ed for The New York Times, Zarif outlined what he sees as Riyadh’s three-part strategy to derail the nuclear deal and perpetuate tension in the region: “pressuring the West; promoting regional instability through waging war in Yemen and sponsoring extremism; and directly provoking Iran.” The following is the full text of his letter to Ban Ki-moon with excerpts from his op-ed.

 

Letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
 
I would like to begin by wishing you a happy, healthy, and peaceful 2016, ask for your indulgence to brief you about the unfortunate developments between Iran and Saudi Arabia that have unfolded in the past few days.
 
We are taking the final steps to announce the Implementation Day of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran and E3/EU+3 next week. We had all hoped -- and continue to believe – that the resolution of the nuclear issue would enable all of us to focus on addressing the real challenge of extremist violence and terrorism that is ravaging our region and the world.  President Rouhani has repeatedly declared that his foreign policy priorities are friendship with neighbors, peace and stability in the region and constructive engagement across the globe. His initiative for World Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE) received unanimous support from the UN General Assembly in 2013, promising a more enlightened far-sighted global campaign against this menace.  
 
Regrettably, immediately after the successful conclusion of the first interim nuclear agreement between Iran and E3/EU+3 in November 2013, Saudi Arabia focused all its resources to prevent or defeat a comprehensive deal, and preclude normalization in the region. Today, there are indications that some in Saudi Arabia are on a mission to drag the entire region to conflict, fearing that removal of the smokescreen of the manufactured Iranian nuclear threat would expose the real global threat posed by extremists and their sponsors. It is an unfortunate reality that most extremist perpetrators of acts of terror from September 11, 2001 to the recent senseless terrorist shooting in San Bernardino and all other episodes of extremist carnage in between -- whether in Beirut, Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus, Istanbul and Peshawar, or in Paris, London, Moscow, Madrid and Ottawa – and most members of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS and Al-Nusra Front were either Saudi nationals, or those mis-educated in Saudi financed schools or otherwise brainwashed by petro-financed demagogues, who have promoted an anti-Islamic message of hatred, exclusion and sectarianism across the globe for decades.
 
The Saudi strategy to derail the nuclear agreement and maintain and even exacerbate tension in the region has focused on three inter-related domains: PR and pressure in the West, promotion and even active engagement in war and violence in the region and direct provocation against Iran. Examples of the first two are well-known, while the cases of provocation against Iran have not grabbed international headline primarily thanks to Iranian prudent restraint.
 
The Saudi PR machine in Washington, with its strange bedfellows, spared no effort to mislead the US public about the nuclear agreement throughout last summer.  While it failed to defeat the nuclear deal, it now works overtime to compensate by spreading delusional hype against Iran.
 
On another front, in addition to supporting extremist terrorists in Syria and elsewhere, the senseless war waged by Saudi Arabia in Yemen has raged for nearly 10 months of senseless aerial campaign targeting the people of Yemen. At the same time impeding humanitarian access has led to the starvation of innocent civilians in Yemen, and all international efforts to establish a cease-fire and begin a dialogue between Yemeni groups and factions have been thwarted by Saudi Arabia.
 
Saudi authorities have also engaged in numerous direct and at times lethal provocations against Iran, as the third pillar of this strategy. Iranian self-restraint has prevented this concerted campaign to achieve its goal of exacerbating tension:
 
- Saudi bombers have hit Iranian diplomatic facilities in Yemen several times, including on April 24 and September 18, 2015 and January 7, 2016, killing two local service personnel, injuring a number of Yemeni guards and inflicting damage to the buildings.
 
- Saudi authorities have persistently mistreated Iranian pilgrims, fueling public outrage in Iran.
 
- On March 28, 2015, two Saudi immigration officers sexually molested two Iranian boys in Jeddah Airport in broad daylight. They have yet to be punished, as promised, for a crime that they and their extremist cohorts continue to shamelessly boast about on Saudi social media.
 
- On September 24, 2015, as a result of the stampede during the Haj pilgrimage in Mena, a suspiciously disproportionate number of Iranian pilgrims -- 464 innocent men, women, elderly and children -- were killed, mostly because of at least utter Saudi negligence, and 521 were injured. For days, Saudi authorities arrogantly refused to respond to the repeated requests by the grieved families and the Iranian government to have access to and repatriate the bodies; a problem that continues to linger.
 
- Saudi government appointed preachers have made a routine practice of hate speech not only against Iran but against all Shiite Muslims. One most nefarious example is a sermon on March 31, 2015 by Abdul Rahman al-Sudais, the Government-appointed prayer leader at the Mecca Holy Mosque in which he made a litany of hate speech and incitement for violence against all Shiites, including: “Our war with Iran, say that out loud, is a war between Sunnis and Shiites…Our war with Iran...is truly sectarian. If it was not sectarian, we will make it sectarian...Our disagreement with Rafidha (a derogatory reference to Shiites) will not be removed, nor our suicide to fight them... as long as they are on the face of the earth...”. The provocative and unjustifiable beheading of a leading Shiite scholar on January 2, 2016 followed another hate speech by the same demagogue on January 1, 2016.
 
- Saudi Arabia has also engaged in a publicly-declared economic warfare against Iran, boasting about their intention to strangulate Iranian economy through drastic reduction of oil prices.
 
- Saudi-backed terrorists have repeatedly targeted Iranian diplomatic posts, most notably through suicide attacks in Beirut on November 19, 2013 and in Peshawar on February 24, 2014, killing 2 Iranian diplomats, 4 Lebanese and 3 Pakistani security guards, injuring many innocent bystanders and causing extensive damage to the buildings.
 
In all these cases, the Islamic Republic of Iran, confident of the strength of its cause, conviction and people, refused to retaliate or break or even reduce diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia.  Iran has called for Islamic unity in the face of Saudi sectarian hate mongering. And while Saudi Government or its agents directly targeted Iranian diplomatic facilities, killing Iranian diplomats and other nationals, the Iranian Government has unequivocally condemned the assault against Saudi Embassy and Consulate on January 2, 2016, ensured the safety and dignity of all Saudi diplomats, took immediate measures to help restore Saudi diplomatic compound, declared at the highest level its determination to bring all perpetrators to justice, took disciplinary action against those failing to perform their duties to protect diplomatic compounds, and initiated an internal investigation to determine the causes and prevent any recurrence. Let me reiterate that the Islamic Republic of Iran is fully committed to comply with all its obligations in accordance with international law and relevant international instruments, especially the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963.
 
We have no desire or interest in escalation of tension in our neighborhood. We all need to be united in the face of continued threats posed by extremists against all of us. In fact, from the first days after his election, President Rouhani and I have sent public and private signals to Saudi Arabia about our readiness to engage in dialogue and accommodation to promote regional stability and combat destabilizing extremist violence.  Saudi Arabia has to make a crucial choice. It can either continue supporting extremist terrorists and promoting sectarian hatred, or it can opt for good neighborliness and play a constructive role in promoting regional stability.  We hope Saudi Arabia will be persuaded to heed the call of reason.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.
 
M. Javad Zarif
 
Op-ed for The New York Times
 
Saudi Arabia seems to fear that the removal of the smoke screen of the nuclear issue will expose the real global threat: its active sponsorship of violent extremism. The barbarism is clear. At home, state executioners sever heads with swords, as in the recent execution of 47 prisoners in one day, including Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a respected religious scholar who devoted his life to promoting nonviolence and civil rights. Abroad, masked men sever heads with knives. …
 
The Saudi strategy to derail the nuclear agreement and perpetuate — and even exacerbate — tension in the region has three components: pressuring the West; promoting regional instability through waging war in Yemen and sponsoring extremism; and directly provoking Iran. Riyadh’s military campaign in Yemen and its support for extremists are well known. Provocations against Iran have not grabbed international headlines, primarily thanks to our prudent restraint. …
 
Throughout these episodes, Iran, confident of its strength, has refused to retaliate or break — or even downgrade — diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. We have until now responded with restraint; but unilateral prudence is not sustainable. …
 
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