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Netanyahu at UNGA: On Iran, Syria

On October 1, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the nuclear deal with Iran during his address to the U.N. General Assembly. “By fueling Iran’s aggressions with billions of dollars in sanctions relief, it makes war more likely,” he said. He also spoke at length about Iran’s policies in the region and support for proxies like Hezbollah in Lebanon. The following is an excerpt from his speech.  

Thirty-one years ago, as Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, I stood at this podium for the first time.
I spoke that day against a resolution sponsored by Iran to expel Israel from the United Nations. 
Then as now, the UN was obsessively hostile towards Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East.
Then as now, some sought to deny the one and only Jewish state a place among the nations.
I ended that first speech by saying: 
Gentlemen, check your fanaticism at the door.
More than three decades later, as the Prime Minister of Israel, I am again privileged to speak from this podium.
And for me, that privilege has always come with a moral responsibility to speak the truth.
So after three days of listening to world leaders praise the nuclear deal with Iran, I begin my speech today by saying: 
Ladies and Gentlemen, check your enthusiasm at the door.
You see, this deal doesn't make peace more likely. 
By fueling Iran’s aggressions with billions of dollars in sanctions relief, it makes war more likely.
Just look at what Iran has done in the last six months alone, since the framework agreement was announced in Lausanne.
Iran boosted its supply of devastating weapons to Syria.
Iran sent more soldiers of its Revolutionary Guard into Syria. Iran sent thousands of Afghani and Pakistani Shi’ite fighters to Syria.
Iran did all this to prop up Assad's brutal regime.
Iran also shipped tons of weapons and ammunitions to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, including another shipment just two days ago.
Iran threatened to topple Jordan.
Iran’s proxy Hezbollah smuggled into Lebanon SA-22 missiles to down our planes, and Yakhont cruise missiles to sink our ships.
Iran supplied Hezbollah with precision-guided surface-to-surface missiles and attack drones so it can accurately hit any target in Israel.
Iran aided Hamas and Islamic Jihad in building armed drones in Gaza.
Iran also made clear its plans to open two new terror fronts against Israel, promising to arm Palestinians in the West Bank and sending its Revolutionary Guard generals to the Golan Heights, from which its operatives recently fired rockets on northern Israel.
Israel will continue to respond forcefully to any attacks against it from Syria.
Israel will continue to act to prevent the transfer of strategic weapons to Hezbollah from and through Syrian territory.
Every few weeks, Iran and Hezbollah set up new terror cells in cities throughout the world. Three such cells were recently uncovered in Kuwait, Jordan and Cyprus.
In May, security forces in Cyprus raided a Hezbollah agent’s apartment in the city of Larnaca. There they found five tons of ammonium nitrate, that's roughly the same amount of ammonium nitrate that was used to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City.
And that’s just in one apartment, in one city, in one country.
But Iran is setting up dozens of terror cells like this around the world, ladies and gentlemen, they're setting up those terror cells in this hemisphere too.
I repeat: Iran’s been doing all of this, everything that I've just described,  just in the last six months, when it was trying to convince the world to remove the sanctions.
Now just imagine what Iran will do after those sanctions are lifted.
Unleashed and un-muzzled, Iran will go on the prowl, devouring more and more prey.
In the wake of the nuclear deal, Iran is spending billions of dollars on weapons and satellites.
You think Iran is doing that to advance peace?
You think hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief and fat contracts will turn this
rapacious tiger into a kitten?
If you do, you should think again.
In 2013 president Rouhani began his so-called charm offensive here at the UN. Two years later, Iran is executing more political prisoners, escalating its regional aggression, and rapidly expanding its global terror network.
You know they say, actions speak louder than words.
But in Iran’s case, the words speak as loud as the actions.
Just listen to the Deputy Commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Quds Force. Here's what he said in February:
“The Islamic revolution is not limited by geographic borders….” He boasted that Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Yemen are among the countries being “conquered by the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
And for those of you who believe that the deal in Vienna will bring a change in Iran’s policy, just listen to what Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said five days after the nuclear deal was reached: “Our policies towards the arrogant government of the United States will not change.”
The United States, he vowed, will continue to be Iran’s enemy.
While giving the mullahs more money is likely to fuel more repression inside Iran, it will definitely fuel more aggression outside Iran.
As the leader of a country defending itself every day against Iran’s growing aggression, I wish I could take comfort in the claim that this deal blocks Iran’s path to nuclear weapons.
But I can’t, because it doesn’t.
This deal does place several constraints on Iran’s nuclear program.
And rightly so, because the international community recognizes that Iran is so dangerous.
But you see here’s the catch:
Under this deal, If Iran doesn’t change its behavior, In fact, if it becomes even more dangerous in the years to come, the most important constraints will still be automatically lifted by year 10 and by year 15.
That would place a militant Islamic terror regime weeks away from having the fissile material for an entire arsenal of nuclear bombs.
That just doesn’t make any sense.
I’ve said that if Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country.
But this deal, this deal will treat Iran like a normal country even if it remains a dark theocracy that conquers its neighbors, sponsors terrorism worldwide and chants “Death to Israel”, “Death to America.”
Does anyone seriously believe that flooding a radical theocracy with weapons and cash will curb its appetite for aggression?
Do any of you really believe that a theocratic Iran with sharper claws and sharper fangs will be more likely to change its stripes?
So here's a general rule that I've learned and you must have learned in your life time - When bad behavior is rewarded, it only gets worse.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have long said that the greatest danger facing our world is the coupling of militant Islam with nuclear weapons.
And I’m gravely concerned that the nuclear deal with Iran will prove to be the marriage certificate of that unholy union.
I know that some well-intentioned people sincerely believe that this deal is the best way to block Iran’s path to the bomb.
But one of history’s most important yet least learned lessons is this:
The best intentions don’t prevent the worst outcomes.
The vast majority of Israelis believe that this nuclear deal with Iran is a very bad deal.
And what makes matters even worse is that we see a world celebrating this bad deal, rushing to embrace and do business with a regime openly committed to our destruction.
Last week, Major General Salehi, the commander of Iran’s army, proclaimed this:
“We will annihilate Israel for sure.”
“We are glad that we are in the forefront of executing the Supreme Leader’s order to destroy Israel.”
And as for the Supreme Leader himself, a few days after the nuclear deal was announced, he released his latest book.
Here it is.
It’s a 400-page screed detailing his plan to destroy the State of Israel.
Last month, Khamenei once again made his genocidal intentions clear before Iran's top clerical body, the Assembly of Experts.
He spoke about Israel, home to over six million Jews.
He pledged, “there will be no Israel in 25 years.”
Seventy years after the murder of six million Jews,
Iran’s rulers promise to destroy my country.
Murder my people.
And the response from this body, the response from nearly every one of the governments represented here has been absolutely nothing!
Utter silence!
Deafening silence.
Perhaps you can now understand why Israel is not joining you in celebrating this deal.
If Iran’s rulers were working to destroy your countries, perhaps you’d be less enthusiastic about the deal. 
If Iran’s terror proxies were firing thousands of rockets at your cities, perhaps you’d be more measured in your praise.
And if this deal were unleashing a nuclear arms race in your neighborhood, perhaps you’d be more reluctant to celebrate.
But don’t think that Iran is only a danger to Israel.
Besides Iran’s aggression in the Middle East and its terror around the world, Iran is also building intercontinental ballistic missiles whose sole purpose is to carry nuclear warheads.
Now remember this: Iran already has missiles that can reach Israel.
So those intercontinental ballistic missiles that Iran is building - they're not meant for us –
They’re meant for you.
For Europe.
For America.
For raining down mass destruction – anytime, anywhere.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It’s not easy to oppose something that is embraced by the greatest powers in the world.
Believe me, it would be far easier to remain silent.
But throughout our history, the Jewish people have learned the heavy price of silence.
And as the Prime Minister of the Jewish State, as someone who knows that history,
I refuse to be silent.
I’ll say it again:
The days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies –
those days are over.
Not being passive means speaking up about those dangers.
We have. We are.
We will.
Not being passive also means defending ourselves against those dangers.
We have. We are.
And we will.
Israel will not allow Iran to break-in, to sneak-in or to walk-in to the nuclear weapons club. 
I know that preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons remains the official policy of the international community.
But no one should question Israel’s determination to defend itself against those who seek our destruction.
For in every generation, there were those who rose up to destroy our people.
In antiquity, we faced destruction from the ancient empires of Babylon and Rome.
In the Middle Ages, we faced inquisition and expulsion.
And In modern times, we faced pogroms and the Holocaust.
Yet the Jewish people persevered.
And now another regime has arisen, swearing to destroy Israel.
That regime would be wise to consider this:
I stand here today representing Israel, a country 67 years young,
but the nation-state of a people nearly 4,000 years old.
Yet the empires of Babylon and Rome are not represented in this hall of nations.
Neither is the Thousand Year Reich. 
Those seemingly invincible empires are long gone.  
But Israel lives.
The people of Israel live.
The re-birth of Israel is a testament to the indomitable spirit of my people.
For a hundred generations, the Jewish people dreamed of returning to the
Land of Israel.
Even in our darkest hours, and we had so many, even in our darkest hours we never gave up hope of rebuilding our eternal capital Jerusalem. 
The establishment of Israel made realizing that dream possible.
It has enabled us to live as a free people in our ancestral homeland.
It's enabled us to embrace Jews who've come from the four corners of the earth to find refuge from persecution.
They came from war-torn Europe, from Yemen, Iraq, Morocco, from Ethiopia and the Soviet Union, from a hundred other lands.
And today, as a rising tide of anti-Semitism once again sweeps across Europe and elsewhere, many Jews come to Israel to join us in building the Jewish future.
So here’s my message to the rulers of Iran:
Your plan to destroy Israel will fail.
Israel will not permit any force on earth to threaten its future. 
And here's my message to all the countries represented here:
Whatever resolutions you may adopt in this building, whatever decisions you may take in your capitals, Israel will do whatever it must do to defend our state and to defend our people.
Distinguished delegates,
As this deal with Iran moves ahead, I hope you’ll enforce it…how can I put this? With a little more rigor than you showed with the six Security Council resolutions that Iran has systematically violated and which now have been effectively discarded.
Make sure that the inspectors actually inspect.
Make sure that the snapback sanctions actually snap back.
And make sure that Iran’s violations aren’t swept under the Persian rug.
Well, of one thing I can assure you:
Israel will be watching… closely.
What the international community now needs to do is clear:
First, make Iran comply with all its nuclear obligations.
Keep Iran’s feet to the fire.
Second, check Iran’s regional aggression.
Support and strengthen those fighting Iran’s aggression, beginning with Israel.
Third, use sanctions and all the tools available to you to tear down Iran’s global terror network.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Israel is working closely with our Arab peace partners to address our common security challenges from Iran and also the security challenges from ISIS and from others.
We are also working with other states in the Middle East as well as countries in Africa, in Asia and beyond.
Many in our region know that both Iran and ISIS are our common enemies.
And when your enemies fight each other, don’t strengthen either one – weaken both.
Common dangers are clearly bringing Israel and its Arab neighbors closer. 
And as we work together to thwart those dangers, I hope we'll build lasting partnerships – lasting partnerships for security, for prosperity and for peace.   
But in Israel, we never forget one thing. We never forget that the most important partner that Israel has has always been, and will always be, the United States of America.
The alliance between Israel and the United States is unshakeable.
President Obama and I agree on the need to keep arms out of the hands of Iran’s terror proxies.
We agree on the need to stop Iran from destabilizing countries throughout the Middle East.
Israel deeply appreciates President Obama’s willingness to bolster our security, help Israel maintain its qualitative military edge and help Israel confront the enormous challenges we face.
Israel is grateful that this sentiment is widely shared by the American people and its representatives in Congress, by both those who supported the deal and by those who opposed it.
President Obama and I have both said that our differences over the nuclear deal are a disagreement within the family.
Tags: Israel

Iran & Saudi Arabia: New Tensions on Hajj

Tensions began escalating between Iran and Saudi Arabia after a stampede in Mina, Saudi Arabia, killed and injured pilgrims completing a hajj ritual. Saudi officials reported that 769 people had been killed, but Iranian officials estimate the death toll could be as high as 4,700 – including some 464 Iranians. The hajj is the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, which all Muslims are expected to complete once in their lifetime. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed Saudi Arabia for the stampede, calling on the government to “accept its heavy responsibility in this bitter event.” President Hassan Rouhani, who had been in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, cut his trip short and returned to Tehran on September 28. He accused the Saudi government of a "lack of proper management" and set up a task force to investigate the incident.

The stampede was the second major incident causing tensions between the two governments over the hajj, but Tehran had been trying to better relations with kingdom since Rouhani’s election in 2013. In 1987, Iranian pilgrims clashed with Saudi security forces in Mecca. More than 400 people were killed, including 275 Iranians. In response, Iranian protesters attacked the Saudi and Kuwaiti embassies in Tehran.
The following are excerpted remarks from Iranian officials on the Mina stampede.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Today's catastrophic event in Mina, during which a large number of God's guests and believers who had migrated towards God from different countries lost their lives, caused great sorrow in the world of Islam and turned their Eid into mourning. In our dear country too, tens of families, who were eagerly waiting for their dear ones to return from their hajj pilgrimage, are now mourning for them.
With a sorrow-stricken heart and sympathy towards the bereaved, I offer my condolences on the occasion of this grievous event - to the immaculate soul of the Great Messenger (God's greetings be upon him and his household), to the holy presence of God's Wali, the Imam of the Age (may our souls be sacrificed for him) who is the principle mourner of this tragedy, to all the families of the deceased and to all mourners throughout the world of Islam particularly in dear Iran.
I ask God the Forgiving, the Merciful, and the Rewarding to bestow His special mercy on these honorable guests of His and to help, with His kindness, the injured to recover as soon as possible.
I would like to point out the following matters:
1. My representatives and the Hajj Organization should continue their strenuous effort - as they did throughout today - to identify the deceased, to cure the injured, to return them back to the country, and to provide the public with information in this regard as quickly as possible. And all people who can help them in this effort should do so.
2. They should also extend their help to pilgrims from other countries in whatever ways they can and they should fulfill their brotherly and Islamic obligation towards them.
3. The Saudi government should accept its heavy responsibility in this bitter event and it should meet its obligations based on the principles of truth and fairness. The mismanagement and improper measures that caused this catastrophe should not be overlooked.
4. By Allah's favor, those who lost their lives in this event are among those mentioned in this enlightened Quranic ayah: "He who forsakes his home in the cause of Allah, finds in the earth many a refuge, wide and spacious. Should he die as a refugee from home for Allah and His Messenger, His reward becomes due and sure with Allah" [The Holy Quran, 3: 100].
This is a great comfort for the families of the deceased. They rushed towards the Worshipped after doing tawaf, endeavoring in the way of God and spending the blessed hours of Arafat and Mash'ar and while performing hajj rituals. For this reason, they will benefit from the One's grace and mercy.
With my condolences once again to the mourners, I declare three days of national mourning in the country.
—Sept. 24, 2015, in a statement

“Ignorance of the time turned our Festive Day into grief by Mina deadly tragedy. May God accept these sacrifices and devotions from Muslim nations. Using advanced militray equipment, they bombard Yemeni people, yet they fail to act when humanity demands and show their courage only when facing the defenseless people."

“Saudi officials fail to do their duties and act against their responsibilities and show slyness in some cases; if Iran wants to react, Saudi Arabia’s conditions will not be good. In case of reaction, our response will be firm and severe."

“Saudi Arabia evades its duties in helping transfer of corpses of Hajj pilgrims; however, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been self-restraint observing principles of Islamic ethics and the spirit of fraternity in the Islamic world; they should understand though that disrespect of tens of thousands of Iranian pilgrims in Mecca and Medina would precipitate Iran’s ‘severe and strong’ reaction."

—Sept. 30, 2015, in a speech to army cadets



President Hassan Rouhani



The grieving news of the catastrophe of deaths and injuries of over 200 Iranian pilgrims during the Hajj pilgrimage caused a deep grief among me and my accompanying delegation. The passing of our pilgrims in their way to become closer to the Almighty Allah is the clear evidence of the verse of Quran saying “He who leaves his home to get closer to Allah,…he shall reward him”. Without a doubt, the declaration of three days of national mourning [by the Supreme Leader] clearly indicates the depth of the catastrophe and that is the least expressed sympathy of the government and the Iranian nation towards the bereaved families.
I express my deepest condolences over the heart-breaking Mina incident to Imam Mahdi (AS), the grieving families, the Supreme Leader, and the noble Iranian nation. I ask my First Vice-President Mr Jahangiri to form a special committee of addressing the incident and gather the required facilities immediately, and take the following actions and frequently report to the Iranian nation and me:
1.  To dispatch rescue teams and send airplanes to Saudi Arabia if necessary, handling the affairs of the pilgrims and the injured, and transferring the bodies of the dead back to the country and prioritise these measures. It is of chief importance that dear pilgrims feel that they can continue their rituals in peace and security, and return home based on their schedule.
2.  To call on the Governor-Generals to visit the families of the injured and the dead in order to convey my condolences, and deliver the necessary assistance and adequate facilities in dealing with the issue as soon as possible.
3.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the ambassador to Saudi Arabia are required to probe into the incident and take all necessary actions to the rights of the dead and the injured. I also demand that the Saudi government take the responsibility of the mishap and carry out its Islamic and legal duties.
Expressing my condolences to the families of the victims, I ask for mercy from Allah for the dead, swift recovery for the injured, and accepted hajj for the pilgrims accompanied with a safe return to their homes.
—Sept. 25, 2015, in a statement
“We demand Saudi Arabia’s cooperation with Iranian Hajj Headquarters and the Supreme Leader’s permanent delegation to Mecca and Medina in order to deliver medical help to Iranian pilgrims.”
“I have tasked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to contact the Saudi authorities and take necessary actions.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, in remarks to the press
"Saudi Arabia should act upon its legal and international responsibilities vis a vis the foreign nationals and Hajj pilgrims and the aspects of the incident should be clarified precisely.”
"The Saudi media display animations instead of showing the footages of reality (of what happened in Mina), and this is an insult to the Islamic societies.”
—Sept. 29, 2015, according to the press
"If we can change the dynamics and establish good relations between us and Saudi Arabia it will certainly benefit everyone involved. These days, though, it is important to keep in mind that our conditions have become much tougher, because a number of our pilgrims to Hajj were killed in Mina. Thus far 170 Iranian pilgrims have been killed. Dear lives, precious lives, lost.
"This lack of proper management, responsible management, of the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia is extremely sad. We do not know all of the underlying causes, the root causes, so we do not want to pass judgement. But the Saudi Arabian government has made itself quite occupied and concerned elsewhere – Syria, Yemen, the region as whole – and it seems to have forgotten Mecca itself, how to manage it. It seems to have forgotten Mina. It seems to have forgotten the millions of pilgrims that every year go to their country."
—Sept. 27, 2015, in a meeting with American think tanks, academics, and NGOs
Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani
"The weak management of the Saudi government and lack of capability of the Saudi Hajj officials have certainly been the cause of the tragic incident in Mina.”
"The change in Saudi Arabia's security preferences and seeing its security in the war on the Yemeni people and helping the Al Khalifa in suppressing the Bahraini people have played important roles in the emergence of this tragedy.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press
Senior Advisor to the Supreme Leader Ali Akbar Velayati
"What has happened is suspicious because some high-ranking technical, scientific and political figures of the Islamic Republic of Iran have gone missing or been martyred in the incident and the Saudi government should account for the event.”
—Sept. 29, 2015, according to the press

Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian
Abdollahian also called "Riyadh's negligence inexcusable" and announced a committee has been established to look into the incident.
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press

Head of the Judiciary Sadeq Amoli Larijani
“The Saudi government could not easily free itself from the heavy burden and responsibility of the Mina incident; the event is extremely terrible in terms of the scope of the fatalities, and all Islamic countries should devise effective measures to prevent the repetition of similar issues in the future. Contrary to the ongoing trend where Hajj pilgrims received improved services and better facilities, in recent years, the problems stymied the process, with insecurities rising considerably.”
“Saudis’ attribution of the event to heavenly preordained affairs is mere an attempt to bring other strange and ludicrous causes into the event; the real issue is their sheer incompetence in meeting the challenges on Hajj pilgrims’ security, while the heavenly providence has been on the place; Islamic countries would not easily close the case, and the bitter memory of the event will linger on for years to come.”
“The event indicates that Saudi officials are among the most irresponsible and heedless officials ever to rule a country; they should compensate for all aspects of the disaster; the general expectation from a ‘strong government’ is to transparently address all facets of the event, and bring the perpetrators and contributors to justice, along with providing apologies to the multitudes of pilgrims’ families.”
—Sept. 29, 2015, in a meeting with judiciary officials
Chairman of the Expediency Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
“The officials in the Saudi government in charge of maintaining order in this huge ritual are responsible for the incident and should be accountable to the Muslims.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press
Deputy Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Brigadier General Massoud Jazayeri 
"Given the usurper Zionist regime's infiltration and influence on the al-Saud, there is a growing possibility that the crane crash incident at the Grand Mosque (in the holy city of Mecca) and the death of thousands of people in Mina were the result of deliberate crime.”
—Sept. 29, 2015, according to the press
"In the very first hours after the Mina catastrophe, the country’s armed forces expressed their readiness to provide any (necessary) assistance to the relevant bodies and are fully prepared at the moment, too."
“The Islamic Republic of Iran’s armed forces are ready to perform any mission in this regard."
—Sept. 30, 2015, according to the press
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli
"As Iran's interior minister I ask you to order the concerned Saudi Hajj officials to do their utmost cooperation with the Iranian relief workers stationed in Mecca and Mina to organize the affairs of the Iranian pilgrims.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, in a letter to Saudi Interior Minister Mohammad Bin Nayef
Head of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization Saeed Ohadi
"This year's hajj ceremony was disorganized as the Saudi government had hired young and inexperienced people.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press

Head of Parliament’s National Security Committee Alaeddin Boroujerdi
“It’s not the first time that the Saudi government has shown its incompetence during the hajj.”
“Two tragic incidents have taken place in a short time, the Saudi government is not capable of managing hajj pilgrimage.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press

Supreme Leader’s Representative on Hajj Affairs Seyed-Ali Ghaziaskar
“This incident is unprecedented in the history of hajj. Saudi officials do not let our medical team and doctors to reach the affected areas and hospitals to help.”
—Sept. 25, 2015, according to the press
Government Spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht

"The Saudi government has nothing to say and that's why the foreign minister of this country goes into hiding and does not speak with our foreign minister, so we are forced to use other means at our disposal to solve this problem."
—Sept. 30, 2015, according to the press
Minister of Intelligence Seyyed Mohammad Alavi
"The negligence of Al Saud rulers caused this incident and the unwise conduct that they displayed after the Mina tragedy gave this tragedy the appearance of a crime and Muslim world will not forgive them for their behavior."
—Sept. 30, 2015, according to the press


Judiciary Spokesperson Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei

"The Saudi rulers cannot shrug off responsibility for the Mina tragedy and they should be accountable for what happened in Mina last Thursday."

"All material and emotional losses of the Mina incident should be compensated for."
—Sept. 30, 2015, in a speech to Basij forces


Obama & Zarif: Controversial Handshake

On September 28, President Barack Obama shook hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. The exchange, confirmed by U.S. and Iranian officials, lasted less than minute. But it caused a firestorm among hardliners in Iran. Lawmaker Hamid Rasaee likened the encounter to shaking hands with Satan in an Instagram post (see below). The top line of text reads, “Mr. Zarif! Did you sign the nuclear deal with the same hand?”

Mansour Haghighatpour, a lawmaker and member of Parliament’s special committee to review the nuclear deal, said that he hoped the report was false. “If Mr. Zarif has done such a thing, he has definitely ignored the system's red lines,” he said, according to Tasnim News via AFP. “America is still the enemy of the Iranian nation and the US insists on its enmity towards Iran. Therefore, shaking hands with the enemy is contrary to the revolution's principles and against the nation's rights.” Another lawmaker, Mohammad Hassan Asafari, told The Associated Press that there should be an “investigation” to see what the circumstances were.

The handshake was also a topic of debate in Parliament the following day. Lawmaker Bahram Biranvand was furious with Zarif. He shouted:
“Who has allowed Zarif to shake hands with Obama? Right at a time when death has embraced thousands of Hajj pilgrims in Mina, Zarif embraces Obama and the U.S. secretary of state. Damn! Zarif has made a fatal mistake by shaking the hand of Obama as the Iranian foreign minister. As an ordinary citizen, if Zarif hungers for an Obama embrace, he can resign and go take up residence in their house [the White House].”*
Vice-Speaker Hassan Abutorabi-Fard, however, warned Biranvand against “foul language in criticizing someone who has proven to be serving the late Imam [Khomeini] and the Supreme Leader.”
Zarif-Kerry handshakes became a regular occurrence when nuclear negotiations began two years ago, but the Obama-Zarif handshake was the first known between a U.S. president and an Iranian foreign minister since the 1979 revolution. Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency, citing an Iranian official, reported that the encounter was not preplanned.
In January, Zarif also faced criticism after he took a 15-minute walk with Secretary Kerry through Geneva’s streets during nuclear talks. Parliament summoned him to account for his actions.
The following remarks include additional criticism of Zarif.
Judiciary Spokesperson Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei 
“We have one type of spy who is a foreign hire and who receives a salary from them for giving secret and classified information, which spying for countries that are satanic like America comes with a heavy punishment, but there is another method of spying that we must be watchful of, an individual who does not appear to be paid by the enemy and does not give classified information, but has set the scene for the entrance of the enemy and lessens the enmity of the enemy. For instance he says it is no longer the Great Satan and it has come to its senses and this is the lessening of enmity.”  
—September 30, 2015, via Mehr News 
“One who today wants to spy for America, the Great Satan, and cooperate with this country is guilty, a traitor, and eligible for punishment.” 
—September 30, 2015, via Raja News 
*Translation via Iran Front Page

Rouhani at UNGA : On Syria

During two meetings in New York, President Hassan Rouhani covered a range of issues from working with the United States to the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, tensions with Saudi Arabia, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and more. On September 25 he met with journalists and on September 27 he met with American think tanks, academics and NGOs. The following are excerpted remarks on the Syrian conflict as translated simultaneously by the official Iranian interpreter.

Meeting with journalists
So the Russians have decided that they want to have a more active role, a more effective role in fighting terrorism, in particular Daesh. So, with Russia, we have a close relationship and, vis-à-vis Syria, we continue to speak with one another. But there’s no coalition between us vis-à-vis Syria. But we do confer, we do exchange information. And, vis-à-vis the future of Syria, we do speak about a multitude of topics.
At the very least we both share the same opinion about fighting terrorist groups and ejecting these terrorist groups from Syria. Under the current conditions, if we want to fight terrorists in Syria, we cannot do so while weakening the central government in Damascus. So the central government, the central authority, must remain in Damascus. But if it continues to be weakened, then it will only encourage the terrorists. They will find more fertile ground within which to commit their murderous and savage acts.
Vis-à-vis the Syrian government, and there was a question as to whether they’re using barrel bombs against the people of Syria. I don’t know where you are getting your information vis-à-vis that. I don’t have any such information. Perhaps some form of weapons system, such as you alluded to, may have been used to defeat terrorists, which is very well justified. But if used against civilians, I have no such information. Would a central government that seeks its legitimacy and its security in the arms of its own people, would they be crazy use something like that against civilian populations? Why is it today that the people of Damascus and other big cities, even in parts of Aleppo that you alluded to, are stern supporters of Assad and his government? Is it possible for a government to kill its own people? Of course, there must be ongoing fighting with the objective of being victorious against terrorists. Even the Americans, are they not bombing terrorists every day as they claim? Do they use anything else? They conduct air raids. They bomb terrorist targets.
You touched upon the refugee crisis, most whom are from Syria. So who was it that drove them from their home? Was it the central government in Damascus or the terrorists? It’s very important for media representatives such as yourselves to use words precisely… because they do carry a heavy weight.
Meeting with think tanks, academics and NGOs
One of the important issues of our region is Syria. Syria has its own set of very unique complications, because Iraq is now going through some problems; however, they differ from the ones faced in Syria. No one says that the Iraqi central government must change, or that the Iraqi prime minister must be changed and someone else must replace him. They say that we must fight terrorism in Iraq.
But vis-à-vis Syria, very differing viewpoints keep being talked about, and become topics of conversation. Whoever we meet and ask about whether there should be a concerted fight against terrorism in Syria, they say, of course, yes. And then we ask, do you accept the current Syria government? Some say yes, some say no. Then we ask, what must we do in Syria? Everyone talks about a different set of priorities, according to their viewpoints…
So I do believe that vis-à-vis the Syrian problem, it is very important for us to say what is the first priority? As far as I’m concerned, both the Syrian government needs reforms, and in Syria there must be a concerted counterterrorism effort, a battle against terrorism. But how do we prioritize? Where is the starting line? This is of utmost importance.
Two-thirds of the Syrian territory today is held by the terrorists. And you do know that in Syria, the terrorists extract petroleum from the ground, they sell that petroleum. It is very important to answer this question, how do they sell that petroleum? Whom do they sell it to? How can, in the face of Iran, that has tried to sell a single barrel of oil, has been stopped from doing so, because they’ve said, well, Iran can only sell one million barrels if it wants to sell 1.1, we will stop it from doing so. And this is a legitimate government chosen by the people of the nation. How is it that a terrorist group can get away with doing something that the legitimate government of an independent nation cannot? They have been extracting oil in Bayji, in various parts of Syria. They are extracting it from the ground and selling it. How does that happen? Those who keep talking about building coalitions against Syria through aerial bombardments know prior to the aerial bombardments, prior to the air campaign, [they] should have dried up the revenue source…
So how does Daesh remain alive? And do those who claim that they wish to fight Daesh and eliminate it, do they want Daesh to cease existence? Or do they want it to stay alive but remain weak? As we have experienced for many years, there were many who wanted Saddam Hussein to remain – however, not a very strong Saddam Hussein. Saddam should stay, but [he would be forced to] listen to them much more than to act independently. When Saddam Hussein was taking directions from them, he wasn’t a bad person. But when he didn’t listen to their directions, he was a threat to society and humanity, he was very dangerous.
So if today Daesh cuts off the heads of the people of Iraq and Syria, there’s not a whole lot of worry. However, if a number of Europeans, Americans, or people from other countries are there, and one of them is decapitated, everyone’s voices will go to high heaven: Tese are very dangerous people, these are savages, and so on and so forth. We must all have a set of coordinated views and priorities. We should not differentiate between those who are killed, between those who are terrorized, because so-and-so is Christian, or Muslim, or Sunni, or Shiite, or Buddhist, or Jewish. Killing, we’re talking about life. We’re talking about existence. What does it matter whom this person is, what citizenship they hold, what passport they have in their pocket, what color their skin is, what faith they follow, what leanings socially and culturally they have? What does that matter? What matters is that life must be protected, the sanctity of life must be protected.
If it is so, we must first reform our own thoughts and views in this field so that we all perceive danger equally, at the same level, but I will come back from these long remarks to the point contained in one of the questions, which was that what does Iran wish to do, intend to do in Syria. What is our take going back a few years about Syria? What are the Russians doing there? Will Iran and Russia do something concerted against Daesh, and the fact that France took military action. I think we need to revert back to the point of origin. What is the priority? If the priority is to change the Syrian government, then that offers only a specific set of paths to follow. So we go and train new armed forces, we equip them, we train them, we vet them, and we insert them into Syria, and we tell them that you are legitimate – not illegitimate, legitimate terrorists. You can, because you have been trained by us, you have been equipped by us, you have been vetted by us. You have the right to fight against the Syrian army, you have the right to enter Damascus city, because everything that you have came from us. When the part of Daesh was trained in another country, was equipped in another country, and vetted by another country, then that becomes a problem, but not this face of Daesh, so again, let’s go back to priorities regarding in which we need an agreement of opinion, a unison of opinion.
So we do believe that if the priority is not combating terrorism and defeating terrorism today in Syria, then we’ve all made existential mistakes. Because in my experience, if the Syria government is taken out of the equation, what we all foresee will happen is that the terrorists will enter Damascus immediately. The handful of cities that are remaining outside the control of Daesh, will fall prey to Daesh as well. The massacre that took place in Aleppo, and Latakia, will take place in Damascus at well. So the whole country will become controlled territories, a safe haven for the terrorists.
This doesn’t mean the Syrian government doesn’t need to be reformed, that’s not what I mean at all, this doesn’t mean that in Syria, everyone accepts the legitimacy of the government currently in power, that’s not what I mean. This doesn’t mean that the future form of government in Damascus should not be thought of, of course it has to be thought of.
Again, I go back to what the priorities are. How do we determine the priority, and then where to start from? In Syria, we do believe that the duty of any country that sincerely believes the utmost priority is to fight and defeat terrorism, we’re willing to cooperate and collaborate with them. But if a government says, listen, I’m against terrorism as well, but my priority is to change the government in Damascus, we cannot work with that government. We cannot stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them.
But if a government says I want to accomplish both of these tasks simultaneously, I want to kill and defeat the terrorists at once while simultaneously changing the government in Damascus, in our opinion, this will be a futile effort, will not reach any tangible results. What we speak of to our friends in the region are nations and countries that think in the same fashion as we do, have the same opinions as we do.
In the past two days I’ve been in New York, I’ve spoken even to some leaders of Western countries who …all agreed with my opinion. Some chose to stay quiet, which meant they haven’t reached a decision as of yet when it comes to prioritizing.
Within the last few months, the Russians… told us that they wish to enter this scene with every new determination to fight Daesh and the terrorists. The Russian president, Mr. Putin, told me personally, “I have made this decision and I wish to confer with you about it.” We spoke at length that same day. When we spoke, President Putin told me that the previous day he had spoken with President Obama by telephone. And [he said] I’ve spoken to such and such country and named a few countries and said I’ve talked to them as well and I’ve received their feedback and opinions as well.
So what Russia is announcing is its readiness and willingness for a renewed, more concentrated efforts in fighting terrorism. And also, a renewed effort in equipping and supporting and fortifying the government in Damascus. And we all do believe, and we also, excuse me, believe that if we are to succeed in defeating terrorism, the government in Damascus cannot be weakened. It must be able to carry on the fight.
So where do we gain the legitimacy of to allow ourselves to enter Raqqa or Aleppo or Latakia or wherever it may be, to enter the soil of another country without the authority of the legitimate government of the country, based on what laws do we do this? Based on what international parameters do we do this? Either all of the people of that nation must come to the ballot boxes, vote, give us their mandate to enter their country, which is clearly not was has occurred, or the government that exists there, even though you might say that, well, this government needs to be reformed, you’re right, but this government has been there, and it’s the most legitimate form thus far. So we do believe that it must remain in place. What other way do we all see logically as feasible?
Can one person, one nation, get up in the morning and say I want to enter country A, B or C and combat terrorism? Would the United States allow anyone to violate its airspace and carry out a bombing raid, saying, “Listen Mr. President of the United States, I have found a terrorist cell, for example, in Oklahoma, I need to target it and bomb it into oblivion.” Would that be allowed? Of course not. So why should that not apply everywhere else?
We do believe that Syria does have a legitimate army, not something that was created within the last few years. It has been for many decades. Its generals and general officers have been serving for over 30 years, for over three decades, as general officers and general staff officers in the Syrian army. So it does have a history, it does have a record to stand on. So is it that army that has the right to fight terrorism or is it me that is duty bound to get up from Tehran, go to Damascus and start fighting terrorism? Which scenario is more truthful or more palatable for all of us, and more realistic for all of us?
I do believe that if all of us can reach an agreement on the priority, it is acceptable that we will have differences of opinion, and that’s why I do believe in continuous dialogue… Iran and the Russians are almost compatible, have almost a compatible mindset and opinion about this because they have the same goal of fighting and defeating terrorism. Perhaps there are other countries that see it the same way we do and agree with us, and some may not.
Today, I spoke to, I met with and spoke to the French president about Syria…In fighting terrorism, defeating terrorism, no one country has an exclusivity, a monopoly in saying “We’re the only ones who can do this,” or “Our people are the only ones who can do this.” It must be a concerted effort.
What I can say, frankly, about the Syrian issue, is not so much whether we share the same opinion and priority with the West about Syria or with Russia about Syria. In my opinion, whomever, whichever country sets priority number one as combatting and defeating terrorism, and after we succeed in that task and accomplish that objective, immediately after that, we can pursue political reforms vis-à-vis the Syrian government, reforms that must take place through whichever channel or pathway. There are many channels through which to conduct those reforms. We can work together. And our path is one in the same. This is my feeling. This is my thought.
In the past few months, I do believe that the West’s opinion vis-à-vis Syria has changed somewhat, up to a certain level. And that insistence that was here before that insisted upon, was keen upon changing the Syrian government as number one priority and then pick up the fight against the terrorists and aim to defeat the terrorists, so that opinion no longer has that many fans even in the West.
And the last point vis-à-vis this topic that I’d like to share with you is that [when] fighting terrorists and counterterrorism efforts, even by military means, it is not feasible through air operations only. Terrorist groups cannot be defeated by helicopter gunships or missiles or aerial bombardment. This is simply not possible.
We have the most tangible experience of all countries in our region in fighting against terrorism. We have been fighting in Iran for the last 37 years against terrorism. From the very first year of the revolution, we were facing and combatting terrorism. Some of the terrorists, some of the very strong terrorists were totally, completely, driven out of Iran and now they are either, some are in Iraq or in the United States or in some European countries. But none of them remain in Iran, and this shows, and is a testament to the power of the Islamic Republic of Iran that shows to fight, sustainably, strongly against the terrorist group and defeat it and drive it out. It’s not that I’m saying that they’re no longer in Tehran, they’re not in the Iranian territory anywhere. And many other groups that were fighting us, are no longer in Iran today. They may be in Pakistan, they may be in other countries, in Turkey. But they’re no longer in our territory.
We have a great deal of experience, very rich and vast experience in counterterrorist operations and defeating these terrorist groups. Be sure that what some folks say, that “We will form a coalition, air raids will take place,” and they showed the video footage that resembles a satellite feed or jets with special effects taking off from aircraft carriers with a great deal of speed that would give goosebumps to anyone watching, zooming on the target, and so fantastically releasing a missile that is guided precisely down a chimney.
This is not the true face of combating and defeating terrorism. This is not realistic. Terrorists go in the heart of villages, in the rural areas, in peoples’ homes, in the back streets and alleyways in the bazaars. They fool people. They draw people to themselves.  Sometimes they affect them ideologically. Sometimes they recruit them through ideology and ignorance…It is possible that a terrorist blows him or herself up, being willing to be blown to pieces to achieve that objective. The person may have grown up in Belgium, in Holland, in London or Paris, and now is in Iraq or in Syria next to Daesh voluntarily.
Volunteering to conduct a suicide mission in a truck laden with explosive material, this person cannot be taken out through aerial bombardments or remote targeting. We must do a lot of things to combat and defeat terrorism. But even if we intended to do so militarily, it must be done and accomplished through ground operations, not by air operations.
I do hope that we can better understand the tangible realities, help one another, and truly and wholeheartedly share the same objective and same number one priority of defeating and wiping out terrorism, and not change horses in midstream if you will or change priorities or objectives and not come out with excuses that first we need to change such and such government, and then we’ll get to our priority.
The question that you asked about Iran, Iran does have a foundational belief. It hasn’t announced it openly, and it is talking about the four part proposal the ambassador referred to, when we do reach some conclusions with the countries with whom we’re speaking, we will then inform everyone officially.

Photo credit: Robin Wright


Rouhani at UNGA : On US Relations

During two meetings in New York, President Hassan Rouhani covered a range of issues from working with the United States to the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, tensions with Saudi Arabia, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and more. On September 25 he met with journalists and on September 27 he met with American think tanks, academics and NGOs. The following are excerpted remarks on prospects of U.S.-Iran relations as translated simultaneously by the official Iranian interpreter.
Meeting with journalists
I think before talking about handshakes or meetings… we should put much more focus and concentration on how to resolve issues that can give a better future to both sides, to both nations… It is possible to find solutions and to realize this aim. … [S]ometimes President Obama writes me letters, sometimes I write him letters. This is not a problem… But these are not the fundamentals… [W]e must focus on the shared and common interests between Iran and the United States and the future of that relationship, and being able to distinguish what the problems are… how we can overcome these obstacles and these challenges. Of course it isn’t going to happen overnight... [W]e must work very hard on it, but not with a negative view. We must have a positive view towards the future…
Today, these conditions [for Iran-U.S. relations] are different from what they were two years ago, prior to my election. No one could have thought, prior to that, that … the foreign ministers of Iran and the United States would sit across from one another for – not just for days—weeks or months...
When can we say… that is the day or that is the year in which the fundamental, deeply rooted issues between the two countries can be resolved and put aside? I think trying to foresee that is quite difficult. Two years, three years. It is quite difficult. But I do believe that we can point to the tangibles, which is the main step forward that I’ve been taking during the past two years. But there’s still quite a long road to travel. I do believe that we can resolve and fill these gaps, or decrease this gap, on a step by step basis. It cannot be done at once. We cannot determine a specific timeframe for that that – two years, three years, five years…

[I]t is very important… concerning public opinion both in the United States and Iran, for the people to believe that their shared interests dictate cooperation between the two countries… This must be explained to people on both sides. Perhaps in the United States there are those who say if Iran can be kept at arm’s length… it’s better. There are some Iran who may say the relationship with the United States is dangerous for Iran.  

We must work steadfastly towards creating… a more realistic understanding of the general population on both sides... I do think that the media, think tanks, research institutes, universities and academia members can all play a vital role here towards the betterment of public opinion.
Perhaps, now there might be dialogues here and there. So, again, the issue of the prisoners of both sides is an issue that may happen [to be discussed] from time to time between different sides-- how we can help them with their prisoners and how they can help us. So not everything is in a holding pattern, waiting for the implementation of the JCPOA. But, of course, the proper implementation of the JCPOA can bring about many more collaborative opportunities.

Meeting with think tanks, academics and NGOs

(Questions): On the issue of the relationship between the United States of America and Iran, can this new environment and atmosphere help in the expansion of these collaborative efforts?
Hassan Rouhani: I think the relationship between the United States of America and Iran, well it is a relation that was ceased, was halted 37 years ago. It wasn’t done by us, it wasn’t initiated by us. The Americans chose to do so. In subsequent times, sanctions were set up by the Americans targeting us, not the other way around.
Even economic relations that we had – not vast but nevertheless we did have – with America came to a halt as well. The selling of petroleum from Iran to the United States ceased as well. And then the possibilities of investing in oil and natural gas and the energy sector as a whole ceased as well. More sanctions were added on as well.
So I think the best thing that we obtained [in the JCPOA] is the environment that was created as a result of the almost constant contact between the teams from the two sides. And everyone agrees that the most important roles were played by Iran and the United States of America. Of course the other members of the 5+1 were present as well, they were giving their input. But the two principal countries that had the most important roles to play were Iran and the United States of America.
Whether there is this hope, there is this positive outlook, now as a result of the JCPOA, whenever some effort was undertaken to bring Iran and America closer, unfortunately history has shown us during the last 37 years that an extremist group – whether from here or there – disrupted the environment and brought that to a screeching halt. I don’t want to go back and rehash history and remind everyone what days and what chances and what great occasions and opportunities we had that could have led to a much more improved level of relations. Not only we didn’t obtain those, but the extremists – the hardliners, excuse me – the hardliners came into the scene in such a way that not only they ceased any forward progress, conditions went back to much worse situations than we were experiencing before. It didn’t benefit anyone. We all agree on that.
Those who are extremists in the expression of their thoughts, their values, their opinions – we have those both in the United States as well as inside Iran. And the extremists have a knack for getting to know one another quite well, no matter where they’re from.
So in this story of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, this was the first time in which both countries were able, were committed—through a great, a deep, political will—to move forward. A lot of folks tried to disrupt this forward progress. At the end of the day, we also witnessed the fake threat of the Congressional vote which the filibuster took care of it quite swiftly, thankfully.
So we are facing all of these challenges, yes. When the relations between the two countries leaves the path of tensions and it moves onto another track, of course people are going to start to think, ‘Listen, maybe we can resolve other issues as well.’ And quite frankly, those who oppose this agreement and this way of doing things use the harshest of language and expressions of sentiments when talking about this agreement.
Folks on our side say America can never be reformed, and the extremists on this side say the Iranians are never going to be reformed. So, they keep saying that Iran will always be a threat for Iran [the translator said Iran here, but likely misspoke and meant America] and the extremists — the hardliners —in Iran say well America has and will always be a danger and a threat to Iran. So, if one side has a thought that a power completely threatens its very existence and independence, then of course the will for rapprochement will always be addressed as someone who is easily fooled, someone who is gullible, someone who is simplistic. So this is natural…
Some say that the issue will never be resolved between the U.S. and Iran. Iranians say this as well as Americans, but thankfully not a large percentage of either population. This was a signal—a signal that showed us perhaps there are issues between two sides, a very complex set of issues between the two sides, deeply embedded for a long time between all sides, but there is the possibility to find a solution. There is a possibility of an analysis, of good will and commitments, sustained commitment. At the end of the day it will not yield anything but successful results.
So, but on the other side this [JCPOA] roadmap has not yet reached the end of its path. It is true we have overcome many hurdles and challenges thus far. However, it has up to today not been implemented, not been enacted.
There are some in America who say, ‘If we win such and such political campaign, the day we reach office we are going to tear it to shreds.’ These are political and partisan statements. I do believe that in the very first few months of putting into action the terms of the JCPOA we must take a lot of care, bring to bear a lot of focus, so that it’s done well, so the foundation is laid properly. That will make it very tough for anyone to disrupt it.
Common consensus throughout the world has been support, undeniable support, great support for the JCPOA. Throughout my visits with folks in the United Nations, from leaders from around the world, the very first sentence that the world leaders tell me without exception is, “Congratulations for this great achievement.” Hundreds of letters poured into my office, dozens from world leaders, congratulating me for the JCPOA.
So if anyone is against this JCPOA, [he] will be an outcast… A couple of countries did express their opposition to it, but they’ve come to the side of this decision as well. So it only goes to show that it is a good agreement. Had it not been a good agreement, so many, the overwhelming majority of the world’s countries would not have backed it and supported it. In our region, we can say that the greatest, the absolute greatest majority of countries in our region support this agreement.
But for us to think that we can immediately set on the path to resolve every outstanding issue between the two countries – that is not going to happen, that’s not realistic through a number of sustained meetings and negotiations. We have a number of very complex issues intertwined at times. So this is not doable overnight. Our past was extremely difficult. I don’t believe in losing hope in the future – absolutely not. Quite the contrary. I don’t believe that there is a single issue or problem in the world that cannot have a solution. Some solutions are tougher to achieve and reach, some are easier.
But for us to think that until the end of the world this animosity and tension between, and lack of relations between, the two countries will continue, that is an impossibility. The world of politics, as history has shown us, has its own sets of ups and downs for us to see and analyze quite clearly. But because the problems are complex, we should not expect the resolution in a brief period of time…
For the members of academia to be able to come and go and visit one another, academic exchanges, scientific, technological exchanges, these are all very welcome. The expansion of tourism from both countries to both countries is also very welcome. And even the economic sector, in the financial sectors, the legal parameters inside of America vis-à-vis investments and sharing of technology, and marketing of technology, and joint ventures with Iran in Iran, if these sets of rules and laws forbidding American entities from doing so are lifted or changed, of course this is going to bring about a positive change and forward progress for both sides. Absolutely. Just as when athletes get together, they don’t talk or even think about politics. Business can do the same.
Academic exchanges of course can do the same. We can and we have to be involved with one another as we move into the future, but it will be a bumpy road, it will not be an easy journey that we have embarked upon by any stretch of the imagination.
Another question posed about helping prisoners held in both countries—it’s a very good proposition. If the Iranian administration, if my government, the Iranian government, can take any steps to improve the conditions of any prisoners to bring about the swift resolution of their legal case, we won’t hesitate from aiding in bringing those conditions about. But it would be good for the other side to commit itself to doing that as well. In Farsi, we say “Good comes not on a one-way street but on a two-way street.”
We do have prisoners being held here as well, and in our opinion they are completely, unequivocally innocent. And because they were arrested and imprisoned, prosecuted and imprisoned in America, because they tried to circumvent the sanctions – and the sanctions, again, are soon to be resolved through the JCPOA, so if anything, they tried to do something for which, very shortly God willing, there won’t be any punishment. So if we can help to free the folks who are detained there, and they can take reciprocal steps on this side, we would welcome those efforts.
On the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
I will tell you with utmost certainty and clarity that the Islamic Republic of Iran, for everything that is contained within the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is committed to its full implementation and will remain so, and does believe that its implementation will benefit everyone involved, and the world at large.
I know that some have doubts. I know that some have their own skepticisms. Some tend to express their skepticisms even where they’re unwarranted. In the past few weeks, we’ve heard many comments, many strange comments, from U.S. Senators, U.S. members of Congress. In my opinion, it was very interesting, because when we look at it, as their counterparts, we see that the ones doing so much talking and speaking do so because they have been influenced by their wrong understanding, their misinformation, where the eyes cannot see with precision and the ears hear without precision, judgment will be affected.
They would say a lot of strange, and sometimes comedic things. They would say, you would give so much money to the Iranians. God knows what they’re going to do with it. It’s as though we are trying to give money to a teenager or a little child who may go on a candy-buying binge and get sick because of it. They may not believe … that there is maturity throughout the world, that a nation has made its own decision and remains committed to that decision, and especially [in] a country whose budget reflects every single cent and dollar of expenditure. And it makes it imperative upon the administration proposing that budget and giving it to the parliament, which is then printed and published for public consumption in the media, not one cent is dedicated to anything that is illegitimate. And in fact there are a lot of discussions [about the budget] in the media, in the print media, broadcast live by radio, by television, everyone can hear what is going on. There are no closed door sessions, if you will, [about] where the money has come from, where we will spend it, where we have spent it. So this is a very important point for all of us to understand…
I’m not trying to say that there is no difference in opinion between the United States and Iran. I’m not trying to say that in cultural, political, regional issues, economic issues, we see just like the Americans do and vice versa. That’s not what I’m trying to say at all. But many of the differences of opinion are falsely built up, are untruths. It is very important not to make this mistake in judgment and viewpoint. It is very important for all of us to strive in order to resolve this and correct this. It will benefit all of us to get to know one another on a deeper level, in a more precise manner. And this more precise knowledge of one another can help and benefit all of us. And certainly, a gap between two nations, two peoples, two governments will be decreased as a result of this.
Do we wish for this gap and this difference to remain forever? Absolutely not. What I promised to my people during the presidential election campaign was the following. With the nations with whom we have tensions, my administration will seek to decrease that tension, to rein in that tension. And we do believe that if we can decrease the distances and the gaps, it will benefit all of us with the hope of one day completely eliminating these distances and these gaps. Of course it will take time, of course it is not doable overnight. Two countries which have had tensions and problems with one another for multiple decades, they cannot, during the course of a few days, weeks, months, or even years get over those issues and grievances.
But this is what’s important: Do we even wish to start, or no? This is of utmost importance. Do we ignite this engine, or no? Who can insert the key into that switch? Who can turn the switch from an off position to an on position one day? Who? All of you, all of you, the thinkers, the scholars, the elites. All of you who use your pen to communicate, who speak and make other people enlightened. Those of you who are relied upon for forming public opinion. Those of you have to carry a much heavier burden because of your knowledge, because of your resources. And I think in Iran, those who have the same position as you do are respected by the nation, are respected by the people, and are trusted by the people. And I have no reason to believe that in America it’s different. You’re thought of as the subject matter experts.

You must take the first step in bringing a more tangibly realistic level of knowledge to the people and the nation. Conditions are very different from yesterday--just the fact that we can hear each other’s voice with a great deal of ease. At the same time we speak, others can hear us, simultaneously, across the globe. This means that certain new opportunities have been extended to us, have been put at our disposal. And if it is so that modern media has shortened so many distances, so many tens of thousands of miles, and the new technologies have made these distances ever and ever closer, why can we not decrease the distances and gaps that exist between nations, between peoples. So I do think that the nuclear agreement has created a new environment, a new atmosphere, a new foundation, and has set a new path in front of us. And we must make the best use of this opportunity in order to address and resolve other issues and challenges.


Photo credit: Robin Wright


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