United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

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


Rouhani at UNGA : On Saudis & Yemen

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 Saudi Arabia and Yemen as translated simultaneously by the official Iranian interpreter.

Meeting with journalists
About Iran and Saudi Arabia, unfortunately, today, the relationship between the two countries is not a good one despite the fact that the people of Saudi Arabia, as tourists, as pilgrims, do come to Iran. And our people… go to Saudi Arabia, but principally, of course, for pilgrimage. …[A]s a matter of fact, yesterday, a great many people while performing religious ceremonies related to the hajj pilgrimage… hundreds of people lost their lives. And many, many Iranians lost their lives. The precise number is not as of yet clear…
Now, why did this tragedy happen? Even about two weeks ago, there was another tragedy in the Holy Mosque, the Masjid al Haram in Mecca —the crane incident that caused the death of a number of people, including some Iranians. These incidents, they just do not conform to the normal parameters of such religious ceremonies and pilgrimages. Some people do believe that because Saudi Arabia has transferred the bulk of its various military forces to the border with Yemen and for operations in Yemen. And it’s running short on man power vis-à-vis its security forces, so those who are often put to use are inexperienced. Some may say or may think that there are other reasons. We’re not yet at a point where we can… reach a conclusion as to how the tragedy occurred yesterday... But at the very least, when it concerns public opinion… it may show an ineptitude by the government of Saudi Arabia… [S]ome may think that [the Saudis] are not sufficiently responsible to be the hosts of these many millions… of hajj pilgrims. This is nothing new…
Of course, the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran has worsened because of Yemen. This is absolutely correct. …[T]hey should not have had the right to interfere in Yemen’s internal problems… We can have diplomatic contacts between the two countries. But in my opinion, if we can resolve our issues with Saudi Arabia, it would not only benefit both countries, it would also benefit the entire region.
Meeting with think tanks, academics and NGOs
More than about 20 years ago when I was speaking with a high ranking Saudi Arabian official. I told him, I reminded him that during the unprovoked war of Iraq against Iran, you have done A, B, C and D. And I gave him multiple examples. And he said these are not the only things that we did in support of Iraq against you. He added a few more things that they have done, which I was unaware of. And he told us, 70 kilometers away from the port in Jeddah, we built a base of operations from which to exclusively ship out weapons and supplies to Baghdad for their war efforts…And they said that Iran is dangerous and Saddam is our refuge, the umbrella under which we can seek refuge from Iran. So, in practice, who was the danger? Who was the threat here? Us? Or Saddam Hussein himself?
In a Farsi proverb we say that some raise snakes in their own sleeve and then at the end of the life cycle, the snake ends up poisoning that same person... The same scenario applies to Saddam Hussein, who attacked Kuwait, and if he had been given the chance, he would have attacked Saudi Arabia, and he would have attacked Qatar and Yemen. This is not something that I’m guessing, this is a letter that Saddam Hussein had openly written to us and in which he had announced this plan…
We never attacked any country, even when the Soviet Union fell apart and a number of small countries were established in the northern part of our borders--countries some of which were previously a part of Iran’s territory, and it would have been perhaps explainable if we would have tried to overtake those countries and bring them back to Iran again. We never even thought about doing anything like that. We were one of the first countries to recognize their legitimacy. I’m speaking of our northern neighbors, so you must ask those who express their fears and preoccupations and concerns about why they exist. Of course, there was a vast campaign of Iranophobia conducted by many, still being carried out by many. It has become a cottage industry.”
We also do not run, by the way, any other countries or any other capitals. If what was meant by that, that we run or manage the government of Iraq, that is laughable and of course far, far from the truth. If they meant that we run Damascus or manage Damascus, that is not what we do. It has its own government, and at the time that it requests our aid and assistance against terrorism, then we will render that aid. Lebanon, the same thing applies to Lebanon. It has its own government. Yemen, the same thing. We don’t control any of those.
Our relationships vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, why are they not good? I am very saddened as well. I am sorry that it is not good. During the very first days following my election to the president’s office, the very first press interview, media interview, I did openly announce that we wish to have a very good relationships with Saudi Arabia. In interpreted that in-depth and the very next day, the Saudi Arabian king sent me a letter of gratitude because of the content of that interview. And I responded to that letter.
We were moving towards better relations with Saudi Arabia. I did try my best by choosing someone with the greatest of qualifications who was the previous ambassador from Iran to Saudi Arabia for many many years and had close-knit relationships with the officials in Saudi Arabia. I chose that person and sent him to Riyadh again as an Iranian ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
But after the death of the late king and the new guard taking power, conditions really changed tangibly inside Saudi Arabia…I don’t want to get into a discussion of what aims Saudi Arabia pursues. But when Saudi Arabia started the aerial bombardments and striking, raining missiles upon Yemen, it complicated our equation. Perhaps Saudi Arabia says that “Yemen is our neighbor. That Iranian influence in Yemen was unacceptable, too much, that’s why we felt threatened.” But the truth is that we didn’t do anything special in Yemen…
For a long time, we never thought, quite frankly, that the Houthis would be able to take over Sanaa. They always had influence. But from day one, we always suggested to the Houthis to sit down and talk and carry out a dialogue and negotiate with their political rivals and form a coalition and unity government. The Houthis were never seeking to control the entirety of the Yemeni government, and that is not what they’re seeking today either.
Yemen is a historical country, is a vast country. The Houthis compose part -- a legitimate part – of that country. There are other groups as well. Of course, the Houthis are Zaydis. Here in the media referred to as Yazidis but they’re Zaydis. There are Shiites, Sunnis, and so on in Yemen. You do know that al-Qaeda is very active. Other terrorist groups are very active.
But since the entrance of Saudi Arabia on the Yemeni scene, the start of the aerial bombardments and the attacks, of course that widened the gap between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Given the proper conditions, we can indeed resolve our problems with Saudi Arabia. I do not myself believe that the distance created between Iran and Saudi Arabia benefits either side, or anyone in the region or anyone in the world.
It has come to be known [erroneously] throughout the world that the Saudi government carries the mantle for the Sunnis of the world, while Iran is the protector of the Shiites of the world--therefore there are two poles that were naturally destined to collide. That is not a fact. Sunnis and Shiites must come closer together, because all faiths and religions must come closer together. All tribes and ethnic backgrounds must come closer together. I do not believe that the differences and the gaps between faiths, religions, tribes, or ethnic backgrounds benefit, or ever have benefitted, anyone.
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.
Apparently, we Muslims were supposed to have at least a single holy month out of the year in which no fighting would take place. It has taken place. The conditions in Yemen continue. The aerial bombardments continue throughout Ramadan, which is something that is sacrosanct for all of us Muslims. So the conditions have become tougher. But this is absolutely correct that differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia must, at a point in time, be resolved. We must not think about rivalries, competitions which will not end up benefitting anyone.
About Yemen: Yemen, we see the resolution of its problem only to be realized through a Yemeni-to-Yemeni dialogue and negotiation. We say that the Houthis and the opposing groups must sit down around the same table, reach a mutually beneficial conclusion. And all of us are ready to do anything and everything at our disposal to bring this about quicker…
A humanitarian tragedy is taking place on a daily basis in Yemen. A crisis is ever deepening on a daily basis as well in Yemen. They’re living under very tough conditions every day. And it would be everyone’s humanitarian duty to help Yemen through international organizations – the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, or any other organization – that can safely and swiftly render that aid. But ultimately we don’t see the resolution of the Yemeni problem as through war. And, mind you, we do not see a complete government control by the Houthis in Yemen as the best solution either. Everyone must have an inclusive role in managing the affairs of the country and everyone must be equally represented, ultimately only to be obtained through Yemeni to Yemeni dialogue and negotiation.

Photo credit: Robin Wright

Rouhani at UN: On Nuclear Deal, Extremism

On September 28, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hailed the nuclear deal as a potential model for positive change in the Middle East. In his address to the U.N. General Assembly, Rouhani also warned that the gravest threat to the world is for terrorist organizations to become terrorist states. Rouhani invited the world’s nations to create a “United Front Against Extremism and Violence” to combat the underlying social and economic issues that allow terrorist organizations to gain followers. He emphasized the need for economic development for lasting peace in the region. The following is a translation of his prepared remarks provided by Iran’s Mission to the United Nations.

In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

Praise be to Allah, and peace and greetings to Prophet Mohammad and his true companions

Mr. President
I am speaking on behalf of a great nation who is mourning the loss of thousands of Muslim pilgrims and hundreds of its citizens. Old, young, men and women who had come together in the grand and global spiritual gathering of the Hajj, but unfortunately fell victim to the incompetence and mismanagement of those in charge. Due to their unaccountability, even the missing cannot be identified and the expeditious return of the bodies of the deceased to their mourning families has been prevented. The scope of a calamity in which thousands of innocent people from the four corners of the world have been killed and wounded is so broad that it cannot be dealt with as a natural disaster or a local issue. The pain and emotional distress inflicted on millions of Muslims is greater than what can be repaired merely through material calculations. Public opinion demands that Saudi Arabian officials promptly fulfill their international obligations and grant immediate consular access for the expeditious identification and return of the cherished bodies. Moreover, it is necessary that the conditions are prepared for an independent and precise investigation into the causes of this disaster and ways of preventing its repetition in the future.
Mr. President
Distinguished Secretary-General
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am speaking on behalf of a nation that, two years ago, again voted for constructive engagement with the world and I can now proudly announce that "today, a new chapter has started in Iran’s relations with the world."
Two years ago, the people of Iran in a competitive election, with their votes gave me a mandate for consolidating peace and constructive engagement with the world—whilst pursuing national rights, interests and security. This national will, manifested itself through a careful and clear diplomatic effort which resulted in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the six world powers that was immediately turned into an international instrument with the ratification of the United Nations Security Council. From the standpoint of international law, this instrument sets a strong precedent where, for the first time, two sides rather than negotiating peace after war, engaged in dialogue and understanding before the eruption of conflict.
At this point, I deem it necessary to recognize the role of all the negotiators, in achieving this agreement. We had decided to bring about a new environment while maintaining our principles and we succeeded in doing so. Where necessary we moved forward and where necessary we showed the courage for flexibility; and, at each point, we made use of the full capacity of international law and showcased the potentials of constructive dialogue. The key point regarding the success of dialogue is the fact that any actor in the international system who pursues maximalist demands and does not allow space for the other side cannot speak of peace, stability and development. As in commerce and economic activity, where the interests of both parties should be taken into account, in politics and international relations as well multilateralism and win-win solutions should be the basis of engagement.
Mr. President,
The United Nations was established to sustain global peace and security after two world wars. But unfortunately, it must be said that in most cases this important international institution has not been successful or effective. This time, however, the United Nations made the right decision.
Though, we protest the adoption of unfair resolutions against the Islamic Republic of Iran and the imposition of sanctions against the Iranian nation and government as a result of misunderstandings and sometimes overt hostilities of some countries, however, we believe, as an old Iranian saying goes, "the sooner you stop harm, the more benefit you will reap". Today, is the very day that harm is stopped.  
Security Council Resolution 2231, despite some significant shortcomings, was an important development and the basis for terminating sanctions imposing resolutions against Iran. We consider as unfair the conduct of the Security Council in the past and insist that Iran, due to the important fatwa of its leader and its defense doctrine, has never had the intention of producing a nuclear weapon and, therefore, sanctions resolutions against Iran were unjust and illegal. Sanctions by the Security Council and unilateral sanctions by some countries were based on illusive and baseless allegations and created difficult conditions for our people. But these sanctions never in any way affected the policy we adopted and the approach we took towards negotiations. We proved in these negotiations that there is nothing on Iran's table other than logic, reason and ethics, and where necessary, legitimate and decisive self-defense against any kind of aggression. The United States finally was compelled to forgo its policy of pressure and sanction and opt for the negotiating table. 
Our seven countries and the European Union expended considerable time and diplomatic capital in these negotiations and, therefore, they should exert their utmost effort to protect and implement the agreement. We deem the compliance of all parties with their commitments as the fundamental factor in the success of the implementation process of the negotiations.   
Parallel to the implementation of the JCPOA, we also expect the nuclear-weapon states to take necessary steps to fulfill their commitment of full nuclear disarmament based on Article 6 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Furthermore, we expect them to play a positive role in the creation of a “nuclear weapons-free Middle East” and not to allow the Zionist regime to remain the only impediment in the way of realizing this important initiative.  
Mr. President,
The nuclear deal, which is a brilliant example of "victory over war", has managed to disburse the clouds of hostility and perhaps even the specter of another war and extensive tensions from the Middle East. The deal can and should herald a new era and lead to positive outcomes regarding the establishment of sustainable peace and stability in the region. From our point of view, the agreed-upon deal is not the final objective but a development which can and should be the basis of further achievements to come. Considering the fact that this deal has created an objective basis and set an appropriate model, it can serve as a basis for foundational change in the region.
Our policy is to continue our peace-seeking efforts in the region based on the same win-win principle, and act in a way that would lead to all in the region and world benefitting from these new conditions. This opportunity can be seized in order to look to the future and avoid focusing on the past and rebuild our relationships with the countries in the region, particularly with our neighbors, based on mutual respect and our common and collective interests.
Unfortunately, the Middle East and North Africa has turned into one of the world's most turbulent regions. With the continuation and intensification of the current condition, the turmoil can spread to other parts of the world. In today's interconnected and borderless world, countries and regions encounter great difficulty in protecting their borders and preventing the spread of insecurity and instability.
The gravest and most important threat to the world today is for terrorist organizations to become terrorist states. We consider it unfortunate for national uprisings in our region to be deviated by terrorists and for the destiny of nations to be determined by arms and terror rather than ballot boxes.
We propose that the fight against terrorism be incorporated into a binding international document and no country be allowed to use terrorism for the purpose of intervention in the affairs of other countries. We are prepared to assist in the eradication of terrorism and in paving the way for democracy, and ensuring that arms do not dictate the course of event in the region. As we aided the establishment of democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are prepared to help bring about democracy in Syria and also Yemen. We support the consolidation of power through the vote of people rather than with arms. We defend the rule of the majority that respects the rights of minorities.
Today, while safeguarding its historic and cultural heritage, Iran is looking to the future —not only the distant future but also the near future with a bright outlook for cooperation and coexistence. I say to all nations and governments: we will not forget the past, but we do not wish to live in the past. We will not forget war and sanctions but we look to peace and development. Through the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, we were not solely seeking a nuclear deal. We want to suggest a new and constructive way to recreate the international order. An order based on mutual respect, non-intervention in the internal affairs of others as well as on sustained cooperation and co-existence between the members of the United Nations. To build a peaceful future, we must learn our lessons from the bitter past. We know that the only way to perpetuate peace is through development. Peace without development is merely a recess while resentment and suspicion builds. However, peace alongside development lets anger and resentment dissipate and be replaced with hope and respect for others. We have repeatedly said that the only way to uproot terrorism in the Middle East is by targeting its underlying social, economic and cultural causes.
Economic interactions may bring about lasting security, and transform the region into a haven for peace and development. After the JCPOA, Iran will stand ready to show that the practical path to security and stability is through the development that comes with economic engagement.
Iran, with all of its economic and cultural potential, is well positioned to become a hub for export-oriented investment. Iran is also eager to show that we can all choose a lasting peace based on development and shared interests that will lead to a sustainable security rather than a volatile peace based on threats.
We hope to engage with our neighbors in a wide range of social and economic cooperation, which will enable the achievement of political understanding and even foster structural security cooperation. In the international system today, mutual economic ties are deemed the foremost factors in facilitating political cooperation and reducing security-related challenges.
Mr. President,
In 2013, from this very stage, I called for combating violence and extremism. Consequently, you, the representatives of the international community, unanimously gave it a seal of endorsement and hence, the WAVE resolution came to be. The implementation of WAVE requires well-intended solutions and the use of experiences gained in the realm of diplomacy. I am pleased that by placing together the support for the JCPOA with the invaluable support for WAVE, we may now devise a plan to resolve the problems of a shattered Middle East under the claws of brutality and savagery.
With a view to fighting ignorance, dictatorship, poverty, corruption, terrorism, violence and their social, political, cultural, economic and security impacts, I would like to invite the whole world and especially the countries of my region to form a ‘joint comprehensive plan of action’ to create a "United Front Against Extremism and Violence".
This front must:
- Create a collective and global movement to tackle regional problems in a serious manner through dialogue;
-  Prevent the slaughter of innocent people and the bombardment of civilians, as well as, the promotion of violence and killing of other human beings;
-  Provide for stability in cooperation with established central governments to maintain stability  
-  And once stability is established, build diplomacy and democratic governance in the Middle East region.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Iraq, Syria and Yemen are all examples of crises being stoked through terror, extremism, violence, bloodshed, invasion and the indifference of the international community. They are similar examples displaying cases of displacement, homelessness and fleeing from the horrors of war and bombardment. Their problems have persisted because the international community has failed them and because of incorrect actions of newcomers to the region and naive trans-regional actors. Consequently, the wave of destruction has gone beyond the Arab world and reached the gates of Europe and the United States and has resulted in the destruction of the relics of civility and precious works of ancient civilizations and, more broadly, has resulted in the death of humanity.
We must not forget that the roots of today’s wars, destruction and terror, can be found in the occupation, invasion and military intervention of yesterday. If we did not have the US military invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the US’s unwarranted support for the inhumane actions of the Zionist regime against the oppressed nation of Palestine, today the terrorists would not have an excuse for the justification of their crimes. It is imperative that the United States abandons its practice of reversing facts in the region and leveling baseless accusations against others and put an end to its dangerous policies and that of its regional allies that has exacerbated extremism and sectarianism in the region. The US should move in the direction of the hopes and aspirations of the people of the region.  
Mr. President,
Despite the many problems in our region today, we believe in a promising future. We have no doubt we can overcome the obstacles by wisdom and prudence as well as by the use of new and powerful capacities, and by relying upon our civilizational roots and our serious resolve. We, in light of divine revelation, have faith in humanity’s bright future in which people live in peace, tranquility and spirituality. We believe in the will of nations to pick the path of goodness and purity. We believe that ultimate victory will be won by those with good-natured piety. 
Thank you for your attention.


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