Iranian officials are skeptical about U.S. intentions in Syria, casting doubt on both the motives behind U.S. air strikes against ISIS and the effectiveness of this strategy. Senior Iranian political and military leaders instead claim that strengthening Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s government is the key to defeating ISIS. Iran has been a stalwart ally of Syria since the uprising began in spring 2011, unwavering in its political and military support of Assad’s government. The following are excerpted remarks by Iranian leaders on the Syria crisis and U.S. military intervention against ISIS.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Rouhani referred to Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard's remarks that certain western states are ready to fight terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria, and said, “We are happy that the West has realized the clear truth on which Iran has always insisted. We hope that it would be serious on it.”
Sept. 3, 2014, according to Islamic Republic News Agency
Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid al Moualem
The world’s six major powers and Iran have made some progress in nuclear talks, but disagreements remain over the scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities and a timeline for implementing a deal. A U.S. official, however, suggested that an agreement is still possible by the November 24 deadline, and discussions of an extension are premature. In a State Department briefing, a U.S. official emphasized that these talks focus on "a full agreement - not only the understandings, but all of the annexes that go with those understandings." Negotiations were “very difficult,” but there “was progress in all fields,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, according to Reuters. E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met with Secretary of State John Kerry and Zarif on October 15.The following are remarks by U.S. and Iranian officials and a State Department briefing on the state of diplomacy.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I just told Deputy Foreign Minister Araghchi that that I was coming down to do a backgrounder, and I said, you know, “You’ll know what I’m going to say.” And his suggestion was that I simply hand you the transcript from the last one, and that would probably do the trick. (Laughter.) So we thought that was pretty funny. Obviously, you don’t think that’s so funny, but we all thought it was pretty funny.
As [Moderator] said, the Secretary, the high representative, and Foreign Minister Zarif are still meeting. They began again at 8:30 this evening after having met for some hours this afternoon. Let me say in general that you all know that Iran has said that they don’t want a nuclear weapon, have never wanted a nuclear weapon, never will have a nuclear weapon, including in a fatwa by the Supreme Leader.
What these negotiations are about is whether Iran is willing to take verifiable actions to show the world that their program is indeed exclusively for peaceful purposes.
Yesterday we met bilaterally for the day with the Iranian negotiating team at the deputy foreign minister level, having included Helga Schmid and the EU team who also had their own bilateral meeting as well, but we included them in ours because everything that we do is in the context of the P5+1 or E3+3 or E3+3+EU meetings – (laughter) – whichever moniker you choose to use. And so we think as we are coming down the road here, we think it’s quite important to stay very, very tightly coordinated, and so we were very glad that Helga Schmid could join us and her team could join us.
We met yesterday probably for both at the political level...So we met both at the political level and our experts met in parallel for several hours yesterday.
We went over every issue, but Iran thinks it’s important to meet with the United States from time to time because not only do we hold a number of the sanctions that are of greatest interest to them, but we – they are also very interested in our views on what needs to be accomplished. But they have bilaterals with every member of the E3+3 and so we have them as well now on a regular basis.
Today, Secretary Kerry, Baroness Ashton, and Foreign Minister Zarif met trilaterally for about four hours this afternoon, and then they started again this evening. Tomorrow, the High Representative and the Foreign Minister will convene a meeting with all of the P5+1 political directors. One of the things that we try to do is whenever anyone has a bilateral, either by phone, by SVTC, by meeting – and this time it’s meeting – we want to debrief each other, we want to stay well coordinated, we want to discuss next steps. So we will have a debriefing session with the High Representative and the Foreign Minister, and then we will have some internal meetings to discuss how we’re going to proceed next as a group.
Everyone’s been working incredibly hard. You all know – those of you who have lived this life with all of us know that these are incredibly complex negotiations. The detail is extraordinary. Every line of any political agreement has pages of annexes that are attached to it because the detail absolutely is critical to all of this.
The discussions remain very intense, very focused, very concrete; continue to cover every issue that needs to be part of the comprehensive agreement, because again, you all are tired of me saying but it is true: Until everything is agreed, nothing is agreed, and you can get 98 percent of the way there and the last two percent may kill the entire deal. So you’ve got to get it all or you don’t have an agreement, so you constantly are getting closer and then you move away because you have to manage another element, and then you find your way back again until all the pieces come together. So I know it gets frustrating for the press to want to say, “Well, have you made progress? Where are you?” But it’s really an amoeba that sort of moves in and out until all of the pieces lock into place.
We’ve been very deliberately working through all the technical issues. Our expert team and all of the experts at the E3+3 are simply extraordinary, do amazing work. We’ve been chipping away at some of the issues. Everyone has put ideas on the table to see if we can move the ball forward. We have and continue to make some progress, but there is still a substantial amount of work to be done.
Many people, including the President of the United States in his UN General Assembly speech, have said what a historic opportunity this is. We agree, obviously, with the President. And as the President also said, we hope Iran decides to take advantage of this historic opportunity. We can foresee a way forward through a verifiable agreement that both resolves the international community’s concerns about the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program and also provides the Iranian people with more economic opportunity and an end to isolation, and a time certain after duration of the agreement when Iran will be treated as any other non-nuclear-weapon state under the NPT. But the question remains, and we will know when we get to the end of this process, whether Iran’s leaders can and will seize this opportunity.
QUESTION: Could you talk about what the biggest hangups are right now, what are the big sticking points that still need to be resolved?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You’re not going to like my answer. It’s sort of everything, in the sense that we have a lot of detail on every single subject. We know where we are headed. We know what we each want the objective to be and we’re trying to narrow those gaps. But we have to do so in a way that ensures that all of the pathways to fissile material for a nuclear weapon are shut down.
So the pathway to using weapons-grade plutonium, which is best evidenced by the Arak reactor – and we have some possible solutions to that. I think most people know that we’ve been discussing some technical ways to deal with this. But they are substantial and they are detailed, and so you have to know every one of the details to know whether you can get there or not. We have to shut down the enriched uranium path, and that’s Natanz and Fordow.
We obviously hope that we can deal with both of those, but there are many elements to each of those facilities that have to be dealt with. And then we want to make sure we shut down the covert path, and that is largely done through very specific and very meaningful and concrete verification and monitoring mechanisms.
And each one of these pathways has layers and layers of detail, and you have to understand every one of those layers to know whether what you think you’ve gotten really works.
QUESTION: Michele Kelemen with NPR. Can you give us a sense of just what the mood is here? Do they feel like they’re really at the end point, or is there talk of moving it on? I mean, even Lavrov today – yesterday was saying that this November 24th date isn’t sacrosanct. It’s –
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, we’re all still focused – those of us who are working on this day by day – on November 24th and getting to an agreement by November 24th. We’re not taking the pressure off ourselves or this process.
QUESTION: Is that partly because of U.S. politics?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, that’s because if you take the pressure off yourself, then you never have to make hard decisions. And deadlines help people to make hard decisions, and there are hard decisions to be made here. And we must. So we are all keeping the pressure on ourselves, and that includes Iran.
In terms of mood, in a professional way, we all know each other pretty well now. You can tell when the Deputy Foreign Minister jokes. He reads the transcripts of these backgrounders, and when he can joke, “Why don’t you just hand over the last one? You’re going to say the same thing,” it’s reached a level of we know each other well enough to make jokes.
But that, of course, will not get an agreement done. The discussions are very serious. They’re very direct. They’re very detailed. All of us, even those of us at the political level, have learned more about this process than we ever imagined we would know. I’m very lucky, because I have this fantastic team and more who stand behind them, both here, back in Washington, and in our labs in Los Alamos, for instance, who help me every single day to figure out what to do here.
QUESTION: Was there any talk or consideration at all given to an extension, and would you rule that out?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We have not discussed an extension. We believe on keeping the pressure on ourselves. I have said in previous backgrounders that I’m – know enough about negotiations that you never say never, but today we are focused on November 24th and November 24th only.
QUESTION: It seems increasingly unlikely that you’re going – and I think few people expect you to come up with a full-fledged comprehensive settlement of this issue by November 24th. And so what most people think is going to happen is you’ll either negotiate another version of the Joint Plan of Action, perhaps with some enhanced measures. If you – keeping the November 24th deadline, is it – would it be sufficient in your view to negotiate an accord that continued the terms now in place for the Joint Plan of Action, or do you have to get something more than that just to address the concerns of the American Congress?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So what we are working on now is a full agreement – not only the understandings, but all of the annexes that go with those understandings. This is a situation where unless you have the detail, you do not know that you have the agreement you think you have. It’s just as simple as that. They are not – they are inseparable.
QUESTION: Since you said the goal is a full agreement with all of the annexes, does that rule out a sort of – I don’t want to say another interim agreement, but an agreement that moves the ball forward by the end of November but doesn’t go to – doesn’t include all of the legal reservations, all of the understandings, and that work could continue past that deadline with some sort of interim agreement?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Let me repeat what I say: We are only focused on one thing right now, and that is having a full agreement done by the 24th of November.
QUESTION: Could I ask what the schedule is looking like for the next few weeks coming up towards November 24th? Are you going to repeat what happened in July when you met (inaudible) in Vienna for a period of weeks?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: One of the reasons that all of the political directors are getting together tomorrow first to hear the debrief from the High Representative and the Foreign Minister, and then to have an internal discussion among ourselves, is to decide what makes sense in terms of the next step forward. I would imagine that out of the meeting that the High Representative having – hosting right now with Minister Zarif and Secretary Kerry, they may have some ideas they want to present to us about how they think we should go forward. But this is a decision for the E3+3, not just for the United States, so – or even the high representative or the Iranians. It is a decision for all of the E3+3 and we will discuss that tomorrow.
QUESTION: On November 12th of last year, in a similar setting in a neighboring country – (laughter) – we were made to understand that agreement on the P5+1 was four or five words away. Has it been the same four or five words for 11 months, or are there different words now?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Who said it was four or five words?
MODERATOR: That was before the JPOA was finished, though.
QUESTION: How close are you to a final? Three – roughly three quarters of the way there, or --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I can’t – I know people want to put percentages on this, but I have said and I will say it again – this is where you get tired of listening to me – you can’t put a percentage on it, because even if you thought you were 75 percent of the way or even 98 percent of the way there, that last two percent may be the most important 2 percent there is, may be the glue that puts it all together. So can’t put a percentage on it.
Clearly, details of a final #nuclear deal are still being discussed. A deal based on mutual respect & understanding will benefit all.— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) October 13, 2014
Tehran’s endorsement of Haidar al Abadi as Iraq’s new prime minister suggests that Iran recognizes that former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government may have been a factor that led to the current crisis. Maliki's government had alienated both Sunnis and Kurds. "As the new prime minister is elected, God willing, problems will be solved and the government will give a good lesson to terrorists who seek sedition in Iraq,” Khamenei told Iranian diplomats in August. Abadi, a Shiite, hails from al Maliki’s Islamic Da’wa Party.
June 22, 2014 at a meeting with judiciary officials
Sept. 25, 2014 in a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al Abadi
“Unfortunately, we face two festering tumors in this region and across the Muslim world. One tumor has always caused distress to the Palestinians and Muslims and these days it is secreting and wreaking havoc on the land of olive [trees]. The other festering tumor which is agonizing the Muslims these days is a campaign launched under the name of Islam, religion, caliphate and caliphacy and has undertaken the murder and killing of Muslims in the region. All studies indicate that both tumors have roots at the same point.”
Where did #ISIS come from? Who's funding them? We warned everyone, esp the West, about dangers of supporting such violent& reckless groups.— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) June 14, 2014
Terrorists are committing atrocities in Iraq. Unfort'ly they call themselves Muslim& claim their way is that of Quran pic.twitter.com/KK7UzgXepR— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) June 12, 2014
Sept. 22, 2014 in a meeting with his Emirati counterpart Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan
ZARIF: I think this problem of extremism and sectarianism is a danger not only to Iraq and Syria
but to the entire region. We've been saying that --
AMANPOUR: But to Iran?
ZARIF: -- to Iran, too. Iran is a part of this region. We don't like instability in our neighborhood. Inside Iran, we are probably best protected from such waves of extremism than any of our neighbors. All our neighbors are more vulnerable to this threat than Iran is internally.
But for us, our domestic security is inseparable from security of the region. So for us a secure Iraq, a secure Persian Gulf, a secure Afghanistan is as important as our own security.
So from that perspective, it becomes important. But we said it from the very beginning that this problem of extremism, violence and use of sectarian divisions in order to advance a political agenda was dangerous for all countries in the region and that is why we insisted from the very beginning that we need to have a strong unified stance against it.
AMANPOUR: And I presume you want a unified Iraq as well, because right now, it looks like it's fragmenting and it could possibly fragment.
I want to ask you specifically, Nouri al-Maliki is a product of Iran, according to everybody. In other words, Iran backed him in 2010 when he was reelected. Iran backed a lot of the people who he brought into his cabinet. And they are calling him extremely divisive, extremely sectarian and practically the opposite --They're calling him extremely divisive and extremely sectarian. Is al-Maliki the man that Iran wants to see as prime minister, no matter what?
ZARIF: Well, I think you made some assumptions that are not correct. Iran, first of all, wants Iraq territorial integrity and I have spoken to almost every regional foreign minister and all of them want to ensure that Iraq remains a secure with its own boundaries, national unity of Iraq. Disintegration of Iraq is going to be a disaster for the entire region. So that's given.
Iraq has a very lively democratic process. It's very young but very lively. People go and vote and people elect certain people. Our advice to the Iraqis, all of them, who’ve never supported any individual or party, our advice has been that you need to work, based on the democratic model, but at the same time to ensure that the government is inclusive, that the government represents various views.
Now you have a system in Iraq with an overwhelming majority of one group, but you have a system where the president is from one ethnicity; the speaker of the parliament is from another religious sectarian group. The prime minister is from another.
If you find this combination within the constitutional framework that Iraq has established and then allow various political parties to form a workable government that also represents all segments of Iraqi society, this is our desire. We're not in the business of supporting any individual.
We support the Iraqi people. We support the choices of the Iraqi people, whoever Iraq can choose as its prime minister will have the full backing of Iran, whoever Iraq choose as its prime minister.
And as its president and as its speaker of parliament, will have the full backing of Iran, because for us the number one issue is that we need to respect the choices of the Iraqi people. And my advice to countries in the West as well as countries in the region is to have respect for people, allow them to make their own choices. And once you allow them to make their own choices, they'll make the best choice.
AMANPOUR: Obviously Iraq has had a very painful history under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Obviously Iran suffered from that as well. But Prime Minister Maliki has at best treated the Sunnis as worse than junior partners, has basically frozen them out.
Do you think that the Shiite prime minister, because that’s what the constitution says it should be, should treat Sunnis as equals or as junior partners?
ZARIF: No, you see, it's a government based on democratic principles people have -- it doesn't matter whether you're Sunni --
AMANPOUR: It should be, but it hasn't happened.
ZARIF: -- no, no. You see, you have a government where political parties -- unfortunately some of them are along sectarian lines -- but political parties go to the polls, receive votes, some have more votes, some have less votes. They're different voting blocs in the Iraqi parliament.
Why do we need to send it into a sectarian issue? These are, in the United Kingdom, for instance, the prime minister is from one party; it has a coalition which works with another party. It's just a fact of life.
Why people need to make -- to insert divisive sectarian issues into this? We need to establish a government in Iraq that represents the views of the people but at the same time maybe if you have something exactly on that line, you will get only one group taking over all segments of Iraqi power structure and that is why you have these divisions and these attempts to bring everybody inside.
It doesn’t mean that people who got the largest number of votes should be equally represented as people who got two votes in the parliament, that is not the meaning of democracy. Meaning of democracy is you get more votes; you get more seats in the parliament. You get more seats in the government. That's the reality.
But keeping that reality in mind, we insist that all segments of Iraqi society should be included in governing Iraq. That's the only way to ensure stability in Iraq and I'm sure all political parties, be Shia, Kurd, Sunni, all of them and non-sectarian, all of them have that objective in mind.
Now the way to achieve that objective may be different from -- based on one platform to another. But I think that's what we need to achieve. We should not start inserting sectarian divisions into Iraq.
Sectarian considerations are really dangerous for our region and really dangerous for the world. We live in a globalized world and it's very dangerous to fan these flames of sectarian hatred, one where it won't be contained in that area.
AMANPOUR: Is ISIS sufficient a threat for Iran and the United States to combat? Or does Iran not want to see any U.S. involvement in Iraq right now?
ZARIF: I think the international community needs to come together in order to deal with this threat of extremism and violence.
AMANPOUR: Specifically in Iraq.
ZARIF: In Iraq, in Syria, elsewhere. It requires a unified approach, not shortsighted policies, not infringing yourself in positions but really seeing the problem as it is. It is a problem of extremism. It is a problem of demagogues using inherent resentment that have arisen out of decades of injustice in our region.
But these are demagogues using these resentments in order to advance a very dangerous political agenda. And this dangerous political agenda may fit in the designs of some external powers. I don't know. I do not want to espouse conspiracy theories.
But what is important is everybody should come to realize that whatever their short-term interests are, in long term, this is a threat against everybody and everybody needs to have a unified international and regional stance against such acts of extremism and allowing it to take root in Iraq.
Any political, any shortsighted political gain that some people believe they can derive from this unfortunate situation in Iraq is exactly shortsighted and will come to haunt them in the future.
June 21, 2014 according to Parliament’s website
“The Islamic Republic of Iran, under its humanitarian and principled policies for the provision of security in the region, will continue confrontation with the terrorist groups and is ready to cooperate with the United Nations as the only legitimate source in this regard.”
Oct. 20, 2014 in a meeting with the U.N. envoy to Syria
“The framework provided by the Iraqi Constitution stipulates that the prime minister has been chosen by the majority group in the parliament.
“We congratulate Haidar al-Abadi on his nomination as prime minister, for him personally and for religious dignitaries, the Iraqi population and its political groups.
First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri
“There is no particular problem along our common border with Iraq; however, the necessary measures have been taken by the Interior Ministry and border police.”
June 23, 2014, according to press
Basij Militia Commander Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqdi
“The terrorist and anti-Islamic ISIL group is the US’s instrument for sowing discord among Muslims in the region.
“The US and the Israeli regime seek to use fanatics and anti-Islamic groups to damage the Islamic community.”
June 23, 2014, according to press
Tehran’s Provisional Friday Prayer Leader Seyed Ahmad Khatami
“The US and Israel are supporting the ISIS with the purpose of disintegrating Iraq and create differences among Muslims.”
June 27, 2014
Parliament's Director General for International Affairs Hossein Sheikholeslami
“Are we stupid to join the Americans and their coalition? Except for the Iraqis, they are all the same people who over the past three years have been plotting against Syria in over 20 different conferences.”
September 2014 according to the press
“Supporters of these terrorist groups want to portray Iraq's parliamentary democracy as a failure because they consider this democracy as a factor for their destruction.”
July 1, 2014 according to the press
“The second thing that we have an interest in is that Iran has influence over Shia, both in Syria and in Iraq, and we do have a shared enemy in ISIL. But I've been very clear publicly and privately we are not connecting in any way the nuclear negotiations from the issue of ISIL. We're not coordinating with Iran on ISIL. There's some de-conflicting in the sense that since they have some troops or militias they control in and around Baghdad, we let them know, don't mess with us, we're not here to mess with you, we're focused on common our enemy but there's no coordination or common battle plan and there will not be because, and this brings me to the third issue, we still have big differences with Iran's behavior vis-à-vis our allies. Then, you know, poking and prodding at-- and-- and creating unrest and sponsoring terrorism in the region, around the world, their anti-Israeli rhetoric and behavior so that's a whole another set of issues which prevents us from ever being true allies…”
Nov. 9, 2014 in an interview with CBS News
Ambassador to Tehran Mohammad Majid al Sheikh
“These are just the rumors of biased and despiteful media which are seeking to sow discord among the regional states, especially Iran and Iraq.
“Iraq doesn’t need any country neither for weapons nor for the military forces at all; hence, I emphasize that neither General [Qassem] Soleimani nor any other (Iranian) figure is in Iraq.”
June 24, 2014, according to press
Photo credits: President.ir, Khamenei.ir, Iran's Ministry of Defense, Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ali Larijani by Harald Dettenborn [CC-BY-3.0-de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons,
In October and September, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s office released three infographics outlining his support for nuclear talks, Iran’s red lines and principles of Iranian diplomacy. The main points closely matched his speech in April marking National Nuclear Technology Day, which is included below.
On April 9, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei outlined six red lines on nuclear talks in an address to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. The semi-official government website NuclearEnergy.ir pulled out his six points and distributed the graphic below. The following are excerpts from his speech marking National Nuclear Technology Day.
On October 9, the Basij Student Organization called on Revolutionary Guards Qods Force Commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani to defend the Syrian town of Kobane from Islamic State militants. The Basij is a volunteer paramilitary organization divided into various branches across Iran. Its student branch warned in a letter to Soleimani that inaction by Iran would result in the slaughter of Kobane’s inhabitants. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was also copied.
The Islamic State has been trying to take the Kurdish town for three weeks. U.S. airstrikes and Kurdish fighters on the ground have slowed the Islamic State’s advance, but its fighters reportedly penetrated part of the town as of October 6. The following is a translation of the student organization’s letter published by Fars News Agency.
Dear Commander of the Qods Force,
Greetings and respect;
As you are aware, the long-oppressed people of Kobane are surrounded by Daesh [Islamic State] forces. The latest news is that half of the Kurdish city has been captured by these barbarians and criminals. If the diplomatic apparatus and Iranian military are silent and inactive on this issue, the complete capture of the city and the killing of its people are possible. Please take advantage of and use all the capabilities of the foreign ministry and the Qods Force to prevent this crime. We ask God for enduring success in serving the world’s oppressed people.