United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Iran's Man on Wire: Javad Zarif

Robin Wright
 
            When Mohammed Javad Zarif left the United Nations in 2007, I asked what he had achieved in five years as Tehran's ambassador. "Not much," he said with a sigh. "A stupid idealist who has not achieved anything in his diplomatic life after giving one-sided concessions--this is what I'm called in Iran." He flew home depressed, faded into academia and vowed not to return to diplomacy.
            Over the past two months, however, Zarif has re-emerged to lead Tehran's boldest overture to the West since the 1979 revolution. Iran's charismatic new President Hassan Rouhani clearly commissioned the initiative, but his new Foreign Minister is the plan's architect.
 
      It's the comeback of a diplomatic lifetime. "A second chance," Zarif told me last month. And a huge risk. If he fails to make a deal limiting Tehran's nuclear capabilities--on Oct. 15, Zarif sat down in Geneva with the world's six major powers for a fresh round of negotiations--Iran could face punishing military strikes.
      The talks went well, Zarif and top E.U. diplomat Catherine Ashton agreed. The negotiators will reconvene on Nov. 7.
Skeptics claim Zarif is merely buying time with all this talking so Tehran can work on developing nuclear weapons. "We know that deception is part of the [Iranian] DNA," State Department Under Secretary Wendy Sherman, chief U.S. negotiator in Geneva, warned a Senate committee on Oct. 3.
 
            But Zarif has also built a following in Washington. "He doesn't play games," says Senate Select Committee on Intelligence chair Dianne Feinstein, who met Zarif in 2006 and was among a number of members of Congress who talked to him at the U.N. in September. "I think a deal is doable."
            Zarif has the ear of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and was approached by three of the six candidates in June's presidential election to be their prospective Foreign Minister. But he has also been lauded by the likes of Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Chuck Hagel when they were in the Senate. And he earned a University of Denver doctorate under the same professors who taught Condoleezza Rice.
            Zarif is not just the man of the moment, however. He helped create the moment by being at the heart of virtually every key deal Tehran struck with the U.S. for two decades, beginning in the late 1980s. He was the "invaluable" liaison in talks that freed dozens of foreign hostages seized by pro-Iranian militias in Lebanon in the 1980s, former U.N. official and hostage negotiator Giandomenico Picco says. And after the 2001 U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, U.S. diplomats credited the Iranian envoy with persuading the Afghan opposition to accept the U.S. formula for a new government in Kabul.
            The danger--to Zarif and to the chances of a deal--may be that Zarif actually has too many American contacts. He was fiercely grilled by hard-liners during his parliamentary confirmation. Just days before the Geneva talks, a conservative newspaper claimed Zarif had deemed "inappropriate" the phone call between Presidents Obama and Rouhani at the end of the U.N. General Assembly. Zarif said he'd been misquoted, but the stress triggered nervous spasms that sent him to the hospital. Winning over the powerful hard-liners in Iran's complex power structure will continue to pose a huge challenge to Zarif--and Rouhani.
             The real question," says Ryan Crocker, a veteran of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East who has dealt with Zarif since 2003, "is whether hard-liners in both Tehran and Washington sabotage whatever comes out of this effort to resolve the nuclear issue and improve U.S.-Iran relations."
 
      A host of issues will divide the two nations for years to come. But for the first time in 34 years, Zarif's frenetic diplomacy has spurred talk of détente between Tehran and Washington. When asked in New York City last month about the potential shape of future ties between Iran and the U.S., Zarif invoked the relationship between the U.S. and Russia, in which deep differences remain but communication and occasional collaboration continue nonetheless. It's a model far preferable to the military alternative. "This time," Zarif told me, "I can't afford to fail."
 
 
 
 
 
 
This article is reposted from Time magazine.
 
Robin Wright has traveled to Iran dozens of times since 1973. She has covered several elections, including the 2009 presidential vote. She is the author of several books on Iran, including "The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and transformation in Iran" and "The Iran Primer: Power, Politics and US Policy." She is a joint scholar at USIP and the Woodrow Wilson Center.

 

New Progress in Iran Nuke Talks?

            After talks on October 15 and 16, Iran and the world’s six powers reported that the nuclear talks were “substantive and forward looking.” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters, “We hope that this is a beginning of a new phase in our relations.” It was the sixth round of negotiations since 2011. But the closed-door meetings in Geneva were the first since the June election of President Hassan Rouhani, who  had pledged to resolve the nuclear dispute during his campaign. The talks included the top nuclear negotiators from the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. The next round will be held in Geneva on November 7 and 8.

            “We had detailed technical discussions at a level we have not had before,” said a senior U.S. diplomat. “The differences between the two sides are still numerous; but we are on a path that would have them resolved,” echoed Iran’s deputy foreign minister for international and legal affairs, Abbas Araqchi. The pace of talks was reportedly quicker than in the past because they were conducted in English for the first time. But the delegations declined to provide details. The following are excerpted remarks by top officials from Iran and the world’s six major powers.

E.U. High Representative Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
            “Delegations of the E3+3 and the Islamic Republic of Iran, led respectively by the E.U. High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy and Foreign Minister of Iran, held two days of substantive and forward looking negotiations in Geneva on 15 and 16 October 2013.
“Building on the positive atmosphere of the first ministerial meeting held in New York on 26 September, the Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran presented an outline of a plan as a proposed basis for negotiation, which is being carefully considered by the E3+3 as an important contribution.
            “Members of delegations followed with in-depth bilateral and joint consultations on various elements of the approach. It was decided to convene the next meeting in Geneva on November 7 and 8. The participants also agreed that E3+3 and Iranian nuclear, scientific and sanctions experts will convene before the next meeting to address differences and to develop practical steps.”
            Oct. 16, 2013 in a joint statement
 
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
            “We hope that this is a beginning of a new phase in our relations [with the outside world]. [Talks were] extensive and fruitful [and] exhibited the necessary political will to move the process forward.
            “We will not back down on our rights. At the same time, we feel there is no need for concerns about our nuclear program... It is logical to remove any concerns though.
            “I am hopeful that we can reach the mutual objectives… the detailed part is the most difficult part.
            “We need to take reciprocal steps, but this is a very important test in our eyes for the P5+1 to win back the trust of Iran. I believe an important step was taken in this round.”
            Oct. 16, 2013 to reporters
 
Senior Administration Official
            “Over the past two days, we’ve had serious and substantive discussions with our P5 counterparts and with Iran.  We had detailed technical discussions at a level we have not had before.  And we discussed concrete steps and actions that are necessary for Iran to address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program.
            “Iran addressed what they saw as the objective, what should be in a final step, and what they might do as a first step.  This is a framework that the P5+1 has used for some time.  Although there remain many differences in each area and in what sanctions relief might be appropriate, specific and candid discussions took place.
            “Throughout this process, the P5+1 has remained united, as we always have.
            “We also had our first bilateral meeting at the political director level with the Iranians during the P5+1 since 2009, when then Political Director, Under Secretary Bill Burns sat down with Saeed Jalili right here in Geneva.  Our discussion bilaterally yesterday was a useful one.
            “There is more work – much more work – to do, as we knew there would be.  We have always said that there would be no agreement overnight, and we’ve been clear that this process is going to take some time.  The issues are complex, very technical, and require sound verification.  Any agreement has to give the United States and the world every confidence that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon.
            “As you heard High Representative Ashton say, we will be meeting again here in Geneva on November 7th and 8th.  There will also be an experts meeting with the P5 and with the Iranians in advance of that round.  And as was said in the statement, that will include nuclear, scientific, and sanctions experts for that meeting.
            “We have said that there is time for diplomacy, but as Iran’s program continues, we must move both cautiously and quickly.
            “We came to Geneva looking to have a substantive discussion, to hear Iran’s proposed approach, to begin to work through some of the technical details that have proven so elusive in the past, and to underscore for Iran all of our continued concerns and our approach to this problem. All of that occurred.

            Oct. 16, 2013 at a background briefing

Photo credit: EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and Iran Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif by European External Action Service via Flickr

 

Zarif Diary on Historic US-Iran Talks

      In an all-time first for Iranian diplomacy, new Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif has been chronicling his visit to New York on his Facebook page for Iranians back home. On September 26, Secretary of State John Kerry and Zarif held their first meeting on the sideline of talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers. President Obama spoke with President Hassan Rouhani on the phone the following day, marking the first direct communication between U.S. and Iranian heads of state since the 1979 revolution.

            Zarif’s reflections on these historic events and his busy schedule have generated more than 350,000 “likes” on his Facebook page. The following are Zarif's most recent entries, translated by USIP’s Maral Noori.
 
September 29
 
Hello friends,
            It is 5 a.m. on Sunday in New York and 1:30 p.m. in dear Iran. I, your servant, and my colleagues from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are still in New York. I will continue to have bilateral meetings with foreign ministers, give interviews and have sideline meetings until Thursday. Then we will return to Tehran.
           
I began writing the last report for you all at 5:15 a.m. on Friday [September 27] because it was not yet the time for morning prayers. I wrote part of the report before prayers and the rest after prayers. Then I looked at some of your sweet messages that I swear would resolve any difficulty and cure fatigue.
            I ate breakfast with the president of the republic and around 8:30 a.m. I prepared for the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which I chaired, and went to the U.N. headquarters.
            The session began at 9:15 a.m. with speeches by the president of the republic [Hassan Rouhani], the U.N. Secretary General and the General Assembly president. It lasted until 1:30 p.m. About 30 ministers and senior representatives of the member states spoke about the rule of law in international relations.
      Chairing such a session is tedious because, as chairman, you do not have a lot of work to do. For four and a half hours, he or she must sit above the others, listen politely, thank one speaker, and announce the next speaker’s turn. Of course, when an international session reaches decision-making time, the chairman is challenged. I had such sweet experiences in the recent and distant past. Now, however, the chairmanship is sort of a ritual that I am not keen on, but there was no choice.
 
      After returning to the hotel to say goodbye to Dr. Rouhani and his delegation, I found out that Mr. Obama wanted to make a phone call. U.S. authorities had been requesting a meeting between the two presidents since the beginning of the week. It did not happen for various reasons. [But] informal contact between the parties more or less continued. A meeting between me, your servant, and Mr. [John] Kerry was held on the sidelines of the P5+1 [world’s six major powers] session. After informal communications continued, it became clear that the two presidents might be able to speak to one another over the phone. While I was administering the NAM session, five or six more Americans reached out until they managed to set up the phone conversation. Finally, the conversation was held as Dr. Rouhani was on the verge of leaving the hotel. They emphasized political will on both sides to resolve the nuclear issue as quickly as possible and stressed orders to Mr. Kerry and myself, your servant, to reach a quick solution with political will to resolve the nuclear issue from both sides. The conversation was respectful and positive, and hopefully a good start for the difficult work that requires everyone’s support, and people to wait, trust brokers, and avoid quick, partisan judgments and…
            I don’t know why some in Tehran see this trip and this conversation as a thorn in the eyes of malice for Iran, Islam and the Revolution or why they question these actions as ill-considered. Nevertheless, as Hafez [a 14th-century poet] stated (see below):
 
      We’ll be faithful, endure the blame, and  rejoice
      Because on our path, to despair is sacrilege
      Of course you know that this poem begins with this verse:
      I am the infamous lover in this town.
      My eyes, evil seeds have never sown.
      Hopefully, we will learn to see the good and trust each other— especially the elected [representatives] of Iranian people.
 
           Anyway, I had six other bilateral meetings from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday. Afterwards, I saw several young Iranian experts that had come to New York from various cities that were very sweet and enthusiastic. At the end of the session, an internal meeting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs delegation was held that I think was the last session [of the day]. I fell asleep as my friends were still in my room.
           I visited with several Iranians that had come from a variety of cities starting at 7 a.m. yesterday, which was Saturday. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., I had back-to-back meetings with nine U.N. secretaries at the United Nations. I even had to do my noon and evening prayers in the side hall. While standing and waiting, I ate two pieces of vegetable pizza that my friends had procured from outside.
           At the end of the trip I will present the full list of meetings. I do not think there is an important country left with a president or minister (or both) who I have not met with during this trip. Many made their own requests and followed up very diligently.
           I returned to the residence (that same residence as Iran’s ambassador) after the meetings. I must say that due to the short visit of the president and busy work schedule, all of us (even the ambassador), along with the president and delegation, stayed in the hotel closest to the United Nations headquarters. There was nothing to break the [schedule] up. But with his [the president’s] return, I went back to the residence.
           Anyways, at the residence, I had a four-hour session with a number of famous and prominent American nuclear scientists who shared their own opinions about the technical methods and proliferation risk posed by Iran’s nuclear program. The session was very useful. The esteemed representatives of the Atomic Energy Organization have come to New York to participate in P5+1 session. Overall, the meeting was good and constructive.
           I had many long meetings with some of these people [scientists] at the same residence seven or eight years ago during my time as ambassador in New York, when I was also responsible for nuclear negotiations. Those meetings towards the end of my tenure led to the idea that I presented in Paris to three European countries in April 2005 (also, for the record, the plan was to use PowerPoint!!). Unfortunately, because of pressure (from the deputy US secretary of state) over the Europeans’ plans, we did not reach a conclusion [on the nuclear issue]. Everyone acknowledges that if we had reached a conclusion then other conditions would have been created.
           Hopefully, today, which is Sunday, I will go to ABC network’s studio in New York at 8:30 a.m. to give a live interview. On Sunday mornings, American network television stations have similar shows [to ones in Iran] that they call “Sunday morning talk shows.” Each week, several American officials have interviews on these programs, which are very popular.
           This will not be the first time that I have appeared on the program. About 26 years ago, I appeared on it with Iraqi Ambassador Ismat Kittani. Due to the Iran-Iraq war, we went to a studio, sat in a room and had a polite fight. The late Mr. Kittani was very graceful. Of course, Mr. Kittani died years before the scheduling of this [Sunday’s] program… 
           After my interview, I will meet with one of the leading professors and patriotic Iranians from California (it is a six-hour direct flight to New York from there)... After that, I will have lunch with 15 prominent American professors and politicians. At dinner, I will attend a program for young elite Iranian [college students]. I will be counting the moments during this program. I saw names of professors from Harvard and MIT on the participants list who were… more or less, all under thirty years old.
           It is now 6:30 a.m. Again, I did my prayer in the middle of writing this report. I jabbered too much, perhaps because my heart is full of love and prayers, and talking with all of you friends is relaxing.
           May Allah protect you, and I am hoping to meet you again. 
 
September 30
 
Hello Friends,
 
           The time is 5:15 a.m. in New York. This morning I woke up earlier than usual, and for the last hour, I have been reading what you all wrote in response to my Rumi [13th-century poet] post. Bravo. Did you notice that in all my posts, this one had the most likes and more than 3000 comments? What a beautiful poem Rumi wrote...
           Yesterday, the interview and sessions were good, by the grace of Allah. Of course, the interview was very challenging. Nevertheless, I must try. I am hopeful that you will forgive me for my mistakes.
           For two hours between sessions, I found time to walk along the side of the artificial lake in New York’s Central Park that is right across from the [Iranian ambassador’s] residence. But honestly, one of my old friends who came to visit suggested that we walk and talk instead of sitting. I had not walked in the open air for more than week, other than four or five steps from the door of the car to the door of a hotel or the residence.
           The session with the Iranian elite took about three and a half hours, and was extremely useful and fun. I, however, mostly listened to my friends’ opinions and recommendations. 
           Today, I have about eight meetings at the United Nations or agencies. I am going to see some foreign ministers and several officials, including Ms. [Navi] Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. I will have discussions. Thank God that the meetings of this week are not as compressed as last week. But there are still more meetings than usual.
           May God protect you.
 
 
 
 

On the Record: Zarif, Kerry, Rice on US-Iran Talks

            On September 29, top officials from Iran and the United States explained their goals and reasoning in the first-ever talks between their foreign ministers two days earlier. The following are transcripts of an interviews with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on ABC’s “This Week,” Secretary of State John Kerry on CBS “60 Minutes” and U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice on CNN’s “GPS with Fareed Zakaria.”

 
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Welcome back to “This Week,” your first in 26 years. This week, analysts in the Middle East have called the events a game-changer, one even likening it to the fall of the Berlin wall. Is that your view? Has there been a fundamental shift in the relationship between the U.S. and Iran?
 
ZARIF: Well, I think we have taken the first steps to address an important issue, both for Iran, for the United States and for the international community, an issue which I believe should not have been, should not have become an issue in the first place.
 
But I has unfortunately become a global problem and now we need to resolve it and the resolution of that issue will be a first step, a necessary first step towards removing the tensions and doubts and misgivings that the two sides have had about each other for the last 30-some years.
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is, of course, the nuclear issue, but there's a lot of skepticism as you know about the ability of President Rouhani and you to deliver on any deal. Analysts look at the fact that there wasn't a handshake, only a phone call, as a sign of weakness. There have been demonstrations greeting President Rouhani when he returned to Iran. And many Western observers believe that your Supreme Leader simply will not do what it takes to back up a deal.
Can you assure Americans that he will indeed back a deal you negotiate?
 
ZARIF: Well, Iran and the United States are similar in many ways. And one is that we both have pluralistic societies where difference of views exist and difference of views are aired. And I think it's very healthy, of course --
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: But he has the final say?
 
ZARIF: Of course, we have to do it with an (inaudible) of mutual respect and mutual interest. We believe that, if the United States is ready to recognize Iran's rights, to respect Iran's rights and move from that perspective, then we have a real chance and we negotiate with the full authority of the Leader.
 
We know what we want to achieve. We know that Iran is not seeking a nuclear weapon. In fact, what I told the foreign ministers and the secretaries of state, in the meeting of E.U. 3+3, or as you want to call it 5+1, I told them that having an Iran that does not have nuclear weapons is not just your goal, it's first and foremost our goal.
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, there's a lot of skepticism about that. But Secretary Kerry, in an interview that's going to air tonight, has laid out some concrete steps that Iran could take in order to prove they don't want a nuclear weapon. Here's what he had to say.
 
VIDEO CLIP of JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: They could immediately open up inspection of the Fordo facility; they could immediately sign the protocols, the additional protocols of the international community regarding inspections. They could offer to cease enrichment above a certain level.
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is Iran prepared to do that?
 
ZARIF: But Iran is prepared to start negotiating. I'm sure Secretary Kerry does not want to dictate to us what we should or shouldn't do. We are willing to engage in negotiations. Of course the United States also needs to do certain things very rapidly. One is --
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: What do you need from the U.S.?
 
ZARIF: One is to dismantle its illegal sanctions against Iran that are targeting ordinary Iranians. Now, in spite of all of the claims to the contrary, it is impossible to open a letter of credit from a bank to buy medicine for Iranian patients because there has been, in fact, blind sanctions against banks dealing with Iran. There has been a lot of arm twisting by the United States, by -- not by the entire government, by certain elements within the U.S. government which have tried to put pressure on ordinary Iranian people.
 
And ordinary Iranian people showed during the last election that they put their trust in the ballot box, they put their trust in the government. They want the government to deal with the rest of the world from a position of strength, through flexibility, but insisting on their rights. Sanctions are not a useful tool of implementing policy. And the United States needs to change that.
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: I understand that's your demand. But in return, is Iran prepared to stop enriching uranium at the levels they are now enriching it?
 
ZARIF: Iran is prepared to negotiate. You know no country does or should negotiate on the --
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: But that's on the table?
 
ZARIF: Negotiations are on the table to discuss various aspects of Iranian's enrichment program. Our right to enrich is nonnegotiable.
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you don't need to enrich above 20 percent, which is only used for military purposes.
 
ZARIF: We do not need military-grade uranium. That's a certainty and we will not move in that direction.
 
But what is necessary is for the two sides to sit together and reach a common objective. We should not have two competing objectives.
 
You see, let me explain to you, that after the breakup of the Soviet Union one of the concerns that you had and in the west -- and I was living here and I shared those concerns -- was that all of these scientists that were involved in the nuclear program were now unemployed and they could go to the black market, seeking employment opportunities.
 
Now, we have a large pool of Iranian scientists. We have an indigenous Iran nuclear program. Israel cannot kill all of our scientists. They have unfortunately assassinated some of them and nobody has raised an eyebrow about it, which is a source of great concern for us that the world, the United States which is supposed to be against terrorism is allowing terrorists to kill innocent Iranian scientists.
 
But now let me go to the issue and say that all these scientists, the best way to ensure that Iran's nuclear program will always remain peaceful is to make sure that these scientists operate in a facility or facilities that are observed by international observers, monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: Including surprise inspections?
 
ZARIF: Oh yeah. We already have surprise inspections. We are moving in that direction.
As you know, when I was negotiating our nuclear issue in the early 2000s, we had -- we were implementing thee additional protocol on a voluntary basis, which provides for surprise inspections. Unfortunately at that time, the U.S. administration, at that time, had different views...
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: But there were some facilities that were hidden.
 
ZARIF: ...different objectives.
No, all facilities at that time -- we're talking about 2003 to 2005 when we were negotiating -- all facilities were open to the IAEA. The IAEA was able to observe the mall...
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: Only after you were caught.
 
ZARIF: And the IAEA said that although Iran had not declared its activities, now that we see those activities none of them have been diverted to military use. So there is no question that Iran ever had military intentions. There may have been technical problems. They may have been problems of transparency and we are prepared to address those problems.
 
But we need to see -- you see lack of confidence is unfortunately mutual. As the president said, both President Obama and President Rouhani have said, there has been 34 years of building up of this mutual distrust. We need to move in that direction of removing some of that mistrust through mutual steps that each side needs to take in order to convince the other side that it's intentions are positive and for a better future for all of us.
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: And a big player in all this, of course, is also Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu is on his way to the United States right now to meet with President Obama, to speak at the U.N. general assembly.
 
On his way, he -- at the airport, his departure, he called the moves by you and President Rouhani this week a smile attack. And the British Sunday Times is reporting that he'll be presenting intelligence to President Obama that says Iran already has enough enriched uranium to produce some nuclear weapon, is developing a nuclear detonator and is testing missiles that could carry nuclear warheads. Your response?
 
ZARIF: Well, a smile attack is much better than a lie attack. Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues have been saying since 1991 -- and you can refer to your records -- that Iran is six months away from a nuclear weapon. And we are how many years, 22 years after that and they are still saying we're six months away from nuclear weapons. I think this six-month time limit is something that is...
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're not six months from a nuclear weapon?
 
ZARIF: We're not seeking nuclear weapons. So, we're not six months, six years, sixty years away from nuclear weapons. We don't want nuclear weapons. We believe nuclear weapons are detrimental to our security. We believe those who have the illusion that nuclear weapons provide them with security are badly mistaken. We need to have a region and a world free from nuclear weapons.
 
I appeared before the international court of justice about 16 years ago and argued for 90 minutes that the use of chemical -- nuclear weapons under any circumstances is illegal. Our leader has a religious verdict that the use of nuclear weapons, even possession of nuclear weapons, is contrary to religious doctrine.
 
So, these are our positions. Israel has 200 war -- nuclear warheads. Israel is the source of insecurity in our region. Israel is the source of aggression and violation of human rights of the Palestinian people. It should not have the audacity to continue to lie to the American people and to the world by -- and mislead everybody.
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: But if you don't want nuclear weapons why enrich uranium to the levels you're enriching uranium?
 
ZARIF: Because that's our right. We needed -- you see, we came to the market requesting, we own 10 percent of a European company that produces enriched uranium called Eurodif. We have not been able to get a gram of uranium from them for the past 30-some years. We have not been able to get the uranium that we need for the Tehran research reactor, which was accidentally -- not accidentally, in fact intentionally built by President Eisenhower under the Atoms for Peace program.
But not only the United States is not providing the fuel for that reactor that itself built in Iran in the 1950s, it is preventing others from providing us with fuel.
 
So what should we do? Should we lay down and die? No. We don't do that. We go and we rely on our own scientists, rely on our own capabilities and we produce them.
 
Now after -- they were hoping we can't -- we couldn't produce them. Now after we were able technically to do it, now they say you shouldn't. You see, we need to -- we cannot start history at the time of our choosing. The background has to be addressed, the historical aspects have to be addressed. The historical sources of Iran's very serious and deep mistrust of the behavior of the United States needs to be addressed and we should take concrete steps, concrete steps, one after another.
 
We have not forgotten the fact, that when Iraq used chemical weapons Iran, not only the United States didn't condemn it, it went out of its way to blame us for the use of chemical weapons.
So, these are all facts of history which are very fresh in the minds of Iranians.
 
We are willing to show flexibility, not forget that. We may be willing forgive as President Mandela said once, but we're not going to forget.
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned history. Both you and President Rouhani have gone farther than your predecessors in acknowledging and condemning the massacre of Jews during World War II.
 
In fact you had a tweet at the beginning of the Jewish new year where you said that Iran has never denied the holocaust. The man who was perceived to denying it is now gone. Happy New Year. This was speaking -- House Leader Nancy Pelosi's daughter.
 
Yet, the website of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, right now, on his website right now in English, he refers to the myth of the massacre of the Jews known as the Holocaust? So, you endorse or reject the Ayatollah's belief that the Holocaust is a myth?
 
ZARIF: I have spoken to the leader on this issue. He rejects and condemns the killing of innocent people.
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: But is the Holocaust a myth?
 
ZARIF: No, the Holocaust is not a myth. Nobody is talking about the myth. It's a -- if it said...
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: It says it right there.
 
ZARIF: If it said it, it's a bad translation. And it is translated out of context that they have, they are using it. He was talking about the reaction to somebody talking about the historical incident and requiring research about that historical incident and said, what is it that people are so upset that somebody is simply asking that we should do some studies of that.
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: The word "myth" upset people...
 
ZARIF: But -- but -- you see, this is the problem when you translate something from Persian to English you may lose something as the film goes, lost in translation. You may lose some of the meaning. This has been unfortunately the case several times over.
 
The point is, we condemn the killing of innocent people, whether it happened in Nazi Germany or whether it's happening in Palestine. One crime, however heinous -- and holocaust was a heinous crime, it was a genocide, it must never be allowed to be repeated.
 
But that crime cannot be, and should not be, a justification to trample the rights of the Palestinian people for 60 years. We should have abandoned this game and start recognizing the fact that without respect for the rights of the Palestinians we will never have peace in our region.
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: Can the translation be changed?
 
ZARIF: I'll talk to them.
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you one final question. You've spent a good part of your adult life in the United States, your children were born here, as I mentioned, you were on "This Week" 26 years ago.
 
When you hear those chants the come up so often in Iran, "death to America. Death to America," what do you think about that? And what can you say to those Iranians who say "death to America."
 
ZARIF: Well, I think they're talking about the policy, they're not talking about the American people. We have been time and again -- the leader, various presidents on the record, that we have no quarrel with the American people.
 
American people are nice, peace loving, generous people who come to the aid of people in need all over the world and this is what we respect and have a lot of admiration for.
 
It's the policies of the U.S. government which has unfortunately been the source of instability in our region for many years. The United States supported dictators. It would be amazing for American people to know what types of governments in our region have been supported by the United States.
 
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, we have a ways to go.
 
ZARIF: But the Iranians -- but the Iranians feel it with their flesh the type of regime that govern them because of the support of the U.S. Some of the countries in our region continue to experience this.
The fact that the United States supports whatever policy is followed by Israel is another indication that the United States needs to revisit some of its policies and move forward.
 
Secretary of State John Kerry
JOHN KERRY: Iran needs to take rapid steps, clear and convincing steps, to live up to the international community's requirements regarding nuclear programs, peaceful nuclear programs. They could immediately open up inspection of the Fordow facility, a secret facility and underground in the mountains. They could immediately sign the protocols, the additional protocols of the international community regarding inspections. They could offer to cease voluntarily to take enrichment above a certain level, because there's no need to have it at a higher level for a peaceful program.
 
SCOTT PELLEY: Enrichment of uranium, which is what happens at Fordow.
 
KERRY: Correct.
 
PELLEY: Throw the doors open to that place.
 
KERRY: Well, that, among other things. Look, I believe, that we have hopes. President Obama clearly welcomes President Rouhani's overtures. But words are not going to replace actions. What we need are actions that prove that we and our allies, our friends in the region, can never be threatened by this program.
 
PELLEY: But the United States would look favorably on relaxing or eliminating the sanctions if the Iranians were serious about abandoning their nuclear weapon.
 
KERRY: Well, the United States is not gonna lift the sanctions until it is clear that a very verifiable, accountable, transparent process is in place, whereby we know exactly what Iran is gonna be doing with its program. And if it does, of course.
 
PELLEY: [President] Rouhani said he'd like to have a deal in three to six months. Is that possible?
 
KERRY: Sure, it's possible. It's possible to have a deal sooner than that depending on how forthcoming and clear Iran is prepared to be. We need to have a good deal here. And a good deal means that it is absolutely accountable, failsafe in its measures to make certain this is a peaceful program. If it is a peaceful program, and we can all see that the whole world sees that, the relationship with Iran can change dramatically for the better and it can change fast.
 
A month ago, both diplomatic breakthroughs would have seemed impossible. But now the hard part begins. Will Iran truly open its program? Will Syria stick to the deal? And with a nation weary of war how far is the U.S. willing to go?
 
PELLEY: The entire world watched this debate in the United States about whether we would attack Syria and saw the opposition to that idea. For our friends and foes around the world who now believe that the U.S. military is sidelined, you would say what?
 
KERRY: The United States military is far from sidelined. We will continue to stand up for our interests in every part of the world where we have articulated them. And I'll give you an example. The president of the United States has made it crystal clear: Iran will not have a nuclear weapon. Now, we want to solve that problem peacefully. We are grateful to President Rouhani and to the supreme leader for their expression that they too want to resolve this. And by far, that is the preferential way to proceed. But no one in the world should misinterpret this president's preparedness or any willingness of the Congress of the United States to protect the security interests of the United States.
 
U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice
ZAKARIA: So, the president has now spoken to President Rouhani. John Kerry has met with his counterpart. Do you think the Iranians are negotiating seriously?

RICE: Well it's too soon to know that, Fareed. What happened earlier this week is that Secretary Kerry, joined by the foreign ministers of Russia and China, the U.K., France and Germany, met -- and, of course, the E.U. Chief Negotiator Cathy Ashton, met for the first time at the foreign minister level with the new Iranian Foreign Minister.

That was a constructive discussion, but it really was a scene- setter in which the Iranian's underscored their commitment not to pursue a nuclear weapon, but peaceful nuclear energy where we and others underscored that Iran had to meet its international obligations under Security Council Resolutions and that the sanctions would remain until those obligations were satisfied.

And, yet, both sides also committed to continue the diplomacy, this month -- next month, rather, in mid October in Geneva, where the negotiations will begin in earnest and the sides will have the opportunity to pick up where they left off some months ago.

Hopefully, with a new Iranian negotiating position and one that is consistent with the message that President Rouhani delivered across New York this week which is that they sense a degree of urgency to resolving this, that they are, indeed, committed to doing so at the negotiating table and that they only seek nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

Obviously, we and others in the international community have every reason to be skeptical of that and we need to test it. And any agreement must be fully verifiable and enforceable.

ZAKARIA: The president said, both in his U.N. speech and in the remarks on Friday, that he respected -- the United States respects Iran's right to "access peaceful nuclear energy."

The wording made me think that it's not clear that he is saying that he respects their right to actually enrich uranium which is part of -- which could be part of a peaceful nuclear energy program.

Is it the position that the United States that Iran cannot enrich uranium?

RICE: Well, Fareed, those words were chosen very deliberately. The United States has not spoken about a right of Iran to enrich. We have said that, as a member of the NPT, in the context of Iran meeting its international obligations.

That means fulfilling it's responsibilities under the IAEA resolutions as well as the U.N. Security Council resolutions, that once it's done that, we would recognize that it, like every other nation, as a good standing member of the NPT has a right to the use of peaceful nuclear energy.

Now, that is obviously a very long-held position and it's not a new position expressed by the United States or by others. But we're some distance from that being achievable obviously because right now Iran remains in noncompliance with its obligations under the Security Council resolutions.

ZAKARIA: Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel set out conditions that he believed Iran would have to fulfill for the sanctions to be lifted. Are those conditions also the United States'? Are they similar?

RICE: Obviously, we are in constant contact and communication with our Israeli allies and other key allies in this process. And we have been largely united in agreeing on the process going forward and on what it necessary to give us a shared degree of confidence.

And when I say us I mean all of us in the international community a shared degree of confidence that, at the end of this process, Iran's nuclear program, if there is to be one, is only for peaceful purposes.

I'm not going to get into the contours of a negotiation that really hasn't gotten under way in any meaningful way, but rather to say that we have been on the same page in the P5-Plus-1 and with Israel and other partners in the region and, indeed, within the entire international community as enshrined in Security Council resolutions on insisting on the steps that need to be taken.

ZAKARIA: One of the things the president talked about on Friday was also the obstinacy of Congress in dealing with some issues. Can -- wouldn't it be fair for the Iranians to look at all this and say even if we were to comply, the Iranians, President Obama will not be able to get Congress to lift the sanctions.

There are 10 Acts of Congress and those are the most harsh sanctions on Iran. Will Congress lift the sanctions if President Obama says Iran has moved and negotiated in good faith?

RICE: Well look, Fareed, we've worked in good collaboration with Congress on the issue of Iran over the course of many years. There are many layers of sanctions, as you know.

There are the multilateral sanctions that we worked very hard to achieve and achieved an unprecedented degree of pressure in the United Nations Security Council. There's sanctions that the European Union has imposed and there's sanctions that we have taken on a national basis, legislated by Congress, but also a number that have been taken on the basis of executive action.

So, we would obviously be working very closely with Congress through the course of any negotiation. And if it were to bear fruit, we would be working to bring Congress along with us.

The goals have always been the same. The goals of our national sanctions, as well as the multilateral sanctions, are not to be an end in themselves, but to supply sufficient pressure so that Iran feels compelled to give up its nuclear program and any ambition for nuclear weapons at the negotiating table.

And I would think that if that goal were achieved in a verifiable and sustainable manner, that Congress would be able to see that it had contributed very significantly towards getting to that place.

ZAKARIA: Susan, a quick question before we go to our break. Is this just a nuclear deal with Iran or is there a prospect of actual normalization of relations between the United States and Iran.

RICE: Well, Fareed, I really wouldn't want to get too far out in front. We've had, you know, just on Friday the first conversation between President Obama and the new president of Iran, the first communication in almost 35 years.

Secretary Kerry met with his counterpart, first meaningful exchange at that level in the same period of time. And the negotiations really at the P5-Plus-1 have not even begun in a substantive way under the new leadership in Iran.

So, it's way too soon to presume either the prospect of an agreement on the nuclear program which we hope to be able to achieve, but we're quite sober about the potential for that.

And that, obviously, would need to be a first step before going on to discuss other aspects of the U.S.-Iranian relationship which has a long way to go to get to the state of normalization.

But, obviously, ultimately if we could get there, that would be in the interest of the Iranian people, whom the United States and the American people have had long-standing respect for.

It's a very talented group of people in a country with a rich history and if we could have a peaceful resolution of the nuclear program and an end to Iran's support for terrorism and other behavior that has concerned us over many years, then we could begin a serious discussion about the future.

ZAKARIA: Ambassador Rice, the president said that if Syria does not comply with the U.N. resolution about chemical weapons, there will be consequences. But there are no consequences mapped out in the resolution. That was something the Russians did not agree to.

So, does that mean the United States would take unilateral military action if Syria does not comply?

RICE: It means certainly that we reserve that option, Fareed, to take whatever enforcement action we deem appropriate, whether military or otherwise.

But I think it's important for people to understand what this resolution accomplishes. In fact, it does say, in very clear-cut terms, that if there is noncompliance on the part of the Syrians, there will be action taken under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter.

Chapter 7 is the only chapter of the charter that calls for and allows for enforcement action.

And, obviously, in any circumstance, we would need to come back to the Security Council if we sought multilateral endorsement of such enforcement action. And, in the circumstances, have a negotiation about what that action ought to be.

But it's very significant that this strong and binding resolution which holds Syria to the obligations that the United States and Russia negotiated in Geneva will, in fact, envision, very explicitly, further consequences in the case of noncompliance.

That was a very strong element of the resolution that was negotiated by Secretary Kerry with the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov going back to Geneva a couple weeks ago.

ZAKARIA: In the -- inherent in this resolution is the necessity for President Assad to be a kind of partner in the sense that he will have to implement this resolution and cooperate with the U.N. inspectors.

And, yet, the position of the United States government, as expressed by the president, is regime change, Assad has to go. How can you do both at the same time, partner with him to destroy the chemical weapons and, at the same time, be trying to get rid of him?

RICE: Well, first of all, Fareed, the position of the United States has been and remains very clear, and that is that Assad must go. He has lost his legitimacy. He has gassed his own people. He has inflicted horrific violence on his country that's spilled over into the region. So, our strong view is that there isn't a viable future for Syria that is governed by Assad.

Now, the resolution and the agreement doesn't speak about Assad as an individual. It speaks about the requirements and the obligations of the Syrian government and it's an important distinction.

Whatever Syrian government is there near-term or in the future will have the same obligation to implement these commitments and this resolution faithfully. So, this is not specific to Assad. It's specific to what is now the Syrian regime and those obligations would redound to any successor government.

ZAKARIA: There was a report -- there have been several reports that some of the key rebel groups in Syria, one led by Mohammed al- Najjar which is just quite a large one, have broken ties with the moderate political opposition, the opposition in exile, and have cast their lot with the al-Qaeda affiliates.

Do you -- does the administration still believe that the vast majority of the Syrian rebels are moderates and democrats even as some of these groups are announcing the need for an Islamic state?

RICE: Well, Fareed, there have long been very significant divisions within the opposition, as you well know. There have been those that are moderate, in our judgment, those that are extremists and those that are somewhere in between and that remains the case.

The U.S. policy has long been to support moderate opposition and we are ramping our support, political, economic and otherwise, to that moderate opposition including its military component on the ground.

We've been very careful to try to avoid in any way strengthening the extremist element of the opposition.

And while the fragmentation that we're seeing adds to the complexity of the situation on the ground, in some respects is clarifying and in some respects it makes it easier for the United States to ensure that the support we're providing is going exactly to those people that we intend it to go.

ZAKARIA: If Assad does not comply and if Congress does not pass an authorization or approve a resolution approving of the strike, as seemed likely the last time around, would the president still use his powers as Commander-In-Chief to authorize a strike?

RICE: The president has been very clear that we remain postured to act if the choice is taken by him and if the necessity arises. We're not taking any options off the table.

And the president has been very clear that, as Commander-In-Chief he has the authority to act in the interest of the United States and to use force if necessary.
 

US-Iran: Other Signs of New Times

Robin Wright

            A week of remarkable U.S.-Iran diplomacy has been followed by other indications of shifting tones in both the Islamic Republic and the United States. Among the most startling was the headline “On the Wave of Telephone Diplomacy” in Iran’s Bahar newspaper.
***
            Iran’s Shargh newspaper also ran a front-page interview with Alan Eyre, the State Department’s top Iran watcher. Eyre told The Iran Primer that it was his first interview with an Iranian paper—in Iran. The picture Shargh opted to use was almost wistful.
            This is an excerpt translated by The Washington Post from the interview:

Shargh: How can closer ties between Iran and the U.S. help to resolve the nuclear issue?

Alan Eyre: As Obama and Rouhani remarked, the opposite is correct, that it is solving the nuclear issue that can be an important solution to mending the relations between two countries.
 
Shargh: What is the U.S. view on the diplomatic approach of the new president?

Alan Eyre: Both the president and Secretary of State strongly believe that there is an opportunity for diplomacy and we hope that the Iranian government uses it. We welcome the change in tone, but as always we say there is a big difference between words and action.
            Among the other signs:
          
            A new CNN/ORC International survey showed that three-quarters of Americans polled support diplomacy with Iran to solve the longstanding dispute over its controversial nuclear program. Only about 20 percent opposed negotiations.
           
The poll found that 87 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Republicans surveyed supported talks with the Islamic Republic. The next round of negotiations between Iran and the world’s major powers is due to begin on October 15-16 in Geneva.
            "Large majorities in all major demographic categories favor negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program, including 87% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans. This is nothing new for the U.S. public — in 2009, virtually the same number of Americans said they favored negotiations with Iran," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
 
            The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
***
 
      The reaction to the first conversation between the Iranian and American presidents in more than three decades also got public endorsement from important sectors of the Iranian government “The world’s respect for our president is a result of our nation’s resistance,” said Qassem Soleimani (left), commander of the Qods Force, a unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, in an interview with Fars News Agency on September 28, one day after the telephone call between the two leaders.
            The head of the Iranian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs committee also backed the first contact. “Obama and Rouhani’s telephone conversation shows Iran’s power. When the U.S. president wants to talk with our president, it demonstrates that Iran’s position in the world is important,” said Alaeddin Boroujerdi told reporters in Tehran. Boroujerdi is considered a hardliner.
            Former speaker of parliament Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, a hardliner who ran against Rouhani in the June election, said the telephone call with Obama “can create an atmosphere for Iran to become more active in the international arena.”
            Not everyone was supportive, however, Revolutionary Guards chief Mohammad Ali Jafari said that Rouhani should have refused to take a call from his American counterpart. But just as he refused to meet Obama, he should also have refused to speak with him on the telephone and should have waited for concrete action by the United States," Jafari told the Tasnimnews.com website.
            The Guards chief also issued a thinly veiled warning to Rouhani that the damage could be “repaired.” He told the news agency, "If we see errors being made by officials, the revolutionary forces will issue the necessary warnings.”

            The Guards, charged with protecting the revolution, appear to be taking a harder line than the political elite. Gen. Amir-Ali Hadjizadeh, who heads the Revolutionary guards air corps, said, "US hostility can't be forgotten with a phone call and a smile."
***
            In the latest of his many English-language tweets, President Hassan Rouhani announced yet another potential new connection with the United States: Direct flights between Tehran and New York. The first tweet was by @MeetIran, which may be a public diplomacy outreach site. It was launched just before Rouhani’s visit to New York. The item was almost immediately retweeted by the president’s semi-official Twitter account.
***
            The State Department turned to Twitter too to announce what was effectively a farewell gift for President Rouhani on September 27, the day of his departure from New York. The United States returned a 2,700-year-old silver chalice from ancient Persia. The ceremonial drinking vessel—known as a rhyton—is in the shape of a mythical beast, with a lion’s body and a bird’s head. It comes from the Achaemenid dynasty. It had been confiscated by U.S. customs and held for many years.
            “We are taking this as America’s souvenir to the Iranian people,” Iranian Vice President Mohammad Ali Najafi told CNN. “I adamantly believe in cultural diplomacy, and I believe the thing that could improve relations between the U.S. and Iran after the years and softens the harshness of his relationship is cultural diplomacy.” Najafi, who is one of several vice presidents, is also head of the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization.
***
            On the same day that Rouhani and Obama spoke, the World Bank announced that Iran had resumed payment on old loans. Tehran had not made any repayments during 2013. In July, it blamed Western sanctions for complicating its ability to transfer funds through an intermediary. Iran’s loans, which all predate 2005, now total $616 million. Neither Iran nor the World Bank have provided any further details about why payments were halted or why they have now resumed. But the timing was striking.
 
Robin Wright has traveled to Iran dozens of times since 1973. She has covered several elections, including the 2009 presidential vote. She is the author of several books on Iran, including "The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and transformation in Iran" and "The Iran Primer: Power, Politics and US Policy." She is a joint scholar at USIP and the Woodrow Wilson Center.
 

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