On September 1, Iranian Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani said that the nuclear agreement between Iran and the world’s six major powers is a “good deal,” even though it may have shortcomings. “And it is a beginning for a better understanding for other issues as well. I mean, the regional and international issues, and I think because there was not such a proper understanding in the past, there were some challenges between us [Iran and the United States],” he said in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. Larijani arrived in New York on August 29 to participate in the Fourth World Conference of Parliament Speakers at the United Nations. The following is a transcript of the interview.
AMANPOUR: Dr. Larijani welcome to the program. Thanks for joining us from New York today.
LARIJANI: Okay, it’s good to be here. I’m ready to answer your questions.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Larijani, can you tell me, as Speaker of the Iranian parliament, and a former chief nuclear negotiator, do you support this deal that has been reached with the United States and other world powers?
LARIJANI: In general, I think this is an acceptable agreement. There might be some shortcomings in it, but overall I think it’s a good deal.
AMANPOUR: The Supreme Leader has not yet said whether he fully backs it or not. He’s praised the negotiators, but will it be accepted by Iran and the institutions?
LARIJANI: I cannot tell you for sure now; we have to look into the positives and the negatives of the deal, but I can tell you that the Parliament will pass its judgement in a month.
AMANPOUR: Well that time is around-about the time that the U.S. Parliament – the United States Congress – will also come to its judgement. What is your view of the incredibly divisive debate inside the United States on this deal?
LARIJANI: Yes, I have heard about those hot debates going on in the U.S. Congress, and I believe that there are some people over there who are exaggerating things and they are saying things like, “The deal is hugely in favor of Iran.” But anyway, I should tell you that the Americans continued to bully us even during the negotiations. But ultimately – and thank God – the Islamic Republic of Iran managed to fulfill some of its demands and to put several things in the deal which are in our favor. And it is a beginning for a better understanding for other issues as well. I mean, the regional and international issues, and I think because there was not such a proper understanding in the past, there were some challenges between us.
AMANPOUR: You speak fairly positively, yet the head of the Revolutionary Guard has today called United States still “The Great Satan” despite this deal. Do you believe that? Is the United States still “The Great Satan” for Iran?
LARIJANI: You know, it was the U.S., I mean the former President of the U.S., that started different wars in my region which resulted in huge damages. So I just wanted to remind you that it is because of such actions that people in Iran are using those terms or are pessimistic about the relationship between Iran and the U.S. And as I said, if the U.S. chooses to adopt a more realistic approach and attitude towards Iran, then those habits and those terms will naturally change.
AMANPOUR: Many many people say that if it wasn’t for Iran’s military support to the Assad regime along with Hezbollah, that this war would’ve been over a long time ago. Iran now promises to deliver a peace plan to end the war. When will we see it?
LARIJANI: If not for Iranian help in Syria, the terrorists would have advanced even further and you should have no doubt that Syria would end up in a situation that was much worse than the situation in Libya. And you know that we rushed to the help of Iraqis when they were attacked by ISIS. I believe that Iran and Hezbollah acted very responsibly. We were the ones who helped Iraqis. And let me tell you about Syria – that from the very beginning we always said that the Syrian crisis needs a political solution. Now we are ready to contribute to such a solution – a solution that is based on democracy and a national reconciliation government in which even the minorities have their rights. But I think we need to do more about this so that this mechanism will become operational in that country.
AMANPOUR: Dr. Larijani, how quickly do you expect sanctions to be lifted against Iran, and can you understand the very serious concerns that people in the United States, legislators in the United States, and governments around the region in the Middle East, they are very worried that if so much more money pours into Iran it will be used to fund the kinds of operations that they all find very very threatening?
LARIJANI: I believe that there is a number of neighbors – Iran neighbors – that have their own internal problems and they are trying to hide those problems behind a kind of “Iranophobia”. Let me ask you a question: in the last 200 years, has Iran invaded another country? Have we invaded or attacked an Arab country? But actually it was Iran that was attacked by an Arab country. I mean by Iraq and by Saddam Hussein. And when it happened, many Arab countries supported Saddam Hussein, but let me tell you that Iran does not have any intention to attack any other country – I mean if they really want to have a lasting security and political stability they have to enter a kind of cooperation with Iran, and let me tell you that this is Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategy, to have cooperation, coordination, and collaboration with its neighbors.
AMANPOUR: Let me turn to Israel, and also to American Jews, because there is a very strong opposition in Israel and deep divisions inside the United States amongst the Jewish community. Even President Obama calls the Iranian government and the Iranian system anti-Semitic and committed to Israel’s destruction. Can you say anything that would reassure Israel that you are not committed to the destruction of that country?
LARIJANI: You see, what you said, what they say, that Iran is anti-Semitic, is all wrong. We don’t have any problem with Judaism. We believe that it is a heavenly religion. We have so much respect for the Jews, for the Prophet of God Moses, peace be upon him, and for his heavenly book Torah. We believe that Moses was a great prophet. And you know that there are Jews living in Iran, like a small minority – 20,000 Jews – but they have their own representative in the Iranian Parliament. We do try to respect the rights of all religious minorities, like the Christians, Zoroastrians, and the Jews, and they are represented in the Iranian Parliament. We are in no way anti-Semitic; actually we respect Jews and Judaism, but we have problems with Israel because we always ask ourselves questions: Why should some people make other people displaced, drive them out of their homes, and these people, these Palestinians, these Muslims, need to leave their motherland and go in camps, live in other countries, live in poverty, and then, why should we replace them with Jews from other places in the world? Why so much violence against Muslims in Palestine? This is a bitter truth of our time. They are forcing a nation out of their homes and replacing them with another one. This is wrong, this is an oppression, and this is not something that we can tolerate.
AMANPOUR: Well, can I just get it straight: Does Iran envision attacking Israel then?
LARIJANI: Several years ago, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, came up with a solution for this problem, which I think is totally compatible with democratic principles. He said that the solution actually lies in a referendum; there should be a referendum in occupied territories, and the people – all people, Muslims, Jews, and Christians – should participate in that referendum and they should choose their own destiny. Whatever they decide should be implemented, and this solution is the one that Iran will adhere to. This is our vision and I think this is something that is, as I said, compatible with democratic principles.
AMANPOUR: One last question: You have just struck a deal with the United States and other world powers and yet you hold several Americans in prison or in captivity, including our colleague, the journalist Jason Rezaian. Your own brother is the head of the Iranian judiciary, and no doubt you will hear a lot about Jason Rezaian while you’re in the United States. Do you agree, that on humanitarian grounds, he should be released right now, he is just a journalist?
LARIJANI: We don’t want anybody to be kept in prison, on the other hand I am the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, I cannot impose anything from the legislative branch on the judiciary branch. But I can tell you that justice stands above all other institutions in Iran and just like any other parts of the world but I think more diplomatic efforts are needed.
AMANPOUR: We hope you do so. Dr. Larijani, the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, thank you very much for joining us tonight.