Zarif on Growing U.S.-Iran Tensions

On April 24, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif ruled out negotiating a new nuclear deal with the United States. “The United States does not need a new [negotiating] table. The table is there. … And I know that neither Iran nor the United States will ever get a better agreement,” he said at the Asia Society in New York. Iran will not be pushed into “accepting a new deal that would be selling our dignity,” he added. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action JCPOA), in May 2018. His administration has implemented a “maximum pressure campaign” with the goal of convincing Iran to change its behavior and negotiate a wider-reaching deal. 

The foreign minister said he does not think Trump wants a war with Iran. But Zarif implied that National Security Advisor John Bolton seeks conflict, with regime change as the overall goal. He claimed that “the B team” —Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed — is trying “to push Iran to take action” and then use the resulting conflict to weaken Iran. Zarif said “it’s not a crisis yet, but it’s a dangerous situation.” But he warned that “accidents, plotted accidents are possible.”


Zarif condemned the Trump Administration for pulling out of the JCPOA, which was endorsed in U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231. “This is the first time that this happened against the U.N., that a permanent member of the Security Council is openly calling on other countries to violate a Security Council Resolution and threatening them with punishment if they don’t,” Zarif said. 

The foreign minister also declared that U.S. sanctions will not change Iran’s policies. “Never have, never will. Sanctions hurt ordinary people,” he warned. He spoke two days after the United States announced that it will let sanctions exemptions on the purchase of Iranian oil lapse on May 2. Washington is trying to bring Iranian oil exports down to zero.

Zarif, however, also highlighted common interests between Iran and the United States. “If the United States believes that it wants to have stability in Iraq - exactly what we want. If the United States believes that it wants stability in Afghanistan, that's exactly what we want. If the United States believes that it wants stability in the Persian Gulf, if the United States believes that the Strait of Hormuz has to be free to commercial navigation, that's our vital national security,” he said. The following are excerpts from Zarif’s conversation with Josette Sheeran, President and CEO of the Asia Society.

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF: First of all, it's very good to be back... I think what's important is for the U.S. to look at what it's saying, to listen to itself. It says "act like a normal state." But would a normal state withdraw from any international treaty they signed into? The U.S. has not just withdrawn from JCPOA, they like to justify it by saying that it was an executive agreement, that Congress never ratified it, but they have withdrawn from agreements that Congress has ratified, the INF Treaty. They've even withdrawn from UNESCO. I think whatever you can name, they have withdrawn from. The Paris Climate Convention. So, who's not acting like a normal state?

That's the first question that they have to answer. We were at the negotiating table. Brian Hook was there, too, himself, until last April. He did not expect to end that. He told my deputy that this would continue. He did not believe that his president would do what he did. So now he has to justify a policy that, basically is no policy. And it's a very dangerous policy. The United States has not only violated a Security Council resolution, but it's calling on others to violate that. Sanctions this time that the U.S. is imposing are different from sanctions that it imposed in the past. Because in the past, the United States did not have any barrier from the Security Council. It could even say that there were a number of Security Council resolutions calling for Iran to stop its uranium enrichment and Iran was not living by those resolutions. We disagreed with them. But at least they had that argument.

Now there exists a Security Council resolution which openly says that the purpose of the resolution is to normalize Iran's business relations. And it calls on all states to implement that resolution. Now the United States is not only not complying itself, but it's saying that the rest of the world should not comply. And it's going a step further, saying that we will punish you if you comply. This is the first time, to my knowledge, and I've dealt with the UN for the last 40 years, this is the first time that this has happened against the UN. That a permanent member of the Security Council is openly calling on other countries to violate a Security Council resolution and threatening them with punishment if they don't.

So I think it's not for Iran to make that decision. It's for the rest of the international community to make a decision whether they want to allow this to happen, or whether they want to stop somewhere. Now we know that the United States is a big economic power, we know that the United States is a huge market, we know that nobody wants to lose the U.S. market, but the American government should understand that people are doing this out of desperation. Because they have no other choice. This is coercion, pure and simple. Do we want to build international relations on coercion? Do you think it's sustainable?

These are important questions for anybody who is interested in long-term peace and stability in the world to ask - if coercion is sustainable. As a diplomat who has devoted my life, and I know that you have too, we cannot accept that coercion is sustainable. We cannot accept that coercion should be the rule of the game. We are not idealists. We know that power play is a fact of life in international relations, but power has to be moderated by some sort of rules. Otherwise we'll be living in a jungle.

I do not want to repeat and bring you back to history. We had an empire ruling the world for much longer than the U.S. has ever existed. And it ends. Empires end. We need to know whether we want to establish a modus operandi that would last longer than our empire.

JOSETTE SHEERAN: So are we- is this a stalemate with no possible resolution, is this a cold war, is this something that continues to devolve? Do you see any path or any issues that have been put on the table that can be discussed with the U.S.?

ZARIF: Well, as I said, the U.S. left the table. The table is still there. It's not as if there is no table. The United States does not need a new table. The table is there. There is a resolution. There is an agreement. I mean, I negotiated all of that agreement. And I know that neither Iran nor the United States will ever get a better agreement. It's not an agreement that I like. I can assure that, with whatever good words President Trump put for Secretary Kerry, it is not an agreement that Secretary Kerry likes. But it was the best agreement that we could both reach, with five other people in the room. It's a difficult process. We had competing interests. Not just competing interests of Iran and the United States, but even competing interests between the United States and its own allies, its own European allies, competing interests between the United States and Russia and China.

So there were a lot of competing interests that came into play. And there were competing interests from outside. There were people, my new concept of the "B-Team:" Bibi, Bolton, Bin Zayed, and Bin Salman. The four Bs. The Algerians now have a call that we do not want the three Bs, now I think the world should not want the four Bs. They didn't want it from the beginning. From day one, they didn't like this. But this was the best deal that we could achieve.

And I think, even in the future, that this would be the best deal that can be achieved. President Trump may believe in his dealmaking abilities. But we have seen how it worked with North Korea. I mean, we do not want a photo op and a two-page document. We had many of those photo ops and a hundred-and-fifty page document. It goes through every detail because it based on mistrust. It wasn't based on trust. Nobody trusted the other side. And we shouldn't have trusted the other side. I mean, there is a history between Iran and the U.S.. So nobody trusted the other side. We explained in rather meticulous detail everything that was supposed to be done. And now President Trump says he wants something better. Well, he may want something better, but unless he can dictate what he likes, he won't get it.

SHEERAN: Just to explore the status of Iran's approach to the U.S. withdrawal. You had decided to stay in the agreement with the other parties. You have been working with Europe for the establishment of a special purpose vehicle that would allow for the economic benefits to flow from that, and I understand there's been a hiccup or two in the Parliament in aligning financial regulations that would enable that to happen. Could you give us your assessment on where you are with Europe and whether that seems to be staying the course, and whether you think those financial benefits will flow? We know that the IMF's predicting that the Iranian economy may shrink 6% in this coming year, so I know this is a vital question.

ZARIF: Well, sanctions certainly impact our economy. Sanctions target ordinary people. And I think the statements by this administration, that they want the benefit of the Iranian people notwithstanding, they are targeting the Iranian people. If this administration is interested in the Iranian people, they came out in huge numbers to the streets when we signed the deal. So the Iranian people want the JCPOA. If the U.S. is true to its slogans that it wants to help the Iranian people - nobody believes it, but if it's true - then JCPOA is the wish of the Iranian people.

So these sanctions will hurt. No doubt about it. But will sanctions change policy? They won't. Never have, never will. Sanctions hurt ordinary people. The problem right now is that Europe made a number of promises last May, after President Trump withdrew.

SHEERAN: Promises to Iran?

ZARIF: Promises to Iran. That Iran will continue to enjoy the economic benefits of the JCPOA. It [Europe] has not been able to implement those promises. Now, the special purpose mechanism, or, as it's now called, INSTEX instrument to support trade exchange, is a prerequisite for those promises. It's not even those promises themselves. It's a prerequisite for those promises and it's been a year in the making. Now, the official counterpart for that mechanism was an Iranian mechanism. And that mechanism involves basically buying and selling without exchanging money. Not a barter system, but an advanced barter system. That is, those who purchase from Iran will pay to those who are selling to Iran, rather to their own Iranian counterparts. And the same would happen in Europe.

So we had to establish a counterpart to INSTEX in Iran, and we have done that. So, officially the problem is resolved. Now, what you referred to as FATF requirements for Iran, those are being addressed in Iran. Most of them have been implemented, they had 40 or 41 conditions. We have done 39. Two are outstanding, some other conditions are dependent on these two that are outstanding, two international conventions that have to be ratified. They have gone through the Parliament, one last stage is remaining, and there is a lot of debate about that. And the focus of that debate is: Iran is not benefitting from the other agreements it entered into. Why should it enter into another agreement?

This is the focus of the debate. There is nothing that we need to hide in our economic interactions, in our financial interactions. The question that is being asked is, "Why should we join another international agreement, when we haven't benefitted from the previous ones that we have joined?" And this is a very difficult question even for me, as a proponent of joining those agreements because I believe those are in our interest.

We are in the forefront of fighting terrorism. We have fought Daesh. Yesterday the government of Iraq invited 300 Iranian families who have lost their loved ones in fighting Daesh in Iraq. Has the United States received an invitation for a single family? Or your allies in the region - Israel, Saudi Arabia, [United Arab] Emirates? People who this administration is proud of. Have they fought Daesh? We are the only country that was fighting along with the Iraqis and the Syrians and we have been in the forefront of fighting terrorism.

So we have nothing against the Convention on Terrorism Financing or the Anti-Money Laundering Convention. The problem is, they're saying that we're not benefitting from international conventions. We did not benefit from JCPOA. We did not benefit from NPT. We did not benefit from other conventions in which we were an active member.

You see, 14 IAEA reports. 14 IAEA reports. And IAEA has never been very friendly to Iran. This entire process started with IAEA, in our view, making an erroneous claim in 2002. But, 14 IAEA reports have said that Iran has faithfully implemented JCPOA and all its other international commitments in nuclear non-proliferation. And the United States goes out an issues a report that Iran has not implemented, after having said repeatedly that Iran is implementing. So the U.S. government is negating itself. Even the Trump administration is negating itself. Even Secretary Pompeo time and again said that Iran is observing. Now they're saying that Iran is violating the non-proliferation regime.

Well, that's the problem. The problem is the Iranian people cannot determine whether being a member of these international agreements is worthy of the procedures we have to go through, commitments that we need to make. One-sided commitments are very difficult to make.

SHEERAN: Let me ask you this. One of the things that has characterized the U.S.-China trade tensions is a deliberate effort to de-escalate the language around it, and to try to quietly see if there are pathways forward on issues. This has not characterized the U.S.-Iran relationship. I mentioned a few quotes on the U.S. side. Just today the news is filled with a couple of quotes on the Iran side accusing President Trump of Nazi-like behavior, the U.S. of economic terrorism, and again threats to close the Strait of Hormuz over this last effort to try to put pressure on blocking the oil exports. Are these just words? It's affecting markets, this idea that the Strait may be affected by this. What do these mean, how does the world read this kind of escalating language?

ZARIF: Well, I think there is cause to be concerned. I think, I doubt that President Trump wants conflict. He ran on a campaign promise, and it seems to me that he's very careful to at least try to implement his campaign promises. He ran on a campaign promise not to waste another seven trillion dollars in our region in order to make the situation only worse. So, I guess he wants to stick to that commitment. He thinks, through further pressure on Iran, the so-called maximum pressure policy, that he can bring us to our knees. He is mistaken. We have seven thousand years of history. We've had battles. We've had losses. We've had victories. Usually we haven't come our knees. And this won't be an aberration of that. We don't look at history in terms of two, four, and six year terms as usually people do over there, the members of Congress or in the administration or in the Senate. We look at history in millennia. And our dignity is not up for sale.

President Trump believes that by pushing us, by imposing economic pressure on us, we will sell our dignity. Not gonna happen. Even if I wanted to do that, the Iranian people won't let me do it. So, he shouldn't try to put pressure on the government. He is actually putting pressure on the Iranian people because he knows where the determination is. Determination doesn't come from me. It comes from the Iranian people. It comes from their history.

So this is the reality of the situation. President Trump believes putting pressure, bullying, will bring us to the negotiating table so that he can make that ideal deal that he has in mind. And I don't know what that ideal deal is. I mean, if he wants us to call JCPOA, the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action, JCAP, that is easier to pronounce, Joint Comprehensive Action Program, then he is welcome to do it. As he did with NAFTA, basically. Maybe it's easier, we should have called it JCAP to begin with.

But if he wants to push Iran into accepting a new deal that would be selling our dignity, then we won't be able to do it. And then, Plan B, of the B-Team, will come into play. I believe the B-Team does not have the same plan as President Trump does. President Trump has a plan, but he's being lured into not a plan, but a plot, which will cost another seven trillion dollars and even a greater disaster.

SHEERAN: So what is the plot of the B-Team?

ZARIF: The plot is to push Iran into taking action, and then use that, or even to-

SHEERAN: But Iraq used that in the 80s, tried to provoke Iran into closing the Strait, and Iran didn't do that. But there have been a few incidents-

ZARIF: There have been a few incidents, but the point is, the Persian Gulf is our lifeline.

SHEERAN: It's the world's lifeline. 30 percent of the world's oil.

ZARIF: Yeah, yeah, but it's our lifeline. And it's called Persian Gulf and we repeat the word Persian so that people know it's not the Gulf of Mexico. People just call it "the Gulf" because it's easier, and people confuse that it may be the Gulf of Mexico that we're talking about.

SHEERAN: Some do call it the Arabian Gulf.

ZARIF: I mean, they want to revise history. Names in geography, I mean, I have a notepad, by the King of Saudi Arabia - at that time, he was the king - that says "Riyadh, Persian Gulf." At that time Saudi Arabia did not exist. Another one says "Kuwait, Persian Gulf." This is the name. Why do you have to be so childish, calling someplace- [laughing] I mean, it's as if I say the Gulf of Oman, on which we have much more coastline than Oman, is called the Gulf of Iran. These are historical names, it doesn't have any other connotation, other than the fact that the U.S. should know it's not the Gulf of Mexico. It's right next to us.

It is our lifeline. It is our lifeline. So stability of the Persian Gulf, freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf, free flow of oil in the Persian Gulf, is in our vital national security interest.

SHEERAN: So do you guarantee that?

ZARIF: We guarantee it as long as it is in our vital national security interest. If we are prevented from using the Persian Gulf, for our national security, then why should we guarantee it?

SHEERAN: So just to be clear, if nations that the U.S. has put pressure on, such as Japan and South Korea, do not purchase the oil, is that considered an action that affects your national interest?

ZARIF: We believe that Iran will continue to sell its oil. We will continue to find buyers for our oil. And we will continue to use the Strait of Hormuz as a safe transit passage for the sale of our oil. That is our intention and that is what we believe will happen. But if the United States takes the crazy measure of trying to prevent us from doing that, then it should be prepared for the consequences.

SHEERAN: What does prevent mean? I just want to be clear.

ZARIF: The United States may take a beating once the United States takes crazy measures. And it won't be the first time that the United States has taken adventurous measures, plotted for it by others. So I don't want to enter into hypotheses, but I am saying that it is in our interest, our vital national security interest, to keep the Persian Gulf open, to keep the Strait of Hormuz open. We've done that in the past, we will continue to do it in the future. But the United States should know that when they enter the Strait of Hormuz, they have to talk to those who are protecting the Strait of Hormuz. And that is the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

SHEERAN: So, the U.S. in March negotiated with Oman to have greater access to the ports there, and you're defining that transit through that 21-mile stretch as kind of a red line.

ZARIF: No, no, no. They, I mean when they come through- our rules of engagement in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz have not changed. So, channels of communication are open. They enter through arrangements with Iran, they leave through arrangements with Oman. That's their choice.

SHEERAN: Well, we're going to come to the audience in a moment, let's see if we can find some brighter lining in this.

ZARIF: We'll try.

SHEERAN: But before we leave the Gulf-

ZARIF: I said the rules of the game have not changed. The rules of engagement have not changed. So, if they continue to behave, there's no reason for us to seek confrontation. So that's your silver lining.

SHEERAN: Ok, well. Let me just ask, on the Belt and Road, which has had quite a lot of activity around the Gulf, what is Iran's view on the Belt and Road? Are you participants, and are there key projects that you've been interested in?

ZARIF: Well, I think the Belt and Road Initiative is an important initiative. It's a strategic initiative for China, President Xi has put in on the top of his priorities, and we consider that to be positive. They've investing a great deal in the region, they have a number of projects in Iran including industrial projects, transit projects in Iran. You know, we connect the Sea of Oman, through Chabahar port, which has up until now been exempted from U.S. sanctions, to Europe, both St. Petersburg as well as the Black Sea and also Turkey.

So this is a strategic transit corridor. We have other transit corridors that are connecting East and West. We just agreed with the Iraqis to connect our railroad to the Iraqi railroad, which means connecting our railroad to the entire regional railroad. These are important development projects, which will not only bring economic development but fight terrorism. Because if you consider the place where Chabahar is, and where the Pakistani port of Gwadar is, this is a hotbed of terrorism. And much of terrorism in that particular region, which connects also to Afghanistan, is because of lack of economic development.

So if we can develop, through the Belt and Road Initiative, those areas, we will have dealt a major blow to extremist terror. In Pakistan, in parts of Iran - foreign sponsored - and in Afghanistan.

SHEERAN: Thank you. Let's broaden the lens a bit. We have a question from Tom O'Connor of Newsweek who asks: Does Iran have any specific plans to build regional ties after the Baghdad summit, and where does Iran see itself in a world where Russia and China are increasingly challenging the U.S.?

ZARIF: Well, we believe that it's not just Russia and China, everybody's fed up with unilateralism. The meeting today in the United Nations is called "Celebrating Multilateralism." That's why I'm here. So the rest of the world is not very happy with the unilateralist policies of the United States, and Iran is a part of that part of the world, which is I think outside, probably, parts of the beltway, everybody else wants that [multilateral] type of the world to live in. So, we're a part of the regional scenario, we're a part of the global scenario.

But in our region, we have suggested a regional dialogue in the Persian Gulf. I made that suggestion about five years ago, and we stick to that suggestion. That proposal is on the table. It can even reach a non-aggression pact. If our neighbors are ready for a non-aggression pact with Iran, we are ready for a non-aggression pact with them. Including Saudi Arabia, including the United Arab Emirates, we have no problem with that. Because we are satisfied with our size, we are satisfied with our geography, we're satisfied with our natural resources, we don't have reason to have any ambition, territorial ambition with anybody else.

So these are facts on the ground. We have very good relations with Turkey. We've never had such a good relationship in the past 40 years. We have extremely good relations with Pakistan, we have never had such a good relationship with Pakistan in the past 40 years, and I've been involved in Iranian foreign policy for the past 40 years. We've never had such good relations with Azerbaijan. We've never had such good relations with Russia. We've never had such good relations with Iraq. Our relations with Afghanistan are excellent.

I mean, the situation in Afghanistan is not that beautiful. Wrong policies by the United States, seriously wrong policies by the United States, an attempt to exclude everybody and just talk to the Taliban has alienated the government, has alienated the region, has alienated everybody else. And it achieved nothing, as you've seen from the statement that came from the Taliban, from the measures that have been taken by the Taliban.

I was the first to say, that in any peace in Afghanistan, the Taliban cannot be set aside or isolated. But you cannot negotiate the future of Afghanistan with the Taliban. I mean, the Taliban represent only a segment of Afghan society, not all of it. You cannot exclude the government, you cannot exclude the other groups in Afghanistan, and just talk to the Taliban. This is wrong. We are talking to the Taliban. We have official relations with the Taliban. But it doesn't mean that we talk about the future of Afghanistan with the Taliban without talking to the government. Or without talking to other groups.

So, our approach to security and stability is regional. Not unilateral. We have a multilateral approach to our security. We do not participate in meetings on Afghanistan where the Afghan government is not present. That's the principle. We do not participate in meetings about our neighbors when they're not present. We had better relations with the United States during the previous administration, but we never spoke to the previous administration about the region without the presence of the region. That's our policy. We don't decide about our region. We believe the region has to decide about itself.

SHEERAN: One area that key players in the region have agreed on is that ISIS needs to be removed from the region. What is your understanding of the status of ISIS and what happened in Sri Lanka, what's your understanding of the situation there?

ZARIF: Unfortunately, we've been saying that and people believed that we were just trying to make propaganda and a conspiracy theory approach, that ISIS has been airlifted from Iraq and Syria into Afghanistan. Now, you see one example of it, unfortunately, in a barbaric attack on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. But unfortunately, the people of Afghanistan are seeing incident after incident, terrorist attack after terrorist attack by ISIS, directed against particular sects in Afghanistan in order to create the sectarian war that ISIS has been looking for ever since Zarqawi started this process in 2002.   

So, we need to be very careful about what we are doing. I think this game that the United States is playing, I mean this obsession with Iran that is being pursued, is causing serious difficulty. And the consequences of this obsession will go far beyond Iran. We know how to protect ourselves. You know, people should remember. When I talk about history, people say, "Why do you talk about history?" but history is a good lesson. People should remember that, right after our revolution, Saddam Hussein invaded Iran. At that time, the United States supported him, the Soviet Union supported him, I mean, I usually use this: he was fighting Iran with U.S. AWAC surveillance information, Soviet MiG fighters, French Exocet missiles, British Chieftain tanks, and German chemical weapons. So you name it, they were behind him. Where is he now? What did he do after he failed to attack Iran? What did the Taliban do? What did Al Qaeda do? What did ISIS do? What is happening in Yemen? Who is paying the price? When will the United States stop making the wrong choices?

These are repetitions of the same scenario, just the names have changed. I mean, two names are constant, Iran and the U.S., everybody else has changed. Saudi Arabia provided 75 billion dollars to Saddam Hussein to fight us. What did he do? Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and President Trump is very happy to name them, were the ones who recognized the Taliban. What did that bring to the United States? Even then they did it on behalf of the United States. What did that bring the United States?

So I think we need to be a bit more farsighted. I think the United States does not need to have this policy. It's not serving the interests of the United States.

SHEERAN: Which policy?

ZARIF: The policy of being obsessed with Iran. I mean, there was a revolution. The U.S. used to rule Iran, now it's not. But that doesn't have to mean the U.S. has to be obsessed with Iran, try to undermine Iran, try to do every mistake to correct the mistake of having a coup in 1953 and bringing the Shah to power so that when he was removed the United States had to withdraw from Iran. I mean, mistake after mistake. I mean, you do not correct a mistake by another mistake. You need to look at what can be done.

I mean, the United States wants stability in Iraq. The United States believes that the current Iraqi government is its ally. Now you saw how the current Iraqi government hosted me and hosted our president. I didn't spend several hours in Iraq, I spent five days. I went to five Iraqi major cities. Our president did not stay in Iraq for a few hours, going to a camp, to a military base in the dark of night and leaving. Our president stayed in Iraq for three days. He went to public places. He met with tribal chiefs in addition to the government.

So, if the United States believes that it's an ally of the Iraqi government, if the United States believes that it wants to have stability in Iraq - exactly what we want. If the United States believes that it wants stability in Afghanistan, that's exactly what we want. If the United States believes that it wants stability in the Persian Gulf, if the United States believes that the Strait of Hormuz has to be free to commercial navigation, that's our vital national security. So why is it that they are obsessed with Iran in the interest of the B-Team?

I think, I mean, just look at it. B-Team is not a slogan. The B-Team is pushing U.S. policy towards a disaster.

SHEERAN: Tell me again who's in the B-Team?

ZARIF: Bibi, Bolton, Bin Zayed, Bin Salman.

SHEERAN: So, I have to say, there seems to be a mutual obsession.

ZARIF: No, I don't have an obsession with the B-Team!

SHEERAN: But there are countless speeches in Iran about the axis of evil between the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia. What is that about?

ZARIF: Well, you see we do not have a new administration in Iran. The same administration negotiated-

SHEERAN: But that is a consistent sound.

ZARIF: No, no, no. We negotiated a treaty, an agreement with the United States that was called by everybody as a historic achievement. The JCPOA, if you look at the history, of the last-

SHEERAN: Let's speak a bit more broadly if we can. Just for one-

ZARIF: More broadly, ok.

SHEERAN: About this issue of bad relations between Israel, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., and Iran.

ZARIF: It is, you see, the problem- who supported Saddam Hussein? Who supported Daesh? Who is bombing the people in Yemen? They say Iran is providing weapons to Houthis. We reject that, but let's take that. But we're not bombing Yemen. Our planes are not there. Our pilots are not there. Saudi pilots are there. But why are you blaming us?

Let me give you an example from the previous administration. I haven't said this publicly, this is the first time I'm saying it publicly. Secretary Kerry and I spent two days during the most difficult days, and the most time-limited days of our negotiations in 2014, when we had to meet an April 1st deadline of Congress before they imposed heavier, permanent sanctions. We spent two very precious days negotiating how to end the Yemen war. Although I did not negotiate with the Secretary of State over any regional issue, but this was something that I believed was going to be a humanitarian catastrophe. So we agreed.

I went back to Iran after we finished those negotiations, and I was about to board a plane to Indonesia when John Kerry called me and said, "We have an ok from Saudi Arabia to have a ceasefire." I called my deputy because I was boarding the plane, and I told him, "If John Kerry calls you, go ahead, tell the Yemenis" - who had promised us that they would observe - "to stop the war." I boarded the plane. Eight hours later I was in Jakarta, called my deputy. He said Secretary Kerry didn't call. I called John Kerry, he said, "Unfortunately, the Saudis reneged."

Fine. This is April 2014. Just when the war started in Yemen. Uh, April 2015, sorry. Now Yemen is into its fourth year. What did they say? They said "We'll beat these guys within three or four weeks." Now it's three years. And some. And the war is continuing. But my point is, the following day, President Obama had a press conference. He accused Iran of waging war in Yemen. I said, "Yesterday, your allies reneged! Why are you accusing Iran? We wanted peace." At that time he was in the B-Team. So I'm not obsessed with the B-Team.

The B-Team is operating today. It's an obsession on the part of the United States to contain Iran, to take action against Iran. It doesn't work. It started with the revolution, it has continued- it started in 1953. People like to start history at a certain point. So let's start at the point that we agree with. 1953. You want to start with 1953, we'll start with 1953. You want to start with the revolution, we'll start with the revolution. You want to start with the nuclear negotiation, we'll start with the nuclear negotiation.

ZARIF: By the way, that's why I did not make an opening statement, because I tell everybody that I'm long-winded in my answers, so I don't like to make a long-winded opening statement.

SHEERAN: [laughter] Well, you're known as the patient diplomat, you've been very patient up here right now. We have a ton of questions. I would say they group in

ZARIF: I have to leave in ten minutes to speak at the UN. So I'll make short answers. 

SHEERAN: So they group in a few areas. Lots of questions about the 2020 elections in the U.S., whether Iran sees that as perhaps a change in U.S. policy, an opportunity.

ZARIF: Let me just make one small comment. I don't interfere in the internal affairs of the U.S., but believe me, we have not invested in a 2020 Democratic victory. Some people believe that we are looking for a Democratic victory. Democratic governments have been as hostile to Iran as Republican governments. We're not investing in anybody. It's not waiting for a Democrat to go to the White House, it's just waiting for the White House to become rational, with a Republican or a Democrat. 

SHEERAN: How long do you think you will have to wait?

ZARIF: You vote, I don't. [laughter]

SHEERAN: So, the famed Edith Letter, wherever you are, from the Associated Press, asks, "Do you see the increased pressure from the U.S. aimed at regime change or at talks?"

ZARIF: Depending on who. Whose aim? President Trump's aim is to bring us to our knees to talk. The B-Team wants regime change at the very least. They want the disintegration of Iran, as their objective.

SHEERAN: How do you see President Trump? I think many see him as someone who wants to get to a deal on these key issues.

ZARIF: I think he does, but I think he's going the wrong way. Iranians do not- I mean, I've said it, even when I was ambassador here, we're allergic to pressure. Don't put pressure on them. Try the language of respect. I'm not talking to you [SHEERAN], I'm talking to the [U.S.] government. It won't kill you! Believe me. 

SHEERAN: President Rouhani said today, according to Adam via email, that Iran is ready to return to negotiations if the U.S. lifts pressure from Iran. What specific pressures and sanctions?

ZARIF: No, the president said exactly what I said. That the U.S. was the party that left the negotiations, the negotiation table is there, the United States will have to make up its mind whether it wants to obey international agreements, whether it wants to live up to its commitments, or whether it wants to put pressure. I mean, the pressure policy won't reach a conclusion. At least a positive conclusion.

SHEERAN: We have a question that goes from the unprecedented floods - our sympathies go out to the Iranian people and the suffering that has happened with those - to the environmental challenges and the imprisonment of some environmental activists, and wondering if the Rouhani government is looking to secure their release.

ZARIF: Well, let me first of all say this. We are grateful to the sympathies of the American people and people of the world on the flood situation. Let me also tell you that the United States government has prevented [even] a single dollar to be transferred to the Iranian Red Crescent from the Iranian expatriate community. In the U.S. or elsewhere in the world, people come to our embassies with cash. My colleagues in Frankfurt, where I transited yesterday, were telling me that a taxi driver, a Pakistani taxi driver, came to their doorstep with a thousand euros in cash, saying that "I want to help the Iranian floods." Why did he have to come with cash? Because he cannot transfer the money. And the U.S. says it's against money laundering. This is promotion of money laundering. 
So, this shows you the extent of hostility. And it's not a regular flood. I mean, in one day, 24 Iranian provinces were facing a flood. I think the fact that we have such a low - even one casualty is one too high, but - had such a low casualty number, 76 or 77, shows the crisis management that we were able to do. I mean, Secretary Pompeo - they give him these nonsense notes, and he repeats them - accused us of mismanagement. What mismanagement? Look at Katrina. What are you talking about, mismanagement?

ZARIF: Now, on environmentalists. You see, Secretary Pompeo, the day before yesterday, said in a meeting with Iranians, that if he is plotting a coup in Iran, he wouldn't tell. He didn't deny it. I mean, the Iranians asked him, "Are you plotting a coup in Iran?" He said, "If I were plotting a coup, I wouldn't tell you." It's on the record.
Now, somebody has to plot this coup. Our intelligence and our courts believe that the number of prisoners that they have imprisoned on espionage charges are responsible. I have no way of knowing. I have no way of saying that they're right. I have no way of saying that they're wrong. Not my job. And this not just trying to evade responsibility. It's not my job. I have enough headache trying to avoid a war and trying to help our people fight hunger that the United States wants to bring upon them. 

But I can involve myself on these issues as a foreign minister, other than on humanitarian grounds which have always been involved, and people know that. When there is a possibility of an exchange, because we have a separate judiciary. And the judiciary says that they are, they have committed offenses -- espionage, whatever. I may not agree with that, but that's not my job. My job is to try to arrange for a deal, an exchange. I did it once. We reached an agreement, and believe me, there are Iranians in prison, in the United States, on sanctions violation charges. In Europe, there is an Iranian with a heart condition in a European jail waiting for extradition to the United States whose charge is to try to buy spare parts for airplanes, not fighter jets, civilian airplanes so that people could fly safely. That's his charge. He's lingering in prison in Germany on an extradition request. 

We have an Iranian lady in Australia who gave birth to a child in prison, not even on bail, inside the prison, under an extradition request by the United States because she was responsible as a translator in a whatever, a purchase operation of some transmission equivalent for Iranian broadcasting. That's her charge. She's been lingering in an Australian jail for the past three years. 

We hear about Nazanin Zaghari and her child, and I feel sorry for them. And I have done my best to help, but nobody talks about this lady in Australia who gave birth to a child in prison, whose child is growing up outside prison -- with his mother in prison. 

So, what can I do as a foreign minister? And I put this offer on the table publicly now. Exchange them. All these people that are in prison inside the United States, on extradition requests from the United States, we believe their charges are phony. The United States believes the charges against these people in Iran are phony. Why? Let's not discuss that. Let's have an exchange. I'm ready to do it. And I have authority to do it. We informed the government of the United States six months ago that we are ready. Not a response yet. If they tell you anything else, they're lying. 

SHEERAN: Given what you have said, which is this deep level of hostility right now. Have the dangers of miscalculation in this relationship risen to a crisis point? Is this, in your experience? And how, what would be your main way of diffusing it? How do you talk to the US right now? 

ZARIF: Well, I think we are not at a- I mean, it's not a crisis yet. But it's a dangerous situation. Accidents, plotted accidents, are possible. I wouldn't discount the B team plotting an accident anywhere in the region, particularly as we get closer to the election here. So, dangers are there. We're not there yet. There's still hoping, I mean, Ambassador Bolton went to this terrorist group MEK last year, just before becoming National Security Advisor, and promised them that in 2019, he would celebrate with them inside Iran. That's the type of convoluted, crazy thinking that they have. 
Now it's about 4 months after the promised day, and I am here talking to you, instead of he talking to them in Tehran.

SHEERAN: So Mr. Minister, our time is almost up. You, as I mentioned, are known as the patient diplomat. But in February, you resigned in a tweet. And my question would be not so much why did you resign. We have many experienced diplomats in the room. Why would you come back into a situation that seems almost impossible to navigate given --

ZARIF: We diplomats never give up hope for a better future. I had to resign because I thought the integrity of my office was in question. When the integrity of my office was admitted to by everybody, I saw no justification. All of us may want to leave. It's a tough job. Nothing, I don't think anybody would envy my position, particularly perhaps *inaudible* the B Team. But I wish it was the A Team at least. But, once I have no excuse, I have to do whatever I can in order to prevent conflict, to see if we can resolve conflicts peacefully, diplomatically. And I have a lot of hope. I believe --. During the negotiations on nuclear deal, I said, "We diplomats always make the right choice after having exhausted all the wrong choices." Now, I do not believe that there are many wrong choices left to make. So, my hope is that after Washington has exhausted all the wrong choices, they may come to the right choice. 
Let's end on this.

John Caves, a research assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace, provided this transcript. 


On CBS "Face the Nation"

MARGARET BRENNAN: You mentioned that part of your job is to prevent war. There have been tensions rising between the U.S. and the- the Trump Administration and the Iranian government, tensions have been rising over the past few months. Are you actually saying that we're headed on a path towards conflict? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: We do not want conflict, we do not want confrontation, but we haven't survived 7000 years by escaping. We resist, but we are not seeking confrontation. We don't believe that President Trump wants confrontation. But, we know that there are people who are pushing for one. 


FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: I don't think it will happen.  

MARGARET BRENNAN: Military confrontation you don't think will happen-- 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: I don't think military confrontation will happen. I think people have more prudence than allowing a military confrontation to happen. But, I think the U.S. administration is putting things in place for accidents to happen. And there has to be extreme vigilance, so that people who are planning this type of accident would not have their way. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you mean? What kind of accident are you talking about? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: I'm talking about people who have- who are designing confrontation, whose interest-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Who's doing that?  

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: My 'B' team. I call-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you mean 'B' team? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: I call the group 'B' team who have always tried to create tension, whose continued existence depends on tension. Ambassador Bolton, one 'B,' Bibi Netanyahu,  second 'B,' Bin Zayed, third 'B,' Bin Salman, fourth 'B.' And I'm not just making accusations. Netanyahu has said that he pressured the United States to put IRGC on- on the terror list. He has said-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Designate them as a foreign terrorist organization? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: He has said that he pushed the United States to get out of JCPOA. Ambassador Bolton has said that we need to use the Trump presidency in order to deal with Iran. Bin Zayed and Bin Salman have been the two people who President Trump said promised to replace Iranian Oil. These people want confrontation, and I believe it is important for the prudent people for the grown-ups to prevent confrontation.  

MARGARET BRENNAN: Who are the- the grown-ups that you're talking about.? When- when you and I sat down and spoke, just a year or more ago, you said that your president refused to meet with President Trump here in New York. Do you regret that now? 


MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think-- 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: No we don't because-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --that the two leaders need to meet?  

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: --because we meet based on mutual respect. We cannot meet somebody who is not respectful, who has violated his country's international obligations, who has withdrawn from agreements. You see, you meet for what? You don't meet for a photo op. You meet in order to reach some sort of conclusion. But we have a conclusion. We have 100- I mean- I mean it's not a photo op and a two page document. We have hundred and fifty pages of carefully negotiated agreement- not a bilateral agreement between Iran and the United States-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: The nuclear deal? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: --a multilateral agreement endorsed by the Security Council, where the United States is a permanent member. So if- if the United States does not respect that, what would it respect? 

MARGARET BRENNAN: So there is no point in having President Trump and President Rouhani meet? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: Well, there won't be any point in having them meet unless the United States is willing to show that it is a reliable partner and it has failed to do so. Not just to Iran. I mean it has- it has withdrawn from UNESCO. It has withdrawn from NAFTA. It has withdrawn from Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP. It has withdrawn from the Human Rights Council. I mean it- it withdrew from- recently withdrew from INF. So it's not a matter of a presidential agreement, it has withdrawn from treaties, it has withdrawn from organizations.  

MARGARET BRENNAN: So when you look at these summits between Kim Jong Un of North Korea and President Trump, at the leaders level, and you see that North Korea, which already actually has a nuclear program and ballistic missiles program, gets that kind of face to face time, possibility for a diplomatic deal, it- you don't look at that and say, maybe you made the wrong call? Maybe we do need to speak directly to President Trump? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: Well, we did speak directly to the United States. Whether the United States is led by President Trump or President Obama is not our choice, is the choice of the American people. We- we did have probably the longest discussion with a man, who was to the best of my knowledge the Secretary of State of the United States confirmed by the U.S. Senate, appointed by a president elected by both popular, as well as, electoral vote. And this administration has decided to refuse the deal they made. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're talking about John Kerry? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: I'm talking about Secretary John Kerry. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Secretary John Kerry. Do you still speak with him? President Trump says you're getting bad advice from him.  

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: I'm not getting any advice from any foreigner. You see, President Trump-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you are still speaking with him? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: President Trump needs to look at the history of Iran. We didn't survive 7,000 years by acting on the advice of foreigners. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But when President Trump says things, like he did on his Twitter account the other day, that you're speaking and getting bad advice from Secretary of State, the former Secretary of State John Kerry. He seems to be suggesting, this idea that, as some of the many Democratic candidates have said if they become president next, they could come back to the nuclear deal that you helped to negotiate-- 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: We do- we do- not design our strategy based on expectations of what will happen in the United States two years down the road or four years down the road.  

MARGARET BRENNAN: Would it be possible for the U.S. to rejoin this deal you're talking about? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: Well it's a- it's a negotiating table that is still there. We did not leave that negotiating table. The United States was the party that left the negotiating table. The rest of the U- the JCPOA participants are still there. It's not automatic. I mean, the United States has harmed a lot of people. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you talking with other Democrats? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: I'm not specifically talking with anybody. I'm talking with anybody who wants to talk to me. We're- we're- talking to members of the media, we're talking to members of think tanks. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And former members of the administration. Are you speaking with anyone from the current administration?  


MARGARET BRENNAN: There's no contact between U.S. and Iran at all right now? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: None that I- I know of. And I- I think I know pretty much everything that is happening between Iran and the U.S. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Will Iran continue to abide by the international agreement, the JCPOA that you helped to negotiate? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: Well we have abided by JCPOA up until now.  


FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: 14 IAEA reports indicate that we have. But we have a number of options, and our people are the final arbiter. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But when it- you know this deal, I mean you were one of the architects of it, you- you know the ins and outs of it.   


MARGARET BRENNAN: October 2020, the fall of 2020 there is this U.N. arms embargo that gets lifted that would allow Iran to go and buy conventional weapons.  


MARGARET BRENNAN: What happens then? That's right on the cusp of a U.S. presidential election. 


MARGARET BRENNAN: There's a lot of tension at that moment. 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: --part of the deal. These- these dates--  

MARGARET BRENNAN: So Iran intends to go ahead with those purchases? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: These dates were negotiated, were the subject of lengthy negotiations. It doesn't mean that in October 2020, we will be buying 67 billion dollars worth of weapons that Saudi Arabia is buying. We don't have that type of money. I mean last year we spent 16 billion dollars on our defense. Saudi Arabia only bought 67 billion dollars of weapons, United Arab Emirates, with an indigenous population of a million people, spent 22 billion dollars. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you could- that U.N. Arms-- 


MARGARET BRENNAN: --embargo would lift--  

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: --but we won't. 


FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: We won't. I mean we-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You don't think the Trump administration, as some have speculated, is trying to dissrail- derail this deal before that window opens for you? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: Well it- it's- it's trying. It's trying. Well, but that's not an important issue because we- you know, we went through an eight years of war. Nobody sold us weapons. That's why we- we developed our own missiles. Now they're complaining why we have missiles. We have missiles because you didn't give us any other means of defense. We could have bought weapons. We could have bought- bought fighter jets, but nobody gave it to- to us when we were attacked. So we developed our own and thankfully we don't need much of foreign weapons.  

MARGARET BRENNAN: The Trump administration, as we mentioned, is ramping up pressure. This designation of the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization is going to squeeze Iran's already troubled economy even further. What is the impact going to be if this happens and as the U.S. says May 2nd's the deadline for the rest of the world to stop buying Iran's oil? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: Well it will show to the Iranian people that the United States is not worthy of being a negotiating partner. That's what it will prove. It depends on whether Europe, as well as other members of the JCPOA, want to leave their destiny in the hands of an administration that does not respect its words. We will survive. We have survived tougher days. It's not something that we would invite. It's not something that we would welcome. We will take our measures in response, but we will survive. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Secretary Pompeo has talked about the squeeze this is going to put on the economy in Iran and that is going to make it essentially tougher and squeeze the Iranian government itself. 


MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you see these kind of--  

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: Is- is the United-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --protests or social unrest as a threat? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: Is the United States squeezing the Iranian government or the Iranian people? 

MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you say? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: People. And the Iranian people, when pressured, do not respond with submission. They respond with resistance. And they want us to represent them with dignity, not with succumbing to pressure. That's how Iranian people have survived 7,000 years--  

MARGARET BRENNAN: But the secretary-- 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: --of ups and downs in history. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: The secretary of state has said, look if you just look at the facts on the ground: six hundred and three American service people killed by Iran, he attributes this- and that IEDs have maimed American service people in the battlefields. He looks at that- he looks at what's happening in Syria and Yemen and says, look, we're just recognizing facts. That's his explanation for this designation. 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: Well, he's wrong. He's wrong because they have aligned themselves with the wrong people in our region. And they cannot accept that they're suffering defeat because they simply chose the wrong side. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're talking about--  


MARGARET BRENNAN: --what's happening in Syria. 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: They- everywhere. They have spent far more money than anybody else. Seven trillion dollars, according to President Trump. Their allies, their clients, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have spent billions upon billions of dollars trying to create unrest, trying to support terrorist organizations, even in areas we are not present, like in North Africa. Look at what they're doing in North Africa. Look at the turmoil in North Africa. We're not even present in North Africa. So you need to look at the trouble where it actually is coming from. It's not coming from Iran. Who provided the ideology for ISIS? Who provided the ideology for al-Qaeda? Who provided the- who- whose ideology they're following? Are they following our ideology? Come on. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: No, but there are Iranian forces and militias backed by Iran-- 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: Who are fighting terrorists.  

MARGARET BRENNAN:  --in places like Syria-- 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: Who are fighting terrorists. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --and Iraq and elsewhere. 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: Is the United- isn't the United States- I mean President Trump, in the presidential campaign in his debate with Secretary Clinton said publicly, and if you want I bring you the quote, said Iran is killing ISIS. So, are we killing the wrong side? 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you seeing opportunities to work with the U.S. diplomatically elsewhere? I mean you're- you're talking about a situation where you don't see much--  


MARGARET BRENNAN: --shared interests with the U.S. 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: It depends on what the U.S. interest- how the U.S. defines its- its interests-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Afghanistan-- 




MARGARET BRENNAN: --has been helpful in the past. 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: Yeah, yeah. We have been helpful everywhere. We have fought terrorism in- in Syria. We have fought terrorism in Iraq, and the U.S. is saying that its objective is to fight Daesh- ISIS in- in Iraq. Yesterday, there was a commemoration in Iraq- a U.S. friend and ally- of 300 Iranians who died in Iraq fighting ISIS. Their families were invited. The president of Iraq sent a message to that gathering. The prime minister of Iraq sent a message to that gathering- all of these people are your friends. So everybody recognizes the role of Iran in bringing stability. I haven't seen them commemorating any martyrs from Saudi Arabia fighting ISIS, or UAE. But what you seem to- I mean your government seems to be exonerating them sort of. Who recognized the Taliban in Afghanistan as the government in 2001? Was it Iran? We were a party to the solution in Afghanistan. We were a part-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And that's why I'm asking, is Iran seeing a possibility to work with the U.S. anywhere? If it's Afghanistan, as Iran has been helpful in the past. Syria? Anywhere? Where you could actually find some kind of shared interest instead of what you're describing, as you've said, is a path towards the risk of conflict.  

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: Well, you see, we are operating in our own region. That's why it's called Persian Gulf. Not- not the Gulf of Mexico. We are operating in our own region. We are a force for stability in our region. History shows that. The United States is operating far from its shores, in our region. It has to make the correct recognition. Who's doing the work for stability. If Secretary Pompeo wants to make up these stories, then he can continue doing so, but that wouldn't resolve America's problems. That would lead to President Trump saying we spend seven trillion dollars in this region and brought nothing but misery to ourselves and to the people of the region. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: When I spoke with President Trump in February, he said that he was going to keep U.S. troops in Iraq to watch Iran. 


MARGARET BRENNAN: What did you make of that? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: --immediately heard from the Iraqis that that is not how they see the presence of U.S. forces.  

MARGARET BRENNAN: Did you hear that as a threat? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: You see, I went to Iraq. I stayed in Iraq for five days. I went to five cities. I went among the people of Iraq, and I was welcomed by them. I went to public places. President Trump flew to Iraq, to a military base and left from the same military base within hours in the dark of night. Our president went to Iraq, stayed there for three days, went to public meetings in three Iraqi cities. Now, you tell me who's welcome in Iraq and who's not. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Did you hear that as a threat from the president? 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: I think the Iraqis heard that as a threat from the president. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: The secretary of state when he was testifying before Congress specifically said that there is absolutely no doubt that there are ties between Iran and al-Qaeda. Full stop. It brought up this question of whether the U.S. is going to try to use some kind of authorization for military force to strike Iran on the basis of past support for that kind of terrorism.  

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: Well last I remember, 15 of the 21 9/11 terrorists were Saudi citizens. None were Iranian. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're not concerned that the US is looking-- 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: I'm- I'm concerned about-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --for the possibility of how to strike Iran. 

FOREIGN MINISTER ZARIF: I'm- I'm concerned about hidden agendas that some people are following. I know that President Trump had ran on a campaign promise of not engaging in any more foolish wars. I know that some other people have different agendas.  

—April 28, 2019, on "Face the Nation"


On "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace"

CHRIS WALLACE: You say there is a small group of American and Mideast officials who are trying to steer President Trump into a conflict with Iran. Who and why?

ZARIF: Well, I base my statement on their own statements. Mr. Netanyahu has said time and again that he encouraged President Trump to designate Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. He has said that he was the sole opposition to the JCPOA.

WALLACE: The nuclear deal

ZARIF: The nuclear deal, and he encouraged the United States to leave that deal.

Mr. Bolton has said publicly before he became national security advisor, in a rally that was organized by an Iranian terrorist organization, that was on the list of terror groups by the United States State Department and Mr. Bolton was on the payroll, that he would celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Tehran with a terrorist organization. He's on the record after receiving $50,000 from them to say that. He has set it again as national security advisor.

WALLACE: So, you think it's Israel, Bolton, Mohammed Bin Salman --

ZARIF: Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.

WALLACE: All trying to exercise regime change?

ZARIF: At least, at least. They want -- they have all shown an interest in and dragging the United States into a conflict. I do not believe that President Trump wants to do that.

I believe President Trump ran on a campaign promise of not bringing the United States into another work, but I believe President Trump's intention to put pressure, the policy of maximum pressure on Iran in order to bring Iran to its knees so that we would succumb to pressure is doomed to failure. And I think these four individuals know this.

WALLACE: The U.S. has just announced that it is ending waivers for countries -- five countries that were continuing to buy oil from Iran.

Do you see that as part of the effort to bring Iran to its knees? And do you have an understanding, with the two buyers, China and Turkey, that they're going to ignore the U.S. and continue to buy your oil?

ZARIF: Well, the intention of the United States has put as much pressure as it can on the Iranian people. You know that we had huge floods that affected almost the entire country. In the United States, through its banking regulations prevented even Iranian expatriates to assist their countrymen because they couldn't send any money.

WALLACE: What about oil?

ZARIF: So, it's a policy that is directed against Iranian people. They want to put Iranian people under enough pressure, and this is been said by both Mr. Bolton as well as Secretary Pompeo, that they want to put pressure on the Iranian people so that they would take action against the government.

They are wrong in their analysis. They are wrong in their hope and illusions. It would put pressure on the Iranian people, the outcome of that pressure, the consequence of that pressure is that it would make Iranians more determined to resist that pressure.

On your second question, nobody is happy with the fact that the United States is trying to impose its will on the rest of the international community. You know that. This is coercion, pure and simple.

People are not happy. China is not happy, Turkey is not happy, Russia is not happy. France is not happy. U.S. allies are not happy that this is happening and they say that they will find ways of resisting it.

How they will do it, it's up to them. And it's up to them looking at their own future, whether they want to have their lives ruled by the United States.

WALLACE: But, Mr. Foreign Minister, you make it sound as if Iran is the victim in all of this. President Trump says that Iran has been a bad actor for decades. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Iran's leaders sow chaos, death, and destruction. They do not respect their neighbors or borders, or the sovereign rights of nations.(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: The IRGC has killed more than 600 American soldiers in Iraq. Iran spends almost a billion dollars a year supporting terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas.

And the U.S. says you are violating U.N. Resolution 2231 in continuing to test ballistic missiles. They say you're not the victim here, you're the villain.

ZARIF: First of all, let's start from the last. The United States is the country that left the nuclear deal. 2231 is a resolution that has two annexes. First annex is the entire JCPOA, which President Trump decided to withdraw from. I don't think that would put Iran in the bad light and the United States in the good category of law abiding.

Secondly, 2231's language on missiles is very clear. It says that Iran will not develop missiles that are designed to be capable of carrying nuclear weapons. We do not design any of our missiles.

WALLACE: But you just tried to launch a missile to put a satellite into space.


WALLACE: They say that's a missile that's designed.

ZARIF: It's designed to put a satellite into space.

WALLACE: It also is a ballistic missile.

ZARIF: No, it's not. It's a ballistic missile, but it's not designed to carry a nuclear weapon. And the Security Council resolution is very clear. I negotiated it, so I know what's in it. President Trump has hardly read that resolution.

So let's go to the second one. IRGC has never killed Americans. IRGC is there to fight terrorism. Yesterday, in Iraq, there was a commemoration of 300 IRGC personnel who were killed alongside the Iraqis in fighting ISIS.

President Trump himself said during the debate, I think it was the debate that you moderated, that Iran is killing ISIS in response to Hillary Clinton --(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: Do you deny that you have provided weapons to pro-Iranian militia that end up in the death of 608 Americans?

ZARIF: I mean, that's a new charge that the United States -- and it's a very dangerous accusation because I believe the B team wants to actually push the United States, lure President Trump into a confrontation that he doesn't want.

Now, let's deal with the other issue. You talk about money. President Trump himself has said that you spend $7 trillion in our region. We are in our own region. The United States came to our region, spends $7 trillion, and the only outcome of that was that we have more terror, we have more insecurity, we have more instability.

People in our region are making the determination that the presence of the United States is inherently destabilizing. I think President Trump agrees with that.

WALLACE: When the moderates, so-called moderates like yourself and President Rouhani took over, the idea was you're going to have outreach to the west and Iran's economy would benefit. Since the U.S. has pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, Iran's economy has gone into recession.

You try to resign in fact in February in large part we are told because you felt the hardliners were keeping you out of diplomacy. Here's my question: are the so-called moderates, are you losing your struggle for power in Iran to the hardliners, and what happens if the hardliners take back control? What will happen to U.S. relations?

ZARIF: I think when President Trump came to office, there were a bigger purge of the people who worked in the National Security Council than there has ever been a purge in Iran.

People have different views in Iran. And these different views are presented to the public, and they vote for them. They vote for moderates. They vote for people with different views.

So, that's the policy process, but you should be used to. I mean, the difference between president --(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: There is a difference between the Republicans and Democrats, between the moderates and hardliners. Are you losing to the hardliners?

ZARIF: The point is engagement is not producing results in Iran. President Trump has made sure that the people of Iran would not believe in engagement.
We approached the international community in good faith. We reached an agreement with the international community, with the United States, six other powers. President

Trump, just because he disliked President Obama just left that agreement without having read it.

And people of Iran started to feel and started to see that engagement does not have dividends. That's a very bad message not only that you are sending to the people of

Iran, but you're sending to the rest of the world. That they should not rely on the signature of the president of the United States.

So, it's just the message that the United States is not reliable. Maybe he believes in America first, but America cannot be first in a globally insecure environment. We all need to work together in a global environment that is safe, and you can only live in a safe global environment if you respect yourself by respecting your signature.

—April 28, 2019, on Fox News