Zarif in New York: On War and U.S. Talks

Foreign Minister Zarif attended U.N. meetings in New York from July 15-19. During which he did interviews with several journalists and television networks. The following are excerpts from three television interviews. He also did a separate interview with print correspondents available at this link.


Interview on CNN on 7/17/19


On tensions with the United States: “You cannot simply disregard a possibility of a disaster but we all need to work in order to avoid one. There is a war going on right now. It's an economic war. An economic war against Iran targets civilian population and President Trump is on the record saying that he is not engaged in military war but in an economic war.” 

“I think he [Trump] doesn't want war with Iran. I think he doesn't care about who rules Iran. He doesn't want regime change, but that's not what the people around him are interested in, and I think it is important for President Trump to look at the people around him. We take him at his words, that he doesn't want war.”

On the U.S. military build-up in the Persian Gulf: “The United States is intervening in order to make these waters insecure for Iran. You cannot make these waters insecure for one country and secure for others.” 

On Talks with the U.S: “President Trump can in fact find a mechanism to have international peace and security through agreement, through understanding rather than through confrontation. He made the very prudent decision not to start a war by deciding not to attack Iran in retaliation because he knew that he -- we would have responded and then as I said, you can start the war but you cannot end it. So that was a very prudent decision and he can take credit for it. He can take credit for restoring a good treaty that made both Iran and the United States and the rest of the world safer.” 

“The United States left the negotiating table so if they put sanctions aside, they can come back to the negotiating table and they can start discussing with us. At the negotiating table we have always discussed the nuclear issue. How to implement the agreement that we have. So they are more than welcome to do that.”

On Iran’s Missile Program: “We are not going to negotiate about our defense. It's a historical emotional attachment for our people. Our people went through eight years of war when they were being targeted, when they were being showered with missiles and bombs and even chemical weapons, and nobody gave us the minimum means of defense.”

On U.S. Sanctions on Iran: “Economic war is nothing to be proud of because in a military confrontation, civilians may become collateral damage, whereas in an economic war, civilians are the primary targets.” 

“I think the United States has found it necessary because of its own mistakes to put excessive emphasis on its economic might to weaponize the U.S. dollar and as any analyst would tell you in the medium and long-term this is bound to have a negative impact on the predominance of the U.S. dollar in the global economy. You see now that many countries including U.S. allies are moving away from the dollar using their own national currencies.” 

“They [the United States] prevent us from making the money that is needed by selling our oil in order to feed our population, to buy medicine for our population. We'll find ways of circumventing it.” 

On Foreign Trade: “We will continue to sell oil. To who and how is going to be a state secret because otherwise U.S. will go and prevent us from doing that. But we will continue to sell oil. The international oil markets cannot survive without our oil.”

On Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s request to appear on Iranian media: “As far as Secretary Pompeo's appearance on Iranian television is concerned, he has been rejecting requests for interviews by Iranian journalists and I'm sure he will find enough requests from him, from Iranian TV, from other Iranian media, and if he decides to accept them on the same terms that I accept, appearing on American media, I'm sure he gets a chance.” 


Interview on NBC on 7/15/19


On War with the United States: “I do not believe that President Trump wants war. But I believe that people are around him who wouldn't mind. But I don't think they'll succeed because at the end of the day, I think prudence will prevail. People know that Iran is a big, proud country. And we will not take a military attack lightly."

On U.S. Sanctions on Iran: "Once those sanctions are lifted, then ... the room for negotiation is wide open. It is the United States that left the bargaining table. And they're always welcome to return."

"They are terrorizing our people. They are targeting ordinary Iranian civilians. That's worse than war."

On Iran's Nuclear Program: "Had we been interested in developing nuclear weapons, we would have been able to do it long time ago."

On Iran's Missile Program: "If you want to discuss ballistic missiles, then we need to discuss the amount of weapons sold to our region." 

"Last year, Iran spent $16bn altogether on its military, we have a 82 million population. UAE, with a million population, spent $22bn. Saudi Arabia - with less than half of [Iran's] population - spent $67bn, most of them are American [arms]. These are American weaponry that is going into our region, making our region ready to explode. So if they want to talk about our missiles, they need first to stop selling all these weapons including missiles to our region."

On Support for Armed Groups in the Region: "Let me ask you - who's bombing Yemen? Who's invading Bahrain? Who kept the prime minister of another country a prisoner?" 

"Are we involved at all in North Africa? ... Why do you have chaos in Libya? Is Iran involved in Libya? ... in Sudan? ... in Algeria? Why do we have all this turmoil? I believe if you want to look at the right place for those who have malign activity in our region, the US needs to look at its own allies, not at Iran."


Interview on BBC on 7/16/19


On the Nuclear Deal: “Iran has implemented its part of the deal and it is necessary for the rest of the world, particularly for three European countries to also take action. They’ve made very nice statements, but statements do not provide economic benefits for the Iranian people.”

On War with the United States: "I believe President Trump is being advised by people who are not interested in promoting peace, but interested in advancing an agenda that they have had.”

“I know that there are people in his administration who are crazy for war. Who thirst for war."

“If there is a war, then I do not think anyone will be safe in our region. But let us all try to avoid one. We don’t need a war. We’ve gone through eight years of war. A war that was imposed on us with the help of everybody.

On Negotiations with the United States: "We don't need to have a deadlock. We don't want to embarrass anybody. We believe all we want is what we negotiated and implemented, and then we can go even further. We will continue to sell our oil, but we will not sell our dignity."

On U.S. Sanctions on Iran: "Economic war targets civilians. Military war targets military personnel, civilians are sometimes collateral damage, but an economic war, targets civilians.”

"The United States—Secretary Pompeo has said—'we want the Iranian people to change their government.' Putting these two together, that means the United States is terrorizing the Iranian people in order to achieve political objectives. That's the classical definition of terrorism." 

On tensions in the Persian Gulf: "We cannot leave our own neighborhood. Those who have come from outside have to decide why are they in that neighborhood, and whether their presence in that neighborhood is helping stability and security."

On Seizure of an Iranian Tanker off Gibraltar: “It’s piracy plain and simple. We announced from the very beginning that this ship was not destined for Syria”

“The United Kingdom by taking our ship is helping the United States impose its illegal oil sanctions against Iran. That is why John Bolton thanked Great Britain for giving them the best Fourth of July present possible.”

On Nuclear Program: “If Iran wanted to build a bomb, we would’ve built a bomb a long time ago. We could’ve built a bomb a long time ago.We do not want to build a bomb because we believe that a nuclear bomb will not augment our security. But if the Europeans are serious about a nuclear weapons free Middle East then there is somewhere else they need to be looking, and that is Israel where they have at least 200 nuclear warheads.”


Some of the information in this article was originally published on July 16, 2019.