Zarif in New York: On U.S. and Regional Tensions

On September 20, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in New York City ahead of the U.N. General Assembly opening. Zarif discussed U.S. tensions, the Saudi oil attacks and other issues in interviews with several news outlets and television networks. The following are excerpts from his interviews arranged by topic. 


Address to U.N. Security Council on 9/26/19



Interview on CBS on 9/22/19

On prospects of a U.S.-Iran war: “No, I'm not confident that we can avoid a war. We- I'm confident that we will not start one but I'm confident that whoever starts one will not be the one who finishes it… That means that there won't be a limited war.”

On Iran’s alleged responsibility for the attack on Saudi oil facilities: “The fact of the matter is that the Houthis have accepted responsibility- responsibility for that. If it were a false flag operation, if somebody else did it, then they should look for that culprit. It wasn't Iran. And if the United States believes it wasn't the Yemenis then they should look for who did it.”

“These attacks did not take place from Iran for the supreme leader to approve them. Had they taken place from Iran then he would have had to approve them. But it didn't take place from Iran.”

On the UN investigation into the attack on Saudi Arabia: “We were not informed by the U.N. We were not consulted by the U.N. We do not know on what basis this has taken place. So, we will take it up with the United Nations. We are confident that if the United Nations carries out an impartial investigation the- the outcome will be that it was not launched from Iran.”

On the French offer to broker U.S.-Iran talks: “We have been talking to the French. I spoke to the French president twice in three days at length and we discussed it with him. The president- our president has been talking to the French president. The United States has been reluctant to engage in what is required.”

On Trump’s offer to meet with Rouhani: “We're ready to talk. We're ready to talk but talk in terms of something that is not going to be valid only for the next one and a half year or five and a half years. We need to talk about something that is permanent. That would last.”

On Iranian-backed militias in Iraq: “We support the government of Iraq. These militias that you talk about are part of the Iraqi government. The Israelis are attacking parts of Iraqi military, official military… they were not launched from Iraq by an Iranian-backed group or by any group.”


Interview on CNN on 9/22/19

On a potential Trump-Rouhani meeting: 


On U.S. sanctions: “The only reason they would re-designate our central bank is to make it impossible or very difficult for this president or his successor to remove the name from the list. The bar is very high now. And I think those who proposed this to President Trump wanted to close the door to negotiations. Not during his presidency but even after his presidency.”

On reports of hardliners in the Iranian government: “There may be people, but the leadership in Iran is more prudent than to fall into their trap.”

Interview on NPR (9/22/2019)

On U.S. policy: “We are resisting an unprovoked aggression by the United States.”

“I can assure you that the United States will not be able to bring us to our knees through pressure. The United States can have a much better deal with Iran if they started talking to us based on respect, based on mutual respect and based on moving forward. Next Wednesday, there is going to be a meeting in which four of the five permanent members [of the U.N. Security Council] plus Germany will be seated around the table along with me and the High Representative of the European Union. There is an empty chair there for the United States, but there is a ticket for that chair and that is to be law abiding.” 

“Abandon the illusion that Iran can be defeated by pressure.”

On the Saudi oil attacks: I know that Iran didn't have anything to do with it. Who did it? I just take the Yemeni claim at face value. If you want to go to conspiracy theory and ask who had an interest in doing that, there'd be a lot of people in the list of interested participants — not least of which the United States and Israel.

On U.S. citizens detained in Iran: “I would love to see him [Xiyue Wang] go back to his family and I have made proposals, last September, it is a year ago, that would enable him to go back. But let me also tell you about a professor who is in a U.S. prison for the last nine months without charge, without charge. He was given a visa to come to the United States. His visa was revoked while he was flying to the United States. He has not committed any crime. What should I say to the wife of this professor?”

“The Chinese-American in Iran is in jail on a charge on a court case. And I have offered to exchange them, because as foreign minister I cannot go to our court and simply tell them, ‘release this man.’ I can go to the court and tell them, ‘I can exchange this man for an Iranian,’ and then have a standing, have a legal standing in the court.”


Some of the information in this article was originally published on September 23, 2019.