An Insider’s View of Iran’s Foreign Policy
Negotiation from Strength
An Interview with Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Independence, freedom and emancipation from foreign dominance have ranked among the main ideals of the Iranian people for over 130 years. They found actual realization with the victory of the Islamic Revolution on 11 February 1979. However, from the very outset, Iran, due to its huge civilizational, cultural, human and material potentials as well as its strategic position in the region, confronted with a relentless onslaught of certain big powers, at both hardware and software levels. The Islamic Republic, enjoying ideational power, self-confidence, and popular support has not only surmounted many challenges and threats, it has as well developed into a potent regional force. Despite its widely-envied regional status, and due to a host of changes in the international arena, presently Iran is facing the most formidable economic war in the course of its four-decade history.
On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, we have conducted the following extensive interview with Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Minister of Foreign Affairs. The text below presents a somewhat shortened version of the original exchange in Persian.
Q: Mr. Minister, We are at the juncture of the 40th anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic. As an expert in the field of international relations, you have served in various diplomatic positions during the past 37 years, including in the ministerial portfolio. Given your academic field of study, long experience, and numerous positions of responsibility in the field of foreign policy, how would you define the most important achievement of the Islamic Revolution in this field?
A: Thank you very much for the opportunity. In my view,what in large measure shaped the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic – as also best reflected in the Revolution’s central slogan [independence] – was rooted in the people’s attitude towards the state of the country’s foreign relations, which I should emphasize was a fundamental rationale for the revolution itself. The Iranian people deeply resented and were angry at the level and depth of the dependence of the statesmen of the previous regimes on foreign powers. That state of dependence and the people’s widespread negative reaction to the foreigners’ role in decision-making in the country had faced strong popular reaction and anger – a hallmark of the popular culture in contemporary Iran. If you look at the Revolution’s main slogans – Independence, Freedom, and the Islamic Republic – the first element speaks for itself; it reflected the people’s deep concern over the foreigners’ interference in their affairs and destiny. So, one of the three main demands of the people in the revolutionary movement – which obviously was destined to shape the post-revolutionary foreign policy – revolved around their quest for independence and self-determination of their own affairs. This came to define and characterize foreign policy during the post-revolutionary period.
Let me hasten to add that achieving independence and maintaining it could not have been without costs. For the simple reason that this independence-seeking movement has stopped a trend of dependence in an important region. Some ask why this has not been the case for others. Well, there are two main reasons: One, nothing happens in the world in a vacuum. Our independence should be placed in the context and framework of the dependence of the ancien regime. That state and relations of dependence happened in an important and highly strategic region that provided a wide range of Western interests and catered to its preoccupations. Foreign dependence of the previous regime, however, does not mean that it lacked total authority in decision-making. As is known, it sometimes even tried to strike a balance in its foreign relations. For example, developing relations with the Soviet Union or China, and equally some other actions and measures, were either meant to establish a sort of balance in foreign relations or to strengthen its bargaining power vis-à-vis the main foreign partner – United States. The stark reality was that the West was a determining factor for the security of Iran, and Iran was also an important factor in the Western calculations in the region. Therefore, given this background and framework, independence for Iran was different from the same thing for another country in a different environment. It is the same word, but two different concepts and meanings, since it is dealt with in two different time, place, and geopolitical ambiance.
To further underline,our pursuit of independence in the foreign policy was rooted in the Revolution; it translated into the ‘Neither East, nor West’ slogan. This did not mean that we were against East or West, rather it meant that were independent from both camps. The historical memory of our people was deeply preoccupied with the times in the past, mostly in the 19th century, that decisions were made at the British or Russian embassies. The ‘Neither East, nor West’ slogan carries a positive message, and not a negative one; that we are determined to pursue an independent policy. As just underlined, its rationale came from the Revolution itself; a popular self-propelled revolution emanating from and relying on indigenous approaches and means. It was not a revolution led by a revolutionary vanguard - as in the communist jargon – or following a particular ideological line of a foreign country or against another country. Professor Richard Falk’s book “Human Rights and State Sovereignty” (1981), reflecting on the situation in the early days of the Revolution, highlights this major feature of the Islamic Revolution.
The second point, reflecting another salient aspect of the Revolution with universal impact, was that we were experiencing a new form of governance in the post-revolutionary period; both in terms of the model of governance as well as in the form of relations with the outside world. What brought all these together was that the Revolution was ‘home-grown.' It is the same concept and feature that we use for the current ‘Resilient Economy” policy. It is not directed against the outside world. Rather, we rely on our indigenous means and simultaneously pursue an engaging approach towards others. The 'home-grown' feature in the fundamentals of our thinking in the Revolution simply means that we have put forth a new model of governance by the Revolution and by the Islamic Republic; The essential source of our power, of our legitimacy, and of our progress, is derived from within the Iranian society; this is an intrinsic characteristic of the post-revolutionary period. This doesn’t mean fighting others. It only means that nobody can claim that ‘if we withdraw our support’, Iran would fall. No, neither Russia, nor America, nor any other country, can make such a claim. We have very good relations with the Russian Federation. But it doesn’t mean that we cannot live without the Russian support. No Russian official can say about Iran what Senator Lindsey Graham said just a few months ago about Saudi Arabia.
If we take a closer look, it could also be said that the Islamic Revolution left a significant impact on the nature of the bipolar world, or alternatively, that the leaders of the Islamic Revolution, particularly the late Imam Khomeini, had a quite early realization of the end of the bipolar world. From an ideological vantage point it could be said that around the time of the Revolution in Iran or shortly afterwards one of the contending camps – the Western camp - had developed a sense of victory. One of the major sources of that camp’s obvious unease and strong resentment vis-à-vis our Revolution, in my view, was that right at the juncture of their precipitous sense of victory and unchallenged preponderance of their discourse, a new discourse in the form of the Islamic Revolution – or political Islam in a wider sense – officially assumed power in an important country with a geostrategic position. They had the impression that a dominant discourse had emerged in the world: ‘The End of History’! Around the same time a discourse – which I would not necessarily call a rival discourse – assumed political power in Iran. Perhaps it wasn’t really an alternative discourse. For we really hadn’t meant to create, through our Revolution, a new alternative discourse with universal reach. But,that aside, as a matter of fact, we have offered a new discourse that has prevented the Western discursive hegemony in the world.
So, we should consider our independence within the context of that time and place and discursive ambiance. In actuality there was a background of dependence within a particular regional context, especially the specific role that that state of dependence was meant to play in the order they had charted for the region. More specifically, under those circumstances, the Western discourse, or let's say, liberal democracy, was under the illusion that it had, at long last and having incurred huge costs, gained predominance and expected to be considered as the dominant discourse universally. The new discourse put forth by the Islamic Revolution, as already indicated, was neither a rival nor an antagonist, but just different. While containing certain elements of democracy, it should be emphasized that the new discourse is not based on the discursive fundamentals of liberal democracy. It could even claim to have more solid and more robust fundamentals than those of the liberal democracy. This was indeed the defining characteristic of the Revolution.
To be sure, it brought in its wake certain results. One aspect concerned ‘political Islam’ – which we hadn’t initiated. Certainly Prior to Iran, the late Hassan al-Banna and the al-Ikhwan Movement [Muslim Brotherhood] in Egypt had developed a political understanding of Islam. You could even rightly claim that political Islam dates back to the times of the Prophet himself. Or, in other words, Islam, in essence, is not apolitical to begin with. It has to be conceded, though, that the emergence of Islam as an actor in the arena of international relations coincides with the Islamic Revolution in Iran. And it has had a very significant impact. What we witness nowadays in the form of various extremist forces and currents purporting to follow an orthodox variant of Islam, however, represent a deliberate effort at ideational deviation; not to allow the genuine visage of the Islam introduced by the Islamic Revolution – an Islam based on rationality, wisdom, reason, and dynamism – come to the fore. The on-going efforts by deviant currents intend to substitute that with a distorted understanding of Islam; an understanding that you cannot even call backward. Eight hundred years ago in Iran Mowlana Rumi spoke of an Islam that had nothing to do with extremist or Salafi line of thinking. Unlike the process in Europe, Islam has not arrived at a moderate understanding through historical development. Islam has been, from the very outset, the same Islam of moderation, as best reflected in Imam Ali’s letter to his representative in Egypt, Malik Ashtar, advising him that those under his rule were either his brothers in Islam or the same human beings in creation. That is the same message as in Rumi’s poetic mystic reflections that “I am neither from the East, nor from the West, neither from Rome, nor from Persia.” To subvert the true Islam and to prevent coming to the fore of the new, genuine discourse, as presented by the Islamic Revolution, fake variations and alternatives have been created and propagated. Even Americans, in their fight against communism, have made resorts to use and manipulate a certain variation of Islam, as that of the Taliban in Afghanistan, which was obviously of a totally different kind and caliber than the revolutionary Islam in Iran.
Having already dealt with the central position of the element of 'independence' in the discourse of the Islamic Revolution, let me also draw attention to the element of 'home-grown self-confidence' – drawing on sources derived from within our society; its rich millennial civilization and cultural reservoir. Once translated into practical approaches and policies in governance, this means that we can rely on our own resources and simply do not need to mimic others; not to blindly imitate the ways and means of others, while remaining ready and willing to engage with others from a position of strength. A deep belief in self-confidence – national self-confidence – is definitely an integral part of the new discourse.
The last aspect I deem necessary to bring into this overall picture of the new discourse concerns the imperative of the consideration of the inevitable element of 'objectivity.' We had, from the very outset, to be cognizant of the fact that achievement of independence for the country and for its foreign relations was bound to incur costs of sorts. Looking at the costs incurred by the country as a result of the initiation and perpetuation of the new discourse, I have to add, consists of two elements; the costs emanating from the very pursual of genuine national independence, and the costs arising from our own performance, including, of course, our mistakes and shortcomings along the way. Any objectives and realistic assessment of the post-revolutionary situation, of successes and failures, whether in domestic or foreign areas and fields, inevitably has to take these two components into consideration.
I hope this overall look, in very broad brush, has sufficed to provide the necessary background for our exchange on some of the more specific aspects of our post-revolutionary foreign policy.
Q: During the past four decades, the Islamic Republic has to its credit significant achievements at regional and international arenas. How do you assess the role of diplomacy in these accomplishments? What do you consider as the most effective elements in your assessment?
A: As a career diplomat, let me start, with a central concept in diplomacy; that is, negotiation. Negotiation constitutes an important part of international relations. We have had a number of major events and junctures in our foreign relations during this long period. Let me make it clear upfront that I do not intend to delve deep into each and every event, process or juncture, nor to assess or judge any of them. One can always say, in retrospect, that perhaps this or that decision or course of action would have borne a better fruit. What instead I intend to discuss here is to look at the continuum of events and junctures. The first point I would like to emphasize and highlight is the role of ‘negotiation’ is ending disputes and conflicts as well as in institutionalizing achievements. Negotiation puts an end to crises, and as such, is to be looked at as an imperative in international relations in the modern world. Our experiences during the post-revolutionary period attest to the fact that first, the imperative of negotiation as a diplomatic ploy has been recognized, and second, that awell-harmonized- and coordinated use of a combination of field power and negotiation would render better and more solid results. Lack of optimal coordination between the two factors, or sheer neglect of either one, would instead create difficulties or end in failure.
Q: How do you define the major turning points in the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy during the period under review? And how can you demonstrate the efficacy of your own idea of the nexus between field power and negotiation?
A: Well, I think the major turning points would include the following, in chronological order. Please bear with me. I am going to reflect, even in a brief, passing manner, on 15 different issues and situations, spanning from 1980 onwards; from the US Embassy imbroglio to the 2015 nuclear deal.
1- Seizure of the U.S. Embassy
Looking back at that critical juncture, it is important to have a clear understanding of the revolutionary circumstances and the people’s major slogans, especially the question of independence, and the prevailing serious concern about the possibility of the return of foreign dominance – as clearly reflected in their popular slogans. The Iranian people had once experienced it in the August 1953 coup. This helps explain the embassy seizure imbroglio and its long and enduring shadows. Here, I am trying to understand that difficult experience, and how it ended – through negotiation. The final outcome of the negotiation between the two sides, as one would discernand I cannot discuss here even in passing, depended on the specific circumstances at the time and how each side utilized those conditions. As alluded a while earlier, negotiation puts an end to crises. The negotiation between Iran and the United States, through the good offices of the Algerian government, effectively put an end to the embassy seizure crisis, though not necessarily the long shadows.
2- The Iraq-Iran War
Let me point to a number of salient aspects of the war imposed on Iran by the Ba'athist regime of Iraq.
- The first point concerns the imagination – the calculation - that led to the initiation of military aggression against Iran on 22 September 1980? Well, looking back, it was imagined that the revolutionary government in Iran was a fledgling novice, and the military apparatus in total disarray, whose very loyalty to the revolutionary government was even claimed to be in doubt. So, they had imagined and calculated that a military blitzkrieg would defeat the Revolution and even bring the country to its knees. As part of that overall imagination and coordinated calculation, the UN Security Council "were sitting on their hands" and did not act for 6 days. If you read early analyses on the war, American analysts, including no less a figure than Zbigniev Brezizinski, then National Security Advisor, predicted during the first week of fighting that the Islamic Republic would fall within one to two weeks.The Security Council issued the resolution 479 on September 28th. Just compare this Council behavior with its reaction to the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq on 1 August 1990; that is, only 8 hours after the military action and while everybody was on summer vacation in August.
- The second point concerns a brief comparison between the thrust of the two resolutions, addressing Iraq’s aggression against two neighboring countries, first Iran in 1980 and then Kuwait in 1990. While resolution 660 (1990) condemned Iraq in unequivocal terms, and even threatened it with severe consequences for its action, resolution 479 (1980) did not condemn Iraq for its military aggression against Iran, nor did it call for the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from occupied Iranian territory. It only went so far as to call for the cessation of further hostilities. I suppose the prevailing perception in September 1980 of Iran’s weakness and vulnerability adequately explains the Security Council’s conduct. And no doubt our colleagues at the Foreign Ministry and at the Mission in New York had tried at the time to prevent the adoption of such a one-sided pro-Iraqi resolution. What mattered at the time was the world’s perception of our weakness and isolation.
- The third point I like to indicate here relates to the Council’s call for withdrawal of military forces for the first time; that is, resolution 514 in summer 1982 – after a total silence of over 20 months – which was adopted after Iran’s liberation of Khorramshahr in late May. Change in the military situation in favor of Iran forced the Council to come closer to an accepted international norm. The Council’s subsequent resolutions between 1982 and 1986 on the War reflected the shifting sands of the combination of field power and political-diplomatic negotiation. Resolution 598 (1987) took shape at the height of Iran’s military upper hand in the War, combined with an active diplomacy and proactive negotiation. It contained the following three elements that constituted at least three of our important demands.
- a – Determination of the aggressor (paragraph 6)
- b - Non-interference of foreign forces (paragraph 5)
- c – Regional security arrangements (paragraph 8)
- I had been personally involved in all the resolutions after the liberation of Khorramshahr, and I know this for a fact. What led to our success in contributing to the drafting of the resolution 598, in addition to favorable military situation in the field, lay in actuality on the effective translation of that situation into objective gains through serious, persistent, and focused diplomatic endeavors and targeted negotiations in New York with those in the say in the Council.It is also of interest that the Council resolution 582, adopted a year before 598, also reflected the impact of serious and targeted diplomatic efforts; that was the first resolution in which the Council addressed the imperative of investigation of the initiation of the War. Adoption of the resolution 540, with an unmistakable pro-Iraqi tilt and at a time that Iran enjoyed clear military strength, brought the point home that field power in itself, and without being combined and complemented with diplomatic leverage and negotiation, fails to bear desired fruit.
3- Forging Consensus in the Islamic World around a Single Issue
Condemnation of the book “Satanic Verses”, written by Salman Rushdie, on account of heresy was achieved through diplomacy and negotiation. Following the publication of this insulting book in October 1988 and the issuance of the Fatwa by the late Imam Khomeini in February 1989, extensive diplomatic efforts were undertaken to mobilize the Islamic community. Despite lack of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia at the time – which had been ruptured a couple of years earlier – Iran’s diplomatic apparatus succeeded in forging consensus at the ministerial meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on the issue. The Conference adopted a consensus resolution on Rushdie’s heresy in March 1989.
4- Acceptance of Iran’s Conditions by Saddam Hussein
The Iraq-Iran War formally ended in early August 1988 following the establishment of cease-fire between the two countries. However, a number of issues remained unresolved, inter alia, continuation of the presence of Iraqi forces on about 2500 square kilometers of Iranian territory, the situation of POWs in both countries, and the uncertain state of frontiers between the two countries following the unilateral abrogation of the “1975 State Frontiers and Neighborliness Treaty” by Saddam Hussein shortly before embarking on the war against Iran. Following a process of intensive diplomatic efforts by Iran’s negotiating team, inclusive of the excellent work of Ambassador Cyrus Nasseri, finally, in a historical letter, dated 15 August 1990, addressed to the late President Hashemi Rafsanjani, Saddam Hussein wrote: “What you wanted is now realized.”He accepted all of Iran’s conditions: validity of the 1975 Treaty, withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Iranian territory, and release of all Iranian POWs in Iraq. This significant accomplishment was achieved solely through diplomatic endeavor and focused, targeted negotiation.
5- Pronouncement of Neutrality in the Iraq-Kuwait Situation
Shortly after the Iraqi military invasion of Kuwait on 1 August 1990, the Islamic Republic of Iran, notwithstanding the deeply-felt resentment of the Kuwaiti active support of Iraq during the Imposed War, adopted a position of ‘active neutrality’ vis-à-vis the Iraq-Kuwait situation. Adoption of such a posture under the circumstances, when Iran was actively engaged in close negotiation with Iraq on resolving the outstanding issues from the 1980-1988 War (No. 4 above) and also considering internal pressures from certain quarters for siding with Iraq, proved to be a wise, albeit difficult, position. It required political and diplomatic tact to opt for ‘active neutrality’ and remain faithful to it until the situation resolved.
6- Determination of the Aggressor in the Iraq-Iran War
As stated expressly in paragraph 6 of the Security Council resolution 598, the UN Secretary-General had been entrusted with the task of exploring “the question of responsibility for the conflict and to report to the Council as soon as possible.” Actual fulfillment of the task by the Secretary-General proved to be quite difficult; major powers of the time, not on friendly terms with the Islamic Republic, were loathe to the determination and official pronouncement of the aggressor party in the conflict. As a matter of fact, they considered it an important feat for Iran and appeared determined to preclude that. Simultaneously, implementation of paragraph 6 of the resolution was very close to our heart and we were focused on it. Considering the difficult position of the Secretary-General vis-à-vis the issue and the pressures brought to bear on him from various quarters, we realized that he needed a solid, well-documented-argued paper on the Iraqi aggression against Iran. In response to the Secretary-General's communication addressed to both Iran and Iraq on paragraph 6, the Foreign Ministry organized a drafting committee consisting of experts from political, international, and legal departments to discuss the matter at hand and prepare the early draft of the report. It took us a few months to develop a solid framework for the needed report, which was later developed into a detailed, documented text, supported by documents from Iraqi sources describing Iraqi war plans and objectives. The final report, which I personally oversaw and edited while serving as Deputy Permanent Representative at the New York Mission, was submitted to the Secretary-General. Iraq chose to totally disregard the Secretary-General's request and refused to write back to him. To further support the submission of the requested report, Dr. Kamal Kharrazi, Iran’s Permanent Representative in New York, and myself, engaged in a series of intensive diplomatic exchanges with a wide range of delegations at the UN Headquarters, further assisted by similar diplomatic demarches of our ambassadors in various capitals. The report we submitted on Iraq’s aggression served to strengthen the Secretary-General’s position in support of his task towards the actual implementation of the provisions of paragraph 6. Ultimately, despite the pressures from naysayers in New York, Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar issued his report on paragraph 6 on 9 December 1991 (S/23273) and announced Iraq as the aggressor and the party responsible for the War. Once again, diplomacy and intensive and targeted negotiation served to afford Iran with a valuable political victory three years after the guns had fallen silent.
7- The Bosnian Crisis
The emergence of bloody conflict and prolonged crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina, following the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia in early 1990s, proved to be quite a critical test case for our foreign policy, replete with a series of successes and failures. The most important success lay in the fact that Iran played a catalytic role in organizing the "Islamic Contact Group" as well as in facilitating humanitarian aid to the besieged country. Along the process, in which Iran and Malaysia played a constructive role, the Islamic world managed to unite in the face of the onslaught against the Bosnian Muslims, and asserted its collective identity and dynamism in facing a crisis of that magnitude in Europe. In Bosnia, we were involved in the field and made the necessary contribution to the Bosnian people's heroic struggle. But, unlike Malaysia which was engaged in the political process, we did not seem disposed at the time to also participate in the political-diplomatic process. As a consequence, due to what I can term as the 'political taboo' of dealing directly with the Americans, we lost the privileged position in the Contact Group, and left the arena open for other countries, such as Turkey, to reap the benefits from the final political solution. Well, once again, meaningful field power, not complemented with effective, proactive diplomacy, failed to bear the desired fruit in foreign policy.
8- Dialogue among Civilizations
President Khatami's proposal in 1998 for the "Dialogue among Civilizations", a propitious initiative at the time, received consensus support at the UN General Assembly and led to the designation of the year 2001 as the Year for the Dialogue among Civilizations. Adoption of the resolution by consensus by the Assembly signified the international community's concurrence with the universal need for dialogue and understanding, especially after the introduction of the 'end of history' and 'conflict among civilizations' appeared to be in their heydays. Notwithstanding the Americans' preference for their home-grown theses, effective diplomacy on our part succeeded in convincing the Assembly to adopt the Iranian initiative without a vote. It is unfortunate, though, that the terrorist actions on 9/11 and the Americans' subsequent so-called "war on terror" practically nullified the effective pursuit of the Iranian initiative at the international level and pushed it to the margins. The so-called "Alliance of Civilizations", concocted a few years later as an alternative to our initiative, was quite different in nature and far limited in concept, inclusivity, and reach. I might as well add that the evolving political situation at the domestic level deprived us of the opportunity to accord the initiative its due place and importance and capitalize on it; it fell victim to internal political and partisan bickering, and was also sidelined at the national level.
This said, I really find it of particular importance to draw attention to the rather lengthy preparatory process our diplomatic apparatus pursued at several levels to introduce the totally new concept of 'dialogue among civilizations' and elevate it to the level of an accepted international initiative. The multilateral negotiating process that we undertook and pursued with focus, diligence, and I might even allude to 'political shrewdness' – which I can hardly elaborate here and has to wait for some other propitious occasion in the future – represented a classic case in textbook multilateral work, both in terms of procedure and substance. First of all, we developed a wide-ranging alliance of supportive Muslim countries, further expanded and strengthened with a much-larger group of like-minded states at the United Nations. I was personally involved in the nitty-gritty of working and negotiating various subsequent drafts of the GA resolution, with all its roller-coater give-and-take, until the consensus language was reached. Subsequently, as a United Nations initiative, a Group of Eminent Persons was formed – in which I was a member - whose articles and reflections on the concept and how to pursue it in action was compiled in a 2-volume work titled "Crossing the Divide." The book was translated into a number of languages, though not in Persian – due to the murky atmosphere that emerged at the domestic level, to which I have already alluded. Here, as in some other cases, well-defined effective diplomatic endeavor succeeded at the multilateral level, but failed to bear fruit due to unfavorable political circumstances, at both national and international levels.
9- Post-9/11 Afghanistan
The post-9/11 situation in Afghanistan provided us with a highly propitious opportunity along the line I have already laid out in the previous cases of conducting successful foreign policy. During the long years of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and subsequent years of internal crisis and civil war, moving from a strategic vantage point, Iran pursued a consistent policy of effective support of the Northern Alliance. And as is known, we never recognized the rule of the Taliban. Following the American military occupation of Afghanistan in 2001, the only military-political force capable of saving the situation was the Alliance working with us. Active and forceful engagement in the field afforded us quite a privileged position in the Bonn Proximity Talks. Even the Americans went so far as to say that the Bonn talks were doomed to fail without Zarif's presence. It is widely known that we played a critical role in the formation of post-occupation government in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In both cases we negotiated with the Americans, not about Iran, but only on the situation in those two neighboring countries. The fact was that while the fate of the Afghan and Iraqi peoples, as fraternal neighbors, was important for us and we helped their respective situation, obviously we also had in mind our own national security concerns. The funny situation was that despite that constructive role, all at once, to everybody's surprise, we ended up in the "Axis of Evil." Later political disclosures in the US vindicated our earlier impressions that inserting Iran's name in the concocted "Axis" was the outcome of a Newcon-Israeli scenario, which, I might also add, was somehow, one might add, inadvertently, assisted with certain political misgivings and lack of effective coordination at the domestic level.
10- Post-Saddam Iraq
Following the successful role played in the Bonn Proximity Talks on Afghanistan, our next round of political-diplomatic engagement with the Americans occurred in the post-Saddam Iraq. We held three rounds of talks with them in the course of the crisis. Two days before the American military action in Iraq, I was engaged in talks with the Americans, with Mrs. Clinton, General Garner, and Mr. Khalilzad. I was also engaged in direct talks in another round after the military action. The US plan for the occupied Iraq was to establish a transitional military government under Gen. Garner and subsequently for a longer period under Paul Bremer. American Arab friends also favored the perpetuation of a Ba'athist government without the person of Saddam Hussein. Well, that situation faced us with quite a difficult situation. The combination of effective field power and active, smart diplomacy, and the concrete proposal of "One Iraqi, One Vote", allowed us to prevent the realization of those scenarios. A different political atmosphere emerged subsequently. Zalmay Khalilzad, in his memoir, has written "Zarif was strongly pursuing de-Ba'athification and structural transformation of the security apparatus in Iraq – opposite to the plans by the US Arab allies." Khalilzad also laments in his memoir that he did not take serious my warnings about the future of Iraq.
11- Prevention of Ending up Under Chapter Seven
Looking back at the development of Iran's difficult relationship with the UN Security Council in the post-1979 period, I can say that pursual of active diplomacy, despite all odds against us, managed to prevent the country ending up with a Council resolution under Chapter 7 of the Charter. Even a cursory look at the history of the Security Council points to the bitter fact that most of the countries – states – subjected to Chapter 7 decisions have faced either external military action [intervention], regime change, or economic paralysis. Let me just mention a few cases of our success.
11.1 - In 1980, following the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran, US tried to force the Council to pass a resolution under Chapter 7. The American endeavor failed due to our diplomatic efforts and a Soviet veto.
11.2 – Following the adoption of the Security Council resolution 598 on the Iraq-Iran War in July 1987 – the first resolution under Chapter 7 which as discussed earlier had taken on board a number of our important concerns – the US tried in fall 1987 to push the Council to adopt a follow-up resolution condemning Iran for the failure to accept the resolution. We had taken a non-committal approach to the resolution 598, making its acceptance contingent on the provisions of the 'Implementation Plan' – to be devised later. The Soviets told us, in so many words, that they simply could not veto the resolution expected to contain a series of stringent sanctions on Iran – similar to the measures envisioned in the resolution 661 following the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in August 1990. We managed to thwart the American pressure through a series of focused negotiations with the other members of the Council expounding Iran's rationale in its approach to the situation at hand. What really made all the difference at the time was the official letter addressed to the Secretary-General with this particular provision that acceptance of his 'Implementation Plan' was "tantamount" to the acceptance of the resolution 598 itself – later to be dubbed "the tantamount letter" in some domesticquarters! That letter did in fact play a very critical role under the circumstances and gave us the diplomatic space to convince the Council members to walk away from the second resolution. I have already dealt with what transpired later with regard to the important provisions of the resolution 598.
11.3 – The third case of thwarting an American push in the Security Council occurred sometime in 2004 while we were engaged in serious talks with the three European countries (E-3) on the nuclear dossier. At the time, John Bolton, the then US envoy to the UN, had distributed a 'non-paper' among the members of the Security Council calling for debating the case of Iran's nuclear program in the Council. Pursual of mutually-beneficial negotiations with E-3 at the time, culminating in the conclusion of the Paris Accord, while the reform administration was still in office, effectively prevented the nuclear dossier to be sent from the IAEA to the Council.
12- Nuclear Negotiations in 2003
When the IAEA report in September 2003 informed of Iran's unannounced enrichment activities, BBC wrote that Iran must choose, for the first time in its history, between war and surrender. That was a very telling premonition of a dangerous situation. The Tehran Declaration, negotiated with the three European countries, and issued in October 2003, brought an explosive situation under control. At a later stage, the expected report to the IAEA on the full range of our activities, in line with the provisions of the Tehran Declaration, failed, due to lack of coordination among various departments, to inform of the activities of P2 centrifuges. Well, that jeopardized a smoothly developing relationship between Tehran and the E-3. Intensive negotiations between us and them, including at high-level in Brussels, once again moved us out of the impasse. The Paris Accord in December 2004, despite Bolton's vociferous efforts at the Council, kept the dossier in the Agency and brought us very close to its closure there – which, as it turned out, was not to be.
13- Post-Summer-2005 Nuclear Discussions
The confluence of the Europeans' failure to honor their commitments and the surprise outcome of the presidential elections in Iran in summer 2005 opened a new, and totally different page in the nuclear dossier. The net outcome of the new situation came to materialize in the undue emphasis on the acquisition of field strength to the detriment of diplomacy and negotiation. What followed was that the dossier was sent to the Security Council, leading on one side increase in the number of active centrifuges and enhancement of nuclear capability, and on the other, adoption of several binding Chapter-7 resolutions by the Council. The dominant discourse and policy during the larger part of the 8-year administration of Mr. Ahmadinejad was spent on the one-sided acquisition of capability on the ground, with total oblivion of diplomacy and negotiation. This approach and policy gave the Americans the practical space to forge the wide international consensus they had sought since early 1980s; it was realized in the form of 6 binding resolutions within a 6-year period. Securitization of the Iranian nuclear program, and in fact of Iran, was for all practical purposes the greatest strategic American achievement. Total disregard of the diplomatic component during those years served to deprive us of the opportunity to utilize expanding field capability, and gave a carte blanche to the other side.
14- 2013-2015 Negotiations: The Nuclear Deal (JCPOA)
The 2015 nuclear deal – the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action – between Iran and the 5+1 countries has been widely hailed as an important diplomatic feat of international significance and import. It has received huge attention and has been discussed, analyzed, and scrutinized from various angles and aspects. I'm sure it will continue to receive further attention as a successful multilateral, diplomatic process. But, what I intend to raise and discuss here, within the present framework of our talk, is to emphasize one particular aspect: it succeeded in breaking the security consensus against Iran, which had been erected and sustained between 2005 and 2013. We achieved this historic turnabout through reliance on national capability, including nuclear capability, and let me underline, definitely diplomacy and negotiation. The particular strategic significance of the process leading to the conclusion of the 2015 nuclear deal is to be found in its pivotal reliance on 'diplomacy and negotiation.' And this is exactly why Israel opposed it from the very outset and throughout the difficult and exhausting process, and also why Donald Trump hates it and has ostentatiously called it as the 'worst deal in history.' I've already alluded to the unfortunate, bitter fate of most countries – states – subjected to stringent Security Council sanctions. Just look at the cases of former Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), South Africa, Iraq, Libya, former Yugoslavia, and the Sudan. Unlike those cases, we utilized smart diplomacy and focused negotiations to nullify all Security Council sanctions and yet safeguard the essence of our civilian nuclear program and capability – contrary to the persistent American policy of 'zero enrichment' in Iran. This is not just what I say, or just what we Iranians say. That's a fact. Let me also underline that celebration of the diplomatic metier and its cherished achievements cannot, and will not, be tarnished by the short-sighted opportunistic walk away from international agreements, as done by Donald trump in the case of JCPOA or also other international/multilateral agreements.
15- The Syrian Crisis
The last example and case of the imperative of resort to and reliance on a combination of field power and political-diplomatic negotiation concerns the Syrian crisis; the fight against extremism. This interview hardly provides the space for a thorough, even if brief, review of the factors leading to the emergence of crisis and civil war in Syria. The emphasis instead is on how an effective combination of the two components I have been discussing has borne on the situation at various stages of the still on-going crisis. While American attempts at let's say pacifying the situation, even partially, have failed, the effective cooperation among Iran, Russia and Turkey have succeeded in putting in place the Astana political process, promising to ultimately bringing together at the negotiating table the contending forces and currents to find an all-Syrian political solution for the future of the country once the extremist forces have been vanquished. This couldn't have been done without field power, nor can it be maintained or consolidated without reliance on diplomacy and negotiation. I should also briefly touch on another important aspect of our political engagement in the political process in the Syrian situation. Prior to the conclusion of the nuclear deal (JCPOA) in 2015, we were not part of the political process, despite the strength of our position on the ground. At the time Iranophobia was still at its peak and they treated Iran as a security risk. Under those circumstances, once I was invited to a conference on Syria in Montreux, Switzerland, but the invitation was withdrawn subsequently. However, once the international atmosphere changed in the wake of the nuclear deal, our political role in the Syrian equation also changed significantly. Now we are part of the equation, and should be careful to maintain that propitious position, and consolidate it further in order to institutionalize an acceptable position to enable us to utilize the field power for furtherance of national security and national interests.
Q: Mr.Minister, thank you very much for the detailed discussion of the cases of success in the Islamic Republic's foreign policy, relying on the combination of these two components. Given your earlier expose on the discursive aspects of Iran's foreign policy, how would you assess these cases from a discursive vantage point?
A: Well,I supposeenough has already been said about the nexus betweenour new, innovative discourse in foreign policy and its actual manifestations. Based on that genuinely home-grown outlook, premised on national independence and relying on national capabilities, Iran today is an independent actor. It pursues its national interests and national concerns in our immediate region, as well as at the international level through active and ever-expanding bilateral relations across the globe and meaningful engagement in multilateral processes. As indicated earlier in the interview, we are also acutely cognizant of the fact that the challenges facing us are much bigger than for other conventional actors and players, calling, as a consequence, for extra diligence and execution of smart diplomacy, emanating from and guided by the particular ideational power of the Revolution. I have tried, in the course of addressing various foreign policy issues and situations during the almost past 40 years, to demonstrate the reasons and rationale for continuity – and cases of success - in our foreign policy. For my part, I also thank you very much for the opportunity to reflect on some aspects of my diplomatic experience throughout these long, eventful years.