US Should Remove Unilateral Iran Bans as First Step to Build Confidence

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Interview with Majid Takht-e Ravanchi
Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister for Europe and Americas

The next round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and six world powers – including permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany – will be held in the Swiss city of Geneva in less than a fortnight. On the eve of this new round of negotiations, certain US officials have adopted conflicting positions on Iran. On the other hand, the gap between the Tel Aviv and Washington over how to deal with Iran's nuclear issue is getting wider. Majid Takht-e Ravanchi, Iranian Foreign Ministry’s Deputy for Europe and Americas, has emphasized in the following interview with Iranian Diplomacy that all parties involved in negotiations over Iran's nuclear energy program should base their decisions on the expediencies of their own countries and international community and avoid becoming a victim to the West’s anti-Iran propaganda. The Iranian diplomat held bilateral talks with the representative of the UK to the nuclear negotiations on the sidelines of the Geneva meeting during which both sides agreed to introduce their non-resident charge d’affaires as prelude to resumption of bilateral relations. Takht-e Ravanchi says introducing non-resident charge d’affaires would not mean that the two countries are reopening their embassies, but a while after the appointment of non-resident charge d’affaires, the reopening of the embassies may take place as a natural outcome. What follows is the full text of Iranian Diplomacy’s interview with Majid Takht-e Ravanchi, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Europe and Americas.

Q: In their recent remarks on Iran, Ms. [Wendy] Sherman [the US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs] and [the US Secretary of State] Mr. John Kerry have reiterated that “no deal [with Iran] is better than a bad deal.” How do you think such conflicting positions may influence the détente policy that has been adopted by Iran's 11th administration?

A: As for what Ms. Sherman said, it is quite clear that she lacks correct information and understanding of the Iranian people. Her remarks clearly show how far away such people are from the realities of Iran. [In her latest remarks on the Iranian people, Sherman said of the Iranians: “We know that deception is part of the DNA.”] The main thing that can be found in the DNA of Iranians is the audacity to stand up to bullying and animosities. It is not exactly clear for what reasons such remarks are made, but they indicate high level of lack of information about the people and developments in Iran.

With regard to Mr. Kerry’s remarks, [I have to say that] from the very beginning [of the new round of negotiations], we showed our goodwill and announced that if our goodwill was matched by the other party’s the way would be paved for achieving better results. The negotiations in Geneva were held in such atmosphere and we hope that it would continue into the next round of talks as well. However, setting preconditions and taking positions which may have a negative impact on the negotiations will by no means help either party. In other words, instead of [hostile] rhetoric and taking unwise positions, both parties should enter the negotiations with goodwill and strong resolve to find solutions for the existing problems. This has been our intention since the negotiations got under way and we hope that the other party would also take the same approach when it sits for the next round of talks.

Q: In addition to domestic political obstacles both inside Iran and the United States, there seems to be foreign impediments to the progress of the nuclear negotiations as well. Just recently, Bandar bin Sultan [Secretary General of Saudi Arabia’s National Security Council] announced that relations between Riyadh and Washington are at an all-time low over certain issues, including in protest to the partial thaw in Iran-US relations. On the other hand, Tel Aviv still goes on with its anti-Iran rhetoric. Do you think that the White House enjoys strong political motivation to defuse such pressures, which also include opposition from the US Congress?

A: Different voices are heard from the United States part of which comes from the US Congress. Nonetheless, during negotiations with the P5+1 group, the US administration is one of the negotiating partners. Therefore, if a commitment is to be made, it would be incumbent upon the US administration to endorse it on the behalf of the United States government. Of course, the Israeli elements are still continuing their endeavors in a bid to prevent negotiations with Iran from getting anywhere. They use any leverage, both inside and outside the United States in order to turn the table against Iran. Their main goal is to depict an erroneous image of Iran. The Israeli lobby aims to mount pressure on the member states of the P5+1 group [including the United States, the UK, France, China and Russia, plus Germany] in order to bar them from achieving an agreement with Iran. However, it is for the countries that are engaged in nuclear talks with Iran to base their decisions on the expediencies of their respective countries and the international community in general. Various countries in the region should also try not to fall a prey to anti-Iran propaganda.

Q: In less than two weeks, the next round of nuclear talks will be kicked off in Geneva. What preparatory steps have been taken in advance for the facilitation of these negotiations? Since Tehran has constantly emphasized that sanctions against Iran should be lifted, what part of sanctions have been prioritized by Iran in order to be removed first?

A: The [next round of] negotiations in Geneva, which has been scheduled for November 7-8, will be preceded by preliminary talks between expert teams from Iran and the P5+1 group next week. Also, before attending the nuclear meeting in Geneva, we will take part in various sessions inside the country, so that we will take part in the forthcoming talks fully prepared in order to make those talks bear fruit. However, when it comes to sanctions, I should note that it is our basic position that these sanctions are illegal; both sanctions imposed on Iran by the United Nations Security Council, as well as unilateral and multilateral ones. We have frequently announced that to prove its goodwill, the opposite side can take steps to remove anti-Iran sanctions, even if sanctions removed in the first stages would not be so significant. However, just in the same way that they imposed sanctions on Iran unilaterally, the opposite side can also remove them unilaterally. In this way, they would show that they are bent on creating a new atmosphere for the forthcoming talks.

Q: You referred to unilateral sanctions. Do you mean the United States sanctions against Iran, which should be removed?

A: The United States has not only imposed unilateral sanctions against Iran, but also mounted pressure on other countries to join the Washington’s effort to increase pressure on Iran. In this way, if those countries actually seek trade ties with Iran, they will be punished by the United States and will suffer the pressure of sanctions. These sanctions are imposed according to a complicated system which from our viewpoint lacks legal basis. For this reason, if they want to show their good intention toward Iran, they should at least remove one of these sanctions.

Q: There have been speculations about possible unfreezing of some of the Iranian assets overseas and you had previously noted that no such thing had been officially proposed to Iran. However, if the unfreezing of Iran assets were an official proposal by the United States, would it be considered as one of the measures that Tehran expects to see taken by Washington?

A: I cannot comment on this issue right now. On the other hand, no US official has so far taken a clear stance on this issue. We must clearly know with what proposals we are facing and then show reaction accordingly. Therefore, if the opposite side has anything to propose, it should be presented in an official capacity. Such proposals have been so far limited to media circles and have not gone beyond speculations. No official US confirmation has, so far, been offered on them.

Q: What about the Almaty package [of proposals]? Last February, the group P5+1 proposed to lift sanctions on trade of gold and petrochemicals with Iran in return for confidence building measures taken by the Islamic Republic. At that time, the former nuclear negotiating team described that proposal as insignificant. Can the proposal for the removal of these sanctions draw the attention of the new administration’s nuclear negotiating team?

A: First, I must emphasize that the Almaty proposal is a matter of the past and [that package] is no longer on the table. At present, Iran's package is on the table and negotiations are progressing in accordance with it. Therefore, the package of proposals put forth in Almaty is currently out of the question. On the other hand, we did not enter into talks about these issues during the recent negotiations in Geneva and we have not reached a stage yet where proposals will be put forward in details. Therefore, we must wait until proposals are clearly offered to the Iranian side and Tehran will then give a proper answer proportionate to those proposals.

Q: What is your opinion about the presence of a parliament [Majlis] deputy in the combination of Iran's nuclear negotiating team? Also, what is your viewpoint about the emphasis put by the Iranian Majlis on the need to strengthen the parliamentarian diplomacy in this regard?

A: The parliamentarian diplomacy is a quite common form of diplomacy in the world and we hail it. The Iranian Majlis is quite active in this regard and the speaker of the Islamic Consultative Assembly [Ali Larijani] has gone on many foreign trips. The speakers of other countries’ parliaments have also paid visits to Iran. This form of diplomacy is both recognized and accepted across the world. However, as for the presence of a representative from the Islamic Consultative Assembly in the nuclear negotiations, [I have to say that] the new government should hold consultations in this regard and it is for the government to make the final decision about who should take part in the negotiations.

Q: Since the management of Iran's nuclear case has been transferred from the Supreme National Security Council to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs just recently, don’t you think that the emphasis put by the Majlis on playing a role in the negotiations would amount to repetitive work in this regard?

A: According to a decision made by the Iranian President [Hassan Rouhani], the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in charge of negotiations with foreign sides on the country’s nuclear energy program. The entire case, however, is still being held at the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC). Therefore, it is for the SNSC to go through all the issues which should be seen from various angles in the country. At the end of the day, however, it is the Foreign Ministry which sits face to face with the foreign sides and negotiates with them. The results of the negotiations will be made available to both the Foreign Ministry and the SNSC. The Majlis is also kept abreast of the negotiations. Therefore, this is not repetitive work, but is based on a division of labor which aims to help the case go ahead.

Q: [The UN-Arab League Special Representative for Syria] Lakhdar Brahimi is in Tehran to make preparations for the Geneva II conference on the Syria crisis. [The Syrian President Bashar] Assad, however, has noted that there are many questions about Geneva II confab which have remained unanswered. On the other hand, US Secretary of State John Kerry has raised doubts about Iran's part in the conference. Meanwhile certain preconditions have been mentioned for Iran's participation in the conference. Will Iran take part in Geneva II conference under such conditions? And will this conference be actually held?

A: It is still too early to predict whether Geneva II conference will, or will not be held. The clear point, however, is Iran's support for the political process in Syria. Tehran is of the opinion that the issue of Syria has no military solution. [It also believes that] all the parties involved in the Syria crisis should sit at the negotiating table and reach an agreement on the best way out of the current conditions. This process should be followed in the absence of any preconditions. We are opposed to setting preconditions. In other words, if we are invited to take part in Geneva II conference, we will hail it, but we will accept no precondition for our presence in the conference. Recently, they said Iran's presence in Geneva II talks would depend on Tehran’s acceptance of the results of Geneva I conference. We, however, were not present in that meeting. In general, Iran will accept no precondition for participation in Geneva II conference on Syria.

Q: Pursuant to recent announcement by [Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman] Ms. [Marziyeh] Afkham that Iran and the UK will introduce non-resident charge d’affaires in a week, her British counterpart noted that no time has been yet set for the introduction of the two countries’ non-resident charge d’affaires. The British spokesperson also added that a statement will be soon released by the British Foreign Office in this regard. What is the position of the Iranian Foreign Ministry on this issue?

A: It is up to the British Foreign Office officials to make the decision about releasing a statement in this regard. However, what was agreed between Iran and Britain on the sidelines of the recent nuclear talks in Geneva was that Tehran and London would introduce their non-resident charge d’affaires within two weeks of the agreement. Of course, this does not mean that the two sides will open their embassies as well. It, however, means that they have gone past the situation that previously existed between the two countries and are entering a new phase. Of course, it will take time before charges d’affaires are exchanged, but after the exchange is complete and charges d’affaires are in position, it will be naturally followed by the reopening of the embassies. At that time, the two countries’ charge d’affaires will take care of consular affairs.

Q: To what extent the decision made by Iranian Majlis to reduce the level of relations between Tehran and London to charge d’affaires will serve as an obstacle to the normalization of relations between Iran and the UK? Is it possible for the decision to be repealed?

A: I don’t see how that decision can be an obstacle to the normalization of relations. There are still problems in our relations and it will take time before these problems are solved. Both countries have currently decided to have relations at the level of non-resident charge d’affaires. As time goes by and more understanding is achieved, it will be possible to further promote bilateral relations up to the highest possible level. We abide by the laws of our country in this regard and are in close consultation with the Islamic Consultative Assembly.

Key Words: US, Unilateral Iran Bans, Wendy Sherman, John Kerry, Domestic Political Obstacles, Israel, P5+1, Iranian Assets, Almaty Package, Parliament, Lakhdar Brahimi, Syria, Geneva II Conference, UK, Takht-e Ravanchi

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

*Photo Credit: JameJam Online