by Jasmin Ramsey
There’s an interview up on IRDiplomacy with Iran’s newly appointed foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose speech at the nomination hearings last week was so stunning that it “literally quieted the cacophonous parliament hall“. The initial news of Zarif’s nomination was received positively here in Washington (where he’s well-known) among movers and shakers interested in a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear crisis. Add to that Rouhani’s appointment of former FM Ali Akbar Salehi — known as an experienced pragmatist — as Iran’s nuclear chief and things aren’t looking so bad.
In Zarif’s answers, which should be considered in their entirety, there’s a clear emphasis on moderation and moving away from radicalism, which Hassan Rouhani promised during his campaign and which seems to be the new president’s preferred modus operandi. Whether that will be enough to effectively battle Iranian and US hardliners who want to see the stalemate between the US and Iran continue (or perhaps something worse) remains to be seen. For now, the US is at least hearing the right things from the Iranian side, even if the Iranians continue to insist on staying true to something else Rouhani promised to maintain — their dignity and principles. For the always insightful Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University where he became well-acquainted with Zarif during the latter’s five-year tenure at the UN, it’s the US’ turn to send a positive signal now given that “Unlike the bluster and belligerence of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who did incalculable damage to his own country during his eight years of misrule — a fact that is finally becoming clear even to the radicals in Iran who originally supported him — Zarif’s words demonstrate a determination to alleviate some of the many problems facing Iran and the Middle East.”
Q: The issue of “moderation” was one of the main mottos of the “Administration of Foresight and Hope.” How do you define moderation in the area of foreign policy?
A: I personally believe that moderation means realism and creation of balance among various needs of a country for the advancement of the foreign policy and pursuit of the foreign policy goals through plausible and rational methods and a suitable discourse. Moderation does not mean to forget about the values or discard the principles. Moderation neither means to fall short of materializing the country’s rights. In other words, as I said in my address to the Majlis (Iranian parliament), moderation has its roots in self-confidence. The people who confide in their own ability, power, possibilities and capacities will tread the path of moderation. But those who are afraid and feel weak mostly go for radicalism. Radicals in the world are cowardly people and although their slogans may be different from one another, there are close and good relations among them. The world of today needs moderation more than anything else and the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a powerful country, can push ahead with a suitable foreign policy approach through moderation.
Q: In his first press conference after the inauguration ceremony, President [Hassan Rouhani] said resumption of the nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 group will be one of his priorities. Do you have any new plan or proposal for the resumption of these talks?
A: There have been discussions inside the administration with Mr. President about how to follow up on the country’s nuclear rights and reduce unjust sanctions which have been imposed against the Islamic Republic of Iran. The basis for our work is to insist on the rights of Iran and do away with logical concerns of the international community. As the Supreme Leader and the President have emphasized, it would be easy to achieve this goal provided that the main goal of all involved parties is to find a solution to the nuclear issue. We believe that finding a solution to the nuclear issue needs political will. On the side of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the election of Dr. Rouhani – in view of his past track records with regard to this case – proves that the Iranian people are willing for the nuclear issue to reach a final solution with power and strength and within a reasonable time frame. We wish the opposite side will also have the necessary political resolve for the resolution of the nuclear issue. In that case, we would have no concern with respect to assuring the world about the peaceful nature of our nuclear energy program because according to the fatwa [religious decree] issued by the Supreme Leader and based on the strategic needs of Iran, nuclear weapons have no place in our national security doctrine and are even detrimental to our national security.