Iran’s Foreign Minister: The Trouble with Obama’s Nuke Deal Is ‘Basically Everything’

AP Photo/Richard Drew
AP Photo/Richard Drew

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gave a genial interview to Der Spiegel this week, with the German magazine describing him as “relaxed and cheerful” throughout. In his relaxed and cheerful way, Zarif continued Iran’s practice of making the Obama administration look foolish, rewriting the so-called “nuclear deal” on the fly and scoffing at the administration’s talking points.

On the subject of those notorious talking points, Zarif said:

I do not believe that the practice of producing fact sheets is a very useful one. The world has gone through a significant change. You cannot pick and choose your audience anymore. In the past, you could present your version of reality, your narrative to your audience, and the other side could have presented their narrative to their audience. But today in the age of the Internet and social media, narratives become global – and that’s where the problem comes. So you need to be able to present the final, complete package.

Of course, if they weren’t so busy trying to keep this ludicrous “deal” alive and avoid making the Iranians angry enough to walk away, the State Department could say Iran is the party presenting its own version of reality to a picked and chosen audience. They’ve been describing the Lausanne framework as total capitulation to Iran’s demands since, quite literally, minute one after the meetings in Switzerland concluded, dismissing every supposedly tough measure President Obama touts to the American people as an “unreasonable” condition Iran has no intention of meeting. (“Unreasonable” has become one of the most popular words in Iran’s international discourse, covering just about every measure that would have a chance of detecting an illegal Iranian nuclear weapons project.)

When Der Spiegel asked what the most difficult points of contention in the nuclear deal are at the moment, Zarif replied, “Basically everything.” He pinned the confusion on the inability of the other negotiating partners to get their act together, while Iran is, of course, as constant as the northern star.

President Obama is also fond of talking about a long, involved process of gradually lifting sanctions against Iran as they demonstrate compliance, but everyone from bubbly Mohammed Zarif to fire-and-brimstone Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei claims Obama is just blowing smoke, and those sanctions are coming off immediately, with no real preconditions.

“It is very clear that all economic and financial sanctions that are imposed by the EU and the United States will be gone,” Zarif told Der Spiegel. He modestly allowed that “the procedure for lifting them will vary from one place to another,” due to differences between European and American law, but that’s not Iran’s problem. “As a foreign entity, when we deal with another foreign entity, we don’t have to get involved or get bogged down in the domestic complications that each country has. You need to deal with the actual outcome, and that’s rather clear,” he explained.

Zarif also echoed Khamenei’s defiant refusal to allow weapons inspectors anywhere near Iran’s military bases. “Obviously, no country provides open access to its secret facilities, and all international treaties take care of how you deal with your state secrets,” he said. “I do not believe Iran has any difficulty with accepting international transparency standards. Again, I believe there is an insistence on a certain narrative that some people want to put forward, that gives rise to a reaction from our officials here in Tehran.”

The supposedly provocative “certain narrative” he’s talking about is the Western world’s crazy notion that nuclear weapons inspectors should be allowed to visit the Iranian sites where nuclear weapons might actually be and interview the technicians who might be building them.

Did Der Spiegel ask the happy-go-lucky Iranian foreign minister about all those “Death to America!” chants in the streets of Iran? You bet! That’s all the fault of the United States, which can reduce the burning-flag count on Iran’s streets by changing its ways. “This deal is a litmus test of the degree to which the United States is willing to abandon the illusion of regime change in Iran, the illusion of animosity and antagonism towards the Iranian people and Iran’s revolution,” said Zarif.

He also hilariously claimed that Iran isn’t “backing anyone particularly” in the Yemeni civil war, which will come as news to the commanders of the Iranian warships currently escorting an Iranian cargo vessel to Yemen, not to mention the Iranian arms suppliers who have been working with the Houthi rebels all these years. Zarif harped several times on the Saudi-led bombing campaign against the Houthis, which he blamed the United States for backing—a rather unfair slap at President Obama, who was kept out of the loop on the attack by the Saudis because they feared he would spill the beans to Iran.

Zarif went so far as to insinuate that the United States is a bit too cozy with Sunni terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, which he referred to as Daesh. “The source of instability in this region is a short-sighted attempt to arm and finance extremist groups like Daesh, the al-Nousra Front and al-Qaida,” he asserted. “Everybody who has used extremists in our region has fallen victim to them. The West is a part of this problem, because something is happening in Western societies where you get a Western-born, Western-educated person beheading innocent human beings in Iraq or Syria or setting them on fire and burning them alive. Why is this happening in this region? Why are these people being recruited?”

He went on to blame the U.S. for enabling the rise of ISIS by refusing to support Bashar Assad in Syria. “We are supporting the legitimate government of Syria,” Zarif said of Iran’s policy. “If we had not provided that support, you would have had Daesh sitting in Damascus now. We’ve been saying that we need to find a political solution in Syria. But people insisted on preconditions that a specific person was not a part of that election. Those who have actually put preconditions for an end to bloodshed have to respond to why they have prolonged this conflict.”

He also said Iran has “not seen a serious readiness on the part of the United States yet to deal with Daesh seriously,” and emphasized that Iran is cooperating with the Iraqi government to repel the Islamic State from Iraq, not the U.S.

Zarif wrapped up his interview with a grimly amusing exchange in which Der Spiegel criticized Iran’s appalling human-rights record, highlighting the cynicism of Zarif claiming, “we don’t put people in jail for their opinions,” at the very same moment the dictatorship was throwing a bunch of people in jail for expressing their opinions. Zarif’s response was to apologize for everyone misunderstanding his assurance that Iran doesn’t jail dissenters, claiming the statement was taken out of context. The dungeons of Tehran are full of people who would agree. It remains a mystery why anyone would sincerely believe a regime like this could be trusted to hold up its end of any delicate arms deal.


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