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Zarif after deal: 'The world has changed'

In an interview with Al-Monitor, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke about balcony diplomacy, regional cooperation and why Israel sees the agreement as an "existential threat."
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif talks to journalists as he stands on the balcony of Palais Coburg, the venue for nuclear talks, Austria, July 13, 2015. Iran and six world powers appeared close to a deal on Monday to give Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for limits on its nuclear programme, but Iranian officials said talks could run past their latest midnight deadline and success was not guaranteed.  REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger - RTX1K8T6

VIENNA — On the famous balcony in Palais Coburg, Al-Monitor spoke with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif a few hours after he, along with EU special representative Federica Mogherini, had announced the historic deal concluding a 13-year standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. The interview was conducted a few minutes before Zarif boarded a plane for home.

Al-Monitor:  It seems "balcony diplomacy" helped in achieving this deal.

Zarif:  Well, balcony diplomacy wasn’t intended to be diplomacy itself. [It] was intended to provide me with … some fresh air, but it gave me the opportunity to interact with Iranian journalists as well as other journalists who were waiting downstairs for any news. I’m sorry that it was so harsh on the journalists because the negotiations were going on behind closed doors for so many days and so many long hours.

Al-Monitor:  Was it really worth it, the 18 days of talks?

Zarif:  It’s an important achievement for diplomacy over pressure and coercion. Thirty-some years of coercion against Iran produced nothing for the West, and now two years of diplomacy and respect produced an important deal. So I think this should send a message to those in the US and the West who believe that they can achieve everything through force and coercion that that’s not really the answer. The world has changed. Diplomacy is now the answer — respect is the answer  and through respect, they’ve tested everything. Let them test respect for a while and see how it can produce results.

Al-Monitor:  It’s said that Iran is the first country in the world to exit UNSC Chapter 7 [sanctions] without a war. To what extent is that true?

Zarif:  Correct, it’s an important achievement. There are a lot of firsts here: Iran is the first country whose enrichment program is now recognized by the Security Council after the Security Council for eight years insisted that it should abandon it. These are important achievements for the Iranian people and also for the P5+1 [five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany], who were able to move away from an unrealistic, delusional position of the previous administrations and start a different process that resulted in a different outcome.

Al-Monitor:  What’s the impact of this deal on the region, from your point of view?

Zarif:  I believe that this deal will remove a smokescreen [behind] which Israel was standing and hiding its criminal activities against the people of Lebanon and the people of Palestine and also a smokescreen [behind which] some of our friends in the region, unfortunately, provided assistance to extremist groups and sectarian groups and tried to hide behind this phenomenon of Iranophobia that they were spreading in the region through the use of this episode. So now my call to our friends and brothers in the Persian Gulf, in the broader Arab world, is that Iran is ready to engage in good faith with all of them based on mutual respect, good neighborliness and Islamic brotherhood. We have many common challenges to fight, and we have many common opportunities to benefit from, and this is [the] time to start working together, and this [is] my government's most important priority right now. To engage with neighbors, to expand relations with neighbors, to cooperate with neighbors against our most common challenges, and extremism and terrorism are the most important challenges to our region.

Al-Monitor:  Why is Israel enraged by the deal?

Zarif:  Unfortunately, they need crisis and wars to continue to hide their aggressions and their inhumane policies against the people of Lebanon, Palestine and the people of the region, so peace is an existential threat to them.