TEHRAN — In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of Iran’s most powerful politicians, spoke about the future of relations with the United States. He also hit back at domestic critics of Iran’s nuclear deal with six world powers, saying they are “making a mistake.” While acknowledging that Washington seems to want to “distance itself from the past,” Rafsanjani said that that approach needs to be proven in action and that the implementation of the deal would be a major step. The interview in his Tehran office on July 28 is the first Rafsanjani has conducted with a foreign media outlet since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was struck.
A senior cleric and two-time president, Rafsanjani also spoke about regional crises, including Tehran’s tense relationship with Riyadh. Arguing that Iran “does not inherently have any issues with Saudi Arabia or other Arab countries,” he pointed to Saudi-Iranian engagement in the aftermath of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War despite Riyadh’s prior backing of Saddam Hussein. Rafsanjani emphasized that cooperation with Saudi Arabia and other regional states is “a priority in our constitution.” Of note, Rafsanjani headed crucial talks with Riyadh in the 1990s, along with then-Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Hassan Rouhani, ushering in important security coordination.