AMMAN, Jordan — Iranian Ambassador to Jordan Mojtaba Ferdosipour has chosen the map of Palestine as a centerpiece for his office, along with a Dome of the Rock miniature. In an interview with Al-Monitor, Ferdosipour said he believes Palestine represents a compass for regional issues, all of which should point toward “one enemy, Israel.”
“Yet,” Ferdosipour said, “this compass has lost its bearings in recent years, after Arab governments replaced Israel with Iran as their enemy.” He also asserted that many Arab peoples do not agree with their leaders in terms of discarding this compass and normalizing relations with Israel.
Iran “does not want to take control of the Arab capitals,” he said, dismissing the Nov. 19 Arab League foreign ministers meeting, which concluded that Iran's missiles are threatening Arab capitals. The Arab League conclusion was in response to the Houthis launching ballistic missiles at Riyadh on Nov. 4. Ferdosipour denied allegations that Iran was supporting Houthis in Sanaa and supplying them with missiles, but on the other hand said Iran is proud of its support for Lebanese Hezbollah in confronting Israel.
Ferdosipour previously served as director of the Foreign Ministry's Middle East Department and as charge d'affaires in Amman. He also served in the latter capacity in Beirut prior to assuming his current post, in August 2014.
The ambassador said that rumors about his mandate coming to an end were simply that, adding that the Council of Ministers needs to approve any extension of his mandate.
Al-Monitor interviewed Ferdosipour Nov. 22 at his office in Amman and followed up by phone. A transcript of that interview, slightly edited for clarity, follows.
Al-Monitor: Do you expect the Sochi summit, which brought together Iran, Turkey and Russia on Nov. 22, to produce progress in the negotiations on the conflict in Syria?
Ferdosipour: The Sochi summit came against the backdrop of a previous agreement between Russia, Turkey and Iran to find solutions to the Syrian crisis, which established the course of the Astana negotiations. The Sochi summit follows the same course and aims to harvest the fruits of the efforts put into anti-terrorism operations, particularly in Abu Kamal and other areas plagued by terrorists and the Islamic State (IS). This is the beginning of a new chapter for the political solution and the start of joint negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition.
Al-Monitor: Why were countries like the US, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which are actively involved in the Syrian crisis, absent from the Sochi summit?
Ferdosipour: The summit came after a tripartite agreement was reached [in December 2016] between Russia, Turkey and Iran in Moscow [to sponsor an agreement between the Syrian regime and the opposition]. If some parties were not present, this does not mean they are absent from the consensus. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to leaders from Egypt, the US and Saudi Arabia over the phone. Communication channels are always open between all parties when it comes to reaching political solutions after military operations.
Al-Monitor: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri returned to Lebanon on Nov. 21 after announcing his resignation [as prime minister] from Saudi Arabia, accusing Iran of spreading violence in the region. However, reports suggested that Saudi Arabia had forced Hariri to resign after his rapprochement with Iran. What do you think about this?
Ferdosipour: The media highlighted the fact that Hariri's resignation was forced upon him by Saudi Arabia. What we heard during the resignation speech were either forced or politicized words. It is important for us to hear the right words without any kind of coercion.
It is our policy in Lebanon to communicate with all parties. When the senior adviser to the supreme leader on international affairs, Ali Akbar Velayati, last visited Lebanon, on Nov. 3, he held a meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hariri at the presidential palace, during which many common issues were put forward. Hariri himself was even supportive of the Iranian ideas regarding a solution for the Syrian crisis. This seems to have upset some parties, and Hariri was indeed forced into resigning because of a political stance and not because of financial corruption, as some reported.
Over the past decades we have tried to keep our relationship with all parties in Lebanon flexible, and we have always believed that supporting security and stability in Lebanon can only be achieved by supporting all parties in the political arena, without leaving out any religion or sect, or else we would be making a big mistake.
Those who think that Hezbollah should be pushed out of the [Lebanese] political arena and marginalized are mistaken. We advise all regional parties to realize that maintaining Lebanon's security and stability can only happen if all concerned parties reach a single vision and cooperate to strengthen their relations. All foreign parties need to support this idea.
"Iran's presence and its support for the resistance in the region aim to maintain Arab security, threatened by the common enemy. We are all in the same boat when it comes to confronting the Israeli enemy."
Al-Monitor: How do you perceive the Arab League’s position regarding Iran's missiles, how they pose a threat to Arab capitals and support terrorist groups?
Ferdosipour: This is neither accurate nor worthwhile. The Arab League meeting hinted at Iran wanting to occupy and control Arab capitals, but we completely reject all allegations regarding missiles. Iran does not support the Houthis and Ansar Allah in Sanaa. There is no way to reach Sanaa, and even if there were, Iran would only bring food to support the people of Yemen, but there is no outlet to deliver food and aid. So how were we supposed to give Ansar Allah large quantities of missiles?
Those missiles are locally manufactured by the Yemeni army, and Iran has nothing to do with them. Tittle-tattle about exporting Iranian ballistic missiles and weapons to Ansar Allah to strike Saudi Arabia is a lie.
The Yemeni crisis must be resolved through a political solution. The military solution is utterly unacceptable here. All Yemeni parties should hold negotiations supervised by the United Nations in order to resolve their internal problems. We have spoken to the UN secretary-general in this regard, and we have repeatedly declared initiatives for a cease-fire, humanitarian aid for Yemen and a joint political dialogue to legitimize the Yemeni government without interference from outside parties.
Al-Monitor: Let’s go back to Hezbollah. Who would benefit from disbanding this party?
Ferdosipour: Israel would benefit the most. There is no doubt about it. We have heard Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah say that Hezbollah did not send weapons to any Arab country except to the Palestinians in Gaza to support them in their wars against the Israelis. He also stressed that his movement has never supported the Yemenis, but participated in the fight against terrorism in Syria, which comes in the context of maintaining Lebanon’s security and stability, since IS made its way to the Lebanese border. Everyone agrees on the need to fight terrorism and eliminate IS and Jabhat al-Nusra, since both groups are on the UN’s blacklist.
Al-Monitor: But there is a difference over the definition of terrorism. Is there anyone who fears the presence of Iranian forces and Shiite militias in Syria? How strong is the Iranian presence in Syria?
Ferdosipour: Iran has a legitimate presence in both Iraq and Syria. Iranian military advisers only intervene at the request of the legitimate regime and government. When the Iraqi and Syrian legitimate regimes tell us to leave, we will, no questions asked. We have proudly supported the Syrian and Iraqi armies in fighting terrorism, and we never took this issue lightly. Other parties were not quite honest in their actions. Unfortunately, whenever IS was besieged in the Syrian regions, the US would come in and safely move the group to other areas.
Al-Monitor: There are Jordanian and Arab concerns about a route connecting Tehran to Beirut through Iraq and Damascus. Is Iran really working on this route?
Ferdosipour: We have put a lot of money toward fighting the common enemy of the Arab Islamic world, Israel. Iran's presence and its support for the resistance in the region aim to maintain Arab security, threatened by the common enemy. We are all in the same boat when it comes to confronting the Israeli enemy. So why are there concerns about our presence? We have always insisted that our enemy is the Zionist entity, represented by the brutal occupation of Palestine.
We are not afraid to say that we support Hezbollah toward the liberation of Palestine, especially since Hezbollah succeeded in liberating Lebanese territories in the south in 2000 with Iranian support.
We are not ashamed of supporting Hezbollah in fighting Israel. Why does Iran need this route? To support Hezbollah in order to combat the Israeli occupation. We are proud of this because it does not target any Arab country or people, because we have always opposed the interference of foreign parties in Arab affairs.
Al-Monitor: We are seeing a rapprochement, albeit unpublicized, between Saudi Arabia and Israel. How do you view this?
Ferdosipour: Instead of [Arab countries] treating Israel as the enemy, Iran is taking the blow. Many peoples do not agree with their leaders in this regard. The decisions to normalize relations with the Israelis are made by governments and palaces and not by the people themselves.
Al-Monitor: Is this Israeli-Saudi rapprochement an attempt to confront Iran?
Ferdosipour: No, this is not true. Israel is afraid of going to war with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. So how will it fight Iran? Most recently, the Israeli chief of staff, Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, said, on Nov. 16, that “Saudi Arabia will not nag us into a war with Iran and will not wage proxy wars.” If Israel can’t even attack Hezbollah and fears its capacities, how could it wage war on Iran? War will not stop at the border. It will extend beyond the settlements.
In the end, if Israel does not want to engage in a war with Iran, how can Saudi Arabia want otherwise? This is mere media buzz.
Al-Monitor: Jordanian-Iranian relations are not at their best currently. Has Iran tried to reopen communication channels with Jordan?
Ferdosipour: We do not beg to rebuild relations. When the doors to promote and consolidate economic relations open, for example, between Iran and Jordan, the Jordanian side will benefit the most. The Iranian market consists of 80 million people while the Jordanian market comprises about 9 million people. In addition, the quality provided by the industrial sector in Jordan does not compare with that available in Iran.
When I took office in 2014, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asked me to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries. It is necessary to move in this right direction, since Jordan's security is important for Iran’s security and vice versa.
There should be joint political committees between the two parties. We honestly hope to strengthen our economic relations as well. After the fight against terrorism, we must focus on the stability of the region by establishing a joint economic committee, especially since [the region] is suffering under terrorism as well as intellectual and economic extremism. The financial and intellectual resources of terrorism must be drained, as much as we must fight poverty and unemployment by strengthening economic relations.
For instance, we should find a common railway. There are over 350 million Muslims in Central Asia and the Caucasus, along with Turkey and Iraq, which means there is half a billion people, 1 billion of whom will need transportation to perform the umrah and hajj. Iran has extended a railway to southern Iraq, and it can be connected to the holy city through the Tarbil or Aqaba crossings. This will help toward the problem of unemployment, as the railway will require a significant labor force.
There is also a second project that consists of an electrical line connecting Central Asia, the Caucasus, China and the Arab world, after which we can consider an oil and gas project, in order to eventually overcome all obstacles.
However, some countries are preventing the Jordanian government from having ties with Iran. I have information that the Jordanian government began economic cooperation by forming economic committees between Iraq and Jordan. In 2015, Iran and Jordan agreed to form joint economic committees, but after Saudi-Iranian ties went up in flames, the Saudi Embassy in Tehran was shut down, and the Jordanian ambassador to Tehran was summoned in 2016, the committees suspended their work.
Al-Monitor: Jordan fears the presence of Iranian forces and Hezbollah near the Jordanian border. How do you view this concern?
Ferdosipour: We have always stayed in touch with the Kingdom of Jordan, and we have supported it in Astana in order for it to become an observer member. The Jordanians attended the seven rounds of negotiations, and the issue of borders was on the table. Even when the tripartite agreement between Russia, the US and Jordan, began to reduce the escalation in southern Syria, we supported this idea. So I do not understand where such concerns might come from. We need to sit down and have a closed-door dialogue instead of allowing media rumors to influence us.
Al-Monitor: What is Iran’s take on the US president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the US Embassy there?
Ferdosipour: Iran strongly condemned Trump’s Jerusalem move and announced that this decision violates all international conventions issued by the United Nations on Palestine and Jerusalem. As soon as the US decision was announced, thousands of people across Iran gathered in support of the Palestinian cause and of Jerusalem being the capital of Palestine, while denouncing the US policies.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit held in Turkey Dec. 13 that the US recognition proves to those who believe in the US’ positive role to solve the Palestinian crisis that the US only thinks about the interests of the Zionist entity and does not respect the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.
Rouhani further stressed during the summit the importance of the Palestinian cause’s return to the scene as a central issue in the region, especially after IS was defeated in Iraq and Syria. He also emphasized the need for the UN Security Council and General Assembly to reject Trump’s decision.