During an interview with As-Safir, the adviser of Iran's parliament speaker on international affairs, Hossein Sheikholeslam, cautiously described the regional situation as optimistic, notably regarding his country’s role as the most important element in the axis of defiance. He talked about this in reference to the achievements of the nuclear negotiation “war” with the United States, as he put it.
Sheikholeslam’s optimism comes from the reality imposed by his country during the negotiations, by forcing the US administration to recognize his country’s right to the enrichment of uranium. “We do not negotiate with the Americans in Vienna, but we actually negotiate with Israelis, since the Americans run every single detail by the Israelis in order to get their approval of the relevant issues. They then transfer to us the Israeli fears of our peaceful nuclear program turning into a military program, even though we have constantly emphasized that we can’t possibly do that,” he said.
According to Sheikholeslam, the negotiations were obstructed by the US’ inability to commit to lift the sanctions. “They wanted to throw the ball in the Congress’ court. They practically ran away from committing to lift the sanctions,” he said, noting that the Western position in general was not flexible about lifting the sanctions, a demand Iran could never waive.
Sheikholeslam said the most radical positions were those held by the British negotiator, noting that the French condition of Iran signing the additional supplement of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — which actually indicated the sudden violation of Iran's nuclear sites — was rejected by Iran for being an Israeli demand. He also said he is certain that the sanctions would one day be lifted.
He revealed that the US negotiator tried to discuss “other regional issues, such as Lebanon’s.” However, the Iranian negotiator refused to talk about the issues regarding Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and other countries before the US even suggested it. He let the United States know that the negotiations will only be limited to the nuclear issue, which is not linked to any other matter.
Speaking of Lebanon, Sheikholeslam holds great affection toward this country in which he worked for quite a while, and which he visited several times during his former position as an ambassador to Syria. He said that the Lebanese should have an internal dialogue in order to overcome their crisis. He said his country does not wish to intervene in Lebanese affairs. He said that on the other hand, the resistance was the one which can play a major role in determining the region’s fate. Sheikholeslam advises the Lebanese — since they have a deep-rooted cultural policy which guarantees harmony among different sects — to be an example for other countries in the region through their consensual democracy.
But doesn’t this mean that there is a tendency to federalize the region the Lebanese way?
Sheikholeslam said this was exactly what Israel and the US were trying to accomplish in the region. They have already started doing this in Syria a few years ago and continue to do so in Iraq. He said everyone is aware of this threat, from all sects and races, and this plan is going to fail.
Sheikholeslam remains optimistic regarding Syria’s future. He said the last presidential elections were a great success and represented a step forward toward achieving the Syrian people’s aspirations, noting that the conspiracy to overthrow the Syrian state was a failure.
About the Islamic State (IS) and if Iran practically joined the coalition alongside the US to fight the group, Sheikholeslam said, “Takfirism is threatening the entire region. However, we have to say that IS is a US-made group and it [the United States] only acted against it after it exceeded all limits. We have to say that it is not serious about eliminating the group.”
When asked about the serious issue regarding the tense relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia, our guest did not hide that his country wishes to be on good terms with Riyadh. “We should coexist as neighbors. We respect the Muslim Saudi people and we want to have good relations with it. However, there is a difference between the Iranian and Saudi visions regarding certain regional issues and we believe that we should go into negotiations in order to overcome our differences,” he said, adding, “The main issue in the region does not revolve around our differences with other countries. The real issue is Israel’s presence, because we do not accept its existence and we believe it is the reason behind the lack of stability in the region. We also refuse all kinds of foreign presence in the region, which is another reason behind our differences.”
Sheikholeslam is Iran's former ambassador to Syria and the current international affairs adviser to the parliament speaker. He previously served as deputy secretary of state for political affairs for seven years and for Arab and African affairs for 10 years, in addition to assuming the post of secretary-general of the Secretariat of the Conference for Supporting the Palestinian intifada. Sheikholeslam graduated from college in the US with a bachelor’s degree in computer science.
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