Zarif hopes nuke deal will help solve regional issues

In the wake of Iran’s nuclear deal, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif talks to As-Safir, during his visit to Lebanon, about Iran’s plan to solve the Syrian crisis and the overall regional situation.

al-monitor Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif smiles during his meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari in Baghdad, July 27, 2015. Photo by REUTERS/Ahmed Saad.

Topics covered

turkey’s syrian policy, syrian conflict, saudi arabia foreign policy, nuclear deal, lebanon, iranian nuclear file, iranian mediation of syrian crisis, iranian influence

Aug 13, 2015

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif walks into Lebanon's political lounges appearing more like a superstar than a diplomat. His stardom is derived from his success in the nuclear deal following tough negotiations in which he faced the most powerful negotiators from the US, Russia, Britain, Germany, France, the European Union and the United Nations. The arduous negotiation round ended with the triumph of Iran, who returned to the [international] scene as a one of the players accepted and welcomed by the international community as a whole.

All this is thanks to an Iranian negotiation team led by Zarif, a man who always has a smile on his face after he won the hard negotiation game with the West and showed his ability to contain opponents inside Iran. Zarif earned the trust of everyone: the supreme leader, the president, the Shura Council and all the Iranian people, opened the corridors of Iranian palaces to political delegations and Tehran’s hotels to international companies, flowing in to visit the country subject to blockade since the Iranian revolution until now.

He looks a lot like a magician mastering the art of juggling with a smile that helps him dazzle the audience. Zarif spoke to As-Safir with spontaneity and without pretense.

Minutes before his departure, he was keen to perform his prayers on time and retreated to one of the halls of the VIP lounge at Beirut airport. He came back all smiles to meet As-Safir in a private hall in the presence of Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the deputy foreign minister for Arab-African affairs, Mohammad Fathali, Iran's ambassador in Beirut, and a number of Iranian diplomats.

With his affable diplomatic style — which is one of the approaches in the complex art of negotiation — Zarif answered As-Safir’s questions and seemed in a hurry to head to Damascus, where he will discuss Iran's four-point initiative to resolve the crisis in Syria.

Abdollahian, Zarif’s deputy, said in response to a question raised by As-Safir that “no details will be provided about the amendments made to the initiative until its details are discussed with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.” He expressed “optimism in resolving the crisis in Syria,” and refused to go into the initiative’s details.

It should be noted that As-Safir learned that the initiative includes an immediate cease-fire on all Syrian territory, the formation of an expanded national unity government and the holding of legislative elections, to be followed by presidential elections, while the last item tackles the political dialogue and reconciliation.

Zarif was keen to thank the editor-in-chief of As-Safir, Talal Salman, for the “newspaper’s endeavors in conveying the thoughts and concerns of the people in the region to the world.” He continued, “I also thank you for publishing my article ‘Choose your neighbors before your house’ in your esteemed newspaper.” 

“I hope that the message of this article has reached our region because it needs it; and we believe that the nuclear issue was a marginal matter that has been settled, but the main thing is related to this particular region, and we would actually like to cooperate and make efforts in order to serve this region and its peoples,” Zarif added.

Zarif hoped that all efforts be in the interests of countries throughout the region.

Asked why he canceled his visit to Turkey, he said, “My visit to Turkey was going to be short, and since I arrived in Lebanon yesterday evening [Aug.11], I met with Prime Minister Tammam Salam, who was planning to leave Beirut to Jordan today [Aug. 12].”

He added, “Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in Istanbul, while Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu were both in Ankara. Thus, the three of them could not have met together on a short notice. But I will visit Turkey next week, so that I have the time to do all the scheduled visits.”

Are the Turks pleased with the nuclear deal? Zarif laughed and said: “Yes, they are truly delighted with it, and I hope that the entire region will be also pleased with this agreement. Except for Benjamin Netanyahu, everyone should be pleased with it.”

When asked about whether or not his “soft diplomacy” — which he applied in the negotiations with the West over Iran's nuclear program — will work in the forthcoming dialogue with Saudi Arabia, especially in light of Saudi Arabia’s and the Gulf’s doubts of Iran's intentions in the region, Zarif said, “We smile to our friends in the region from the bottom of our heart.”

In response to As-Safir’s comment that the region’s countries want to see actions and not smiles on the part of Iran, especially in terms of non-interference in regional affairs, Zarif said, “We believe that our Saudi friends need to see the facts as they are; we have faced and endured many problems, and we suffered a great deal from our neighbors. We did not support Saddam Hussein against the Saudis, but they supported him in his war against us and against everyone else. If someone has to win favors with others, it is the Saudis who have to do so, knowing that we are not asking for anything from them.”

About the implications of the nuclear issue on the region’s affairs, Zarif said: “I hope that it will reflect positively resulting in resolving all the region’s affairs.”

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