Ali Akbar Velayati Photos: Cui Meng/GT
Since Hassan Rouhani took office as Iranian president in 2013, there has been some major progress in dealing with the country’s nuclear issues. Recently, its proactive involvement into the ongoing Iraqi crisis has also drawn the attention of many international observers, who are speculating that it might serve as an opportunity for Iran and the US to thaw their strained relationship. Where are the nuclear talks heading? How much common ground will Iran and the US find in Iraq? Dr. Ali Akbar Velayati (Velayati), former foreign minister of Iran for 16 years and now top advisor for the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, touched upon these issues in an interview with Global Times (GT) reporter Liu Zhun.
GT: Iran has taken several positive steps in the nuclear problem since last year. Are they just temporary changes or signs of a reorientation of Iran’s foreign policy?
Velayati: I firmly believe that the main principles of Iran’s foreign policy have not been changed. But the tactics and procedures of dealing with specific diplomatic issues might have touched minor adjustment. The framework of the current nuclear talks is the same as before. But the countries that are involved in these negotiations have changed. Rouhani has paid keen attention to the resolution of nuclear issues since he took office, and that is why we have seen some progress on this front in recent months.
In fact no country will choose to undergo fundamental changes to its foreign policy so easily. The fact of the matter is that it is Iran’s legitimate right to develop its nuclear technology for civil and peaceful purposes according to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). This is also a principle that our foreign policy will always stick by.
GT: Many Western countries, especially the US, strongly claim that Iran is in the pursuit of producing nuclear weapons. How can Iran and the US reduce mistrust?
Velayati: I think the issue of mistrust is their problem, not ours. The US and its allies should realize that it is of no interest for Iran to develop nuclear weapons. There are a few nations that have stockpiles of nuclear bombs, but these bombs, potentially, could be a threat to themselves. Iran won’t take the risk.
Besides, Iran respects the red lines and has no intention to cross them as articulated by the international community in NPT.
Nuclear weaponization has been clearly forbidden in our religious jurisprudence and our Supreme Leader has announced a decree on this. What’s more, Iran’s nuclear installations are under direct and precise scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The West, especially the US, should be more realistic if they really want to solve the nuclear issues. In the name of denuclearization, what the US wants is forcing Iran to surrender to its wishes. Iran is a self-reliant and independent nation, and the US is not in the position to force Iran to accept its stance on some issues, such as recognizing Israel as a legitimate nation, which we will never ever do. The nuclear issues can only be addressed if the US stops using them as a pretext to coerce Iran.
GT: There have been four rounds of nuclear talks under the framework of P5+1. Do you think this framework will mark a turning point in Iran’s nuclear issues?
Velayati: Some positive steps have been taken in the P5+1 meetings. We have noticed that the policy of China, Russia and, more or less, Germany is to some extent different from the rest. We don’t think the five permanent members of the UN Security Council will adopt a resolution against Iran in terms of nuclear issues.
This framework is the decision of the international community, and we are making progress inside the system. But whether the framework can produce a turning point depends on the decision-makers of the US. As for Iran, we are working openly on this matter. Our president and myself are always committed to the negotiations with the 5+1.
GT: Rouhani has said that even if agreement cannot be reached by the deadline of July 20, the economic sanctions against Iran are unlikely to be resumed. What do you think?
Velayati: Since the very beginning of the Islamic Revolution, we have been under economic sanctions, more or less, for more than 30 years. During this period of time, Iran has been prepared to live under the sanctions without any important difficulties.
Iran is a big power in the Middle East, and its influence cannot be sanctioned. It has been proven that issues in this region cannot be properly addressed without the involvement of Iran.
Iran’s pivotal role in the Middle East has already made many countries believe that Iran’s leverage in the sphere of resources and energy is important. According to some business deals on crude oil with China, Russia, and some European countries, they are willing to respond positively and ensure their security of energy by dealing with Iran. Economic sanctions have become increasingly useless given the new circumstances.
GT: Iran’s proactive involvement into the current crisis in Iraq makes some people consider the possibility of Iran cooperating with the US on this issue. There have been signs that Iran’s relations with some Western countries are thawing. Will you take it as an opportunity?
Velayati: For the time being, I cannot say there are any positive signs. The US is still thinking that now is still the colonial era. Condescending to Iran, it keeps saying military option against Iran is always on the table. There will not be cooperation or real rapprochement if the US does not respect Iran as a member of the international community on an equal footing.
What we are going to do in Iraq doesn’t need to acquire the permission of the US. We only respond to the request of the legal government of Iraq. I can guarantee that these Al Qaeda-based militants will be removed from Iraq faster than one can expect.
Besides some bombardments, I don’t think the US will do anything else in Iraq. Washington has been playing an irresponsible role in Iraq in recent years. Basically Iran doesn’t need to cooperate with the US on this matter.