On September 22nd, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif gave an interview to CBS News’ Margaret Brennan. In the interview Zarif spoke about Iranian views on the current situation and the accusations of the US and Saudi Arabia of it allegedly carrying out the attack on Aramco’s oil facilities on September 14th.
The full transcript of the interview can be found here.
Recently, Zarif received a visa to enter the US ahead of the 74th General Assembly of the UN, meaning that surely that means the US would like to sit down and talk to Iran.
Zarif clarified that it wasn’t the case, he is an individual sanctioned by the US Treasury and he only received a visa because the US, as the host of the General Assembly must allow all members of the UN to attend.
“Well not necessarily, because the United States is under obligation, being the host of the U.N. headquarters to issue visas to member states. So they made it very clear in a letter that they attached to my visa that I’m not eligible to get a visa, but they’re doing it on a waiver basis. So they want me to know that I’m not supposed to be here,” Zarif said.
Commenting on the recent announcement that more US troops and equipment would be deployed to Saudi Arabia, Zarif said that this sort of posturing did little to help the situation, “I think what helps would be to end the war in Yemen.”
According to him, all of the equipment that was sold by the US, the UK and others to Saudi Arabia and the UAE to fight their war in Yemen was for nothing, since almost 5 years later they’ve completely failed to “defeat a group of people,” even more so – they’re losing the war.
“When the war in Yemen erupted over four years ago, we called for a ceasefire, immediate negotiations, humanitarian assistance and a formation of a broad-based government. Unfortunately, U.S. allies- Saudi Arabia, believed that they could win this war militarily within four weeks. That’s why they didn’t accept our offer to mediate between them and the others and to bring about a negotiated solution. Now four and a half years after that, we see that all that military equipment that the United States provided to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, all the military logistical support that the United States and some other Western countries provided, did not help defeat a group of people, the Yemenis, who are basically cut off from the rest of the world.”
Regarding the September 14th attack on the Saudi oil infrastructure, Brennan reminded that the US said there was no way the attack originated from Yemen; thus, the Houthis couldn’t have carried it out.
“Well it is difficult for the United States to explain why its state of the art equipment was not able to intercept these weapons.”
Zarif said that it was either the Houthis – because they accepted responsibility, or it could have been a false flag, then the US would need to investigate and find the culprit.
He simply denied Iran played any part.
Zarif refused to point the finger at any other party that could be behind the attack, simply saying that if the Houthis claimed responsibility, then they should be believed.
In addition, Saudi Arabia disregarded the UN-brokered ceasefire on al-Hudaydah and attacked the city with their fighter jets, which also leads to the assumption that they are responding to the Houthi attack.
“They did that because they all know where it came from, and how it should end is through an end to the killing of innocent children, women, elderly that has been going on. 100,000 people have been killed.”
Zarif refused to acknowledge the weapons that are being used by the Houthis are Iranian, instead saying that they were inherited from “Ali Abdullah Saleh bought with Saudi money during his- his long career as president.“
Brennan repeated US warnings that the missiles that struck Aramco’s facilities can be reverse-engineered, to which Zarif responded that they should do it – see what they find, since they didn’t originate from Iran.
Zarif said that any results of the UN investigation would be unacceptable, because they wouldn’t be impartial.
“We were not informed by the U.N. We were not consulted by the U.N. We do not know on what basis this has taken place. So we will take it up with the United Nations. We are confident that if the United Nations carries out an impartial investigation the- the outcome will be that it was not launched from Iran.”
He then mentioned that Saudi Arabia changed their allegations, from initially saying that the attack came from Iran, to accusing Iran of recruiting local population to carry out attacks on its behalf.
“It means that they are backtracking from the initial allegation that it’s coming from Iran. They are saying that it may come- have come from somewhere else but it was based on citizens being recruited by Iran to do this. So a lie falls apart sooner or later.”
Brennan then tried to accuse Iran of supporting militants, to which Zarif replied that Iran supports the Houthis, and the so-called “militants” in Iraq are part of the Iraqi government, which Israel continues attacking.
He then rejected her assumption that an Iranian-backed group launched the attacks from Iraq.
Moving on to US President Donald Trump and his alleged claims, Zarif said that anything regarding any talks “without preconditions” in the media are false.
He said that he spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron twice in three days.
“We have been talking to the French. I spoke to the French president twice in three days at length and we discussed it with him. The president- our president has been talking to the French president.
The United States has been reluctant to engage in what is required. Let me give you an example that President Trump would easily understand in transactional terms- in real estate terms. I buy a building from you and somebody inherits your company from you next year and he comes and tells me, “I didn’t sell that building to you. I need a higher price and a worse building.”
Would you buy it? Would anybody in, to use President Trump’s word, in any history buy this building? Do you have any example in any history, again to use his word, of anybody doing this?
He is asking us- we didn’t have a revolution in the United States. President Trump inherited a government from another administration that was legally elected as a United States government. And this agreement has been endorsed by the Security Council.
This agreement is in a Security Council resolution. Now last I heard, the United States sits in the Security Council as a permanent member. It has not withdrawn. It withdrew from Human Rights Council.”
Zarif explained that the Iranian government was ready to talk, but not for something that would be valid for the next year and a half and then the next president would, similarly to Trump, walk back on any arrangements.
Brennan, referring to the JCPOA as “an old deal” was corrected by Zarif, saying that it is a “deal that exists now.”
“There is a negotiating room. There is a negotiating table. Wednesday at 8:30 in the morning. There will be six- four plus one plus one- six foreign ministers and one high representative of the European Union.”
He rejected any meetings with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, because there was no reason for a meeting.
“And basically, Secretary Pompeo is prevented by law from meeting me because he designates me.”
Refuting the reports that the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini approved the attacks, Zarif simply said that if they came from Iran – they would need his approval, but they didn’t.
He said that diplomacy was needed, and that somebody was lying – be it the US or Saudi Arabia.
“I’m certainly- I’m certain that they’re being lied to, whether they want to accept that lie. I think the work of us diplomats- I think myself and my counterpart, the U.S. secretary of state, we need to try to push diplomacy, as Senator Sanders has recently said, not to push war.”
Zarif said that Iran had been in contact with Robert O’Brien, the newly appointed US National Security Adviser, on hostage exchange and that nothing came out of it. He said that the US prisoners in Iran are accused of something, while the Iranian prisoners in the US have been there for nine months without charges.
In conclusion, Zarif said that war might be unavoidable, but that Iran wouldn’t be the side to start it.
“Brennan: I’m being told we’re out of time but I just want to button this up and make clear here. Do you believe- are you confident that you can avoid a war?
Zarif: No. No, I’m not confident that we can avoid a war. We- I’m confident that we will not start one but I’m confident that whoever starts one will not be the one who finishes it.
Brennan: What does that mean?
Zarif: That means that there won’t be a limited war.”
In conclusion, Javad Zarif did present a fair bit of common sense, added to the typical Iranian rhetoric of not moving a single step back, especially when it comes to United States pressure.
He underlined some of the obvious hypocrisy of the US and Saudi Arabia, which is unlikely to change anything in discussions, or negotiations.
His attitude towards the new US National Security Adviser meant that it was possible to at least have discussions with Robert O’Brien in contrast with the hawkish John Bolton, who was part of the so-called “B Team,” heavily pushing towards war with Iran.
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