Amir-Abdollahian Interview on Iran’s Foreign Policy

On May 26, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that Iran had presented a “new initiative” to the United States, through intermediaries, to restore the 2015 nuclear deal. The diplomat acknowledged, however, that both governments faced domestic challenges in reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). “Just like the foreign minister of the United States… I am facing a lot of pressure coming from my parliament,” Amir-Abdollahian said. “There are strong people inside both countries that are against the revival of JCPOA for their own reasons.”

Amir-Abdollahian downplayed the dispute between Washington and Tehran over the status of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on the U.S. terrorist list. Iran had earlier demanded that the United States remove the IRGC from the terrorist list. “There are still remaining issues which are also important,” he said. The main obstacle is that Iranians fear they are not going to gain the full economic benefits of the original JCPOA.

Fareed Zakaria and Hossein Amir-Abdollahian

On Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Amir-Abdollahian refused to condemn Moscow, a key ally. He instead accused the United States and NATO of “provocative actions.” Iran’s top diplomat said that Tehran had offered to host Russia and Ukraine for peace talks.

The foreign minister also welcomed the April 2022 ceasefire in Yemen. All parties, including the Houthis, “should play a role in the future of Yemen,” he said. The civil war erupted after the Arab Spring uprisings ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, which evolved into internal strife. The war erupted in 2014 when Houthi rebels seized the capital of Sanaa. The Saudi military launched an air war in 2015 to prevent a complete takeover by the Houthis, as Iran increased its aid and arms to the rebels.

On regional tensions, Amir-Abdollahian said that talks with rival Saudi Arabia showed promise. “If Saudi Arabia moves more rapidly, then our relationship can be put back on the normal path.” The two countries severed diplomatic relations in 2016 after Saudi Arabia executed Nimr al Nimr, a popular local Shiite cleric, and Iranian protesters set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran in retaliation.

On Syria, Amir-Abdollahian called for a political dialogue among Syrians to end the civil war that erupted during the Arab Spring in 2011. But he said that terrorists and the foreign occupation of some parts of Syria were obstacles to peace. The following are excerpted remarks by topic.


On Restoring the 2015 Nuclear Deal:

“Just like the foreign minister of the United States, the foreign secretary, and also Mr. [Special Envoy] Rob Malley, I am facing a lot of pressure coming from my parliament. There are strong people inside both countries that are against the revival of the JCPOA for their own reasons.

“Of course, we are receiving messages from Rob Malley and some of the officials of the United States at the highest level, Mr. Biden himself, that are a little bit different from what we hear from them, the public statements that they make. It is understandable to me that Mr. Rob Malley is also considering domestic purposes, and we know how he's speaking before the Congress. But we are exchanging messages through non-papers through Mr. Enrique Mora, or Mr. [Josep] Borrell of the E.U., or some of the foreign ministers in Europe, in my region. There are messages that are exchanged between us from the beginning of the new rounds of talks in order to revive the JCPOA and bring them back to their commitments, the parties.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has put different initiatives on the table. Recently, we put on the negotiating table, a new initiative, but we think that Mr. Biden is facing some kind of inaction. I hope that the American side will act and behave realistically. The subject is important to us. The most important thing is that in the return of all the parties to the JCPOA, we need to benefit from the economic gains of the JCPOA. The elements of the Trump's maximum pressure policy should be removed. This is something that Mr. Biden said from the very beginning of his campaign presidential campaign. You cannot return to the JCPOA but at the same time, Iran will be deprived of its economic gains. You cannot return to the JCPOA. But the elements and the factors of Trumps maximum pressure policy are still there. Mr. Biden has to choose one of these, he has to decide.

“We are very serious about reaching a strong and good and lasting deal, and we are committed to it. Our nuclear program is totally peaceful. This is the American side that has to make the decision. And we are keeping the window of diplomacy open, and we hope that if the Americans have a realistic approach, we will get to the point where we can make the deal. But Mr. Fareed Zakaria, I have to say that with some regret and that the national interests of the United States have been taken hostage by the Zionists. There are so many reasons to believe so.”

“As a person who's responsible for our diplomacy team and negotiating team honestly, what is the hurdle, what has caused the pause, I should I say, a cessation in the talks, is the economic guarantees. We have not come to the point where we can trust the American side. We have not been convinced yet.”

“We should not diminish things or reduce them to just one subject. FTO [Foreign Terrorist Organization list] thing is just one level of our talks between us and the Americans indirectly. But before that, there are still remaining issues which are also important. When we say the return to JCPOA is that the natural economic and trade activities of Iran should become normal and natural in the international sphere. This is important to us, we should be able to do so. And we have said this to the American side. But unfortunately, this FTO thing, the Israeli side made it public, magnified it. And now this issue is being portrayed as the main hurdle. This is why I'm telling you clearly that the main obstacle is that we are not convinced that the people of Iran and we are going to benefit to fully from the economic gains of the JCPOA.”

“The most important thing is that the economic sanctions need to be lifted in an effective way.”

“Over the last 40 years, a lot of indicators have been given to us by the United States that make us distrust them. You see right now, we are involved in intensive Vienna talks, but they are imposing fresh sanctions against Iran…”


On Iran’s Nuclear Program and Israeli Claims:

“Unfortunately, the Zionists are spreading a lot of lies. This is a scenario that has been repeated many times before. It is fabricated 20 years ago, the then prime minister of the Zionist regime claimed that Iran is going to have access to nuclear bomb in less than one year. Twenty years later, we have said this many times, that it is not in our beliefs. It is it has no place in our doctrine, in our defense, or our foreign policy. Nukes have no place after 20 years. A lot of inspections are carried out by IAEA, and they have said that Iranians are not actively developing a nuclear bomb, but the Zionist regime is repeating this lie in different fashions.”


On Yemen:

“With regards to Yemeni developments, we have always been on the positive side, we believe that all the Yemeni parties should play a role in the future of Yemen. Not just one faction, or one current or one group, of course, and Ansarallah [also known as the Houthis] and its allies in the capital and the north of Yemen. Over the past few years, they have been able to stand against an aggression and somehow established the safest regions against the terrorists. In the south that they were facing a lot of terrorist attacks.

“In the very beginning, we declared that the start of the war was something wrong and we believe that the ceasefire has to go on and the human blockade of Yemen should be totally removed. All the Yemeni parties they should sit around the table and decide for the future of their country. We do welcome the continuation of the ceasefire and any progress in those areas.”


On Saudi Arabia:

“I think in recent talks, especially in the last round that we held, we made good progress. We even agreed that in the near future, at the at the level of some officials or even the foreign ministers, we can have some meetings in a third country or in a place that is agreed upon mutually. The progress is minimal, but good.”

“I think that if Saudi Arabia moves more rapidly, then our relationship can be put back on the normal path.”


On Syria:

“Less than two or three weeks ago, Mr. Bashar al Assad, the president, was in Tehran. You know that in the war against terrorists in Syria, we helped Syria. We helped the people of Syria. We didn't allow the terrorists to become rulers in Syria, if Daesh or ISIS would be brought into power in Syria or in Iraq, the world would be different now. We do believe that when it comes to Syria, there has to be a focus on the political dialogue and political solution.

“In Syria, it has to be made clear. What kind of country accepts that one of his biggest provinces will become a haven for the terrorists? No country. Number two, the foreign occupation of some parts of Syria should come to a stop. And on the path of interaction and dialogue, the people of Syria should be able to decide about their future. We are against the presence of terrorists in Syria and at the same time, we believe that through dialogue and political process and getting away from the foreign interferences, people should be brought in so that they can decide for the future, and this is something that we support the decision made by the people of Syria.”


On Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine:

“The war and the military operation, it was something that we strongly condemned. Even the Supreme Leader of Iran at the highest level in the Islamic Republic of Iran, clearly and publicly declared that we are opposed to war.

“As we condemned the war against Ukraine, and we believe it is not appropriate also, war against Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Palestine. We believe that war is not appropriate everywhere. But Ukraine, there is this reality. The United States and NATO, they were involved in provocative actions in the region. There were provocations done by the United States and NATO in order to justify the presence and also the enlargement and provoke the Kremlin into this. This is a reality that has to come to our attention, but the solution for that, is it war? No. We are supporting dialogue and diplomacy. I have talked twice to Mr. Lavrov, also the Ukrainian foreign minister. Last week, I proposed to Mr. Lavrov that we are ready to host both of you, Ukraine and the Russia, war has to come to an end. And those Ukrainian displaced people and this humanitarian tragedy, it pains every human being’s heart. And I hope that our efforts will help bring the war to a halt and help a political process. We don't have any double standard. Ukraine, Afghanistan, Yemen, anywhere in the world, if human rights are violated, anywhere there's war and aggression, we are opposed to it and we condemn it.”

Photo Credit: World Economic Forum/Mattias Nutt via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)