Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in an exclusive interview with TASS
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has told TASS First Deputy Director General Mikhail Gusman of the coming summit of Caspian states, the prospects for Russia-Iran cooperation and Iran’s return to the global oil market.
– What is the Iranian position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
– We believe that our region does not need any more conflicts. We are all faced with extremism and terrorism that is emanating from years of occupation of Iraq and the situation that came after that, the rising extremism after the US occupation. And now that threat is threatening us all, particularly in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. We are all faced with the threat of extremism, so we need to set up all disputes to peaceful means, to respect international law and principles of the UN Charter.
This is why immediately after the most recent outbreak of hostilities we called the two sides, our defense minister called the two defense ministers, I called the foreign minister of Armenia and had a meeting in Ramsar with the foreign minister of Azerbaijan.
The president also called both presidents calling for an end to hostilities. We are very happy to see an end to hostilities right now and cessation of hostilities or a ceasefire. We hope this would be the prelude to serious negotiations in order to resolve this issue. Our region requires cooperation between everybody. We believe Armenia as a neighbor and Azerbaijan as a close friend of Iran need to have good relations and we hope, we support all efforts aimed at resolving this problem.
– What expectations do you have from North-South transportation corridor?
The North-South corridor will enable probably one of the best and cheapest routes from Asia to Europe
– It would not just serve the citizens of the three countries. The North-South corridor will enable probably one of the best and cheapest routes from Asia to Europe. And this will enable countries in Europe and Russia to be able to connect through the Persian Gulf and through the Sea of Oman in a way that could make economic sense. It requires all of us – Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan – to cooperate on building the infrastructure, on easing our customs and tariff values, so that we can encourage greater trade. And we are ready for that and I believe this was a good first step. It would be followed by a summit and probably by meetings in the sectorial field.
You’ve seen the press statement that was issued by the three ministers.
It was a good initiative, it was a good beginning and I believe the prospects are great for all three countries but even beyond these three countries, for the region and international community.
– What do you expect of the next summit of the five Caspian states in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan?
-We hope to be able to finish the Convention. We believe that the countries around the Caspian, this is a peculiar environment with a very specific legal system. We need to finalize the legal document, the Convention on the Caspian. We also need to enhance our cooperation with regard to the environment. We already have the necessary legal framework for cooperation, and the environment cooperation, and the fisheries.
And we also need to make sure that the Caspian will remain a zone of peace, a zone of friendship and cooperation among the countries, the littoral states of the Caspian. We are hopeful between now and the summit in Astana there’ll be meetings both on the expert and the ministerial level and we believe that those meetings should prepare the grounds that once we have the summit in Astana among our heads of state, we will be able to finalize the Convention.
– The foreign ministers of Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan met in Baku for the first time in this format. Are you satisfied with the results of this meeting? Can we think that this meeting has been part of preparations for a meeting of the leaders of the three countries in the same format?
– Actually, we all were satisfied. This was a very good first step, there is agreement on almost every issue. And our cooperation will not be limited to transit and economic issues but also to security issues, to intelligence cooperation, counter-terrorism and in narcotics.
These are important areas of common challenge to the three countries and we agree to cooperate in all these areas. We also agree to have sectorial ministerial meetings and a summit.
The agreement on the summit was already reached between the three presidents, now we need to set the date, and hopefully in the near future we will have a summit of the three leaders. Both giving the greater momentum and impetus to cooperation and also directing various ministries, organizations and agencies to work together in the various fields that we agreed we need to work together.
– Many times leaders of Iran have called the partnership between Iran and Russia strategically important. What do you exactly think of this strategically important cooperation between Iran and Russia?
Russia was on the side of Iran during the times when the international community, the United Nations imposed sanctions on Iran
– Iran and Russia are neighbors. And for us, relations with our neighbors are extremely important. Russia is an important neighbor, we have strong historical ties, we have strong political relations in all fields – political relations, multilateral relations, economic relations, defense relations, intelligence relations. And we will have this in a long-term perspective. We believe that Russia helped Iran during our difficult times.
Russia was on the side of Iran during the times when the international community, the United Nations imposed sanctions on Iran. We will not forget that. We will remain a friend of Russia, we will remain a close partner of Russia, and because of our relations with Russia, because of our common interests and shared principles and the strategic relations that we look to further enhance and further strengthen in the course of years to come. And we believe our relations with the rest of the world will never undermine our relations with Russia because we value our relations with Russia as an extremely important strategic partnership.
– Iran and Russia have common experience in fighting against terrorism in Syria. How important is this experience? What lessons can we learn from this experience?
Iran and Russia are stronger together, we can in fact defeat extremism and contain extremism. We have made, with the sacrifice of the Syrian people, with the bravery of the Syrian Armed Forces, we have been able to defeat in many respects the advances of Daesh, al-Nusra. And the international community will need to learn, particularly those who talk a lot, about fighting extremism, terrorism, need to learn that they need to be engaged, they need to be serious, they need to act rather than simply take political decisions in dealing with that. So I think there are important lessons but the most important lesson is that terrorism and extremism can be contained and can be defeated. We require a multifaceted approach.
The military dimension is only one aspect of this. Iran and Russia are going to be working together on cultural counter-extremism. We need to extend cooperation to inter-religious dialogue so that we can promote moderation rather than extremist views. These are important ideas, important values, shared values, shared concerns and challenges that we, and Russia, and Azerbaijan for that matter, and other countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus that who face this threat, have in common. We believe that Islam is a religion of peace, that these terrorists and extremists have nothing to do with Islam, and together we can in fact promote a vision, a reading, a narrative that contains extremism and promotes tolerance and moderation.
– Partnership of Iran and Russia is on a really high level, politically on a very high level. Unfortunately, in trade there are many problems. What steps we have to take on the political, diplomatic level to improve the trade cooperation between our countries?
We are making good progress but potential between Iran and Russia is far greater
– We have actually taken steps. There are some bottlenecks, and we are addressing those bottlenecks. One is banking. Due to sanctions, banking relations between Iran and other countries were restricted. Now we are taking steps with Russia and with other countries to remove those banking restrictions. Of course, sanctions have been lifted but the speed of lifting of sanctions in bilateral relations is taking a bit longer. We have agreed on easing and facilitation of customs regulations, we have also agreed on easing and facilitating visas so that our business people, as well as our tourists, can interact and travel from one country to another.
We also have been discussing with Russia reducing tariffs and other barriers in trade, so we’re making progress. We make progress in some fishery products, in some agricultural products but we will make even more progress. We have made some progress and enhanced cooperation between Iran and Russia in the area of defense, in the area of peaceful nuclear technology, in the area of construction of railroads, credits, other possibilities. We are making good progress but potential between Iran and Russia is far greater. We are two important neighbors and we have complementarities that we need to work on. And I think, as you pointed out, that the leadership of the two countries are seriously interested in engagement and I believe with greater work, we can expand this engagement and enhance it.
– Our countries both have tremendous natural resources. After removal of sanctions, Iran step by step is coming to the big oil market. What are we more – competitors or partners?
– We are always partners, and confrontation in the oil market is a fact of life. But Iran’s share in Europe’s market has been taken over by Americans. And now that Iran is back with the removal of sanctions, we expect other producers to take note – and I believe Russia has already indicated that it recognizes the special situation of Iran after the removal of sanctions. I hope that the rest of oil producing countries, both OPEC and non-OPEC, recognize this fact and live with it accordingly.
– Both Iran and Russia have tremendous tourism potential. Unfortunately, only a small amount of Russian tourists comes to Iran and from Iran to Russia. What can we do to open our countries for tourism on both sides?
– We have been discussing this. To encourage tourism, one of the issues is visa. And we are trying to address visa problems, and we (have discussed it – ed.) with Sergey Lavrov. We already are taking mega-steps in order to facilitate visas, but we need to implement it. And we also need to promote and encourage tourism, both bilateral tourism between Iran and Russia, and multilateral tourism between Iran, Russia and other countries who can provide packages for Iranian tourists as well as for Russian tourists who want to come to Iran and maybe visit other countries in the process, or vice versa.
– How do you think Russian and Iranian cooperation will influence the world?
– I think that Iran and Russia have been serious in fighting extremism and terrorism, and this task helped the international community. Iran and Russia played together, worked very closely together in reaching the nuclear agreement which everybody has hailed as significant achievement. The role of Russia in reaching that nuclear agreement was instrumental, and we very much appreciate the role Sergey Lavrov himself and the Russian government played in this process. So Iran and Russia working together can be a force for peace, a force for prosperity and a force for combatting our common challenges.