Iranian Diplomacy- What is your view of the nuclear deal and its future? The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is an agreement signed after of two years of intensive, difficult, time-consuming, and sometimes controversial negotiations among six world powers, Iran, and the EU representative. As we all know, every international deal is the result of a give and take. This means that countries and negotiating teams gathering around a table have different views. When these different views are forged into one deal, agreed by all the parties, none of the sides will find the deal in complete consistency with their wishes.
For instance, with 192 countries in the United Nations, you cannot say all these countries manage to assert their wishes in decisions made about a certain issue. At best, the agreements reached are more or less satisfactory for all the members. The JCPOA was no exception. The international accord was the result of talks in the end of which all the sides involved concluded that it is a deal they could live by.
Therefore, they acceded to sealing the deal. As far as different readings of the JCPOA are concerned, one should admit the fact that the deal is a legal text, which includes technical, nuclear, financial, and banking issues, wherein legal principles prevail in every part and content. It is not that we have an interpretation of the JCPOA, and Americans, Germans and other sides have their own. Take missile tests for example. As we know, the Resolution 2231, an appendix of the JCPOA, is clear and straightforward when it comes to missile test and precisely states that testing ballistic missile designed to carry nuclear warheads violates the deal. Thus, no one can say their interpretation of the paragraph will be different. I am discussing Resolution 2231 because it was seriously conferred with UN Security Council members besides the JCPOA, even though the issue was a little overlooked. It is very important that we asserted our views and approach, in spite of the fact that we were not a UNSC member.
We told the opposite number that we should be involved in preparing Security Council resolutions regarding the JCPOA. They said Iran was not a UNSC member. We responded that if they ever wanted the deal to become final, endorsed by the Security Council, with a resolution annexed, it was a necessity to coordinate its contents with Tehran. It is historically important that a non-member has negotiated every single word in a resolution. The truth is the JCPOA cannot lead to different interpretations, just like the Resolution. How will it be possible to have a different interpretation when the JCPOA determines that after a certain period of time, this or that Security Council resolution or sanction should be removed. As we have seen so far, these have been precisely implemented.
Do you think we could obtain better results in the nuclear deal?
Such a question could be asked about any deal, any time. Take Iran’s membership in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) for example. We can ask if we could get better results from the convention. Since many countries were involved, this question could be posed to all of them. Speaking of the JCPOA, there would be no deal if every country sought to fully realize its wishes. If Iran achieved everything it wanted and the US found everything it wished realized, there would be a fundamental paradox. It would not be possible in reality. In a give and take process, you bring up what you want and play your cards in the same ground in order to be able to score as much as possible. All the sides in the nuclear deal had this in mind and made some compromises in order for the deal to become possible, because it would not be without following the rule.
What has the nuclear deal achieved in economy? Could these achievements be kept and expanded?
Despite some shortcomings, JCPOA’s economic achievements have been significant. Its main achievement could be seen in oil exports. As you know, when we started the nuclear talks, a sanctions system was being pursued to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero. It may be said that imposing sanctions on 20 percent of Iran’s oil export in every six months would not bear results. In practice however, we could not directly access the oil money when a given country purchased our oil. Instead, we had to buy goods from that country. The sanctions proceeded to a point in 2 years and a half that Iran’s oil exports would go down to 200,000 bpd. After the nuclear deal, we have returned to the pre-sanctions situation and can directly access our petrodollars across the world. Apart from oil sales, the JCPOA has had important achievements in transportation.
Even if we put aside the purchase and delivery of Airbuses aircrafts, shipping should be taken into consideration. The truth is during the sanctions era, one target was to pressure Iran’s transportation and particularly IR Iran Shipping Line. The issue was referred to the Security Council, which imposed the sanction on Iran. After the JCPOA, shipping was resumed, insurances were issued, and our ships could travel to around the world. This is not limited to a certain country or region. Iran’s shipping industry is actually in a very good shape and we can be involved in the industry’s global competition. Moreover, the JCPOA has had significant achievements in areas such as insurance and petrochemical products. Nonetheless, we are currently facing a fundamental problem that is banking.
Big banks, not small and average one, have not entered deals with Iran. Some observers claim that Iran’s oil and exports revenues are delivered through forex brokers. That is not true. It was so under the previous administration but we are not doing this at the moment. Of course, we are still doing our work through small and average banks. However, Iran’s Central Bank, ambassadors, and economy officials have contacted and negotiated with big banks but the banks are still worried. They have told us they fear to be fined because of secondary US sanctions, removed in JCPOA, and primary sanctions for which they have already been fined.
Is this limited to European and American banks or does it also include Asian ones?
Most of the world’s big banks suffer from the same situation. Those banks in Europe are suffering most. However, other banks also share this concern. One concern is about international banking regulations that have significantly progressed in recent years and Iran has fallen behind during the sanctions years. We have been marginalized in significant improvements in banking standards that occurred in the last 10 years. Therefore, we should work hard to reach that level. For instance, one of these banks has informed us that our standards in money laundry and financial support for terrorism are different with theirs. Our response is that these principles have been passed in the parliament as part of our constitution and we are trying to upgrade transparency in our banking system to the standard level. In sum, we should say that it is a time-consuming issue and we hope to reach that standard in the future. However, it does not mean that we have no banking cooperation or financial ties with international banks.
In recent weeks, Washington has allowed Iranian nationals to open bank accounts in the US. Should it be considered as a concession made by the Trump administration? Does the move have an impact on our banking transactions?
It is a technical issue worth evaluation. According to primary US sanctions, American citizens and firms need US Treasury permit to work with Iran. For instance, if a US citizen wants to buy or sell a commodity from or to Iran, he or she should ask for permission, which will be issued in some cases, and not in others. Iranian-American citizens, those born in the US, are Iranians from our point of view, as we do not recognize dual nationals. However, in US Constitution, where dual nationals are recognized, these individuals are Iranian and American at the same time. As a result, they should comply with US regulations. Such an Iranian-American citizen had to obtain permission even if he wanted to transfer one dollar to Iran. Now, those who want to open a bank account in Iran can do so without permission. Of course, this mainly concerns Iranian-Americans because an American individual is quite unlikely to want to open an account in Iran.
How about firms?
Speaking of firms, when bank accounts are concerned, the move is a good one but it makes no sense to be able to open bank accounts without being allowed to do business. Suppose a business enterprise wants to open an account in Iran while it has no permission to work with the country. Therefore, it could be said that the new improvement mainly concerns dual nationals who were not previously able to open bank accounts. This cannot be considered a significant concession because we neither need such bank accounts nor seek to do business with them.
After the nuclear deal and Donald Trump’s presidency, increasingly growing ties between Tehran and European countries has received a lot of attention. What factors are involved in these ties and what are the prospects?
During the nuclear talks and before Trump took office, we had amicable relations with European countries. Although we had more ties with certain countries and less ties with others, there has been a good process of cooperation and ties between Iran and the EU under both Catherine Ashton and Federica Mogherini. After the nuclear deal was sealed, ground was prepared for bilateral cooperation. In fact, as far as economy is concerned, Iran’s many business and trade opportunities, its young population, and mineral and natural resources are attractive for Europe. Apart from economy, it is important for Europe to cooperate with Iran. For instance, the fight against terrorism is one of the areas in which Iran could help Europe. In addition, when crises in the region like those in Syria and Yemen are concerned, Iran could play a significant role. In sum, after the nuclear deal was finalized, European countries have found that they can establish good ties with Iran not only in economy but also in every other area. They have concluded that the policies of threat, intimidation, and sanctions will not work anymore. This has led to a fundamental difference with Trump’s United States. However, we should note that by Europe we do not mean every country in the continent but most of them.
How do you evaluate the horizon ahead of these ties?
The truth is what we said about current relations between Iran and EU indicates their current logic regarding ties with Iran. This logic can sustain in the future, with the sides involved in economic, political, and security cooperation having shared interests. In talks we are having with Europeans, they keep telling us this will be the case and they imply their disagreement with Trump’s positions. Many of them clearly say they will react if Trump shreds the nuclear deal. If we analyze the future based on the realities on the ground, we can say these ties will continue in spite of existing obstacles and oppositions.
Domestic critics of the nuclear deal believe that constant visits made by Europeans have had no practical results. How do you respond?
They are mainly concerned with economic issues but what they say is inconsistent with reality. As I said, we have undertaken good economic measures in various fields including oil and forex. However, problems in areas such as banking remain to be resolved. Nevertheless, the prospects are bright and hopefully, these issues will be resolved.
Do you see Trump a threat or an opportunity?
It is too early to judge the Trump phenomenon. Even Europeans and Asian countries are of the same belief. And it is clear why. For one thing, Trump has no political background. He used to be more of a businessman and is now elected President of the United States. It takes time to see what approach he will adopt in politics. On whether Trump is a threat to Iran, I should say we do not view the situation like this. The truth is we have seen many developments like this in the past 38 years and our people do not retreat in the face of such slogans but become more resolved. On the other hand, after the Islamic Revolution, policies of US presidents on Iran, whether Democrat or Republican, has not been very different. It may be true that some presidents focused more on a certain issue and less on another. Some speak of Obama whose view of Iran realized in the nuclear deal, but we should not forget that the severest anti-Iran sanctions were imposed under the same person. In general, we should avoid the attitude that there will be a US president with a very different approach, that this one is in our interest, or that one will be bad. The differences between them are not significant.
Deputy foreign minister Mr. Araghchi has said there are signs indicating that the JCPOA will remain in place. What are these signs?
The way we see it, we can make the guess but it does not mean that we consider it done. What most countries and even the domestic air in the US suggest is that the JCPOA is not easily revocable. European countries have send a clear message to Trump that the nuclear deal is an international treaty, meant to be preserved. Now that the American side knows it European partners’ positions, approach, and interests in the nuclear deal, it seems not to want to isolate itself by exiting the agreement. However, in the past and even during the talks, we seriously considered a situation where the game may change and action would be needed. We have different scenarios and they know what alternatives we could use if the deal is disrupted.
In recent months, an anti-Iran coalition of Israel, Turkey, and Israel has been said to be emerging while military conflict between Iran and the US has also been much speculated about. Some sides have tried to highlight and welcome such scenarios in their media. Do you think there is a real possibility of military conflict or a proxy war between Iran and the US?
Many groups are trying to highlight the issue. In particular, the Zionists, anti-Iran lobbies and some countries in the region are trying to use the situation after Trump’s presidency, to increase tension between Iran and the US. Efforts are doubtlessly made every day to make this scenario happen. However, a military conflict between Iran and the US is very unlikely. The main reason for it is that the Americans are aware of our capabilities when it comes to military. Iran has a unique potential in this regard. They have experienced an eight-year war and 30 years of sanctions against Iran. Looking back, they find consequences of a hasty, illogical move against Iran. Decisions will not be made impulsively and without prior calculations. To cut a long story short, our capacities and capabilities indicate that a military conflict between Iran and the US seems to be very unlikely.