SHAFAQNA- Saudi Arabia is under illusion in seeing Iran as a threat, the Foreign Ministry spokesman insisted in an hour-long interview with The Tehran Times.
Bahram Qassemi said, “Over the past decades or even centuries, Iran has shown that it has never invaded any country.”
In what follows the full transcript of the interview has been given:
Q. What are Iran and Turkey’s common interests in Syria?
A. Iran and Turkey are holding negotiations over the Syrian crisis, but the situation in Syria is changing by the minute, so we ought to continue the talks on the issue. We’re keeping in close contact with the Turkish government and such contacts will continue, and we both want to work on our mutual ties. On the regional and international issues, we will continue our consultations; however, we’re not in complete agreement all the time.
Turkey made some mistakes in the beginning of the Syrian crisis. At the time, we pointed to their poor decision and told them that they had taken the wrong road. Their borders with Syria were open at the time, letting scores of terrorists and extremist groups pour into Syria from across the world. We were told that terrorists were being trained in Turkey, something that later affected Turkey itself.
We consider Turkey an important neighboring country with which we have close ties. We’ve always tried to express our views to them. But anyway, I think Turkey made some mistakes regarding Syria.
Turkey’s interference in Syria is disagreeable by all means. Not only Turkey’s, but also all countries’ presence in Syria is unacceptable. Syria has a legal government and one cannot enter or conduct military actions there without the consent of its central government. This is against all international norms. Turkey had already entered Syria under excuses such as Kurds and so on.
Be it in Syria or Iraq, Turkey’s act of interference in another country’s affairs, in our view, is unacceptable. And not just Turkey, but all countries across the world are not allowed to pursue this path.
Q. Iran and Kuwait have exchanged letters regarding developments in the region. Has anything new happened there?
A. We have a good relationship with Kuwait. Following a series of negotiations, they finally sent a letter to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, inviting him to visit Kuwait. Mr. President was also invited by Omanis. He visited the two states and discussed Iran’s relations and expansion of ties with them as well as our relations with the Persian Gulf countries.
We have relations with these countries and we’re holding consultations through diplomatic channels. The main problem is with the Saudis, and it seems that Saudi Arabia’s actions are not based on common sense and realism as it needs to free itself from the illusions it’s suffering from. Not only they put themselves in a terrible predicament, but also they have tried to provoke other countries against Iran, fanning the flames of fear mongering about Iran.
I think if they (Saudis) had a rationalistic approach, they would come to the conclusion that a stable and powerful Iran can be a trustworthy neighbor which can help with the safety and security of the Persian Gulf and the whole region. But unfortunately, because this is not the case in that country they think otherwise. Provoking Iranophobia has become a costly and major issue across the region for them. We have always advised them to take a rationalistic approach toward the Islamic Republic instead of creating concerns about it. Through compensating some of their mistakes and ending their aggressive anti-Iran actions and unacceptable discourse, they would be able to take important steps towards helping create better relations and a positive atmosphere in the region.
Q. Could you also comment on the future of Iran-EU relations?
A. Our relations with the European Union or even Europe itself are historical. We’ve had good relations with majority of European countries and we can continue to do so. We had industrial, scientific, cultural, technological, financial and banking ties with this region before the cruel sanctions imposed on Iran.
”In Europe, there are countries about which our people are not optimistic because of their past or even present behavior. These countries are exceptional, maybe one or two. But there’s a positive attitude about other countries, meaning they do not have aggressive behavior nor colonial pasts against Iran. If they respect Iran’s sovereignty and do not interfere in its internal affairs, I think Iran will have no problem with developing ties with Europe.
After the nuclear deal (officially known as JCPOA or BARJAM in Persian acronym), Europe has been able to work with Iran. In a statement by the European Parliament and another statement by the European Union a few month ago, Europe’s viewpoint toward Iran was announced. There were positive points in these statements, showing the importance of Iran, and its history, power and role that is in favor of peace and stability in the region. They mentioned Iran’s battle against terrorism, confirming that Iran is actively moving along this path in the region. So the necessary conditions exist. Some understanding exists between Iran and Europe.
After BARJAM, the Europeans put a lot of efforts into returning to Iran’s market and reviving their previous ties with Tehran. Predictably, malicious elements and those countries which do not want Iran’s foreign relations to be recovered – the hardliners in the region or across the world as well as the Zionist regime – have been dissatisfied with these relations and do all they can to strain such relations or at least hamper their development. These efforts exist. The voices heard these days from inside America or even the Zionist regime are proof of this. This is the continuation of inflaming Iranophobia and making other countries concerned about Iran, so that the European banks would become unwilling to expand ties with Iran.
Today there are lots of European companies that have come to Iran. If we take a look at a list of European delegations that have visited Iran after BARJAM, we would realize that they are numerous, especially European private sector and banks.
However, there are some elements that have tried to kill BARJAM but failed miserably. They still fan the flames of Iranophobia to hamper the expansion of Iran-Europe relations. I think most of the Europeans are aware of this and know where these voices come from and what purpose they serve. They do not pay much attention to these voices.
Anyway, this to some extent can delay the process. Europe is willing to cooperate with Iran as a trustworthy partner and a stable country in the region. They are willing to increase their ties with Iran to the pre-sanctions era and be more present in the country. And if we recognize that they are willing to work with us, we are prepared to expand our cooperation not only with Europe but also with various countries across the world.
Q. How does the Kremlin view Iran-EU relations? You know, since 2011, when the Syrian crisis began, Iran-Russia ties have developed to its peak because of their mutual interests in Syria. Do you think our relations with Russia are strategic in all aspects?
A. Our relations have taken a desirable and positive trend with Russia; it is one of our neighbors that is a global power and has a high status in the international community. We move on this path with a positive view, and this can eventually be considered a strategic partnership. But based on your definition of strategic relations which relates to defense pact and many other possible deals, I think we’re not there yet and we should take big steps to hit that goal. But what’s obvious is that Iran-Russia relationship has been improving.
The two sides hold consultations. There are good collaborations in different areas such as politics and economy as well as international and regional issues – especially in regard to the Syrian conflict. We’ve had good collaboration with Russia because of our mutual interests over Syria. So these relations are going forward because Russia is one of our neighbors, and we’re willing to have good relations with our neighbors and even to enhance it to the highest level. With regards to Russia, such relations have already been established and we will continue developing it. Of course, in some fields we need to do much more.
During the past few years, the extent of our economic relations have not been desirable. President Rouhani visited Russia in March 2017 and held talks with Mr. Putin. The two sides decided that Tehran and Moscow develop their financial, economic and banking relations to a high level in the coming years. Russia will cooperate with Iran in some projects. In the economic sector, we need to do more. In other areas, such as politics, relations are at a high level already.
In the Astana talks, Iran, Russia and Turkey have made important achievements and succeeded in brokering and consolidating a ceasefire and preparing the conditions for political negotiations. This is while the Geneva talks failed to bear fruit. These are examples of the strategic relations between Tehran and Moscow. In addition to the Syrian issue and other regional issues, we also share mutual interests in the Caucasus and Central Asia, and we think Tehran-Moscow cooperation can help stabilize this region.
During the past year, the European Union issued a few joint statements with Iran. They have also issued a few documents, such as the EU strategy for relations with Iran after the nuclear deal. And in those talks between [EU foreign policy chief Federica] Mogherini and Zarif in Tehran last year, energy sector and economic activities were the main focus of the two sides; on the other hand, there are some analysts who believe Russia is not really happy with expanding Iran-EU relations, especially in the energy sector, because Russia uses gas and energy resources as a leverage against the European Union.
Q: To what extent do you think Russia can be an obstacle in the path of developing relations between Iran and the EU because if Iran’s gas reaches Europe, Russia may lose that leverage?
A: Our policy toward other countries or regions is based on our own interests – like any other country. The overlap that exists between the interests of two countries is what moves the relations between them ahead. As I said, our relationship with Russia is solid and developing in various fields such as energy and in other important economic or industrial projects, and we will try to further expand cooperation. But working with Russia does not mean that we’re not going to cooperate with other countries. Russia has its own status for us as does the European Union and European countries; most of which are our old partners in different fields.
We differentiate between these relations, yet we cannot replace a country with another. We will cooperate with countries that are willing to work with us and have the potential to be a good partner.
Q. Do you agree with this view that Russia might be concerned about the expansion of Iran-EU ties in energy sector?
A. I see it from another angle. We should examine whether our relationship with other countries is pro-Russia or against it. If this is against, Russia should be concerned. But since our relations with Russia has been formed and defined precisely and the two sides are going to have long term relations, this apprehension does not exist, as we’re not cooperating with other countries against Russia.
When we’re not going to take actions against Russia or threaten its interests, eventually this concern would cease to exist. Of course there’s always competition in the free market and each country acts according to its own interests.
This is just like to say when you have a product that you can export, you’ll try to sell it to the highest bidder. You wouldn’t be selling it at a low price without receiving good benefits.
Competition in today’s world is a natural thing. For instance, if you want to cooperate with me, you can’t expect me to buy a product from you when you’re selling it 10 times higher than its real value.
If you want to buy airplanes and there are 5 manufacturers, you will have to examine a number of conditions including your country’s climate, the quality of the airplanes, their prices and so forth. You wouldn’t buy a low-quality product at a higher price, because your people wouldn’t let you do that. This is true across the world.
This can be true in the relations between Iran and Russia as well as Iran and the European Union. The buyer needs to examine the market to decide from which manufacturer they should make the purchase. Russians act in the same manner. If they think they can buy a product from a country that sells it at a lower price or with higher quality compared to Iran, they will definitely choose that product over ours.
However, when two countries have close ties, they should sell their products to each other at a lower price compared to other countries. We can cooperate [with Russia] in this way, but otherwise it is the market that decides on trades.
Q. What is your view of Saudi officials’ harsh tone toward Iran?
A. Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia is suffering from a delusion. And based on its delusion, sometimes Saudi officials say things that do not adhere to reality at all. In the past decades or even centuries, Iran has shown that it has never invaded any country. Although it has been invaded, Iran has never invaded other states. Iran, based on its population, economic, and human power is a mighty country and will put great efforts to become even more powerful, especially because of the acrimonious experience of the imposed war (Iraq’s war against Iraq in the 1980s).
This is something that Iran has learned through its contemporary history: That it can be invaded by its neighbor, while countries such as Saudi Arabia and some other regional countries helped Saddam in his aggression against Iran by giving him weapons and money. Iran needs to become more powerful so that it can defend itself when necessary.
Iran adopts completely defensive policies. It has never planned to invade any country and will not do so. If you take a look at Iran’s military budget and compare it to other countries such as Saudi Arabia, you’d see that Riyadh is amongst the top spenders on arms and military equipment. However, Iran spends much less compared to other countries and does not have a militaristic policy.
Iran is willing to live in an environment surrounded by peace, stability and security. Peace and stability in the region would mean peace and stability inside Iran. In a troubled and conflict-torn region, development would not be possible for Iran. We’re in serious need of development, both inside Iran and across the region to fight poverty, starvation and also extremism which itself is partly a product of poverty and hunger. So, Iran, with this worldview, has a positive attitude towards its neighbors. It does not have a hegemonic tendency towards other nations. Some countries inflame Iranophobia to make others concerned about Iran. They’re making a rookie mistake. Our goal is cooperation, not hegemony.
If the region is secure everyone would benefit, but all of us would be affected if the region is in crisis. Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia does not pay attention to such realities, and due to the reasons I mentioned, the monarchy is afflicted with unreasonable fear leading it to oppose Iran in a Don-Quixote-like act – creating an imaginary enemy for itself and trying to provoke others against Iran. The Saudis are not aware that this would make their problems bigger.
The continuation of such tendency and policy would backfire on the Saudis and can deteriorate Saudi Arabia’s condition in the future. Some regional countries have supported terrorist groups but eventually the terrorists would come home to roost.
So, Saudi Arabia should take a more rationalistic approach to where the country’s heading. Iran is a powerful country and will defend its interests. It thinks that any conflict and aggression in the region would create crisis for the region and would harm all eventually. No one can make troubles for others and remain safe from those troubles.