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Iran: Saudis have officially announced their commitment to use terrorism

The FRONTLINE Interview: Mohammad Javad Zarif

Mohammad Javad Zarif is the foreign minister of Iran.

This interview was conducted by FRONTLINE’s Martin Smith on Feb. 20, 2017

for the documentary Bitter Rivals: Iran and Saudi Arabia. It has been edited in parts for clarity and length.

What was the meaning of the Iranian revolution of 1979?

I guess different people have different impressions of the revolution, but I believe that it was a demand for dignity on the part of the Iranian people. They wanted recognition for who they were, for their history, for their identity.

Do you think Americans generally understand the Iranian experience prior to the revolution?

I guess not. I believe the American people have not been subjected to the type of indignation and lack of respect that the people of Iran were subjected to, although they were a close ally of the United States. But you could feel that Iran was not receiving the respect that it deserved.

And how was that revolution received on the Arab street, across the region?

Well, to be honest with you, I was in the United States, so I know how it was received in the U.S. I do not have a personal experience of how it was received in the Arab street, but from what I read, there were two reactions, one by the Arab masses, who saw the possibility of ridding themselves from dictatorships. Didn’t mean that Iran wanted to do it for them. It just provided the example that people without any foreign help were able to engage a very brutal regime, supported by primarily by the United States, and defeat it.

So that was one message that was received, I believe, in the Arab street. And there were jubilations. On the other hand, the Arab governments, some of them, because of this possible implication for the future, started to guard against this revolution and without anything having been done on the Iranian side, started to prepare to defeat this. The most vivid example of that was their arming, financing and supporting for eight years a brutal aggression against Iran.

I want to talk about that in a minute. Let me ask you a couple more questions about the revolution, because indeed, there were demonstrations and support from the Arab street. What made this a seismic event that shook not just the region but around the world [was] that this was a religious revolution.

Well, actually, it was a revolution that received its inspiration from the teachings of the Islamic religion, but not necessarily a religious uprising.

Adel al-Jubeir, your counterpart, foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, calls it a Shia revolution. Was it a Shia revolution?

Well, you see, they feel threatened because of the wrong choices that they have made. Starting with Saddam Hussein, continuing with Al Qaeda, with Daesh, with Al Nusra [Front], they made all the wrong choices. Now, in order to be able to one way or the other justify what they’re doing, they have to do this name calling.

Iran has supported the cause of Palestine. Is Palestine a Shia revolution? Are Palestinians Shiites? We have paid the heaviest price for our support for the Palestinian people. I don’t believe even a minute percentage of the Palestinian people are Shiites, so I think they need to think twice before they make such ridiculous statements.

Are you saying it was not a Shia revolution?

No, because it’s an Islamic revolution, because it brought everybody together, and it reverberated, as you said, throughout the Islamic world. People try to portray it as a Shia revolution, and since then tried to propagate a message of hatred throughout the world with a lot of money.

Now, that message of hatred created all these cells in every corner of the world that are now coming to haunt the supporters of the Saudi regime. You see that every extremist terrorist organization has its roots, ideological roots, without any exception, in the teachings, in the books and literatures that have been propagated, published and sent across the world, spending a lot of petrol dollars providing the teachings that provide the foundations for this extremist ideology.

But yet those Salafist cells that you’re talking about, those Wahhabi cells that you’re referring to, do not attack Iran, but they attack Saudi Arabia regularly.

Yes, because they do not find sympathetic populace in Iran. They cannot take refuge in Iran. They do not have houses, businesses who support them in Iran. All of it comes from Saudi Arabia. Look at how many messages of support for Daesh comes from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries of the Persian Gulf. This is an unfortunate fact. You know why? Because we believe that instability in Saudi Arabia, instability of the government of Saudi Arabia, instability of any government in our region is a threat to our national security, because you cannot live in a non-secure environment and enjoy security.

This is just impossible. That is why, although these terrorist groups do not have sympathizers with Iran, our intelligence has to be very careful, because on a daily basis, they’re trying to infiltrate from other countries into Iran. And some of them continue to this day to receive financial and military support from Saudi Arabia.

You know, you talked about the fear that the governments of Gulf [nations], and Saudi Arabia in particular, felt after witnessing your revolution. At the same time, Imam Khomeini called for the downfall of Gulf monarchies and the House of Saud.

We did not take action against any country. We make our views clear about the nature of governments that were submissive to the United States, governments that were presenting a message of hatred.

But back in 1979, there were radio reports coming out of Iran calling for Shia in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia to rise up against the monarchy.


That sounds like interference to me.

We always rejected the use of force against governments. We may have encouraged people to ask for their rights.

But that’s interference in their internal affairs. You say you have no sort of aggression against these governments.

I like to see that really observed, because I saw that a few years ago from the floor of the Senate, people were sending messages to the Iranian people to rise up against the government.

I’m not saying that’s right. One thing does not justify the other.

But people are not making a lot of fuss about it, saying that the United States wanted to overthrow the Iranian government. People express their views. In today’s world, expression of views, particularly by radio and television, if these are to be considered calls for revolution and calls for overthrow of the government, then you would have a very difficult time looking at the record of many countries, including the Saudi former chief of intelligence going to Paris, participating in the rally by a known terrorist organization and telling the terrorist organization that we are with you as you overthrow the Iranian government. This is an official member of the royal family, an official of the Saudi government, who goes and makes these statements.

This was at an MEK [People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, or Mujahedeen-e-Khalq] rally?

Yeah. And we’re talking about 2017, not during the emotional days after the victory of the revolution, where emotional statements were rather normal under those conditions.

The Saudis say that you don’t recognize citizenship of others; that you identify people as Shia, whatever country they are in, and do not recognize that they are citizens of those countries.

In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Iran recognizes the authority of every government over its entire population. And that’s the end of the story. We do not differentiate between the citizens of other countries, as we do not differentiate between our own citizens.

The other day you made a very impassioned speech in defense of your missile test.

It wasn’t the other day. It was last year, but we retweeted it.

But wait a minute. You used that as a retweet to defend against the missile strike that followed the Muslim ban in the United States?

It wasn’t a missile strike. It was a missile test.

It was a missile test—

It wasn’t a response to the Muslim ban, because the missile test was just a regular, normal, unannounced missile test because it wasn’t something extraordinary. We are required to produce our own means of defense, because the United States conducts a campaign of preventing Iran from acquiring its means of defense. That campaign started during the Iran-Iraq War, so we have to do our own defense.

I don’t think it’s a war that Americans understand very well. Your generation that now leads Iran you were all shaped by that experience.

That is a very unfortunate fact that people have short memories. And actually, some of them may not want to remember what happened.

When Iraq invaded Iran on the 22nd of September, 1980, everybody expected the Iranian government to fall within seven days. That is why the [United Nations] Security Council did not issue a resolution until the 29th of September. A massive aggression had taken place. Thousands of kilometers of Iranian territory — this was a shock-and-awe operation almost. Thousands of kilometers of Iranian territory had already been taken. Not a single word. People were waiting for the regime, for the new revolutionary government, to fall.

Took seven days for them to realize that it wouldn’t be as rapid as they had hoped. So on 19 September 1980 the Security Council issued its first resolution, and it’s just horrendous, because it doesn’t even follow the usual protocol. You know, when there is a war, almost cliché for a Security Council resolution is to ask for cease-fire and withdrawal.

Didn’t. It just asked for cessation of hostilities, not even for withdrawal. And that was the only resolution the Security Council issued, Resolution 479. Then the Security Council went home. For two years, our people had to single-handedly defend their country. Everybody was supporting Iraq. Not a single piece of equipment came officially to Iran. We went and purchased through unofficial means, paying exorbitant amounts–

On the black market?

On the black market.

And you were up against?

We were up against the most serious campaign by the United States to prevent, and we were up against a regime that was receiving equipment from almost everybody. The Americans provided it with AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System] intelligence. The French provided it with Mirage fighters. The Russians provided it with MiG fighters.

And the Saudis?

The Saudis provided it with all the money they need. The Kuwaitis put their ports at their disposal, and they provided them with money. People started selling oil for them so that they would be able to finance this aggression for eight years. The Germans provided them with chemical weapons. Chemical weapons started to be used in Iran-Iraq War as early as 1984, and they were started to be used in large quantities in 1985. I’ve got to give you some stories here.


I went to the president of the Security Council. I believe I was then a young diplomat, but acting in our mission in New York, I went to the president of the Security Council, who probably had a diplomatic background equal to my age. I was just about 26, and he had been a diplomat for more than 26 years, and they usually reminded me every time that I went to see them of that fact. And this very seasoned diplomat, when I went to him and told him that Iraq was using chemical weapons against us, told me, “I’m not authorized by the Security Council to talk to you about this.” So going back to the first two years, the first Security Council resolution after 479, which was issued on 29 September 1980, was issued in June or July 1982. And you know when that day is? That’s the date which liberated our cities from Iraqi occupation.

Then the Security Council came to the conclusion that it had to call for withdrawal of troops to the internationally recognized borders because they were worried that we will go in Iraqi territory.

It was around that time then that you were offered a cease-fire, and you rejected it. Why?

No. No. We were–

You say no.

You see, offers were made, but there were conditionalities attached. This guy has invaded us, has bombed us, destroyed our cities. I mean, we had gone through two years of international deafening silence when we were protecting, defending and liberating our cities.

Was it a mistake to reject the cease-fire?

No. In in 1988, we had a Resolution 598, which addressed Iran’s major demand, that Iraq was responsible to initiate this war. That was very important for us.

But a lot of lives were lost in the interim–

It’s the unfortunate situation.

–for that principle.

That’s a question that the Iranian people need to ask the international community. Why didn’t anybody in the international community say a word about the Iraqi use of chemical weapons? I believe the international community owes Iran an explanation for its disastrous behavior. Iran doesn’t owe anybody any explanation for defending itself.

OK, let’s go to the other side. That’s what you say. I understand. Clearly you were aggressed upon. Clearly Saddam Hussein was supported by all these countries that you name. There’s no debate about that. On the other hand, the Saudis insist that Iran is a hostile, belligerent, adventurous nation attempting to export revolution around the region. How do you respond?

Well, talk is cheap. Let’s look at the actions. Saudis helped Saddam Hussein for eight years. Saudis helped Al Qaeda. Saudis created Daesh. Saudis created Al Nusra. Saudis are funding terrorists who are operating in eastern Iran.

Let’s grant you–

So I’m not I’m not making accusations. I’m talking about facts. All he’s talking about are accusations. These are not facts; these are accusations. But what I’m saying are facts. Can anybody contest the fact that Saudis helped Saddam Hussein? Can anybody contest the fact that out of the three governments that recognized the Taliban in Afghanistan, Saudis were one of them? Can anybody contest the fact that Saudis financed Daesh and Al Nusra?

I’m not arguing that. But you’re saying all these accusations, whether it’s the Marine barracks explosion in 1982 or the Khobar Towers attack, or the blowing up the Jewish Center in in Buenos Aires, or the assassination attempt against Adel al-Jubeir in Washington, all of that is untrue?

I’m saying that Iran had nothing to do with any of it.

You’re saying that these were actions by proxies?

No, no, no. Iran directly or indirectly had nothing to do with it.

  1. All right.

And I mean, Adel al-Jubeir should respond for the actions of his government. He’s not representative of the international community. I don’t think anybody gave him that responsibility nor can he aggregate it to himself. I mean, he lived in the U.S., just like me, a bit too long to understand that he represents Saudi Arabia, not the international community, because people who listen to Americans talk think anybody can speak on behalf of the international community.

We’ll ask him the same questions.

Neither the United States nor anybody else, particularly Saudi Arabia, with its bright record of every atrocity, can speak on behalf of the international community.

You know, there’s a certain point, though, listening to the two of you, and I just sat down with Jubeir yesterday, and then I’m sitting here with you today, is that it feels like you guys need to stop talking to people like me and talk to each other.

We have talked to each other.

When was the last time you talked to Jubeir?

The last time that I saw him was on the sidelines of an international conference. But I don’t mind talking to him. I have no difficulty talking to him. And you see, I never start — I never even start these debates. When you ask me a question, you saw my statement yesterday, please, if I didn’t mention Saudi Arabia even once. Not a word about Saudi Arabia.

Let’s talk about things that really get under their skin. One of those is your support for Hezbollah. Why did you decide to support Hezbollah in Lebanon? What’s the strategic value of that?

First of all, it’s none of their business.

Well, why is it your business?

Because we believe that Hezbollah is a force for resistance, a great asset for the Lebanese people. It has representation in the Lebanese Parliament. The question that needs to be asked is why are they supporting terrorist extremists who are blowing up Lebanese inside Lebanon? I mean, the man who was responsible for the attack on the Iranian Embassy two years ago in Lebanon, which killed our cultural attaché, was a Saudi citizen. The man who masterminded it was Saudi. Why is it that they are doing this? Hezbollah is a political party in Lebanon; has the brave history of liberating Lebanon from Israeli occupation; has been a force for stability in Lebanon. The Saudi government has tried to undermine this, has tried to interfere in the Lebanese internal affairs.

We were the first who announced during the process for presidential election that people have to stop interfering in the internal affairs of Lebanon and allow the Lebanese themselves to form a government, and that is why immediately after the Saudis stopped vetoing people. I mean, it’s interesting. Saudi Arabia vetoed the Lebanese president for two years, and as soon as they stopped vetoing and they had a government, I was the first foreign minister to go to Lebanon to meet both with the president and with the prime minister, Mr. [Saad] Hariri. And I promised both of them the full support of the Iranian government in building Lebanon, in building consensus, which is their job, not ours. Their job. They’re Lebanese. They’re more advanced democratically and politically than most countries in the Arab world, so we need to leave them to their own device so that they could make the right decisions for themselves. We should be there to facilitate.

And we should be there to facilitate other peaceful developments in the region. We should not dictate. Neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia are in no position to dictate to the people of the region. We should stop this arrogance. As two major countries, we should help end the war in Iraq. We should help end the war in Syria. We should help end the repression in Bahrain. We should help end the atrocities in Yemen. And we’re prepared to help.

You complain about Saudi interference in Lebanese affairs.

No. I’m complaining about them trying to dictate. I’m complaining about them trying to decide for the Lebanese. In today’s world, talking about interference in the terms that you just alluded to it almost impossible. All people express their views about what’s happening.

All people have friends in various countries. All countries have influence in various countries. What is important is that this influence, the friendship, the relations should be used to facilitate reconciliation and dialogue and not to dictate your views and your positions.

You support Hezbollah with how much money every year?

Well, I’m not privy to that information. Hezbollah is an organization in Lebanon that has huge support from the Lebanese community–

Receives money from the government of Iran, many millions of dollars from you–

Has provided assistance for reconstruction of Lebanon. But that assistance went to anybody whose houses were destroyed by the Israelis. Anybody whose houses were destroyed. We offered to provide assistance to the Lebanese military. We have offered to build power plants. And this offer goes directly to the Lebanese government, no matter who’s the prime minister, Hariri or Tammam Salam or others. The offer is there for the Lebanese. We’re prepared to build dams for them. We’re prepared to build power plants for them. Our help is there, and I hope that everybody there is a lot of competition that we can be engaged in in the region. But I hope that Iran and Saudi Arabia could start competing for reconstruction of these countries, not for destruction.

You enjoyed a thaw in relations with Saudi Arabia in the late ’90s. Why then, and what happened to that?

I believe that after the fall of Saddam Hussein, although Saddam was no friend of Saudi Arabia–

This is prior to the fall of Saddam Hussein. In 1999, President [Mohammad] Khatami goes to Riyadh–

No, no, no. I’m saying what changed the dynamic? I understand.

Oh, you’re saying what made it bad again?

Yeah. The fall of Saddam Hussein signified to Saudi Arabia a change in the equilibrium in the Arab world. That is why from 2003, when Saddam was ousted, till very recently they refused even to send an ambassador to Iraq. They did everything to undermine the Iraqi government because they felt that the equilibrium had been broken. They felt that that this equilibrium needed to be reversed. And they felt that Iran was gaining upper hand.

And this is when we see a rise in sectarianism.

Well, this is when you see a rise in sectarianism. You see, Iran, the Shias are minorities. We need to live with the majority in the Muslim world. We need to go to Hajj; we need to go to Mecca. I mean, just putting all our rhetoric aside, that we have called for the unity of the Muslims, we do not want to have a hostile environment in which our people are going to Hajj.

So they started this sectarian message, not us. They started saying that the Sunnis were being underrepresented. For centuries in Iraq, Sunnis have dominated the Shia majority. So after the invasion, in which we had role, it was their allies actually. We advised the Americans against the invasion both publicly as well as privately. I said publicly in the Security Council in February of 2003 that the only outcome that is certain from the U.S. invasion of Iraq is rise in extremism.

I can even quote what I said in the Security Council in February. We were outspoken about that. But when the Americans invaded Iraq, they tried to use their influence with the Americans to keep the Sunni-minority domination. It was them who started this sectarian division in Iraq, them who pushed the sectarian line in Iraq. For us, it’s of no use to us to push the sectarian line.

Why did you decide to support [Bashar al-]Assad in Syria?

Because the alternative would have been a Daesh state rather than a Daesh organization.

But Syria has no border with Iran. Syria is far from you. It has no necessary strategic value to you.

Now we see that unfortunately these borders are not recognized by these terrorist organizations. As I said earlier–

But what did you foresee as your strategic interest in defending Assad?

No, it’s our strategic interest in preventing the rise of extremism. And I believe, in this strategic interest, Saudi Arabia and every other country has much at stake. Unfortunately, they’re a bit late in recognizing their own interest, as they were late in recognizing the fact that Saddam Hussein would turn against them if they continued to support him. I believe they will recognize sooner or later that these monsters that they produce and nurture will finally turn against them, and they are much more vulnerable to this threat than we are.

I’ve been in Iran. I’ve talked to people on the street. They do not see the value of supporting Bashar al-Assad. This is a man who’s responsible for the deaths of many hundreds of thousands–

Because you put the question the wrong way.

Oh, we’re going to blame the media now?

No, no, no. I’m not blaming media or you. You ask the question, and you get an answer. You ask people whether it’s right to support this or the other person, they’ll say, “No, it’s not.” You ask them whether it’s right to prevent Daesh from coming very close to your border, and you will see 99 percent of the Iranians saying it’s the right policy.

So you need to ask the right question. The question is an important part of the answer, and that is why I believe we need to ask the right question about the future of the region. I mean, now we’re asking a question which produces a response that would put Iran against Saudi Arabia. But if you ask the right question, whether it would be in the interest of both Iran and Saudi Arabia to work together in order to prevent extremism and sectarianism to take root in the region and to find ways of cooperating for the future of the region, of course, the answer will be yes.

But if you put the question whether Iran and Saudi Arabia have differences of views about Assad, of course the answer will be yes. So we need to ask the right questions so that the right question would lead us into cooperation, rather than into zero-sum approaches to a conclusion that would be a negative-sum conclusion, because in today’s world, you cannot win at my expense. We either win together or lose together. And I think the Nobel Committee was right in giving the Nobel Prize to the economist who first produced non-zero-sum game.

Many people look at the war in Syria and say you are fighting a sectarian battle; that you’ve rallied people under a sectarian cause–

My friend, 90 percent of the Syrian army are Sunni.

I know this.

Ninety percent of the Syrian government is Sunni. Ninety percent of the Syrian intelligence is Sunni. What are we talking about?

I’ll tell you what they’re talking about, and that is that you rally people to that war under the banner of defending Hussein. The slogan, “Yā Hussain,” is present. Hezbollah has come in there, a Shia force to defend the shrine of Zaynab, and you recruit people from Afghanistan and Pakistan, Shia. You’ve incentivized them to come fight a Shia cause to defend Assad.

No, it’s again–

Is that not true?

It is to prevent a terrorist state from taking hold. If you look at the situation in Syria, undermining the government in Syria is tantamount to giving Daesh Damascus on a platter.

Right. I understand that part of it. But why has it taken on this sectarian–

Unfortunately it’s because others have taken a sectarian line on this.

OK, you point fingers at one another, I have to say. You look at Iraq for a minute. You defend Shia militias that fly the flag of Shiadom–

Who went and supported the Kurds when Daesh was just about to take over–

You did. And you defended Baghdad when Daesh was coming down the Tigris.

We did. Are they Shias?

No. They’re Sunnis.

They had an alliance — hold on. They had an alliance with Turkey. [Kurd leader Masoud] Barzani was really close to Turkey, and he called, asked for help. What did they tell him? Everybody was putting all their belongings in their whatever, pickup trucks and getting out of Kurdish areas. So why don’t you look at the facts?

Why do you give it a flavor? Erbil is enough to prove to you that Iran is against terrorism, not for domination of a sect. If we were for domination of a sect, we would have allowed Daesh to teach a lesson to Barzani, who has relied on the Turks.

I accept that–

Go ask your Sunni brothers in Turkey to come to your assistance, but we didn’t. Within two hours of his request, we were there. We were there to provide them support to defeat Daesh. I mean, this is how people are paying their respect and admiration to a country that has stood up against the worst enemy of humanity today, who is beheading innocent individuals. I just saw a picture with a lot of kids, young boys, in a cage — I just can’t imagine — just about to be burned. Is anybody proud to open their borders so that they get new recruits? Is anybody proud to allow their banks to send them money? Is anybody proud to sell their oil? Is anybody proud to buy their oil?

And unfortunately, all these countries who are attacking Iran either buy Daesh oil, sell Daesh oil, send people through their territory or finance it.

I accept your example. You defended the Kurds, who are Sunni. But that deflects from the question of the support you also give to Shia militias, Shia militias who have also committed atrocities. This support is visible. Qasem Soleimani is photographed with the Badr organization.

We support anybody who fights terrorism. If Saudi Arabia wants our support to fight terrorism, it is readily available. We support the government of Afghanistan. It’s not a Shia government, but we support them in fighting terrorism. You see, we’ve been consistent. Saudis supported Taliban in Afghanistan. We supported the Northern Alliance. The Northern Alliance was not a Shia organization.

And you support Hamas.

We support Hamas. We support Palestinians. Why do they continue making that nonsense?

Because you also support Shia militia, and that’s what you’re not addressing–

No, no, no. We support anybody who’s fighting terrorism, so we support Sunnis; we support Kurds; we support Shias. Is it the intention that we should stop supporting the Shias because they are Shias? I mean, this is contradiction. All I have to prove in order to prove to you that Iran is fighting a counterterrorism battle rather than a sectarian battle is to prove to you that we support anybody who fights Daesh. We support anybody who fights Nusra. I mean, if they happen to be Shias, we should stop supporting them?

You know, Saudi Arabia says the biggest terrorist in the region–

Of course Saudi Arabia wants Daesh to win. Unfortunately, the king of Saudi Arabia is on the record telling another king that we prefer Daesh over Assad, and then we will deal with Daesh. That’s wishful thinking. That’s the same mistake they made with Saddam Hussein. They’re so shortsighted, unfortunately, that they do not see two steps ahead of them. They do not understand that if Daesh took Damascus, it would claim to the caliphate that would attract a lot of people, and that would be disaster for them.

The Saudis say that the biggest terrorist in the region is not Daesh, it’s Bashar al-Assad, and that you, the government of Iran, has supported him. He has used chemical weapons-

As you say in the court, I rest my case. They prefer Daesh to win from Bashar al-Assad. Let’s present that to the world and see if that is an acceptable alternative. I agree with that. This is their view. They believe that Bashar al-Assad is worse than Daesh. That’s exactly what I’m saying. They want Daesh to take over Damascus.

But how can you defend a person who uses chemical weapons?

We have rejected the use of chemical weapons.

Granted. Have you expressed to your counterpart [Walid] Muallem, foreign minister of Syria, your concerns after the red line, after your help with getting the chemical weapons out of the country, that they continued use of chlorine gas?

We are against the use of chemical weapons.

Have you expressed that?

And we have made it very clear to everybody–

And what does he say?

They tell us that they’re not using it. We’re against the use of chemical weapons. We’re against the attacks on civilian targets, and we don’t engage in that. We have never engaged in any of that. We stick to our principles. We stand by our principles.

What is the importance strategically of Yemen? What’s your–

It’s not–

–interest in Yemen?

It’s none. We know that Yemen is important for Saudi Arabia, and we never want to stab Saudi Arabia in the back. We sent messages to them before Yemen erupted into this that Yemen is in turmoil; let’s work out something. And the only response we got — you know what was the response? “Arab world is none of your business.”

Well, that raises the issue of, you know, your revolution aspires to be on the side of the people, but yet you only have really one ally in the region in Bashar al-Assad and maybe Iraq. Why don’t you have more friends?

We’ll count the chicken, as we say in Iran, at the end of fall. Our influence is with the people. We have very good relations with regional governments. Saudi Arabia imposes pressure, intimidates, pays. We don’t engage in that type of activity.

Despite the fact that the United States and almost every other powerful nation supports Saudi Arabia actively and tries to undermine us actively, we are still the most influential power in the Middle East. That should tell you something. That should tell you that we have made the right choices, and they’ve made the wrong choices.

Where is this going?

We don’t want it to go anywhere other than reconciliation.

I know you have to go. I want to know: You live in a tinderbox right now. The relationship with Saudi Arabia has never been worse. Do you think President Trump has the experience to fully understand the region?

I hope by the time you air this show, he would have gained it.

Are you worried about him?

Well, I think at the end of the day, cooler heads prevail.

He’s put you on notice.

And we are unmoved.

Foreign Minister, thank you very much.

The FRONTLINE Interview: Mohammad Javad Zarif

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