Iran’s ambassador to Cyprus, Reza Zabib, speaks to Dr Andrestinos Papadopoulos
The nuclear programme of Iran is a controversial issue. It is of interest to know your government’s position on it.
The rainbow of viewpoints about the Peaceful Iranian Nuclear Programme (PINP) fall into three categories:
1- An outdated American Neoconservative approach whose followers essentially argue for zero-tolerance towards the existing political system in Iran, acting under the so-called motto of “regime change”. Recalling George W. Bush’s warlike unilateralism, they recommend that the US administration follow this unreasonable strategy even through unilateral efforts. With allegations about the military nature of PINP, they simplistically claim that zero-tolerance could be applied through an airstrike or the so-called moderate policy of “crippling sanctions”! They sometimes try to appear more reasonable claiming, for example, that Iran as an oil-rich country does not need nuclear energy, especially when it has no right to develop a nuclear programme under the non-proliferation treaty (NPT)! Therefore, they conclude, Iran`s insistence on developing nuclear energy raises doubts and questions about her real intentions behind this programme.
2- There are others who believe that for geostrategic reasons, it’s justified for Iran to be a nuclear state. These scholars refer to some historical facts like Iran`s glorious background as a major global or regional player, combined with the uniqueness of Iranian identity in the region, or a severe and unprecedented embargo imposed on Iran by both Eastern and Western Powers during the invasion of Iran by the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein.
3- And finally, there are others who accept that Iran, like any other member state of the NPT, has a legitimate right to develop and use nuclear energy, but time has proved that for political and technical reasons, this is a problematic choice. Therefore it`s more expedient for Iran to invest in renewable types of energy other than nuclear.
However, the reality of PINP is different and travels well beyond those arguments. Iran’s nuclear programme was actually proposed and initiated under the “Atom For Peace” programme of US President Eisenhower in the late 1950s and developed under US auspices within the framework of bilateral agreements between the two countries in 1960s and 70s, with the full support of other Western countries. According to declassified confidential US government documents, posted on the Digital National Security Archive, in the mid-1970s, the USA administration expressed an interest in American companies participating in Iran’s nuclear projects.
The Shah government, brought back by an American-British led coup d’état that toppled the democratically elected Iranian government in 1953, had nuclear ambitions. In 1957, Iran was allowed to host The “Cento Institute of Nuclear Science” which moved from Bagdad. In 1959, Iran established her first-ever Nuclear Research Centre in Tehran University.
Iran became among the first counties to sign and ratify the NPT in 1968 and 1970, respectively.
The Tehran Nuclear Research Reactor (TRR) was the first significant nuclear facility to be supplied to Iran by the US in 1967 – it was a safeguarded 5-megawatt nuclear research reactor fueled with 93% Enriched Uranium.
A keynote study in 1974, carried out by the American Stanford Research Institute, recommended a huge nuclear programme for Iran, including several nuclear power plants with a capacity of generating 20,000 megawatts of electricity up to 1994.
Consequently, Iran not only concluded several contracts and agreements with western countries, namely USA, UK, (then West) Germany and France, but even with countries like Argentina, India, Denmark and South Africa during the 1970s.
In 1974, Iran completed its Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA and inaugurated “Iran Nuclear Energy Organisation”, signaling its long term nuclear perspective.
Last but not least, on 10 July 1978, only seven months before the Islamic Revolution in Iran, a US-Iran Nuclear Energy Agreement was signed. The agreement was supposed to facilitate cooperation and govern the export of equipment and material to develop Iran’s nuclear programme, including enrichment.
Besides this well-convincing legal and political background, other arguments also support Iran`s legitimate need to develop a peaceful nuclear programme. When Iran received the American proposal and full Western support to develop a huge nuclear programme, our population was about 30 million and we were producing about 6 million barrels of oil per day (mbpd). Today, these statistics stand at about 80 million and roughly 4 mbpd, while internal consumption swallows more than two thirds of this reduced oil production.
Running an economy mainly dependant on oil revenues, we have to develop other major energy resources to address the rising internal energy demands of a fast developing nation. Externally speaking, Iran has always been a reliable energy supplier in the international market.
This has given us a substantial international role and credibility which we are quite naturally willing to continue. Thus, not to mention other reasons like heavy and long investments in our peaceful nuclear programme, Iranians may not ignore the nuclear choice as a new source of energy, especially as it has become a matter of national pride for our people.
But at the same time I wish to reiterate that as the initiator of the nuclear-free Middle East, nuclear weapons have no room in our national strategy and defence doctrine. In term of strategic calculations, we believe that nuclear weapons would bring us no security. But more importantly and beyond that, our understanding of Islamic teachings prevents us from acquiring WMD. That`s why the Iranian Supreme Leader, HE Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, as the highest politico-religious authority of the political system in the country, has long ago issued a Fatwa, or religious verdict, prohibiting any production, stockpile or use of WMD.
The framework agreement concluded on April 2, 2015 in Lausanne between the EU3+3 (Britain, Germany, France, the United States, Russia and China) and Iran was welcomed as a triumph of diplomacy. Given the fact that different interpretations of the agreement have emerged and that France insists on giving inspectors access to all installations, including military sites, where do we stand today?
Foreign Minister Zarif in his first tweet after the Lausanne Framework cautioned about such kinds of interpretations.
In a sensitive negotiation like this ongoing nuclear negotiation, insisting on unilateral interpretations or requests for renegotiating what has already been agreed upon are considered unconstructive behaviours which send wrong signals, even though the principle of “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” applies in this negotiation.
We believe that the importance of this negotiation for regional and global peace and stability requires avoiding unilateral demands and interpretations, and a more passionate siding with international public opinion to solve this unnecessary crisis.
From our point of view, everybody will benefit from reaching an agreement and all will lose if this historical momentum cannot be seized. It is a win-win or lose-lose game, out of which nobody may imagine a win-lose situation under a zero-sum assumption.
Different negotiating teams may have their national stands but from the very beginning, parties have agreed upon two general principles. First, the negotiations are exclusively on the nuclear issue. Therefore it`s impossible to enter a new parameter, like the Iranian military programme or facilities, under any pretext into the negotiation agenda. It is a self-explanatory principle as no nation would agree to negotiate its national security related issues.
The second agreed principle is that the EU3+3 would have a common negotiating stand expressed through the EU foreign policy coordinator, because it`s practically impossible to follow parallel negotiations with six countries and reach a conclusion. Therefore, and with all due respect for national positions, negotiation is and will proceed, based on these principles which ought to apply to relevant internal debates in all seven negotiating countries.
I wish to reiterate that the EU3+3 officials, repeatedly and on various occasions, have clearly talked about the seriousness and professional approach of the Iranian negotiating team. We are fully determined to follow this critical negotiation in such a spirit, and surely expect our EU3+3 partners to reciprocate so that reaching a durable agreement is possible.
Some pessimists believe that the agreement could still collapse given the difficulties in working out a satisfactory solution to the question of lifting the sanctions, a possible change of hearts and the possibility of some parties not living up to the letter and spirit of the agreement. As a diplomat who used to be involved in these negotiations, how do you comment on this view?
From the beginning of the negotiations, we were fully aware of the difficulties and tough nature of the negotiations but, however, the Geneva interim agreement of November 2013, and the Lausanne framework agreement concluded in April 2015, were reached despite all these difficulties.
Theoretically speaking, nothing is impossible and Iran has never said that it`s ready or willing to compromise under any circumstances to sign un unfair agreement. The common goal is to address two issues in parallel: removing any legitimate concerns about the exclusively peaceful nature of Iranian nuclear programme, and lifting of all sanctions against the Iranian people. Thus, and so long that this twin and common requirement can be satisfied, we should be optimistic about the outcome of the negotiations.
Perhaps pressures and pessimism outside the negotiations are greater than those around the negotiating table. Executing the agreement on such critical issues would surely be as difficult as reaching the agreement itself, but those Geneva and Lausanne agreements have practically proved that reaching the comprehensive agreement is possible, provided that the same intention and determination can be applied by all sides.
How do you view the role of Iran in the region, if eventually a deal is concluded on its nuclear programme? Do you believe that it will strengthen the hands of all those who fight Sunni extremism in the form of the Islamic State?
My country has always played a major role in the political life, peace and stability of the Persian Gulf and the wider region of the Middle East. Iranians were the prime-movers of the need for democracy during their Constitutional Revolution in the early 20th century (1905-1907), and performed a successful major revolution toppling a dictatorship regime in 1979; the first signal of what Zbigniew Brzezinski later rightly tried to call a “global political awakening”.
Iran was among the first countries to condemn and help resist the occupation of Afghanistan by the USSR and Kuwait by the Saddam regime.
We are not merely talking about past history. Today everybody, even American officials, overtly say that Baghdad and Erbil could have been under ISIS, had it not been for Iranian support. That was done irrespective of the religion, political or ethnic orientations of the victims, and thanks to Iran`s principled andunwavering stand against terrorism and extremism. In this regard, I should recall President Rouhani`s initiative, the W.A.V.E. (World Against Violence and Extremism),that he raised at the UN General Assembly and was overwhelmingly endorsed by the international community in 2013.
Therefore, Iran will continue to play this role, just as it has over the last three decades, with or without reaching the nuclear agreement, because it`s impossible to imagine this region without Iran playing her well-known role compatible with her size and weight. But of course, solving the nuclear issue would further pave the way and contribute to this end.
The bilateral relations between Iran and Cyprus have strengthened over the years. Can you give us an overall assessment of these relations? How do you see the role of Cyprus in the troubled region of the Middle East?
I`m pleased to say that my country has always supported Cyprus and Cypriots in their legitimate cause of reunifying this beautiful island. It is a geographical fact that Cyprus is a small country, but we believe in the key role it could play for peace and prosperity in the region due to her situation at the crossroad of three continents and offering almost a unique example of peaceful co-existence of cultures and religions in the island.
A historical map, recently appearing in some social media, showed Cyprus as the anchorage of ships from different nations. It was an appropriate symbol of the reality of the island.
Regrettably, sanctions have partially affected our trade and economic relations, but from our side there has never been any limit on developing relations between the two countries. In the last couple of months since I have become ambassador, a good number of business and political delegations have visited both capitals to pave the way towards deepening and strengthening of our relations further. More are on the agenda for the rest of 2015.
We believe that Cyprus, thanks to her experiences and knowledge of the nature of developments in this region, and as a member state of the EU situated in this volatile region, has a unique role in helping the EU adopt a functional and more realistic policy towards this region. As an influential player in the region, my country is ready to help Cyprus in this regard. This is a really long overdue development that, if it could take place, would contribute to the stability and prosperity of the region. It would also upgrade the role of the EU from a simple payer to a real player in this critical region, as Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has rightly put it.
I wish to thank the Cyprus Mail and Sunday Mail for the professional coverage of the developments in the region and my country.