H.E Mohammad Khazaei’s interview with CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” program.
Expectations were not high for this week’s nuclear talks with Iran, but, then, the chief Iranians negotiator said the meeting had been a “turning point” and Secretary of State Kerry called the talks useful. By the standards of these meetings, this is giddy optimism. So what happened and what can we expect in the next round of talks?
Joining me now in a rare and exclusive interview is Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee. Welcome, sir.
MOHAMMAD KHAZAEE, IRANIANS AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Thank you, Dr. Zakaria. It’s a great pleasure to be with you.
ZAKARIA: So tell me what specifically Iran sees as a turning point in these negotiations. Is it the issue of the Fordo nuclear facility that it does not have to be shut down, but merely suspended? Is it the issue of the 20 percent enrichment of uranium? What is the turning point?
KHAZAEE: Thank you. That’s a good point. Eventually, in my view, none of them makes a negotiation a turning point in the process of negotiation.
In my view, as far as I’m informed, both sides are getting closer to each other and the proposals that were put on table by — on the table by the 5-plus-1 were smart — were much closer to the realities on the ground to kind of a sense of having a better cooperation with Iranians — an Iranians with the 5-plus-1.
So the whole idea was much realistic than done before. So, therefore, I think that both sides found some grounds for cooperation in the future.
ZAKARIA: And let me just spell it out, so the things that encouraged you were that there was some talk about relaxation of sanctions, there was some understanding that you did want some 20 percent enriched uranium to be used in the Tehran medical research reactor for medical purposes. So these you regard as steps forward?
KHAZAEE: Definitely. You know we have to have a realistic approach in the negotiation. Of course, the details should be discussed from the technical point of view in the course of next couple of weeks and next few months which they will discuss both sides.
But the feeling that Iranians have from the negotiation is that both sides are getting closer to each other. That’s the main point. It doesn’t really matter about the details to discuss right now. The details could be discussed later on.
But when they decide to negotiate with each other with more comprehensive, simultaneous steps should be taken, these are the important points.
So, for example, how much stockpile Iran can have or how much — or the enrichment at what level should be in Iran. Those are, in my view, a small and technical point that should be discussed.
Besides that, my understanding is that Iranians will be able to enrich uranium at least at the 5 percent level if what they did for need TRR and for our more than 1 million patients it provided (inaudible). So these are the good and positive signs that we can take. But, of course, we still have a far way to go ahead to fulfill Iranians’ expectation from the other side for a confidence-building measures.
But I think, over the last few years, it was a turning point in the negotiations between Iran and 5-plus-1.
ZAKARIA: One of the things that disappointed many people here was a turn of events that took place about two weeks and you were in Tehran in the time and you have access to all the top leaders so let me ask you this.
Vice President Biden raised the prospect of direct talks between the United States and Iran. Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, seemingly responding that said, you know, we’re not going to do things like that.
The U.S. is pointing a gun at Iran and wants us to talk to them. The Iranians nation will not be intimidated by intimidated by these actions.
So my question to you is does Iran want to have direct negotiations with the United States on a broad range of issues?
KHAZAEE: Iran is for negotiation and definitely we welcome any kind of dialogue and talks with the United States, as well as many other countries, all of the countries around the world.
This is the principle of Iranian foreign policy. So if you heard also the statement made by Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Iran, which I have his statement, he says, “We are reasonable. Our officials are reasonable, our people are reasonable. We understand reasonable needs and accept reasonable views.”
“The Americans should show that they do not try to threaten. They should show that they do not speak and act unreasonably.” And, then, at the end, he says, “This is the way to engage the Islamic Republican in Iran. The American’s should prove their goodwill. If they do, then they will see that the Iranian people will answer in an appropriate way.”
It’s a clear message. I can tell you.
ZAKARIA: And what is the message?
KHAZAEE: I can tell you. The clear message of Iran is that if we see that United States is serious and is honest about this proposal for negotiation, cooperation, direct talks with the Iranians, Iranians will accept it and we will welcome it definitely.
There is doubt that that. I can confirm it here with you and also for your distinguished audience that Iran will come negotiation and direct talks with the United States provided that we make sure that U.S. is serious and do not act differently.
But let me go to the sentence by Vice President, Mr. Biden. We do respect. What he says here exactly, just one sentence.
KHAZAEE: He says, “There is still time. There is still space for diplomacy,” that’s fine, we welcome this part, “backed by pressure.” Look, it doesn’t work that way. The most important point is that some officials in United States should understand how to speak with the Iranians.
You hear Secretary John Kerry; he was talking about mutual respect. We welcome that. Mutual respect doesn’t go along with pressure.
ZAKARIA: We’ll be back in a moment with Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations. When we come back, I’ll ask him exactly what the United States needs to do to get direct talks with Iran going.
ZAKARIA: And we are back with Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee; a rare, exclusive interview talking about the prospects for a deal with Iran.
So, you were saying, as the representative of the government of Iran, Iran would welcome direct talks with the United States as long as it shows it’s serious.
What is the sign that the United States needs to show to show that it’s serious about these talks?
KHAZAEE: You know the system here is very complicated.
ZAKARIA: Also, in your country.
KHAZAEE: Also, in my country, but there are some differences. Iranians have been victimized by U.S. policy. American have not been victimized by the Iranian’s policy.
ZAKARIA: What …
KHAZAEE: (inaudible) different.
ZAKARIA: You took our hostages a while ago. But let’s not get into this. Tell us what …
KHAZAEE: Even that one if some American companies — compared to what Iranians received from the U.S. policies different. Anyway, I don’t want to get to that …
ZAKARIA: For the future, what should the U.S. do?
ZAKARIA: Look, asking for direct talks with Iran, at the same time, I’m not saying it’s necessarily the policy of President Obama or Secretary of State or anyone else or is the policy of the Congress here because there are some differences, you know, among their views and their approaches vis-a-vis Iran. I don’t want to talk about or blame anybody. But my point is, as soon as you say, OK, we are ready to talk to you and work with you, but, at the same time, we punish you and put pressure on you and your people, Iranians cannot accept that.
Let me make it clear here. As long as pressure continues on Iranians, nobody in Iran are there to talk about negotiations. But if Iranians see a single, small even, indication that OK, today they United States is going to talk and act wisely vis-a-vis Iranians, I can assure that talking to the United States or any other nation around the world is a welcoming approach in policy by the Iranians.
And not talking to you, this is not holy book verses or something like that. No, it’s because of the hostility.
ZAKARIA: You want to just see some sign that the United States sends a signal maybe some relaxation of sanctions or some indication that this is not just pressure.
KHAZAEE: Of course, we are not right now negotiating here, obviously. But the point is that Iranians should make sure that American is not using pressure on Iran for negotiation.
Negotiation should be for negotiation, talks to find common ground and solve if there’s any misunderstanding or there is a problem that obviously exists.
May I …
KHAZAEE: Add just my own experience?
KHAZAEE: I am not a politician. Put it this way, I am talking from the bottom of my heart. Let me put it this way, eight years or nine years we were under attacks by Saddam Hussein. A war — imposed war which was supported by U.S. and (inaudible) countries and even some of our countries.
I remember those years that every day you could hear the strange noise of bombs and things in Tehran and other cities. I had three kids. It was difficult even to find a Similac or milk for your baby in Iranian market, from milk to many other things.
But Iranians stood against the pressure and hegemony of outside countries against them. So we are a nation that we have stood about eight years fighting and defending ourselves.
So, therefore, with such a nation and the history that you know very well, talking about pressure, putting about — threatening Iran is not going to work.
ZAKARIA: We have to go, but I have to ask you.
KHAZAEE: That’s fine.
ZAKARIA: You are one of the officials who was part of starting the Iranian film industry, all these (inaudible) that win awards. Many, many years ago, you were one of the guys who were funding it.
KHAZAEE: That’s right.
ZAKARIA: So I have to ask you what did you think of the movie “Argo?”
KHAZAEE: Thank you very much. As you rightly mentioned it, I was member of the Festival Film Jury for five years when I was in Iran. From the technical point of view, to be honest with you, if I was a judge, the movie is a very weak movie.
ZAKARIA: A weak movie?
KHAZAEE: Weak movie. I’m not saying it is just a very weak or is not compatible with other kind of movies which Hollywood movies, but, compared to “Lincoln”, compared to “Life of Pi”, compared to the “Les Miserables”, you know it did not deserve to receive Oscar prize first of all.
There are many mistakes in the movie. For instance, you are familiar with our culture. Even the producer or the director, they are not familiar with the Iranian culture.
You know, in Iran, when we want to say hello to somebody, we say “Salam,” but when we want to say goodbye, we say, “Kodafez.” Even the movie when they were going to say, “Kodafez” they were saying “Salam.”
So even that much, the producer or director or (inaudible) of the movie were not familiar with the Iranian culture. And, to be honest with you, whoever in Iran saw the film, they felt insulted by American.
It was politically wrong and technically wrong and I think the producer of the film that is known as the Ambassador of Peace as I heard should be ashamed of producing such a film that, from the technical point of view, political point of view, was wrong, as well as insulting a big nation like Iran.
I would like to invite the producer and the director of the film to travel to Iran and then they travel to Iran, the day after they will apologize from the big nation of Iran for producing such a weak film.
ZAKARIA: Ambassador Khazaee, always a pleasure to have you on.
KHAZAEE: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure to be with you today, Fareed.