Good afternoon Ambassador Nili. Thank you very much for taking the time to interview. It is a pleasure to speak with you.
The recent US-Iran Nuclear Deal is a major policy shift in the region and opens new potentials for more constructive and mutually beneficial relations with the US, Western countries in general and even for all countries in the Middle East region. As the Iranian Ambassador to Norway, we at The Oslo Times would like to get your insights into how the Nuclear Deal will facilitate more peaceful relations.
Despite 36 years of sanctions and general mistrust between Iran and the U.S., how does Iran view this Nuclear Deal – as a chance to build more constructive economic and diplomatic ties with the West and its neighbors in the Middle East, or as a necessary strategic shift to gain more power and influence in the region?
Thank you for allocating the time for this interview. Before coming to the question, I would like to remind you that from our policy and from our views, nuclear weapons are not power. We believe that (having) nuclear weapons are not a constructive step in international relations, especially nowadays. It is not just because of now, it is the history, it is the culture, it is the values. Because we are a Muslim country, we believe that all of us should be free from nuclear weapons. In our defense doctrine, such weapons do not have any room. Also I would like to invite all (nations) to come to the solution to be free from nuclear weapons.
Regarding your question, I would like to make six points. Number one, I think the new deal was a good signal that the Iranian nuclear issue was an unnecessary crisis. There is a reason behind this. Some (nations) try to impose pressure on Iran by using the nuclear problem to promote division. They try to bring misunderstanding. They try to bring Iran-phobia. This is the main misunderstanding regarding our nuclear problem.
Another point I would like to remind you about is the Nuclear Deal was a good signal that instead of threatening, we should work on talks and mutual respect.
The third point is that the policy of imposing sanctions, which is unfair against the Iranian people. Although we did suffer from the sanctions, at the same time, the aims of the sanctions against Iran could not have succeeded. And it is a good signal that the Nuclear Deal resolved such issues.
The other item is that Iran-phobia, or the atmosphere of Iran-phobia, has been broken. I think the Nuclear Deal was a win-win for both sides. Through this deal, we wanted to get our rights for (nuclear) enrichment for peaceful purposes. And the other side tried to have much more transparency (with Iran’s nuclear ambitions), which from our side was been accepted. So, I think the Nuclear Deal was a step forward. I think at the same time we are at the beginning step, so we should work together to finalize (the deal) and finish it in the right way.
As an Iranian Ambassador, what would you tell the people who fear that Iran will use the roughly $100 billion that is projected to be freed up for Iran’s use once sanctions are lifted, to buy advanced arms, or further arm or financially support Hamas, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, Houthi rebels in Yemen etc?
This is not the right question. If there is support it is moral support. Certainly we will support the innocent people in Palestine, in Yemen, in Syria. If you would like to have financial support, it is allocated for people, refugees, victims. The channels, international channels (for providing financial support), are very clear, for example with the Red Cross. So I think the question is not the correct one. I think you should ask this question to the others who are sending sophisticated weapons, financial support to groups like IS, which has a lot of money and is full of sophisticated weapons.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are historically hostile to one another. Because of this, Saudi Arabia was/is quite worried that Iran’s supposed pursuit of nuclear weapons technology was a mortal threat, and even indicated that they may pursue nuclear weapons technology themselves to keep the scale even. Do you think the Nuclear Deal will relax the tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran enough so that the two sides can ease hostility as well as possibly the intensity of the proxy wars both nations are funding or supporting in the region?
I told you, for nuclear weapons we are not in favor. The perception that this question poses I am not in favor of that either. The main priority of Iran is to have good relations with its neighbors. We would like to have a constructive friendship and collaboration with them (our neighbors). In this respect, Saudi Arabia is included. Saudi Arabia is a key country in the Islamic world. Iran is the same. All members of the Persian Gulf region are key countries in the Islamic world. Certainly, we have some differences, Differences are normal. Maybe we have some different views with regard to Yemen. But is not meant as a kind of war or proxy war. I hope the Nuclear Deal helps the stability of the region, and that it provides economic and friendship activities in terms of science, in terms of other kinds of collaboration in the area. I think this should be in our agenda and that it should be done. I am very optimistic regarding the positive effects of the Nuclear Deal. Regarding our regional collaboration, it is much better than it was before.
Iran’s supposed pursuit of nuclear weapons technology caused fear that a nuclear arms race in such a volatile region created a doomsday scenario. Even Russia was determined to avoid this and pushed for the Nuclear Deal. How instrumental was Russia’s influence in the achievement of the Nuclear Deal?
Again, I have told you as before, nuclear weapons are destructive for everybody. Anyone who tried to …..all countries are in favor of (a region without) nuclear weapons.
Israeli President Netanyahu is intensely critical of this deal. He has even referred to it as a “historic mistake”. If he were sitting with you right now, what would you want to tell him with regards to the Nuclear Deal?
I think we should not consider his views as so constructive and take him so seriously. He is a warmonger and international development shows that there is not any room for warmongers.
What would Iran like to see from the US, and the West in general, to further more peaceful and constructive relations?
We would just like to see respect. Respect for what they promised, also for what we promised. It is a bi-lateral set. And even respect for each other (as nations and peoples) because respect is very important for mutual trust, mutual understanding and solving differences, or the possible differences that may apply to our policies.
As an Iranian Ambassador, how do you, personally, feel about the Nuclear Deal? Do you feel there is room for cautious optimism?
From my point of view the Nuclear Deal should be considered in three levels. One of them is on the international level, another is on a regional level, and the last is on a bi-lateral level between Iran and Norway. In terms of international levels, I think the Nuclear Deal represents a paradigm, a new paradigm of international relations the paradigm of talks, the paradigm of negotiations based on mutual respect. It should be promoted. It should promoted at all levels – by officials, by NGOs, by think tank groups. You know, we have huge problems, that if we cannot solve them via negotiations, it will add problems to problems. We believe, and I believe personally what is happening in Syria, does not have any military solutions. The best solution for this part of the world is, again, political solutions based on talks. What has been evident is that the Nuclear Deal was a good signal for this issue.
Another point is that on the level of international relations, by solving such a problem we should have shook hands against extremism and terrorism. This is evident as a major challenge of international relations.
In terms of the regional issues, I have told you, I think, the Nuclear Deal can make steps forward on two sides. The first is the people in the region can use nuclear technology peacefully, which has very good influence in different areas, areas of scientific activities. And the second is that it will bring much more trust among the countries in the region.
And the last is with bi-lateral relations (with Norway). I think it is time for Norwegian companies to pack their baggage to pay a visit to Iran to revive previous Iranian-Norwegian collaboration, because Norwegian companies have a good reputation in Iran. The same with Iranian companies in Norway – they have a good reputation in the Norwegian market. We had a traditional collaboration in different areas. It (the Nuclear Deal) is a good signal that we can work together for better development, for better atmosphere of friendship.
And the last point, from my point of view, with the Nuclear Deal, if it has been done in the right way, in the final state, it will be a good example for how to collaborate in other areas. I think in the global village this is essential.
Iran has a large, well-educated, Western-interested population of people under-30 population. This segment of your population craves deeper interaction and ties with the West, and has been increasingly demanding freer speech, freer press and access to unfiltered information. Do you foresee that the Nuclear Deal will open doors to more Western influence in Iran? If so, does the Iranian government view this as a threat to destabilize the governance of the country? Or does Iran welcome this as an opportunity to peacefully adapt its governance to accommodate the powerful will of its significant under-30 population?
The young people of Iran are divided into many points of view. The majority of the youth in Iran, and even most Iranians, do not have good memories from some of the Western countries behaviors to Iran. Frankly speaking, what I would like to tell you is, for example, America supported Saddam (Hussein) in his attack on Iran through the use of chemical weapons. We did not retaliate (with chemical weapons) because of our culture, because of our religious beliefs. American supported the Taliban’s attack on Iran. An Iranian passenger airliner (Flight 655) was shot down by America. Sanctions are another example. Before the revolution there was a coup d’etat against Iranians by America. So, I think its normal that the people in Iran do not have a good feeling regarding American policies against Iran. At the same time, there are some among the young who think there should be much more collaboration with the West. It shows that ours is a society of free speech, free beliefs, free thinking, which I think is good. From my point of view, the Nuclear Deal is a good test, as I’ve told you. If everything is going to go in the right way, certainly, many young Iranian people would like to be in contact with many countries in the world – the West, the East, it makes no difference. The point is mutual respect, as I’ve told you many times. And I’m optimistic that by the expansion of bi-lateral relations between Iran and other countries, this chance will be open much more.
Thank you very much, Ambassador Nili, for taking the time for this interview. While we still have questions regarding the topic of human rights in Iran, given this budding stage in the re-establishment of constructive and respectful ties between Iran, the US and the rest of the world, the openness and respect that you demonstrated in this interview is a highly positive first step.