What Iran’s Foreign Minister told German TV about Israel, Iran

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Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gave a long interview to Germany’s Phoenix TV on Sunday (February 2) in Berlin, following his attendance at the Munich Security Summit.

Al-Monitor has transcribed portions of the interview, conducted in English by ZDF journalist Elmar Theveßen, concerning Zarif’s comnents on Israel.

Israeli media reports over the weekend said that Zarif in the interview suggested that if the Israelis and Palestinians reached a peace settlement, then Iranian recognition of Israel might be possible.

But as we listened to the interview, the video of which was released in the original English on Tuesday, it was the interviewer who asked Zarif if Israel and Palestine reached a resolution, would Iran then be prepared to recognize the state of Israel. And Zarif’s answer was more equivocal. While not explicitly ruling it out, Zarif said it was up to the Palestinians to determine if they were satisfied with the agreement, and that Iran would not interfere:

Phoenix TV: So let me turn this around, sir. Would it be fair to say then, would you agree, that If the Palestinian issue can be solved between Israel and the Palestinians, would then Iran be willing to recognize the state of Israel?

Zarif: You see, that is a sovereign decision that Iran will make. But it will have no consequences on the situation on the ground in the Middle East. If the Palestinians are happy with the solution, then nobody, nobody outside Palestine, could prevent that from taking place. The problem for the past 60 years is that the Palestinians have not been happy. The Palestinians have not been satisfied. And they have every right not to be satisfied, because their most basic rights continue to be violated and people are not ready to redress those.

Here is the transcript of the relevant portion of the interview, from about 20 to 30 minutes in, below the jump:

Zarif: When it comes to Israel, we have made it very clear that they are trying to create a smokescreen behind which they could justify their violation of the rights of the Palestinians. The problem in the Middle East, the problem in Palestine, is that the rights of the Palestinians are being violated, trampled upon. That there are more international resolutions, from the Security Council, from the General Assembly, from the Human Rights Council, from all bodies dealings with these issues. And this is simply an excuse, a smokescreen behind which you can use this, they use this, as a scapegoat in order to simply divert international attention from what is happening in those territories. And it may be useful for a period of time, but it will not solve the problem.

Phoenix TV: But if your assumption is that in order to advance that we have to sit down and talk about all those things. Well, Israel is one your neighbors

Zarif: It is not. …No. We have nothing that needs to be discussed with them. We are happy in the neighborhood that we have. Our security is tied to the countries in the region. They have different security concerns. There are different issues involved there. We are not involved in that region.  They should settle it among themselves. It’s an issue that needs to be settled there. ..

At the end of the day, it is the rights of the Palestinian people which have been violated, continue to be violated for the last 60 years. I believe simply adding extraneous issues to the very fundamental issue of human rights, issue of the the right of self-determination, simply is a smokescreen which will hide the actual problem. And people are welcome to use smokescreens. But it will not solve the problem.

Phoenix TV: Sir, With all due respect, I am not talking about smokescreens. But you said that Iran felt, in the past at least, threatened by Israel. Israel on the other hand feels threatened by Iran. Why not sit down at table, maybe with the help of others, and sort out those differences.

Zarif: Again, Iran does not feel threatened by anybody. Iran does not accept, and I believe nobody else should, some countries to use illegal measures to threaten the use of force against us.

Phoenix TV: [Former Iranian] Pres. Ahmadinejad called for the annihilation of Israel.

Zarif: Those statements have never been made by this government. It is very clear that … the Netanyahu administration has used statements of that nature in order to create again a smokescreen for purposes to avoid addressing the real issues.

The real issues: that is the deprivation of the rights of the Palestinians. I believe that people can provide excuses, people can use those excuses, but excuses are different from solutions.

Phoenix TV: For the rest of the world, sir, it looks like a little bit of a disappointment, because many people were expecting from the new government in Iran that there would be some movement on that question. Because President Rouhani for example he congratulated Jews on [Jewish] new year’s.

Zarif: I did too.

Phoenix TV: You did too. On the question of denial of the Holocaust, which Ahmadinejad was known for, you were also on the record saying that was the former government. Would you go on the record and say that of course there was the Holocaust and millions of Jews were killed.

Zarif: Well let me make it clear.  I come from a tradition where, according to Islamic scripture, the killing of one individual is unforgivable, let alone killing millions. A horrifying tragedy occurred and it should never occur again.

But that should not provide an excuse for violation of the rights of the Palestinian people. We have made it very clear. You know that Iran is host to the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside of Israel. Those Jews have representatives in the parliament. So when I congratulated the Jewish people around the world on Rosh Hashanah, I thought I was congratulating my own countrymen as well as other members of the Jewish community. And I believe, we have the greatest respect for Jews in Iran and outside Iran. We have nothing against the Jews.  But we are against violations of people’s rights. And we believe that no excuse could be used in order to trample upon the rights of the …[others]

Phoenix TV: So let me turn this around, sir. Would it be fair to say then, would you agree, that If the Palestinian issue can be solved between Israel and the Palestinians would then Iran be willing to recognize the state of Israel?

Zarif: You see, that is a sovereign decision that Iran will make. But it will have no consequences on the situation on the ground in the Middle East. If the Palestinians are happy with the solution, then nobody, nobody outside Palestine, could prevent that from taking place. The problem for the past 60 years is that the Palestinians have not been happy. The Palestinians have not been satisfied. And they have every right not to be satisfied, because their most basic rights continue to be violated and people are not ready to address those.