Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Iranian FM Manuchehr Mottaki on British Sailors, Regional Security | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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(Asharq Al-Awsat) Let us start with the hot issue, which is the detention of the British sailors could you give us more information about this issue, and the reason behind their apprehension?

(Mottaki) Last Friday, while these sailors were in the Iranian territorial waters after having crossed the Iranian maritime borders, they were apprehended by the Iranian border forces. The sailors went very deep into the Iranian territorial waters. Since their boat was equipped with sophisticated devices enabling them to identify their position at sea, it was not that difficult for them to know where they were, and to realize that they had penetrated the Iranian maritime borders. And since the British [officials] refuse to recognize and admit this mistake by their soldiers, soon a competent Iranian official will explain what had actually happened on the ground, and will give the coordinates and specifications of the site.

First, the British side should recognize that a mistake had been made. Second, a British request for contact through consular channels should be made.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) You stressed from the outset that the British were apprehended in your territorial waters, but London has been stressing that they were apprehended in Iraqi territorial waters, and so did the Iraqi officials. How can you explain this Iraqi-British agreement on the one hand, and the Iranian rejection [of it] on the other?

(Mottaki) This is not an issue that can be endorsed, pushed aside or rejected through claims and allegations. The position of any boat or ship at sea can be recorded by sophisticated and very precise devices. This is why the relevant officials will very soon confirm this truth through the presentation of maps and confirmed information.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Before we turn the page on this point, we would like to know about the fate of the British woman who was arrested with the group of sailors, and about whom you said that she would be released within the next few days. We would also like to know about the fate of the British sailors themselves. Will they be referred to justice, or is there an Iranian intent to have them swapped with Iranian diplomats detained in Iraq?

(Mottaki) Britain’s recognition of the mistake will help it find a solution to the problem. Politicizing the issue, media campaigns and counter-campaigns and so on, make the issue even more difficult. We’d rather have this issue dealt with through true, sound and non-political cooperation on the British side. As for swapping, the two issues have nothing to do with each other because they [the Iranian diplomats in Iraq and the British sailors in Iran] have been detained in totally different conditions.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Some say that while the UN Security Council is discussing new resolutions stipulating sanctions, Iran chose to flex its muscles through undertaking the arrest of the sailors.

(Mottaki) This device is called GBS [as published]. This kind of remarks has not been included in this device. It indicates the site and the position where the sailors were apprehended.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) You have attended the opening session of the 19th Arab summit in Riyadh. Where does Tehran stand with regard to Arab calls aimed to protect the security of the region from dangers?

(Mottaki) We have seen an important meeting in Riyadh. The importance of the meeting was enhanced by the presence of a big number of non-Arab Islamic countries and other ones. I held many meetings with various leaders in the last 24 hours. It is good that the Arab League created pleasant and appropriate atmosphere for the promotion of cooperation and interaction between the Arab countries on the one had, and non-Arab Islamic countries on the other.

We think and hope that cooperation between Iran and the Arab countries should see a comprehensive development to cover all fields, including security cooperation. Security in the region serves the interests of all, while security breaches harm everybody. Therefore, I have chosen a specific subject which I would like to discuss with the Arab leaders. This is the issue of security and defense cooperation treaty. Yesterday, I held talks with Prince Saud al-Faisal about a variety of subjects, including that of security cooperation and the Arab-Iranian defense treaty between Tehran and the countries of the Persian Gulf region.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) The Arab leaders have decided the creation of an Arab security pact. Do you think it is appropriate to propose the consolidation of security between you and the Arab countries when they have just agreed joint defense and security cooperation between them?

(Mottaki) We are tied to some of these countries by bilateral security agreements. Now, we want to give these a collective nature, and this does not contradict nor does it oppose the various existing collective security treaties and pacts.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Indeed, it does not. However, it may show that when Tehran felt that the Arab countries were preparing to establish a security pact between them, it made another parallel proposal particularly at a time when it is being cordoned off and opposed by the international community. This comes at a time when there is talk of unifying Arab positions and consolidating security to oppose the Iranian expansion?

(Mottaki) These ideas and perceptions do not cross our minds. Good Arab-Iranian ties serve both parties’ interests equally. Any infringement of the Arab-Iranian relations harms Iran and the Arab world. Moreover, we stand with the Arab countries and we are heading towards giving a comprehensive character to relations between all of us. I mean by that the political, economic, social, cultural and security ties, etc. We would like to mobilize all the resources available to us for the sake of cooperation between us.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Let us move to the Iraqi question. We can see the security deterioration experienced by the Iraqi street. What is the solution from the Iranian point of view to eradicate the security deterioration there?

(Mottaki) With regard to the situation in Iraq, we think that the management of security issues should be transferred to the Iraqi government. Outside Iraq, be it the neighboring countries or the wider circle of countries, they should all increase their support to Iraq on the security level by consolidating it. Our assessment of the Baghdad meeting is positive, and this applies to all the other steps taken in this direction.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Regarding the Baghdad meeting, it was announced at the end of the meeting that Zalmay Khalilzad [US ambassador to Iraq] had met the Iranian delegation taking part in the talks. Could you tell us about the main outcome of that meeting?

(Mottaki) The two sides did not hold any specific talks on any issues between them. As regards the talks during the meeting itself and the issues on the table, there were views expressed by both US and Iranian sides, but there were no negotiations, just an expression of views and positions.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Various accusations are currently leveled at Tehran about supporting rebel movements in a number of countries, the latest of which was Yemen’s accusation of Iran for supporting the Huthi movement. And what about reports saying that the USA had sent a secret letter of protest to Tehran for providing Iraqi militias with anti-body armor bullets?

(Mottaki) There is a famous saying which says: If you want people to believe your lies, you must exaggerate them to a maximum. One of the Arab foreign ministers told me: In the Iranian presidential elections, you have gone back to the period before 27 years ago. My answer was that as far as the attachment and commitment to revolutionary and Islamic values and principles are concerned, this is true. However, there are two important differences between the current situation and the period before 27 years ago. The first difference: We are different from the men who were there 27 years ago. We have gained experience and expertise, and we are now able to understand many of the tricks played by some countries against countries like ours. The second point: Immediately after the victory of our revolution, while we were busy with its aftermath and developments, we were surprised with propaganda campaigns against us alleging that Iran wanted to interfere in other peoples’ affairs. So, we made huge efforts to remove the impact of these poisonous propaganda campaigns against Iran. Our relations with Islamic countries are based on brotherly grounds, and we are convinced that whenever a problem occurs between two Islamic countries, the two sides should sit round the negotiation table. As regards the Huthi accusations, the Yemeni foreign minister was in Tehran two weeks ago, and our relations with all the Islamic countries are good. We are also beginning to lay good foundations with the Arab world to give a chance to our relations to have a good grounding. Those who are spreading and spitting poison against these relations come from outside our region and are working [against us] from outside.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) There is talk about Tehran’s efforts to export revolution through its support for rebel movements in a number of Arab countries. What is your answer to that?

(Mottaki) Revolution is not merchandise that can be exported. Movements like Hamas should be supported by all the Islamic countries, because this movement is being opposed by the enemies of Islam. We have good and strong relations with the Islamic countries.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What about the Huthis in Yemen and the armed militias in Iraq?

(Mottaki) The Huthi issue is a domestic Yemeni affair which should be dealt with by the Yemeni government through resorting to wisdom. Iran has nothing to do with it. As for the Iraqi scene, we vehemently oppose the internal Iraq-Iraq conflict. We consider the Sunni-Shiite war as sedition whose roots are growing outside the Islamic world. The Americans and the British planned this sedition and conflict after having sustained a defeat in Iraq.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) With regard to the nuclear issue, what is the extent of the economic sanctions imposed on Iran because of it?

(Mottaki) We do not experience any specific impact of these sanctions. Therefore, we are going ahead with our activities until we recover all our rights.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What was Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s reason for renouncing to go the Security Council, despite the fact that the visa had reached him [albeit] late? Was it out of arrogance and a position of strength? Or does he not care about the Security Council sanctions against his country?

(Mottaki) The visas for the flight crew arrived at the last minute. This is the full story.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) The Iranian position regarding Uranium enrichment is well known. Would it be possible for Iran to reconsider its position and make concessions in this respect following the sanctions?

(Mottaki) The legitimate Iranian activities will continue.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Does this mean that you have illegitimate activities in Iran?

(Mottaki) Since we are saying that all the activities are legitimate, then they will continue.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) You were quick to welcome the Gulf countries’ announcement of a nuclear program for peaceful purposes. You also expressed your readiness to give assistance to these Gulf countries. How can you explain this?

(Mottaki) We always quickly welcome good initiatives in the region. By the same token, we quickly show our opposition to bad ones. From this premise, we welcomed the good idea announced by these countries to acquire nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. However, we were quick to condemn the Iraqi move to occupy Kuwait, only 18 hours after the invasion, which made us the first country that condemned this act. There is a proverb that says: “Procrastination is fraught with problems.”

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Indeed, but your position regarding the invasion of Kuwait was natural, since you had a long war with Iraq.

(Mottaki) War had already ended by then. Moreover, Kuwait had actively supported Iraq against us. Our position [against its occupation] came in defense of legality and justice. Iran has always been part of the solution in the region, and has never been part of the problem.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) It not a secret that Iran strongly supports Lebanese Hezbollah. Why does Iran not support the state, if it truly wants to support Lebanon, not Hezbollah?

(Mottaki) Iran gives assistance to Lebanon as a whole, and it does the same with all the Palestinians. We are still convinced that a solution must urgently be found for the Lebanese problem. This should take place without any external interference, but the various Lebanese parties must to receive help to initiate a rapprochement between the positions of the various parties.