Iran’s ‘Only Crime Is We Decided Not to Fold’

Pepe Escobar reports on a searing account by Iran’s foreign minister of his country’s relations with the U.S.

By Pepe Escobar
in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan
The Asia Times  

Just in time to shine a light on what’s behind the latest sanctions from Washington, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a speech at the annual Astana Club meeting in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, delivered a searing account of Iran-U.S. relations to a select audience of high-ranking diplomats, former presidents and analysts.

Zarif was the main speaker in a panel titled “The New Concept of Nuclear Disarmament.” Keeping to a frantic schedule, he rushed in and out of the round table to squeeze in a private conversation with Kazakh First President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

During the panel, moderator Jonathan Granoff, president of the Global Security Institute, managed to keep a Pentagon analyst’s questioning of Zafir from turning into a shouting match.

Previously, I had extensively discussed with Syed Rasoul Mousavi, minister for West Asia at the Iran Foreign Ministry, myriad details on Iran’s stance everywhere from the Persian Gulf to Afghanistan. I was at the James Bond-ish round table of the Astana Club, as I moderated two other panels, one on multipolar Eurasia and the post-INF environment and another on Central Asia (the subject of further columns).

Zarif’s intervention was extremely forceful. He stressed how Iran “complied with every agreement and it got nothing;” how “our people believe we have not gained from being part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action; how inflation is out of control; how the value of the rial dropped 70 percent “because of ‘coercive measures’ – not sanctions because they are illegal.”

He spoke without notes, exhibiting absolute mastery of the inextricable swamp that is U.S.-Iran relations. It turned out, in the end, to be a bombshell. Here are highlights.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, at the annual Astana Club meeting in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, earlier this month. (Asia Times/Pepe Escobar)

Zarif’s story began back during 1968 negotiations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,  with the stance of the “Non-Aligned Movement to accept its provisions only if at a later date” – which happened to be 2020 – “there would be nuclear disarmament.” Out of 180 non-aligned countries, “90 countries co-sponsored the indefinite extension of the NPT.”

Moving to the state of play now, he mentioned how the United States and France are “relying on nuclear weapons as a means of deterrence, which is disastrous for the entire world.” Iran on the other hand “is a country that believes nuclear weapons should never be owned by any country,” due to “strategic calculations based on our religious beliefs.”

Zarif stressed how “from 2003 to 2012 Iran was under the most severe UN sanctions that have ever be imposed on any country that did not have nuclear weapons. The sanctions that were imposed on Iran from 2009 to 2012 were greater than the sanctions that were imposed on North Korea, which had nuclear weapons.”

Discussing the negotiations for the JCPOA that started in 2012, Zarif noted that Iran had started from the premise that “we should be able to develop as much nuclear energy as we wanted” while the U.S. had started with the premise that Iran should never have any centrifuges.” That was the “zero-enrichment” option.

Zarif, in public, always comes back to the point that “in every zero-sum game everybody loses.” He admits the JCPOA is “a difficult agreement. It’s not a perfect agreement. It has elements I don’t like and it has elements the United States does not like.” In the end, “we reached the semblance of a balance.”

Zarif offered a quite enlightening parallel between the NPT and the JCPOA: “The NPT was based on three pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament and access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Basically, the disarmament part of NPT is all but dead, non-proliferation is barely surviving and peaceful use of nuclear energy is under serious threat,” he observed.

Meanwhile, “JCPOA was based on two pillars: economic normalization of Iran, which is reflected in Security Council resolution 2231, and – at the same time – Iran observing certain limits on nuclear development.”

Crucially, Zarif stressed there is nothing “sunset” about these limits, as Washington argues: “We will be committed to not producing nuclear weapons forever.”

All About Distrust

Then came Trump’s fateful May 2018 decision: “When President Trump decided to withdraw from the JCPOA, we triggered the dispute resolution mechanism.” Referring to a common narrative that describes him and former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as obsessed with sacrificing everything to get a deal, Zarif said: “We negotiated this deal based on distrust. That’s why you have a mechanism for disputes.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with Hossein Fereydoun, the brother of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, July 14, 2015. (State Department)

Still, “the commitments of the EU and the commitments of the United States are independent. Unfortunately, the EU believed they could procrastinate. Now we are at a situation where Iran is receiving no benefit, nobody is implementing their part of the bargain, only Russia and China are fulfilling partially their commitments, because the United States even prevents them from fully fulfilling their commitments. France proposed last year to provide $15 billion to Iran for the oil we could sell from August to December. The United States prevented the European Union even from addressing this.”

The bottom line, then, is that “other members of the JCPOA are in fact not implementing their commitments.” The solution “is very easy. Go back to the non-zero sum. Go back to implementing your commitments. Iran agreed that it would negotiate from Day One.”

Zarif made the prediction that “if the Europeans still believe that they can take us to the Security Council and snap back resolutions they’re dead wrong. Because that is a remedy if there was a violation of the JCPOA. There was no violation of the JCPOA. We took these actions in response to European and American non-compliance. This is one of the few diplomatic achievements of the last many decades. We simply need to make sure that the two pillars exist: that there is a semblance of balance.”

This led him to a possible ray of light among so much doom and gloom: “If what was promised to Iran in terms of economic normalization is delivered, even partially, we are prepared to show good faith and come back to the implementation of the JCPOA. If it’s not, then unfortunately we will continue this path, which is a path of zero-sum, a path leading to a loss for everybody, but a path that we have no other choice but to follow.”
Time for HOPE

Zarif identifies three major problems in our current geopolitical madness: a “zero-sum mentality on international relations that doesn’t work anymore;” winning by excluding others (“We need to establish dialogue, we need to establish cooperation”); and “the belief that the more arms we purchase, the more security we can bring to our people.”

He was adamant that there’s a possibility of implementing “a new paradigm of cooperation in our region,” referring to Nazarbayev’s efforts: a real Eurasian model of security. But that, Zarif explained, “requires a neighborhood policy. We need to look at our neighbors as our friends, as our partners, as people without whom we cannot have security. We cannot have security in Iran if Afghanistan is in turmoil. We cannot have security in Iran if Iraq is in turmoil. We cannot have security in Iran if Syria is in turmoil. You cannot have security in Kazakhstan if the Persian Gulf region is in turmoil.”

He noted that, based on just such thinking, “President Rouhani this year, in the UN General Assembly, offered a new approach to security in the Persian Gulf region, called HOPE, which is the acronym for Hormuz Peace Initiative – or Hormuz Peace Endeavor so we can have the HOPE abbreviation.”

HOPE, explained Zarif, “is based on international law, respect of territorial integrity; based on accepting a series of principles and a series of confidence building measures; and we can build on it as you [addressing Nazarbayev] built on it in Eurasia and Central Asia. We are proud to be a part of the Eurasia Economic Union, we are neighbors in the Caspian, we have concluded last year, with your leadership, the legal convention of the Caspian Sea, these are important development that happened on the northern part of Iran. We need to repeat them in the southern part of Iran, with the same mentality that we can’t exclude our neighbors. We are either doomed or privileged to live together for the rest of our lives. We are bound by geography. We are bound by tradition, culture, religion and history.” To succeed, “we need to change our mindset.”
Age of Hegemony Gone 

Tea Party Rally against the Iran Nuclear Agreement with Donald Trump as main speaker, Sept. 9, 2015. (YouTube)

It all comes down to the main reason U.S. foreign policy just can’t get enough of Iran demonization. Zarif has no doubts: “There is still an arms embargo against Iran on the way. But we are capable of shooting down a U.S. drone spying in our territory. We are trying simply to be independent. We never said we will annihilate Israel. Somebody said Israel will be annihilated. We never said we will do it.”

It was, Zarif said, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who took ownership of that threat, saying,

“I was the only one against the JCPOA.” Netanyahu “managed to destroy the JCPOA. What is the problem? The problem is we decided not to fold. That is our only crime. We had a revolution against a government that was supported by the United States, imposed on our country by the United States, [that] tortured our people with the help of the United States, and never received a single human rights condemnation, and now people are worried why they say ‘Death to America?’ We say death to these policies, because they have brought nothing but this farce. What did they bring to us? If somebody came to the United States, removed your president, imposed a dictator who killed your people, wouldn’t you say death to that country?”

Zarif inevitably had to evoke Mike Pompeo: “Today the secretary of state of the United States says publicly: ‘If Iran wants to eat, it has to obey the United States.’ This is a war crime. Starvation is a crime against humanity. It’s a newspeak headline. If Iran wants its people to eat, it has to follow what he said. He says, ‘Death to the entire Iranian people.’”

By then the atmosphere across the huge round table was electric. One could hear a pin drop – or, rather, the mini sonic booms coming from high up in the shallow dome via the system devised by star architect Norman Foster, heating the high-performance glass to melt the snow.

Zarif went all in: “What did we do the United States? What did we do to Israel? Did we make their people starve? Who is making our people starve? Just tell me. Who is violating the nuclear agreement? Because they did not like Obama? Is that a reason to destroy the world, just because you don’t like a president?”

Iran’s only crime, he said, “is that we decided to be our own boss. And that crime – we are proud of it. And we will continue to be. Because we have seven millennia of civilization. We had an empire that ruled the world, and the life of that empire was probably seven times the entire life of the United States. So – with all due respect to the United States empire; I owe my education to the United States – we don’t believe that the United States is an empire that will last. The age of empires is long gone. The age of hegemony is long gone. We now have to live in a world without hegemony – regional hegemony or global hegemony.”

Pepe Escobar, a veteran Brazilian journalist, is the correspondent-at-large for Hong Kong-based Asia Times. His latest book is 2030.” Follow him on Facebook.

This article is from The Asia Times.

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22 comments for “Iran’s ‘Only Crime Is We Decided Not to Fold’

  1. December 1, 2019 at 10:44

    In the future, when mankind has successfully climbed the highest consciousness mountain, stood at the Oneness summit, and abolished unnecessary, suicidal, tragic war forever, – perhaps very soon or perhaps years from today – men, women and children worldwide will look back on the 2019 time period, and ask themselves:

    “What on Earth were those people thinking?”


  2. Tim Jones
    November 30, 2019 at 10:29

    Iran certainly has rights that need to be honored. No question about that. Keep in mind however, that the government has lots of secret police who monitor minorities, especially the Bahai religion there. They keep a comprehensive database on minorities and they do torture and execute some. Still, the United States is the greatest oppressor and violator of human rights in the world. As Zarif says, and most of us here agree, that the US empire will not last. The US struggles to keep reserve currency status, but most economists agree that it will eventually lose that status. That is key to its current status in the world.

  3. Red Robbo
    November 29, 2019 at 04:14

    ‘He spoke without notes, exhibiting absolute mastery of the inextricable swamp that is U.S.-Iran relations.’

    I am sure this is of great comfort to the imprisoned trade unionists. Sadly it comes too late for the many thousands who have already been executed, including minors, under a theocratic dictatorship where those convicted adultery, alcohol consumption, blasphemy, burglary, homosexuality, pornography and prostitution, along with, of course, political dissidence, as well as many other ‘crimes’, can pay the ultimate price. We must not forget the state sanctioned use of juveniles as troops during the mass slaughter that was the Iran-Iraq war or oppression of women. Add chronic corruption, fatuous yet often fatal fatwas, and obvious class division and we can say the 99% did not vote for this!

      November 29, 2019 at 17:02

      The speech and article were not about domestic Iranian politics but about US-Iran relations.

  4. Zhu
    November 28, 2019 at 20:01

    Yep. Being in subordinate is always a crime in Uncle Sam’s eyes!

  5. November 28, 2019 at 04:41

    “…The disarmament part of the NPT is all but dead, non-proliferation is barely surviving…”
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

    This is perhaps the most succinct description of international relations today, as the human race moves steadfast towards Armageddon.

  6. vinnieoh
    November 27, 2019 at 17:22

    Thanks so much Pepe and CN. Zarif says what I’ve been on about for some time. Won’t hear this anywhere in the official media.

    They can say these truths because, unlike many of their neighbors, they are being kicked by the boot, rather than under the boot of US imperialism.

  7. November 27, 2019 at 14:45

    Evidence again that USA is the EVIL EMPIRE on this planet. On top of that Washington’s politicians are incompetent & liars & cannot be trusted. Their form of diplomacy is replaced by ‘bullying’, threatening & violating ALL international laws & sovereignty of nations because Americans lack ALL intelligence & negotiations skills!

  8. Theo
    November 27, 2019 at 12:37

    A good article and a strong and impressive speech of Zarif. Thank you.

  9. Hank
    November 27, 2019 at 10:47

    Looking at that picture of the Trump rally I just wonder how many of those people ARE useful idiots who don’t know a thing about Iran’s history but just go along because they are “pro-Trumpers”. If the Americans populace could somehow throw off the yoke of propaganda and see things for what they really are, I DO believe that they could find a power that they have never had before, and that is the power of mobilizing together to rid this nation of military/industrialism, the selling of criminal and needless wars! The USA keeps on showing the rest of the non-braindead world how it cannot be trusted under ANY circumstances. It is going to take a President with real balls to stand up to the elephant in the room, Israel, and put Americans’ interests first and foremost before even starting to act as water boy for war criminals around the world, particularly Israel!

  10. Skip Scott
    November 27, 2019 at 09:38

    Thanks to Pepe Escobar and CN for this report. I’ve noticed that the MSM never has any lengthy quotes by its mandated enemies. Yet for those of us who bother to access them via sites like CN, their words are obviously true and rational.

    The PNAC was an unattainable pipe-dream by a group of ego maniacs. It is time that we demand our governments seek to wage peace in a multi-polar world before their desperation leads to the end of humanity.

  11. Sally Mitcheell
    November 27, 2019 at 02:40

    Too right stay strong and united Iran. Democracy is crumbling in America and they so need an honourable leader right now

  12. Lily
    November 27, 2019 at 00:06

    Zarif, rooted in a culture that has seven millennia of zivilisation, made it very clear that Iran is still an empire. A true empire which is humane and wise as it does know what is best for humanity. A true empire which is prepared to be just a part in a multipolar world without any of the privileges the US maintains to posess. It shows us the only way for mankind to survive on this planet.

    Thank you, Pepe Escobar, for an impressive and very convincing essay which is also quite touching.

  13. TomG
    November 26, 2019 at 22:22

    Thank you, Mr. Escobar yet again for such an informative post. I wish this would be required reading for every high school and college student to open the eyes of our young people. It is clear we old lot make the mess and perpetuate it year after year. Would that I had any hope of change in our policies, but it certainly isn’t in our two party war and sanction parties.

    I certainly believe that Zarif is right that we as an empire shall go down into the dust heap of history and it can’t be too soon for the sake of all that is right and just.

  14. November 26, 2019 at 22:21

    Another great Pepe Escobar article.

    Entirely unrelated topic: will there be a Sam Adams Award given this year? I was fortunate enough to attend last year’s ceremony honoring Lt. Colonel Karen Kwaitkowski. I follow Ray McGovern on FB and Twitter but have not seen any mention of an award ceremony for Dec 2019. Is the current hostile climate towards whistleblowers an issue?

  15. Drew Hunkins
    November 26, 2019 at 18:08

    “Iran’s ‘Only Crime Is We Decided Not to Fold’”


    As I’ve stated many times on this site, ANY nation-state that tries to sever itself from Wall Street or the Fortune 500, or that gives diplomatic support to the Palestinians or has the chutzpah to criticize the land thieves of Israel will feel the wrath of the Washington imperialists. This wrath comes by way of massive propaganda campaigns brought to you by the paid shills in the corporate media. This wrath also entails encirclement, embargoes, sanctions, proxy wars and destabilization campaigns. If all this doesn’t work to topple the “tyrant who gases his own people! Invades Ukraine! Starves his population! Hacks elections! Has his soldiers rape the women! Kills babies in incubators!…”, an outright invasion by the Washington-Zio militarists could occur, but only if the targeted nation-state does not possess nuclear weapons. Ergo, it’s not a bad idea if you’re the leader of an independent state to build some nuclear weapons pronto since it’s the only thing that can likely stave off a bloody invasion. Plus, you’ll inadvertently save the lives of thousands of hard pressed working kids in the U.S. heartland who have no desire to die and suffer PTSD in some Middle Eastern desert or East Asian forest. Besides these American youngsters are too busy holding down two jobs to make rent, the car note, pay off student loans and credit card debt, and cover health co-pays, deductibles and premiums.

    • Lily
      November 27, 2019 at 00:13

      Thank you, Drew Hunkins, for this great comment.

    • michael
      November 27, 2019 at 07:09

      Agreed! Monsters like Hillary Clinton chortling over Ghaddafi’s demise and Bolton, Pompeo and Pence blathering about the Libya Model shows what happens to non -nuclear armed regimes, while Kim and North Korea trudge on defiantly under sanctions.

      Iran’s people have been terribly and repeatedly wronged since Mosaddegh was overthrown by the CIA in 1953, one of very many “nation building” exercises. However Zarif also must realize that if Trump wins re-election (despite whatever private citizen Kerry advises), it will be time to turn on the charm, maybe build a Trump Tower or two, and renegotiate. Flattery rather than disdain works best on American politicians, pride comes before a fall, and with Saudi Arabia and Israel arrayed against Iran, why tempt fate with America’s deranged military/ intelligence?

    • AnneR
      November 27, 2019 at 07:37

      Indeed, DH, to refuse to bow to DC diktats, to refuse to “know your place” in the “world order,” to deny Anglo-American corporate-capitalists free rein in your country to suck your resources dry, despoil your natural ecosystems, replace your home developed and produced foodstuffs and non-edible goods with those that directly benefit western companies…. Gotta be starved, bombed, shot, water and other resources devastated. Because you won’t recognize “who” is in charge, “who” are the exceptional (as utterly “good” well meaning humanitarian) beacons on the hills…

      One can only conclude that the Anglo-American (and Israel [Occupied Palestine]) world is filled to the gills with sociopathic psychopaths. Greed-drenched, Moloch worshiping (so long as “over there” and not “here”) grotesques.

    • November 27, 2019 at 09:15


    • November 27, 2019 at 10:29

      100 % Right !

  16. Jeff Harrison
    November 26, 2019 at 17:48

    And the crowd goes wild cheering one of the few countries to tell the US to relocate it where the sun don’t shine.

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