Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Moscow, December 12, 2020
Question (retranslated from Farsi): Mr Minister, thank you for taking the time to have a frank conversation about our bilateral relations and other issues in an interview with the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).
Iran and Russia maintain close ties in politics, defence and security. Why cannot our economic relations attain progress commensurate to the level of our bilateral relations in other spheres, despite our leaders’ determination? Of course, both parties can be critical of each other’s activities, but maybe there is a way to remove obstacles to expanding our economic ties?
Sergey Lavrov: I cannot agree with your interpretation of the problem. We are categorically opposed to any attempts to impose illegal unilateral sanctions, let alone apply them extraterritorially. We put forth our position very clearly when the US administration withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme and announced sanctions in May 2018. We do not accept the legitimacy of unilateral sanctions and are taking practical actions to support Iran. In fact, we are probably doing more than any other country. I cannot provide concrete examples, because this is quite sensitive information, but Tehran is well aware if what we are doing. Putting it in figures, we are talking about billions of dollars. We are collaborating in all spheres, from agriculture to information technology.
According to official data, our trade increased by over 20 percent last year and by 8 percent in the first six months of 2020, when the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was already considerable. There are hardly any other countries with which our trade did not decrease but increased amid coronavirus restrictions. We are actively increasing imports from the Islamic Republic of Iran. They are growing faster than our exports to Iran. The Interim Agreement between Iran and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which became effective in 2019, is aimed at creating conditions for opening up the huge market of the EAEU states to Iran.
I think you should provide more objective information about trade and economic ties between our countries to the people of Iran.
Question (retranslated from Farsi): You have answered part of my second question, about the EAEU. Indeed, we are using the Interim Agreement in our ties with the EAEU, but there is a problem with returning Iranian businesses to Russia. There is a great degree of uncertainty regarding this.
What can be done to remove any pegs so that we can use Iran’s national currency in this sphere of our interaction? How can we raise banking restrictions to our cooperation?
Sergey Lavrov: There is no problem with the return of Iranian businesses to Russia. There are Russian laws on foreign investment in the national economy, which set out the parameters of activities of foreign economic operators and business people in Russia. Everything else depends on the interests of the partners in Iran and Russia.
We would like to see more joint projects implemented. Very favourable conditions have been created for this not just in Russia but also in the other EAEU member states.
I can provide concrete figures regarding this. The Interim Agreement between the EAEU and Iran came into effect barely a year ago, in October 2019. In the first six months after that, EAEU-Iran trade went up by nearly 15 percent. Exports from Iran to the EAEU are increasing more energetically. In the first nine months of 2020, Iran’s exports to the EAEU states increased by some 30 percent despite the pandemic. It is the world’s best result when it comes to increasing exports amid the coronavirus fallout.
I am sure that we have potential for further increasing our trade, economic and investment ties. There is also military-technical cooperation, which traditionally account for a considerable share of our partnership. We will be able to use this potential even better when we move on from the Interim Agreement to a free trade agreement between the EAEU and Iran. This is the next step on which our experts are working.
As for national currencies used in mutual settlements, the priority for Russia, as well as Iran, is to stop using dollars, whose position in the international monetary system the United States is abusing. More and more countries are coming to see this, realising that their dependence on the dollar can be turned against them any day, just as it happened to the Islamic Republic of Iran. To date, it is not the US dollar but the Russian rouble that is the main currency for settlements between our countries. The use of national currencies is our goal, and not only within the EAEU and in relations with its partners. We are also discussing this possibility with our other colleagues within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), BRICS and other platforms. I can assure you that we will also carry on this policy in relations with our Iranian colleagues.
Question (retranslated from Farsi): Given that, on the one hand, the Americans, based on a unilateral approach in the international arena, are introducing sanctions against many countries, including Iran and Russia, while, on the other, there is a new “potential” of so-called “countries eligible for sanctions,” isn’t it high time for nations exposed to sanctions to form a club so that their economies complement each other?
Sergey Lavrov: This problem has two aspects. First, how to oppose and neutralise the adverse impact on economic ties of the unilateral, illegitimate sanctions imposed by the United States, the EU and their allies. The second aspect is related to international law. We should increasingly emphasise the illegitimacy of these actions, including at the UN.
As far as the economic impact is concerned, we have succeeded in preventing our trade and economic cooperation from shrinking, including in Iran-EAEU relations. Indeed, this cooperation is growing, including due to the renunciation of the US dollar and a focus on using national currencies in mutual payments and employing new creative patterns of economic collaboration. This works. I am confident that we will seek new ways to ignore the adverse economic effect of sanctions. In a situation where these tools have become habitual for our Western colleagues, we cannot trust them or depend on them as on reliable partners. We should rely on the capabilities of countries that firmly abide by the principles of international law, countries whose reliability cannot be doubted.
A campaign must gain momentum at the UN and other multilateral venues for denouncing these practices and promoting a common awareness of the need to stop them. For many years, Russia, Iran and an overwhelming majority of UN members have voted in support of a resolution on the illegitimacy of the economic embargo of Cuba. Only two or three UN members, along with the United States, are not supportive of the resolution.
Our joint efforts have helped to form what you term as a “club of supporters of justice” in the world economic affairs, which is categorically opposed to these practices. The office of UN Special Rapporteur on the Negative Impact of the Unilateral Coercive Measures has been established. This important institution should be supported in every way. It has drafted several reports based on the principles of the UN Charter, primarily equality, peaceful settlement of disputes, and non-interference in internal affairs. We will certainly continue our efforts in this area.
It is important to emphasise our constructive position. We are not forcing anyone to do anything. We want an open economic system. Globalisation and everything connected with it, including the functioning of the global economic system, are primarily the creations of Western countries legitimised through the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. They are seeking to use these rules, ones largely created by the West, to the detriment of the free economic system. I think those who are doing this should be ashamed.
Question (retranslated from Farsi): According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the countries that have remained signatories of the JCPOA, the Islamic Republic of Iran has always been committed to its obligations under the plan despite the United States’ unilateral withdrawal from it.
Washington’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, Europe’s inaction regarding its obligations and the ineffectiveness of the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) have damaged Iran, forcing the general public in Iran to demand compensation. How can this damage be remedied? How could the United States resume its commitments under the JCPOA without contradicting the demands of the people of Iran?
Sergey Lavrov: We share the view that problems with the JCPOA are rooted in the US withdrawal from it, as well as in a huge set of unprecedentedly harsh US sanctions against Iran. In fact, Iran is being punished for Washington’s gross violation of its commitments that have been approved by the UN Security Council. I regard this as an arrogant abuse of international law.
Washington’s position is destructive and subversive in all meanings of this word. Playing along with it is unwise and counterproductive. Some hotheads have called for destroying the JCPOA and for all parties to it, including Iran, to abandon their commitments. I believe that many people in the United States would welcome this, wishing the JCPOA to be buried through the actions of Iran itself. It is crucial to show restraint while working to restore the potential of the nuclear deal. The JCPOA is a balance between Iran’s commitments and the opening up of economic possibilities for its unrestricted involvement in global economic exchanges.
The signing of the JCPOA in 2015 after many years of talks was a great diplomatic achievement. It was hailed as a breakthrough in the sphere of non-proliferation and normalisation of relations between Iran and the entire Western world. We do not want those who are out to destroy this deal to have a pretext for blaming this on Iran.
I have noted with satisfaction in this context the November 17 interview Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gave to the state-run daily Iran. He spoke clearly about the possibility of normalising Iran’s relations with the United States. He said that JCPOA participants can rest assured that Iran would return to full compliance with its commitments under the 2015 accord if Washington resumed compliance with its obligations sealed in UN Security Council Resolution 2231. It stipulates the lifting of illegal extraterritorial sanctions in trade with Iran. I wholeheartedly support this statement and consider it reasonable and wise. Tehran’s position commands respect.
We do not agree with the countries that would like to complement the process of saving and relaunching the JCPOA with some other issues not mentioned in the plan. You understand what I have in mind. A parallel dialogue can be held to discuss these issues. The JCPOA cannot be diluted, edited or otherwise changed post factum.
As far as I am aware, Iran is ready to discuss launching a dialogue on any of the additional issues, but not as a precondition for relaunching the JCPOA. Despite the US provocations, Iran remains committed to its main obligations under the JCPOA. We believe that its main obligations include full cooperation with the IAEA and compliance with the Additional Protocol to the safeguards agreement. It is vital to remain committed to the position of principle, which the international community respects. I cannot predict how the United States would re-enter the JCPOA. This is a question for Washington. I think there will be more clarity regarding this in the next few months.
Question (retranslated from Farsi): Iran borders on both parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and its security depends on their security. At the height of the conflict, Iran presented a peace plan based on the successful Astana format and waited for a response for a month. Why didn’t the plan attract attention? You pointed out more than once that the successful Astana process can be used as a model for settling regional conflicts based on cooperation between regional countries without any interference of extra-regional countries.
Sergey Lavrov: The answer to this question is rooted in reality. We said that the Astana format had given a positive example when it comes to settling conflicts, but this does not mean that only the three countries involved – Russia, Iran and Turkey – should settle all regional conflicts in our zone of activity. I will explain our position. When the countries that can influence the situation in any crisis-ridden region, even if their positions do not always coincide, decide to help conflicting parties stop the bloodshed and join forces towards this end, this sets a positive example. This is the point of the Astana format.
As for Nagorno-Karabakh, we acted on a desire to put an end to the bloodshed. The conflicting parties – Armenia and Azerbaijan – expressed an interest in doing this with Russia’s mediation. We had no hidden agenda.
Incidentally, I do not remember our Iranian colleagues ever indicating their interest or raising the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh at the numerous consultations and talks we have held during my term as foreign minister of Russia.
This does not mean that we have no regard for Iran’s interests. We are aware of Iran’s concern about the effect the normalisation of Azerbaijan-Armenia ties can have on its transit interests, which is becoming increasingly important considering that the Americans have adopted sanctions against Iran and continue to increase them. But we cannot abandon the main principle that has been generally upheld for many years: the outcome of the conflict must be the normalisation of relations throughout the region.
The joint Statement signed by the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia on November 9, 2020 sets out the main guidelines that are also present in the Iranian peace initiative made at the height of the conflict.
There is no use talking about who and when managed or did not manage to bring about a settlement. I would like to emphasise again that the choice of the format was made by Azerbaijan and Armenia. It was this, and this alone that determined the format of the signatories to the statement. No attempts were made or could be made to attain this goal at the expense of Iran or Turkey. What we must think about now is what else can be done to ensure full implementation of the agreements and to turn the region from an area of confrontation into a region of coexistence, or better still, a region of neighbourly relations and cooperation.
When President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in Baku the other day, he made a statement in which he mentioned the possibility of cooperation between the three South Caucasus states – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia – and their three neighbours – Iran, Turkey and Russia. This is obvious. We are all neighbours, and now that problems between the South Caucasus states are being settled we as their neighbours should contribute to this process.
Question (retranslated from Farsi): Russia has made tremendous efforts towards drafting the norms and provisions of international law on counterterrorism and has taken a clear position on this. Iran and Russia have been cooperating effectively and continue to work together in this sphere. During the past year, two supreme military and scientific leaders of Iran, General Qasem Soleimani and Dr Mohsen Fahrizadeh, have fallen victim to terrorist attacks. The Americans have claimed responsibility for the murder of General Soleimani, and there is evidence indicating that foreign intelligence services were involved in the assassination of Dr Fahrizadeh. Does the international community bear responsibility for this kind of terrorism? Why is the UN Security Council not actively involved with this problem given that Russia and many other countries have admitted that such murders exacerbate regional and international tensions?
Sergey Lavrov: Russia was indeed one of the first countries to contribute to creating the foundations for international counterterrorism activities. The terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001 have given a multilateral, universal momentum to these efforts. We are acting in strict compliance with the provisions of the UN Charter, UN Security Council resolutions, the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and other universal documents. They stipulate a principled fight against any manifestations of terrorism anywhere and without double standards while refraining from any attempts to use political motivation or dilute the fundamental principles, norms and mechanisms of counterterrorism.
However, attempts continue to be made to speculate on these problems, to politicise counterterrorist efforts or worse still, to use terrorists to achieve one’s geopolitical goals. We have seen this happen in Syria, Afghanistan and several other countries. Both Russia and Iran believe that an effective fight against terrorism calls for rallying the efforts of all states regardless of political, diplomatic or any other relations between them.
We have strongly condemned the murder of Iranian scientist Mohsen Fahrizadeh at different levels, including in an official statement by the Foreign Ministry. We regard his murder as a provocation aimed at destabilising the region, which has to address a great number of problems and contradictions as it is, as well as years-long attempts at foreign interference.
Likewise, we have clearly put forth our position by condemning the murder of General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, at Baghdad airport. The Americans have said they carried out the murder. This is an unacceptable position for any country. As for Mohsen Fahrizadeh, I am aware that Iran has announced the tentative results of the investigation into his assassination. Everyone will be interested to learn about the final conclusions when the Iranian party deems it possible to make them public.
Question (retranslated from Farsi): Analysts believe that global power is shifting from the West to the East. What is your view of the new geometry of global power in the near future? What role should Russia and Iran play in this new world order?
Sergey Lavrov: This is not so much the shift of global power from the West to the East, as the development of an objectively multipolar world. After 500 years of Western domination and colonialism, it is no longer possible to unilaterally approve solutions to global economic problems and determine global politics. For example, the share of the G7 countries in the global economy has decreased dramatically, while the share of the BRICS states has grown considerably. The G20 group became more active approximately 10 years ago, during another global economic crisis. It started holding summit meetings, first twice a year and then annually. Its establishment is proof that it is impossible to address global economic, financial and political matters without developing countries. The G20 includes the G7 countries, as well as all the BRICS states and the countries that think the same way as BRICS. This is a very interesting process. I believe that it will continue to gain momentum.
The development of a multipolar world is irreversible. History cannot be stopped in its tracks, although attempts have been made to slow down the process. Our Western colleagues have seen recently that the unipolar world cannot be rebuilt, although the Americans and their allies would like to do this. Regrettably, Europeans have increasingly indicated that they cannot play an independent role in the new world order. They are talking increasingly often about the restoration of Euro-Atlantic solidarity and the United States’ return to Europe. In such a case, Europe would not become one of the poles in the rising polycentric system of international relations. Then, it would be in US interests, while retaining its influence in Europe, to try to maximally reduce the number of other candidates to the role of new poles of influence in the new world order. This is why China, which has been growing exponentially, has been appointed the main adversary and the main threat to the West. In terms of universal values, it is strange to present China as a threat to the Western world only because it is developing its economy, improving the wellbeing of its citizens and more effectively defending its security. This mentality is rooted in the past century and should be abandoned.
Russia and Iran are two global players. I am sure that our countries, like several other regional powers, will play their roles in the development of a new world order. It will be new not because it will replace the UN and its Charter. Its novelty should take the form of a more effective implementation of the principles of the UN Charter, such as the sovereign equality of states, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs and a peaceful settlement of disputes.