“Iran has no interest in nuclear weapons and is convinced that such weapons would not enhance its security. Iran does not have the means to engage in nuclear deterrence—directly or through proxies—against its adversaries. Furthermore, the Iranian government believes that even a perception that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons is detrimental to the country’s security and to its regional role, since attempts by Iran to gain strategic superiority in the Persian Gulf would inevitably provoke responses that would diminish Iran’s conventional military advantage.”
Iran’s Foreign Minister spoke these lines four months ago during an interview he granted me in Berlin. Now, this position has reappeared as the central message of his recent article in Foreign Affairs, “What Iran really wants - Iranian foreign policy in the Rouhani era”, accompanied by an important clarification: “It is imperative for other states to accept the reality of Iran’s prominent role in the Middle East and beyond”.
Taken together, these statements reveal the two complementary sides of Iran’s thinking going into the 5+1 negotiations over the lifting of Western sanctions. Iran possesses the fourth largest oil reserves and the second largest gas reserves in the world, but in order for these to be intensively exploited a large influx of foreign investment is required–an impossibility under the current sanctions regime. The sanctions, however, cannot be lifted at any price, insists Zarif, who is regarded in his country with a mixture of hopeful admiration and mistrust. Who is this man?
Coinciding with the appearance of his article in FA, The New Yorker published a fascinating, in-depth profile of Iran’s Foreign Minister: “Zarif faces serious limits. He is too brilliant for the system. He’s dealing with foreigners in English. The hard-liners spent their youth at the war front; Zarif never went to the front. He was studying in the United States. So he’s someone who will never be trusted one hundred per cent, even if he does have the ear of the Supreme Leader. Which I think he does“. In a blend of irony and cynicism, Zarif himself describes the view that many of his peers in the Iranian elite have of him. But the last claim–”which I think he does”–remains most important.
Both these articles–Robin Wright’s profile in The New Yorker, "The Adversary", and Zarif’s own contribution to Foreign Affairs–promise to shed a revealing light on the current, decisive phase of the 5+1 negotiations.