Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Editorial: Dr. Zarif’s Friendly Face

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Colin Rubenstein

 

Australia recently hosted Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's Foreign Minister - the urbane and seemingly moderate face of the Islamic regime. However, just because someone is charming and speaks English with a lovely accent, does not make him a moderate. In fact a close look at his various comments while here reveals much about the unchanged nature of this brutal expansionist regime, as well as its hypocrisy.

For example, in his opening remarks at his March 15 joint press conference with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, he claimed, "We all need to cooperate together to fight ISIS and extremism."

While Zarif may come across as a moderate compared to Iran's previous president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he would not have attained his lofty position if he was not loyal to the regime and its ideology. Foremost in that ideology is the drive to spread its Islamic revolution by any means necessary. To that end, Iran is the world's foremost state sponsor of terrorism, with terror groups it funds, arms and directs including Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Shi'ite death squads in Iraq and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Furthermore, Iran's support for the Assad regime has assisted the regime to kill almost 500,000 Syrians. The atrocities committed by Assad and his supporters, including Iran and Hezbollah, have in turn been the major recruiting tool for ISIS.

Zarif also professed to being happy that human rights had been discussed, claiming that they should be approached more seriously, rather than becoming "an instrument of political pressure." Iran's human rights record has, if anything, worsened since "moderate" President Hassan Rouhani came to power, with more than 1,000 people executed in Iran last year alone, as gays, women and religious minorities continue to suffer abuse. Yet Zarif urbanely dismisses any serious concerns as "an instrument of political pressure."

In the next breath, he said Iran is "the only serious country in the region that holds elections." As Reuel Marc Gerecht notes in this edition, Iran's elections are only slightly more meaningful than the Clayton's elections staged by Syria, Egypt, Algeria and other autocracies. Further, tellingly, Zarif was hinting he regards Israel as not being a "serious" country - given it definitely is in the region and holds elections.

On Iran's missiles, he claimed that they were only for self-defence, and said Iran has made a commitment that it "will not use force except in self-defence." It may be true that Iran has seldom openly attacked other countries with its armed forces - instead it trains, equips and supplies terrorist proxies to act on its behalf. Indeed, in late 2014, Ali Riza Zakani, an Iranian parliamentarian close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was able to claim that four Arab capitals - Damascus, Baghdad, Beirut and Sana'a - had fallen into Iran's hands through these methods. The constant regime calls for Israel's destruction, and the fact that missiles used in the recent tests were emblazoned with the message "Israel must be wiped out", written in Hebrew, demonstrate Iran's real focus.

The question of whether the missile tests had breached UN Resolution 2231, which gives effect to the nuclear deal, was raised. Zarif claimed there was no breach, because unlike previous resolutions, 2231 is expressed as calling on Iran, rather than using "obligatory terms", and because the resolution only bans the testing of missiles "designed to be capable - not capable - ... of carrying nuclear warheads." He argued that as Iran does not have nuclear warheads and does not design missiles to carry what it doesn't have, 2231 does not apply.

This is pure misdirection. He is interpreting 2231 to bluntly assert that its missiles provisions give Iran the right to test fire missiles that are capable of carrying nuclear warheads - until and unless Iran actually has nuclear warheads. If he's right, not only is the nuclear deal even weaker than thought, this provision, rather than being a check on Iran's behaviour as intended by its drafters, actually strengthens Iran's ability to build nuclear weapons delivery systems.

Asked about Russia's withdrawal from Syria, Zarif said that Iran welcomes it, adding Iran recognises the need for a ceasefire, and a "political solution." Of course, Iran's political solution is for Assad to retain power. Zarif also said that the ceasefire "Obviously... doesn't include Daesh, it doesn't include al-Nusra, it doesn't include people who are collaborating with them." Given the complex nature of the Syria conflict, just about every opposition group could be said to be collaborating with al-Nusra. In effect, Zarif is self-servingly re-interpretating the ceasefire to mean Iran and other pro-Assad forces don't have to stop fighting, but their opponents do.

In a March 16 interview on ABC TV's "Lateline", Zarif complained that when Iran tests missiles, people in Australia consider it provocative, but didn't object when Israel or the US threatened to use bunker busters against "peaceful nuclear facilities." Of course, anyone who reads IAEA reports, or looks at how Iran built its nuclear program in secret, knows that these facilities were absolutely not built for "peaceful" purposes. And it's a bit rich to warn of supposed Israeli aggression when Iran constantly insists Israel "must be destroyed", and funds, trains and even commands a whole series of terror groups on Israel's borders who try to put this demand into effect.

A famous quip defines a diplomat as "an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country". Whether or not he is an honest man, Dr. Zarif is certainly a good diplomat - but Australian policy-makers and opinion leaders would be foolish indeed to be taken in by his lies and misdirection. Australia's interests require that we recognise that Iran is the leading international state sponsor of terror, the leading source of aggression and destablisation in the Middle East, a human rights horror, a proliferation nightmare, and a country which routinely flouts its international obligations, and act accordingly.

 

This article is featured in this month's Australia/Israel Review, which can be downloaded as a free App: see here for more details.

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