Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Zarif at the U.N..
(photo credit: EDUARDO MUNOZ / REUTERS)
Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif called on Monday for peace in Syria and Yemen and claimed Hezbollah was merely defending itself by intervening in Syria.
Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York while on a six-day trip to the US, Zarif sought to project Iran’s image as a responsible regional power. He said the region should applaud Hezbollah’s actions and condemned US intervention, blaming it for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, which he said resulted in the death of a bride in a recent airstrike.
Zarif has been the cherubic face of Iran’s foreign policy since 2013 and blends a cheerful demeanor with militarist positions. He boasted in October 2017 of his support for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and posed with Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani who has threatened to “uproot the child-killing Zionist regime.”
Stephen Hadley, who was national security adviser under former president George W. Bush, introduced Zarif at the CFR, where the Iranian Foreign Minister spoke and took questions for an hour. Zarif’s speech came as French President Emmanuel Macron was in Washington meeting with US President Donald Trump.
“President Macron is correct in saying there’s no ‘plan B’ on JCPOA
,” Zarif tweeted. “It’s either all or nothing. European leaders should encourage President Trump not just to stay in the nuclear deal, but more importantly to begin implementing his part of the bargain in good faith.”
Zarif’s speech focused on the history of the Islamic regime and its worldview of victimhood, stressing that Iran seeks “regional dialogue” and merely wants to address “disparities” in the region. He focused on the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, claiming that Iran opposes intervention in the affairs of other countries and seeks to work within international principles. He asserted that the region had been driven into war by extremism and by states that seek to dominate one another. Iran, he said, was now “ready” to work on compromises.
“We need to have a strong region, not to be the strongest in the region... time to break with [past conflicts], we are big enough, old enough, mature enough to appreciate this reality.
I hope that our neighbors can appreciate it,” he said.
HADLEY ASKED Zarif about human rights abuses in Iran and Zarif responded by criticizing the US legal and prison systems. The Iranian foreign minister claimed that women jailed for not covering their hair were merely being judged by a legal system based on “Shi’ite, Islamic jurisprudence” and claimed “every society has a dress code.” He suggested that arresting women in Iran for having their hair uncovered was similar to Canada arresting people for walking naked in the street and “indecent exposure.”
The audience chuckled.
“In Iran, for a man to go in the street without a T-shirt on is indecent exposure, just as it is to go into a McDonald’s without a shirt.” He boasted that Iran has minorities, including Zoroastrians, Christians and the “largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside Israel,” adding that Jews receive “privileges” in Iran. Zarif also sought to portray Iran as doing a better job on democracy and human rights than US-ally Saudi Arabia.
Zarif defended Hezbollah’s intervention in Iran’s civil war while condemning Saudi Arabia for its intervention in Yemen. He also said Iran supports on-site investigations in Syria for chemical weapons
US, British and French forces pound Syria with air strikes early on Saturday in response to a poison gas attack, April 14, 2018(Reuters)
“Now we are happy they are conducting an on-site investigation of Douma, and when the report is out we will see what are the facts.”
Then he turned to Iran’s history, claiming Iran was the real victim of chemical weapons when Iraq had used chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. “Having been a victim of chemical weapons, usually the culprit uses chemical weapons in desperation,” he asserted, casting doubt on why Damascus would use chemical weapons when “advancing.”
The speech at CFR was Zarif’s second appearance at the important forum in a year.
He last spoke to the council in July of 2017. However, this year is more important for Tehran because it is trying to get European Union countries on its side in discussions of the Iran nuclear deal and now feels confident of victory in Syria.
Online, Zarif was mocked for his appearance, with one tweet showing him in a hijab and accusing him of running a “theocratic dictatorship.”
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Division, also criticized Zarif, tweeting that he deflected questions on Assad’s human rights abuses, protests in Iran and forced head coverings for women.