Iran keeps its word – the west should do the same by Javad Zarif
Pursuing atomic weapons would put the country’s national security in jeopardy, writes Javad Zarif
At last it seems realistic to hope for a resolution to the unnecessary crisis surrounding Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme. In large part that is because attitudes towards my country are changing. It is now recognised that Iranian scientists have mastered nuclear technology – and it is widely accepted that the knowledge we have attained cannot be wished away.
There is also a growing appreciation that Iran does not have any interest in nuclear weapons. True, we live in a volatile neighbourhood. Yet we have always been clear that pursuing nuclear weapons – or even being wrongly suspected of doing so – would put our national security in jeopardy.
In our view, nuclear weapons are obsolete tools of the past. Israel’s nuclear arsenal was of little help in Lebanon in 2006. The tragic events of 9/11 proved beyond any doubt that even the strongest nuclear power cannot attain security for itself by inflicting insecurity on others. There is no alternative to inclusion and engagement.
Weapons of mass destruction are feeble instruments of security and deterrence. This is true for all states, but especially for Iran. My country is content with its size, geography, natural resources and human capital. It has not started a single war in the past three centuries.
The option of a nuclear weapon would harm our security, putting at risk our relative advantage in conventional forces. Instead, we must win the confidence of actors who have worried unnecessarily about Iranian strength. Iran cannot expect to possess a meaningful nuclear deterrent, either directly or through proxies.
Beyond this sober strategic calculus, we oppose nuclear weapons on principle. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s leader, has gone as far as issuing a fatwa – a religious edict – prohibiting the development, stockpiling and use of such arms. Our conscientious objection has been put to the test. When Saddam Hussein gassed our people on a scale not seen since the first world war, we did not use weapons of mass destruction even in retaliation.
While some in the west may have entertained illusions in the past, few now doubt that the only way to ensure that Iran’s nuclear energy programme will remain exclusively peaceful is to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. This shift did not occur overnight. It was prompted by the realisation that coercion, pressure and sanctions only result in more centrifuges, more resentment and deeper mistrust.
The Joint Plan of Action agreed with my counterparts in Geneva last November is a landmark document. It is founded on the conviction that non-proliferation can be assured only through a transparent Iranian energy programme, monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, that includes uranium enrichment.
Reaching this interim deal, the first in a decade, required leadership and courage from all sides. Negotiating a permanent agreement poses a still greater challenge. All parties to the talks have displayed a proclivity to engage, but this will be tested in the coming months.
Iranian engagement is not a means to an end but a national security priority. To be absolutely clear, we are not negotiating for the sake of negotiating, nor in order to gain time. We have shown once again that we keep our word. As the IAEA recently confirmed, we have kept all the promises we have made. It is now time for our counterparts to keep their side of the bargain.
As we enter talks on the comprehensive nuclear deal, our counterparts will have to make tough choices. They will have to back up rhetoric with action. Some of them will have to spend copious amounts of political capital to remain credible before the international community. Others, who have grown comfortable with the status quo, will have to scramble to reposition themselves.
One thing that everyone will have to do is show courage – far more than has been displayed so far.
As our spring equinox approaches, I invite the world to join my people in celebrating a new dawn. Most of all, I invite my counterparts in the nuclear negotiations to make full use of the opportunity before us. Let us end this unnecessary crisis and open new horizons.