Read also The shadow of Iran behind the attacks in Saudi ArabiaProfessor of Political Science, member of the Scientific Council of the University of Tehran and director of the Institute for Future Studies of the Islamic World (IIWFS), Hamzeh Safavi knows at his fingertips the foreign policy of his country. In an interview with Point, this researcher, who is very connected to the governing bodies of the Islamic Republic, reacts to the attack that has shaken Saudi Arabia and describes what can be expected from the diplomatic sequence in New York.
The Point: Many countries seem to point to a responsibility – direct or indirect – of Iran in the attacks that hit the heart of the Saudi oil complex a week ago. Is this your opinion too?
Hamzeh Safavi: What I can tell you is that with the signing of the Iranian Nuclear Agreement (JCPOA) Iran has been invited to play a more active role in assuring the security of the Middle East. However, since the collapse of the JCPOA, we tried to remove this role to Iran, and that for no reason. Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018 and imposed unprecedented sanctions against the Islamic Republic while Tehran was honoring its commitments, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ed). Now remember what President Hassan Rohani said: he said no one could sell his oil if Tehran was prevented from doing so. We can not seek to eliminate Iran and hope to maintain regional stability. If the Islamic Republic is under too much pressure, then it is normal for it to stop cooperating and playing its role, which in fact increases insecurity in the region
The attack on Saudi oil sites has been claimed by Yemeni Houthi rebels
So far, Iran has advised Yemenis not to attack Saudi Arabia (which has been fighting in Yemen since March 2015, Ed). Now he does not do it anymore.
Why is Saudi Arabia today targeted?
The problem is that Saudi officials are appearing with the "Monafeqin" ("Hypocrites", name that the Iranian regime gives to the Mujahideen of the people, main opposition organization to the Islamic Republic, Ed). I remind you that this is the largest armed group opposed to Iran, responsible for more than 1,800 attacks in our country, which sided with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war (1980- 1988). Thus, Saudi Arabia supports politically and financially our enemies. Now, as the saying goes, the friends of our enemies are our enemies. By appearing with them, they send us a very clear message. Therefore, Iran is no longer ready to work for the security of this country. Attention, this is not our choice, but it became an obligation given the pressure we face. Iran would really like to see security come back to the region, both politically and economically, but they do not want it.
Who do you designate by "they"?
This is Trump, but also the European Union that did nothing to emerge from the crisis.
Emmanuel Macron did not work all summer to get a de-escalation?
Emmanuel Macron acted like one who, in the face of a thirsty man in the desert, explains to him that he may be able to find water. We need water now, because it is not with promises that we will stand up.
The French president still struggled to obtain the opening for Iran of a line of credit of 15 billion dollars, before being denied a US refusal.
This proposal was, in my opinion, quite funny, because this line of credit depends entirely on the good will of the United States. But if the Americans withdrew from the nuclear deal, then imposed sanctions on Iran, and thereby exercised "maximum pressure on Iran", it would is not to go back today! Either Macron ignores him, or he plays with the Islamic Republic.
Can we see progress on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly?
In New York, Iran will make proposals to restore the Middle East to safety and allow everyone to export their oil. In this context, Iran will be part of the force to ensure security in the region, and no one will attack the economic interests of Iran. In parallel, France and Iran are actively working to implement the $ 15 billion credit line. If the Trump administration agrees, then the maximum pressure on Iran will decrease. If she refuses, then we will remain in a situation of insecurity and instability in the region. Today, the French president makes an offer because he wants Iran to fully return to the full framework of the Iran nuclear deal (Iran has freed this summer from several limitations on its nuclear program without going out formally of the agreement, Ed). But the United States will not break the maximum pressure policy they have worked to put in place.
Is the French attempt to mediate, in your opinion, doomed to failure?
What Emmanuel Macron must do, and what Iran is currently testing, is to take the risk of confronting the United States to save the JCPOA. The question is whether the French president is ready to do it. In Iran, we think he does not want to pay the price. This is why the Islamic Republic is obliged to gradually distance itself from the Iran nuclear deal.
And, if Trump did not oppose the line of credit in New York, would a meeting with Hassan Rohani be unthinkable?
In my opinion, this would only lead Iran to take no further action contrary to the Iran nuclear deal. But it would act as a painkiller, not a cure. Iran has already publicly announced, on several occasions, that it is ready for an agreement (with Trump). But the first step is to go back to the nuclear deal, which the United States went out for no reason. Thus, a Trump-Rohani meeting is, in my opinion, impossible unless Donald Trump is willing to return to the JCPOA and agrees to multilateral negotiations, in this context, with Iran.
But, this agreement having been signed by Barack Obama, Donald Trump will never reinstate him.
I remind you that Barack Obama did not sign this agreement as Barack Obama, but as President of the United States. On the contrary, it was Donald Trump who made a question of anyone. This attitude causes a lack of confidence in the word of the United States in the world, and especially in Iran.
In dismissing his beloved war-time national security advisor John Bolton, has Donald Trump not sent a positive signal to Iran?
First of all, John Bolton was not, for me, such an influential personality. Then, the American administration sends indeed signs of inflection, but when will this mean concrete gestures? I remind you that Donald Trump was forced to back down because he understood that his policy of maximum pressure had failed, not because he himself wanted to make a gesture of goodwill towards Iran .
Former Secretary of State John Kerry recently accused the Trump administration of provoking the current crisis by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. Is this your opinion too?
The Persian Gulf was much safer when the United States was a signatory to the Iran nuclear deal. Thus, it was obvious that Donald Trump, with all his pressure on the Islamic Republic, was going to provoke insecurity in the region. This shows that Trump's policy in the Middle East has failed. By trampling on international law, he made the bed of insecurity in the region.
Has Iran not been lobbying the region since May on the grounds that Donald Trump will not respond militarily?
Some political circles in Iran do indeed the analysis that Trump is a bluffer. For example, he boasts of the quality of his relationship with North Korean leader Kim Young-un, while this is only the appearance: no progress has been recorded between the United States and Korea North. Indeed, since he was in the White House, Trump has done absolutely nothing outside the United States.
What is the opinion of the military in Iran?
The military does not agree. For them, Donald Trump is unpredictable and can trigger military action. Therefore, they have their finger on the trigger and are ready to respond to the slightest incident. The many armed forces are currently on the alert, prepared for the worst of scenarios. They are ready to go to war in the next three hours. They showed it when they detected and shot down the American drone last June.
Could the Islamic Republic hold another four years under such sanctions that stifle the Iranian economy?
You know, this is the joke in Iran: it has been said for forty years that the country is in a critical economic situation. But look, the country has managed to find, to a certain extent, alternative ways to sell its oil (despite the sanctions, Ed). In two years, it will be able to export all of its production. But the most interesting thing is that sanctions help us develop domestically. For example, before the sanctions imposed by Barack Obama (2009-2013), Iran imported 95% of its gasoline consumption. Today, the country is independent on this point. And the latest round of sanctions has allowed us to develop our own petrochemical industry. So within five years, the majority of our oil production will directly feed this sector. We will not sell any more crude oil and the sanctions will have no effect on us.