‘India can be one of the first countries to benefit from the Iran nuclear deal'
The Iranian Ambassador to India, Gholamreza Ansari, does not really pull punches when it comes to talking about the role played by Israel in its endeavour to scuttle the nuclear deal. In a freewheeling interview to Hardnews, he says that Israel is desperate to gain acceptance with India and other countries. He does not think that the Islamic State is sectarian as it has killed more Sunnis, whom it claims to represent, than Shias. He is intrigued by the fact that the Islamic State, which seems so dangerous, has never threatened Israel. He feels India could be the first country to benefit once the embargo is lifted from Iran. Excerpts:
Sanjay Kapoor & Sadiq Naqvi Delhi
How do you perceive the changing equation between the Israelis and the Americans following the Iran nuclear deal?
The hostility which is escalating between the Americans and the Israelis is not very simple. It seems that the Americans are feeling that Israel is becoming very costly for them, although they feel that they must support Israel. Maybe there are no doubts in many politicians’ minds in America that they must support Israel, but there are a number of people who are feeling that the support of Israel is becoming very costly, and maybe counterproductive, and this is why Israel is trying to create new political links and revealing their old connections. For example, one is India. They are trying to reveal, ‘Okay, we used to have a very long history of relations, we were very good, and we were very cooperative,’ and so on. It is a show of relations. Same with the Saudis. The Israelis are trying to bring their relations with the Saudis to the forefront now. The way they are inviting people, like they invited Muslims to a seminar or talk in Lucknow and in Delhi.
What seminar/talk took place in Delhi?
It wasn’t a very well-known institution. The Muslims who participated said it was organised by the Israelis and the Saudis. You know, they are trying to normalise, show some sort of normalisation of Israel’s relations with many countries. They want to say that they are becoming an acceptable country to the public.
They are showing ‘how the Saudis are trying to reach us’, ‘how we used to have very long relations with the Indians’, and so on. So it seems that the Israelis are in a very different situation.
So they are doing it out of desperation?
Yes, this is out of desperation. This is not normal. So the situation is changing in the region. First of all, I think the deal between Iran and India was a great achievement for diplomacy and gave great power to diplomacy in the region; in a region with a lot of hostility, a lot of turmoil and with so many wars. Now the region is trying to really present itself in a way that the military option makes no sense anymore. The military option will not work but policies will work. Even between Iran and some of (its) very old enemies and foes. So that’s a new era for the region.
How do you think things are going to change with the West after the nuclear deal with Iran? Will the region behave differently and, if yes, why?
First of all, the main threat in the region is extremism and terrorism, which is affecting everybody. Even those who, in the old days, were using these terrorists and paying them, sometimes renting them, using them as tools and leverage and instruments, now they are affected and they are hurt by exactly these terrorist groups.
There is an American term, ‘blowback’…
Yes, it is a blowback. These terrorist groups are affecting everybody and at the same time everybody is witnessing their growth. They are in Afghanistan, in Yemen, in Europe and in America. They are affecting Turkey and threatening Saudi Arabia. They are threatening everybody with the exception of the Israelis. The only country that is not threatened is Israel. Can you find any country they have not threatened, except Israel?
And to what do you attribute this?
You know, it’s very clear. It may be difficult to prove, but it is very clear to understand. Israel is the only country that will benefit immensely from instability in the region. Anytime this region is unstable, Americans will pay them. Americans will compensate. Now they are talking about compensation for the deal. They say, because of the deal they feel threatened and weakened. So the Americans will give compensation. When the entire world was happy that in such a region, instead of war, it was diplomacy that worked, they are asking for compensation.
It sounds absurd…
Of course, I’m sure they will be affected and I am sure Americans should pay compensation to them because Israel is based on instability. As long as there is instability, they will receive aid from Europe, they will receive aid from the Americans, they will receive military support. Peace and tranquility are existential threats to Israel. It’s not something new. Let me give another example. In 1993, the world was happy that they had been able to find a solution for Palestine and Israel, in Oslo. Almost 180 countries supported that deal, the Two-State solution. In those days, many newspapers and magazines were asking us, what is your position about the Oslo agreement? We said it’s just a fake agreement. It’s a failure. Israelis are not for peace. They said the world is supporting it, why are you not supporting it? We said, because we are sure that the Israelis are deceiving.
What are the steps you would advocate for some sort of settlement?
None, because any sort of settlement is against the Israelis’ existence and these are the very people who are against the deal. They are asking for compensation because, instead of military means, it was done through diplomacy. So it was a great achievement for diplomacy in our region. We hope it’s a turning point for the leaders in the region. When such a complicated issue is possible to be solved through diplomacy, we must learn from history that military means will not work. For Syria we must go for a diplomatic solution, for Yemen too there is no other option and we must go for a diplomatic solution, a political solution. We must try to create institutions and establish cooperation between those institutions. Americans have been in the Middle East for many decades now. They never tried to create cooperating institutions. They never taught their allies that many problems can be solved through cooperation and through cooperating institutions. The leaders and the governments in the region must come together, find ways to create institutions which guarantee peace, tranquility and cooperation in the region. For example, in the Persian Gulf, we must introduce very stable institutions. There needs to be a confidence-building measure for the Persian Gulf which is really important for everybody.
How do you ensure that the so-called coalition that has been put together against Iran – the so-called Sunni coalition which Israel also supports – dismantles after the deal? How will Saudi Arabia, for example, see your peaceful intentions? How will it change?
First of all, let me assure you that the sectarian conflict seems to be very artificial. Let me give you the evidence. There is DAESH, the ISIS, which seem to be against the Shias or the Taliban, which were also anti-Shia. They kill more Sunnis than any section, more than the Shias, the Christians or the Yezidis. They displaced more Sunnis than any other sect.
But, as an ideology, how difficult is it to deal with DAESH?
I don’t think you should call DAESH an ideology. There are people from very different backgrounds, very different parts of the world. You can find both rich and poor people. You can find people who are coming from Europe, without any problem. But (they are) desperate because of discrimination, humiliation and identity. So you can find a combination of different sorts of people in ISIS. They say 40,000 people from 100 different nationalities are coming together with their own different ideas of why they are there. As I said, sectarian is out of the question, because they kill more Sunnis than any other sects. This is why they are threatening Saudi Arabia, they are threatening Hamas. They killed Hamas people as well. They threatened to kill more than seven leaders and they beheaded one of the leaders as well. Look what they are doing in Sinai, what they are doing in Egypt, what they are doing in Libya. For example, in Libya there are no Shias. It is Sunnis fighting with Sunnis. So what sort of sectarianism is this? So I think it is a very artificial approach to think that it is a Sunni-Shia war. This is something that the Israelis are very interested to advocate and project because they want to derail the attention from Palestine, from the Zionist occupation of Islamic sites.
It is also feeding Islamophobia…
Yes, they wanted to show, ‘Look, this is Islam.’ They also propagated Iranophobia. But that turned into a defeat for Benjamin Netanyahu. It was very costly for him to build that structure of Iranophobia and the Americans destroyed it with this deal. Of course, they should pay compensation. This is why they are asking for compensation.
How has the clergy reacted to the deal?
I think it was welcomed by everybody. But do we think Americans are the best guys? No, of course not. Americans and Europeans are supporting Israel, they are supporting extremists. I think now you can’t play with double standards in the Middle East. They are fighting with the DAESH in Iraq, supporting the same DAESH in Syria and in Yemen.Look at their allies. They are the main supporters of Wahabbism, they are the main supporters of ISIS, they are the main supporters of the Taliban, they are the founders of the Taliban, they are the people who paid for the Taliban, they are the people who equipped Al Nusra in Syria. These are very close allies of the Americans.
Wahabbism grew as a response to Sufi Islam. It grew on the pretext of being more puritan. Now ISIS claims to be even more puritan than Wahabbism. Don’t you think it will appeal to followers of Wahabbi thought?
They use all sorts of measures for recruiting people. Let me put it in this way. If you ask me how we can fight DAESH, that’s another story. You can’t fight them with just military means. Fighting them has to be very comprehensive. You should be serious about the ideology they are advocating. One should be very serious about the way they are attracting the youth in Europe.
Why are they getting attracted in the first place, you need to find that out. So fighting with DAESH is not a very short story. It’s supposed to be very comprehensive and you need a coalition of serious people to fight. We have been saying that DAESH in Afghanistan is a real threat. Some countries disagreed with us. So we said, ‘Okay, you can wait and see,’ and now even those countries are saying, ‘Oh, you were serious.’ They are becoming very serious issues. Yes, this is Central Asia. They said, ‘No, we don’t think that DAESH will be able to infiltrate in Central Asia.’ So we said, ‘Okay, wait and see.’ And it’s happening. Who could believe that one day DAESH will announce that they want to run the world from Mecca and Medina.
The Saudis, for the last one year or so, have been very trenchant in their opposition to Iran. They have been trying to show that the problem of terrorism is primarily because of Iran and Hezbollah. Do you think after the deal there will be a different way they will look at the region?
Let me refer you to President Obama’s answer. He said we should be very clear that the Saudis and our allies have their own internal problems. They must not deceive us and blame Iran for their own internal problems. This is the reality. They want to derail attention from their internal problems by blaming Iran for everything. You know, their minority rights is not something you can ignore.
If you do not support and guarantee safety to the minority communities, they will look to the borders. That is the reality. You cannot blame others for your own minorities. If they feel comfortable in your country, they will not look to others. You cannot keep information secret. You cannot ignore the youth, you cannot ignore your people. So when you want to run a country like you were doing decades ago, it will not work. The people want to have their share in their own destinies. You cannot ignore it. You are sending hundreds and thousands of people to America to study. When these people come back to their own home country, they think about their life in America. ‘Every single American, every single European has their own say in their destiny, what about us? Why should we just listen to the dynasty that had been ruling this country?’ they think. You want to blame Iran for what? For example, in the Yemen case, the previous administration in Saudi Arabia, they were dealing with the Houthis. The Houthis were allies of the Saudis for a very long time. Abdullah Saleh was the man of the Saudis and the Americans. They were also very close to a settlement in Yemen. Everybody knows that they were maybe minutes away from finalising it. Behind the scenes, everything was finalised. Then the administration changed and because of their own internal problems they began a war against the poor nation, destroying everything. Is it because of Iran? It is not. You know we have no intention to interfere in other people’s affairs. Is it because of the Shias? It’s not like this.
Are Houthis Shias?
Houthi is a sect that believes in four Imams. So, to blame Iran, they are saying Houthis are Shias. Before this, when they were the allies of the Saudis, they were not Shias.
It’s only now that the interpretation has changed, but where is it all going in the end?
I don’t think you can find any military solution to it. They have fought for more than 100 days. Do you think they have been able to control even one inch of Yemen? Not yet. Now the Yemenese are fighting in Saudi territory.
Do you see any solution to the war in Yemen?
The Yemenese have nothing to lose and you can’t subjugate them. They will fight till the end. There is no military solution for Yemen.
What role is Iran playing in the talks between the Taliban and the
What we are hearing in the news is that the Taliban, Pakistan, China, the US all are trying to find a settlement. Moreover, Iran and India are very keen on having a stable Afghanistan which will benefit both countries.
What will be the effect of the Iran nuclear deal on India?
India can be one of the first countries that will benefit from this deal because of many reasons. Maybe it’s very difficult to count all the reasons. First of all, Iran and India used to have good relations for a very long time, very close historical and cultural links which go deep into our histories. There are other aspects too which pertain to recent years. Indians have been very close friends of the Iranians during the period when Iran has been facing sanctions. They didn’t do what we wanted them to do but they did their best. ‘Indian best’ is ‘Indian best’ but they did their best, as far as they could do it, which we see as a friendly gesture, during a very hard time. Iranians are not used to forgetting people who are there during hard times. Look at the Syrians. They were with us during the difficult period of the war and now you can see how much we are supporting the Syrian government, even shedding blood. It’s because of these efforts that now all the countries are believing that the survival of the government of Syria is essential for the destiny of the country. So this is a great achievement. Second, the sanctions were in a way a very golden time. Indians got familiar with the capabilities and the economic structure of Iran and at the same time Iranians got familiar with the capabilities of Indians. That’s a great achievement and I think now many people in the industry sector, many people in the economic sector in Iran believe that India can fulfil a substantial part of our needs.
For example, India is very capable in steel, in aluminium, in mines and metals, railroads, software, IT, technology and so on. There is a lot of demand in these sectors in Iran. One of the biggest advantages in recent times is that Indians are offering a credit line to the Iranians. That’s a very substantial element in the hands of the Indians to offer for different projects to Iranians and everybody knows that this credit, which is in rupees, is beneficial to Indians. According to the financial structure, Indian companies will benefit from it, the rupee will benefit from it. Modi’s policy will benefit because you want to export. Now in recent months, your export has been going down, so it’s the best option. A lot of Indian companies are trying to approach Iran and we are just trying to pave the ground for more visits and discussions. We hope they come to some sort of tangible conclusion.
But the sanctions against Iran are still in place…
I think if Indians expedite their efforts, it will take maybe a few months. By that time even the sanctions will be lifted. Something we should be very careful about is that there has been a long discussion between Indians and Iranians on different projects. Some of these projects are on the edge of being finalised. It’s just a matter of expediency and one must not keep those decisions hanging or haggle for one or two rupees up or down. Both countries should be encouraged to finalise their decisions. There is a lot of potential for the two countries. I believe the meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Rouhani in Ufa was a great event.
What transpired in the meeting between PM Modi and President Rouhani in Ufa? Anything that we haven’t heard of?
They covered political issues, they covered economic issues, they addressed some specific big projects. They discussed railways, gas pipelines. It was a very long meeting even though normally first meetings are usually short. The sentiment on both sides was very positive. I am sure PM Modi found President Rouhani very cooperative when it comes to doing business with India. And we reiterated our invitation to him to visit Iran.
Has PM Modi agreed to visit? He loves to travel…
As far as we understand he was very receptive and will do it as soon as possible. The date hasn’t been fixed yet. We hope this happens according to the political situation in our region. Definitely this visit is supposed to happen sooner than later.
There is also the problem of the payment for the oil…
A delegation visited Iran to talk about how they can settle, how they can manage it. It’s not such a big problem because there is understanding on
What is the total amount?
My main concern is that it’s not such a big amount for countries like India or Iran. Something which is very important is using the credit lines which link the two sides together.
What happens to the old ideas when the markets open up? Will the clergy be able to hold ground?
When you fulfil the demand of society they will respect you, irrespective of whether you are a cleric or not. They are seeking employment. They want better opportunities. Now in India, the government is being questioned on tangible results. Nobody is asking if he belongs to the clergy or not. It’s the same in our society. The expectation of the public is high. The nuclear deal has been clinched during the term of President Rouhani who happens to be a cleric.