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March 8, 2015 3:37 pm

Analysis: Fact-Check on Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif in NBC Interview

avatar by Julie Shain

Iran's foreign minister Zarif on NBC. Photo: Screenshot.

Iran’s chief negotiator, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, was interviewed on NBC this week. Below are some of the assertions he made, and the truth behind these claims.

On Inspections:

“We were– said all along that our nuclear program is exclusively peaceful. And when we have experts sitting together they can ascertain that, rather easily… The IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear watchdog of the United Nations, has come out and said, ‘There is nothing that is going on behind– public attention in Iran.'”

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the expert United Nations agency tasked with overseeing Iran’s nuclear program. To date they have been unable to conclude that Iran’s ongoing and unfrozen nuclear program is peaceful.

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As recently as February 2015, the inspectors reiterated: “the Agency is not in a position…to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.”

“IAEA report after another indicate that Iran has lived up to every single commitment that we made in that [JPA] agreement. Iran is known for keeping its word. We have always kept our word.”

Iran appears to have violated the terms of the JPA by introducing uranium feedstock into an advanced IR-5 centrifuge. According to the IAEA, Iran has also failed to adequately address the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program. Over the course of the JPA agreement, Iran has repeatedly failed to meet mutually-agreed deadlines with the IAEA.

Though not covered under the JPA, Iran is further reported to have smuggled sanctioned nuclear-sensitive materials into the country, in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions.

[Curry: Can you state categorically that Iran– has no nuclear facilities, no facilities it has not yet declared?]

“I can state that categorically.”

In the IAEA’s February 2015 report, the Agency stated that it “is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran.” As a result, the IAEA has been unable to adequately inspect Iran’s program and provide assurances that this nuclear program is peaceful.

On Iran’s Belligerence and Terrorism:

“We have been a force for stability in this region.”

Iran’s proxies and supported groups act as guerrilla terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East, in service of Iran’s commitment to spread its revolutionary ideology beyond its borders.

In Iraq, Iran has “armed, trained and funded” Shi’ite militias and insurgents. Iran “may have also used its Shi’ite militant proxies to stoke sectarian tensions and to foment political violence [in Iraq]” to help cement its role as a mediator in the region.

In Lebanon, Iran’s proxy group Hezbollah stokes sectarian divides and exploits the country’s political landscape to their own ends, repeatedly dragging Lebanon into wars with Israel. The group also targets the Lebanese. In 2005, Hezbollah militants were charged with assassinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

In addition to funding terrorist groups and proxies, Iran’s army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is itself tasked with spreading its Islamist ideology and “the sovereignty of God’s law” throughout the region. Among other acts of violence and terrorism, the IRGC’s special Quds Force has been blamed for arming Bahraini opposition militants, supporting virulently anti-American Houthi rebels in Yemen, funding, arming and training Hamas terrorists, and partnering with the Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas to arrange a failed 2011 assassination of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States. Iran has also been blamed for the 1994 suicide bombing of an Argentinian Jewish community center.

Iran has also served as a safe haven for al-Qaeda. According to the U.S. State and Treasury Departments, the Iranian government has hosted an intricate al-Qaeda network as part of a clandestine agreement between al-Qaeda and the Iranian government. Under the terms of the agreement Iran has given al-Qaeda operatives “freedom of operation and uninhibited ability to travel for extremists and their families.” Some of these operatives have reportedly gone on to plot attacks against the United States from within Syria.

On Iran’s anti-Semitism:

“Our Jewish population, which is the largest in the Middle East…”

Israel hosts the largest Jewish population in the Middle East. Prior to the Islamic Revolution, there were 80,000 to 100,000 Jews in Iran. Today, that figure has reportedly dwindled to less than 10,000.

Zarif has elsewhere insisted that anti-Semitism does not exist in Iran, but the country’s laws and social structure illustrate otherwise. In 2014, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom reported that “the [Iranian] government continues to propagate anti-Semitism and target members of the Jewish community on the basis of real or perceived ‘ties to Israel.'”

Jews are barred from holding high office. To name a few examples, a Jewish Iranian cannot serve as a judge, Guardian Council member, Iranian army Commander, or President. Jewish schools are required to have Muslim principals and are forced to remain open on Shabbat. Hebrew lessons are not permitted outside of prayer time and the distribution of Hebrew religious texts is strongly discouraged.

“We are not talking about annihilation of Jews. We never have, we never will.”

When pressed further, Zarif said, “it [Israel] should be annihilated.” This anti-Semitic ethos is par for the course in Iran’s upper political circles, and echoes that of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

As recently as November 2014, the Supreme Leader of Iran has openly called for the elimination and annihilation of Israel, publishing “9 key questions about elimination of Israel” on his Twitter account not long after tweeting that Israel “has no cure but to be annihilated.”

On Sanctions:

“Probably the most destructive, as they say, ‘crippling sanctions’ that the United States has ever imposed on any other country, depriving Iranians of even the possibility to buy medicine, to send their blood for– for blood test– medical test abroad. This is the type of stringent sanctions that were applied on Iran.”

The U.S. does not target Iranian imports of humanitarian items, including medicine and medical devices. Sanctions are drafted to include broad discretionary authority as well as humanitarian carve-outs to ensure effective targeting of regime figures – not Iranian citizens.

Unfortunately, not only does the Iranian government import luxury items in place of medicine, but as revealed by a governmental pharmacy employee in Tehran, Iran puts artificial constraints on public access to drugs and medicine. According to this report, of 20 units of medication in government supply, only two are available to the public. The rest are “reserved” for Iranians with influence or good connections.

In the words of one U.S. Treasury Department spokesperson, “It has been the longstanding policy of the United States not to target Iranian imports of humanitarian items, such as food, medicine and medical devices.” As a result, “if there is in fact a shortage of some medicines in Iran, it is due to choices made by the Iranian government, not the US government.”

Visit United Against Nuclear Iran for more background, including UANI’s JPA Myths resource, VERITAS project, State Sponsor of Terrorism resource, Sanctions: Fact or Fiction resource, WAVE resource, and more.

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