5 Takeaways From Iran FM Mohammad Javad Zarif's Appearance at Asia Society

Already tense, relations between Iran and the United States have worsened this month: On April 8, U.S. President Donald Trump designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, causing Iran to retaliate by applying the same designation to the U.S. Military Central Command. And on Monday, the Trump administration announced that the U.S. would no longer exempt Iran’s oil-buyers from sanctions enforcement designed to thwart Iran’s nuclear program.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, the U.S.-educated foreign minister of Iran, discussed this as well as several other topics in a wide-ranging interview on Wednesday with Asia Society President and CEO Josette Sheeran at Asia Society in New York. Here are the key takeaways from Zarif’s appearance:

  • Zarif said that Iran would continue to sell its oil. Notwithstanding American pressure, the foreign minister added that the U.S. “should prepare for the consequences” if it tried to prevent Iran from doing so. “The Persian Gulf is our lifeline,” he said. Here’s more on this subject from Reuters.
  • Iran offered to negotiate a prisoner exchange with the United States. The New York Times reports that at least four Americans are known to be held in Iran, while a fifth has been missing for 12 years. Zarif said that he made an offer to American government six months ago to exchange these prisoners for Iranians held in the U.S., but has heard nothing. “If [the U.S. government] tells you anything else, they’re lying,” he said.
  • Zarif revealed that the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia had negotiated a ceasefire in Yemen in 2015 — but Saudi Arabia reneged at the last minute. The UN reports that since March of that year, more than 7,000 Yemenis have died in the fighting between the Yemeni regime, supported by Saudi Arabia, and Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
  • Zarif blamed what he called the “B-Team” — U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates President Mohammed bin Zayed — for stirring up trouble for Iran in the region and for “pushing the U.S. toward disaster” in spite of Trump’s campaign promise not to get involved in expensive foreign wars.
  • Zarif criticized the U.S. for negotiating with the Taliban but not the Afghan government. Last month, Afghan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib expressed a similar sentiment during his appearance at Asia Society.

Watch the complete video of Zarif’s appearance above.

About the Author

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Matt Schiavenza is the Assistant Director of Content at Asia Society. His work has appeared at The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, The New Republic, Fortune, and strategy + business among other publications.