Javad Zarif was in Mumbai on Friday.
IRAN’S FOREIGN Minister Javad Zarif said Friday that if India wanted to play a role in defusing US-Iran tensions, it could “encourage” the United States to return to the nuclear deal of 2016, from which President Donald Trump walked out in 2018.
Expanding on his statements at the Raisina Dialogue in Delhi earlier this week, Zarif reiterated that Iran was not interested in negotiating a new deal with the US, but wanted the Americans to honour the one inked after negotiations between 2013 and 2016.
“The reason for that is — we had probably the longest dialogue that anybody has had with the US... negotiated a deal with each other that is long, detailed... It wasn’t a deal between Javad Zarif and John Kerry (then US Secretary of State). It was a deal between Iran, US, seven other major members of the international community, and more than that, it became a (UN) Security Council resolution,” Zarif said.
“But if India wants a role in preventing further escalation, in bringing the US back to the negotiating table instead, the joint commission [for dispute resolution in the deal] is there. In technical terms, it’s called P5+1 and Iran. Last time we met was in April 2018. The US broke off the deal in May 2018...decided to leave the room. India can play a leading role in bringing them back into compliance with their agreement, so that they can come back and join the negotiation. And we will not reject that, if India wants to play that role,” he said.
“India is very dear friend of Iran, and has good relations with the United States, and it can encourage the US to come back to the negotiating table,” he said.
Zarif was in Mumbai for a few hours to interact with businessmen engaged in trade with Iran in a session organised by the Mumbai-based All India Association of Industries.
The Foreign Minister also welcomed any efforts by India to bring Iran and its neighbours, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar, to the negotiating table. “We are always open to negotiate with them. We do not have any preconditions to negotiate with them. If India can play a role in doing so, we would welcome that,” he said, adding that “the most important priority” in his country’s foreign policy is its “neighbourhood policy”.
Describing India and Iran as “complementary” economies, Zarif said US sanctions had ruined potential for trade and investment between the two countries — bilateral trade fell from $17bn in 2017 to less that $7bn in 2018.
In this context, Zarif called for “removing the dollar” from bilateral trade and switching to a rupee-rial mechanism which, he said, was already in place but had to made “economically feasible”.
“It shouldn’t be less expensive to buy an Indian product paid in US dollars than an Indian product paid in Indian rupees. That’s the bottleneck we need to address. If we address that, then we rid ourselves of this colonial domination of the US dollar,” he said, while asking the business community in both countries to step up by sacrificing short-term profits for long-term interests.
Zarif said Iran and India were also working on operating banks in each other’s countries. Pasargad, a private Iranian bank, got permission to open a branch in Mumbai in 2019 but has not been set up yet. “We are in the process of finalising the agreement with India for the initial capital. Because of the difficulty in transferring hard currency, we can use the initial capital we have already in India... gained by the sale of oil. Legally. the government of India can accept it, and I hope they will accept it, and we can establish that as the foundation capital for Pasargad Bank, which is one of our biggest, privately owned banks,” he said.
Zarif also asked India to open bank branches in Iran, in the Chabahar free zone, or in Tehran, “hopefully both”, which would enable Iranian and Indian businessmen to transact in national currencies.
Raising the possibility of engaging in barter trade, especially in agricultural produce, he said: “We need to find mechanisms for exchange without going to the bank. The only way the US is able to impose its will in the world is because of the dollar. If you remove the dollar from our transactions, then we don’t have to take their nonsense.”
Zarif said while the Iranian parliament has approved expansion of the Chabahar free zone, India has faced difficulties procuring equipment for the port despite US exemption from sanctions for the project since financial transactions relating to Iran were still a problem.
The other problem, he said, was connecting Chabahar to Afghanistan and Central Asia by rail.