Iran considers Italy as a friend in Europe, said President Hassan Rouhani hoping that his visit to Rome next week will start a new phase in the relationships.
‘I’m pleased that my first visit abroad after signing the nuclear agreement is to Italy, because it’s a country with which Iran has long had good relationships economically, culturally and politically. For a while, Italy was our number one trading partner,’ he told the daily Corriere Della Sera.
‘As to international and political issues, the Italian leaders have always taken a moderate stance on us. We consider your country as a partner and a friend in Europe. I hope my trip will start a new phase in our relationships,’ the president added.
Full text of his exclusive interview with the Italian daily as published on its website on Thursday follows:
How has Iran started implementing the nuclear deal? Are Americans doing their best to fulfill its part of the deal?
«We have overcome an important phase, the legal one. Now we have started the stage related to the implementation of the agreement. We haven’t reached the so-called implementation day yet (i.e. when Iran has made adjustments to its nuclear program and the West eases off of sanctions, Ed.), therefore, during this period, the European Union, the United States and the other 5+1 countries must meet their commitments, so that, when that day comes, all economic, bank and financial sanctions are lifted. Iran will meet its obligations at the same time as the actions of its counterpart. We are both working. By the end of the year, I think we’ll get to the implementation day. We are waiting for the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) report on the issues that are still open, in the meantime, we’ll go on converting the Arak reactor. All Iranian people are looking with hope to the day when the sanctions are lifted».
What if the US Congress dictates new sanctions?
«According to the agreement the 5+1 countries won’t impose any new sanction and we on our part must comply with the agreements. But if the US or other countries fail to meet their obligations, we won’t feel committed to meet ours either»
How will the nuclear deal change the relationships between Iran and the US? At demonstrations, they keep on shouting «Death to America» and the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, still calls the US «the Great Satan».Do you consider America as the Great Satan?
«The nuclear deal is one thing and the relationships with the US is another. Our problems with them are long-standing and begin with the victory of the Islamic revolution. The problems have persisted. The Americans won’t lift all sanctions but only those related to the nuclear program. Therefore, the relationship between Iran and the US is a different issue. But the way we’ll implement the agreement can have an impact on the future. If it is well implemented, it will lay the foundations for a lesser tension with the US, thus creating the conditions for a new era. But if the Americans don’t meet their nuclear deal commitments, then our relationship will certainly be the same as in the past».
Several American citizens, including a journalist, have recently been arrested in Iran. Many people see these episodes as hostile actions of those who oppose any improvement in the relationships with Washington. What’s your point?
«There are many reasons to arrest people and they concern the judiciary. Their cases will be examined by the courts and that shouldn’t be related to political issues. Of course, there are different political opinions in Iran as well as in other free and democratic countries. We respect the rights of the foreigners who live in Iran. Someone has had some problems and has been arrested, but the same thing has happened also to the Iranians who are in the US prisons».
But can you imagine to see, one day, an American embassy in Teheran and an Iranian one in the US?
«One day, these embassies will reopen, but what matters are attitudes and it’s up to the Americans. If they change their policies, correct the mistakes they’ve made over the last 37 years and apologize with the Iranian people, the situation will change and good things may happen».
You have criticized some Iranian media, for acting as «undercover police». The Head of the judiciary has even responded to you, rejecting your criticism. Does that hint at a great conflict occurring in your country about the way forward? Are your reforms endangered?
«There is no great conflict. I don’t see any obstacle to my reforms, but, as a President, who is in charge of making sure that the Constitution is applied, if I find that some of its articles are distorted or breached, I have the legal duty to issue warnings. The duties of the President are above all, and all the organizations and organs should pay attention to his warnings even if they don’t agree with him».
You had promised more democracy, freedom of expression and an unfiltered Internet network. Why didn’t that happen?
«Improvements in the social and citizens’ rights sphere can’t occur overnight. They take time. From the very beginning, one of my administration’s goal was to grant more rights to citizens, increase freedoms and create a better climate for cultural and social activities. Over the last two years there have been improvements. Today, the universities and media’s environment is much better. The press freely criticizes the President: two years ago nobody would imagine something like that. But the Government alone can’t solve everything. It needs the cooperation of the two other branches oh power, the judiciary and the legislature. I hope it will come up in the future».
Two years ago, you promised to free the reformist leaders of the Green Movement, Mousavi e Karroubi. Will you keep your promise?
«They’ll be released. One day».
For the first time, Iran has been invited to contribute to the diplomatic efforts of the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and other countries to solve the Syrian crisis. Which solution does Iran consider as possible, effective and acceptable?
«For the first time, the great countries and those of my region are sitting down at the same table, and that is an important result in itself. Even though the US, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have different opinions, it clearly shows that solutions to regional conflicts can be found working together. The Syrian issue is very complex, we can’t expect to solve it with only one negotiations round, but there is a new opportunity. We think that there is not a military but a political solution to the Syrian conflict. It’s a small step offering a hope».
Would Iran accept a compromise entailing Assad’s departure?
«In our opinion the priority in Syria is the fight against terrorism. All countries are fighting Isis. The return of peace and stability should be the first priority, so that Syrians can go back to their houses and Syria is a safe country. Other issues are secondary. Any decision about the government and the future of Syria is for the Syrian people. Other countries and powers shouldn’t interfere but pave the way to free elections. We will respect whoever will be elected by the Sirian people».
Today, Russia and Iran are united together in the struggle against terrorism and the support for Assad. Is it a compelled alliance or a strategic partnership?
«It’s an important partnership. Iran, Russia, Iraq and Syria have reached an agreement to cooperate in the struggle against Isis. Russia is more focused on the operations in Syria, maybe in the future it will extend its operations to Iraq, but I think it is paramount that all countries focus on the fight against terrorism. Isis is a threat to the whole region and others too, including the European Union. The region is in turmoil. We were among the first to back up the Iraqi army against Isis, and, had we not done it, maybe Baghdad would have fallen».
Iran has the highest per capita capital execution rate in the world, including public executions. Do you think the death penalty is an effective way to counter crime?
«Punishment should work as a deterrent. We can discuss about the effectiveness of executions, as well as of arrests and even fines. But in every country the criminal code is related to the domestic rules, many countries retain the capital punishment, other countries don’t. In Iran, most executions refer to illicit drugs trafficking, due to our long and porous border shared with our Afghan neighbor. If we abolished the death penalty we would enhance their drug trafficking up to the European countries and that would be dangerous for you».
«Death to Israel» still is a popular cry in the Friday’s prayers. Wouldn’t it be time to stop with these slogans?
«We respect all heavenly religions, including the Jewish and Christian one. Our holy book often mentions Moses, who is the Jewish people’s prophet and the Quran praises Moses, peace be upon him. The Jewish people have always been living peacefully in Iran. The Jews have their own representatives in the Iranian parliament, they can freely practice their religion. But that is different from Zionist policies. Zionism is one thing, and Judaism is something else. We condemn the policies of the Zionist regime in the region, including the killing of Palestinians. And we condemn the American policies when they unilaterally support this regime. I mean that Iranian people can hate the Zionist policies and Israel while loving Judaism, its prophets and the Book, at the same time».