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Iran’s Foreign Minister Says It’s Impossible For Iran To Repress Its Own People

Javad Zarif went from defiant toward the Trump administration’s pressure campaign to extremely defensive of accusations of repression during a talk at the Doha Forum.

Posted on December 15, 2018, at 10:06 a.m. ET

- / AFP / Getty Images

DOHA, Qatar — The foreign minister of Iran taunted Donald Trump’s White House Saturday, saying the country would “never” give in to economic pressure, and that attempts to enforce sanctions would blow back against the United States.

“It’s obviously the case that we are facing economic pressure because of the US sanctions,” Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said during a talk at the Doha Forum in Qatar. “The United States is a major global power and it can create painful conditions for other countries. But will that lead to a change in policy? I can assure you it won’t.”

Years of economic pressure, Zarif said, have taught his country how to endure this kind of isolation.

“If there is an art we have perfected in Iran — and we can teach it to others for a price — it is the art of evading sanctions,” he told journalist Robin Wright during an onstage interview. “We will continue to sell oil, we will continue to deal with the international community,” he said.

And in the wake of the arrest of high-profile Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou by Canada last week — at the request of the US, where she is wanted on charges related to Chinese telecom giant Huawei’s business dealings in Iran — Zarif said leaders in Europe and the rest of the world face a stark choice when deciding how to interpret the new US sanctions put in place since the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the Iranian nuclear agreement.

“Are they going to allow the United States to determine for them how they will conduct their own affairs?” Zarif asked. “The United States used to say there is a Security Council resolution against Iran and we are upholding that Security Council resolution by imposing our own additional sanctions. Now, what the United States is telling everybody is that there is a Security Council resolution, we are violating it, and we’re asking you to violate it, and we’re going to punish you if you decide to abide by a Security Council resolution. Is that the kind of world you want to live in?”

But Zarif’s defiant talk turned to obfuscation when asked about his country’s involvement in the ongoing war in Yemen, and its human rights record at home. He insisted Iran has “never” supplied weapons to the Houthi rebels that have seized control of the Yemeni capital and said that claims of Iranian-made missiles being fired into Saudi Arabia lacked concrete proof. “If there are allegations about Iranian weapons, there are facts about US weapons, there are facts about Saudis bombing the hell out of Yemenis,” he said.

And when asked about the jailed human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was arrested six months ago after representing a number of women who had protested against the country’s compulsory headscarf laws, Zarif insisted that the country cannot, by definition, be repressive against its own citizens, because it relies on their solidarity to withstand external pressure.

All countries can improve their human rights records, Zarif said, but “you cannot say that Iran, without any foreign assistance, without any security umbrella, has lived for 40 years against the United States while suppressing its own people. It’s impossible. It’s a contradiction in terms.”

BuzzFeed is a media partner of the Doha Forum.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.