Suhasini Haidar: Hello and Welcome to the exclusive interview on CNN-IBN. With me, Iran's Foreign Minister Javid Zarif. India owes Iran nearly $ 5 billion for oil imports, Iran has been seeking some of that payment. Tell us how your talks went?
Javid Zarif: I've just started these talks and they are focused on a lot of things. There are a whole range of possibilities for cooperation between Iran and India, both economically as well as politically and multilaterally. We expect our Indian friends to repatriate that money in one way or another - since there's a lot of trade that can happen between the two countries, humanitarian trade is also an area India can pay for those oil purchases. We want this money, and our economic cooperation with India in the area of energy to boost the relationship between the two countries and not be an impediment to our relations, and we are sure that with goodwill, we will provide a resolution,
Suhasini Haidar: I ask about oil because last year under pressure from the US, from the international community, India cut its oil imports from Iran by as much as 40 per cent. Was Iran disappointed that such an old friend did not go through with the purchases?
Javid Zarif: We were obviously disappointed. We believe Iran provides the most reliable source of energy for our friends and partners, because we are an independent country, we provide the energy, not affected by any political considerations, by any imposition from outside, so Indians can rely on Iranian oil, and natural gas. So it is detrimental to the economy of our trading partners if they decide to cut their purchases from Iran because of pressure from the United States. It is not in their interests, and we hope that we can resume that cooperation, and we are working with many forces including P5+1 to put an end to any excuse to any impediments to our trade with others, which we believe are illegal to begin with.
Suhasini Haidar: But has India given you any assurance that oil imports will go up? They have increased in January.
Javid Zarif: Yes, it has gone up a bit in the past month, and we hope it will continue to go up, because we believe, as I said, India is a growing economy, you have a major need for sources of energy, Iran is probably the most reliable provider for it.
Suhasini Haidar: To speak about our neighbours - India and Iran have a common neighbour in Pakistan, but also a common concern over Afghanistan. Given the US pullout, given elections, given the fact that Pakistan is now in talks with the Taliban, what kind of cooperation can India and Iran speak about?
Javid Zarif: There are a whole range of possibilities, political cooperation, attempts to cooperate on the issue of terrorism and extremism, which is not restricted to Afghanistan but much wider, but most importantly, cooperation to boost economic growth in the region. And one of those areas is to work on Chabahar, and a North-South corridor, which both allows India with the possibility to export to Central Asia, provides Afghanistan with an economy that can replace the war economy, and replace the terror economy, drug economy and warlord economy and human trafficking which are unfortunately all intertwined in one policy that creates instability in Afghanistan. Also gives India better access to Europe. So these are all policies that will benefit all, and benefit Afghanistan in the process.
Suhasini Haidar: You are yourself involved in a complex nuclear negotiation with the US. How confident are you of a deal sometime this year?
Javid Zarif: Well I believe with political will and good faith a deal is totally possible because Iran never wanted nor will it ever want nuclear weapons. We don't believe they are useful for our security. Nor do we believe they are useful for the international community. We believe that we should all move, and I know India, even though it has nuclear weapons it believes that everybody's security will be best served, if the world is rid of all these weapons of mass destruction. But for Iran for different strategic considerations, nuclear weapons don't make any sense, even in a world with these weapons, so it is in our national interest, in order to show that we have no intention of producing nuclear weapons. But we want our rights, we want our right to have a peaceful nuclear programme. And if that is the intention, then I think it is quite possible to reach an agreement, and I am optimistic that within the next five months we will.
Suhasini Haidar: Even so there in the US senate, Republicans have pushed for new sanctions in case the talks break down. Would such vote going through be a deal breaker?
Javid Zarif: Well I think anybody who is putting so much trust on sanctions should just look at their track record. Sanctions have produced as a net result 18,800 centrifuges in Iran. So if they want to have a continuation of that situation, they could go ahead with their sanctions. I believe the United States should come to its senses, as some of its leaders have already, that they cannot deprive Iran of its right, they cannot pressure the Iranian people into abandoning their rights. They need to talk to Iran in the language of respect and common interest. And if they do that, we will reach an agreement and they do not need to put pressure. Pressure and intimidation are counter-productive to Iranians who usually respond very negatively to that. So my advice to them is to apply diplomacy to work, and it will produce the results that everyone is looking for.
Suhasini Haidar: Finally on the subject of Syria, where India has been a part of the Geneva talks, the West believes that without the removal of Bashar al Assad, there can be no forward movement. Can India and Iran play a roll there?
Javid Zarif: I think everybody can play a role based on realities and not illusions, and based on the right of the Syrian people to decide their future. I think nobody outside Syria has the authority nor the legitimacy to impose a decision on the Syrian people, it is for the Syrian people to make that decision. What we need to do is create the circumstances under which the Syrian people can come together which can lead to a stable National Unity government, and then to elections which will allow Syrians at the ballot box to decide who they want to be the president, and how they want to form their future society, how various institutions can be divide amongst groups so you have an equilibrium in which groups can live together.